Interview with Stephanie Burgis

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If you could talk to any author from the past, who would it be?  Why?

If I could talk to any author from the past, it would definitely be Jane Austen – or, better yet, I’d much rather exchange letters with her! I LOVE the wit and style of Jane Austen’s letters – I read them every morning for inspiration before working on my upcoming novel – and I’d love the challenge of trying to keep up with her via correspondence…whereas in person, I think I’d just stumble and trip over my own tongue because I’d be too over-awed! (That happened when I met Alan Lee – ohhh, it was one of the most embarrassing moments of my life! Yes, it would definitely be much, much safer for me to only correspond with Jane Austen.)

Do your characters talk to you?  Do you see the stories as images?  Do you ever argue with characters you hadn’t planned?

Embarrassing though this may sound, I really am one of those writers who hears voices…I hear all the dialogue in my head (although sometimes I really have to strain to listen!), and in first-person stories, I also hear the narrator’s voice quite clearly throughout. I never see the stories as images, though – I’m a very un-visual person in general, in all aspects of my life. (I’m hideously unobservant about what people are wearing & what my own surroundings look like; I can’t do interior design to save my life; etc, etc.) That makes description much harder than dialogue for me to write, and I’ve had to work really hard to develop that skill. In general, my rough drafts are almost completely made of dialogue, and the description all gets laboriously added in later drafts!

I’ve definitely been surprised by characters popping up, since I don’t do much outlining ahead of time (this leads to a lot of revision later, to insert foreshadowing beforehand!) – and sometimes I have been pretty horrified by what my characters have done! Pretty much every time, though, that I’ve thought, “Oh, no, he couldn’t possibly do THAT” – well, *that* has turned out to be the very best part of a story. So I’ve learned to let my characters be as outrageous as they like!

Have you ever wished for a particular character — or idea — to walk into your story?  Has that happened?

Um, only in the sense of “someone save this story, fast! – oh, thank goodness, you’re here…” (Followed, again, by lots of retroactive foreshadowing…)

Do you ever get to a certain point, reading a story, and feel the click! as you have got to the point of no return/can’t stop now?

Absolutely! I felt that way with Robin McKinley’s Sunshine and Lois McMaster Bujold’s Paladin of Souls – I stayed up wayyyyyy too late reading both of those, because I Could Not Stop before the end…

Does writing ever feel that way?

Yes! I almost always feel that way as I’m writing the climaxes and resolutions of my stories or novels – they’re written in a white heat, all in one go, even if it’s taken me ages to write the first 3/4 of the piece beforehand.

If you had to liken writing to anything, what would it be?

Breathing or eating. Honestly. It feels that vital to me. If I don’t write – whether because I’m blocked or lazy or just too busy – first I get cranky, then I get desperate, and then I get irrationally furious at myself and the world. I have to write regularly – every day, if at all possible – not just for my sake, but for the sake of my family and everyone else who has to come into contact with me!

What piece of writerly advice do you wish someone had given you?

“Write exactly what sounds most fun *to you*, not what you think will impress other people.” It took me years to finally learn this – and that was what inspired the real break-through with my writing.

Is there something you do that no one ever asks you about? This can be anything — something unusual you eat, playing poker as a day job, a hobby, whatever you like.

I did my MA in historical musicology, focusing on 18th century opera, and then wrote 5 chapters of a PhD thesis on 18th-century “Turkish” operas in Vienna, before I gave up the PhD to write fiction full-time. So I am full of strong opinions (and rants!) on various operas from that time period, yet no one ever, ever asks me for my opinions on any of them. Sigh. 😉

Particular favorites for books, movies, series, comics, blogs, etc.?

Well, Jane Austen is my favorite author EVER, followed by Georgette Heyer, Charlotte Bronte, J.R.R. Tolkien, Emma Bull, Lois McMaster Bujold, Elizabeth Peters/Barbara Michaels…I adore almost all of their books. Maybe predictably, then, my favorite movies are “Sense and Sensibility” (the Emma Thompson version), “Pride & Prejudice” (the BBC miniseries), “An Ideal Husband”, “Monsoon Wedding” and “Moonstruck” (back to my opera fixation! 🙂 ).

My two favorite TV series are “Doctor Who” and “Gilmore Girls”. I think PhD Comics ( is hilarious, and I’m a big fan of the Smart Bitches, Trashy Books blog, I’m also addicted to blogs by other writers, which give me a lovely feeling of international community now that I’m living in England, quite a long way away from most of my friends.

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