Interview with Eric Burns-White

Do you remember the first story you ever wrote?
I remember the first story I wrote for public consumption. It was a fantasy story -- real swords and sorcery type stuff, with some fantasy thrown in. I was a freshman in High School. It involved a young hero fighting a dragon, and there was lots of coincidence and the like.

I submitted it to a school district contest. They accused me of plagiarism -- my teacher was offended at the suggestion, and came right to my house to talk to me and my parents about it. So I wrote a few pages of sequel in front of him and handed it to him.

I won the contest that year. I entered the next year but was disqualified for writing 3,000 words instead of capping it at 2,000 words. The director of the competition gave me his autographed copy of "Mother Night" in consolation and, if I recall correctly, resigned from the competition not long afterward. Some time later, I learned one of the judges was a high school teacher who was pretty frustrated with her own writing career, and had a habit of lashing out at talented students. So... you know. Yay on her life choices, right?
What inspires you to get out of bed each day?
My cat. She sits on my chest and meows in my face until I get up and give her her morning medication -- which she sees as 'guaranteed treat time.' And, once you're up, you might as well start the day, right?
What is your writing process?
These days, I try to come up with a compelling character in a comfortable situation, and then figure out how to screw them over. It's taken some time -- I've got the worldbuilding vice in spades, but worldbuilding doesn't get stories written. It seems to work pretty well for me.

The "Mythology of the Modern World" series was great practice for that, by the by. When you're asked a question like "where do socks go when they disappear from the dryer," you're forced to explain the answer in an entertaining way. You can't just sit down and spend six months figuring out sock political systems -- you need to actually answer the question.
When you're not writing, how do you spend your time?
Well, I have a day job -- I'm a systems administrator at a pretty great not-for-profit private school -- which takes the majority of my non-writing time. Beyond that, I spend time with my wife. We like to go out, window shop, watch television together, and go on toy-hunting expeditions. We collect different kinds of toy -- it's easy to get in pretty deep.
How do you approach cover design?
With terror. The problem with cover design for me is I'm not an artist of any stripe. Seriously -- my drawing ability can only be expressed with imaginary numbers and passages from the Necronomicon. I mostly work through photomanipulation of stock images -- thank God for the supportive community over at Deviantart -- but I'm generally just happy when it doesn't completely suck.
What do you read for pleasure?
Science Fiction, Fantasy, Nonfiction, some Literature and Poetry. When I need to destress, I'll pull out things like Heinlein or Resnick -- books I've read so often I've worn ruts in them. When I want to really engage, I'll hit up Seanan McGuire or the like.

I find as I get older and I get bombarded with textual information on the internet more and more often, it's harder to push myself to read for pleasure. So, I give myself assignments now, and that helps keep me going.
Where did you grow up, and how did this influence your writing?
Extremely Northern Maine. Think of the bump of the top of the state and that's us. I grew up in Fort Kent, on the Canadian border. I think this has had a huge impact on my writing -- I have a sense of the wilderness and the world that's informed by that kind of small society. Plus, half my television programs growing up came from Canada, and there really is a different sensibility to Canadian television. That's changed my storytelling and my viewpoint.

Put another way, I got to have Mister Rogers AND Mister Dressup. So I win.
What is your e-reading device of choice?
I've had a bunch -- I had a Sony eReader back in the day, and I had both Palm devices and a couple of Handsprings. Right now I own a Kindle which I do still pull out. Still, nine time out of ten I'll read books on my phone -- an Android Nexus -- or maybe on the iPad I got from work.

For me, the best part of eBooks is your collection easily follows you from device to device, letting you always have it with you when you want to read something. I love having a library wing in my pocket.
What are you working on next?
Right now I'm working on three stories, more or less at the same time. The first is science fiction -- "Corbett-877." It straddles between existentialism and straight-up satire. The second is paranormal fiction -- "Lovelace 1/2," about a 14 year old girl who wakes up one day with extraordinary abilities. Finally, the last is a sequel to "Interviewing Leather," a story I wrote a few years back where a rock journalist spends a week interviewing a C-List supervillain. Plus, I've got a few other rods in the fire.
So many of your stories describe themselves as mythology. How does that work?
The human mind has always sought to explain the world around itself. When there's thunder in the sky, it's scary -- it's so much bigger than the people who hear it. So they come up with a rational explanation for the thunder -- like "Thor is hurling his hammer," or "Zeus is hurling his thunderbolts," or "dwarves are playing tenpins." The answers may seem a bit nuts from a rational point of view, but viscerally it's comforting.

Well, we live in an age where science is warring with religion -- science explains the world we live in, and has the benefit of being correct. Religion creates structures for our interaction with that world. But neither of them really address that core, visceral desire for comfort. "Why did Bob get hit by lightning?" can be answered by either "state changes from atmospheric static electricity" or "God's will," but neither answer really comforts people.

The myths I'm telling are a bit satirical and somewhat bittersweet, but they're coming from that visceral desire for an explanation that lets the world be alive and active and awake and intentional.

Am I saying they're real? Eh. Does it matter? They're what they are.
What is the greatest joy of writing for you?
The sheer process of it. When I put myself into a story and the words are coming out, it's like I go into a reverie. It's almost shamanic for me -- I feel myself become removed from my surroundings, and become a part of the story that's being composed.

It's not unlike acting for me. I was trained in the Stanislavski method of building a sense of reality into theatrical performance. When I'm writing, I go into that same sense of the method -- I tend to feel viscerally what my characters are experiencing. Which can be inconvenient, sometimes, but hey.
Published 2013-10-09.
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Books by This Author

The Sky of L.A. is Yellow/Grey
By
Series: Mythology of the Modern World. Price: $0.99 USD. Words: 5,920. Language: English. Published: October 9, 2013. Category: Fiction » Literature » Fairy tales
Amanda is an ordinary girl in an extraordinary world. Raised with the secrets of the backworlds and behind-the-scenes spaces of our reality, she has grown into a confident, normal person. But, when she falls in love with the son of a Locus -- a cornerstone of reality -- Amanda must prove she can be as remarkable as any heroine.
Nemesid
By
Series: Mythology of the Modern World. Price: $0.99 USD. Words: 6,590. Language: English. Published: October 8, 2013. Category: Fiction » Literature » Fairy tales
Art and industry are often seen as mutually exclusive, but it wasn't always that way. In this modern myth, we learn the story of a nemesid named Adrastia Young -- one of the spirits of vengeance and retribution, partnered to a spirit of Good Order and a muse. When Adrastia sees her partners grow closer to each other, her jealousy doesn't just affect her relationships, but the entire world.
Proserpina
By
Series: Mythology of the Modern World. Price: $0.99 USD. Words: 8,520. Language: English. Published: October 7, 2013. Category: Fiction » Literature » Fairy tales
A modern retelling of the myth of Persephone, Proserpina is the story of an immortal goddess condemned to eternity under the heel of a domineering mother. What price would she -- and all of creation -- pay for freedom?