Update: Bonnie has chosen three winners to receive a copy of her novel, Talking to the Dead. Those winners are Judy, Lisa G., and Chris Sanders. You will each receive an e-mail shortly notifying you. Congratulations to all!
When I was thirty years old, I went back to school. I studied counseling, theology, and psychology. I chose these three areas because they fascinate me, but I had another reason too. I was looking for ways to understand myself. Looking for meaning in life’s war wounds. I was more than a little battle weary, and sporting some rather gaping emotional injuries, maybe you know the kind I mean.
University challenged me to write clear, precise essays on a vast array of topics. Everything from the role of automatic thoughts in Aaron Beck’s cognitive therapy model, to the role of the CIA in the Iran Hostage Crisis. And every paper I wrote came out reading like a story (which made my professors unreasonably happy after grading dry factual paper after dry factual paper). It became my habit to take everything I was learning and spin it on the wheel of story.
I wrote hundreds of academic papers, hundreds of stories, and when the time came for me to embrace my true vocation, I was only mildly surprised to discover it was the pen, not the couch, that was calling my name. I was less surprised to find that despite all my learning, I was still a wreck, still a wounded soul. And I needed a way to talk about my lost-ness. A way in which I could be comforted and offer comfort at the same time. I invented a woman named Kate Davis, and I poured into this character the symbols of things I had lost along the way. And I didn’t once think about how I was going to get Kate out of the trouble I had brought her. I just kept telling her story—my emotional biography. Talking to the Dead was published in 2009 to critical acclaim. Even won some awards. And that’s when I made the mistake of thinking I was a writer (a novelist, no less).
I’ve completed two novels since Talking to the Dead. Good stories, both. But lacking. For the longest time I couldn’t figure out what was missing in these stories. I found my answer in my fan mail. Hundreds of people, mostly woman, have written me to tell me about their reaction to Talking to the Dead—the story of a young woman, suddenly widowed, who hears the voice of her dead husband, and realizes she’s forgotten nearly a year of her life. Most said they saw themselves in a part of Kate’s story. And that it helped them understand a few more pieces of their personal puzzle. And I had even made them laugh through it all. That’s when I realized what was missing in the other two novels I had written.
I had been so wrapped up feeling good that my novel had helped other women, I had forgotten that it helped me too. That I had written Talking to the Dead because I was broken and had questions and story was the best way I knew to make sense of the world. That’s what was missing from those two novels: me.
I won’t forget again.
I’m nearing the end of the first draft of my fourth novel. A story about a woman whose life is completely different from my own, and yet she carries me inside like an embryo. She is another chapter of my emotional biography. The voice for my questions, the expression of my wounds wrapped in story. I’ve taken the lessons my readers have taught me, and applied them to this novel. I’m indebted to my readers for taking my hand and showing me the way back to my true story. And they even made me laugh through it all.
Care to read Bonnie’s award-winning novel Talking to the Dead? Leave a comment below and she’ll choose three lucky winners this weekend.