More About the Author
I was born in Monroe, Michigan and grew up in Monrovia, California. Michael Burns is my pen name. My mother's grandmother was Elizabeth Burns, who was related to Robert Burns, the Scottish poet and songwriter. When I wrote my first book, Hot Planet, I thought Burns would be a fine name for a writer and my mother was thrilled with the idea.
I also write songs. When I was younger, I actually looked like Robert Burns. Sometimes I wonder if I am his reincarnation.
My parents bought me a piano when I was eleven and I started practicing one or two hours a day, soon four hours a day, and then, on weekends, eight hours a day. I became obsessed with the classics: Chopin, Beethoven, Liszt, Rachmaninoff, Debussy. And Gershwin. When I was at Northern Arizona University getting my bachelor's degree in business, I found out that Leonard Pennario was coming to town, and I told my friends that it would be a splendid concert. I was the first one in line and I got tickets for all of us, in the very front row. The Flagstaff Symphony Orchestra is one of the finest in America. Pennario and the orchestra performed Gershwin's Piano Concerto in F. Pennario was playing a Steinway concert grand piano. Wow!
Although dead now, Pennario is considered to have been the best pianist in America. I would have to agree. It was a fantastic concert. I'll never forget that night. A year later, Van Cliburn came to town and he played Tchaikovsky's Piano Concerto No. 1 in B-flat minor with the Flagstaff Symphony. I'll never forget that night, either. My date was a girl named Jenny, from Austin, Texas. Jenny was five feet tall, and after the concert she insisted on meeting Van Cliburn, a fellow Texan. After I shook hands with Van Cliburn, I stepped aside and watched the two of them talk, for like five minutes. Van Cliburn, at six, six, stood in marked contrast to Jenny.
I love classical music, but I also love rock and roll. The best concert I ever saw was at the Pasadena Civic Auditorium. It was my birthday, May 19, 1968, and my girlfriend, Linda, bought me a wonderful birthday present: tickets to see Janis Joplin and Big Brother and the Holding Company. Janis gave an amazing performance. Big Brother and the Holding Company was the best rock band I have ever seen, and I've seen quite a few. I still think about that night, so many years ago.
Although while in high school, I loved music, I also liked sports. I played varsity football, but being a pianist seemed to irritate the coaches because to protect my hands, I wore gloves. I was most likely the first football player in all of Southern California to wear gloves while playing football. Now, of course, everyone wears them. But then, it was considered unmanly to try to protect your hands. To this day, I have bad memories of my football coaches, even though we were the Pacific League Champions in 1965.
In 1969, despite my protests, I was drafted and sent to Vietnam. I spent fourteen months in a combat zone--Vietnam's Central Highlands. I spent the last eight months of that tour on our battalion civilian affairs team. Our team's mission was to win the hearts and minds of the local population. Driving in a small, three-quarter ton truck, our team went out into isolated villages to provide medical aid and to distribute food and other goods that had come from charities back in America. Looking back, I've decided I was crazy to volunteer for that mission. But, today I savor the memories of that experience.
At some point, I can't remember exactly when, I decided I was going to be a writer. It must have been the Robert Burns in me. As you can see by my list of novels, I don't stick to one genre. I'd be bored out of my mind if all I did was write war novels, or mystery novels, or romance novels. I think writers who do that tend to get stale.
That's not to say I don't like mystery novels or war novels or romance novels. I do, but by delving into different genres, it forces me to do research to ensure I get the content right. Research leads to learning and learning leads to knowledge.
Education is important, too. I noticed my writing improved significantly after I got my master's degree. I became more analytical in my approach to storytelling. Getting a higher education honed my critical thinking skills, and so I went back and revised all of my prior novels. And no, I didn't attend a paper factory. My master's degree in education is also from Northern Arizona University, considered to have one of the finest teaching colleges in the nation. For the last nearly twenty years, I supported myself by teaching in the state of Arizona, and for the last nine years of my teaching career I worked for the Bureau of Indian Affairs, teaching at a remote reservation in Southern Arizona. During this time, I wrote THE HORN, POLICE STATE, and NORTHWOODS AND OTHER SHORT STORIES.
The reservation was so remote I had to live out there during the week. It was too far from home to commute daily. In the evenings, I had plenty of time to reflect on what is and what isn't good fiction. My goal was to write compelling stories that would keep a reader's interest. Last year, I quit teaching, and decided to devote all of my time to being a writer.
I usually write in the third person, but THE FIRST MIRACLE was written in the first person. Making that seemingly minor change caused me to seriously analyze perspective and in the end it made me a better writer. At the time, I had to make a choice. Writing in the third person would have been easier, but I wanted to try something new. This novel is now my favorite. I think it is an amazing story.
In early September, 2013, I finished a 122-page screenplay based on THE HORN, and during this project I found a number of things in the novel that needed to be changed. I didn't write the screenplay only to make money. I wrote it because I wanted to see if I could do it. Call it a personal challenge. But my philosophy is to constantly challenge myself. Without challenges, we don't improve. In fact, just the opposite--we stagnate. So by challenging myself by writing a screenplay, THE HORN became a better novel--a lot better. If I never sell the screenplay, at least I've got the satisfaction of getting a much improved version of this story. Consider the current edition of THE HORN to be the second edition.
NORTHWOODS AND OTHER SHORT STORIES is my collection of short stories. I discovered that it is actually more difficult to write a short story than a novel, because you have to tell the story in a concise format, and it's almost impossible to get all the necessary elements of fiction (exposition, rising action, climax, resolution, and falling action) crammed neatly into such a short space. So the challenge is doing it and getting it right. Recently, a friend confided in me that one of my short stories, THE HYPNOTIST, is the most erotic thing she's ever read. I was very glad she told me that. It made me realize I must have got the story right.
My latest novel is SANCTUM SANCTORUM, and it's the result of lengthy, extensive research. I hope people will like it. Given the hatred in the Middle East for the Israelis, I'm glad I decided to write this novel. I'm already thinking about writing a sequel.
Finally, I want to say that I am still involved in music. I have a baby grand piano and I write songs. I keep a close eye on today's music industry, but there doesn't seem to be the excitement that existed in music during The Sixties. Maybe, an artist or a band will come along who will really shake things up.
If you decide to read any of my novels, please keep in mind that I am an independent author. I live or die based on your reviews.
To be contd.