Janice: Hi Bonnie. Thanks for taking time for this interview.
BONNIE: Hey! Good to be here.
Janice: Let’s start in medias res (I can spell it but I can’t pronounce it). Why do you write?
BONNIE: How do these things happen? You spend a bunch of years at jobs that make you unhappy and leave you feeling vaguely lost. Cast around for something that will make you feel fulfilled, that has purpose, that you’re good at or would like to become good at. Try one thing, then another.
Writing stuck for me because I think in story. In school, I was the kid who did average or below if something was explained to me straight on, but if it was explained within a story, I’d excel. Drove my teachers mad. They never figured it out and neither did I, not for years. I don’t consider it something that makes me special—it’s just my brain and what are you going to do about your brain?—more something I had to come to terms with, live with.
It was lots of work, and when I came to the conclusion that most of my misery and joy was tied to the fact that I think in story, I settled down a bit. It could have gone either way. When I was young I studied acting and theater. Studied plays and the theater history. When I started writing my first book I was about sixteen and all I could manage was a very bad paperback romance. Bad in the sense that my story was terrible. Please—don’t write in defending romance novels. There’s no need, really. In my twenties I began a new book more as therapy than anything. Life was rocky in pretty much every way that mattered to me and I needed a place I could control and understand. That book, after many, many incarnations, became Talking to the Dead, my first published novel.
Janice: When did writing become an essential part of your life, assuming it has?
BONNIE: Is it? That sounds a bit romantic to my experience. Essential means bare bones, right? The fewest things needed to survive. Writing can’t possibly fit in that category. I don’t mean to sound like a grump, and I know you aren’t asking in a dreamy-eyed way, it’s just that, for years, I’ve heard writers say stuff like, “I write because I cannot not write.” I get it. It’s a good answer in a pinch. Short, to the point, with just a hint of the ethereal. But, for me, it’s not honest. I can—and have—gone long stretches without writing, and I was fine. Happy, even. Not the point, though, right? You’re really asking when did I say, “That’s it, I’m all in.” That was eight years ago when my family and I moved from Alberta (where I had a cushy job I liked) to Saskatchewan (where I had no job, no friends, no family and two very young children at home). I wrote two books in a year and both were published. Somewhere in that sequence of things is where I must have pushed all my chips to the middle of the table.
Janice: I appreciate your honesty and your perspective. Refreshing.
I loved your first novel, Talking to the Dead, as did everyone I told about it. Did you draw a lot on your counseling experience when writing it?
BONNIE: For the window dressing, yes. Very much. By that I mean the nuts and bolts of therapy. What happens during different types of therapy sessions, that sort of thing. But, like I said, Talking to the Dead was very much about me trying to make sense of myself and my world. For years in interviews, when I was asked if Kate Davis (the protagonist from Talking to the Dead) was like me, I always said she wasn’t. I didn’t mean to lie. I just didn’t see at the time—wasn’t honest enough with myself—to admit that she was, is, in fact, me. The events in the story are allegorical, meaning they aren’t exactly what I went through, what I had suffered in my twenties, but it was all me spilling out on pages. I think that’s why I struggled so much with writing the ending. For me, it isn’t over.
Janice: I believe you moved from CBA to ABA [Christian to mainstream publishing] after Talking to the Dead (or at least after writing it). How has that change been for you? What are some of the differences you observed?
BONNIE: It was all about telling the truth about myself, the stories I love and the ones I write. Finding my fit. But as for differences between the two, there isn’t much. Business is business and the rules are the same no matter which market you write for.
Janice: I’ve noticed on Facebook that you’ve completed a number of manuscripts since. Can you give us a list of books you’ve written/published in ABA?
BONNIE: It’s painful, you know? To have met with early success—and by that I mean being published straight out of the chute—and then struggle publicly. All writers struggle, but most have the luxury of doing so without a wide audience. I’ve struggled very publicly since the release of Talking to the Dead in 2009. I’ve written four novels, each topping 100,000 words. I’ve been told by some of the most important names in publishing that they love me, that I’m just what they want . . . but. So far, there’s always a but. I’m working through one more but right now with my latest manuscript, and I’m trying to stay focused and content, and some days I succeed.
Janice: Been there, done some of that too. It can be a bumpy road.
Would you describe your writing process? Do you do a lot of plotting, planning, researching first, or just jump in and do the details later?
BONNIE: I plan now. I didn’t know anything about writing a novel when I wrote Talking to the Dead. I just wrote. Lots of stuff was fixed in editing. I follow an open, 22 point story structure grid to plan out a novel before I start writing. Which sounds complicated because it is. Writing is hard work.
Janice: What comes first for you—an idea, an incident, a character?
BONNIE: My brain is a mosh pit. It’s impossible for me to line up the contents long enough to count what came first. The closest I can come to an answer is to say my ideas are a collision of many ideas coming together and arranging themselves into something I think is compelling.
Janice: What part does social media play in your career and what, in your opinion, is the most effective?
BONNIE: Depends how you measure efficacy, I suppose. I have way more fun on Facebook than I do on, say, Twitter. Twitter hurts my head. It’s lonely. Facebook is like having people over for dinner. But does that sell books? I don’t know. It doesn’t hurt. I like the people I hang out with on there. So that’s it, I guess, the one I have the most fun with. Otherwise, it’s just forced.
Janice: What’s the hardest thing about writing for you? And the best thing?
BONNIE: Writers (all creative types) are dreamers. We want to spin worlds, invent, tell stories, and let the “real” world take care of itself. The real world meaning actually being published and all that entails. How often have you heard a writer say, I don’t like to promote my own work? That’s artist code for, you take all the financial risks and leave me alone with my toys. The only money writers tend to think about is the money that ends up in their own pockets. So, being unrealistic about the business of publishing is hard. Being all dreamy-eyed because an agent signs you, taking yourself out for a celebratory dinner because a publisher asked to see the first 100 pages of your manuscript. I’ve done all the clichés. Probably invented a few new ones. Over time it gets messy and sad. Choices have to be made.
The best thing is the writing itself. Story is the solid ground I crave. My compass. It’s entirely selfish, but I’ve discovered that my self-indulgent pursuit of story can end up soothing other people as well. I like that very much.
Janice: How do you balance writing time with personal time?
BONNIE: Publishing will eat your life if you let it. When writers get together they never talk about their children or yesterday’s sunset, or God. They talk about writing, publishing and all its components. It consumes you. If you’re a writer and you think, bah, that’ll never happen to me, then I wish you well. And when it happens, you’re welcome to come sit beside me and no hard feelings and no I-told-you-so. We’ll consider it a rite of passage, something we had to go through before we could begin to be realistic and makes sense of things. After that, you learn to pace yourself. You’ve lost so much time—years, usually—feeding the bottomless pit of analyzing writing, talking endlessly about the business, and writing to succeed, that you begin to realize you can pace yourself better. You can sort through what actually needs to be done and stop telling yourself it all has to be done RIGHT NOW. I’ve been so off balance in my writing life and what did I gain? My motivation today is that Ebenezer: I won’t go back to being consumed. I like my life. I like the people I live with, the people I hang out with. Books don’t last forever. People do.
Janice: Thanks for that. It’s something we all need to remember.
What books are you reading now and what are some of your favorite books/authors?
BONNIE: I did a self-directed reading study recently. I studied Ibsen’s plays, then Chekhov’s short stories. I’m reading a non-fiction about psychopaths, and one about self-publishing. I’m anxiously awaiting Marilynne Robinson’s newest.
Janice: What did you learn while writing your latest book?
BONNIE: That I’m a geek. I get really absorbed by geeky things—maps, geography, history, science, natural history. I’ve embraced that part of myself. I allow myself to geek out over the discovery of a new ant species (mirror turtle ant if you’d like to look it up), and I’m learning to trust the ways my mind wants to wander. That, and I’m not as far along the road of not caring what other people say about my work as I had hoped.
Janice: That last is a tough one.
What’s your best advice to beginning writers?
BONNIE: Find another line of work that makes you happy, that you can do for long periods of time, and take the writing slowly. Give yourself more time than you ever thought you’d need. Double that length of time. Grow older. Grow wiser.
Janice: Thanks, Bonnie, for this interview. I’ve enjoyed it.
BONNIE: Thanks for asking me, Jan.
Bonnie’s Amazon Bio:
Bonnie Grove started writing when, as a teenager, her parents bought a typewriter (yes, during the age of dinosaurs), and she clacked out a terrible romance novel that her mom loved. She’s been turning out improving prose ever since.
Trained in counseling, and psychology, Bonnie developed social programs for families at risk, while landing newspaper articles and stories in anthologies.
Her non-fiction, Your Best You: Discovering and Developing the Strengths God Gave You, came out of her experience working with families in crisis, and her belief in people’s ability to change their lives for the better.
Her novel, Talking to the Dead, came out of that crazy place inside her head that has more questions than answers. Questions about grief, love, sex, God, therapy, and how laughter makes everything okay—if only for a moment. The novel has won awards, and is published in languages she doesn’t speak.
Bonnie thinks in story, and continues to write novels–mostly because she’s too far gone to stop now. She has completed several since Talking to the Dead, and is currently working her butt off to ensure they make their way into your hands. Stay tuned!
Bonnie makes her home in Saskatchewan, Canada with her husband Steve, and their two children.
For more info on Bonnie and her writing, check out the following sites: