If you’re joining me today for my interview with Bonnie Leon, please remember to post a comment to be entered in the drawing for her newest release, To Love Anew. Or you can buy this book.
BG: Tell us about your life, where you grew up, your interests and hobbies.
BL: I grew up in Washington State, outside of Seattle. It was a great place to spend my early years. Back then, the area where I lived was mostly country and farming was a big part of life. I worked in the fields during the summers to earn money for school clothes and such. I have fond memories of early morning dew on fields of strawberries, raspberries, and green beans. There were strawberry fights and hot sunny afternoons when a break in a shady place felt like heaven.
I’m the third of five children, so I guess you could say I’m a middle child. I was blessed to grow up in a solid home with a mother and father who loved each other. Sadly, my father passed away in his early fifties. I still miss him. I also lost my youngest sister several years ago due to complications from Lupus.
When Seattle grew into the country, my husband and I decided it was time to find a quiet place to raise our kids and we moved to southern Oregon. We’ve been here ever since.
As to hobbies, I must confess I don’t set aside enough time for such pleasures. I’ve always loved to read and usually have more than one book going at a time. My other favorite things to do outside of writing are photography and fishing. With the great photo programs available for computers, I can spend hours creating pictures of my favorite subjects—my kids, grandkids, and the countryside and panoramas I discover on the trips my husband and I love to take. I didn’t get any time to fish this summer, but it’s been moved to my priority list and will happen next year. I love to float quietly on a high mountain lake with a line in the water and the sun on my face.
BG: Tell us about your writing journey.
BL: My writing journey is not typical. When I was young, I didn’t dream of, one day, becoming a writer. I was nearly forty when the writing bug hit me. Suddenly compelled to put my thoughts down on paper, I wrote vignettes, personal experiences, short stories and poetry and filled legal pads with my thoughts.
In 1991 I had a close encounter with a log truck. It hit my van and left it tottering on the edge of a cliff. I survived (obviously) but not without injuries, most of which healed. However, I was left with a permanently damaged spine and the trauma set off the fibromyalgia, which I live with.
In the months following the accident, life was not pleasant—I lived with chronic pain and disability, which was not part of my plans for life . What I’d loved most—being a wife and mother was stripped away. I couldn’t do even the simple things like cooking a meal, shopping, or cleaning my house. My husband and children had to take over.
I was devastated. One day in the midst of a major pity party I asked God to give me something to do that mattered. He gave me writing. I’m so grateful for his mercy.
At that time, I could sit for about 30 minutes at a time and so I wrote a little every day. In 1992 I was offered a scholarship to the OCW Summer Conference so I gathered my courage and, trusting that God would take care of me, I went.
It was fabulous! I met some wonderful people and took as many classes as I could manage. Like a dry sponge dropped in the middle of a lake, I soaked up enough information to go home and write my first book. With the help of a critique group, I completed it in ten months.
The following summer I returned to the conference and met with Lonnie Hull DuPont who was the acquisitions editor for Thomas Nelson Publishing at that time. She liked my story and so did the publishing house. The Journey of Eleven Moons was released in 1995 and became a CBA bestseller.
I’ve been writing ever since. I just completed the last book in The Sydney Cove Series, my fifteenth novel.
BG: Who has influenced you most as a writer and why?
BL: I’ve been reading all my life—all kinds of genres, but to say there was one writer who influenced me is impossible. I learned from them all. And I appreciate every writer who took me on adventures, dragged me away from the realities of life and inspired me to greater things.
Friends in and out of the writing world have encouraged me and guided me. I appreciate each one.
The bottom line is there have been lots of influencers and encouragers through the years, but without God I couldn’t have done any of it. He’s the one who opened the doors for me to write. He allowed a truck to hit my van and yet spared my life. After the accident He picked me up when I was down. When I felt my life was over He gave me a new vision and a hunger to create something meaningful with words. He asked, and I couldn’t say, “No.” I write for Him.
BG: What is your favorite movie?
BL: That’s a really hard question. I have lots of favorites. But one I can watch over and over because of the beautiful story and the fabulous cinematography is Anna and the King. It’s a heart wrenchingly beautiful love story about real people. My favorite stories are always about real people.
BG: I absolutely LOVE your settings. How or why do you choose them?
BL: Some of the settings for my books came from my family history. My mother is a Native Alaskan. Alaska and its people are my roots. So the first stories I wrote came from my native home, although I’ve never lived there.
I do believe God pulled out all the stops when He created Alaska—there’s just no place on earth quite like it. It’s spectacularly harsh and beautiful.
Often times I choose a location because the culture or history or people interest me. When I begin a project I usually know very little about the backdrop. Indepth research is always required. By the time I finish a series, I’m usually well acquainted with the setting, culture, and time period. Writing for me is always a learning process, which I love.
I sometimes find a story while researching a present book. That’s how the Matanuska Series came to be. While writing my first series, The Northern Lights, I stumbled across a piece of history I found interesting and went back later and found the story.
The Queensland Chronicles and Sydney Cove series found me. My publisher asked if I could write a series that took place in Australia and I said, “Maybe,” then did some research and came back with a “Yes.”
I’m so glad I did. I learned so much. Australia and its people are the most interesting subject—the place is hostile and beautiful and the people stalwart and brave. I feel privileged to have had the opportunity to write about a place with such admirable qualities. It has been a great learning experience.
BG: Tell us about your latest book. What inspired you to write this particulate story?
BL: My publishing house, Revell, asked if I’d be interested in writing another story in Australia and gave me some suggestions for time periods. After doing a bit of research, I knew I had to begin with the early colonization of Australia and in London. I was startled by what I discovered about Britain and its greatest city. It was a place that tested the soul of its people and at the same time offered so much inventiveness and beauty.
As I researched, the characters and the story came to life. It’s the tale of two respectable people who find themselves betrayed by life and by those they trusted. The question had to be asked, “Where is God? Why would he allow such adversity? And can He love me just as I am?”
Hannah Talbot commits what she sees as an unforgivable sin and struggles to find forgiveness, not just from God but from herself. And John Bradshaw, a wealthy businessman, loses everything, including his wife and his freedom. Bitterness seems a fair response, but at what cost?
He and Hannah meet onboard a prison ship bound for New South Wales. All seems lost. What hope can there be when all that awaits them is imprisonment and servitude? They fight to live and to love.
I believe this story has been waiting . . . inside me. . . to be told. Like Hannah, I once lived with such self-loathing I didn’t believe anyone could love me, especially not God. Not until I met Christ did I realize He’d created me on purpose and that He loved me. Realizing that the Creator of the Universe fashioned me to be who I am, changed my whole perspective. I realized I was valuable and valued. My life has never been the same.
BG: What is the message you hope to get across in this story?
BL: There is no sorrow, no sin, no trouble too big for God. He sees every tear, every wrong done and he loves us. We can trust Him.
BG: Of your books, which is your favorite and why?
BL: I think it would be easier to ask me which is my least favorite. Each book has elements that I like and dislike. My first book holds a special place in my heart because it was the first. And it is a really good story. However, I was a novice writer and would love to have the opportunity to edit the book.
The Sowers Trilogy is a powerful story. As I wrote, the people and times swept me away. It was a dark time in Russia. Twenty million Russians perished under Stalin’s rule, but there were many who bravely stood and believed and survived. I was inspired by their courage and strength.
And of course the books that include my family history are special to me. A Sacred Place is fiction, but is based on a true story about my grandparents. And the last book in The Matanuska Series has a lot my parent’s lives in it.
Often my most recent book is my favorite. It’s my baby, so to speak. And so, my favorite is my most recent, To Love Anew. I love the gut-wrenching scenes and the characters who stand up to the tests thrown at them. The characters are very dear to me.
BG: What are your future writing plans?
BL: I’m jumping into my first contemporary. I don’t have a publishing home for it yet, but it is a story from my heart. It’s very different from anything I’ve done before, but the theme, that dreams are attainable if we’ll only believe enough to risk reaching for them, is something I’ve lived and was nearly too afraid to hope for.
BG: In addition to writing, you travel and speak, and teach at the Oregon Christian Writer’s Conference. How do you balance all of that with writing novels?
BL: I’m not really good at balancing my speaking and teaching schedule with my writing schedule. I sometimes feel overwhelmed by it all. Writing is my first love, but I truly enjoy speaking and teaching. And meeting with readers and other writers is great fun. All I need is another 24 hours in each day and I’ll be good to go. ☺
I’m presently re-evaluating my schedule. I think prioritizing commitments and self discipline are key ingredients to success when finding balance. God and I are working on a plan. My advice to all who have busy schedules is to make sure to spend quality time with the Lord and let Him lead. Rely on Him and not your own abilities.
BG: What does your typical day look like?
BL: Is there such a thing as typical? I wish.
I’m naturally a “night person”, but as I’ve grown older I’m not as clear thinking in the evening as I once was so the words that go down on a page aren’t always my best. Knowing this, I try to get out of bed by 7:00 and make it to my office by 9:00. Living with chronic pain can put a crink into the mornings so I always have to take time to unkink. For me that means grabbing a cup of coffee, getting into my recliner with a heating pad, and watching the morning news and then reading my Bible and spending time in prayer. After breakfast I do a quick clean up of the kitchen and head to my office.
I try to set aside time in the morning to take care of business tasks, such as paying bills, responding to emails, getting books and other items ready to mail, setting up meetings, and that sort of thing. If there’s still time before lunch, I try to free write a new chapter on my present project.
I save the afternoons for the tougher editing of chapters, the fleshing out and extra research. This is my favorite part of writing. I’m trying to take evenings off, but often work on upcoming classes, speeches and other things like this interview. When I’m on a deadline I usually work weekends, but otherwise I save weekends for fun stuff. I do love to watch a movie on Saturday mornings while still in my PJ’s. But I think garage-saling is great fun, too.
BG: You have many great writing tips on your website. What tips do you believe are the most important?
BL: Of course, it’s important to hone our craft, but aside from that I would say, “Have
fun.” Most writers begin writing because its fun. We love to create scenes and characters, and to watch a story unfold. I’m sill amazed at the process, but somewhere along the way, it becomes “a job”. There are deadlines and expectations, either ours or someone else’s and we forget our first love (of writing). So, as much as deadlines matter and so does great writing; don’t lose the wonder, enjoy the art and the gift of writing.
BG: Any marketing tips?
BL: Marketing is something I’ve just started learning the last several months. For years, I’ve been like a work horse—blinders on, head down and pushing through. If you want to introduce your books to lots of people, that’s not the way to do it. In order to be discovered by new readers you have to let them know you exist.
Marketing has lots of different faces. Everyone doesn’t have the same skills or gifts. We don’t all feel comfortable speaking in front of a group of people. So, study marketing and find your own “voice” so to speak. What fits your personality? What feels comfortable to you? Now, having said that, in the beginning it’s possible that none of it will “feel” comfortable. But take advantage of opportunities and allow yourself room to grow. Study what other writers are doing and get connected in the cyberspace world and the real world with other writers and readers.
I’m still in process on this one and I’m learning a lot. I’m beginning to get a glimpse of what’s right for me. And I’m trying to be flexible. One of the toughest issues for me is that marketing takes time and cuts into my writing. For me, writing has to be first. I don’t write fast; I write and rewrite and that takes time. I think most of us are that way. So, we’ve got to allow ourselves enough time to continue producing quality work. And remember we can’t do it all, so pick and choose wisely.
BG: Closing thoughts you’d like to share?
BL: In the end, it’s all up to God. He has a plan for each of us, and we can trust Him, truly. So work hard, but try not to stress over your writing to much and enjoy the journey.
Thank you, Bonnie, for sharing with us!