Bonnie Schroeder started telling stories in the 5th grade and never stopped. After escaping from the business world, she began writing fiction full-time and also volunteered for the Glendale-Crescenta Valley Red Cross, writing their e-newsletter. Mending Dreams is her first published novel, but she has more in the pipeline.
And that is very good news for us! Bonnie's writing style is beautiful, real, and a pleasure to read.
Bonnie, I love your success story! Can you tell us about how you came to be a writer, and then an author?
I owe it all to my fifth grade teacher, Miss Annabel Doss, to whom Mending Dreams is dedicated. I always had a wild imagination and told exaggerated stories that didn’t have much basis in truth. Miss Doss found a way to put my imagination to constructive use. In her class I wrote a story about a cow that wanted to be a horse, and my classmates liked it! I got my first taste of storytelling as entertainment and was hooked from then on.
To me, a mystery is easy to plot. You need a murder, some clues, some suspects. There's almost a ready-made blueprint. Not so with a literary novel. How did you plot out Mending Dreams? Did you know the end when you began? Did you follow an outline?
I wish I was smart enough to write mysteries. I love to read them!!
Mending Dreams started with a situation: I knew a woman whose husband, several years into the marriage, informed her that he was gay and wanted a divorce. Since I’m always thinking “what if?” about unusual situations, I wondered: what if that had happened to me? How would I feel? How would I cope?
And I started to write that horribly messy first draft. I sort of outlined, in that I knew a few things had to happen, but it pretty much evolved into something way different from my original concept. Characters came and went; they changed names and professions and even gender.
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I also knew there had to be a health crisis of some kind with her ex-husband Frank, and I wanted him to have a non-clichéd disease. When a gay man gets sick, people assume it’s AIDS, and that’s not always true. Then my mother was diagnosed with terminal lung cancer and chose to go into a hospice program instead of enduring chemotherapy. So, I decided to work that into the story—not to capitalize on her suffering and death but to acknowledge the courage she displayed in facing this terrible test at the end of her life.
One funny/weird thing about the writing process: I’d heard writers talk about how one of their characters seems to come alive for them and hijack their story, and I never believed that really happened. And then: I created the character of Grandpa K, Frank’s paternal grandfather, more as a story device than anything else. But that guy refused to take a bit part! He really did figuratively jump off the page and suggest all kinds of ideas to me, most of which I used. And he helped me work out the ending to the novel, too.
Much of the story more or less materialized as I wrote. I had a lot of help crafting the novel, too, with my critique groups, which leads into your next question.
You've belonged to several critique groups over the years. Do you have any advice for writers on what to look for in a critique group? And how did you find yours?
Critique groups are essential to my writing process. Writing is lonely work, and at some point I need feedback. I’m too close to the material, and I need someone to tell me, “yes that works” or “maybe you should re-think that part.”
I’ll tackle your last question first: I found my first critique group through a writing class at L.A. City College, over 20 years ago. We had a good run, but eventually we all moved on, physically or mentally. Then I connected up with another group through a screenwriting class at UCLA Extension, and those folks helped me develop the initial draft of Mending Dreams (which was called Remember to Breathe back then.) When that group quit meeting, I joined the Alameda Writers Group and was able to participate in their critique groups (the Special Interest Groups—aka SIGs) where I met some amazing writers with whom I still work (and play) today.
Eventually, the AWG group morphed into an independent, online group that has lasted the longest of all, and I think the format is a key to its survival. We email our pages to the other members and can do our feedback whenever it’s convenient, 3 PM or 3 AM. With busy lives, jobs, and families, this formula has really worked for us.
As far as what to look for in a group, two words: honesty and compassion. I don’t want a group that tells me, “Your writing’s perfect; don’t change a word.” Nor do I want to hear, “This really sucks; what makes you think you’re a writer?”
Most of the groups in which I’ve participated follow the “sandwich technique” of first telling the writer what you like about their writing. Then bring up a few things that didn’t work for you—such as plot holes or inconsistencies, slow passages—and your suggestions for fixing them without rewriting their entire story. Then wrap it up with some general words of encouragement. That’s the magic formula.
A group that follows this practice can lead you to your highest and best writing.
Why this story? What about it needed to be told?
One of my mottos in life, to paraphrase the Rolling Stones, is this: Life doesn't always send you what you think you want, but if you’re lucky, it sends you what you need. I believe that with all my heart, and I like to think that Mending Dreams expresses that premise in story format.
Thank you, Bonnie!
Thanks for letting me visit your blog, Jackie! You were among my critique group readers, and I’ve used a lot of your suggestions in Mending Dreams. Writers rule!
Bloggers note: I actually stepped into the critique process when the book was just about finished, but her kind words are just another example of how generous Bonnie Schroeder is, and she's just as generous with her reading audience. She doesn't hold back on the characters or the turbulent emotions they experience as they deal with life's challenges. And she has a beautiful writing style! I'm not usually a reader of women's fiction, but I couldn't put "Mending Dreams" down. I highly recommend it. Here's a quick blurb for the book: