Interview with Author Anna Celeste Burke

Q. Tell us a little about yourself and your background?
A. I'm retired, now, after a life full of twists and turns. A real mix of joy and tragedy, opportunity and challenge, like most lives. After more than thirty years of teaching, research and writing about substance abuse and mental health issues, I have picked up a longstanding interest in fiction writing that combines mystery with a dash of romance and humor. I'm currently writing the Jessica Huntington Desert Cities Mystery series set in and around Palm Springs, Ca where my husband and I have retired.

Q. Thinking back, what were you like in school?
A. I was a voracious reader, a good student who finished high school at sixteen. I loved to sing, but figured I was headed toward a career in science, so did not pursue a career in music. I was always serious, a little standoffish, and kind of shy and awkward, like many teens. A child of the late sixties I was bit of a flower child. At seventeen I ran away to Tijuana and married a rock guitarist because, well, love is all you need. The authorities didn't think so. They picked me up as a runaway. When the band broke up we learned to cook and went to work in the hotel kitchens at Disney World. The 'mouse factory' put us through the Walt Disney World University Chef's school. My high school drop out husband discovered he liked studying, got his GED, and we quite working for the mouse. Years later we ended up as professors. Lots and lots of winds in the road, but somehow things worked out. I'm still married to the same guy more than 40 years later.

Q. What are your ambitions for your writing career?
A. For years I published in traditional outlets during my university career. That's a very different kind of writing and I have had to unlearn some habits acquired while writing nonfiction. So, one of my ambitions is to continue to improve the craft of writing fiction. The first two books in the Jessica Huntington series, A DEAD HUSBAND and A DEAD SISTER are out now. I'm just about to release book 3, A DEAD DAUGHTER. I have several more books I'd like to write in that series. 

I also have just completed LOVE A FOOT ABOVE THE GROUND, mostly romance with a touch of mystery and a bit of humor. This is something of a tearjerker, but also a story about love overcoming loss. The main character is Bernadette, Jessica Huntington's sidekick in the Jessica Huntington desert cities mystery series. 

My next book, once A DEAD DAUGHTER is released will be book 1 in a new series, The Betsy Stark Desert Cities Mysteries, book 1 I'm tentatively calling The Cleaning Man...not a nice guy.  

Q. Give us an insight into your main character. What does he/she do that is so special?
A. Jessica Huntington seems to have it all--wealth, beauty, education, a member of the one percent married to a one-percenter. Her well-planned life comes apart: her law career tanks, her marriage is in trouble and her attempts to have a baby and save her marriage go nowhere. The final blow: catching the love of her life in her own bed with a Hollywood starlet. Talk about a kick in the teeth!

She is ill-prepared for what happens while hiding out from the bomb that has gone off in her privileged life. In part, she's Stephanie Plum with a black AMEX card. When her best friend's husband is murdered Jessica stumbles into sleuthing in an effort to get justice for her friend, Laura, and Laura's dead husband, Roger Stone. Jessica goes toe-to-toe with lowlifes, many of them living the high life. Before she knows it she's fighting off thugs in pantyhose, stilettos, Bruno Magli shoes, and Armani suits, using high heels and cell phones as weapons. Jessica Huntington is a flawed heroine. Like Monk, the 'defective detective', she's angst-ridden, anal retentive and given to panic episodes. She also has a shopping 'jones' with plenty of money to support her habit. Jessica is also funny, resourceful, generous, smarter and tougher than she realizes. She'll have to be because the high-end lowlifes keep coming in books 2 and 3.

Q. What genre are your books? 
A. The Jessica Huntington Desert Cities Mystery series is mostly a series of mystery books, but her romantic life is in the picture too. Dealing with divorce, her ex-husband and his new wife, argh! There are also a couple very interesting men that come into her life, if and when she's ready to open her heart to love again.

Q. Which actor/actress would you like to see playing the lead character from your most recent book?
A. I think Erika Christensen who plays a lawyer on the TV series, Parenthood, would be perfect. She's a talented actress, the right age, coloring and build.  Anna Kendrick is also about the right age, a brunette and close in height to Jessica. Minka Kelly has a great smile, like Jessica.

Q. When did you decide to become a writer? Why do you write?
A. My first go at writing came about as a consequence of the choice to become a social scientist and professor. I did not get, until I was thrown into to kicking and screaming, that when they say publish or perish they mean it. In graduate school it dawned on me that writing was a central part of the career I had chosen--they don't let you out with a Phd until you have written a dissertation--typically a book length manuscript. Then, when you take a job at a university you're on probation for seven years. If you don't write and publish enough in that period of time they give you the boot! My fiction writing started as an antidote to all that rigid, confining, scientific writing, but the 50-70 hour work weeks in the ivory tower really made it difficult to do much fiction writing until I retired. I also had children to raise, lots of community obligations, consulting and training, so fiction writing got put on the back burner.

A lot of the same issues that interested me as a nonfiction writer are still present in my fiction writing. Why do people do heinous things? Is it just part of the human condition? Is it mental illness or substance abuse, sickness or evil? Can those who hurt others be stopped and brought to justice?

Q. Do you have a special time to write or how is your day structured?
A. I try to get up and have coffee, do household tasks, and plan my day by 10:00. Then, I write for 3-4 hours--aiming to produce 1000-2000 new words. I may also do some editing during that time, but prefer to do that after lunch or in the evening. Afternoons I have more chores, exercise--indoors on a stationary bike I can get an hour reading done. I also like getting out to walk or hike, too, though and sometimes have errands to run like shopping, doctor visits, etc. Evenings I work 2 or 3 hours on social media activities: Twitter, Facebook, maintaining my website and blog, author interviews, like this one.

Q. Where do your ideas come from?
A. They come from all over the place--snatches of dialogue I've over heard, chance encounters with strangers, family, friends and colleagues all provide life experiences that inspire stories. Jessica Huntington popped into my head while we were hunting for a retirement home. I do not have a black AMEX card, but looked at a lot of guard gated communities that are havens for the one percent. I wondered what life was like for them in their multi-million dollar homes with their designer clothes, expensive cars, trust accounts. How would a rich young woman, tossed into circumstances like those Stephanie Plum faces, react? Does money help you deal with divorce, murder and mayhem? What if,even in a desert paradise, life is full of unpleasant surprises like a dead husband?

Q. What was the hardest thing about writing your latest book?
A. Moving from a single point of view to multiple POVs--circumstances of the story demanded a second point of view, and I added a third. That posed all sorts of new challenges for story-telling. I also had trouble deciding on the outcomes for one of the lead characters in the book--mercy or no mercy? Hmmm....

Author Link

Buy a Dead Husband

Buy a Dead Sister


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