Bonnie J. Doerr writes eco-mystery novels for tweens. For over thirty years, she taught reading and writing skills to students of all ages—from kindergarten to college. Her mystery/adventures are based on true events. Her books have received recognition from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric administration. She has been an Epic e-book award winner for an outstanding children’s book and one of six finalists for the YA Green Earth award.
Bonnie Ferrante: Welcome, Bonnie. I’m looking forward to this interview. Your book has inspired some important questions.
Bonnie j. Doerr: Thanks, for the invitation. This Bonnie is happy for the opportunity to reach out to you, Bonnie, and your readers.
Ferrante: You used news accounts of the killing of an endangered deer as the catalyst for your book Island Sting. Other books have been fueled by a sea turtle caught in a net and the pelican with a slashed pouch. How do you take such tragic and brutal events and change them into a story that leaves young people with a sense of hope?
Doerr: Wow. You jumped right into the meat of these stories. Yep, I use actual heartbreaking events as motivation for my plots. Some are even personal observations. But hope arises from observing the real life heroes featured in my books who rescue, rehab, and release injured and abused animals.
Watching the selfless work of everyone involved in these organizations leaves me, and if I’ve done a decent job, readers with a deep appreciation for the greater kindness and loving hearts most humans have. These heroes inspire my characters’ actions. And what reader doesn’t want to see themselves in the hero?
The tragic facts are all background for the young teens who solve the mysteries by asking questions, discovering clues, participating in dangerous and devious events, arguing about tactics, taking wrong turns, until finally, just before things get brutally dangerous for them – these heroic teens crack the crimes. They were never without hope!
Ferrante: Sounds both inspiring and fun. When did you decide that you wanted to merge your passion for preserving nature and your educational skills into fiction writing?
Doerr: I was teaching middle school science years ago when my search for a fun read to support my environmental curriculum came up empty. I thought then maybe one day I’d take my shot at writing such books. But it was many years before I found the time to study the craft and go for it.
Ferrante: After writing your first mystery, did you change the way you approach writing a book?
Doerr: I think writers are always learning what works better for them. But many habits remain. I’m constantly reading news in every format, human interest stories, conservation magazines, books in many genres. Add to that listening all while awaiting the spark of an idea to research. I keep lots of short notes for plot events, character ideas, plot scenes, snippets of conversations, people to interview in a notebook. Very sloppy notebook, I might add. It’s hard to predict how it goes beyond that point, but some combination of panstering and plotting takes place on my laptop. I can’t seem to change being a “planster.”
Ferrante: That’s probably the method that gets your creativity flowing.
Do you ever feel overwhelmed by the senseless destruction of the environment and the animal world?
Doerr: To be overwhelmed is to feel helpless and hopeless. Such surrender would demean and deny the work of those who are saving and protecting our environment around the world every day (http://bit.ly/1TC8udQ). NASA’s Commander Bolden says this about collaboration in outer space, “… we’re traveling together as a human race that’s looking to expand the outer bounds of human possibility and progress.” I believe his words can be applied to working for the health of our planet right here on Earth.
Ferrante: What do you do to refuel yourself?
Doerr: Science tells us everyone can refuel by spending time in nature (For example, this reference: http://bit.ly/1pfM8hq). I live surrounded by woods along a lovely greenway path and park. So this escape is easy for me, and truthfully, if I couldn’t easily commune with nature I’d likely go nuts. Escaping into the world of a book is also a major refuge. Recently, I read that for those who can’t easily get outdoors imagining the experience is a worthwhile retreat. Research has proven nature scenes alone provide comfort and healing to hospital patients (http://bit.ly/1pjF4Fn). Imagine what immersion in an outdoor adventure book can do for people who spend too much time indoors. My novels offer just that kind of experience. I also recharge by traveling to new places, experiencing other cultures, and by spending time with friends and with my rescue dog, Salty (named after the dog in my books), who always puts a smile on my face.
Ferrante: I, too, love being outdoors (except when it’s 30C below). My favourite sound is listening to leaves rustling in the wind.
Have any of your readers ever expressed their involvement in an environmental group because of what they have read in your books?
Doerr: My former editor told me she learned one reader established a green teen club at school as a result of reading Island Sting, but I never learned more about it. I wish I had. My readers are just under the age group that’s active online so I don’t often hear from them directly.
Ferrante: Please tell us about your research methods.
Doerr: Most of my research is done in the field. I maintain contact with people I meet during my research and often refer to them when my memory fails, my notes are incomplete, or I need more detail. The field research is the most fun for me. The people I meet always show up on the page as bits and pieces of the good guys. Besides who wouldn’t want to spend weeks in the Florida Keys?
Ferrante: I would! I would!
What other topics do you think you might tackle in the future?
Doerr: I’m trying to boil down my ideas. Since I’m a bit superstitious, I don’t want to say more than my setting will be geographically different. I may even take a break from environmental issues.
Ferrante: Aside from any family, friends, or pets, what would be the most difficult thing for you to give up in your life?
Doerr: I wouldn’t be me if I had to give up living with trees, flowers, plants – all things nature.
Ferrante: Me too. I love visiting big cities but I love coming home even more. Next question. Forget about soft sounds like babbling brooks, gentle showers, and warbling birds. What is your favorite loud sound?
Doerr: Dang, you took away what I’d most hate to give up. Truth. There is no loud sound I like. Loud sounds make me tense and hyper. I cover my ears at concerts, and thank goodness for closed captioning on TV. But the loudest tolerable sound I can think of is a seventeen-year cycle of singing cicadas. But how often do I have to hear that chorus?
Ferrante: I’m not a fan of loud either but I think I’d like to hear those singing cicadas at least once.
If you could live in any state other than the one in which you currently reside, which state would you choose?
Doerr: Gosh, I’ve lived in ten different states. Other than North Carolina where I live now, I can rule all of them out. Maybe I’d choose Vermont, but no, I can’t tolerate winter. So… hmm… has to be warmer than Vermont … but green… Oregon! It would be Oregon. Wait, maybe Washington. But it’s cooler than Oregon. Except I need frequent blue skies, so neither one. Wyoming – big blue skies. No, too landlocked and cold. You made it hard. No fair. I like the state where I now live. It may be cheating, but I’m going say Virginia. It’s only an hour’s drive to the state line from home. *wink*
Thanks for the fun, Bonnie!
Ferrante: Thank you for your thoughtful and inspiring answers. It’s been great getting to know you. It seems these two Bonnies have a few things in common.
Tangled Lines will be reviewed Friday, February 10, 2017 on this blog.
Note: the three random questions are from “Chat Pack – Fun Questions to Spark Conversations”.