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Can you tell us a little bit about yourself?

Tall, youngest of six, INTJ, been making books since I was about 7. Love to cook, happiest with my feet in the sand.

Do you have a day job as well? If so, what is it?

My last day job was as Deputy Commissioner for Communications and Outreach for New York State’s Department of Taxation and Finance. I resigned last July to move back to Tybee Island and focus on the book.

When did you start writing your first book?

The first book I remember, actually still have it in a scrapbook, was a little looseleaf pamphlet based on American holidays; this was about at age 7. Then I wrote, illustrated (in pencil) and bound a little book called How the Zebra and Skunk Got Along as a present for my parent’s 25th wedding anniversary when I was about 8. I wrote a bunch of little books for a book packager in the 90s; mainly I edited other peoples’ books. My first “real” book was Flying Feet: A Story of Irish Dance for Chronicle Books in 2005.

How did you choose the genre you write in? Or did the genre choose you?

It absolutely chose me. I lived in Spokane for some years for a big job, which was the furthest inland I’d ever lived…so I kept escaping to Puget Sound islands like Orcas, Lummi, Whidbey and Vashon…I’d left Tybee Island to take the job. I realized how much islands have been a part of my life since birth—my parents took us all to an Atlantic island every year for vacation. When I lived on Tybee, I started writing books instead of only coming up with the ideas for other people, then editing them. By 2012 in Washington, I started the work on Islands of America: A River, Lake and Sea Odyssey. From those visits to now 100+ islands came articles, the website, and now this second book (the first was 2016’s Shrimp Country: Recipes and Tales from the Southern Coasts).

Does writing energize you or exhaust you?

Energizes my mind, tires my body from being so sedentary.

Do you believe in writer’s block?

I believe it happens but haven’t experienced it. Perhaps more common in fiction?

Do you create an outline before you begin? Do you have the end in mind, or do you just wait and see where the story takes you?

My brain processes ideas almost instantly and certainly instinctually into book outlines. I can usually see the whole pretty quickly.

What kind of research do you do? How long do you spend researching before beginning a book?

I might be quite happy doing nothing but research! I was a history major and just love information. I have to cut myself off. One of my favorite research tricks is entering keywords into eBay’s search engine to see what comes up that might inform a description, or give me a deeper understanding about something.

Are you part of a community of authors? If so, how has it helped you?

No, I’m quite introverted. I do rely on expert readers for every book, though, before final pages. And I have attended a couple very small workshops for my novel, which may never get written.

How did your first published book change your life?
I’d been in the trade illustrated book publishing business as a designer, editor, creative director for 14 years before my first book was published. Honestly, it didn’t change much. It was a quiet book.

Can you tell us about your challenges in getting your first book published?

It’s more a question of why did it take me so long to write my own books and pitch them, being so connected!!

How do you market your work? What avenues have you found work best for you?
This book is the most intensive PR effort of my career…I started by joining Facebook groups years ago of people interested in the subject of shells and the beach so I could hear how they described things, what got them excited…and would have subject matter experts to turn to, and then an audience. That has been great if time-consuming. I’ve also been doing an enormous amount of work as my own publicist. I hired both a west coast and an east coast publicist, both very connected and experienced, but it wasn’t working as I’d hoped, so I took it on myself, writing to journalists I’d never met, all these shots in the dark, along with reaching out to a few magazine editors I’d pitched to before…I have a small amount of placements so far, but strategic ones, and one very big one coming up. Giveaways of signed copies have drummed up a lot of interest—I’m pretty sure that’s how I got to a best-seller status in two categories (Seashells and Oceans & Seas) on Amazon this past weekend!

If you had to go back and do it all over, is there any advice you’d give to yourself? Or to aspiring writers?

I’d tell authors to be bold about asking how the house that’s made them an offer plans to support the book. Where will it be in their catalog? Will they create a media kit for it? What is their strategy for media placement? How will it be marketed at trade shows? Don’t stop at negotiating the dollar amount for the advance. Also, if you’re able, make sure the agreement includes a review of things like the press release, catalog copy etc. You might know your audience far better than the publisher, so that language is key.

Can you tell us about your newest release?

At its core, it’s an identification book for objects found at the beach, but it’s also conversational—the storytelling, along with the quality of the illustrations, sets it apart from other shell ID books. I like to think it has beauty and brains! There are also objects included that are never in shell ID books, including the rare clay babies of Fox Island in Washington, messages in bottles, arrowheads and more. There are readers who will buy it because it’s useful, and people who will buy it as a coastal décor accent because it’s pretty…

What is your favorite quote from your newest release?

Tough question! But this describes a memorable encounter: One of my favorite island moments involved sea stars. As I approached the ocean through the scrub brush in the dark before sunrise, I could see star silhouettes spangling the beach, with eighty-five counted in just a 100-yard [91-m] stretch. There was something spectacular about seeing them all, dark against light sand, beneath the light-against-inky-sky stars overhead, as if those on the beach had fallen from the sky.”

What inspired your newest release?

I’ve been stooped over, back to the sun, face to the shells, as long as I could stand on my own. Now that I’ve visited more than 100 islands in the U.S. (for www.islandsofamerica.com), I’ve collected many items from beaches that I had no clue about—so would contact experts, including those from the Smithsonian, Texas A&M’s Sea Grant Program, The Bailey-Matthews Shell Museum, coastal state parks and more to learn about what I’d picked up. So this book is my sharing the best of what I’ve learned, and experienced.

Compared to your other books, was this one easy to complete or challenging? Any idea why?

My other books were much more…serious: Hallelujah: The Poetry of Classic Hymns (Ten Speed Press, 2005); Shrimp Country: Recipes and Tales from the Southern Coasts (UPF, 2016)…so this was simply less enormous a task! Every book has challenging moments before it reaches a reader’s hands…but writing this one was not a struggle…in fact, it kept me sane when a day job was chewing my very last nerves.

What did you (or your editors) edit out of this book?

Oh, Lord. SO much. Whole essays on the sand, driftwood, palm trees, fossils, ways to display shells, shell collections of note…so all that will go on my website as blog entries.

What part of the country do you consider home?

The coastal south, the Lowcountry…although I loved living in Newport and was raised near Baltimore.

What do you do when you’re not writing?

Walk the beach, research, cook…explore the next island. Admire my cat, listen to the birds…

You’ve just turned in your manuscript, and your editor won’t return it with revisions for at least a week or two. Where would you go for a vacation?

At that point, just leaving the house would be a treat! I’m usually thinking of a trip to a place that doesn’t remind me of the book at hand. It’s almost always Paris.

What’s your favorite ice cream flavor?

Espresso cookie. It’s the devil’s food.

Are you a dog or a cat person? What does that tell us about you?

Both, but the way I live, how much I travel, doesn’t permit having dogs. So I have a cat, who found me. I opened my door and he darted inside, up the steps, right into my bedroom. I like the independence of cats…and their general cleanliness, elegance, and silence. But I don’t like aloof cats. Draw your own conclusions!

What was your favorite childhood book? What made it so beloved?

I read a lot of random ghost stories and all of the Nancy Drew series…but what I remember being moved by was the poem “The Highwayman” by Alfred Noyes. I read it constantly…loved drama! “And the highwayman came riding, riding, riding up to the old inn door…” And the illustrations were nicely ghostly, in this children’s literature encyclopedia we had, with deep orange covers. And I loved Dr. Seuss. Still do.

How many unfinished book ideas or manuscripts do you currently have?

If I hazarded a guess, I’d say roughly 60. It gets to the point where I’m relieved when someone else writes a book I thought of doing—as long as they do it well. Then my list shrinks, and I sleep better. I’ll never have time to write all the books that have occurred to me. That’s something about getting older that people don’t talk about much, and that I’m writing a piece on—having to become circumspect in which projects you’ll try before your brain and/or body give out!

What’s your favorite movie?

Comedy: What About Bob? Ghost Story: The Changling (the George C. Scott film). Period piece: Enchanted April. Fantasy: The Shape of Water. Spy: Casino Royale. Romance: Out of Africa. There are so many, I love love love going to movies…that escape in the dark, no one bothering you or asking anything of you, just entering into a story—with buttered popcorn and a mix of Cherry and Diet Coke.

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Both the author and principal photographer for Islands of America, Anna Marlis Burgard is the creative force behind hundreds of illustrated books including the bestselling A Guide for Grown-ups: Essential Wisdom from the Collected Works of Antoine de Saint-Exupery (Harcourt); Perfect Porches (Clarkson Potter/Random House); The Twilight Zone graphic novel series (Walker & Co.); Hallelujah: The Poetry of Classic Hymns (Ten Speed Press); Shrimp Country: Recipes and Tales from the Southern Coasts (UPF) and the forthcoming The Beachcomber’s Companion (Chronicle Books). Her work has been featured on Atlas Obscura, The Oprah Winfrey Show, BBC Radio and NPR and in Elle DecorThe New YorkerSpirituality & PracticeCelebrated LivingRoadfood.comTown & Country, USAToday and Yahoo! Travel.

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