Bonnie Turner Author Interview
by Kathryn Bax
Bonnie Turner, one of the few remaining members of the Greatest Generation, was born at the height of the Great Depression. Currently residing in Wisconsin, she is a mother, a grandmother, and a great-grandmother. Her interests are many and varied, including astronomy, geography, history, yoga, philosophy, psychology, metaphysics and parapsychology. She's a self-educated jack-of-all-trades, a Mensa *almost*, a classical music and jazz fusion aficionado.
Who is the real Bonnie Turner?
The real Bonnie Turner is a self-actuated individual who developed a thirst for knowledge that lead to the study of yoga, metaphysics, art, music, philosophy, politics, and various sciences, plus a burning love for the written word. She’s a goal-setter who believes nothing worthwhile happens without a plan. Her motto is, “Whatever the mind of man can see and believe, can be achieved.“ (Harold Sherman, ESP writer/lecturer)
Bonnie, as someone who was born in the USA at the height of the great depression, you must have seen an enormous number of changes over your lifetime. Many I am sure, not always for the better. Name some of the best and the worst of these changes you have experienced.
Since I was born in 1932, I was probably too young to know (or care) what was happening before WWII began. So I may have missed some of the worst hardships, and I did not personally experience much of what I observed.
I experienced poverty with my family, but we were rescued many times by the goodness of others who helped us out of tight pinches. People often raised their own food and shared when they could. My family tried not to waste anything; we made-do with what we had, and if we didn’t have something, we did without. As one of my brothers said, we were poor, but we didn’t know we were poor. I think many children simply accept bad situations without understanding the reasons behind them. I now understand that many other children in those days weren’t so lucky when their parents lost their jobs, homes, and sometimes their lives.
Men were the breadwinners; women the homemakers. But during the war, more women worked outside the home, and it was easier to find employment without a college degree. Many young people learned a trade on the job, and some kids dropped out of school to work and help support their families. The unemployed stood in long lines to pick up their commodities, but sugar, butter, silk stockings, gasoline, and other items were rationed during the war.
Folks were patriotic during World War II (which, in my mind, was part of the Great Depression). We sang patriotic songs at school and recited the Pledge of Allegiance every morning before classes.
Lifestyles were much different. Women dressed modestly and didn’t show a lot of skin, and no woman that I knew swore, as many do today. Young girls wore dresses to school—no long pants unless we had leg braces, but we could wear long stockings when the weather was cold. When very young, I wore dresses and underwear made from printed flour sacks—and underpants were called bloomers.
Children studied cursive writing in school and learned to write with fountain pens, which I hated, because they splattered ink on my paper, my fingers, and sometimes my clothes. Although I learned to read in first grade, I had no books of my own until someone gave me one titled “Big Big Storybook,” which contained several stories: Heidi, Hans Brinker or the Silver Skates, Black Beauty, Grimm’s Fairy Tales, Peter Pan. I lost that book at some point, but found a good used copy a few years ago.
For many years, modern conveniences were luxuries my family couldn’t afford. For example, some people had indoor bathrooms, but my family walked down a path to a rustic wooden outhouse. At one place we lived, the “little house” was on the other side of a creek, accessible by a narrow foot bridge. My whole family bathed weekly in a round galvanized wash tub, starting with the cleanest person and ending with the dirtiest—in the same scummy water. Recalling those days makes me appreciate indoor showers and hot running water!
Back then, doctors and nurses made house calls. Home remedies were popular, though I don’t know how safe they were: a spoonful of coal oil with a bit of sugar for a bad cough. Mustard plasters on our chests for coughs, which burned the skin more than they helped. Onion poultices relieved our colds, if the fumes didn’t choke us to death first. When we had a contagious disease, the health department hung a red quarantine sign on our door, and only the doctor or nurse could enter. I had chickenpox, both kinds of measles, and whooping cough. Many people suffered from polio before a vaccine was developed. But now we have so many different drugs that viruses are becoming immune to them.
After the war ended, life became easier for many people due to increased employment and modern conveniences that seemed to have popped up overnight: improved communication and transportation; word processors and computers; credit cards (both a blessing and curse); cell phones (another blessing and curse); more girls going to college; improved medical practices and diagnostics for disease, and more powerful drugs to treat them; improved housing, schools, and wages (for some).
I believe most people had positive attitudes that their lives would improve after Roosevelt was elected president. Unfortunately, there was still much racism and segregation. Today, I see a lot of selfishness, resentment, sense of entitlement, and just plain ignorance about that era, especially from young people who had no idea what my generation experienced. I’m not sure how many schools study the Great Depression now, but when my generation dies out, there will be nobody left to talk about those hardships.
If you could have your life over, what would you change?
I would think twice before marrying my first husband. My mate was a good man; our marriage not so great, except for the wonderful son we produced. That, I would not change.
If I had it to do over, I would start writing sooner, but at the time I had no idea I wanted to write. Sure, I wrote poetry as a teen, but after marrying, I was too busy working and raising our child. The writing itch came many years later.
You learned to read from the Dick and Jane series, as I did! How important do you think being a good reader is related to being a good writer?
If you want to learn something, you study someone who has done it successfully before. I believe we learn to write by reading. We get automatic lessons in style, plotting, sentence structure, punctuation, and spelling, all the rules and mechanics of writing. The more we read well-written books, the more those lessons are retained. Reading also increases our vocabulary.
Who was your biggest influence in becoming the writer you are today?
My biggest influence, I believe, were those little Dick and Jane books I loved so much, when I first realized that someone had to actually sit down and write those stories on paper. My editor at Houghton Mifflin was a close second. Mary Lee taught me to edit, what to look for, to be detail-oriented, and I’m a little bit OCD now as far as editing goes. Other influences were Mark Twain, Robert Service, Jack London, Pearl S. Buck, and too many others to name
Although you entered writing fairly late in life, you now have 10 books written. What held you back? What has been the highlight of your writing career?
Well, I was pretty busy raising four kids, and my hubby’s company transferred us five times in less than five years, so those things held me back somewhat. I was able to write more when the kids got in school.
I would have to say, the highlight of my writing career was holding my very first published book in my hands. When a friend from work asked for my autograph at a signing in Waldenbooks, she said, “This is big time for us!” That statement was big time for me, because my colleagues at work didn’t believe I had written a book until I showed them. New highlights occur whenever I type THE END on a new book. Each new completed novel is a high for me.
How much of your writing is autobiographical? For example you wrote a book on the Great Depression, entitled, Face the Winter Naked that has been very popular with readers over the years. Do your other titles reflect a part of you?
Face the Winter Naked is dedicated to my dad, who died when I was three, but the novel isn’t his story. I learned some things about him from my family and used some of his traits in my main character. Dad was a hillbilly. He whittled, he dowsed, and he played a mandolin and banjo. Other than those things, my character Daniel is a figment of my imagination. So it’s not truly biographical.
However, my middle-grade novel, Down the Memory Hole, has a lot of family situations in it that most people wouldn’t notice. My daughter said, “Parts of this book sound familiar, but I don’t know why.” I should add that the book was written from pure emotion, especially the last half, which I finished during the week after my husband’s death. I wrote and cried, cried and wrote. Some have said this book is some of my best writing.
I’ve never really thought about it, but there’s probably a lot of my personality in some of my other books. I think many writers do that, at least subconsciously.
In 1991 you were traditionally published by Houghton Mifflin. Tell us about your first book, The Haunted Igloo, and how it allowed you to reach out to your readers via the schools. What changed your perspective on wanting to remain traditionally published?
The Haunted Igloo began as a bedtime story for my youngest son after we adopted a husky named Sasha, the same name as the dog in the book, but I couldn’t find time to finish it while we moved from state to state. And I had no plans to publish the story until my son suggested it. With no idea how to find a publisher, I sent it over the transom to three random publishers. Houghton Mifflin was one of those, and the story attracted the attention of editor Mary Lee Donovan, who liked the book but felt it could be better with a few revisions. She made no promises, but encouraged me to resubmit. So I revised it, sent it back, and she offered a contract.
The Haunted Igloo was perfect for middle-grade students, especially here in Wisconsin, where it gets very cold and snowy. The publisher sold it to many libraries around the country, and I took it upon myself to contact local schools, offering to come and speak to students about writing and publishing. Many schools invited me to come, and they usually ordered copies to read to their classes before I arrived. By the time I got there, the kids were excited to meet a “real live author” and had questions ready to ask. So that was lots of fun for everyone. At the time, I had no speaking skills, but jumped right in because I felt talking to kids would be easier than talking to adults. As it turned out, I was right.
School visits continued for several years, until my husband fell ill and went on hospice. I stayed home to care for him, but continued writing in my spare time. I found a children’s agent, but we eventually broke up.
Then, The Haunted Igloo went out of print and I got my rights back, intending to re-publish it myself. One thing led to another and I self-published a couple of other books. But after writing “Face the Winter Naked,” after beginning it almost twenty years before and doing tons of research, I wanted very much to find a traditional publisher.
But it was not to be. My years were running out to find an agent—I don’t think any agent in her right mind wants a client who, when her book is launched, may be in her nineties, or dead. That’s when I discovered how easily I could publish e-books. I had no other choice, but I was done with agent searches.
Many people half your age battle with book marketing. How did you manage to trounce the difficulties involved in the digital age of marketing for your books?
As mentioned earlier, I know that nothing is accomplished without a goal, and that whatever we think and believe, can be achieved. So I dug in my heels and told myself “Let’s do it!” I believed in my writing, and in my ability to get a job done. I’m familiar with computers and graphics programs, so it was easy to search sites to advertise on. Writers having no experience with the Internet, and who don’t understand computers will, I’m sure, have a terrible time figuring out what to do with their wonderful contribution to the literary world. So I’m lucky in that respect, and I have the drive to make it work. One has to have a firm belief in something in order for it to happen. Oh, that and persistence.
What is next for Ms. Turner?
I have at least three more books to write: one set in the Flapper Era that I’ve wanted to write for almost twenty years but needs a lot of research I don’t have time for; the sequel to The Ghost of Calico Acres; and one with a pen name that’s already in progress, which I can’t discuss.
Thanks, Kathryn, for giving me this opportunity to share my thoughts and my work with your readers.
Face the Winter Naked is available at Amazon.com, Smashwords, iTunes, Barnes & Noble, Kobo, and many other online retailers. I recently designed a new cover for the e-book edition, so I’d appreciate anyone checking that out.
Face the Winter Naked: A Great Depression Novel
For fans of Steinbeck's timeless classic,THE GRAPES OF WRATH
Daniel Tomelin, a battle-worn veteran with PTSD-haunted by the carnage of World War 1-deserts his wife and children in the Great Depression and becomes a hobo seeking work and relief from his nightmares.
The Ghost of Calico Acres
A CONTEMPORARY ROMANCE: A psychological ghost story in which haunting memories lurk in the dark corners of this mysterious walk from the past.
When Dr. Marc St. Clair inherits his eccentric aunt Miriam's old Victorian house at Calico Acres, in southwestern Wisconsin, her Last Will and Testament states that he and his invalid wife, Summer, must live there for one year before they can own it. Despite the fact that the house is rumored to be haunted, Marc falls in love with it and accepts Miriam's generous offer ... against Summer's wishes. But after a disastrous honeymoon, and a riding accident that left his beautiful wife confined to a wheelchair-bitter and full of self-pity-he believes that for their marriage to work, they must move away from her meddling parents.
The Haunted Igloo (Arctic Series Book 1)
"Boys, dogs, and adventure in the frozen North: classic appeals are served here in a well-told historical novel." -BCCB, 10/91
"Fans of Gary Paulsen's Woodsong will enjoy Turner's fictional portrayal of the challenges of the harsh region." -Kay Weisman, Booklist 11/91
Spirit Lights (Arctic Series Book 2)
SEQUEL TOTHE HAUNTED IGLOO
Returning to the Arctic after a two-year absence, young Canadian Jean-Paul has overcome his old fear of the dark but discovers that his best Inuit friend, Chinook, is terrified of "spirit lights!"
Down the Memory Hole
His summer vacation is ruined when twelve-year-old Buzz Collins is forced to share his room and emotional space with his grandfather, who has Alzheimer's disease, and his parents forbid him to associate with his best friend, Mitch. The thought of giving up his friendship is heartbreaking enough. But how can he relate to someone who forgets his grandson's name, wears adult diapers, and thinks dog biscuits are people cookies, someone who could die in the night and scare Buzz right out of puberty?
Drum Dance (Arctic Series Book 3)
2011 Amazon Breakthrough Novel Awards Quarter-Finalist.
"A gripping read!"
SET IN THE LAND OF THE MIDNIGHT SUN, Drum Dance is filled with action, adventure, paranormal intrigue, and danger in Canada's Central Arctic where Sir John Franklin and his crew froze to death searching for the Northwest Passage.