Category Archives: indie publishing

Tightwire, Two Years Later

Two years ago yesterday, on December 5, 2014, I received an email from Amazon: Tightwire, my second novel, was up and running. With that message — rote and impersonal — my extremely personal Tightwire journey began. I’ve had readers email me to say the novel made a difference in their lives; I’ve seen my writing through the eyes of college lit students and psych grad students; I’ve established a dialogue with classrooms in Ask-The-Author threads; I’ve collaborated with professors. I’m still traveling the path of my Tightwire journey — striding and stumbling, learning and questioning. All I know for sure is what I didn’t know on this day, two years ago.

I didn’t know that my second book (Tightwire) would feel just as challenging (a polite word) and overwhelming (more like the truth) to write as my first book (Hollywood High: Achieve The Honorable). I didn’t know I’d rewrite Tightwire between 50 and 100 times before publication; I figured that happened with my first book only because it was my first book. But that’s my ongoing process as a writer, and it’s holding true again as I work on Novel #3. Apparently, there’s no rushing art, especially mine.

I didn’t know that every time I’d publish a book, I’d feel vulnerable. I’m not talking about a mature brand of vulnerability, described with balance and eloquence, preferably while sipping tea and reclining comfortably. No, I’m talking about clutch-a-stuffed-animal, scrunch-your-eyes-shut, hide-under-the-bed (if I could still fit). Tightwire follows two main characters: Caroline, “a whip-smart neophyte therapist who lives too much in her head” and Collier, “a gorgeous child of the circus who has only been admired for his body” (from a 5-star review on Amazon). The story is pure fiction, but Caroline’s style as a therapist bears a striking resemblance to my own. What’s more, anyone who knows me will recognize that Caroline and I share too many personality traits to be mere coincidence. When I put up Tightwire, I put up pieces of my self for public consumption. Searingly vulnerable.

I also didn’t know that Tightwire would change my relationship to my own vulnerability.  Within a few weeks of publication, Tightwire would top Amazon’s list of Hot New Releases…and I still felt vulnerable. Tightwire continues to land on and off Amazon bestsellers lists — and I still feel vulnerable. Reviewers have tossed out words like “riveting” — “profound” — “inspirational” — “spectacular” — “captivating”…and I still feel vulnerable. Of course, the reviews are validating, and I’m grateful beyond words. But curiously, the vulnerability remains. I finally realized that to connect to my readers, I need that vulnerability. I can’t speak for other writers but for me, if it isn’t rooted in vulnerability, it isn’t worth reading. My Tightwire journey is grounded in layers of vulnerability.

I didn’t know how many Tightwire journeys my readers would share. From 5-star reviews on Amazon:  “I feel this book could help many readers realize they…shouldn’t be afraid to seek therapy” — “The story is one of hope, with an ongoing theme that people can heal from all sorts of past difficulties through insight and the power of healthy relationships” — “This book could help many readers realize they’re not alone”– “Sexuality is not as simple as the categorizations that our society often attaches to it.” I didn’t know there would be so many Tightwire journeys, from so many readers.

Clearly, I didn’t know a truckload, but the past 2 years have been an education. I now know how grateful I am to each person who reads my work. I know how much I’ve grown to respect the value of vulnerability. Most of all, I know how open I am to discovering what else I don’t know.


*If you’re considering Tightwire for a course or book club and you’d like a curriculum guide and chapter summaries, go to my website, click on contact, and you can email me.

Amy Kaufman Burk is a blogger and author of two novels. Hollywood High: Achieve The Honorable, written in reaction to seeing gay teens bullied in high school, follows Caroline Black through her first year of high school. Her second novel, Tightwire, continues to follow Caroline, now a rookie psych intern treating her first patient. Amy blogs about a variety of subjects including parenting, LGBTQ+ ally support, and a Rolling Stones concert. Amy also collaborates with educators who use her novels in their curriculum. 

Amy’s Author Page On Amazon

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Coming Out In A Novel

When I finished writing my first novel, I was ambivalent — should I put it up as an indie book, or try to find an agent and publisher? I liked the autonomy of self-publishing, but the validation of an established literary endorsement was undeniable. So I sent the manuscript to a few people, who passed on it. Then I struck gold: someone in the publishing world was interested. I had not sent a formal query, and our connection was tenuous at best, along the lines of a-friend-of-a cousin-of-an-acquaintance. Still, he had taken a look at my novel, and thought the book had “great potential”. He would, however, require “just one change”.

Just one change? No problem.

I wrote the book in reaction to seeing gay boys bullied in high school. As terrible as the bullying was, the indifference of most students was just as upsetting. At fifteen years old, I knew I’d write about it some day.

The novel tracks a group of friends through one year of high school. As I wrote, I wanted several characters to begin with different brands of homophobia – some subtle, some overt, some violent. I wanted to model many paths to acceptance — some extremely rocky and some relatively smooth. I decided that the story would hold two key LGBT characters – one lesbian girl and one gay boy, both in high school.

I chose to make the girl’s character easy for readers to identify with. She would defy every stereotype, and readers would like her for several chapters before finding out she was gay. Her family’s struggle would model how fine people can make hurtful mistakes, and then get back on a supportive track, stronger than before.

I decided to portray the gay boy from a different angle. I wanted to challenge readers, to paint this boy in a way that was tougher to identify with. My goal was to get my readers behind that character, guiding them to like him and by the end, to respect and admire him. On the surface, he looks like a stereotype, which sets him up as a target for other characters in the story. But as the reader gets to know him, he shatters one stereotype after another.

When I finished the manuscript and received that glimmer of interest from the publishing world, I was extremely ready to make “just one change”. Our email exchange took place toward the end of the gargantuan success of the Twilight movies, and our messages were zooming back and forth with growing enthusiasm. Then he revealed the “just one change”: instead of coming out as a lesbian, my character needed to “come out as a vampire”.

My first thought was that he was joking. (I was wrong.) My second thought was that this would be a great dinner-party-story. (I was right.) My third thought was narcissistic outrage – how rude to boil my writing down to a cost-benefit analysis, to conclude that a key-character-vampire was a better financial bet than a key-character-lesbian. (Get over it; cost-benefit analysis is his job.) My fourth thought was healthy outrage: does this person view himself as respectful of LGBTQIA issues? (I’ll never know.)

I sent a polite message, thanking him for his interest, explaining that I’d take my chances as an indie author and stand by my character — my entirely and imperfectly human character. My writing crosses gay/straight lines, not human/vampire lines.

Did I miss an opportunity when I chose to stick by my original character? Yeah, possibly.

Am I okay with that? Yeah, definitely.


Novels by Amy Kaufman Burk

Hollywood High: Achieve The Honorable

Caroline Black, 15 years old, leaves her college prep academy for the local public high school, which opens her world. Written in reaction to witnessing gay students bullied in high school.


Caroline Black, now a rookie psychology intern, goes through one year of training, working with her first patient – a young man who is stormy, seductive, brilliant and troubled. Written in support of healthy sex and sexuality, in support of same-sex parents, and as a voice against the stigma of therapy.

Amy’s Author Page On Amazon


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