Stephanie Burke, erotica, romance, paranormal romance, horror, and fantasy author – interview
Her personal motivation of creating an African American presence in these genres, a different kind of philanthropy, and her current controversial work
JMW: Hello. This is Jean Marie Ward for Buzzymag.com. With us today is award-winning author and costumer Stephanie Burke. Welcome, Stephanie.
Stephanie Burke: Hey, thank you, Jean Marie.
JMW: You’ve said that one of your major goals as a writer is to give voice to the voiceless. What do you mean by that?
Stephanie Burke: Well, my main motivation for writing has always been to be comfortable with my escapism. And I wasn’t comfortable with what I was reading because I saw no one that represented me. And that was a harsh feeling especially as a young girl reading about these wonderful adventures that people were having but it seemed that I wasn’t supposed to have those adventures because there was nobody who looked or behaved like me in them. So as I got older, I got smacked with the question, “If you don’t like what you’re reading, or you want more, why don’t you write it?” And that was a revelation to me. It looks like there’s nothing stopping me from writing the types of stories that I want to write with the characters that looked and behaved like me. And when characters started blossoming that were representative of me, that is the most glorious feeling in the world. I mean, it was something that I didn’t see until it was me doing it. But to see other writers doing the same thing it was wonderful, and I loved that feeling. But then I started thinking how many other unrepresented people are there out there, who don’t have that feeling. When there’s a transgendered girl who’s hiding in the corner and pulling her hair out at the library because every story she has about somebody who is transgendered is a joke. Or there’s the gay character who’s only represented in stereotypes. There could be the Korean character who there’s no Asian characters or heroines in these books at all. And they deserve to have that same wonderful blessed gloried feeling that I felt. So I kind of took it on a role for me to actually go ahead and make sure that all these voiceless people had a voice because it’s important. I mean, it’s how we develop our society. And one of those things that makes us great people is having self-confidence that adds to the confidence that we have, because it’s an acknowledgement that we exist and we have a right to be here.
JMW: Taking voice from a slightly different direction, you write in so many genres. I mean, erotica, romance, paranormal romance, keep going because I know I’m gonna miss them all.
Stephanie Burke: Horror, epic fantasy, high fantasy, I don’t think there’s a genre that’s out there that I haven’t at least tried to dabble in.
JMW: Okay. How do you suit your voice, which most of us who’ve read, you know, as a very wonderful comic voice in books like Pink, how do you adapt to these different genres or do you?
Stephanie Burke: Well, they’re all extensions of me, because usually comedy comes from pain. And if it’s something that we can laugh at, it doesn’t seem as bad. So even though I’m laughing, all the pain is still stored there, because I do a lot of horror and I do a lot of psychological issues with my characters as well. It’s always been there. But changing up the voices when I change up the world or the genre or the point of the story that I’m trying to make is shocking to some people but it’s just another aspect of me. All people have layers, and I just like to throw my layers out there where appropriate for me.
JMW: Speaking of layers, you’re also a master costumer. In fact, you’re in costume today as June the Cleaver. Which came first for you, the writing or the costuming?
Stephanie Burke: The writing came first. Believe it or not, I’ve always loved costuming and face paint, but that was something that was not encouraged in my house. Both my parents, I have to say, being of lower of upper poor class is what we were. They encourage you to read anything that had to do with making money. So, anything that was considered frivolous or artsy was discouraged in my house. So as a child, maybe once or twice and then I tend to forget it, because my parents were pushing me in another direction. As I got older, I realized I have to make myself happy. And one of the things, that’s the easiest thing for me to do, was to write about it. If I couldn’t dress up like something, I could write these wonderful characters who were.
It actually started in middle school when I started writing fantasy. And in fantasy, I had anthropomorphic characters, and all of these wonderful creations that I always thought I would be. As I got older more and more that got pushed aside because of real life. We have to deal with real life issues. And when I became a writer and started going to conventions, I looked around and it’s like, “Wait, these people are dressed up, why can’t I dress up like my characters?” So then I went back in one fed to the other. It actually helped with the experience of creating realism in your characters. I dressed up like an elf, for the first time, and walked around. And people’s reactions to me was like the perfect, set the perfect tone for the fish out of water story. And it was amazing, because then, I can use some of the things that I was feeling in developing this character, and they just go hand-in-hand. And it just got to the point where I saw so many great costumers out there, like, “I can do this too. I can do that.” How come there are people like me? Once again, there are not a lot of black costumers out there. So it’s like, “I can do this, I can be representative, and I can put my voice here,” and then it just overwhelmed. It just got to be so much fun. And that’s the hard part about it, because sometimes when I’m on a writing jag and that exclude everything else for the writing, and then there’s other times when the costuming takes over and I have a deadline, but no, I want to make these wings first, or I wanna put these feathers, or make these horns. So it’s a fight sometimes, and I’ve been fortunate enough to be able to balance the two of them, somewhat. Balance two of them. So, in the future, who knows, either one might win.
JMW: So, as if this wasn’t enough, you’ve also founded the charity Write for Hope. Could you tell our viewers a little bit about that?
Stephanie Burke: Write for Hope came about when me and one of my first Gold editors, Christine Golding Thomas. We were having a discussion about how much money does not make it to the people it was intended to, in charity organizations. As Susan G. Komen, for example. They spend so much money painting things pink. Why don’t you take that money and give it directly to the researchers or to the people who are suffering from cancer. Help them directly. And we couldn’t find one charitable organization that didn’t have a middleman somewhere. So because the nonprofit laws are easier in California than they are in Maryland, we decide to base Write for Hope in California. Our plan was to do writing conventions, one day, six or seven hours, but at the end, all the proceeds that we made from that go directly to the charities that we want to represent. And it was wonderful, our first one. I mean, we had so many writers there, we had auctions. I’ve got to meet voice actors from anime. People came crawling out the woodwork, because they love the idea of their money going directly to. And at the end of the first Write for Hope convention, when after we subtracted the money for the security and for the hotel, we got to cut checks directly to survivors of spousal and domestic abuse. There were two animal shelters that we gave money direct to. And there was a PFLAG organization that we could sit down and hand them a check right then in there. And they were shocked that they didn’t have to jump through hoops to fill out extra forms for this. No, these people came out to support and that’s what we want to do. We don’t wanna support the middleman, and that advertising, all the promotions they wanna do. I’d rather take that money and give it directly to the people so we can do the most help.
JMW: Are you planning a new convention in the Write for Hope universe?
Stephanie Burke: I would love to, but now things are a little bit hectic with my family situation and my health situation, but when I get that settled down, I have a whole list of new charitable organizations and a whole bunch of people that need help. So I’m ready to dive onto that first.
JMW: So it’s something we can look forward to.
Stephanie Burke: Yes, definitely.
JMW: Is there a story out of your usual wheelhouse that you want to tell? I mean, what kind of story would you like to tell that you haven’t told or that you haven’t told lately?
Stephanie Burke: I would really like to go back and write a decent historical with a person of color protagonist. It doesn’t have to be Black, doesn’t have to be Native American or Latino. I just want to go back in history and write something from their perspective. Now, futuristics are so easy for me because the past is so painful. Not only that, a lot of people don’t want to face it, they will pretend to ignore and gloss over all of the nasty stuff. But it’s impossible for me to do. I’m a Moore. And if you know about history out of South Carolina, the Moore Plantation is one the hardest plantations there were. The people out there were basically bred. My great, great grandmother was raped by the foreman because they needed more women. And we don’t know who he is or what issues that so can have in the line genetically that came from him, but this is our history. And when you think back at that and when you look at people who were bred like this, there’s no way I can ignore it. Half the physical ailments I have now is because of that selective breeding that usually started when you were nine or 10 years old. So knowing that part of history, kind of makes it impossible for me to pretend that it didn’t exist, because it still affects me to this day. But I would really love to get enough research which is really, really hard to do when you’re dealing with slavery in America.
I would really love to go back and just tell a complete story about, it doesn’t have to be a hero, can be a heroine, I just want to do this whole perspective from a person of colors perspective. They’re living in that horror story. And I would love to tell it and make it believable but also just not to beat up on people about the past, we know slavery was horrible. I want it to have…I want it to be a survival story, about how you survive and overcome. And finding the research for that is hard. You have a lot of people, who just don’t want to talk about it, and finding the editors who want to edit something like this, especially acquisitions editors at publishing houses, it’s scary for them, it’s too controversial. So they are a little bit iffy about accepting things like that. And, you know, Alex Haley did it with Roots, and a few other stories that went along that line but those were exceptional publishing houses who were willing to take a chance. Not a lot of them are willing to do that nowadays, especially with the climate that we’re living in. Because social injustice is on the rise, it seems like sometimes you look in the mirror, we’re back in the 1950s again. We’re reliving history, we’re not learning from it. And a lot of them went to shy away from that much controversy. But one day I am going to sit down, pull myself together, maybe from the Moore Plantation, maybe not, but I would love to tell that story of survival from that person’s point of view. It doesn’t have to have a happy ending, but I just want to honestly expose what really happened back then and just approach it from a way that I’ve never seen any other author do.
JMW: Cool. What are you working on now?
Stephanie Burke: Right now I’m working on comedy erotica for Changeling Press, and it’s called “Sympathy for the Devil.” So I’m dealing with a lot of mythological devil creations or devil characters and making them a rock band. But in addition to that, I’m working on a Sci-Fi horror called “Lunch” that’s been looked at by Tor. Tor is holding on, they give you nine months to…
JMW: Like a baby, yeah.
Stephanie Burke: Like a baby. And then they keep telling you, you know, “Wait a minute, we’re still interested. We’re still interested”. So I’m working on refining Lunch, and horrifying my editors, and delighting some of my twisted beta readers. So that’s great.
JMW: Is there anything you’d like to add?
Stephanie Burke: I would just like to say, you know, to top off, Bill and Ted’s Excellent Adventure, just be excellent to each other. I mean, open up your mind. And if you have somebody who wants to sit down and discuss something, and it’s something that’s controversial or sensitive to you, come at it with an open mind, an open heart. And don’t get defensive, because if you’re fighting, you can’t listen to figure out what’s going on. And just love yourself. Love everything about you. Be open-minded and give new opportunities and new authors and new people a chance.
Jean Marie Ward writes fiction, nonfiction and everything in between, including art books, novels (2008 Indie Book double-finalist With Nine You Get Vanyr), and short stories such as WSFA Small Press Award finalist “Lord Bai’s Discovery” and “Personal Demons” in the award-winning anthology Hellebore and Rue. Her videos include author interviews and tutorials.