Storytelling has always been an integral part of Bonnie Leon’s life. From childhood, she cherished the legends and family history handed down through her Aleut ancestors.
Throughout the ensuing years, Bonnie dabbled at writing but didn’t seriously consider becoming a professional author. Instead, as a young woman, she happily stepped into the full-time profession of homemaker and mother. Pollywog hunting, finger-painting, blackberry picking, and creating fun messes in the kitchen with her children are some of her most precious and irreplaceable memories.
When her youngest child was nine years old, Bonnie decided it was time to return to the working world. She took a position in her hometown of Glide, Oregon, working with the elderly and handicapped.
Then on June 11, 1991, her world was shattered when a log truck hit the van she was driving. The accident left her unable to work, and after months of rehabilitation she was told by physicians that she would never return to a normal life. Facing a daunting fight to reclaim her life and feeling as if she had nothing to offer the world, she asked God to give her something to do that mattered.
His answer came when she received a scholarship to attend the Oregon Christian Writer’s Summer Conference. That conference ignited Bonnie’s passion for literature and for writing, and she has been writing ever since.
Her first book, The Journey of Eleven Moons was released by Thomas Nelson in 1994 and made the CBA bestsellers list.
Since that time, she has written and published thirteen historical novels. Her most recent series, The Queensland Chronicles, published by Revell, has been contracted for a Dutch-language edition by Ultgeverij De Banier bv, an organization based in The Netherlands. Her books are truly being read across the globe!
And with each book she writes, her love for the craft and the challenges of writing grows. “The learning never ends,” she says, “But I relish the challenge of becoming a writer known for quality storytelling.”
In addition to her work as a writer, Bonnie has a passion for teaching of all kinds, especially on the art and intricacies of storytelling. She teaches at conferences and workshops and says, “There’s nothing more thrilling than to see a student’s eyes light up with understanding as she grasps the concepts of the writing craft and begins to believe she can tell stories someone else will want to read.”
Hi Bonnie! Welcome to my blog. Thanks so much for joining us.
Plug time! Please tell us a little about your latest release and why readers should run out and buy it as soon as it hits the shelves.
“Enduring Love”, book three in the Sydney Cove Series, will release on May 1st. I’m very excited about this book. It’s a great ending to the series and will keep readers wondering how even God can fix the mess my characters have gotten themselves into.
How many full manuscripts did you write before you sold? And how many have you written to date?
My path to publication is not typical. I sold the first book I’d ever written to the first editor who looked at it. In 1992 I attended the Oregon Christian Writers Summer Conference. The coaching conference is fabulous and provides endless opportunities for learning. That first year I learned enough to write my first book, which I sold the following summer.
In your opinion, what’s the most fascinating thing about writing?
I’m still surprised by the process of story development. I never know exactly how it’s all going to work out, but it falls together, somehow. Although I outline before I begin I’m always surprised by unexpected plot twists and new and interesting characters who jump into my stories.
At this stage in my career I’ve written enough books to have confidence in the process. Ideas for foreshadowing often just seem to appear, characters become real and their lives intertwine with one another and the story makes sense. I’m fascinated at how it all just seems to work and it’s always great fun.
What’s something you can tell us about yourself that most people don’t know?
I’m a very open person and there’s little people don’t know about me. But readers might be surprised to know that at one time I was addicted to drugs. It was a very long time ago. Back in the late 60’s I fell into the “drug scene” and amphetamines were my drug of choice. With the help of a friend (who is now my husband) I kicked the habit. At the time I was very unhappy and could never have imagined the wonderful life that waited for me. I’ve been blessed beyond measure.
Wow, thanks for sharing such a personal issue. Your husband must be an incredible man.
When did you start writing for publication and what did people say when they found out?
In 1992 I started to imagine that one day I might publish my writing. I kept it a secret for a long while because I was embarrassed. After all, who did I think I was? Only extremely intelligent and incredibly creative people wrote books—right?
My family was very supportive. My mother got real excited and bought me a computer, and my husband made sure I had a good desk and chair. My children were a little miffed because instead of being a full-time mother I was working. However, they adjusted and are very proud of their writing mom.
Friends were surprised. They had no idea what I’d been up to. I remember a long-time friend read my first book when it released and she admitted that she was surprised that the book was good. I guess she’d never imagined me as a writer. I’ve heard from other friends, who read my books, that while they’re reading they sometimes stop and think, “I can’t believe Bonnie wrote this.” I take that as a compliment. :- ]
What is your favorite food?
I’m a pasta lover. And of course there’s always chocolate.
Tell us a little about your family.
I grew up in a large family—there were five of us kids. My parents were married twenty-eight years and then my father died at an early age. My mother remarried and is now in her 31st year of her second marriage.
I met my husband when I was seventeen. We married two years later and are still together thirty-eight years later. We have three children Paul, the oldest, Kristi, our middle child and Sarah our youngest.
Paul has his mind on his career so children are not on his radar yet, but Kristi has a little boy—Gabe. Sarah has three children—Corey, Ezra and Olivia. Her husband, Fernest, is in the army. Please keep him in your prayers.
My husband and I decided early on that I should stay home with the kids and that’s what I did. Those years as a full-time mom were my very best. Now I get to be a grandma and I adore my grandchildren. They are so cute and smart and . . . well I really have no clear perspective—they’re nearly perfect.
LOL! Funny, that's what my parents think about MY children. What is it with you grandparents?? HA!
Who are your favorite authors?
In the Christian market I have two favorites—Francine Rivers and Ann Shorey. They write beautiful stories. I like a book with characters who feel real, people that I care about.
In the general market I’d have to stick with some of the classic writers, such as John Steinbeck and James Michener. Their writing styles are very different from one another. Steinbeck is a magician with words and Michener writes great stories.
Now, if you asked about favorite novels that’s easier—Redeeming Love, The Thorn Birds, The Girl With the Pearl Earring, Hawaii, The Kite Runner, and The Last Sin Eater to name a few.
What are you reading now and what’s in your “to be read” pile?
Presently I’m reading the book of the month for the ACFW Readers Group—Suspicious Minds by Christy Barritt. I’ve never read one of her books, but so far it’s great fun. And the next book in my to-be-read pile is Secrets on the Wind by Stephanie Grace Whitson. I can’t wait to begin. Historical fiction is my favorite genre to read and write.
Do you set out to write each story with a particular theme or does the theme develop as the story does?
I always begin with a theme, but occasionally the theme changes as I discover the story. When I write I want to say something of significance and I hope what I pen will make a positive difference in a reader’s life. That, however, does not mean characters and plot are not important. Careful plotting and creating characters who feel like real people are imperative. After all, what good is a noteworthy theme without a great story?
Do you have a particular method for tracking the details in your story? Can you tell us a little about this?
I use a time line for every book. It may look a little complicated to someone seeing it for the first time, but it really isn’t. I use a chart. Across the top I divide the book into months because my books usually span a year or more. Along the left hand column I write in different geographical areas that matter to my story, usually it’s world history plus state and regional history. Also on the left hand column I include the main characters names and the plot lines of my story and fill in events in the date columns.
Using this method helps me connect the events of the time period with the story my characters are living. The world’s events have an effect on how my characters live and think. Knowing what was going on at any given time adds realism to the story. Sometimes I find incidents in history that fit perfectly with my story, and also some that drive home the message of my theme. I love it when that happens.
The written description of this may be confusing. I’d be happy to send an example to any of your readers who’d like more clarification. They can contact me at www.bonnieleon.com.
Who has had the most influence on your life in general? In your writing life?
The most influential person in my life has to be Jesus Christ. He took a sad, empty person and filled me with love and gave me hope. He’s my inspiration for every book I write. When I’m working I always keep Him in mind. I want to honor Him in everything I do and say.
In my persona l life, my husband is my greatest influence. He’s a fine man who loves me just as I am. I know he prays for me and always supports me. He’s forever patient and works hard without complaint. He’s a wonderful example of living sacrificially.
Do you have an agent? If yes, did you have the agent before you sold your first book or after?
Presently Wendy Lawton is my agent. She’s wonderful to work with and has been a great help to me. However, when I signed for my first book I was unagented. Back in the early nineties most writers didn’t use agents. But things have changed a great deal since then. Most publishing houses prefer to work through an agent and unless a writer can get their manuscript in front of an editor at a conference they’ll have a difficult time finding a home for their work.
What advice do you have for a beginning author?
Most budding authors don’t understand how much work lies ahead of them. The process of learning to write for publication is a long road. There are highs and lows and lots to learn.
I was one of the few who sold right off. However that’s not all good. I had a great deal to learn about the art of writing. I was truly a newbie. I’m certain there are readers who tried my early work who didn’t stay with me.
Having time to mature as a writer is a gift. I know it doesn’t feel like that when writers work hard year after year, hoping to publish and find themselves waiting. But the time and the work will pay off. It’s wonderful to explode on the writing stage already tested and tried and able to present a great read right from the beginning.
Any parting comments?
Stepping into the writing world takes courage. It means people will know who we are. We always show up in our books in one way or another, at least our views do.
Writers need to develop thick skins. There will be those who adore every word we write and others who will be unimpressed. We mustn’t be afraid of growth, but we must also sift out the voices we should listen to and those we need to shut out.
Relish the gift and the joy and fulfillment found in serving God in this creative and surprising life. It is a fabulous, frightening and unforgettable journey.
Thank you Bonnie! What a wonderfully inspiring interview. I so appreciate you taking the time to answer the questions as it's always fun to learn a little more about a fellow writing buddy.
All right everyone, it's time to tell Bonnie how much you want to read her book! Leave a comment for the possibility to win. The winner will be announced on Saturday, so check your email. God Bless!