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Writer's Quick 5 - Kelly Weiss Interview with Author Dan Burns

June 27, 2017

Tags: A Fine Line, writing

Originally posted 6/26/17 at www.kellyfumikoweiss.com

KELLY WEISS:

This week it’s an honor to bring you insights from author, screenwriter, and poet, Dan Burns. Dan is a fellow Chicago Writers Association member and his fourth published book (third work of fiction) A Fine Line was released on June 6, 2017 by Chicago Arts Press.

Another highlight I want to mention is a short film that Dan wrote, Out of Touch. The film is absolutely worth watching and was named an “Official Selection” for the Chicago International REEL Shorts Film Festival and for the Los Angeles Lift-Off Film Festival.

You can find information his books, screenplays, and MUCH more on his website.

Let’s see what Dan has to say…

KELLY: Question #1 - Where do you write and why do you write there?

DAN: Every morning, I walk from my home to my office in downtown La Grange. I have this great, small office above a restaurant, like one of those private eye offices in old noir movies, that provides the quiet and secluded environment I need to be productive. When I'm at home, there are too many distractions and I have no self-discipline, so having a place to get away and get my work done is a necessity. In my office, I'm surrounded by my books and memories of my writing mentors and have no distractions. No phone. No Internet. Just writing. If you're interested, you can check out this short video of my office environment.

KELLY: Question #2 - What is unique about writing for your particular genre?

DAN: For me, what is unique is that I'm not locked into a particular genre. I love the boundless flexibility of being able to write in a variety of forms and genres. My first novel was a contemporary family drama. My second book was a collection of short fiction that really pushed the boundaries of genre. My newest novel is a Chicago mystery. My hope is that every story I write pushes me out of my comfort zone to try and explore something different. Writing a mystery novel was my most challenging project to date. Research was a necessity to make the story believable, and I spent an extensive amount of time understanding Chicago politics and police procedure. My protagonist, Sebastian Drake is an expert marksman, and I had to spend dozens of hours at the gun range, shooting his gun, to fully understand what was possible. Plot also played a big role in my mystery novel, more so than my other stories. Nothing can be left out and every question must be answered. The writing process was quite fun and extremely challenging at the same time.

KELLY: Question #3 - What are some of your grammar or punctuation pet peeves?

DAN: What drives me nuts are all the grammar and punctuation errors that I'm guilty of, and my first drafts are laced with them. The editing process is critical to get my story ready to publish, and I'm fortunate to have a number of editors and trusted readers who allow me to get the story down onto the page and then help me to make it perfect. I find that I just get too close to my work, so close that I can't see the errors. I can edit and revise a story a dozen times, and then my editors and readers help me to realize that I'm not a very good editor. But I'm learning. I find that the editing process is the most important step in helping me to become a better writer.

I find that I'll often get stuck on a word, maybe like it too much, and then use it too often throughout a story. I have to cut the repeat offenders. Adverbs also seem to come easily (you see!) as I'm writing, and I have to go back through and search for all the "ly" words and cut them all. Adverbs seldom add value to the sentence. I don't think much of the word "got" and try to eliminate it from my writing. For dialogue attribution, I use "said" and "asked," nothing else, and I try not to use them only when necessary to maintain flow and understanding. Contractions and hyphenated words also seem to find their way into my stories, and I have to go back and review each one to make sure they're correct and appropriate. Spelling is a killer for the reader's flow of the story, so spell-check and people-check are critical steps. The most valuable aspect of the editing process for a book is the Advance Reading Copy. After I revise a manuscript a dozen times and go through several iterations of developmental editing and copyediting, it's important to print the book and get it into the hands of my trusted readers. They are the ones who let me know if it's ready to officially go out into the world.

KELLY: Question #4 - At what point in your writing process do you start to bring other people in to review your work?

DAN: I bring people into the process when the story is finished. Often, there are so many potential roadblocks for completing the story, that I have to focus on that single goal. For me, "finished" is flushing out an idea fully and getting the words out of my head and the story down onto the page. Afterward, I let the story sit for a month before going through and revising to the best of my ability. Then it's time for a fresh look from different eyes and perspectives, from people I trust to tell me honestly about how to improve the story.

KELLY: Question #5 - What advice would you give to a new writer about the writing process?

DAN: Sit down and write, as often and as much as you can. Many people talk about being a writer, but only by actually getting the words down onto the page can you actually be a writer. Read books by authors who you admire and who have been successful writing the stories you want to write. Develop your idea, write your story, and don't stop until you're finished. Don't edit or revise until the story is written, for those activities can develop into insurmountable distractions and roadblocks. Better to have a completed story that you can improve than to have an idea that you never fully act upon that fades away. And keep a journal of all your ideas. If I don't write down my ideas, they tend to vanish, never to return again, and that's a darn shame.

KELLY: Thank you Dan for these incredible answers. I also keep a journal of story ideas! I also love the advice, “Develop your idea, write your story, and don't stop until you're finished. Don't edit or revise until the story is written, for those activities can develop into insurmountable distractions and roadblocks.” I’m guilty of this all the time, pouring over a passage over and over again when I should move on. Very good to keep in mind!

Please learn more about Dan and his books and works on his website. More importantly, go out and buy his new book A Fine Line. I have my copy! You can also follow him on Facebook, on Twitter, or you can subscribe to his YouTube channel.

DAN: Thanks, Kelly.

Dan Burns Interview with Author Lisa Lickel Plus a Review of A FINE LINE

June 7, 2017

Tags: Dan Burns, A Fine Line

A Brief interview with the Author Dan Burns by Lisa Lickel

LISA: Dan, what do you love about this book?

DAN: What I love most about this book is the path I had to take to see the novel come to fruition. My protagonist, Sebastian Drake, appeared first in a short story, Letting Go, which I wrote back in 2012. My process for the story was simple: put him at a table in a coffee shop, have him meet a person from his past, and see what happens. When I finished the story, I learned a little about Drake—who he is and where he came from—and I thought that was the end of his story. But Drake would not leave me alone. He had more to say and forced me to develop his story further. So, I went back to work and wrote a screenplay for a feature film that put him in the middle of a cold murder case in Chicago. The process was exhilarating and fun, and again, I thought that was the end of the story. The screenplay received national recognition and won the Best Screenplay Award at the Naperville Independent Film Festival, and fans at the festival asked, “What’s next for Drake?” I thought about the question often, and it seemed to me that the story I told in the screenplay was not quite complete. I could not get the story or Drake out of my mind, so I forged on and developed the story as a novel. I love the book and the story, and through the process, I came to the realization that Sebastian Drake is a part of me. He’s taking the lead now, and his story is just beginning. Where he will take us is anybody’s guess.

LISA: Congratulations! What a great way to find a story.

LISA: Introduce us to the character you had the most fun creating.

DAN: I had the most fun creating Sebastian Drake because he needed to be a complex, conflicted, and sympathetic character. He also had to be different, with character traits, experiences, and skills that we haven’t seen in other mystery series characters. I feel I accomplished that objective. However, I also feel I’m just getting to know who he is and what he can become. He’s not a typical protagonist or hero—he’s really an antihero, since he lacks the conventional attributes of a heroic character. Drake continually walks the fine line between the past and the present, right and wrong, and reality and the fiction he writes. His life is an endless high-wire act, and there is no safety net.

In a mystery novel, there has to be a nasty character, an antagonist, and in A Fine Line, there are many of them. But I especially enjoyed developing the character of Jerry Fitzsimmons: “an older man, thin and gaunt, almost sickly looking.” “He’s always grinning, like a cat who just ate a mouse.” From his “thin lips pressed together like a cadaver” to his “yellow teeth,” I found I disliked him more with each sentence I wrote about him. He gives me the creeps, and he adds a necessary dimension and complexity to the story. Fortunately, Drake doesn’t care much for him either and effectively addresses all of Jerry’s issues.

LISA: Those are fun characteristics put together in a believable way!


LISA: Share two things you learned either researching or writing-related during the production of this book?

DAN: A Fine Line is a murder mystery set in Chicago. To make the story interesting and believable, I felt it was necessary to make the city a character and include details about the city that would pull the reader in, whether local or not. I grew up on the North Side, but the story had to take place in and around areas I didn’t know about, where I haven’t been—unknown places, darker places. The Chicago Police Department also plays a large role in the story, and I had to make sure I understood the hierarchical structure of the organization and the basics of police procedure, especially because there’s at least one character who doesn’t follow procedure.

In researching both topics, what I learned is that even though I have lived in the Chicago area for fifty-four years, there is so much I still don’t know. I find that realization fascinating. There’s always more to learn and experience, and I think Sebastian Drake will make sure my education continues.

LISA: Readers--take this and run with it! Explore your own community.

LISA: What are you reading now?

DAN: I just finished reading Speed the Plow, by one of my favorite writers and playwrights, David Mamet. I’m in the middle of a memoir by Oscar Levant titled, A Smattering of Ignorance. He was a talented musician, composer, actor, and writer, and I find his writing insightful and humorous. I used one of his quotes as the epigraph for my book: “There’s a fine line between genius and insanity. I have erased this line.”

LISA: Dan, what's next for you?

DAN: I’m always juggling several projects. I recently completed a stage play script, Grace, and I’d love to produce it at a Chicago theatre. I am also continuing to write short stories and hope to have another story collection ready for publication next year. And Sebastian Drake continues to pester me. He has another story to tell, and together, we’re in the process of figuring out what that story is.

LISA: Theater is fun! And I'm looking forward to seeing what trouble Drake gets into next.
Thanks for sharing about you and your work.


Review of A FINE LINE by Lisa Lickel

The premise of Burns’s thrilling detective story grabbed my attention. Sure, Sebastian Drake is almost a Sam Spade pulp-alike, a forties-era anti-hero for today, but honestly, how can you not love the wounded but capable man-of-few-words detective with a soft spot for his family? Who’s also an author!

Drake’s initial success has not led to the subsequent best-seller notice he needed to survive in the authorial world. His agent dug deep and found a contract for a book he has yet to complete. Time’s running out and he’s desperate. Unlikely help comes through his former secret life. His shadowy employer knows things Drake would rather not remember, but Drake is fascinated by the request to dig back into a long-cold mystery.

Drake’s hefty financial reward for a little detective work isn’t necessarily the main attraction to get his hands dirty once again. He’ll hopefully reap the material he needs to finish his novel—if he survives. Combing his acquaintances for help and returning to the scene of the crime as well as revisiting the original police files is not quite like old home week. Enemies and friends are suspiciously hard to differentiate. Drake slowly peels off layers of dust as well as fresh scabs from wounds both professional and personal, until the answers are bared.

Told through Drake’s perspective, readers are pulled into a side of Chicago off the tourist trail. A Fine Line is a tale of winners and losers, and the chance to move forward and find both retribution and redemption. Those who enjoy detective adventures, particularly set in a familiar town, will find much to like about this novel.

DAN: Thank you, Lisa!

It's Been Quite a Ride

October 26, 2014

Tags: Newsletter, Screenplay Award, Free Shipping, Poetry, No Turning Back, A Fine Line

Greetings!

A lot has happened in the last few months, and I’d like to take a moment to share the highlights:

A Fine Line Wins Best Screenplay Award

My newest screenplay, A Fine Line, won the Best Screenplay Award at the 2014 Naperville Independent Film Festival (NIFF) Awards Gala on September 20th. It truly was an honor just to be nominated, but taking home the trophy was pretty darn cool. At the event, I had the opportunity to meet many film directors and producers and who knows, maybe we’ll see the screenplay produced into a feature film sometime soon.

Want to see the award presentation? CLICK HERE .

A Fine Line is a story about a struggling writer with a secret government past who is hired by a wealthy philanthropist to investigate an old and unsolved murder case. The best part: it’s all set in Chicago.

Audiobook of No Turning Back is Now Available – Narrated by Yours Truly

With my first novel, Recalled to Life, I hired a narrator and audiobook producer to create the digital audiobook for me. The narrator, Dan McGowan, did a wonderful job. This time around, for No Turning Back, I had to take a different approach. In No Turning Back, I accompany each story with my personal notes regarding the thoughts and ideas that inspired me to write the story, and I felt it would sound strange having someone else narrate those parts in the book. So, I decided to narrate and produce the entire audiobook myself.

I want to send out a big "Thank You!" to the entire Chicago Arts Press team who urged me to narrate the book myself and who helped to edit and produce the audio. It was a great team effort and I love the result. Consider listening to the audiobook edition, which is now available through Audible, Amazon, and iTunes. Check out the free sample at each of the sites.

No Turning Back Receives Honorable Mention

My short story collection, No Turning Back: Stories, received an honorable mention from the judges of the 2014 Chicago Writers Association Book of the Year Award. It’s a great honor to be a member of CWA and recognized along with the other award finalists.

If you’re not doing anything on Saturday, Jan. 24, 2015, consider attending the CWA Book Award Presentation event at The Book Cellar, 4736-38 Lincoln Ave., in Chicago’s Lincoln Square. I know I’ll be there to cheer on and support the winners.

Gift Shopping + Free Shipping

Get an early start on your holiday shopping by ordering books for the readers in your family. There is something for everyone. All orders placed from now until the end of the year will receive FREE SHIPPING.

Visit Our Store and Place Your Order Today!

Word of Art

Earlier this year, I submitted one of my poems, A Song of Reason, to the annual Word of Art program, produced in cooperation with In Print Professional Writers Organization. I’m humbled that Rockford artist, Jim Simmons, selected my poem as a basis for his artwork. His art and my poem were included in the published 2014 Word of Art hardcover edition.

A Song of Reason

I wonder what comes first, the
thought or the reason, the
melody or the words, and realize
I don’t think it matters,
as long as they come.

The composition of music, of life, is a
miracle best to be cherished,
rather than explained, or rationalized, or criticized.
But most of all, it must be nurtured.
The words and dots are the seeds to sow.
The instruments are the tools used to cultivate.
But it is the passion and the feelings and the love that
brings the words to the high heavens.

The artist feels the beat and
beats the feeling.
She makes note of the notes and
sings the song, right or wrong, and
gets it all out before there is no more.
It’s part inspiration, part perspiration,
part reflection, part projection, and
all introspection.

The path is clear, yet not without
a thousand doors, heavy doors, with
many locks and many keys.
The soul is untarnished and
the keys are there for the taking.

You can’t get it out unless you’re willing to go in.

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