Bonnie Bowman: Novelist
Photo by Teressa Fulker
Bonnie Bowman’s debut novel, Skin, won the inaugural ReLit Award. Her writing has bee published in The Vancouver Review, subTerrain, Reader’s Digest, and in the anthologies Exact Fare Only I and Body Breakdowns. Bonnie is also a songwriter, journalist, freelance writer and has been a finalist for the Western Magazine Awards. When she’s not writing, she’s singing in the band Tomboyfriend.She was born in Toronto, where she now lives after a longish stint in Vancouver. Spaz is her second novel.
RUSTY TALK WITH BONNIE BOWMAN
Kathryn Mockler: How did you first come to writing?
Bonnie Bowman: I think most people, including myself, don’t come to writing…writing comes to them. It’s something you are basically born to do and likely have done since a very young age. That said, I came to the world of published writing first through journalism because I thought it would be fantastic to actually be PAID to write. Once, while being a reporter in Vancouver, I did a story about the International 3-Day Novel Contest and thought: “What the hell”. I entered, I won, my first book, Skin, got published and went on to win the inaugural ReLit award. So, in my case, despite all the novels and short stories I had written over the decades and hidden away in boxes and drawers, it was a contest and a novel that was written in only three days that started everything.
KM: What keeps you going as a writer?
BB: Short answer: Espresso. Longer answer: All the glamour and fame and wealth! (obviously not). What keeps me going is when I haven’t written anything for awhile and I start getting all twitchy and feeling like I have scabies. The only cure for this is to write something, anything.
KM: What is the revision process like for you?
BB: The revision process is not at all onerous for me. In fact, I shouldn’t even admit this, but I don’t revise much at all, compared to most other authors I know. I do not write countless drafts. I do not sit at a desk with zillions of post-it notes plastered to my wall, guiding my characters’ every action. I write one draft, and then I dick around with it. This, I believe, comes from my years in journalism, where I was trained to write quickly and accurately, to bang out a story that you know won’t even have time to be edited. And on the editing front, I was also an editor for years in newspapers, which further honed those chops. However, all that being said, I generally write character-driven stories and don’t have to deal with super-tricky plots and subplots, in which case I might need a post-it note or two. I’d probably suck at writing mysteries.
KM: How did you deal with rejection when you first started out?
BB: Okay, I almost don’t want to answer this question because I’ve never been rejected (yet). I’d like to say this is because I’m such a fucking brilliant writer, but I’m sure it’s more likely due to the fact that I don’t write hundreds of short stories and then send them all out blindly in a blitz attack to every single literary magazine that exists on the planet. I’m sure if I did that, I would get rejections. I send stuff that I know will be a good fit for a particular magazine, or sometimes I’m asked to contribute to a literary anthology, in which case they pretty much know the style of story they’ll be receiving. In terms of book publishers, because I won the 3-day novel contest and it was sponsored at the time by Anvil Press, I had a ready-made publisher. Everything I’ve published since has been with Anvil. If/when I do get rejected, I’ll probably just deal with it by thinking: “When I win the Giller, YOU’LL BE SORRY!!!!” No, in all seriousness, I usually don’t wallow in disappointment. I just move on. The most important thing is that YOU believe in your book or story. Fuck everyone else.
KM: What authors or books would you recommend to new writers?
BB: That’s a tough question. If you’re a writer, you’re likely a voracious reader too. You should read what you like, and that’s different for everyone. In general, it’s probably good to have a lot of the classics (dead authors) under your belt (CLICHÉ! DON’T EVER WRITE ‘UNDER YOUR BELT’!), just as it’s good to read your contemporaries. If you’re thinking of publishing with an independent Canadian press, it’s a really, really, really good idea to read their lists. Likewise, if you’re aiming to do genre writing, read everything you can get your hands on in your preferred genre.
KM: Is there an author that had a significant impact in your life?
BB: There is no single author who had a significant impact on my literary life. Since having been published, there are a lot of Canadian authors I am now fortunate to count among my friends. They have all had an impact in their own ways, whether it’s from me being inspired by their writing, or for just being able to sit around, drink and talk about writing, or the issues faced in publishing, or gleaning valuable information on grants, retreats, agents, readings, events, film options, or anything you, as an author, need to know. And, it should be noted, once this high-minded literary conversation hits the second bottle of wine, it will typically degenerate into a catty bitchfest, which is where all the really valuable information lies. So, drinking with other authors is important.
KM: A piece of literary advice for new writers?
BB: Some people say, “Write what you know.”I agree with that insofar as, say, you’ve worked in a slaughterhouse once and you want to write a novel set in a slaughterhouse. In that instance, writing what you know about slaughterhouses is entirely useful and relevant. Not so much if you then take it further and the novel ends up being a thinly veiled account about YOUR life in the slaughterhouse and YOUR coworkers and friends. So I guess my advice would be, if you’re going to write like that, and it’s not a memoir, don’t be surprised if you lose some friends.
KM: Your funniest literary moment?
BB: Perhaps the funniest moment was when I was nominated for the ReLit award and attended the ceremony, which was held on a beach on Vancouver Island. Because I had been nominated for Skin, I was certain that my nasty little 3-day-novel would not win against the other fantastic heavyweight contenders. So, I drank way too much free wine and was peeing in the bushes when I heard my name being called out.I basically ran down the beach, pulling my pants up, spilling my plastic cup of red wine all over myself, and arriving out of breath to discover I’d won and had to make a fucking speech. That brilliant literary moment was, of course, then written up by the media in attendance and I had to re-live it in print the following day. Yay.
BONNIE BOWMANS' MOST RECENT BOOK
Spaz, Anvil Press, 2011
Description from publisher
Meet Walter Finch, an ungainly kid who survives his cloying suburban childhood to make it only as far as the local mall, where he rises through the ranks to become manager of a shoe store. Unlike his other childhood friends who either flee suburbia or remain as resigned fixtures, Walter is content with his lot and finds the shoe store an ideal environment in which to pursue his grand ambition: designing the perfect woman’s shoe.
As he delves further into his passion, alone in his apartment at night, Walter comes to believe that his path will ultimately lead him to the perfect foot to fit his creation. On an all-consuming mission to find his princess, Walter is plunged into a separate reality, his own fairytale. As things spin steadily out of control, Walter’s eventual salvation arrives in an unlikely form, should he choose to recognize and accept it
Illustration by Malcolm Jamison
More About Bonnie
Bonnie Bowman grew up in Agincourt, Ontario, like Spaz did. When she was in Grade 5, she got a gold star for a story she wrote called: “If I Were A Scrub Brush”. When she was ten years old, she was writing novels about horses with “taut, sweaty flanks” and reading them to her parents at the dinner table. Decades later, in journalism school, she got a “metaphor” assignment handed back to her in magazine class with the words “I refuse to mark this” scrawled across the paper. The story she wrote was called: “Oral Sex in the Barnyard of Life, or, I Bet You Didn’t Eat Broccoli as a Kid Either”. (You can see the progression.) Her biggest fear is being pronounced dead when she’s not really dead, so she wants to be propped up in someone’s apartment until she starts to smell. She actually has people who have agreed to do this for her. She wears black a lot and not because it’s slimming. She despises the colour pink. When she was a restaurant critic in Vancouver, she developed an adult allergy to shellfish, which didn’t stop her from being a restaurant critic. What did stop her was when they implemented a smoking ban in restaurants. She has perfect feet.
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