Written by JJ Barnes
I interviewed Clark Rich Burbidge about his writing career, what inspires him, and the creative process that went into his latest book, StarPassage Book 4: Cyber Plague.
Tell me a bit about who you are.
My name is Clark Rich Burbidge. I am a multiple award-winning author of ten books. These include a middle reader mythology/fantasy series, Giants in the Land, a YA time travel/paranormal series, StarPassage, a Christmas/Easter book, A Piece of Silver, a non-fiction book for 20-30somethings, Life on the Narrow Path and a non-fiction book about how to find success in blending a family, Living in the Family Blender, co-authored by my wife, Leah Dee Burbidge.
I live in the high mountain valleys of the Rockies with my wife and enjoy hiking, mountain biking, road biking, community service and living life with our ten children and eight grandchildren. I have publishing books for about eleven years but spent my career as an investment banker and Chief Financial Officer developing businesses domestically and internationally.
When did you first WANT to write a book?
I have always enjoyed telling bedtime and other stories to my children. My business career required that I also be able to organize data and information in a concise and engaging way for presentations. But I never saw myself as a published author until about 2010.
I was in between jobs, feeling like I needed a break from 24/7 networking. I had several ideas but started with a book that was aimed at bringing hope and a practical “how to” approach to young adults who tend to face serious problems in their lives for the first time.
I had collected a series of mountain biking experiences. This was about the time when several of my children were entering those 20something years, and I began getting calls from them, often late at night, that usually started with, “I don’t know if I can do this” statements of distress. They were, in fact, learning that the greatest crisis in their lives wasn’t that they didn’t make the team or weren’t invited to the prom. There was suddenly bigger stuff going on, like getting or keeping a job, figuring out a career, marriage, children, etc.
I wrote a series of parables based on principles learned mountain biking and then described how these apply to maintaining spiritual growth during times of great personal difficulty. I still didn’t know if I wanted it published but decided to take a shot.
When did you take a step to start writing?
It was about 2010, and my first book was published about 2011. This first book was more of an experiment and steep learning curve that helped me gain confidence about continuing. I believe the moment of truth for me was when I started getting rejections on the first book.
One excellent publisher rejected me, I believed, without even bothering to read the manuscript. This seemed so inconsiderate because I was looking for feedback and direction as much as to be accepted. Being rejected was okay but I wanted to learn from the process and with this kind of rejection letter, learning was not possible.
I sat at my computer, uncertain what to do, and shared my frustration with my wife, Leah. She responded in a way that ultimately may have saved my fledgling writing career: “If you don’t think they even read the manuscript why don’t you contact them and ask them to at least read it? What can they do…double reject you?” We laughed but the idea took hold.
I wrote the publisher, thanked them for their time, but also pointedly asked them to reconsider my work. I stated that the brevity and generality of the response gave the impression that the manuscript was not reviewed. I explained that I was new to the market and would appreciate at least being able to learn how I may improve my effort to be more successful the next time around.
I expected no response. However, about two weeks later, I received a most unusual letter. It began with the words, “We never do this but…” and the representative proceeded to explain that they had another reviewer read the manuscript, who loved it. They wanted me to rewrite some sections so it would have a broader, national appeal and gave me ten days to get the revised version back to them. Of course, I said, “Sure, I can do that.”
How long did it take you to complete your first book from the first idea to release?
My average writing experience has been about 6-8 months, which includes getting feedback from preliminary readers and experts. My time travel stories can take longer, due to the additional in-depth historical research necessary and, in some cases, working with experts in various fields. It is important to note that writing the manuscript is only the beginning. Even if you already have a publisher lined up from previous books, the editing, illustration, compilation, review, typeset and printing can easily add another year to the process.
In addition, the publicity, distribution, and marketing add on to that. This means the entire process for me has often taken around two years start to finish. It is like starting your own business. The learning curve can be steep in the areas of manufacturing, artistic aspects, distribution, publishing, printing, marketing, public relations, legal, product development, public communications and interaction, etc.
It may seem daunting, but there are many out there that can help and support this learning process and a successful author knows how to surround themself with solid experience. I find the process fun and the people I get to work with stimulating.
How long did it take you to complete your latest book from the first idea to release?
StarPassage Book 4: Cyber Plague was a bit unique due to the COVID-19 pandemic. It was nearly finished in early 2020, but the pandemic hit, and many businesses, including publishers, were either partially closed or understaffed. In addition, it didn’t seem wise to bring a book out during a time when one could not engage in effective marketing, personal appearances, and public relations. I spent 2020 refining and adding additional chapters and critical material to the story, which has made it perhaps my most exciting book to date. The extra work and time were worth it. As a result, this particular book took an extra year.
Focusing on your latest release. What made you want to write StarPassage Book 4: Cyber Plague?
I, along with my fans, have loved the concepts created by following my time traveling friends as the mystical relic takes them to interesting and often dangerous destinations or to meet historical figures who will help them deal with the challenges that threaten to overwhelm them in their time.
I felt Cyber Plague needed to start with a unique concept, one that has kicked around in my mind for years. We start with a Native American hunting party in the 1600s as they discover a strange and mysterious location. The leader of the party attempts to capture a relic at the center of a clearing and is sucked into a time vortex that drops him in a strange future land with an unclear purpose which he must figure out while being hunted himself. He meets new friends, is threatened by ancient foes, and must decipher which is which.
Once together this untested group travel to an even more uncertain future that only they can protect from complete destruction. It is an opportunity for any reader to walk with these characters as they engage in possible future outcomes based on extrapolation of chillingly familiar current events. I believe my fans will find it as exciting to read as it was for me to write.
What were your biggest challenges with writing StarPassage Book 4: Cyber Plague?
Getting the science and medicine of pathogens and artificial intelligence believable, then credibly projecting certain paths involving them in the future. I believe the set up is very engaging and the possible futures are believable on a level that could cause some sleepless nights. I know they have for me.
Who or what inspired you when creating your Protagonist?
The relic chooses to work with people who have personal or family needs. It is hard to say that the relic is a pro- or antagonist because that depends on whether those it chooses follow its rules. The real protagonists in the story are the flawed group of young people, and some adults, to whom the relic reveals its power. They are drawn into passages (time travel) that promise to help them overcome their contemporary threats or challenges if they participate.
This group of characters grows throughout the series, and some participants are not at all what they seem. Every passage requires problem-solving to discover the relic’s purpose and a time limit to do so until the Trackers arrive. In addition, many of the passages are incredibly dangerous all by themselves without any extra threats.
Who or what inspired you when creating your Antagonist?
There is more than one antagonist in the series, but the primary ones are a group of shadowy figures called Trackers. They are individuals who lived wicked and evil lives, and their punishment for such is to be imprisoned in history, unable to interact with it and never able to come to the present time.
They, however, have great power and can interact physically with any person using the relic on a passage. They can move through time and space to any point in history and are drawn to wherever the relic is being used. They are vengeful, relentless, and there are thousands of them from all walks of life and from every time in history. Trackers believe that if they can capture the relic, it will set them free from their history-based prison with such power that they could overthrow the world as we know it.
What is the inciting incident of StarPassage Book 4: Cyber Plague?
In Cyber Plague, it is the hunting party’s experience at the clearing of the crossed trees and the vivid dreams of the twins that create the atmosphere of suspense and wonder.
What is the main conflict of StarPassage Book 4: Cyber Plague?
There are three main conflicts. First, the constant threat from the Trackers who become ever more sophisticated and desperate to acquire the relic at all costs. Second, the relic’s gradual reveal of the threat to the future world that only the uninitiated travelers can effectively combat. Third, the traveler’s own ignorance of any knowledge necessary to address the future threats juxtaposed with their absolute need to gain the resources necessary to effectively respond. These three simultaneous conflicts create a compelling drama that pulls the reader into the story.
Did you plot StarPassage Book 4: Cyber Plague in advance, or fly by the seat of your pants and write freely?
I always have some concepts in my head, but I do not outline or plot my books. I climb into the story with the characters and never know what will happen next. It makes it just as exciting to write as it is to read, and I often cannot wait to get back to the story to find out what is happening. The upside of this approach is that I never get writer’s block. The downside is that I may suddenly find a new character is introduced. This means I must determine if this new character is friend or foe, how it changes the story and what backstory or rewrites are necessary to fill in.
I love writing this way. On many of my long bike rides, my brain keeps working on iterations of the story so when I come back to my computer, I have lots of material to study, research and write.
Did you get support with editing, and how much editing did StarPassage Book 4: Cyber Plague need?
I have a great publisher, and the assigned editor has worked with me on several books. She is fearless in recommending changes or tweaks, and I have learned that taking her advice seriously usually enhances the project. In addition to my deep edit with the publisher, I have groups of readers go through the book. Some will read technical sections within their expertise and provide feedback.
Others I ask to read as fans to help me master the flow and hooks that a good book needs to capture and hold readers. I also will usually read the entire manuscript between 20 and 40 times during the process. Having good people around you makes all the difference in a quality process and result.
What is the first piece of writing advice you would give to anyone inspired to write a story?
No matter how good you think your writing is, be humble and learn from those along your path. (i.e., editors, publicity people, agents, other writers, fans, readers, sources, and publishers, etc.).
Do your research and homework. You must get it right to be credible. Paying attention to detail makes a plain vanilla story…extraordinary.
Know your audience. For example, if you are writing for middle readers then the chapter length, illustrations, font size, spacing, and flow of the story must fit the chapter and picture book market.
Can you give me a hint about any further books you’re planning to write?
My mind is always working on new things. Whether it is an additional book in the StarPassage or Giants series, a personal history, or a brief glimpse into my father’s experience during the Korean War culminating in a life-saving vision. I have these all on my plate. I also enjoy writing short stories which may find themselves into their own compendium. My StarPassage series is set up to be nearly an endless process as the relic continues to choose new individuals whose souls and lives may be distressed or who are positioned, without their knowledge, to accomplish some great thing.
And, finally, are your proud of your accomplishment? Was it worth the effort?
I would say that I am more surprised and amazed by the experience so far. I walk into a bookstore, look at one of my books and think, “That is so cool…I wish I could do that!” Then I remember that I did. It takes a long time from the inception of the original idea, so it is sometimes hard to relate to the finished product. I don’t think it is pride though. I think it is more gratitude to Providence for providing and allowing me to develop the tools and to so many others here who have intervened to make the stories I get credit for so much more appealing.
Writing can be a solitary experience much of the time. I am especially grateful to my wife, Leah, for keeping me grounded in the world and making our travel together a marvelous experience. Yes, it has been worth every minute of the sacrifice and effort.
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