This week’s Book Diner interviewee is the wonderful Bonnie Dodge. Bonnie is a veteran writer, with a stack of books under her belt. I first became aware of her work since I am friends with her author son, Trevor Dodge, who I interviewed recently. Literary talent clearly is part of the Dodge family gene and Bonnie has such amazing insights from her long experience as an author that I found myself pretty much agreeing with everything she said! Her books also sound right up my alley, so I can’t wait to start reading them all! Enjoy!
Welcome to the Book Diner! Can we take your order – coffee, tea or soda? Eggs sunny side up or over easy? Home fries, French toast or biscuit?
Coffee, the stronger, the better. Eggs sunny side up, or eggs benedict, yum.
When did you realise you were a writer?
In grade school, fifth grade. We were supposed to write a poem. Students around me groaned while I scribbled away. Writing has always been a natural part of my life, probably because I love to read. As I read, every world becomes mine and I am transformed over and over again. [I am the same!]
Writing has always been a natural part of my life, probably because I love to read. As I read, every world becomes mine and I am transformed over and over again.
Are there particular symptoms you think people should look out for if they suspect they may be coming down with Writer Syndrome and do you think there is any cure?
Yes, run. Run as fast as you can, don’t succumb. Truth is, I believe anyone bitten by the writer bug is fortunate, blessed, lucky, and probably a little weird too. Writers are dreamers who live in a magical world. Good writers are usually the people sitting in the corner, pencil and paper in hand, watching and listening to everything around them. They are attuned to others, quietly taking everything in.
Truth is, I believe anyone bitten by the writer bug is fortunate, blessed, lucky, and probably a little weird too. Writers are dreamers who live in a magical world. Good writers are usually the people sitting in the corner, pencil and paper in hand, watching and listening to everything around them. They are attuned to others, quietly taking everything in.
Can you tell us about your latest project?
I’m working on a novel about a young woman who, even though she doesn’t think she needs to, is looking for something to believe in. The story takes place in Montana and Maui. This book has been through three major revisions—a love story turned into a story about best friends turned into a story about things we believe in. Hopefully this time I’ll get it right.
What inspired you to write it? Where do you generally draw your ideas from?
When everyone was yapping about the millennium and how the world was going to end, I started thinking about what do we believe in, and why do we believe it? I wanted to explore the nature of faith and myth. As for ideas, they’re everywhere. Why is that dog trying to cross a major highway? Where is that toddler’s mother? What if everything your grandmother told you was a lie? Besides asking what if, ask why, where, what, who and you’ll have more stories than you can write in this lifetime.
As for ideas, they’re everywhere. Why is that dog trying to cross a major highway? Where is that toddler’s mother? What if everything your grandmother told you was a lie? Besides asking what if, ask why, where, what, who and you’ll have more stories than you can write in this lifetime.
Can you talk to us about one or two of the characters from your latest work? How do your characters emerge?
Two favourite characters from my novel, Goldie’s Daughter, are Emily McIntyre and Kerrie Chapman. There is an old mining town in Idaho called Rocky Bar and one of the inhabitants was a purported prostitute named Peg Leg Annie. When I read about Annie I wondered, What if she had been my mother? What if I had to grow up in a gritty mining camp? What would that feel like? My answer became Emily McIntyre, who wanted more than anything to escape the camp and see the steamboats in the Mississippi River. Kerry Chapman was evil and greedy and reminded Emily of Charles Dickens. That book was so much fun to write. I think once you have good, solid, interesting characters, the book writes itself.
Is there a particular theme or message you’d like readers to take away from this book?
Goldie’s Daughter is a coming of age story. Emily is trying to determine what is home and where she belongs. My fiction themes tend to pivot around the complexity of family relationships. In Waiting, the Foster women learn how to take control of their destinies and follow their dreams. [Bonnie’s books sound right up my street, so I can’t wait to read them!]
What kind of writing process do you have? Are you very disciplined in terms of having a set work routine and doing a lot of planning, or are you more of a pantster? (You fly by the seat of them – Zinkologism.)
Right now my writing process is messy. I left my day job in my mid-forties to write full time and for years I was very disciplined. I kept regular working hours during the week and played on weekends unless I was on assignment. It’s safe to say I write seven days a week because if I am not physically writing, I am thinking about writing and looking for new stories. If I’m on deadline, I work from an outline because that keeps me on track. That said, outlines are the hardest thing to write and for years I resisted them, thinking once I knew the ending why bother to write the story? It can be a vicious circle, but I tend to accomplish more faster when I write to an outline. [Me too – it’s a roadmap that helps you keep on track when you are lost.]
Do you write longhand or on a computer or both? Do you believe that writing method makes a difference to style?
I do most of my composing on my computer, mainly because I’m too lazy to write it longhand and then retype it. I think fast and cannot move my hand across the paper as fast as I can type so I tend to type my drafts and then start the lengthy job of revision. And, yes, I used to think writing longhand vs the computer made a difference in writing style, but I’ve learned to transfer the initial passion and intimacy you get putting pen to paper to the keyboard and now I don’t think you could tell the difference, because, for me, most of the magic is in rearranging words. Which of course means revision, and it’s just easier to revise on a computer.
How do you approach research?
I love to research, but I tend to overdo it. I think I have to know every little detail before I begin writing. I researched Goldie’s Daughter for four years before I started writing. I had to know about trains and train routes in 1882. I had to know what St. Louis was like. I spent countless hours in the library and with emails, trying to get every detail right. A lot of what I researched didn’t end up in the book. Part of me believes you can’t write an authentic story unless you know the details, and the other part of me argues that is doesn’t matter. If you have a good character, you can fill in the details later. I try to find a balance, but I know if you get a fact wrong, you will lose your readers. For example, in Catherine Marshall’s book Christy, the author claimed they were eating Jell-O. I called crap, there was no Jell-O in 1912, and I was disappointed in the author until I discovered that, yes, there was Jell-O in 1912, the author got it right. Getting it right is so important if you want your audience to believe you.
How do you deal with autobiographical elements in your work? Do you worry about offending people or baring your soul too much?
The thing that connects us is the human experience. If writers can’t be honest and tell the truth, why spend so many isolated hours trying to write a good story? Most of my characters are composites and many of my events are exaggerated, it’s fiction right?
What’s your editing process?
I edit a lot. I’m not afraid of revisions, or cutting out whole chapters if they don’t serve the story. I don’t have a need to protect my darlings. Once I have a completed draft, I edit for those annoying overused words and phrases. Once I think I’ve caught all the typos and clichés, I read the story aloud. I may send it to another writer to read. I spend more time editing and revising than I do writing. I believe in the phrase good writing is rewriting. [I think the editing process takes longer than writing the first draft … not something many new writers like to hear!]
Jane Eyre. I mean, come on. A hundred and seventy years later people are still reading this book. It’s been made into countless movies. The language isn’t archaic and everyone can identify with the main character and what it feels like to be an outsider. Truly a great piece of writing. [I love the Brontes sooo bad!]
What advice would you offer to writers just starting out?
Trust the process, and enjoy the journey. If you don’t enjoy writing, why are you doing it? It is hard work; if you don’t like it, do something else because it doesn’t get easier. Countless writers will tell you that every time they sit down to write a new book, they feel like they have to learn the process all over again. There is a lot of self-doubt in this profession and if you can’t trust the process or enjoy the journey, you’ll end up making yourself sick. Some say you have to be crazy to write, others claim they get crazy when they don’t write. Either way, writing requires a thick skin, dogged perseverance, and belief that you are in the right place doing what you are meant to be doing. If you don’t feel that way about writing, you probably should be doing something else. [I agree!]
Writing requires a thick skin, dogged perseverance, and belief that you are in the right place doing what you are meant to be doing. If you don’t feel that way about writing, you probably should be doing something else.
What would you say are the toughest things and the best things about being a writer?
Rejection and isolation are a couple of the tough things about writing. It’s hard to sit at your desk when your family is on an adventure. Also rejection. Writing requires you to bare your soul, so you sweat blood onto your pages and someone tells you they suck and then the self-doubt gnaws you in two. Maybe you do suck. Sitting long hours is also physically damaging, the body wasn’t designed to sit for long hours every day.
The best things about being a writer is the path of discovery, finding out something you didn’t know as you write and research. Also, sharing conversations with other writers is important. Sometimes I write just so I can be part of the conversation.
How do you handle the rejections and bad reviews all writers experience?
I’ve stopped reading reviews. If reviews are good, they can make you soar, and, if they are bad, they can send you to bed for a week. So I don’t read them. Subjective at best, reviews reflect the reader’s experience and beliefs, not mine. Not everyone is going to like what you write. So what? Do your best work and let it go. Don’t get caught up in the game of pleasing others or you’ll never write another honest word.
Not everyone is going to like what you write. So what? Do your best work and let it go. Don’t get caught up in the game of pleasing others or you’ll never write another honest word.
How do you deal with the Inner Critic who likes to tell us our work is worthless?
I’d like to shout “Off with her head” and tell her to shut up, but I’m lucky enough to have friends I can bounce things off of. If I think something isn’t working or that a scene just plain sucks, I’ll run it by another writer or two. If they think it sucks, I toss it. There’s always room for improvement and that’s one of the things I enjoy about writing. Do your best work and trust the process, that’s really all you can do.
What are your feelings about the growth in self-publishing? Would you advise emerging writers to self-publish or pursue a traditional book deal?
There is room for both types of publishers and I’m glad there is more than one option. We would all like that high-profile traditional book deal that pays us enough money we can sit home and write all day. But those slots are few and getting narrower. Without Indie publishers, so many great books would never get published, and, so, I think self-publishing serves a purpose. It lets everyone play. Every writer gets to participate, instead of an elite few. The problem with self-publishing is that it still carries a stigma—you are so bad no one will publish your work—and self-publishing can be tricky. Too many self-published books need better covers and a good editor. [I agree with all this too!]
Other serious writers. I first learned how to structure a novel by attending a critique group once a week for several years. Those meetings taught me things I didn’t know, like how to fix a sagging middle and handle criticism and rejection. But critique groups are tricky. They can sabotage your writing and metal health if you can’t find like-minded writers. But a good fit is invaluable. [I’ve had wonderful teachers and met amazing author friends at groups – and I’ve been bullied by jealous and embittered teachers and seen bitchy competition between writers who are insecure – hence I run writing workshops which don’t support this kind of ethos as it’s not necessary in order for writers to grow – in fact, it is is counter-productive.]
One of my college professors said one of my short stories was trope and wasn’t even a story. ‘So what?,’ he wrote in the margin. He said short stories and anthologies didn’t sell. His comments made me work harder just to prove he was wrong. [Good on ya, Bonnie!]
If you could fly off to any era on The Book Diner Magic Time Travel Banquette, where would you go and why?
I’m a Victorian girl at heart. When I was writing Goldie’s Daughter I truly wanted to turn the clock back to 1880 to experience life as Emily would have in the gritty mining camps.
If you could write anywhere in the world for a while, where would you head?
Paris in the springtime.
Paris or Italy, but the truth is, if I could go there I probably wouldn’t be writing. So my desk in my office, where I’m the most productive. [Yes, I’m the same – if I was living in Paris, I’d be out and about all day having adventures!]
Complete the following sentences. Life is like … I am like … Writing is like …
Life is like a mystery; each day brings new surprises.
I am like a rubber ball. I bounce from here to there, to everywhere.
Writing is like breathing.
If you could choose to have a different creative gift, what would it be?
Music. I would love to be able to play the piano.
What plans have you got for future projects and events?
I have several novels in progress, plus a couple of co-author opportunities. I have so many stories I want to tell I’ll probably be writing in heaven.
Where can people find out more about you and your work?