H. L. Burke is a writer of eclectic fantasy for young adults and children. She is also a semi-professional dragon keeper.
My name is Heidi, but I write as H. L. Burke because, while I appreciate that my mom likes classic children’s books about Swiss goatgirls, I really don’t think Heidi is a great name for a fantasy author. Just way too cute. Can’t go wrong with initials, right? I’m a part-time writer, full-time mother, and military wife. My two young daughters and my gigantic orange cat argue about whose slave I am, and our German Shepherd never listens to me. I drink a lot of coffee.
When and why did you begin writing?
I’m a talker, and writing is like talking, just a little slower. I wrote short stories even before I could write, dictating to my mom, then illustrating them in crayon.
When did you first consider yourself a writer?
I took ownership of the title at a really young age. When it was the late 90s and all my friends got Hotmail accounts, I had a mailing list of people who I’d send short stories to. I won a few small contests, and my peer group generally thought of me as “the writer.” Then there was a point that I stopped … but I always felt guilty about it, like I was letting down people who I knew in high school because I wasn’t writing anymore, so eventually (after about maybe a five-year break) I kicked myself in the pants and started again. That was about four years ago.
Can you share a little about your current book with us?
My most recent book is titled Coiled. It is a fairy tale retelling based on an obscure French fairy tale called The Green Serpent which is in turn heavily influenced by Cupid and Psyche. It’s about a prince who turns into a giant snake whenever someone looks at him, so he befriends a princess with her own curse that has twisted her appearance to make her grotesque and courts her in darkness … of course, there’s a vengeful god who isn’t too happy about this and a quest that involves Gorgons and even a dragon. The book was published by Uncommon Universes Press.
My other book is Nyssa Glass and the House of Mirrors, a steampunk adventure. It was released in 2016.
What inspired you to write you published book?
The idea writing Nyssa Glass and the House of Mirrors was to reverse engineer a “puzzle game.” One of my favorite ways to relax is with a good puzzle/adventure game, and a lot of them have a similar premise: the protagonist (played by you) is trapped somewhere and has to navigate their way out while solving a mystery or putting together a story. So I worked backward from that and thought about a reason a person might have to break INTO someplace and the sort of challenges they might face. Then I wondered who their companion would be, and what if there were killer robots … I loved coming up with the premise for this book and once the setting and the challenges were decided, I think it was probably the most effortless story I’ve ever written (helps that it’s a novella).
Do you have a specific writing style?
Conversational. I tend to be very to the point. I like each little detail to carry a lot of weight, so while I’m not a minimalist, I do tend towards sparser prose. I like things simple and sincere.
How did you come up with the title of this book?
My idea for Nyssa has always been that she’s reminiscent of a serial adventure heroine. Sort of a female Indiana Jones but trained as a cat burglar rather than an archaeologist, so having her name be the title was a given. The House of Mirrors refers to the primary antagonist. While Nyssa does face some human baddies, the thing that really has it out for her is the house itself. It has booby traps and killer robot sentries. The “creepy mansion” set the mood for the piece, and I wanted to put that in front of the reader from the get-go.
Is there a message in your novel that you want readers to grasp?
There is one that I cannot discuss without getting into spoilers, but it involves how different people deal with situations out of their control, whether with acceptance or anger. Also, throughout the series, there’s an underlying current of Nyssa trying to redeem herself from past sins and also of finding one’s family in people who are willing to love you in spite of your past.
Are experiences in this book based on someone you know or events in your own life?
Nyssa is a lot like I imagine my young daughter will be when she grows up, sarcastic and smart but with a soft-center that would like to trust and which feels deeply for other people. The funny thing is I didn’t make the connection until after I’d written her. I think that’s one reason she appeals to me so much.
What authors have most influenced your life? What about them do you find inspiring?
I am a big time fan of J. R. R. Tolkien. He’s the only author I really obsess over, in that I’ve read biographies about him and collect books written about him as well as books written by him … but he’s kind of such a massive figure in fantasy that it’s almost a given. My personal writing style is more influenced by more modern YA Fantasy authors, specifically like Shannon Hale and Gail Carson Levine or Patricia Wrede, the ones I grew up reading. I love their fresh take on fairy tales.
If you had to choose, is there a writer you would consider a mentor?
I’m such an impossible student that any writer I chose would probably get really annoyed with me and it would totally ruin our (admittedly hypothetical) relationship. Seriously. Can I just have tea with Neil Gaiman instead? I really would like to have tea with Neil Gaiman.
Who designed the cover of your book? Why did you select this illustrator?
I used my friend Jennifer for Nyssa. However, since I’m going with a publisher for my new book Coiled, they will be providing an in-house cover designer. For my other books, I started working with Jennifer because we’ve known each other since our days on a Tolkien Fan Forum … and we are both mothers of young children trying to balance creative-life with all that motherhood entails, so it was easy to work with her. I probably will continue to use her for my self-published projects.
Do you have any advice for other writers?
Never ask permission to make art. I see a lot of hesitant new writers wanting to know “am I any good?” (the answer is usually, “probably not yet, but you have to keep trying.”) or “is this idea worth writing?” (impossible to know until it has been written) or other versions of trying to get the approval of others before they begin. Just begin. Then get your work torn apart by a good critique group and start over … rinse and repeat until you rise from the ashes as a Mythical Writer Beast!
Do you have anything specific that you want to say to your readers?
Hey there! Theodore the Dragon says hi! (they’ll get that)
H. L. Burke
Nyssa Glass and the House of Mirrors
Cover Artist: Jennifer White