John Burnett is a professor of English, who after years of teaching students about classic literature, great authors and their books, finally decided to write some books of his own. So far he has two novels completed and, we’re about to find out if more are planned!
Melanie Rockett: Please give us a bit about your background and how you came to write your current novel, “Half Off.”
John Burnett: As a professor of English at Wayne County Community College in Detroit, I’ve enjoyed intro of reading generally. It’s hard to describe the feeling I get when a class, or even individual students, “get it”, and find themselves turned on to the stories of Dickens, Poe, Bradbury and any other great author they’re exposed to — often for the first time. Just the thought that I’ve put even one student on a life-long journey of discovery through reading is, well, priceless.
After several years of lecturing about other writers’ stories, I finally took the plunge and decided to tell stories of my own. After much trial-and-error, publisher rejection (LOTS of that, which is apparently a rite of passage for an “artist”), and questioning whether or not I had what it takes, I think I’m at least starting to get it right and find my voice as a novelist.
My first novel, “The Null Dimension”, is part one of the three-part “Autobiography of The Boogerman” series. It’s a YA urban fantasy that adds (I think) a new twist to the dystopia formula. It was published in June of 2014.
Both of my first two novels are set in my hometown, Detroit. The Motor City has been beaten, bowed and much-maligned over the years, but still remains a vibrant, exciting –great — American city. HALF OFF is my homage to a city and its people that, no matter what is thrown at them, always find a way to bounce back..
Melanie Rockett: Your second novel, “Half Off” has just been released. Can you tell s a bit about the book.
John Burnett: I like to call “Half Off” an “urban noir” novel. I don’t know if I coined that term or not (LOL), but I like how it captures the mysterious and gritty feel of the story.
A brief synopsis: When a psychotic Colombian drug lord with a murderous vendetta against the United States underwrites a “blow out” sale on all hardcore criminal activity in Detroit, homicide detectives Drew Hoard and Ray Zybicki are swept up into a vortex of violence, international intrigue and betrayal that threatens to raze the city to its foundation.
Nefarious characters behind the scenes start pulling strings, slashing prices and slap a HALF OFF discount on illegal activity in Detroit, crime in the city skyrockets. Those looking to cause a little chaos come calling, from low-level thugs to sophisticated criminals. Dead bodies start piling up, killers and arsonists for hire set up shop, and innocent cops are getting crossed out. When they see it dangling, Hoard and Zybicki can’t help but tug on a thread that promises to unravel the twisted plot set in motion to destroy Detroit. As it could very easily cost them their lives, it is not a great career move . . .
Melanie Rockett: Both your books are set in Detroit. Why did you choose that setting?
John Burnett: LOL . . . . maybe it’s a case of big city envy. How many novels, dramas on TV and movies are set in New York City, Los Angeles, or Chicago? Seems like ALL of them are! I thought it would be refreshing, and maybe even novel, to have the story take place somewhere other than the big three metropolises. Besides, if Detroit is photogenic enough for the makers of the Batman vs Superman movie recently shot here, it’s certainly dark, edgy, and exciting enough for my stories. Also, as I mentioned earlier, it’s my giving props to the city. Sure, Detroit has had a myriad of well-documented problems, from crime to corrupt politicians to the ravages of a bad economy, but most Detroiters are good people caught between the proverbial rock and hard place. Hopefully, all of my books show that resiliency.
Melanie Rockett: Your two main characters are gritty Detroit Police Department detectives. How did you go about developing their characters? Did you just start and let them evolve, or did you create a character board for them?
John Burnett: That’s a really good question. I actually did start writing with an outline and story arc firmly in mind, but the further I got into it, the more the protagonists started to evolve on their own. It was like Hoard and Zybicki’s characters formed each other through dialog and frenetic action sequences. Some of the scenes I had planned for them couldn’t be used, because they just wouldn’t be true to how the characters had evolved. Not to sound too zen about it, but to see the characters develop like that was almost an out of body experience, LOL.
Melanie Rockett: Many writers struggle with setting up a routine or schedule. Tell us about HOW you go about writing. Do you have a word count you aim for, or do you wait for inspiration?
John Burnett: That’s even more of a challenge for me as a college English professor. During any given week during the semester, I might have anywhere from 30 to 70 composition essays to read and grade. Every week. For 15 weeks. Needless to say, any time away from that to do my own fiction writing is a welcome respite from the drudgery of correcting bad grammar, and that time is very precious to me, almost like a reward for doing my nine-to-five. And yes, I always have a page count in mind when I sit down to compose; sometimes I hit it, sometimes I don’t. Sometimes, when the muse is on my shoulder, I greatly exceed it. And that’s a great feeling.
Melanie Rockett: Do you have MORE novels on the go or on the back burner? The write-up for The Null Dimension says “Book 1,” will there be a Book 2? Are you planning on turning “Half Off” into a series?
John Burnett: Yep! The answer to both questions is absolutely yes! I’m already contracted to continue both The Boogerman AND Half Off series as trilogies. And I’ve a few ideas on the back burner that I can’t wait to get going on. Hopefully, many of your readers will come along for the ride!
If you want to “come along for the ride!” and join John Burnett’s fan club,
you can find him on his website and Blog