Thursday, August 29, 2013

Interview Feature: Introducing Meredith Leigh Burton

Dear Imps, many of you know Meredith already via her award-winning fan fiction from the 2012 Goldstone Wood Fan Fiction contest. She also submitted wonderful fan fiction to this year's contest (there's still time to vote!), contributes thoughtful comments, and offers encouragement to all of us on a regular basis.

You might not have realized that she is also a published author.

So today, I invited Meredith to join us for an interview. Below, she will tell you about her writing experiences, her favorite author, her various published works and works in progress, and she'll share an excerpt from her fantasy adventure, Crimilia. What is more, she is offering a giveaway for a print copy of Crimilia, so don't miss out on a chance to enter your name!

About the Author: Meredith Leigh Burton, born July 4, 1983,  is a graduate of the Tennessee School for the Blind in Nashville and Middle Tennessee State University in Murfreesboro. Her love affair with books began at an early age. She devoured every book she could get her hands on, either in Braille or audio. She has a Bachelor's Degree in English and theater, and is a certified English teacher for grades 7-12.
Her debut novel was published through Tate Publishing, a mainline publishing house dedicated to working with aspiring novelists and giving their works a great chance in the marketplace. Find her website at: crimilia.tateauthor.com.

And here is a little about her debut novel:

A benevolent baker… a diabolical queen… an ancient prophecy… and a secret strength that can only be found in two very special people.


Hannah Wilkins is bitter. In addition to being teased at school about her weight, she has now been struck blind in a terrible accident, causing her to lose all sense of normalcy, and her tight-knit family. She struggles through every day, each of which only seems to get worse than the last, until one fateful morning when her bus hits a deer and the resulting jolt sends her flying into another universe.

Brandon Pringle struggles every day to fit in and function like the rest of the children at his school. Afflicted by a debilitating limp, he doesn’t seem to be useful to anyone. But when he is thrown from the school bus and lands on an unfamiliar riverbank, everything he knows about himself is completely overturned.

Tossed together in the unfamiliar and turbulent land of Crimilia, Hannah and Brandon must fight their way through the unfamiliar landscapes of jealousy, greed, temptation, and hate in order to help restore peace to a land run by a tyrant. With the help of a few friends and through the goodness of a kindly baker named Jamal, they might just succeed in freeing the citizens of Crimilia from the ruthless Queen Salak. Join author Meredith Burton for an unforgettable tale of friendship, faith, and perseverance in the land of Crimilia.

Interview

Welcome to Goldstone Wood, Meredith! Would you mind telling us a little about yourself? Hobbies, personality . . . tea or coffee?

Meredith: I’d be happy too.  To begin with, I was born on July 4, 1983.  Being three months’ premature, I was placed under oxygen so that my lungs could complete their development.  God was gracious in that everything developed fine.  However, the long exposure to the oxygen caused my retinas to scar and detach.  Yet, I am blessed to have a wonderful family who opened up the world to me through their encouragement to explore using my other senses.

I find solace in music and other forms of art, and I express myself best through writing and music.  I was a loner, particularly in elementary and middle school.  During high school, I joined choir and was involved in theater, so that helped me to break out of my shell.  I love getting to know people, so it usually doesn’t take me very long to make friends.  I am a voracious reader, I love singing, helping with church activities and spending time with my family and friends.

Coffee or tea? Both, but especially coffee on a cold winter’s day.  Mind you, I have a killer sweet tooth, so when I say coffee, it’s basically cream and sugar with just a splash of coffee for appearances’ sake.  I am an espresso addict, however, so I must avoid coffee shops or I will succumb to temptation every time.

What led you into the writing life? Were you always a storyteller?

Meredith: I’ve always had stories dancing around in my head but never seriously considered writing as a career.  When I was little, I wrote stories, (usually ones that I didn’t finish), and I never showed them to anyone.  I read continuously, and my mother read to me a lot when I was young, so I’ve always had an adoration for words and how stories are developed.

In college, I began as a music major.  However, I wasn’t accepted into the university’s music program.  So, being a lover of literature, I changed my major to English with an emphasis in secondary education.  After college, I applied for positions and went for several interviews, but I was never hired.  This was a particularly depressing time for me, but something kept nudging at me, a persistent desire to write a story.  Thinking that nothing would come of it, yet knowing it was better than feeling sorry for myself, I sat down and began to seriously write for the first time.  God has opened so many doors through my writing that I am still overwhelmed.  I have had many wonderful opportunities to speak at schools and churches, educating teenagers about blindness and sharing the ways that God has helped me through the years.  In addition, I’ve gotten to work with an exceptional middle school English teacher.  We just never know what marvelous plans God has in store, and his ideas for our lives are more amazing than we could ever dream.

Tell us a little about your work! What led you to start writing Crimilia? Will there be a sequel?

Meredith: I have always adored fantasy literature because it reiterates the truth that good ultimately triumphs, (not without major sacrifice, of course).  However, Crimilia began with a complaint that has always bothered me about the fantasy genre.  There are so few fantasy books that feature disabled protagonists.  Mind you, fantasy has to have an element of believability, (a sword-wielding blind girl might not be feasible).  Sir Eanrin has me rethinking this! Anyway, I wanted to write a story in which two ordinary children with physical challenges find themselves being called to fight against evil.  Also, there are very few current fantasy novels available to the blind population in accessible formats, (a major gripe of mine).  The book industry seems perfectly willing to produce audio versions of vampire stories or things of that nature, but finding edifying fantasy novels is very difficult.  I wanted to write a story which was relatable to disabled individuals and which would be available for them to read.  So, Crimilia is available in audio as well as electronic and paperback additions.

Crimilia was also inspired by a Bible study in the Gospel of John.  I was amazed at the many figurative ways in which Jesus describes himself.  John 6:35 jumped out at me one day, and a character began to take shape, a baker whose food contains life-giving properties.  I could actually smell bread baking and visualize a small, unimpressive-looking bakery that was more than it seemed.  A man stood at a makeshift table kneading dough, and strength emanated from him.  The other characters took shape soon after that.

Yes, a sequel is in the works.  Soral’s Rising is in the final editing stage.  It should be available in February or March of 2014.

Have you published other works as well?

Meredith: Yes.  My second novel, The Jarah Portal, is set in a world where everyone is blind.  Called Tactiria, the world is technologically advanced, featuring machines and other items particularly geared for the blind inhabitants.  Tactiria appears to be an ideal world because the people are valued not for their looks but for their abilities.  However, evil lurks beneath the surface.  The novel is basically a coming-of-age tale in which the two protagonists must learn the truth about their world and must decide if they can trust a mysterious stranger.  The strange man uses odd words such as look and color.  Everyone is frightened of him.  This story was a joy to write because I got to explore one of my favorite themes: What truly makes a person different, and does being different automatically mean you are dangerous?

Can you pick a favorite character from Crimilia?

Meredith: Naturally, I relate the strongest with Hannah Wilkins, the main protagonist.  She is an embittered thirteen-year-old girl struggling to come to terms with her recent loss of sight.  An accomplished flutist, she has abandoned her talent and shows very little interest in life, seeking solace only in food.  She is often the victim of bullying and verbal abuse because of her weight, (an issue that I myself struggled with, particularly when I was little).  Crimilia is a story not only about Hannah’s journey in the alternate land, but also a journey into herself.

Another favorite character is one who is almost non-appearing.  She is a scullery maid named Madeleine.  She’s brooding, and you never know what she’ll say or do.  I like her because she reminds me of one of my cousins, and because some of her actions are things I might do in similar situations.  She and Hannah are actually a lot alike even though they are from different worlds.

What inspires your work? Where do you turn when you need a renewal of inspiration?

Meredith: Scripture inspires my work, particularly Zephaniah 3:17.  The knowledge that the all-powerful, infinite God watches over us, that this “Mighty Warrior” seeks to save us, that he loves us so much we make him sing, is utterly incredible.  That verse gives me so much comfort.
 
Music and poetry are huge sources of inspiration as well.  Any type of music will bring about ideas for a character or theme, but I particularly love Broadway show tunes because, of course, they are so character driven.  Regarding music that inspired Crimilia, two hymns really jumped out at me: “A Mighty Fortress is Our God,” and “Oh Sacred Head, Now Wounded.”  Poetry from the Victorian Era, particularly works by Christina Rossetti and Gerard Manley Hopkins give me ideas as well.  Temptation sequences in Crimilia took root in my mind when I read Christina Rossetti’s powerful fairy tale poem entitled “Goblin Market.” I also get ideas from John Donne’s Holy Sonnets.
 
My nieces, Aliya Davine and Tristyn Layla are huge sources of inspiration.  Their antics and Tristyn’s profound questions always make me think.
 
What are your favorite and least favorite parts of the writing process?
 
Meredith: My favorite parts of the writing process are the creation of dialogue and characterization.  I love how conversation flows when you really get into a scene.  I’m not a formal outliner, (though I like to know where a story’s going), but I love how scenes take shape and surprise you.  It’s truly astounding how often this happens, and I find myself asking if I really wrote that.  The characters seem to take over at certain points.
 
My least favorite part is determining what scenes to cut during the revision stage.  I’m very wordy, and I know things must be cut, but it’s very difficult for me.

If you were forced to pick a single favorite author, who would it be?

Meredith: Ouch! I know this is a clich├ęd answer, but I have to say C.S. Lewis.  He was the first fantasy author I ever encountered, and I will never forget my sense of wonder at stepping into Narnia with Lucy Pevensie for the first time.  His imagery is so profound.  I’ll never forget dismantling my closet one day, throwing clothes to the floor and groping for the back of the wall, desperately seeking my own entrance into that wonderful land.  Lewis’s books for adults are outstanding as well.  I love his candor.  He doesn’t mind expressing his honest feelings toward God, (even his anger), yet I believe he was a very devout and humble man.  My favorite of his adult works is his retelling of the myth of Cupid and Psyche, Till We Have Faces.  It’s a book I thoroughly recommend, particularly if you’re going through a difficult time in your life.

What are you actively writing right now?

Meredith: I am writing a short story entitled “Eleanora’s Quest.” It’s a tale that combines elements from three of my favorite fairy tales, but I won’t say which ones.

Would you share a short snippet from Crimilia with us?

Meredith: Absolutely! Here is a scene in chapter 3.  It takes place shortly after Hannah arrives at Plenty Palace.

excerpt from

Crimilia

 
The room was dark and cool. On the walls, jeweled tapestries shone with many colors.
            In the center of the room on a golden throne, a slender woman sat ensconced among plush cushions. Her heart-shaped face was framed by billowing strawberry blonde locks. Ice blue eyes shone from the alabaster pallor of her skin.
The woman wore a crimson dress of the finest silk covered in every imaginable jewel: ruby, emerald, jasper, diamond, and dozens of other precious stones.
            The woman raised a commanding hand, and a man in the corner looked up inquiringly. “Bring me my mirror!”
            The man nodded and withdrew.  In a moment he returned, placing a large cherry-framed mirror before his queen.
            The mirror was made of imported Venetian glass studded with strange gems of indescribable beauty. Only the queen knew that the stones were the Gems of Discord, deadly objects that lay entombed in the bowels of Crimilia’s wastelands. Using these gems, she’d fashioned her greatest tool: the Mirror of Revelation.  This mirror served as her looking glass and spying tool.  With it, she could monitor her subjects and summon them when necessary.
On the cherry-colored frame of this mirror, small pictures of flowers and blooming trees swayed in a lifelike breeze. In the center of the frame, a carving of a red rose overshadowed all others. Its petals opened wide as if spreading its perfume throughout the room. Only if you looked closely could you distinguish the small carving that emerged from the rose’s center. The carving was of a scarlet serpent coiled as if to strike.
            The queen stared in rapture at her breathtaking image.
            Suddenly, the throne room door crashed open. “Queen Salak! The guards have found a girl wandering about the palace grounds!” a black-cloaked man yelled.
            Salak looked up from her perusal. “Aufeld. What is that to me? Do what you like with her.”
            “She’s blind, my queen!” Aufeld cried desperately.
            Salak sucked in her breath. Her left hand convulsed as it slapped the arm of her throne. “It can’t be!”
            “I thought it best to come to you right away.”
            “Bring her to me,” Salak whispered in icy tones.
            When the throne room door closed, Salak turned to her mirror and gazed fixedly into its depths. A twisted smile suffused her pale features. “Show me Jamal,” she murmured.
            The glass clouded, and she peered transfixed at the image of her enemy. He was moving determinedly forward, purpose driven, and refusing to look back.
Yes, she thought, keep coming closer. I’m waiting!
            The throne room door opened, and Aufeld propelled a young girl forward. The girl was struggling in his iron grip. “Let me go!” she screeched. The girl wore a red, short-sleeved shirt and blue pants woven from a coarse-looking material. She clutched a strange object.
            “Aufeld,” Salak’s voice crooned gently, “there’s no need to alarm our guest. Release her.”
            “But, Your Highness—”
            “Do as I say.”
            Growling deep in his throat, Aufeld complied. He thrust Hannah toward the throne. Her cane clattered to the floor. Hannah stumbled.
            “Where am I? Somebody help me!” Hannah shouted. She groped for her cane.
            A hand brushed hers as the cane was handed back. “Is this what you’re looking for, my dear?” Salak’s voice was gentle and bell-like.
            “Thank you,” Hannah managed to whisper. “Where am I?”
            “You’re in Plenty Palace in the Land of Crimilia. What is your name?”
            “I’m Hannah Wilkins. I’m from Tennessee.”
            “Tennessee? What land is that?” the woman asked sharply.
            “It’s in the United States.  This must be England.  Your accent--”
            “England? You are a strange child.  How did you acquire that large swelling on your head?”
            “I don’t know!” Hannah cried in frustration.
            “Aufeld!  Have Louise doctor that bump on her head, and get some food inside her. Then bring her back to me.”
            Aufeld nodded. “Come, child,” he said gruffly.
            “You’re not grabbing me this time!” Hannah snapped.
            Salak laughed a bubbling laugh. “Of course not, my dear! You may use the peculiar apparatus you brought with you.”
            “It’s called a cane,” Hannah informed her.
            When the throne room door had closed, the queen turned back to her mirror. “Reveal the information about Hannah Wilkins,” she instructed. The mirror shimmered, and Salak leaned forward to peer at images of the girl’s life. She smiled in satisfaction. Everything would work out to her advantage.
 
_____________
 
 
Thank you, Meredith, both for a lovely interview and a lovely excerpt! It was delightful to have you visit today . . . and I hope we will see you again for many more book features.
 
Now, dear imps, are you excited about Crimilia? If so, do take the time to enter your name in the giveaway below!
 
http://www.rafflecopter.com/rafl/display/0cd52415/" rel="nofollow">a Rafflecopter giveaway


 

16 comments:

Rebeka B. said...

Hi Meredith! Thanks for the giveaway and interview. :)

"Crimilia" sounds absolutely wonderful. How did you develop your main characters--when did they first start taking shape in your mind?

Blessings!

Sarah said...

Sounds like an interesting story. I'll have to see if I can find a way to read it. Thanks for the giveaway and interview!

Question: How do you balance writing with the rest of your life?

Galadriel said...

Are you a pantser or a plotter?

Molly said...

I zipped over here when I saw who was being interviewed; that snippet was amazing! I'm ready to read more!

So, did you ever get stuck on writing? I was wondering what helps you break through Writer's block; for most people, it's usually music.

Hannah said...

Thank you, Meredith. The interview was marvelous and I was very glad to learn more about you. You're very inspiring!

In your sequel do you plan to continued with the same characters? Is there a new character you're particularly excited about?

God Bless!

Clara Darling said...

You're such an inspiration, Meredith! Thanks for doing this interview. You character-Hannah- plays the flute. Do you play as well?

Meredith said...

Hi, everyone. Thanks so ery much for your kind comments and excellent questions. I'll try to answer then in order:

Rebeka: The main characters began with a question: How would two children with physical challenges react to suddenly being thrust into an alternate world? What if they were connected with a prophecy that predicted an end to a tyrant's rule? Hannah was the first disabled character to develop, and I wanted to feature a boy as well. Brandon was a little more of a challenge, but he was lots of fun. I actually had to go back and add things about his character after the first draft, particularly snippets about his family and the talent which proves to be his gratest weapon.
Jamal and Salak developed in a strange way. Ever since I was little, I've had those two names dancing around in my head. I wrote several snippets of stories, one in particular called "The General's Bride," which had Salak as a male character, sort of a love triangle story. I just couldn't make that premise work well, I think because its been done before by much more capable people. However, when the idea came to make Salak a villainness, the entire plot took a totally different direction.

Sarah: I usually portion out a particular time of day to write, about 3-4 hours on a good day. This doesn't always happen, of course, but I like to write in the mornings or early afternoons.

Meredith said...

Galadriel: I'm not entirely sure what you mean by "pantser or plotter," but I assume you mean do I write with a particular outline in front of me? No. Ideas usually spring into my head unexpectedly. I'll think about them for a few days and have a general idea of where I want the story to go. Then, I'll sit down and start writing. I don't like to formally outline because I love being surprised. However, I do recommend that writers take it slow if they use this method and know that some ideas will not work. I've got lots of half-baked ideas on the "back burner," snippets that I'm keeping because they might grow one day.

Molly: Usually, if I'm stuck, I'll leave a story alone for a few days and then come back to it. When I reread what I've written so far after I've rested, I can usually resume where I left off. On the other hand, if I realize the idea isn't working, I'll go from there, either putting it aside or coming at the idea from a different direction. Sometimes, looking at a story from a different character's POV helps me, too. Music is indeed a huge help as is reading someone else's work. Even if I beat myself up and say "they're so much more talented," I can usually break away from my "pity party" and take encouragement from their work. We all have different talents, and that is the beauty of God's creativity.

Meredith said...

Hannah: Soral's Rising features Hannah and Brandon again as well as a brother and sister named Michael and Ruth Everett. I particularly loved exploring Michael's character. He is seven years old. Because of a traumatic experience that occurred when he was four, he is trapped in a prison of fear and silence. Michael is the one who is particularly drawn to a snow-white dove, a character with whom he can converse without speaking. His sister, Ruth, was also loads of fun to write about. She's thirteen and a talented athlete. Yet, she is very quiet and reluctant to believe that she is in an alternate world. She wrestles with the event that destroyed her family, and her love for Michael is fierce and protective. She will do anything to help him, even if her actions jeopardize herself and others. I loved exploring how actions for good and bad have consequences that affect many times and places.

Clara: Oh, how I wish I could play the flute. It has such a soothing sound, almost like the coo of a mourning dove. I do play the piano and sing. The flute and the violin are two instruments I would love to learn to play.

God bless you all, and thanks for taking the time to ask such wonderful questions.

CajunHuntress said...

When I was young I read every little house on the prairie book I could get my hands on from Martha to Rose. But what hooked me most was a spin off tale about Mary and her time at a school for the blind. I thought it was the coolest thing to be able to learn braille, but I am just starting to learn it now. When you read books do you prefer to listen or to read braille?

Meredith said...

Oh, how fantastic that you are learning Braille! Are you taking a correspondence course, or is someone teaching you? There's a lot of symbols to learn, but please stick with it. I love Mary in Little House on the Prairie, too.

I prefer to read books in Braille because I can picture the characters more vividly in that way. However, I don't mind audio if it is the only way I can obtain the book. God bless you, and please keep up the outstanding work.

Anonymous said...

Okay, I'm not trying to be rude or anything, but I've had a question that has never been answered. I noticed in your writing, you wrote everything in vivid color. Being blind, do you know what these colors look like? Can you imagine them? Or do you just know what color everything is from life?

Again, I'm not trying to offend anyone here. Just always wondered about that...:)

Jennette Mbewe said...

This is interesting! Do we start the novel from the Queen's point of view?

Thanks for sharing! And thanks for the interview Anne Elisabeth!

Courtney said...

Sounds interesting. I looked up your other book on Amazon and it is around 20 dollars. Is there a cheaper way to get that book?

Meredith said...

Anonymous: Please don't worry about offending me. I don't mind answering any question about blindness. I do not see colors in the visual sense because I have no basis of reference. By this I mean I have never seen with my eyes, so the concept of sight is tricky to describe. I associate colors with certain feelings, tastes, smells or touch. For instance, I associate the color red with passion and sacrifice. (Red is my favorite color). I associate the color green with envy and peppermint. I recommend a book of phenomenal poetry entitled Hailstones and Halibut Bones, by Marilyn O'Neill. It takes each color and personifies it, describing different ways colors are perceived. It's a book that had a profound impression on me. Each person is different, so it is possible that other blind people see color. Many of my friends do, but they are people who have lost their sight later in life. I do have a friend blind from birth who says she sees things in her dreams. For me, dreams are not visual. However, they are no less real. Hope this answer helps you. Thanks for your question. God bless you.

Meredith said...

Ms. Jennette: Thanks for your question and kind comments. No, the story starts from Hannah's perspective. Each chapter is from an alternate POV, but they mainly alternate between Hannah and Brandon. There are a few chapter's from the queen's perspective as well.

Courtney: Thank you for your question. I am actually frustrated about this very issue. I made a mistake and rushed into a situation without fully thinking. I am working on getting the price reduced and on an electronic version that will be cheaper. I have a shorter version of the novel that can be downloaded for free, but it's under a different name. The story is entitled "Talura," and it can be found at www.christianityoasis.com Thanks again for your interest.

God bless you both.