It’s a joy and a pleasure to introduce an avid writer and true seize-the-day’er Bonnie Clark. Bonnie is a stay-at-gym mom of three kids and the lucky wife to a hairstylist. She lives in Canton, GA where she enjoys running, doing yoga, drinking coffee, writing and is often found behind a stack of books. Bonnie is an inventor and has been a contestant on Wheel of Fortune. She has been writing for children for about 4 years and is passionate about helping kids discover and like who they are. TASTE YOUR WORDS is her debut picture book, set to debut in 2020 with Worthy Kids/Ideals. Her literary agent, Adria M. Goetz from Martin Literary Management, negotiated the deal.
1. Bonnie, it’s such a pleasure hosting you for an author interview! You’ve created this ingenious work of art called TASTE YOUR WORDS and I can’t wait to see it on store shelves in 2020. Though, I’m sure you’re way more excited that I am about it! Can you open up just a little to us about the book and what inspired you to write it?
Thank you for having me, Rhys! This book was definitely inspired by my kids. When they were small, I would tell them to “taste their words” before they let them out of their mouths in hopes that they would choose kind (yummy) ones. Adults need to taste their words this too and my kids are quick to remind me when I’ve forgotten. The concept was fun and easy to understand and that made me want to share it with others in the form of a picture book. So, here we are!
2. A tremendous effort goes into a book, bringing it from idea to reality by a plethora of important people. Let’s delve into just one of those very important people; your well known agent, Adria M. Goetz with Martin Literary Management. How did the two of you connect? Was TASTE YOUR WORDS the catalyst for your author/agent relationship?
Yes, my Fairy Godmother is a the fabulous agent Adria Goetz! Adria had been on my radar for some time, and I even had critique group friends suggest that we might make a good author/agent fit. I queried her a couple of years ago actually for a different project and received a kind rejection, but it wasn’t until I pitched TASTE YOUR WORDS in a Twitter pitch party last year that I got her attention.
At the time, the book had a different title. Without a doubt, it helped to see the illustrations of Disney / Pixar animator, Todd Bright, paired with my text. It is unconventional for an author to present illustrations (when they are not the illustrator) BUT Todd happens to be my step-brother, and for this project we were a package deal. Adria orchestrated a 7-way auction for TASTE YOUR WORDS before we landed with Worthy Kids/Ideals. She has been a dream to work with- extremely professional and kind. I strongly advise any author who desires to work with an agent or editor to make sure you are a good fit- that they treat you with respect, communicate well and see your project as YOUR project. I am very grateful to have Adria in my corner!
3. One of the most impressive aspects of any successful creative is their handling of all the other stuff in life like family, work, home, health, stress, etc. I love how you describe your current role being an “over-educated and under-qualified” mom of three. A lot of readers out there are trying to do exactly what you’ve done, a.k.a., chase a dream while juggling life and persevering through it all. What drives you? How do you keep writing and editing and marketing and chasing and pursuing and, simply put, living, through the hard days and discouragement?
Ha! Yes, I have a business degree from Georgia Tech that I am proud of, but it did not adequately prepare me for the most challenging job of my life- parenting. There is just no textbook for that kind of crazy! It certainly is a challenge to juggle family life with my professional aspirations but my husband and kids always come first. Writing just has to fit in. On the flip side, I don’t ever want to be the mother who forgets herself in the process. I am extremely driven. It is important to me that my kids see me setting goals and doing the work to reach them. That is the legacy I want to leave for my children- dreaming is great, doing is way better.
One thing that I have found to be super helpful in “juggling life” is my morning routine. I get up every morning at 5am to have coffee and set my mind right for the day ahead. I don’t do any work at this time. I read, meditate, pray, journal and then look at my calendar and list of to-do’s. I don’t have to get up that early but I find that I am a much better wife and mother when I prioritize my mornings like this.
As far as rejection and discouragement go, they are part of the game- especially in the writing industry. The good news is: you’re not alone in the writing world. Find a tribe of writers/critique group partners to share this experience with! I cannot express just how invaluable my critique group has been for me on this journey. We pick each other up after each rejection and we cheer each other on through revisions and signed contracts and book launches!
It’s OK to be discouraged in the process, but don’t stay there. I heard once at a SCBWI conference, “The only difference between an aspiring author and a published one, is that one didn’t give up.”
4. You write for adults and children. On the adult side, you pour your thoughts out on self-discovery and self-improvement. Have you always been focused on getting better, per say, or has helping yourself and helping others been more of an epiphany you discovered later in life?
I definitely want to be better, even by a little, every day. I am a 4 on the Enneagram personality test and fours do a lot of self-reflection. We are described as “sensitive, introspective and expressive” so when you mix that with a love of writing- you get lots of words. Fours are also “dramatic & and temperamental” but whatever. When something moves me or inspires me I have to get it out on paper. My writing for adults- I call it my “big-girl writing”, is just my way of processing my own emotion and sharing myself and my journey with whomever it might help. Certainly as I’ve gotten older I have learned the deeper lesson that in order to help others we have to help ourselves first, so I work diligently on being the best version of myself: mind, body and spirit. At the very least, I hope my writings will give my kids a good laugh and help them figure out why they turned out the way they did.
5. On your author website, Bonnie Clark Books, you mentioned “childhood is the most important time in a person’s life- the part that shapes who we become as adults.” How did your childhood play a role in shaping your adult life now? Any specific memories that, if foresight was 20/20, would have been an “aha!” moment for your future career as an author?
Childhood shapes absolutely everything! And I am fortunate to have had a wonderful one. My life coach once told me to find a photo of myself when I was about 8 years-old, and suggested that I look at that picture often- especially in the morning, and ask that little girl what makes her come alive- because probably that is what makes this 39 year-old come alive too! That photo, of my eight year-old self, reminds me of this precious time I have with my kids ages 7, 9 and 10 as they are discovering how exactly their little hearts fit into the big world. I want the adult versions of themselves to be able to dip from a healthy childhood so that they can be the healthiest versions of who God created them to be.
As far as an “aha moment”, my mom recently found the very first picture book I wrote and illustrated: THE LIFEGUARD WHO COULDN’T SWIM. It was so fun coming across this and sharing it with my kids because truly the whisper of writing has followed me through childhood, adolescence and adulthood. I’ve always journaled to get my thoughts out of my head and I feel lighter and clearer after I’ve poured my heart out on paper. This definitely should have been a clue over the years to pursue writing as a career! Having children of my own made me fall in love with picture books again and re-discover what I wanted to be when I grew up.
6. TASTE YOUR WORDS is a picture book, and as our savvy readers know, that means there are lots and lots of pictures! Though we are still early in your publishing cycle for the book, what’s your experience been like so far coordinating with the illustration side of the business. Are you nervous at all capturing your vision or have you embraced the increasing depth that the illustrator and art director will bring through their own eyes to compliment your words?
So this is my favorite part of this story to publication. My illustrator is Todd Bright, who I mentioned is my step-brother. My dad and his mom married about 12 years so we didn’t grow up together, but I have always admired his work as an animator. He has worked for Disney / Pixar and others on ridiculously big animation projects like Tarzan, Lilo & Stitch, Curious George and more! When I started writing picture books years ago I had the crazy idea that Todd could illustrate a book for me! (I’m driven remember?) Well, first of all, I was unaware that that’s not how it works- you don’t get to pick the illustrator when you’re an author. Second, I was a newbie and he was a seasoned vet. And third, the book I pitched to him wasn’t very good. He politely declined. I kept on writing new stories (because the whole driven thing) and was well into the process when somehow the subject of my latest project was brought up between he and my sister on a family beach trip. This time he expressed an interest in illustrating the story and I jumped at the opportunity.
Now TASTE YOUR WORDS has become a special gift- a blended family collaborative. The main character, Amera, has the likeness of my youngest daughter whose name is Amera. I didn’t make this request because I wanted him to have creative liberty to see the illustrations as he wanted them to be, but it was a sweet surprise. She can’t wait to come as herself on dress-like-a-book-character-day at school in 2020! I named the little brother in the story Remy, which is Todd’s son’s name, and he looks like him too! I love that the family depicted in the story is a blended one. Amera and Remy have different skin tones in the illustrations and in real life! I hope children who are a part of a blended family pick up on this subtle story within the story.
7. Aspiring authors and illustrators struggle in their choices between traditional and self-publishing. What are your thoughts on self-publishing and do you feel like it has a growing place in the future or will traditional publishing simply adapt and continue to be an industry mainstay?
When you first make the decision to write a book AND seek publication, the information out there can be overwhelming I have friends who have self-published and others who are traditionally published. I chose traditional because I was in a hurry. KIDDING! This industry is slow! But I have always wanted to go the traditional route and find an agent so that is the path I pursued. There are of course lots of ways to become a published author and I don’t think there is a wrong way. Just don’t be paralyzed with indecision. Reach out to authors who have been successful in the way you want to go and ask them everything! Find a writing critique group. If you write kid lit join the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators (SCBWI). It will be fun to see the increasing opportunities of publishing in the future!
8. Getting TASTE YOUR WORDS out of your head, onto paper, and into the hands of countless others is a dogged exercise in self-discipline. Speak to all the authors and illustrators out there who have an idea in their head or have taken that first step to put their idea to paper. What should they know about the publishing process? What should they ignore?
Just DO the next step to get you closer to your goal. If you have an idea, get it on paper. If you get it on paper, let someone (a writer) see it. Edit it, polish it, and when you feel good about it- send it out into the universe! I love the quote from Earl Nightingale, “Never give up on a dream just because of the time it will take to accomplish it. The time will pass anyway.” Be confident. Be teachable. And never, ever stop writing new stuff because the idea that you first had may not be the one that gets noticed. As you continue to write, you will become a better writer. Whatever step you are at in the process, take the next one!
About the process- when I was first learning about this industry I took all of the rules (industry and craft) to heart because I am a rule follower. BUT I have learned that rules can be broken. My experience has not been exactly a “normal” one. The publishing process is just that- a process, but ignore the voices that tell you there is only way to do things.
9. Bonnie, you’re a professed believer in Jesus. What does that mean to you and how does that impact how you approach writing, family, business, and life in general?
I am a follower of Jesus and that impacts every decision I make for myself, my family, my personal pursuits and career. He gave me the desire to write so I know when I create in the way that he has gifted me I am bearing the image of my Creator. Many of my picture books are inspired by a verse I read in the Bible. For TASTE YOUR WORDS it was Proverbs 16:24: “Kind words are like honey, sweet to the soul and healthy for the body.” In everything I do I want to be a light reflecting Jesus, and pointing others (especially children) to Him.
10. In a year from now, TASTE YOUR WORDS will be rocking the charts. What can we expect to see from you after that in the coming 2-3 years? What about 5 years from now…what’s on your long-term horizon?
Oh my goodness, I have so much! Currently I am working on edits with Adria on a second book that is very close to my heart, and I have third manuscript that I am crazy about- it’s OK to like your own stuff right? These three books in particular resonate personally with me, incorporate my three children in some aspect and I hope to introduce the world to them in the coming years. Longer-term? I would love to write a “big girl” book. Whatever that looks like.
Thank you, Bonnie! We look forward to seeing TASTE YOUR WORDS on store shelves everywhere and all your future work. Keep writing!
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