I'm so happy to have fellow Kentuckian K. Melissa Burton here today! We met at the Kentucky Book Fair last November and shared our love of Kentucky history and good books. She'd written a fine review of The Frontiersman's Daughter for Kentucky Monthly magazine. I fell in love with her book on Daniel Boone and knew she was a kindred spirit.
Now that her new historical novel, With Purpose and Promise, is releasing this month, I wanted to introduce her here. She's graciously provided a signed copy of her new book for one of you (and for me, too!). Isn't the cover beautiful? So without further adieu, here she is...
You write historical novels. What makes a historical setting more appealing to you than a contemporary one?
I like contemporaries, too, but have always been fascinated by history. It's a comforting escape for me. I don't enjoy military or political history so much as how people lived day to day. I derive great pleasure in finding out about their daily routines and struggles. I like knowing about the culture of the time and learning from it and contemplating about how I would react under the circumstances.
History is also personal. I have a great-grandfather who lost everything in the Great Depression. My husband's grandfather lost a parent and three siblings in the flu pandemic of 1918. Learning how major historical events impacted the average person is what appeals to me. That's what I enjoy reading about, so that's often what I enjoy writing about as well.
Tell us about your newest book, With Purpose and Promise.
One of my novel's settings, Kavanaugh School, was actually a well-known institution in my hometown back in the 1930's and 1940's. It was respected because its founder, Mrs. Kavanaugh, was a formidable taskmaster and excellent teacher. Even though the school was public, it operated like a private institution since it was her own home. She housed some students there and was most notable for prepping young men for the military academies. In its heyday, it was also known to be a basketball powerhouse.
I was aware of this growing up. My grandparents had met there, so it has a personal appeal to me. While in college, I chose the school as a subject for a research paper and ran across an old article that had 2 pictures from 1912. Both pictures showed five girls in middy blouses and skirts standing on the porch of the Kavanaugh school. One girl in each picture was holding a basketball.
The article accompanying the photo went on to explain how these young ladies introduced the town to a new game called basketball in the spring of 1912. They put on an exhibition at the local opera house as a means of raising money for the school library.
I was stunned! The boys got all the glory a few decades later, but it was the girls who started it all. This fascinated me. For years, I carried this little nugget of info around in my head and wondered about those young ladies, their trials and triumphs at a time before women could even vote. Yet they had the moxie to play an organized sport in public.
In my book, With Purpose and Promise, I take one of those girls and develop a story around her starting her childhood on a farm and follow her experiences on up through senior year when she plays forward on one of the teams.
How long have you been writing?
I've got journals that go back to the '80's, but professionally, I've only been writing about three years. I know that in this business, I'm still a newcomer. I'm learning and growing a little every day.
Being a Kentuckian, what do you like most about its history? Do you have a favorite historical figure or happening?
Kentucky's history is wonderful because there are so many colorful characters. Some were noble, some were not! That's what makes it fun.
My favorite is Jane Todd Crawford. In 1809, she was a patient of the esteemed Dr. Ephraim McDowell. What she thought might be twins turned out to be a massive tumor in her abdomen. Knowing any surgery was experimental, at best and with no anesthesia, she allowed Dr. McDowell to remove a 22.5 pound tumor! And by some miracle, she lived!
Dr. McDowell went on to become famous and even had a statue in the capital rotunda but I've always felt more credit should go to Jane Todd Crawford. Some day I'd love to write a book about her.
How do you spend your writing days? Do you set a daily word count? How long did it take you to write With Purpose and Promise?
I'm not one of those people who operates at a set time. Rather, I set small goals. If I'm working on a novel, I may set a daily word count. (And believe me, it's not something crazy high!). If I'm writing for magazines, I might break it down into research, write, and rewrite and work a little each day.
Part of what I love about writing is the flexibility, so I'm not going to lock myself in a room from 8-5. I'm sure I could achieve more, but I wouldn't be as happy.
What are you currently reading?
Oh my! I'm one of those whacky people who juggles several books at a time. Let's see...
The Greatest Life of All: Jesus - Chuck Swindoll
The Secret of Sarah Revere - Ann Rinaldi
Courting Morrow Little - Laura Frantz (Yes! It's true! Started it 2 days ago!)
Love and Respect - Dr. Emerson Eggerichs
I also have two books waiting to be reviewed and at least half a dozen books that I've purchased to help me with research for my next children's books.
You are also a reviewer for Kentucky Monthly Magazine, a teacher, and travel a great deal. How do you find balance in your very busy life?
I don't teach now. When my first book was published, I left the classroom, but I feel very much like a teacher at heart. I do visit a lot of schools, but unlike teaching, when I leave, I'm truly finished. There's no homework to grade, plans to make, meetings to attend, etc. So, in a sense, that's much easier.
Still, life can get hectic. A writer has many elements to juggle.
However, this past January, my husband had a stroke at age 39! Talk about a wake up call! That certainly puts everything in perspective. Miraculously, he is fully recovered. But now, I don't fret when I tell someone no or berate myself when I'm spending time on the couch watching TV with my husband instead of completing an article. I treasure those simple moments more and my writing successes less...which is as it should be.
Ultimately, I've had to learn to say no to some opportunities, even if they seem good. Success is not the ultimate goal anymore. Fulfillment with my husband is.
What are some of your hobbies/interests?
I love to bake! My character, Lilly Kate, is quite a baker, and that comes from personal experience. However, I'm not a snobby cook. I haven't met a cake mix I didn't like or a shortcut that I didn't think had merit.
I do love to read. I don't think you can be a good writer without first being a good reader. But I don't feel the need to finish a book simply because I started it. If a book isn't holding my interest, I let it go! It doesn't have feelings and won't know the difference, so why waste my time?
My husband and I don't have children (yet), but I love "aunting." I have two nieces and a nephew that I enjoy spoiling and making feel special. They call me "Aunt Missa" which I love!
What are you writing now?
I have articles for Kentucky Monthly and Missions Mosaic in the works, but my biggest project is the next book in the Now That's Interesting series from McClanahan Publishing. This one will be about Kentucky during the Civil War. I hope to not only have information about the battles and skirmishes but also about the daily lives of people and the tension between neighbors because loyalties were so divided. Of course, since it's for school children, I'll have to include some gruesome information about sickness, wounds, and weaponry. They love that stuff!
What do you like most about being a published author? Least?
God put the dream of writing in my heart for a reason, and I feel great satisfaction because I'm in His will. There's a peace that's indescribable. Meeting different people is also wonderful, and since I visit dozens of schools each year, I get the pleasure of meeting many more readers than some authors. I get a lot of hugs, too!
And I won't lie. The flexibility is fabulous. After ten years of teaching and having minutes to each lunch, I'm still amazed that I have a job that lets me get out and run errands between the hours of 7 and 3! Every teacher out there knows what I mean!
The least is the money. Just because you have a book or two published doesn't mean it's a lucrative job. It isn't! But there are other things more important than income.
How can readers find you on the Internet?
I have a website and blog! It's www.kmelissaburton.com. You can also reach me via email at firstname.lastname@example.org
Please leave a comment to be entered in the book drawing. Winner announced next Monday, August 16!