Author Interview with Shawn Burgess

Shawn Burgess is a dark fiction author with a love for the dark, chilling, and unusual, whether that be in his own writing, or in his reading of the works of others. His debut novel, The Tear Collector, was published in 2019 and its sequel, Ghosts of Grief Hollow is due out in 2021. He lives in Jacksonville, Florida, with his wife and two sons.

Author portrait by Georgia Geis 
Follow Georgia @atomicnumber14

How do you come up with ideas for a project?

Every project is different. The Tear Collector was born from a string of dialogue with main characters Brooks, Robby, and Tee that I created on a flight to California. It ultimately ended up becoming Chapter 2 in the book. That simple dialogue exchange helped me define who each of those characters were, and I ultimately built the plot around them.

As a project for my oldest son, I wanted to create something that reflected my experiences growing up while simultaneously making it relatable to him in the modern day. Happily, he loved the book and even went dressed for Halloween as the character who shares his name, though it was certainly not age appropriate.

For the sequel, Ghosts of Grief Hollow, I started with a beginning and end in mind, plus a few key scenes. I wanted to keep the tone of the original book alive by still capturing the mystery, intrigue, and horror of its predecessor without repeating the same experience. 

Other projects I’m working on, like Deity, started out with a “what if” proposition. Some novel ideas in my notebook even start out with something as small as a piece of microfiction, but with every project, I want readers to experience right alongside the characters and almost feel as if they are there inside those pages.

After you have a new idea, how much research do you do?

The amount of research depends upon what each story demands. For The Tear Collector, there were some hypothetical scientific elements I needed to work out, which led me down a path of researching DNA and reading some academic papers so I could figure out how to best bastardize the science to fit the direction I wanted to take the story.

I find myself researching odds and ends throughout any manuscript, but sometimes it requires a deeper dive. In Ghosts of Grief Hollow, I had to do quite a bit of research on the colonial history of Saint Domingue (modern-day Haiti). I spent hours researching it, though the information gleaned only appears in a few lines of dialogue and one scene.

Still, other research is best acquired hands-on. I had my first tarot card reading (virtual because of the pandemic) and had a lengthy telephone discussion with another author who is familiar with readings and about the significance of each card. I took pages of notes. From there, it’s manipulating what you’ve learned to reach a desired outcome.

For my novel Deity, I’m still trying to find an industry resource for some very specific questions I have on raw material procurement for fracking that can’t be readily answered through Google searches.

I think most people don’t realize how much research goes into writing a fictional novel. I always do my best to prevent any plot holes and make the story as believable as possible.

Do you research things throughout your creative process or just at the beginning?

I’m not big on thorough outlines, or formal outlines for that matter, so my books typically demand at least some level of researching throughout the creative process. When taking unplanned diversions from what I have in mind, it almost always requires I do at least some additional research. It’s part of the writing process. What amazes me is the writers that came prior to the Internet Age and the amount of time they must’ve spent digging for answers that can be readily accessed in the modern era.

What’s the strangest thing you’ve researched for a project (go check that Google search history)?

There’s a running joke among authors about telling the FBI, don’t worry about my internet search history, I’m a writer. That said, I do find myself searching some very unusual topics: rate of decomposition in different climates, how that differs depending upon the manner of death, police tactics and procedures, seasonality of birds in different areas, the paranormal, the occult, and the list goes on. In my opinion, that inherent curiosity and thirst for information is one of the things that makes writers uniquely suited to this craft. I don’t know what my readers will know, but the safest assumption is to assume that they know more about any given topic than I do. That caution hopefully serves me well in avoiding writing something that will pull them out of the story and disrupt the suspension of disbelief.

When you write, do you try to stay close to the Actual Factual or are you fast and loose with Handwavium (a term used when a writer waves their hand at reality for sake of the plot)?

I fall somewhere in between. I try to ground my stories in relatable characters and facts, so that the more fantastical elements are easier for a reader to accept. However, I don’t think there’s a wrong strategy. So long as you can keep the reader humming along in the story, either can work, but I’m careful to make sure I include enough believable elements so I don’t go full-on Alice in Wonderland as that’s not the type of story I’m typically telling.

Have you ever stopped reading a story to go look up how factual something was? 

Absolutely. Who hasn’t? It typically comes from a place of genuine curiosity versus trying to disprove an element of a story. I enjoy getting lost in a book. I don’t ever want to feel like a critic as I’m reading. As a reader, I’m much more focused on the story and the enjoyment I get from that.

Do you create with music, other background noise or complete silence?

I can go either way. With The Tear Collector, I listened to a preselected playlist of alternative rock music because it was mostly written on planes and in hotel rooms. I needed something to block out the distraction. Lately, I’ve been doing most of my writing in silence, save for the owl in my tree outside who apparently keeps the same hours as I do.

Do you have any pet helper?

I grew up with dogs, but we don’t have any pets. With our hectic schedules, it would be a little cruel to own a dog as they would have to be crated and wouldn’t get any interaction during the day. My youngest son and I are also very allergic to cats, so that’s a nonstarter. 

Do you create better at 5am or 5pm?

I do my best work from 10PM on. However, I’ll write when I have the time and do no matter the hour.

Which team apocalypse are you on: zombie, asteroid, or alien invasion?

Great question. With an Asteroid, it’s one big bang and over, so then it really becomes a question of do you want to stick around for the misery. If aliens developed the technology to get here, we don’t stand a chance, so that’s going to end pretty quickly if they’re not here in the spirit of exploration. Sometimes, looking at the state of the world and near continual conflict, it’s hard to imagine them wanting to make nice. I’m going with Team Zombie. They’re slow and dumb as dirt. Obviously, the hordes make survival tricky, and the worst part would be seeing a friend or family member turned, but I think I could deal with commandeering a boat, loading it with fishing supplies, finding a small island, and living off the sea.

Shawn, you write mostly dark twisty thrillers, have you always written in this genre, or did you start in another genre and found your way to horror? 

I started writing horror stories when I was in elementary school, so this is definitely not breaking any new ground for me. I’ve always loved books and movies with those type of elements. 

I struggle with what to label myself because the stories I’ve written and ones I intend to write don’t always fall neatly into a genre; they tend to mix elements of a few. I’ve resorted to calling myself a dark fiction author lately, though I suppose the only time it matters what you choose to call yourself is when you need to market your books or write a bio. 

I’ve seen readers peg The Tear Collector as horror/psychological horror, psychological thriller, general fiction, coming-of-age, supernatural thriller, mystery, Adult, YA, fantasy and even sci-fi or any combination thereof. What matters most to me beyond the labels is that readers find and enjoy my stories, no matter what me or my publisher ultimately arbitrarily decides to call it. I’m working on “what I call” an urban fantasy/mystery, but even that has those twisty and darker elements, plus a touch of the supernatural and paranormal.

Do you read outside the genre you write in?

Yes. I read a wide variety of fiction and occasionally some non-fiction. If a story and its characters are compelling, I’d never exclude it from my reading list, but I do tend to gravitate toward darker works. 

You mentioned being inspired from living in Florida and other towns throughout southeastern US, how does that translate into your writing? (The local legends, creepy woods/trails, or just because they had a diner with good coffee and pie?)

Growing up in various spots in the southeast, I explored the woods with friends. My most vivid memories are from Birmingham and Nashville. In both places, we lived in the suburbs. At the time, there wasn’t the suburban sprawl there is today. There was still a large amount of undeveloped land in the area. For us kids, that became our playground. I found abandoned structures that predated the Civil War, small coal mining operations left to decay, hidden caves with albino fish, and secret lakes in the middle of the woods. That sense of exploration and wonderment leaves a lasting impression, and I try to bring some of that mystery to my writing.

In addition, I love bits of local legend and lore. The Tear Collector takes place in small-town Appalachia. I wanted to create that sense of being in a small town, the free-range approach of parents letting children explore the woods as was commonplace at the time. Though The Tear Collector definitely features some local legend prominently, its sequel, Ghosts of Grief Hollow, leans more heavily in to those aspects to give the reader a more holistic view of local beliefs and backstory, how those different story elements are interconnected, and how they helped create the antagonist while simultaneously sealing the fate of the town of Harper Pass.

Like most small towns, Harper Pass has its share of skeletons in the closet. Ghosts of Grief Hollow brings those into the forefront to reveal the ugliness that can exist in humans as well as in monsters of a more fantastical variety.

If you got to use some “Handwavium” and send younger Shawn one note about writing, editing, or marketing, which would you chose and what would you say?

I’ve learned a great deal since starting this journey. The most important lesson it’s taught me is that there are always new things to learn. When you’re going through the publishing process for the first time, everything is new. It’s easy to feel like you’re drinking from a firehose, especially if publishing is not something you’ve even been following closely from the sidelines prior to diving in. I consider myself fortunate for finding a publisher who believed in my story as much as I did. There are so many things I wish I knew about each of those aspects of publishing a book and everything that surrounds it. But you don’t know what you don’t know until you realize you don’t know it.

But to answer your question, the biggest piece of advice I would give to my younger self would be about writing and simply put, don’t wait. I kept putting off writing books because I was always waiting for that right moment. I should’ve realized there was never going to be a perfect time. Now, I prioritize writing among my other responsibilities, and that balance appears to be working.

The Tear Collector is your latest novel, and I know you are working on a sequel, can you share any details? 

I am super excited about Ghosts of Grief Hollow. I’m currently in the editing process, so I’ve been spending a ton of time with the manuscript. It’s very fast paced and should quicken the pulse of readers. It’s the darkest, most twisty thing I’ve ever written. Some new characters are coming into the fold in addition to a return of Brooks and his friends and Detective Holt. I think it’s a book that people can enjoy whether or not they’ve read its predecessor. Early readers have described it as gritty, scary, and intense, so I’m hoping that when it finds a wider audience, they will find a similar experience in its pages. I hope to have some more details soon as far as a release date, but I expect it will be in the fall of 2021.

Shawn, thank-you for your time. Is there anything else you’d like folks to know about you, your work, or your research process?

I think we covered most of it, Jotham. Thank you so much for interviewing me. I really enjoyed chatting with you. Hopefully, we can meet in person one of these days and grab a pint!

Awesome! Look forward to it. You can pick up The Tear Collector now and you can follow Shawn across the internet at the links below or signup for his Newsletter at https://t.co/5M3RU7KILM

Tear Collector Available now!

Follow Shawn on Social Media.

Website / Facebook / Twitter / Bookbub /
Instagram

May Update: What happened to April?

Not much personal news to update you with, so I thought I’d share a photo from a project I was working on at work, modeling limb development in embryos. On the big screen, the green is the nucleus and the blue is the outline of the cell body. On the little screen you can see the all the electron micrograph of the cells that I’m modeling. 

As many of you know, my debut novel, “Will You Still Love Me If I Become Someone Else?’ was released on February 23rd 2021. Still haven’t read it, go check it out here. Hopefully, with COVID restrictions easing (folks are getting vaccinated which is good) I may be able to do book signings and other fun things, stay tuned for details! And I’m working on two new Novellas releasing later this year. Check out the cover:


Preorder for ‘Moonlight: A Limited Edition Paranormal Romance Anthology’ is now available here. The first draft of the novella about Eve who is a werewolf (And yes, I did a science of werewolf episode) looking to protect her pact, but finds love along the way—is hot off the keyboard and will let in cool off before I start editing. Working title is “All Your Stars Are But Moonbeams in My Hair.” What do you think about the title? Email and let me know.

And, you read correctly, i said two novellas are being released this fall. The second will be in the Emerging Worlds Anthology. I am doing a post-zombie novella titled, “The Cure”. They promised the Cure would end Zombie and return life to normal, but nobody promised normal would be easy. I’ve wanted to write a zombie story for some time, and looking at post zombie life is fun. I’m about 14K words in (Whoa, I’m half way there…now that song is stuck in your head).

And don’t worry, there will be a new issue of Rabbit Hole of Research on May 29th, and it’s going to be frosty! If you want to read past issues, check them out here!

Follow me online, and feel free to Email me with questions, comments, questionable science, or who you’d like to see interviewed.

February Update: Snow, Snow, more Snow and the Release of My Debut Novel

Since the last time we chatted it has been nothing but snow, snow, snow, and more snow. My trusty yellow snow shovel has gotten a lot of work in the last couple weeks. I hope everyone that’s been getting snow and cold are staying safe and healthy.

In all of this wintery wonderland fun, my debut novel, ‘Will You Still Love Me If I Become Someone Else?’ releases on February 23rd. Click here to check it out!


I have realized that once I start shoveling and am half way through clearing the driveway an idea for a story, a scene, or a great thread of dialogue between two characters pop up in my mind. And by the time I’m finished shoveling, the idea is—poof—gone to the wind!

Does this ever happen to you (shoveling, in the shower, landing a rover on Mars)? Let me know!

The Rabbit Hole of Research, will return next month, and I’m cooking up something special for these Modern Times!

Print by atomicnumber14

Not to fear, the back issues of Rabbit Hole of Research are posted on my website, and If you missed an issue (or you are new to my newsletter) go check them out here. They are a fun take on the quirky science in Fiction books and movies. And I’ll be back in March with an exciting new episode. I have gotten a few reader requests—plasma arrows, Independence Day, Tenet—I am making a list and checking it … well that’s a different story. LOL

November Update and Personal Note


Check out this cover of my debut Novel!

A few people have asked how I started writing novels. Even though I have been writing since I was a teenager, the decision to write novels came 10 years ago.

10 years ago today I had surgery to repair my ruptured Achilles tendon. During my recovery I started writing again, but didn’t want to write poetry. I started to draft a novel, and a year later I finished writing my first novel, “Pretty Small Things.”

It wasn’t a good novel, but I learned a lot, joined writing groups, critique and beta readers, and did a lot of reading and writing to find my style and voice.

4 years ago (6 years after getting back to writing) I finished the first draft of “Will You Still Love Me If I Become Someone Else?”

2 years ago I got an offer to publish from @rhetaskewpublishing.

And finally, Over the next three months, I’ll have my debut novella rom-com (Jan 21st 2021- pre order here) and sci-fi psychological thriller novel (Feb 23rd 2021- follow me on the interwebs for pre order info coming soon) released. 👏🏽🎉

And this is just the beginning. I am editing two novels which will be looking for a home soon and I have two novellas being published, one in the fall of 2021 and the other spring of 2022.

Every story has a beginning—go start yours!

Exciting News! Mark Your Calendar for February 23rd 2021

So, after a number of delays due to Covid, I’m super excited to reveal the cover and release day for my debut scifi psychological thriller novel, ‘Will You Still Love Me If I Become Someone Else’.

Check out the Cover, let me know what you think and mark your calendars because the book will be released on 23 February 2021!

I want to thank Dusty Grein who worked with me on the cover (he used my original illustration in the design) and Jennifer Soucy for her final round of edits and formatting. Thanks to Mandy and the rest of her team at RhetAskew Publishing. We are all excited to get this story out to you guys.

I want to another big thank you to all the family, friends, beta-readers and writing group members who helped in many ways-directly and indirectly-to get this novel done.

Preorders will start in a couple weeks. There will be more updates about signed copies, book swag, special giveaways, book tours, and any other news. As always my newsletter subscribers will be the first to know, so sign up!

Here is the link to the announcement sent to newsletter fans!

September Newsletter: Writing Update

Just here for Jotham’s writing updates, cool. But you are missing out on the Down The Rabbit Hole of Research newsletter delivered to your email inbox once a month where I explore the science in fiction and try to bring some actual factual science to the things we read and see in fiction. Will real accurate science destroy the plot of our favorite fiction? Sign up here

My debut sci-fi psychological thriller, ‘Will you still Love Me, If I become Someone Else?’ I am going over the final edits (last chance for me to make changes) so the Advanced Reading Copies (ARC) can be sent out for early reviews. I still have spots for ARC readers, if you want an advance copy (all I ask in return is a honest review) you know the drill, send me a message and I’ll add you to the list! I’m getting excited. I cannot wait to share this story with you all!

My Rom-Com novella, ‘Tomorrow May Be Too Late, will be released in the Askew Ever After Box-Set, December 21st 2020. The very sexy cover was revealed, and look mom, my name is one the cover!!
You can pre-order at your favorite e-book store here! If you already placed an order, thank-you.

And finally, I am writing a Virus Doomsday novella to be included in a Virus Apocalyptic Anthology boxset. Release April 1st, 2022.

Where’s the Book?

4 drafts and the outline of Will You Still Love Me, If I Become Someone Else?

So, after I told everyone that I signed a contract to publish my novel—everyone started asking about how the book was coming along, and when they could buy it?

I’d say, “It’s with the editors … or I’m revising.” Their response was, “But, you signed with RhetAskew Publishing in January 2019, where’s the book?”

Frustrated, I’d reply, “It’s coming along I promise.” I love you guys but a lot goes into getting a book published (more than I realized and I was getting into the trenches).
..
I snapped this picture to show a bit of the editing work that goes into the novel after you sign a contract. There are four printed manuscripts in the photo, each representing a major round of editing and/or revisions. Based on editor’s suggestions, beta-reader comments. Since January I have read my manuscript over 7 times (I still get chills when I get to the last few chapters).


So, how’d all this happen, you ask? In January 2018, I started to send queries and hashtag pitches on Twitter—out to agents. Here are the stats: The book was considered a mismatch (I like saying this versus rejected) to 15 agents and 3 publishers. I had two partial request and 4 full manuscript request.


While the manuscript was being considered by the agents and publishers that requested it, I got that email! Late December 2018, RhetAskew sent the best Christmas present, an email offering to publish “Will You Still Love Me, If I Become Someone Else?” I was at work and asked a co-worker to read the email because I couldn’t believe it. Now, a year later, I’m only months away from a long time dream—2020 is going to be fun!

Recently, I signed another contract to have my Romance Comedy Novella included in a Box Set, coming December 2020!

The journey is long and at times arduous, but always keep moving forward. Please stay tuned as the books move closer to production, cover reveal, release dates, book launches, contests and more about the process.

If you want to be in the know, sign up for my newsletter!

Remember the three P’s of writing, Practice, Patience and Persistence! We’ll talk more about these!

Happy writing!
Cheers,

JRA, II

What’s That You Say

Hey there. Thanks for stopping by and spending some time with me. I will try to give a little insight on publishing, balancing work with writing and even some science stuff I do at my day job. I’m not the only one trying to write, publish, market and work full time. Let’s spend some time sharing stories, tips and tricks to make it across that finish line. For all the non-authors, I will break down acronyms writers use like MS or ARC or TBR—that way when you see posts from favorite authors you can follow along.

So, a lot has been happening on the writing front. Punchline: I will publish my novel and a novella early 2020! Read on for details.


1. I sent my proofed Manuscript (MS) back to the publisher a couple days again. This means that my debut psychological thriller, “Will You Still Love Me, If I Become Someone Else?”, is going into production. You’d think it would be an easy street now that the writing, editing, and revising is done, but you’d be wrong. I have learned that marketing and promoting is a huge part of the publishing game. So, I’m learning the end and outs of building a platform and brand. So, please follow me on your favorite social media platform (links in the sidebar or I’m @jomega22 on everything) and sign up for my newsletter (I’m aiming for monthly, but if something exciting happens, like a give away, you may get an extra one). This is a big help to a new author (any author).


2. Since my novel is going into production this means that the Advance Reading Copies (ARCs) are coming soon. My publisher, RhetAskew, gives these out to readers about 90 days before publication to get reviews and blurbs and get the hype machine going. If you are interested in being added to the ARC list, subscribe to the newsletter or send me a DM on a social media platform.


3. So, the rumors are true; I am working on a Novella (a story in between a short story and a novel) to that will be published as a collection in a Romance box set early next year. Yes, you read right, my novel is a psychological thriller and now I’m writing a romance novella—okay let me explain, it’s not as big a leap as you think.

So, in college I was writing short-literary fiction and poetry, dealing with relationships and self reflection. After graduate school, I didn’t write much as I focused on my science career. After 6 years not writing, I got a journal and started writing, and a year later, I had a novel (it would be my second novel 3 years later that is getting published). “Write what you know—” is what they say, and I am a scientist, I mixed my literary-poetical style with a bit of sci-fi and I got ‘Will You Still Love Me, If I Become Someone Else?’

My novel has a lot to do about relationships, but layered into a twisty thriller plot with a dash of sci-fi.

Moving from that to writing a romantic comedy wasn’t difficult. I watch (it’s a little know fact about me) a ton of Rom-Coms, from ‘Christmas in Connecticut’ to ‘Always Be My Maybe’, and the hardest part was doing the actual writing (but isn’t that always the case). Also, I have added romance novels to my To Be Read (TBR) pile. I have already sent a draft of my novella, “Tomorrow May Be Too Late”, out to romance beta readers (people who will read the story to give feedback to help with revisions)–I’ll write a post about this process later. Besides thinking of ways to expand my romance novella, I’ve already starting to work on another Romance novella—maybe Novel (You Can Be My Wind Up—working title).

Okay, that’s all for now. If you have any questions or comments, post them here or on a social media platform. I’ll catch you on the Flip—

Happy Writing!

Cheers,

JRA, II

Big News!

Recently, I singed a contract with RhetAskew Publishing to publish my debut Science Fiction Novel, “Will You Still Love Me If I Become Someone Else?” Stay tuned for more news, and the process. Follow me @jomega22

Cheers,

Joe