Tag Archives: Writing

Tears And College Applications

“I shouldn’t cry.”

(Why not?)

“I’m sorry.”

(You’re not doing anything wrong.)

“You can leave the room if you want.”

(Why in the world would I want to do that?)

For several years, I’ve coached high school seniors on writing their college application essays. Every student is different, and my job is to help them bring out their unique voices. The tools of my trade are simple: Laptop, pen, paper. But one tool is deceptively complex: I always provide, prominently displayed, a large box of tissues.

Many students cry, and tears are often an important part of their writing process. Their tears make sense. They’re stepping forward, trying out a new level of autonomy, facing a strange world. It’s scary, filled with potential, brimming with emotion. Most are surprised to find themselves crying, and they’re mortified. They apologize (“I’m sorry”). They’re embarrassed (“I shouldn’t cry.”) They assume I’m uncomfortable and offer me an escape hatch (“You can leave the room if you want.”). But I assure them that if there are tears, there’s also heart. And if there’s heart, there’s a wonderful, moving essay waiting to be tapped.

Crying takes different forms for different people. Sometimes my students become choked up, or their eyes fill with tears — a fleeting moment, and then composure. Sometimes they need to take a break, racked with sobs. Sometimes they write as they cry. Most important, I always encourage them not to fight the tears. Instead, I guide them to follow their own tears to their deepest internal source, and then bring that source back to the surface, into the words that will shape their essays. If they’re fighting their own tears, they’re fighting their own selves.

Not all students cry; their source grows from a different part of their emotional core. But for those who cry, the source of their tears invariably leads to an essay of authenticity and character. Their tears are valuable, an unerring guide. Their essays sing, chant, speak, whisper, shout.

The process of writing is often an experience of tremendous personal growth. In our initial meeting, students usually arrive stressed and overwhelmed; in our final meeting, they’re completely surprised by the empowerment they own. They grow before my eyes, simultaneously fawn-like and mature. I’m so honored to be a part of each journey.

It moves me to tears.

___

Amy Kaufman Burk is a blogger and author of two novels. Hollywood High: Achieve The Honorable follows Caroline Black through tenth grade, in a new school that opens her world. Tightwire, Amy’s second novel, continues to follow Caroline, this time as a rookie psych intern treating her first patient — a stormy, brilliant, troubled young man who ran away from the circus to find himself. Amy blogs about a variety of subjects including college applications, adolescence, parenting and a Rolling Stones concert. She also collaborates with educators who include her work in their curriculum. 

Amy’s Author Page On Amazon

https://www.amazon.com/Amy-Kaufman-Burk/e/B00R0S66Y4

 

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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. http://amykaufmanburk.com

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

https://www.amazon.com/Amy-Kaufman-Burk/e/B00R0S66Y4

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For Writers

I’ve found the perfect career.

For the past five years, I’ve felt a magnetic pull, drawing me into the process of writing. Words to sentences to paragraphs, I built a blog and completed two novels. I discovered the vulnerability, fear, validation, triumph of publishing. The positive reviews were exhilarating, but even the negative reviews felt oddly affirming, a necessary part of the experience. I figured my credentials were in order, and I was officially an author.

But apparently, I’m officially retired.

Since I began writing, countless folks have opened conversations, variations on the same theme:

“I want to be a writer.”

Amy: “I love writing.”

“Yeah, it’s the perfect career.”

Amy: unable to contain her smile, discovering a kindred spirit.

“I mean, I have a real job, but some day I want to retire and write.”

Amy: radiant smile growing dimmer.

“Being a writer, so perfect. You sit in a comfortable chair. All you do is nothing.”

Sometimes, the tone is matter-of-fact. More often, the words are laced with underlying condescension, as though my taking my writing seriously is a bit of a joke. Setting aside my annoyance, it’s a fascinating cultural commentary. With so many professing to be “avid readers,” I wonder how these folks think books are made — apparently by people parked on soft cushions, doing nothing.

When I hear these comments, I try to understand their perspective. A good book reads with a rhythm and flow that sweeps the reader into a current. If reading feels effortless, then I suppose it’s a logical conclusion that writing is effortless as well.

But it’s not.

It’s hard to argue the point without sounding bitter or whiny. In fact, I feel neither. Mainly, I feel curious about the gap between the common perception of writing, and the actual experience. I know how much thought I put into my work. I know I lie awake at night, puzzling over one word. I know how many thousands of hours go into each manuscript. Any good work is the result of hard-core effort. Yes, I love writing and yes, I feel grateful for the opportunity to write. I’m happy in my work but yes, it is actual work. Maybe it’s in the job description, extremely fine print: being an ongoing joke is a part of a writer’s career trajectory.

So I’m signing off, returning to my perfect career. I’m holding my laptop, seated in my favorite chair, diving into a process I can’t defend. An invisible window opens within, and a force deeper than consciousness begins to stir. I wait, trusting the tendrils that I can feel growing toward the surface. I concentrate as thoughts clarify themselves, begin to take form. The shape evolves into a structure with a pulse, an extension of my own heartbeat. I wander through a vast field of language, choosing sounds, dissonance, cadence.

After six minutes or six hours, I stretch and take a short break. Then I sit back down and do it again, and again, and again.

___

Amy Kaufman Burk is a novelist, blogger and mother of three grown children. Amy wrote her first novel, Hollywood High: Achieve The Honorable, in reaction to seeing gay students bullied in high school. Her second novel, Tightwire, follows a rookie psych intern through her first year of training. Amy blogs on a variety of subjects including parenting, LGBTQ+ ally support, gender equality and a Rolling Stones concert. She also collaborates with educators who include her books in their classroom.

Amy’s Author Page On Amazon

https://www.amazon.com/Amy-Kaufman-Burk/e/B00R0S66Y4

 

 

 

 

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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.

Tightwire

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

https://www.amazon.com/Amy-Kaufman-Burk/e/B00R0S66Y4

 

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Reading Guides for Hollywood High: Achieve The Honorable and Tightwire

Dear Readers,

I’ve received emails from members of book clubs who are reading my novels. Some asked for a reading guide, so I created one for each novel.

When I give talks, my favorite part is opening the floor to questions. Your ideas always kick-start new ways of thinking within me – and I’m grateful. If you want to respond to the reading guides, feel free to contact me through my website. I love hearing from readers, and I try to respond to every message. http://amykaufmanburk.com

For those of you who are including my novel in your book club, in your classroom, on your  personal list of books to read – thank you so much.

Best,

Amy

READING GUIDES

Hollywood High: Achieve The Honorable

1. As the book opens, Caroline has just transferred from a private school to her local public high school and she is terrified.  But from the start, she shows signs of being much more than scared and intimidated. What are the first signs that Caroline has hidden strengths? Have you ever felt strong inside in ways nobody could see?

2. This novel has lesbian and gay characters, as well as straight characters. Each character adds a vital piece to the story. Yet, unlike many books in the “Gay And Lesbian Literary Fiction” category, Hollywood High: Achieve The Honorable does not offer explicit details of sex. In writing the story, this was a careful choice I made. What do you think of this decision?

3. A theme of my novel is defying stereotypes. Some of the stereotypes in the story are racial, sexual and gender based. Some are about other kinds of assumptions. For instance, what does it say about a person if he/she is a prostitute, the leader of a gang, a cheerleader, extremely academic? Have you ever felt that others stereotyped you?

4. I wrote my book in reaction to the bullying of gay boys that I witnessed in high school. Have you ever been bullied? Have you ever acted as a bully? Have you ever seen another bullied? How did you handle it? Will you handle it differently next time?

5. A subplot in the book is based on growing up in the film industry. Have you ever been in an environment that was a mismatch for your true self? How did you navigate the situation?

6. From the first chapter, Caroline begins to find friends in her new high school. She builds a friendship group that is racially, sexually and economically diverse. Is that sort of diversity important to you?

7. Several high school characters have secrets – Caroline, The Duke, Valerie. Have you ever held a secret inside, that you were afraid to speak out loud? How does it feel to have a secret?

8. Sexual assault should happen to nobody, but it can happen to anybody. This is a subplot in Hollywood High: Achieve The Honorable. Have you ever been assaulted? Have you known someone who has been assaulted? Do you have the support you need to heal? (If not, please contact a rape crisis center near you, or talk to a therapist.)

9. When I speak to gay/straight alliances, I often hear stories of adolescents coming out to their families, and getting unsupportive, hurtful responses. I decided to include in my novel one family’s journey to support and acceptance. Have you ever felt unsupported by your family when you most needed support?

I wrote the following blog posts to help families stay supportive and bonded.

“They Came Out And Gay Fills The Room” https://amykaufmanburk.wordpress.com/2014/03/28/they-came-out-and-gay-fills-the-room/

“When Your Daughter Or Son Comes Out” https://amykaufmanburk.wordpress.com/2014/02/14/when-your-daughter-or-son-comes-out/

“If My Child Came Out As Trans”     https://amykaufmanburk.wordpress.com/2015/01/29/if-my-child-came-out-as-trans/

10. Homophobia can show itself in many forms. It can be subtle, damaging, hurtful, deadly. Through different characters, I decided to demonstrate different kinds of homophobia, and model different paths to support and acceptance. Have you ever seen someone move from homophobia to support and acceptance? Have you taken that journey to becoming an ally?

11. Readers often tell me they have picked a favorite character in Hollywood High: Achieve The Honorable. Do you have a favorite character from the book? What draws you to that character?

12. Do you have an idea to add to this study guide? I’d love to hear from you! http://hollywoodhighbook.com/?page_id=70

Tightwire

1. Tightwire tracks Caroline Black through her first year as a psychology intern, working with her first patient, Collier. As the book opens, Collier feels hopeless. As the book progresses, he discovers his capacity to heal. Have you ever felt hopeless? Have you found a way to heal? (If you need help, please reach out to the resources in your community.)

2. People have all sorts of ideas about therapy and therapists, and their ideas sometimes include a stigma. I hope this novel shows how helpful a “talking therapy” can be, and helps to diminish the stigma. Did the story make the idea of therapy less “strange,” possibly more comfortable?

3. Sexuality can feel confusing, even terrifying. At one point in the story, Collier (the patient) questions his sexuality. Have you ever questioned your sexuality or your sexual identity? How did you resolve your questions? Are your questions still ongoing? (If you need support, please contact an LGBTQIA center near your home. The Trevor Project is also an excellent organization to offer support. http://www.thetrevorproject.org)

4. Two important characters in Tightwire are Jeanne and Tracy, a lesbian couple with two children, who become role-model-parents for Collier. Have you met a same-sex couple with children? Are you comfortable with that family constellation? Why or why not? (If you’re open to growing more comfortable, maybe Jeanne and Tracy can help!)

5. One theme of this book is that if you’re motivated, it’s never too late to change. Do you have parts of yourself that you’d like to change?

6. Sexual assault can happen in many forms. People can feel a wide range of emotions including violated, betrayed, contaminated, frightened…also guilty, confused, depressed, doubting the validity of their own experience. Sexual assault is a part of this novel, and the survivor’s healing is a central theme. Have you ever had a sexual experience which left you feeling assaulted? Were you able to trust the validity of your experience, even if the assault fell outside the legal definition of “rape”? Have you ever felt safe enough to tell another person? (If you need help healing, please reach out to a rape crisis center or a therapist.)

7. In one session with Collier, Caroline (the therapist) has no idea how to handle the situation, and she makes several mistakes. She is certain that she has torpedoed both the treatment and her career. She expects her supervisor to kick her out of her psych internship, and her patient to quit. But to her surprise, her supervisor is supportive and helpful, and her patient comes back to continue working. What does Caroline do that earns the respect of her supervisor, and allows Collier to return to his treatment? Have you ever made a big mistake, and then been given a second chance?

8. Tightwire is structured with chapters that alternate between Caroline’s sessions with Collier, and Caroline’s life as she grows up. Did you find the structure engaging? Why or why not?

9. Do you have an idea to add to this study guide? I’d love to hear from you! http://amykaufmanburk.com

____

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 the bullying of gay students I witnessed in high school.

Tightwire

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, complex and troubled. Written in support of healthy sex and sexuality, in support of same-sex parents, and as a voice against the stigma of psychotherapy.

Amy’s Author Page On Amazon

https://www.amazon.com/Amy-Kaufman-Burk/e/B00R0S66Y4

 

 

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Tightwire Is Available On Amazon

Tightwire is available on Amazon!

Tightwire, my second novel, follows Caroline Black (from Hollywood High: Achieve The Honorable) into her first year as a psychology intern. The story tracks one year of work with her first patient, Collier, who is seductive, feisty, troubled and brilliant. The book portrays Caroline’s training in a community psych clinic in San Francisco, including sessions with Collier and meetings with her supervisor – all completely fictional.

As I wrote the novel, I thought about the messages I hoped to convey. I wrote Tightwire as a voice against the stigma often attached to psychotherapy. The book strongly supports same-sex parents, and encourages people to be true to their own sexuality, including exploring and questioning their sexual identity. With the recent, long-overdue focus on sexual assault in the media, I decided to use my writing to explore emotional issues surrounding healthy sex, unhealthy sex, and sexual assault. I tried to treat the issues with clarity, respect and empathy. In the end, Tightwire is a story of hope and healing.

Click here to buy Tightwire!

http://www.amazon.com/dp/B00QOE1C12

 

 

 

 

 

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Tightwire, First Chapter

Dear Readers,

Tightwire, my second novel, is available on Amazon (link below). This is the first chapter. Thanks so much for taking a look!

Amy

CHAPTER 1

First Session July 8, 1982

Collier Z. Tratner sat alone in the waiting room, a picture of calm. Six-one, blue eyes, brown curls to his shoulders, strikingly handsome in his jeans and T-shirt. He looked like he’d never had a mentally unsound moment in his life. Caroline Black introduced herself, and waited to see if he’d initiate a handshake. He didn’t. With a curious grace, not quite an athlete and not quite a dancer, he followed her to the office. He took in the windowless cubicle, the tattered lime carpet, the metal furniture. Two posters hung on the scarred stucco walls: Van Gogh’s white roses, and Monet’s water lilies. Caroline’s failed attempt to create a soothing ambiance.

“I almost didn’t show up,” Collier began impassively. “I don’t know what I’m doing here.”

“Well, um, since you’re here, I mean, the next fifty minutes are yours, so you might as well tell me, what brings you here?”

“Already answered. I don’t have a clue.” He watched her carefully. “Am I your first patient?”

“I…what makes you ask?”

“It’s okay,” he nodded coolly. “I’ve never done therapy before either.” To her horror, Caroline blushed, and he grinned. “Relax, Doctor, we’ll just figure this out together.”

“Actually, it’s my legal and ethical obligation to inform you, I haven’t received my Ph.D. I’ve just completed my dissertation, but I won’t be awarded my degree until next July. I’m not a doctor yet.”

“What manual are you reciting from? And more to the point, why didn’t they give you the doctorate? Something wrong with your research? You’ve finished your dissertation, ready to publish, but…wait…hold on…I get it. You have to finish this year of seeing patients. Then they’ll give you walking papers.” She nodded. “So, this–” Collier gestured around the room, “Oasis Psych Clinic, San Francisco County Hospital. This is your last requirement. Then you’re free.”

“That’s how my program works. But truthfully, for me, the dissertation was the requirement. This–” she copied his gesture, “is what I want to do. But I’m still a pre-doctoral intern.”

“So you’re a partial doctor. I’ll call you ‘Doc.’”

She stiffened. Is it okay to acknowledge a joke?  

“Look,” he continued, “I think we’ve got an obstacle to overcome. I’ve traveled all over the world. I’m fluent in French, Spanish, German and Italian. You clearly speak Textbook, but do you speak English?”

He raised an eyebrow, and before she could rustle up neutrality, she began to laugh softly. “How’d you learn to read people so well?”

“Good question. A necessity for survival. This’ll entail a history lesson.” His voice turned sing-song, lulling. “It’s twelve midnight, 1961. Twenty-one years ago. Los Angeles. Hollywood Boulevard. A studio apartment with cold water and a colony of roaches. My mom woke up with contractions. She called my dad, who was pouring drinks at a sleazy bar three streets over. He said he’d meet her at the hospital. Those were his last words to her. I was born fourteen hours later. I’ve never met my father, and my mother never saw him again.” Collier’s speech had become a boring lecture, cultivated to snuff out any interest from his listeners. “He didn’t want a long-term deal with Mom, didn’t want a kid, she refused an abortion, and here I am. End of story.”

“That explains everything except the past twenty-one years.”

He grinned in surprise. “Good, Doc. You’re not as uptight as I first thought.” No pause. “How old are you?”

She stifled the urge to stammer. Thou shalt not answer a patient’s questions. The Psychoanalytic Manifesto. Collier looked her over. Five-four, dark blonde, one-hundred-twelve, no make-up. Long navy skirt, matching jacket with red piping, cream blouse, knee-high boots, no jewelry. Warm clothes for a San Francisco summer. She’d been called pretty by some, beautiful by others, but to the majority she skimmed by unnoticed. Everyone agreed there was absolutely no flash to her presentation.

Now Collier peered at her, not liking what he saw. “Are your eyes blue? No, they’re green.” He relaxed back in his chair. “I’d say twenty-four years, one month, four days.”  

Wrong, five days. Caroline acknowledged his victory with a nod. “You’d rather talk about me than anything that’s happened since you were born.”

“You’re smart,” Collier frowned. “I’m not sure I like that.”

“Why not?”

“I like to be the smartest.”

“Because…”

“It’s safest that way.”

“If I’m smart, I’m dangerous?”

He crossed his legs, outwardly composed. A sexual aura stirred. Sexual, seductive, unreachable. “You want my story?”

“Sure.”

“What do you want? The outline? The first chapter? The whole book so you can tag it, file it in its proper section?”

“I can’t file it until I know whether it’s biography or fiction.”

“The story is fact. My who-gives-a-damn attitude is pure fiction. By the way, your office is awful. Uglier than the last E.R. I visited.”

“Why’d you go to an emergency room?”

“The metal furniture’s a homey touch. Just dial 1-800-HIDEOUS, emergency decorator fashion police.” Caroline held her smile in check, and Collier’s voice turned quiet. “I think the last time was a mild concussion. I’ve had three fractured wrists, a busted nose, two broken ankles, a dislocated shoulder, countless sprained fingers. I might have missed a few, but that’s the general idea.”

“That’s a lot of injuries.”

“Comes with the territory.”

“What territory is that?”

He cocked his head, measuring her. “I get it. You’re asking about child abuse.”

“Actually, I was asking about broken bones.” She steeled herself. “Should I ask about child abuse?”

“I’m not sure,” a dense sadness permeated the office. “But the broken bones are a different issue. The breaks, the fractures, the languages I speak. I was born into the circus. I’ve done the trapeze and the highwire since I was a kid. Falls are a given. I’ve performed, and I’ve fallen all over the world. Anywhere there’s a Club Med. Mom’s a clown, a unicyclist and a contortionist. She’s at Club Med in San Diego, as we speak.”

The circus, ultrahazardous activity? Caroline shook her head slightly, loosening the image of poodles trotting, horses prancing. “Where do you fit into that picture now?”

“In my book, I’m emancipated. In theirs, I’m AWOL.”

AWOL? You ran away from the circus? “Who’s ‘they’?” she asked.

“Mom, and the group we work with. The Club Med Circus Team. Mom and I flew into San Francisco a week ago, to interview a few potential new members. I met this guy in a bar, and he offered me a job at this restaurant he owns in North Beach. Nice part of San Francisco. One of his waiters just quit. Trattoria Anesta. Upscale Italian. Expensive place. Good tips. I’ve only worked there two days, and I’ve opened a bank account. I’m staying at the YMCA. I’ll get an apartment in a few weeks.”

“And the abuse?”

“None of your fucking business.”

Fucking. So it’s sexual, whatever it is. Collier was suddenly breathing hard. Caroline put up her hands, a clear message that she wouldn’t force him to talk. His breathing slowed. Finally, he looked at her curiously.

“You didn’t have a coronary when I said ‘fuck.’”

“No, I didn’t,” she answered evenly.

“Why not? You reek of proper manners, etiquette, crisp navy and tailored.”

“Are you looking for ways to startle me? So I can’t think clearly because I’m too jumpy?”

He nodded, sheepish and impressed. “I guess that’s right.”

“You can just tell me to back off. I’ll listen. Much more straightforward.”

“I’m not a straightforward person.”

“Okay, I’ll remember that.”

Collier glared, suddenly ferocious. “I don’t give a shit if you remember or not. I never said I’m coming back for a second session. You’re obviously a rookie.” Caroline blushed. “Your office sucks. Your waiting room is enough to send Mickey Mouse into a suicidal depression. You could at least have some music for us while we sit in those grey plastic chairs.”

“What song would you choose?” Caroline heard herself ask, both shaken and fascinated by his tantrum.

“That’s easy,” he smiled, as the rage switched off completely. “Tight Rope. Leon Russell. My favorite song.”

“Okay,” she glanced at the clock, “we’ve got a few minutes left. Where do you want to go from here?”

“I’m not making any promises. You’re on probation. Not hired. Do you read me?”

“Loud and clear. You need to figure out if I’m ‘too blind to see.’ Then you’ll decide.” Caroline willed herself to hold his eyes, amazed at how professional she sounded.

“That’s right.” He studied her. “You know the song.” She nodded. “Maybe you’re not a complete loser.”

“I expect that’ll remain an open question for you.” He chuckled, and Caroline allowed herself a small smile. “How about Tuesdays at eleven.”

“One session at a time.” A hard stare, then he stretched. “Are we done for today? You never asked me where I got my name. What the Z stands for. Most people, that’s their first question.”

“Want to tell me?”

“Tratner’s my mother’s last name. Collier’s my dad’s. Z is for Zeus, Mom’s miniature poodle. I’m named after my father, my mother, and her pet.” Now on his feet, firing words down at her. “And no, I don’t give a damn! And no, it doesn’t mean shit! And no, it’s not up for analysis! So leave it alone! Off limits!”

Caroline nodded, rose slowly.

“So, I’ll see you next week. I…why are you staring at me?” She shook her head, palms up. He rolled his eyes. “Order rescinded. It’s not off limits.”

“You just told me why you showed up for this appointment.”

“Brilliant, and why’s that?”

“You’re here to find yourself in the mix of other people’s names.”

He didn’t move for several seconds, standing sculpted, in control of every muscle. “Not just people’s names. There’s even a canine in the cocktail. I’m quite a mongrel.” She waited for him to continue, but instead, he dug into his backpack for a handful of something. He lobbed it onto her desk: an unopened pack of Marlboros. “You can have these.” She looked up at him, and he shrugged. “I gave up smoking a few months ago. I brought them in case I needed to piss you off.” They grinned, and he held up a hand to halt her speech. “I know, your training manual says never accept a gift from a patient. It won’t happen again. But do me a favor and toss the cigarettes. They cause cancer.”

She weighed the pack, then took aim. Bank shot into the trash.

“Thanks,” he said softly.

“Next week, then,” Caroline answered.

He opened the door, then turned back, hand outstretched. They shook.

________

Tightwire is available on Amazon. You can follow Caroline through her first year as a psych intern, and Collier’s first year of therapy. If you want to read about Caroline Black in high school, check out my first novel, Hollywood High: Achieve The Honorable.

Amy’s Author Page On Amazon

https://www.amazon.com/Amy-Kaufman-Burk/e/B00R0S66Y4

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Tightwire, by Amy Kaufman Burk

Tightwire, by Amy Kaufman Burk

This is the cover of my second novel, which will be available soon!

Tightwire Book Cover

The story follows Caroline Black (from Hollywood High: Achieve The Honorable) into her first year as a psychology intern, working with her first patient.

The title looks off balance, on a tightrope.

The letters form a word, but they don’t match each other, and they don’t fit together.

The color might be the blue in someone’s eyes, or water, or sky.

There’s no safety net.

___

Amy’s Author Page On Amazon

https://www.amazon.com/Amy-Kaufman-Burk/e/B00R0S66Y4

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Tightwire Description

Tightwire, my second novel, will be available for the December holidays. I loved the process of writing the story, and I’m so excited to launch the book. Here’s the description:

Tightwire, the second novel from author Amy Kaufman Burk (Hollywood High: Achieve The Honorable), follows the determined and multifaceted Caroline Black into her rookie year as a psychology intern. Her first patient, Collier Z. Tratner, is stormy, seductive, complex and brilliant. Tightwire tracks one year of their therapy, as Caroline helps Collier confront a troubled past filled with secrets that haunt him. Watching Collier grow motivates Caroline to learn from her own mistakes and confront her own troubled past. Through their commitment to working together, Caroline and Collier deeply influence each other.

In Tightwire, Amy Kaufman Burk continues to explore the LGBTQIA themes of her first novel, Hollywood High: Achieve The Honorable. As Collier builds a new life for himself, he questions his own sexual identity. He develops his first close friendship with a man, who is gay. He finds role-model parents in a lesbian couple with two children.

Tightwire explores the empowerment of healthy sex and sexuality, and the complicated layers of hurtful sex. As Collier gains new perspective, he discovers his own capacity to heal emotionally, including sexually.

Amy’s Author Page On Amazon

https://www.amazon.com/Amy-Kaufman-Burk/e/B00R0S66Y4

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Fifty Shades Of Banned

Welcome to Banned Book Week.

Let’s celebrate a few books which have been deemed unfit for human consumption. The Catcher In The Rye (J.D. Salinger). The Grapes of Wrath (John Steinbeck). To Kill A Mockingbird (Harper Lee), Catch-22 (Joseph Heller). The Hunger Games (Suzanne Collins), Harry Potter — the entire series (J.K. Rowling). The Perks Of Being A Wallflower (Stephen Chbosky).

Each of these works has been labeled A Threat. The issues that offend people include sex, drugs, religion, values. A club will always exist whose members decide that if a book contains material that makes them uncomfortable, then the solution lies in a two-pronged attack. First, condemn the book as evil. Second, make it go away.

The Fifty Shades trilogy (E.L. James) has also been banned. I’ve read the second and third books. I’m told that I made a mistake – that the first is a good piece of writing (I wouldn’t know) and that the second and third aren’t (I’d agree and disagree). When I tell people I’ve read these books, they often express surprise that I’d admit it (which I find interesting and amusing). But they’re more surprised by my reaction. I think E.L. James is extremely talented at describing sex and sexual situations; any good writing is difficult, and as an author, I respect her talent tremendously. My problem is her portrayal of a psychotherapist who glaringly lacks boundaries and ethics. The doctor “bids” on his patient’s girlfriend at a fundraiser and literally buys her for a dance. He regularly attends social events hosted by the patient’s family. He accepts a referral from his patient, and then discusses one patient with another.

As a therapist who practiced for over 25 years before becoming an author, I dealt with the stigma on a regular basis. I’m angered by a book which feeds the stereotype, and worsens the problem. However, I would never suggest banning the trilogy. If I don’t like the books, I can choose not to read them, or not to recommend them. Even though I strongly believe that E.L. James promotes a damaging stereotype, I would stand with her, just as I would stand with other banned authors whose values I fully support.

As a novelist, I’m extremely aware that “Author” and “Universal Popularity” do not belong in the same sentence. If my book were ever placed on a “Banned List” I’d be honored to be affiliated with the writers in this eclectic group.

I would love my novel to be banned.

____

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.

Tightwire

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

Amy’s Author Page On Amazon

https://www.amazon.com/Amy-Kaufman-Burk/e/B00R0S66Y4

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