Sunday, September 18, 2011

Advice for Teen Writers (Part II, Bonnie J. Doerr)

Anna's back...
with Part II of her interview with author Bonnie J. Doerr, the award-winning author of eco-mysteries, including Island Sting and Stakeout

Because Bonnie's responses are so much fun and comprehensive, we've dividing the interview into two parts. Here's PART 2: 

·                     How much research goes into each of your books?
I spend several weeks each year where my stories are set—the Florida Keys. Now that I live in western North Carolina, I make this research trip during February. Yes, I hate cold weather. But, hey, many animals and people migrate to the Keys for winter. I’m simply following my sources. Honest!

Island friends connect me with sources who are experienced and knowledgeable in specific environmental issues. These dedicated people help me build realistic plots. I ask them questions that begin like this: “Is it possible that...?” “What could cause...?” “What would happen if...?” 

I also spend hours observing and interacting with my star critters. For Island Sting I toured the National Key Deer Refuge and spent time with wildlife officers who protect the tiny endangered deer. While planning Stakeout, I spent time with personnel and patients at the Marathon Sea Turtle Hospital, and participated in a nest-monitoring walk. Most recently, I fed injured pelicans and helped release rehabilitated pelicans. Wildlife volunteers and professionals are eager to provide facts, details, and personal experiences that enrich and inspire my stories.
Doerr feeding a Key deer

For me, there’s no substitute for field work. And, wow, do I take lots of notes and pictures. Thank heavens for digital cameras. But when I’m not on location, I spend many additional hours reading news articles and books about the wildlife and environment I feature. 

·                     Do you get really attached to your characters? Do you have a favorite?

On site at a pelican release
My characters do become very real to me. Once, while in Big Pine Key, Florida I nearly asked a Florida Fish and Wildlife employee if he’d recently seen his fellow officer, Mike Kaczynski. I was eager to know whether Mike and Kenzie’s mom were still an item. (Mike, Kenzie, and her mom are all characters in my books rather than real-life people.) Could have been embarrassing. In the book I’m working on now, Kenzie and Angelo are now attending school in Key West. So this coming February, I know I’ll be looking for them when I’m traipsing around town.

As for favorite characters? I think it changes from book to book. I was crazy about Fisher in Island Sting, but it was Ana who won my heart in Stakeout.

·                     How would you advise young adults who want to become published authors?

I’m going to answer this with everything I’ve got. Bet you’ll be sorry you asked.
I would tell aspiring authors (of any age) to study many genres. And I do mean study—via online courses, books, workshops, conference sessions, college programs, any and every way you can. As with any art, it’s important to first learn established rules and practice proven techniques. Then you’ll be prepared to change it all up when you’ve developed your own skills and style. 

Study and write with people who challenge and stimulate you. Then emerge from your comfort zone. Interact with a variety of real people in real life. Even if you write fantasy, your work has to connect with real people. 

Read much, listen well, and never stop learning. 

Don’t fixate on a troublesome manuscript hoping it will eventually, perfectly please everyone (including yourself). It never will. Let it go. Turn it in. Send it out. Move on. Capture that energy for the next project. You can return to that problem child later with fresh eyes.
Continually monitor and research the before-and-after aspects of all publishing options.  No one path is right for every author.

Last of all, the most challenging skill for pre- and post-published authors is learning to deal with criticism. Accept it, ignore it, or apply it, but do so with grace. Maybe I’ll paint the letters G-R-A-C-E on a pebble and carry it with me. Might help me follow my own advice.

For more information on Bonnie Doerr, her books, endangered animals, visit her at her blog, Bonnie Blogs Green, and her website for more information about her books and awards, and for lots of information about endangered species.

Here are Doerr's most recent books. Watch for PELICAN PERIL coming next.

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