Author Interview ~ Bonnie Leon

Bonnie Leon is the author of fifteen novels, including the popular Queensland Chronicles and the Sydney Cove series, plus the bestselling Journey of Eleven Moons. She’s presently in the midst of a new Alaskan series set during the 1930’s. It’s about a woman named Kate who loves to fly and who has too much to prove.
Bonnie stays busy speaking for women’s groups as well as teaching at writing seminars and conventions. She and her husband Greg live in the mountains of Southern Oregon. They have three grown children and four grandchildren.
Tell us a little about your latest release:

Enduring Love is the third and final book in the Sydney Cove Series. After overcoming crushing conditions John and Hannah Bradshaw settle into what they hope will be a life of love and contentment in New South Wales. However, their dreams are blown apart when Margaret, John’s first wife whom he believed to be dead, shows up in Sydney Town.

After receiving counsel from the church’s reverend, who believes John and Hannah’s marriage is not legal, all seems lost. Attempting to build new lives, separate from one another, John begins to rebuild his relationship with Margaret while Hannah returns to her post as housemaid for a wealthy family in Parramatta.

Although love cannot be terminated simply because of decree John and Hannah are determined to do the right thing. They place their lives in God’s hands, trusting that He can do all things, yet wondering if this hardship is too difficult even for God?

How did you come up with this story? Was there a specific ‘what if’ moment?

Sometimes our lives are such a muddle we feel there are no answers. We turn to God and pray and yet have difficulty believing Him for a solution.

Book one in the Sydney Cove Series came out of my own experience of self loathing. The circumstances are not the same, but my feelings about myself were very much like Hannah’s. When I discovered Christ and that life could be rich and full of hope I remember wondering what might happen to ruin it all. When I sat down to write this story I went to that memory and asked what was the worst thing that could happen to John and Hannah. And that’s where the idea of another wife was born.

Tell us a little about your main character and how you developed him/her:

Hannah grew up in London in the late 1700’s. When her father died she was just a girl, but her mum, a seamstress, managed to create a profitable business and a secure home for her and her daughter. Through the years, Hannah worked with her mother, but when her mum dies she’s unable to sustain the business and finds herself at the mercy of the ruthless social order in London in the year 1804.

In creating Hannah I drew on my own personal life experiences. I too, grew up in a home filled with love and hope, but life has a way of breaking through our protective barriers and because of painful and challenging circumstances I grew to detest myself. I brought these feeling of self-loathing to Hannah’s character and created a story about overcoming the cruelty of the world by clinging to the One who always loves.

Hannah represents many women in our society, who carry secrets they see as being detestable. They hold them inside and never find healing. The good news is that Christ offers love and forgiveness and anything is possible.

What did you enjoy most about writing this book? Least?

I think what I enjoyed the most about creating book three was coming up with the mystery of Margaret, John’s first wife. Why did she come to be in Sydney Town, what kind of person is she really and what are her motives? I loved keeping readers wondering. It was great fun.

The thing I liked the least is coming to the end of the story. I don’t feel as I’m finished with John and Hannah. I’d love to write more about them. I’ve already had several requests to continue the series, so who knows? Maybe I’ll have the opportunity.

What made you start writing?

While growing up I loved books and great stories, but I never dreamed of becoming a writer. However, in1989 that changed when I was gripped by a compulsion to write. I filled up legal pads with short stories, personal experiences and poetry. After an accident in 1991 left me unable to work I did the one thing I could still do—write. I loved the process and when I was offered a scholarship to the Oregon Christian Writers Summer Conference in 1992, I went. The teaching was fabulous and I was inspired to write my first book.

What does your writing space look like? (Insert picture if possible)

I’m blessed with a spacious and workable office. It’s not fancy, but very practical with lots of storage and work space. I love it!

What would you do with your free time if you weren’t writing?

I’d spend more time with my husband, children and grandchildren. I’d float about on a mountain lake and fish and do as much traveling as I could afford. Oh yes, I’d read lots and lots of books. J

What’s the most difficult part of writing for you (or was when you first started on your novel journey)?

Time is always an issue—there’s so much to do. Aside from that I’d have to say the older I get the more difficult it becomes to keep myself planted in front of my computer. I have pain issues from my accident, which I’m working to resolve or at least improve. I get easily distracted—there’s always lots of messages popping up on my email, or my grand children show up or my daughter. When my husband retires, that’s really going to be tough. Even after thirty-eight years together we still never run out of things to talk about.

Do you put yourself into your books/characters?

I have never created a character who is me, but there are issues, perspectives and personal experiences that end up in my books.

What message do you hope readers gain from your novel?

In my most recent novel, the primary message is one of hope. God can solve any problem no matter how complicated or impossible it may seem. He is so much bigger than our troubles. And when we submit our lives to Him then our expectations change and we become more like Him and find contentment in His will.

Briefly take us through your process of writing a novel—from conception to revision.

When the first glimmer of an idea comes to mind I write it down. Otherwise it invariably disappears from my overcrowded brain. When I’m ready to work on the book, I write up a simple synopsis, then begin the lengthy process of research, which always gives me tons of ideas for my story.

When I feel I have a pretty good grasp of the time and place I go to work on my characters and create a profile for each one. After that I build a chapter by chapter outline of the entire book. Each chapter is represented by a short synopsis of usually one or two paragraphs.

When I’m ready to begin writing I start with chapter one and read the synopsis I created, then visualize what will be in the chapter and then do a free write. When I’m finished it’s a mess, but at least it’s down in writing. I go back and do a very basic edit, then put it away and move on to the next chapter.

Several weeks later I begin polishing my chapters—fleshing out scenes, laying down foreshadowing and getting the details right. It then goes before my critique group and I listen to what they have to say and make appropriate changes. I do this with each chapter until the book is completed. And then I go back and read the entire manuscript on hard copy making editorial changes with a red pen. When this is done I make the changes on my computer and then send it off to the editor who will hopefully catch the goofy stuff that sometimes shows up. More edits are made and finally the final pages arrive where fine-tuning only is allowed. The next time I see it is in book form, which is always a little terrifying but thrilling nontheless.

What are a few of your favorite books (not written by you) and why are they favorites?

I have lots of favorites so this is a very difficult question. I guess at the top of my list is the book Hawaii. I loved the history and the story and although it was a hefty read I was sorry when the book ended. I also love The Last Sin Eater—what a great story of redemption. I thoroughly enjoyed the Girl With Pearl Earring—There was something about that story that rang so true—love and admiration denied. It possessed a quiet tension that ran throughout the book and kept me captivated.

What do you wish you’d known early in your career that might have saved you some time and/or frustration in writing? In publishing?

When my first book released I was a baby in the writing world. I had so much to learn. I’d like to have done more reading of quality books and allowed myself time to mature as a writer. It would have been helpful to spend time with proven authors, asking questions and getting guidance about how to navigate in the publishing world. My lack of self confidence kept me lurking (so to speak) therefore I did most of my learning by trial and error.

How much marketing do you do? What have you found that particularly works well for you?

I do as much as my time and energy will allow, but it never feels like enough. I enjoy connecting with people so I belong to several online writers and readers groups, but don’t keep up enough. I also blog a couple of times a week. The blogs are mostly devotional and from what I hear from people they are an encouragement to readers. I like that because I enjoy having a positive input into people’s lives.

The best way to meet people is to speak and teach. I enjoy both. Over the years I’ve met so many quality people. I’m working at building up my strength and stamina so I can do more speaking. I love to meet people face to face—I’m always reminded that we are family.

Tell us what we have to look forward to in the future. What new projects are you working on?

I’m presently working on a new historical series placed in Alaska during the 1930’s. This project has been a lot of fun. It’s a true Alaskan adventure about a woman named Kate who loves to fly and who is compelled to test her skills by taking a position as a bush pilot in Alaska.

Paul is also a transplant to the state. Living on a homestead in the bush, he hides from his past. But even the Alaskan wilderness cannot fend off memories and regrets.

Of course the paths of these two cross, but what God brings out of their relationship is not necessarily what readers might expect.

Do you have any parting words of advice?

The learning never ends. We never arrive. This writing life is an adventure—filled with fun and challenges. Enjoy the ride and never forget we are blessed and privileged to do get to do what we love.