By Erin Clossey
Anna Burke, an affiliated faculty member in the Writing, Literature and Publishing department and a graduate student in Creative Writing, is the author of five romance novels that center around lesbian relationships and the LGBTQ community. Her books spin tales of love and lust aboard pirate ships, in coastal Maine towns, and in an enchanted mountain lair.
Her third book, Nottingham, an LGBTQ retelling of the Robin Hood fables, recently was nominated for a Lambda Literary Award for Lesbian Romance. We asked Burke about writing romance, where she gets her ideas, and what’s next.
Nottingham is a lesbian romance spin on the Robin Hood legend. What drew you to the source material?
I’ve always enjoyed myth and fairytale retellings. With Robin Hood, I was intrigued by the opportunity to explore how queer people might have carved out spaces for themselves to be happy, even in 12th-century England. Growing up, I loved reading feminist retellings, but I wanted to see more LGBTQ representation — and what’s not to love about found family running around the woods?
You recently made a switch from fantasy/adventure/romance to contemporary romance. What was the impetus behind that?
I didn’t initially think I would enjoy writing contemporary romance, to be honest, as I love reading and writing speculative fiction, but when I had the idea for the Seal Cove romance series, I couldn’t resist trying it out, and I ended up loving it! I’ll definitely continue writing both contemporary romance and speculative fiction going forward.
What’s the key to a good romance novel (apart from inescapable attraction)?
I’d say the key to a good romance novel is character. Every story needs compelling characters, but in romance, where so much of the plot is character driven, the characters must be especially well-developed and multi-layered.
What authors (romance or otherwise) most influence you?
N. K. Jemisin, Robin McKinley, and Ursula K. Leguin are the writers that have had the most lasting influence and that I return to time and time again.
Why did you decide to pursue an MFA at Emerson?
I decided to go back for my MFA when I realized I wanted to teach, and Emerson has a fantastic teaching program for graduate students. I loved teaching composition at Emerson, and especially appreciated the guidance the WLP department gives their graduate student teachers. I’m now affiliate faculty in the Online Popular Fiction program, which is my dream job!
What are you working on now?
I am currently finishing Sea Wolf, the sequel to my first book, Compass Rose, which is a fast-paced high seas dystopian novel—also full of queer characters—along with my thesis project, which is a queered retelling of The Odyssey.
The Lambda Literary Awards will be announced June 1.