AN INTERRUPTED JOURNEY
Please welcome Debbie Burke as Guest Author on the Writer's Journey Blog this week!
A Writer’s Journey by Debbie Burke
I did not start out as a storyteller per se. When I really began writing was, strangely enough, as a Probation Officer for the NYC Supreme Court system in the 1980s. I had to churn out a huge number of pre-sentence investigation reports. That meant interviewing defendants and family members, law enforcement personnel, etc. and then crafting it into a kind of story which ended with an assessment and summary for the sentencing judge.
I realized talking with people – just the vast variation in humanity as well as our undeniable commonalities – was fascinating; and then to extract an accurate and succinct story from it was a real literary turn-on. I’ve gone on to be a journalist, business editor, magazine editor, and most recently, the editorial director for a small book publisher.
Like many authors, I wrote my first book as a response to my own question of why there wasn’t a book like this already. I’ll explain. I was a dabbling musician, a hobbyist, who in my early 20s took up the alto sax. It was a long-held dream of mine to learn to play. But then life happened: kids to raise and not much “me” time. So I took a long break. After a hiatus of over two decades, I came back to sax, joining a local band in the northeastern Pennsylvania neighborhood where we lived.
Soon I found myself curious about the jazz scene around me. To my surprise, as I learned more about jazz as an art form, I became aware for the first time of the powerful jazz presence there. We had some pretty heavy hitters living in our community and their legacies were strong. There must be a book about them, I thought. But nobody had interviewed them in any sort of a collective look at the history of jazz in the region. This, to me, was the sign I needed to write that book.
My first interview was extremely tentative (on my part); I asked a sax player who I knew was an emerging artist with great talent if he would help me in a “project” I was working on. I was terrified to commit to saying “this is for a book I’m writing.” Seven months later, The Poconos in B Flat was released.
Since then I’ve published several more books about jazz (GLISSANDO: A story of love, lust, and jazz and Tasty Jazz Jams for Our Times) with another in the hopper. My handle on social media is @jazzauthor and I don’t think I’ll exhaust the subject matter any time soon.
My writing journey got an unintended boost with the desire to create what they call your “author platform.” I was dreading having to Tweet or blog one more thing about finding your inspiration, how to beat writer’s block, etc. To me, there were way too many outlets producing this kind of content.
So, since I was stuck on jazz (and still am), I thought I would continue in the vein which set me on this journey, the interview format, and four years ago, began a blog. At first, I had to do a lot of work to reach out to jazz artists who would actually respond. Very shortly, though, it took off. I no longer had to solicit musicians for interviews; they were finding me!
The process is extremely rewarding all around: I give them free PR with quotable quotes for their media pages and marketing, and in return, I get more content, which not only builds my portfolio but also continues to teach me more about jazz than I could ever learn otherwise. I have interviewed jazz artists of all ages, all musical subgenres, all cultures, colors, faiths, and from all over the world.
The thing that I have discovered about being a writer is that you might have a specific landing place in mind for your journey, but once you get started, there is no end to the surprises and excitement that lie ahead. Go with it.
BIO-Debbie Burke started as a freelance news reporter for the local newspaper and parenting magazine and quickly became a columnist. She moved into advertising, marketing, and magazine publishing; served as an award-winning editor for a regional business journal; the editor of a lifestyle magazine; and director of editorial for a small book publisher.
Burke has edited a broad variety of genres including fiction (children’s, YA, fantasy, romance, mystery, and crime) and non-fiction (law, sports, self-help, cooking, faith, history, business, and entertainment); as well as theses, dissertations, journal articles, and executive proposals. She is a four-time author of fiction and non-fiction, primarily about jazz, was the co-author of a book about the economic resurgence of a Midwest urban center and the editor of a memoir/autobiography of a prominent New York City defense attorney.
Amazon author page: debbieburke_jazzauthor