I know Anna Celeste Burke from several writing groups. Her friends and family call her Celeste, and so will I. 😀
An award-winning author and a fascinating woman, Celeste has written numerous series of cozy mysteries. They are bound to please readers of the popular genre.
Please welcome Celeste to Eden’s Exchange.
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Thank you, Eden, for the invitation to drop by your lovely blog! I’m grateful for this opportunity to meet your followers and tell them more about myself and my writing.
You’re welcome! Thrilled to have you here, Celeste. Please tell readers if you have a motto you live by.
An interesting question. I find it a bit uncomfortable writing about myself, but here goes! That discomfort probably stems from an early upbringing in a hell fire and brimstone tradition that warns: “Pride goeth before the fall.” Pride was not just about taking pleasure in your accomplishments but included the vain glory of looking at yourself in a mirror, bodily adornments, and any desire for more than the simplest things in life. My roots reach back into the Amish/Mennonite tradition, although by the time I was born my paternal grandparents, both ministers, had left the reclusive sects in which they were raised. Perhaps, I’m still influenced by those early admonishments. My motto is something like: Dream big, work hard, stay humble.
Great answer. I believe humility is so important. What part of the world do you live in?
Maybe geography is destiny. At six, my more liberal and adventurous parents left the Midwest for California. That changed everything. By the time I turned ten those earlier religious tenets were old news. I experienced the physical beauty of California as wildly flamboyant. Even the Spanish Catholic heritage appeared to fly in the face of that more austere vision of life. Gleaming white-washed mission walls, strewn with magenta bougainvillea, set against the backdrop of blue skies—stunning.
The culture felt edgy and unbounded. Dreaming big, wanting more, seeking new and novel experiences all seemed part of the package. Think Hollywood, Baby, as the Old West gave way to the new. Of course, there were larger influences, too, given that my move west coincided with coming of age as a baby boomer: Space Race, as well as Civil Rights, Women’s and Peace movements. The place and time defined many things about life for me, as it did for many who grew up in the same era.
Is it any wonder that, at 17, I ran off with a high school dropout and rock and roll musician I met in San Diego and married in a Tijuana lawyer’s office? Not that my parents or the police agreed with my decision. I got as far as LAX before the police picked me up as a runaway. It wasn’t all about the California dream run amok—I had other reasons to run–good ones. Lucky for me, the guy I married turned out to be a keeper. I left California for decades, but the place stayed with me.
When it came time to retire from our jobs as professors at the Ohio State University, my ex-rocker husband and I returned to California. To the desert near Palm Spring, not San Diego where I grew up, and we met. I love most everything about this valley, even the triple-digit heat, although I’d gladly take fewer of those days!
Wow, Celeste … I’m happy you and your husband made it work despite the initial challenges! And I LOVE the heat! Is there another profession you would have liked to try?
Growing up in a large family, money was scarce. I started doing odd jobs early. Babysitting at age 7—mostly with moms nearby, but not always. At eight, a neighborhood teenager paid my younger brother and me a nickel for each snake chased out by running ahead of him through the brush in a nearby canyon. By the time I left home at 17, I had worked as a tutor, delivered papers, cleaned houses, sold Avon, and worked in a genetics lab breeding fruit flies.
My first real job was at Walt Disney World. At 18, I had completed basic training as a cook and started as a culinary assistant in one of the theme park restaurants. A couple of years later, Disney offered me an opportunity to enter the Walt Disney World University chef school where I continued my training and became a chef. After graduation, I became a Preparation Chef at the Polynesian Hotel, one of two or three women in that role in the Disney corporation.
Most of my professional life I worked as a professor, behavioral health researcher, and research administrator. As part of my training for that work on the way to my Ph.D., I earned a clinical degree in social work [MSW] and spent more than five years working as a therapist in substance abuse and mental health settings. I continued to supervise students in those settings for my entire career along with my other professorial duties.
During high school, I sang in the choir and smaller choral ensembles. I was encouraged by our music director to consider a career in opera. That might have been an exciting alternative career path, although I’m not sure I had “the chops” to cut it in that challenging profession. I also dabble in painting and wish I had more formal training in that area.
It’s great to learn of your diverse talents, Celeste. If you could change one thing about yourself, what would it be?
I’d like to have a tougher hide and a better sense of humor about myself. I tend to be a serious person even though the absurdity of the world doesn’t elude me. That’s often brought home to me by my acts of hubris. Oh my, here we go back to that pride goeth before a fall thing. I have taken some spectacular pratfalls in my lifetime. Eventually, I can have a good “yuck” about it, but I’m a not always a good sport at first. My husband, on the other hand, has a terrific sense of humor and helps me find that laugh out loud moment sooner than I might otherwise.
You two were definitely meant for each other. 🙂 Are you a full time writer now?
I write fiction full time, now, with the aim of spending 3 or 4 hours a day, 4-6 days a week, writing and editing. I spend that much time, or more, marketing the books I write. Like most indie authors that includes the work done by publishers: PR, book promotion, etc. Mornings are spent writing. Afternoons editing, blogging, creating materials for promotion, and evenings are spent tweeting, posting, and sharing elsewhere like on Facebook and Google+.
It is a lot of work, and you do it so well. Tell us what motivates you to write.
At this point in my life, writing is a lark. It’s an adventure, pure and simple. Much of my professional life I wrote nonfiction in the context of the “publish or perish” world of the university. I do still enjoy exploring some of the topics I dealt with teaching social work practice and doing research on poverty, addictions, and mental health problems. Social relationships, problems of living; drug addiction and mental health issues all figure into my stories. My lead characters are women so that worldview drives the way in which these subjects come up. I still have lots of questions about why people do what they do and how to anticipate or respond to troubled people—many of the same questions that drove me into social and behavioral science with a bent toward improving policy and practice.
How would you define your style of writing?
The tag line I use for my website is: Snooping into life’s mysteries with fun, fiction, & food–California style!
I write mystery fiction with a dash of romance and humor. That’s closer to what’s regarded as “cozy” these days than to the thriller end of the continuum. When Agatha Christie wrote there was no such thing. It was just called “mystery” then. The three series I write all feature “amateur” or “accidental” sleuths—women pulled into sleuthing by murder and mayhem. All three series are set in California so that setting is a backdrop—another “character” in many ways. Because of my background as a chef, and the fact that food is integral to California culture, “foodie” is part of the package and shows up in my writing. I have a “What’s Cooking” page on my website and have started to include recipes in my newest series featuring Georgie Shaw, a character trained as a chef.
Very cool! What part of writing a novel do you enjoy the most?
I consider my stories “character-driven,” so character development is fascinating to me. The women are very different in the three series that I write. The rich, 30-something lead in the Jessica Huntington Desert Cities Mystery Series is a child of wealth and privilege. When she’s delivered a big dose of “money can’t buy you happiness,” she keeps trying to console herself with shopping binges. An anxious sort prone to panic attacks, she has to search elsewhere for answers to the questions that bother her. She’s often preoccupied not just with “whodunit” but “why?”
Kim Reed the 20-something sleuth in my Corsario Cove Cozy Mystery series is a streetwise young woman we first meet when she’s rescued by Jessica Huntington in A Dead Sister. Life surprises this cynical survivor with, of all things, love! She falls for another over-the-top character in the Jessica Huntington series, Brien Williams—a surfer dude stranded in the California desert. In Corsario Cove, he’s in his element and on his honeymoon with Kim. Murder and mayhem ensue, of course, and these two take to it like bees to honey. In my mind, at times, I react like I’m watching one of those old 1950s monster movies. “No, don’t go down there!” You know, that sort of thing? Then, as I write, off they go, diving right into the middle of murder and mischief!
Georgie Shaw, lead in the Georgie Shaw Cozy Mystery Series, is a 50-something corporate exec who started out at Marvelous Marley World as a chef. In book 1, Murder at Catmmando Mountain, she’s working in public relations for a Disney-like entertainment conglomerate and her life turns upside down by a murder in the Arcadia theme park. A capable, intelligent woman, sleuthing isn’t part of her life until she’s framed for murder and forced to consider whodunit. The biggest bombshell in her life isn’t the murder. Georgie Shaw has a tragic past and never married. When the handsome detective, Jack Wheeler, sweeps into her life, he challenges her with new possibilities. A new mystery brought them together. Will an old one drive them apart? Those questions get answered in book 2, Love Notes in the Key of Sea.
I also enjoy writing dialogue, and plotting out the murder and mayhem. I have a good laugh at the situations in which my characters are placed [by me]. They get back at me in surprising ways, and one of the things I find most challenging, at times, is writing my way out of a corner!
Why do you write your books as part of a series?
The character arc has a more realistic time frame in which to unfold in a series rather than in a single book. There’s more room for characters to grow and change which is part of that character development that I find interesting. That often involves a lot of humor, too. Each of these amateurs, equipped with different skill sets, have to stretch as people to cope with the problems they encounter when plunged into the unpredictability of a murder investigation.
Good reasons! What is the best advice you’ve received as a writer?
Some version of “don’t get it right, just get it written.” I forget now, who told me that. I’m sure it was while I was still writing for my university career where getting it right did matter. You have to back up claims made in your writing with evidence, but also have to recognize that the data you have to work with is never going to be perfect. So, the key for me, even now, is to write it then hammer it to bits—separate the creator from the critic. That’s the best advice I can give to someone just starting out, too.
Let’s learn about your upcoming books, Celeste!
Love Notes in the Key of Sea, Georgie Shaw Cozy Mystery #2
Georgie Shaw and Detective Jack Wheeler have a second chance at love—despite the fact they met during a murder investigation. Decades earlier, Georgie lost the love of her life in an attack on the beach that left one man dead and two others missing including her fiancé, Danny Farrell. When Georgie returns to Corsario Cove, more than memories haunt her as a song Danny wrote just for her echoes in the air: Love Notes in the Key of Sea. Who else, other than she and Danny could know that song? A new mystery brought Georgie and Jack together, will an old one drive them apart?
I have two new cozy mystery releases that will be available for preorder in May and purchase in June. Love Notes in the Key of Sea, book 2 in the Georgie Shaw Cozy Mystery Series, will be included in a summer beach anthology of short reads: Stories of Sun, Sand, and Sea. The stories in this collection combine mystery, romance, and suspense, all set during the summer months but on different beaches. With 11 beaches…anything can happen.
Stories of Sun, Sand, and Sea is available for preorder May 16th, for release June 28th.
Stories of Sun, Sand and Sea
A summer breeze, sandy shore, and sparkling waters. Is it the perfect setting for love or something more dangerous?
| Gnarly New Year – Corsario Cove Cozy Mystery #2
The honeymoon’s not over yet! Kim and Brien’s excellent adventure at the swanky Sanctuary Resort & Spa continues when an unwelcome visitor drops in on New Year’s Eve. An elusive marine GPS device, found and lost again, unleashes another wave of murder and mayhem in Corsario Cove! What is it about that thing? Stooges, Krugerrands, and monks—oh my! Will it be a Gnarly New Year for Kim and Brien?
Book 2 in the Corsario Cove Cozy Mystery series will be out soon, too. Kim and Brien’s excellent honeymoon adventure continues in Gnarly New Year. My two love birds are swept up into more murder and mayhem even though they vowed to stay out of it at the end of book 1, Cowabunga Christmas!
So much going on Celeste, congratulations! What is next for you after these books?
Next up in the queue is A DEAD MOTHER, book 4 in the Jessica Huntington Desert Cities Mystery Series. There’s more on relationships between mothers and daughters in this book, as there was in book 3, A DEAD DAUGHTER . Jessica’s saga with her dysfunctional mother continues, but the story revolves around the death of Beverly Windsor, a client in Jessica’s newly reinstated law career. Why would anyone kill the wealthy woman, a pillar of the Palm Desert community, active in the homeowners’ association in her gated community, and on the charity circuit in the Greater Palm Springs area? Oh, let me count the reasons and the suspects.
Why should people read your books?
I want to entertain readers. The books are meant to be romps, with a mystery at the heart of each story. I hope they’ll be intrigued by my characters and will return to find out what’s up next for them. The blend of mystery, humor, romance, and women’s fiction is a bit different in each series, but present in all of them.
What is the best way for someone to support your books?
FEEDBACK! I’m fortunate that my husband and several readers will give me feedback early on, but gathering input is vital. Reviews on Amazon and Goodreads are so important when it comes to increasing the visibility of books. They also clarify what a book is about for other readers, and help other readers make more informed choices about the suitability of the book for them. I’m still learning, and feedback is critical to my growth as an author. Leaving a comment or suggestion on my website, blog, Goodreads, or Facebook, are all greatly appreciated as well as reviews.
Feedback is always helpful. Let’s finish with a fun lightning round.
Aside from people/pets, what is the ONE item you would save if your house was on fire? MY LAPTOP—the “death” of my old one in December taught me how hard it is to live without one!
Favorite place you’ve traveled to or would like to travel to? Maui!
Name a food you can eat every day. Salads—not exciting, I know, but I love them!
Salty or sweet? Sweet.
Coffee or tea or something else? COFFEE—fresh ground beans brewed in a French press!
Cat/dog/other pet? Mouthy Siamese cats.
Favorite style of music? Jazz fusion a la John McLaughlin and my hubby.
The best gift you’ve ever received? Spa Day at the La Quinta Resort.
Your most guilty pleasure. Chocolate.
Favorite season. Spring.
Name something you cannot go a day without. Why love, of course!
Thank you Celeste for sharing with my readers. It was wonderful to learn more about you.
Readers, please find Celeste at all her virtual homes and discover her books!
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Connect to Celeste
Anna Celeste Burke is an award-winning and bestselling author who enjoys snooping into life’s mysteries with fun, fiction, & food—California style! Her books include the Jessica Huntington Desert Cities Mystery series set in the Coachella Valley near Palm Springs, the Corsario Cove Cozy Mystery series set on California’s Central Coast, and The Georgie Shaw Cozy Mystery series set in Orange County, California–the OC. Coming soon: The Misadventures of Betsy Stark that take place in the Coachella Valley. Find out more at http://www.desertcitiesmystery.com.
BUY LINKS for Celeste’s books in ebook and print
The Jessica Huntington Desert Cities Mystery Series
A DEAD HUSBAND JESSICA HUNTINGTON DESERT CITIES MYSTERY #1
A DEAD SISTER JESSICA HUNTINGTON DESERT CITIES MYSTERY #2
A DEAD DAUGHTER JESSICA HUNTINGTON DESERT CITIES MYSTERY #3
LOVE A FOOT ABOVE THE GROUND: (PREQUEL TO THE JESSICA HUNTINGTON SERIES)
COWABUNGA CHRISTMAS CORSARIO COVE COZY MYSTERY #1
MURDER AT CATMMANDO MOUNTAIN GEORGIE SHAW COZY MYSTERY #1