An Indies Introduce Q&A with Gabi Burton

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Gabi Burton is the author of Sing Me to Sleep, a Summer/Fall 2023 Indies Introduce Kids’ selection.

Burton grew up reading and writing in St. Louis, Missouri. She graduated from Bowdoin College in Brunswick, Maine in 2021. Now, she works as a paralegal and author on the East Coast. When she’s not working or writing, she’s probably watching Netflix, scrolling through Twitter, or finding beautiful places to walk — preferably near a body of water.

Kathy Burnette of Brain Lair Books in South Bend, Indiana, served on the panel that selected Burton’s debut for Indies Introduce.

Here, Burton and Burnette discuss Sing Me to Sleep.

Kathy Burnette: Saoirse works hard to be good at everything. What’s one thing you have worked hard to become good at and how did that transfer to writing Sing Me to Sleep?

Gabi Burton: I’ve wanted to be an author since I was a kid. When I started writing, I tried out a lot of different genres but I never wanted to write fantasy. I loved reading fantasy but my least favorite part of the writing process (aside from drafting) was worldbuilding and descriptions. Fantasy as a genre requires a lot of worldbuilding and descriptions so for the longest time, I resisted writing it. When I got the idea for Sing Me to Sleep, I’d never written fantasy before and I was terrified I’d be awful at writing in-depth descriptions. To prepare, I reread some of my favorite fantasy books. I kept mental note of the ways they wove setting and descriptions into their stories. As I wrote and edited, I read more of those books and with each stage of editing, I got a little bit better at it. Now, one of my favorite things to do when writing is make a list of books to read. If there’s a particular skill I need to work on, I find books that do that thing well and read them to learn from them. It gives me something to look forward to while writing.

KB: Which author has had the most influence on your work?

GB: The authors I read and loved as a kid are the ones who have had the most influence on me and my writing now. I can’t rave enough about Kristin Cashore. She’s the author who made me fall in love with fantasy as a genre and was my introduction into strong female main characters. To this day, Graceling and Fire are some of my favorite YA fantasy books. She’s the reason I’m a fantasy author. I love the way she writes her characters and the way they fit (or don’t fit) into the worlds she builds for them. I love the way she describes their internal turmoil and conflicting thoughts and feelings. I love how they don’t reveal everything to the reader even in their thoughts. The complicated main characters and relationships she develops in her books are a major influence on me and Sing Me to Sleep.

KB: Did you ever consider a different ending for Sing Me to Sleep?

GB: I really struggled with the ending of Sing Me to Sleep and rewrote it more than any other part of the book. The information revealed in the last few chapters didn’t really change that much, but what Saoirse and Hayes do with that information changed a lot. A lot of the changes to the ending were dependent on what I wanted to do in Book 2. And a lot of the changes were because what happened initially didn’t fit. For example, I considered an ending where Hayes is angrier at Saoirse at the end and an ending where he’s more forgiving. I ultimately wanted a [middle ground]. Hayes’ character does a bit of growing up in Sing Me to Sleep and he still has a lot more to do. I wanted an ending that captured him where he is now, so he still has room to change in Book 2. Something else that fluctuated a lot in the ending was Saoirse’s anger and motivation.

KB: Saoirse is determined to make a good life for Rain, even though they aren’t actual sisters. Where does that need to protect come from?

GB: Saoirse loves her little sister. That’s definitely a driving force behind her need to take care of her. But deeper than that, Saoirse relies on her sister. Rain loves Saoirse and isn’t afraid of her. Saoirse needs that. She feels loved by the rest of her family but it’s tempered by their fear of her and what she’s capable of. Rain doesn’t have that. Part of the reason Saoirse protects Rain so fiercely is because she relies on Rain’s love and trust to make her feel like she’s not a monster. When Saoirse does something she regrets, she turns to her sister. Which means that Saoirse shields Rain not just from outside threats and other people, but also from the truth about herself and her instinct to kill. Something Saoirse grows to realize is that she might need Rain more than Rain needs her.

KB: A lot of your book centers around a caste system based on arbitrary or throwaway rules. In what ways does your writing reflect your lived experience?

GB: Keirdre’s caste system is determined by the fae. It was made by the fae, for the fae, and fae are the creatures allowed to thrive. Sing Me to Sleep has an all Black and Brown cast and there’s no racism or colorism on the page. That said, a lot of the structure of the kingdom reflects modern-day systemic racism in the U.S. I’ve always had an issue with how where you’re born affects just about everything, so it was important to me that the impacts of Keirdre’s hierarchy permeate through all areas of life. I wanted it to affect the quality of life, freedom, ability to change your socioeconomic status, etc.

I’m from St. Louis, Missouri. I grew up in South City but my mom taught at a wealthy, mostly white school district in the suburbs. I went to that school district from the time I was in kindergarten until my senior year of high school. We moved five times over the next year so that we could stay at that school district because the high school in the area where we actually lived wasn’t accredited. I could vent about the way America funds public schools and how certain areas are set up for failure forever, but it boils down to: places with mostly white people tend to have better public schools than places with majority Black people (and other racial minorities). Which is all a long-winded way of saying that America is also structured by white people for white people. This fact affects just about all areas of life. I wanted Keirdre to reflect that.

Sing Me to Sleep by Gabi Burton (Bloomsbury, 9781547610372, Hardcover Young Adult, $19.99) On Sale: 6/27/2023

Find out more about the author on her website.

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