JoeyPinkney.com Exclusive Interview
5 Minutes, 5 Questions With…
Christopher D. Burns, author of Archie’s Psalm
Archie’s Psalm is a glimpse into the life of a latchkey kid who is encountering situations that force him to learn about the changing world around him. A coming-of-age story with a carefully crafted narrative and subplot, Archie’s Psalm shows the transitioning world of a neighborhood in Memphis, TN, ten years after Dr. King’s death.
Through the setting, vivid character descriptions and moving storytelling a hot and humid southern neighborhood comes to life. Through the use of dialect and song, the shifting tone and sound of the south reminds the reader of Zora Neale Hurston’s novels. Archie’s Psalm is a work of literature that is artistic, powerful and important – A book that could become as relevant as Ann Petry’s The Street.
Joey Pinkney: Where did you get the inspiration to write Archie’s Psalm?
Christopher D. Burns: I think Archie’s Psalm is so closely related to my own life that the inspiration came from there. I also needed to write a book that was inspired by my literary mentors. I have always enjoyed reading short stories like Sweat by Zora Neale Hurston and Almost A Man by Richard Wright. My greatest influence was Ralph Ellison’s Invisible Man.
I had written a couple of books. Although I really liked those books, so many people are writing relationship-styled books. I didn’t write this to be different, but I did want to create a narrative that captured the moment when a boy becomes a man. I’ve always liked watching Stand By Me, based on Stephen King’s short story. I felt that with all of the stories written by African-American writers, no one has ever really given a voice to young Black males in fiction.
I wanted to craft a narrative that was complex and layered. Something that when you strip away one part of the story, you realize that something a lot deeper is taking place than what is presented on the surface. At the root of it all, the inspiration came from the blues and the storytelling tradition I grew up around.
JP: What sets Archie’s Psalm apart from other books in the same genre?
CDB: What is interesting is that the genre Archie’s Psalm falls in is not really a genre. My books Stages, and A Man’s State of Mind are easy to place. They fall into the relationship novel genre. Archie’s Psalm though doesn’t really have a contemporary. I honestly think the book’s tone and style is so closely related to classic fiction that this instantly creates a different feel.
There are some things that are immediately noticed though: the dialect shifts. When I wrote the book, I attempted to write the dialogue the way it sounded in my head. When I did this, the same word was spelled differently throughout the book.
Blacks code shift, and I remember distinctly my mother speaking one way to her friends and speaking in a completely different way on the phone. The same thing happened when I would hear people singing.
The main character sets the book apart. Honestly, I can’t really recall, right away, one book that prominently features a Black boy as the main character. The setting is different as well. Richard Wright used Memphis in Black Boy, but that was non-fiction. I tried to give a setting that generates that hot, muggy, unpredictable Memphis weather. I could go on, but in short what sets it apart is the fact that no one else seems to be interested in allowing a young Black boy to have a voice.
JP: As an author, what are the keys to your success that led to Archie’s Psalm getting out to the public?
CDB: Really Joey, I don’t have any success. I have dedicated the last 17 years of my life to education, academia, coaching and small business. I have taught at every level: Middle School, High School, and College. I wrote primarily during college (undergrad and grad school). Although I placed the books out there, I never really took the time to pursue a writing career.
I wrote because I couldn’t help it. I have always been a storyteller. I have always had things to share, but I did not know how to get the work in front of the reader. I thought if you wrote a great story that it would sell itself. I didn’t realize that a writer has to do something to make people aware they exist.
With so many different forms of entertainment, the squeaky wheel gets the grease. In other words, the person who has a platform to advertise and promote their work will sell even if the book is not that good. I am finally investing time into promoting my writing career, so if Archie’s Psalm and my other books begin to gain a following, my answer will be Joey Pinkney was a key component in my success.
JP: As an author, what is your writing process? How long did it take you to start and finish Archie’s Psalm?
CDB: I studied writing in graduate school. Before I even started analyzing fiction, I was writing both poetry and fiction. Prior to the MFA program in Creative Writing at San Diego State, my writing process was pretty standard. I would write down a few character sketches and then kind of think about the story. I never really knew where the story was going, I just sat down every night before bed and tried to write 3-5 pages.
This was the process I used to write A Man’s State of Mind, a novella, which was my first book. It took 4 years for me to finish the first version of that book. After a few years away from the book, I revisited the character and revised and added a new section to the book. That took another 3 years.
My second book was Stages. Stages was the easiest book I’ve written. It took about 3 weeks to get the first draft completed. Then I just let it sit for a few years before doing anything with it. I placed myself on a serious writing regiment during the summer. I’d wake up at 5am and write until 10 am or until I had 10 pages completed.
Stages was a little different since the story derived almost completely from life experiences. Archie’s Psalm took a lot longer. I wrote the book during graduate school and it became my thesis. Although the book is still over 300 pages, I actually cut about 100 pages after the thesis was submitted. I only recently finished revising the book. I guess it took almost 7 years to complete Archie’s Psalm.
I tend to work on multiple projects though; kind of like Writer’s ADD. While I was working on all of these novels, I completed a book of short stories, fiction and poetry that took 14 years to write. I co-authored a race relations book, began two other novels, finished a book on small business and edited two books of poetry as well as began work on a book on Hip-Hop and post-Civil-Rights America.
To answer the question though Archie’s Psalm took about 2 years to get the initial draft and then another 4-5 years to revise.
JP: What’s next for Christopher D. Burns?
CDB: I hope that people will pick up my books, so that I can begin to do book signings and potentially lectures on writing and literature. I taught my last college course this spring, I think. I can still accept adjunct professor jobs, but I told myself that I needed to invest more time into the books.
I find myself helping and giving my time to everyone except me. Being this way is in my nature though, but the unfortunate consequence of giving is never following through on your own dreams. I plan to keep writing though, either on my blogs or to complete all of the various projects I’ve started. The short term though is to see if people will expand their reading selections and invite Buck, the main character of Archie’s Psalm, into their lives.
I appreciate you taking the time to help me reach a bigger, broader audience. Finding outlets that support writers is hard, and you have made me feel like I made the right decision to pursue this dream. I wish you continued success with Joeypinkney.com. To those people out there who are hesitant to buy one of my novels, if you have Amazon Prime you can download any of the books for free or visit my author’s page on Amazon.com: http://www.amazon.com/Christopher-D.-Burns/e/B004WTS8SG/ref=sr_ntt_srch_lnk_3?qid=1339850424&sr=8-3