Friday, June 26, 2015

Summer on the Water, William Burton McCormick, Season 2, Episode 7

Since summer officially started last week, welcome William to the first Summer on the water blog of the "summer". I hope you're enjoying summer, and even spending a bit of time "on the water."

Now, let's talk about your self-published novella, Blue Amber. What is it about?

Blue Amber is an adventure-thriller long-story set on the coast of the Baltic Sea in the winter of 1910. My hero, Fricis Svaars, is an imprisoned revolutionary and the target of a jail-house assassination by the Tsar's secret police. But Fricis, motivated by the desire to see his wife once more, isn't the sort of man to go quietly to his own murder. In coldest February, while bound in chains, he makes a daring escape during a work detail and is chased through the snow to the rocky shores of the Gulf of Riga by the Tsar's man-hunters. Soon, he is trapped between the guns of his relentless pursuers and the frigid waters of the open sea. Desperate to madness, the choices Fricis make for love and survival are daring indeed.
That sounds very interesting. 

Since this is a 'Summer on the Water blog.' I want to know why did you choose the theme of water for your story? And are the locations you use as settings along the Baltic Sea real or fictitious? 

I wanted to write a story of man reduced to his wits and will against the elements something combining classic sea tales with the feel of Jack London. The ocean, certainly, has both challenged and fascinated man since the beginning of human history. Man is, of course, by nature a land animal so we are literally out of our element when on the sea. There is a vulnerability there that is timeless. And the boundary, the sea shore, is always such a fascinating place. It is the meeting of two very different worlds. What a wonderful and natural place for a tale! I loved such stories as a boy and wanted to contribute one to the world canon, if I could think of a worthy plot.

Finally, the idea for the right story came to me while I was living in Latvia to research and write my historical novel Lenin's Harem. I read about how the inmates in Riga prison during the days of the Russian Empire were made to collect amber on the shore to earn extra money for their captors. I also read how the Tsar's secret police, posing a prison guards, would assassinate suspected revolutionaries during these work details and cover their nefarious work by claiming the victim had attempted to escape.

So, I combined this true history with my desire to write a sea tale into Blue Amber, where one man has to face both the elements and very human enemies.

As for the second part of your question, the locations in Blue Amber are real. I've been to them all, though in full disclosure, here and there I've slightly altered some minor topography for dramatic purposes. Nothing too bad, I hope.

Does water, and specifically the Baltic Sea have any special meaning for you personally? Or is it only the setting of your story?

I think since I've spent so much time in Latvia on the shores of the Baltic Sea researching the history and culture of the land, that it does have special meaning to me. The Baltic Sea, particularly the Gulf of Riga is more than just the setting of my story. It is almost a character in the story. If Fricis can understand the sea, make it his ally then it would aid him greatly. If not, if he can't understand it, he'll die.

By the way, as I live in Latvia presently and as this is a "Summer on the Water" blog, I feel I should mention that June 23rd was "Ligo" which is the main summer celebration here. Thousands of people go down to the seashore to celebrate (or to lakeshores or river shores) building great bonfires in the sand dunes (which by tradition you must jump over - don't try it, trust me) and celebrate the summer solstice. It is a celebration of the warmth, beauty and life of summer, the opposite side of the coin to the harsh, deadly winter sea Fricis faces in Blue Amber.

I'm planning a mystery story set during "Ligo" as well. More on that soon…

That sounds fascinating! Maybe I'll have to put that country on my "bucket list!" Now, let's talk about publishing, why did you choose to self-publish? How is the process going for you? Do you plan to continue as an Indie author?

I came to self-publishing Blue Amber perhaps a little more differently than many. Blue Amber was originally published in Alfred Hitchcock's Mystery Magazine and was very well-received, even being a finalist for a Derringer Award for Best Long Story of 2012 from the Short Mystery Fiction Society. After publication, the rights to the story returned to me. I had this wonderful, acclaimed work just sitting on my hard drive. No one who missed it in Alfred Hitchcock Mystery Magazine was reading it. So, I wanted to give others a chance to enjoy it. Rather than find some anthology for reprints, I decided to use Blue Amber as an experiment in self-publication. I had never done it before, and I'm pretty new at promoting these works myself, but the story is beginning to find new readers which is what I want.

As for continuing in the self-publishing vein, I think yes and no. For new works, if there is a traditional publisher which makes sense, then, one should consider that option. Other works, and certainly my back catalog of short stories and novellas, I want to make sure those get out to new readers as soon as the rights return to me. In the modern age, nothing should be permanently out-of-print especially if it is good. So, I'm certain I'll keep releasing older works on my own, especially those originally released in periodicals. 

Here is a question I am asking all of my writers this summer - You are asked to give a Ted Talk. What will it be about?

Wow, living in Latvia, I don't even know what a Ted Talk is… (quickly Googling). 

Ah! That's something I hadn't thought of, William. Well, I'm glad there's Google!

I see, basically a short speech on any subject. Wow! There are so many things I love to talk about. But, I think I'd address my fellow writers, and warble on about using experiences abroad to collect research for writing. I've lived in seven countries including two stints in Latvia and six years in Ukraine. The time in these places has given me a backload of stories so deep, I'll never tell them all. So, I'd like to encourage writers to travel, and uses these experiences to write a great novel or two or twenty…

William, where can readers purchase Blue Amber and find you?

Blue Amber

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Praise for Blue Amber:

Blue Amber crackles with energy, authenticity and pure storytelling magic from the first line nonstop to the last. William Burton McCormick's timeless tale of men challenged by both the elements and their own psyches, set against the backdrop of Latvia in 1910, reads like Jack London with just enough James Rollins and Steve Berry thrown in for good measure. A beautifully realized vision that's riveting in all respects. Jon Land, USA Today bestselling author of Strong Darkness

This is a grim tale of survival in the harshest of conditions, both man-made and natural and it is a credit to the writer that I was so captivated by a story that is not a genre I would normally read. Where do I begin? The sense of time and place is so strong I felt I was there on the Baltic coast. I can't fault the writing which is equally strong and tight. There isn't a word out of place. The writer's knowledge of and authority over his subject matter meant that I remained gripped to the page from beginning to end and forgot I was reading 'professionally' rather than for pleasure. Stunning. The Historical Novel Society


  1. What an intriguing era, setting and plot. Another best seller on the horizon!

  2. Thank you Gail. I hope so. I think it is a universal story - a man trying to survive the elements. And if people learn about the era and the land, so much the better. :)

  3. It's going to hit 100 here in SW Washington tomorrow - this sounds like an ideal story to cool off with.

    1. Ha ha. Yes, Carolyn it is definitely a cool story. Ice cold even...