Interview With Author Thomas A. Burns Jr.

# Please introduce yourself and your book(s)!

My name is Thomas A. Burns, Jr., and I’m the author of the Natalie McMasters Mysteries. The series comprises five (soon to be six!) sexy thrilling mysteries with an LGBTQ twist. Natalie McMasters is twenty, short and blonde (OK, it’s bleached!), way cute, and a pre-law student at State. She’s also straight, or at least she thinks so. To put herself through school, she’s moonlighting as a private detective trainee at her uncle Amos Murdoch’s 3M Detective Agency, where the most exciting thing she does is sit in a car, waiting for people who’ve claimed workman’s compensation because of an injury to do something they shouldn’t be able to. After she directly confronts a subject on a stakeout, Amos fires her for taking too many chances. That’s the premise for the first Natalie McMasters story, Stakeout!, which you can read for free here: .

The rest of the books in the series can be found here:

# What is/are the real-life story(ies) behind your book(s)?

The Natalie McMasters Mysteries are set in the present day, in a fictional capital city in the southern US. Each book is a fast-paced thriller, and I also try to showcase some important current social issues in each one. For example, the first novel in the series, Stripper!, sheds light on the treatment of female sex workers by law enforcement and the plight of illegal immigrants in the US. It also tells how a young Catholic girl deals with the fact that she just might be a lesbian. Each succeeding volume also highlights similar issues in an even-handed manner.

The character Natalie was inspired by a guy I met on the job, who moonlighted for a detective agency while he was in college, doing essentially the same job as Natalie does for Amos.

# What inspires/inspired your creativity?

The Natalie McMasters Mysteries are largely ripped from today’s headlines, so there’s never a lack of material for me to write about. The novels are really just one big story, each one following from the last, although each story is structured so it can be read as a standalone without spoilers for past books. However, you’ll get a lot more out of the stories if you read them sequentially.

# How do you deal with creative block?

As a former technical writer, I never told my boss that I had to slip a deadline because I had writer’s block. You just get the job done.

# What are the biggest mistakes you can make in a book?

Trying to write for the market, or trying to second guess your readers. For everything you write, someone will hate it and someone will love it, so write what you want, not what you think someone else will like.

# Do you have tips on choosing titles and covers?

The titles of the Natalie McMasters Mysteries all feature an exclamation point as part of the brand. When Stripper! was in beta, someone told me that exclamation points were old school and shouldn’t be used anymore. So I embraced the exclamation point and put it in the title.

Many bestsellers have nondescript, vanilla covers, to avoid offending anyone, I expect. But I think the cover should reflect the theme of the book and highlight an important scene.

# How do bad reviews and negative feedback affect you and how do you deal with them?

I pay very little attention to any reviews or feedback. Writing is very subjective. What one person loves, another hates. The only exception is that, if I keep hearing the same criticism from multiple commenters, my ears perk up and I take a second look at what I’m doing.

# How has your creation process improved over time?

Writing is a craft, and if done right, it improves with time. I think reading other authors, both in and out of genre is essential for improving one’s own writing. Different genres rely on different techniques that can be incorporated into a writer’s toolbox.

# What were the best, worst and most surprising things you encountered during the entire process of completing your book(s)?

I have read ad nauseam that detailed plotting is essential for writing a successful story. However, no matter how hard I try, I simply cannot plot without actually writing. That makes me a pantser, someone who writes by the seat of his pants. My most innovative and creative ideas emerge from the act of writing itself. Does that mean that sometimes I have to go back and change something I’ve already written? Absolutely! Writing a novel is not a linear process. It can be frustrating when one must trash an entire storyline, but better to do that than publish a story that doesn’t work.

# Do you tend towards personal satisfaction or aim to serve your readers? Do you balance the two and how?

Since I do not know what an individual reader will like (see #7, above), I always write to suit myself.

# What role do emotions play in creativity?

It is a fiction writer’s job to evoke emotion in his readers. That’s what keeps people turning pages and makes a book impossible to put down. If a writer finds himself laughing or crying at his own prose, he’s on the right track.

# Do you have any creativity tricks?

No. Just write the damn thing and let the creativity take care of itself.

# What are your plans for future books?

The sixth book in the Natalie McMasters series is entitled Killers! Here’s the back cover blurb:

Her dead father once asked, “What did you do to make God sad, Nattie?”

Natalie McMasters is a twentysomething college student who just wants to get on with her life, and she’s got to wonder. Her dear friend lies dead and the crazed killer responsible now has Nattie on his short list. Her only choice? Cancel him before he cancels her!

Nattie assembles an unlikely squad to find the killer: her wife Lupe, her husband Danny, an aging FBI agent and an even more ancient Tai Chi master. Jointly and separately, they embark on a totally lit road trip across the Old South, meeting danger and death at every turn. Unexpected help is provided by a voice from the grave. But her adversary has a badass squad too, and friends and loved ones fall along the way.

Naked and afraid in a primeval swamp, Nattie must confront her greatest enemy one last time. How will she ever get the W?

I’ll probably publish Killers! on Amazon in late July or August. After that, I’ll take a break from Natalie for a while to work on the first book of a paranormal detective series and an H.P. Lovecraft pastiche set in 1920s Boston, under the pseudonym of Silas K. Henderson.

# Tell us some quirky facts about yourself

Thomas A. Burns Jr. writes the Natalie McMasters Mysteries from the small town of Wendell, North Carolina, where he lives with his wife, son, four cats and a Cardigan Welsh Corgi. He was born and grew up in New Jersey, attended Xavier High School in Manhattan, earned B.S degrees in Zoology and Microbiology at Michigan State University and a M.S. in Microbiology at North Carolina State University. As a kid, Tom started reading mysteries with the Hardy Boys, Ken Holt and Rick
Brant, and graduated to the classic stories by authors such as A. Conan Doyle, Dorothy Sayers, John Dickson Carr, Erle Stanley Gardner and Rex Stout, to name a few. Tom has written fiction as a hobby all of his life, starting with Man from U.N.C.L.E. stories in marble-backed copybooks in grade school. He built a career as technical, science and medical writer and editor for nearly thirty years in industry and government. Now that he’s truly on his own as a novelist, he’s excited to publish his own mystery series, as well as to contribute stories about his second most favorite detective, Sherlock Holmes, to the MX anthology of New Sherlock Holmes Stories. Tom has also written a Lovecraftian horror novel, The Legacy of the Unborn, as Silas K. Henderson. It’s a sequel to H.P. Lovecraft’s masterpiece At the Mountains of Madness.