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From Michigan: Author J. Lee Burke to Speak About Blackrock Island and Writing

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Woods author releases thriller

By Jody McVeigh

J. Lee Burke had to set two alarms to make sure she kept a recent appointment. The Grosse Pointe Woods author was so swept up writing her new novel, she needed twice the reminder she had somewhere else to be.

“There’s a murder going on right in front of my face. I can see it as clear as day,” she said.

Burke sees her stories like movies in her mind. And she wants readers to see exactly what she imagines.

“The details of a scene have to be to the best of my ability,” she said. “You have to love my characters or otherwise, who am I as a writer? I want you to love my operative. I want you to believe she’s a real person and can do these things.”


Burke’s novel “Blackrock Island” was released April 14, and features undercover NOVAS operative Laine Sullivan. The story opens with a death on Lake St. Clair, then shifts to the Kentucky Derby, Ireland, France and Saudi Arabia. The plot delves into the thoroughbred racing industry and atrocities on the racetrack, Burke said. Her heroine is a strong woman, who is clever and cute.

“It’s an international thriller, crime fiction,” Burke said. “It’s a psychological journey for the main character ... Her husband dies on Lake St. Clair. Her mission is to go to Ireland to find out what’s going on with the racetrack industry — with a wealthy, handsome racehorse owner. But it’s not a romance.”

The book is the first in a series. In her follow-up, currently in development, Burke takes Sullivan on a journey into the world of money laundering and drugs in the motion picture industry.

“I do a lot of research so it’s authentic,” Burke said. “I go to the places I write about. I spent a month in Ireland ... I like to know where I am — the feel of the people and the culture. If I can see it and feel it, then I can concentrate on my characters and what they’re supposed to be doing.”

Burke has been writing since childhood. A lifelong Grosse Pointer, she spent many summers in Port Sanilac with no television.

“So I would read,” she said. “Agatha Christie. Ian Fleming. I was very impressed with them. Murder mystery surrounded my life.

“I knew I wanted to write in the third grade,” she continued. “I would get in trouble in third grade for writing my stories in class.”

She looked to a family friend for writing advice. Author Elmore Leonard helped guide her for years.

“For over eight years I used to talk to him,” she said. “It was wonderful. I would go to his house and discuss bad guys. I was struggling with my antagonist, my bad guy. He said, ‘You have to give him a redeeming quality.’ It brought humor into my work.”

The Villanova University graduate takes her writing so seriously, she oil paints some of her scenes.

“I’m passionate about my work,” she said. “I write in the morning before work and I write at night. Sometimes I have to set the timer on my stove. I know when I finish a chapter I have at least several lines so I can return the next day and know exactly where I’m going.”

Burke, a member of Mystery Writers of America and Sisters in Crime, doesn’t use an outline and knows her endings before she gets to them. She said she likes adventure, so her characters have to like adventure, too.

“Blackrock Island” is for readers age 18 and older. It’s violent, Burke said, but not graphic.

While she works on her follow-up, Burke also awaits word on a children’s book being considered for publication. The mother of two and grandmother of three said she enlisted help from one of her granddaughters with the book.

“Blackrock Island” is available on amazon.com, and at Barnes & Noble.

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