Women In SFF Author Spotlight: Stephanie Burgis
Stephanie Burgis grew up in Michigan but now lives in a small town in Wales, surrounded by castles and coffee shops, with her husband, fellow writer Patrick Samphire, their two young children, and their very vocal tabby cat, Pebbles.
She writes sparkling romantic fantasy for adults – most recently the Harwood Spellbook series – and fun, funny adventure fantasy for kids, most recently the Dragon with a Chocolate Heart trilogy. She has also had over 40 short stories published in various magazines and anthologies. Her first book, A Most Improper Magick, won the Waverton Good Reads Award for Best Début Children’s Novel by a British Writer, and The Dragon with a Chocolate Heart won the Cybils Award for Best Elementary Speculative Fiction novel.
Welcome to the Hive, Stephanie. Let’s start small: tell us about a great book you’ve read recently!
I’ve just discovered L. Penelope’s fabulous romantic fantasy series the Earthsinger Chronicles, and I’m absolutely loving it. By the time I was halfway into Book One, Song of Blood & Stone, I’d already ordered Book 2 and preordered Book 3, which pretty much tells you how addictive these are! Gorgeous magic, fascinating worldbuilding, and great characters (with fun romances along the way!) make for really wonderful reading.
Okay, time to escalate things: reality warps and you suddenly find yourself leading a D&D-style party through a monster-infested dungeon. What character class are you, and what’s your weapon of choice?
I’m a sorceress, and my weapon of choice is a magic dragon staff.
When you’re not trawling through dungeons, how do you like to work? (In silence, with music, or serenaded by the damned souls of a thousand dead shrimps? Do you prefer to type or to hand-write? Are you an architect or a gardener? A plotter or a pantser? D’you write in your underwear, or in a deep-sea diver’s suit?)
Tell us a little bit about your writing method!
I like to choose one playlist or album for each of my writing projects and listen to it every time I sit down to write that project. Since I have young kids (who’ve been home all the time since lockdown started), I need to be really focused about my writing time, and having a specific soundtrack for each project helps get me into exactly the right mindset every time. Also, since I bounce back and forth between genres on a regular basis (because I write both MG fantasy adventure novels and adult romantic fantasies), I’ll take any trick I can find to snap me into the right mood for the genre I’m currently in.
I’m obsessed with fountain pens, and I handwrite a lot of free-writing notes and random sections of my first drafts, but most of my time is spent typing in my laptop and figuring out my stories right along with my characters. (TOTAL pantser!)
What (or who) are your most significant female fantasy influences? Are there any creators whom you dream of working with someday?
Ooh, so many! Robin McKinley, Judith Tarr, Nalo Hopkinson, Patricia McKillip, Ellen Kushner, Delia Sherman, Octavia Butler, Diana Wynne Jones, Jane Yolen, Emma Bull, and Terri Windling all influenced me hugely when I was a teen writer first starting to write my own fantasy. Some of my current top favourite fantasy authors also include Tasha Suri, Aliette de Bodard, and Zen Cho – they’re all absolute auto-buy authors for me.
When it comes to working with other creators, I’m such a control freak that I don’t co-write well (I co-wrote one novelette with my husband, Patrick Samphire, it sold to a magazine, and then we swore NEVER, EVER to co-write again, because we’d had more fights in that space of time than ever before or afterwards in our relationship! ;p ), but I love SO many female fantasy artists, like Leesha Hannigan, Terri Windling (again!), Jenn Ravenna, Jackie Morris, and more. I’ve been lucky enough to get cover art from Leesha for two of my books already, but I’m always up for working together with more fabulous fantasy artists on creative projects! ☺
What was the last thing you watched on TV and why did you choose to watch it? Alternatively, what games have you enjoyed recently?
I just watched three more episodes from Season 2 of Avatar: the Last Airbender, which I’m watching (for the first time) with my 11-year-old son. I may be late to this show, but I’m absolutely loving it! It’s such a fantastic mix of fabulous, vivid magic with great characters, humor, adventure, and big questions.
The world shifts, and you find yourself with an extra day on your hands during which you’re not allowed to write. How do you choose to spend the day?
Dark chocolate, really good coffee, and a LOT of novel-reading would definitely be involved! Also probably a nap. Ooh, a nap…
Can you tell us a little something about your current work(s) in progress?
Right now I’m in the middle of a series of interlinked romantic fantasy stories, Good Neighbors, which is being published on my Patreon ( patreon.com/stephanieburgis ) for my $5/month subscribers. It follows the adventures of a grumpy inventor and her outrageous neighbour in the big black castle down the road, and it’s been so much fun to play with! The first story in this series was a true short story, at just 4,000 words, but as the worldbuilding and cast of characters have grown more and more complex, the stories have grown longer, too. (The second one turned out to be a novelette at 8,500 words, the third, Fine Deceptions, is a 23,000 word novella that’s coming out on July 6th, and…well, I’m just hoping for my own sake that the fourth story, Fierce Company, doesn’t turn out to be a whole novel! 😉
It’s been so much fun to share these characters and stories with my patrons across the year, almost like a TV show told through individual episodes. Eventually, once the full series is complete (probably near the end of this year), I’ll offer a full collection on sale to the general public, too (although of course my patrons will still get the very first, early copies).
In MG fantasy, I’m currently finishing up edits to my next novel, which is coming out from Bloomsbury in August 2021. The Raven Heir is the first in a fantasy duology that sprang from my fascination with the Wars of the Roses. (I am a huge history geek!) It’s about a set of triplets, two warring dynasties, and a broken crown waiting for its rightful owner. It also includes shapeshifting, an enchanted castle, and a family I LOVE.
What’s the most (and/or least) helpful piece of writing advice you’ve ever received?
The most helpful piece of writing advice I’ve ever gotten was to celebrate every single achievement and good moment along the way. So much of the highs and lows of this profession are out of our control, and emotionally, that can be really challenging to deal with – so we have to savour every tiny victory!
The worst advice I’ve ever heard came from every pro writer who laid out what they thought EVERY writer had to do in order to be “a real writer” and then finished cheerily: “If I can do it, anyone can!” As someone with a severe chronic illness, I am painfully aware that everyone has their own individual limitations and we can never know what is “obviously possible” for anyone else in life.
Every writer encounters stumbling blocks, be it a difficult chapter, challenging subject matter or just starting a new project. How do you motivate yourself on days when you don’t want to write?
I bribe myself with squares of dark chocolate and time spent browsing pretty fountain pen inks! I am all about bribes and rewards when it comes to tricking myself into work. ☺
If you could visit any country at any point in history, where/when would you go, and why?
Honestly, as a history geek, I am only too aware that I wouldn’t want to spend much time in any previous time periods! 😉 (I appreciate medicine, feminism, and more far too much for that.) But I would love to spend an evening in fin-de-siecle Vienna, have an afternoon of tea-and-snark with Jane Austen, or…well, to be frank, I would give a lot to be able to visit my parents in the US right now.
Who are your favourite female characters in literature or pop culture? And do you have a favourite type of female character you enjoy writing?
Elizabeth Peters’s Amelia Peabody mystery series was a HUGE influence on me as I was growing up. I am a huge fan of Scarlet Witch and Squirrel Girl. And I love writing smart, adventurous women and girls in any genre!
Tell us about a book that’s excellent, but underappreciated or obscure.
I really adore Jenn Reese’s MG fantasy novel A Game of Fox and Squirrels, which had the awful misfortune of coming out into the world during the lockdown, when bookstores were closed, and which should have gotten SO MUCH more attention. It’s an achingly beautiful and hopeful story (perfect for adults as well as kids) about recovery from abuse, magic, and danger, and the characters have haunted me (in the best possible way) ever since the first time I read it.
Finally, would you be so kind as to dazzle us with an elevator pitch? Why should readers check out your work?
All of my books, whether they’re adult romantic fantasies or MG fantasy adventures, are full of humor, magic, fun families, and women and girls having a fantastic time.
You can find out more and read excerpts from Stephanie’s books on her website ( www.stephanieburgis.com ) or subscribe to her Patreon ( patreon.com/stephanieburgis ) to join in the fun of her new Good Neighbors series and take part in her monthly Dragons’ Book Club. She can also be found on Twitter ( twitter.com/stephanieburgis ) and Instagram ( instagram.com/stephanieburgisinwales).