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Interview with Marita Bon, October 30, 2007 | UNCW Archives and Special Collections Online Database

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Title:
Interview with Marita Bon, October 30, 2007
Date:
October 30, 2007
Description:
Creative writer Marita Bon worked as Founding Editor on the Wilmington local magazine, WILMA, where she worked with UNCW's MFA program in the Creative Writing Department on a monthly column. She still contributes to the magazine but has found a career in freelance commercial and creative writing. She is currently working on a novel based loosely upon her Italian-American childhood in Pittsburg, PA.
Phys. Desc:

Interviewee:  Bon, Marita Interviewer:  Diesenhaus, Doug Date of Interview:  10/30/2007 Series:  SENC Writers Length  60 minutes

 

Diesenhaus: Hello, I'm Doug Diesenhaus and today, October 30, 2007 I'll be interviewing Marita Bon for the Randall Library Oral History Project on creative writers. Perhaps a good place to get started is to ask how you got started writing, how you've come to it.

Bon: I started writing, really, when I was very young and had been encouraged by teachers, professors in college to try my hand at it not only from a creative sense, but also feature writing for magazines, newspapers etcetera. I am sorry to say, although I've always used my writing I really came to devoting all my energy to it ten years ago when we moved to Wilmington. I have been writing, I have been in a management position in a healthcare system in Pittsburgh where I was born and raised. Because it was a great project I had to get it up and running. Once it was up and running and I had staff I became bored. So I needed a creative outlet. The publishing arm of this health system, which was rather sophisticated because it was a large corporate health system, needed volunteer writers. They weren't going to pay us twice, but I thought maybe I can do articles for their in house publications. They were nice slick looking publications, and I got kind of antsy. I thought, "I'll do it." Well, I submitted one on an employee benefit program. It was really boring. It was a boring interview, but I wrote the article and then they asked if I'd be a regular contributor. I became very good friends with Michelle Poidence who was in house the editor of inhouse publications. When it was time for me to move to Wilmington she said, "Marti, you really have to look at writing full time." By this time the kids were of college age. We didn't need full time incomes, so when I came to Wilmington I sent clips all over town of what I had done for the health system which was really-- there were 50 or 60 articles by the time I came here, and they were very diverse. Everything from interviews to administrative insights, everything, and they were slick. They had art and it looked really good. So I got calls from the newspaper, the Star News right away, from the hospital right away, from the Old Wilmington Magazine right away, and I started freelancing then and have been busy freelancing ever since. The biggest contract job I've had in the last ten years was my stint with WILMA Magazine which really got me into a creative mode. I was hired on as editor of that magazine, actually founding editor because the publisher and I-- the publisher was Joy Allen, we really worked together from the concept to getting it launched. I had a chance to work with a lot of creative writers through a column we did monthly, and the creative writers were from UNCW's MFA Program, Creative Writing Department. I became friends with some creative-- some novelists, published novelists. Ellyn Bache, who had actually taught at the university, joined her writing group and said, "Well, Marti, if you're going to be part of this writing group you have to produce something. So I started my creative side now, and Ellyn really has been helping me. I'm working on a novel based loosely on childhood experiences. I grew up in the east end of Pittsburgh which was largely an Italian American neighborhood, and my grandparents all came from Italy so there's a lot of color. My mother's side of the family is crazy enough to be interesting. So I've drawn a lot of those experiences, and in the meantime have continued to write commercially. I like making the money. It's very gratifying. I did leave WILMA, but continue to contribute and have picked up a lot of other commercial writing accounts, especially for the internet. There's some really bad writing on the internet. So when I had the opportunity to do what I think is good writing I jumped at it.

Diesenhaus: Talking about your novel you talked about going back to your childhood somewhat, and I wonder if you could talk a bit more about your writing that you were doing when you were younger. You said, I think, that you were doing a lot of it.

Bon: I did. Well, I think we all go through writing poetry. I did a lot of that in high school and younger. I remember telling stories when I was a little girl. I remember doing things like putting together plays that we would actually charge the neighborhood kids for, and it sounds kind of cliche, I guess, but we really, I really even then, I think, had a tendency to enjoy the dramatic, the weird part of life. So I started very early on doing plays with characters. I remember the one in particular name Pamela. And she was--I was probably about 11-years-old when I did this. She was the villain, and I got to play the villain which for me was a great departure because I was such a good kid, the oldest of five kids so I had to be a good kid. So that started early on, but the recognition-- I just always enjoyed the creative side. I enjoyed playing with styles. I remember I always had advanced courses in English through high school, and I remember my junior or senior year we had to do various things in various styles of other writers which, I guess, was a way to get us to appreciate what they were doing. But I remember having to write haiku, and I love that whole concept of the 17 syllables, you know, and we had to do a Shakespearean sonnet, and I loved playing with that. So that part of it, even though I'm highly organized when I write in my head, I'm not really highly organized on paper, but for some reason it all comes out in organized fashion. But I've always enjoyed, from the time I was little, the sounds of words, the colors of words, the way even beautiful novels are structured, even seemingly unstructured. So I did enjoy all of that from very, very early on, and I liked writing stories.

Diesenhaus: Do you remember were there particular writers or particular works that you were attached to?

Bon: When I was really young I was a voracious reader and my mother never did limit. She was strict, but she never limited what I read. So gosh, I remember reading really young F. Scott Fitzgerald. I thought he was wonderful. This Side of Paradise, I believe, was his first novel. It was a kind of coming of age novel. I think he was 19 when he wrote it if I'm not mistaken. That fascinated me. Look Homeward Angel by Thomas Wolfe. Again, another younger person's novel fascinated me. I read that, I think, really-- I was probably 12 or 13 and I read it all within two days. I did the same with Gone With the Wind. I liked a good story, and I liked writers that could use a lot-- I was drawn to writers that did a lot of research which probably is why I like Gone With the Wind. At 13-years-old, I mean, that was a well researched novel whether it was biased or not, who's to say, but I was drawn to that. I loved Hemingway from the time I was young, very young. I remember the spareness of the power of that style really, really spoke to me. But then I liked the classics. I love Louisa May Alcott. I love Little Women and Rose in Bloom. I'm very eclectic. I mean, I like a lot of different writers.

Diesenhaus: I'm curious about influences and people who sort of pushed you giving you advice. You talked about the woman in your job who sort of encouraged you that you really should be writing now. Were there people throughout the earlier portion of your life that also encouraged you, or?

Bon: You know, I'm a lot older than you, and it's a funny thing, on one hand my teachers did. I went to a Catholic school and there were nuns, and I remember one saying when I was in fifth grade, "You really are a writer." Then when I was in seventh grade, was it seventh grade? No, it was junior high. No, it was ninth grade, I'm sorry. Ninth grade one of my English teachers-- I wrote a review of something and she wrote on my paper if you can really write like this I salute you. She thought I had plagiarized, and I didn't. I just wrote a book report. It was a book report on Meet Me in St. Louis. I like that book. Early on though from first and second and third grades they would tell me I was a really good writer. That said I wanted to be a journalist or a writer when I was a very little girl, but I was in that generation from a very traditional family. I was telling my mother when I wanted to work for a newspaper. It was kind of ironic because I started freelancing. I did a lot of writing for Scott Wisnet who's now with the hospital. But she said, "Honey, that's such a rough field for a young woman. You know, you can't make a living writing." So I said, "Okay," and I went into teaching. So yeah, it's been from the time I was a little girl people have said I could write, but I didn't have the confidence and the courage to write. I made it my head-- in my head-- writing has never been a real release for me, writing even creatively something I really work over. People say, "Oh, Marti, you make it look so easy." I don't find it easy, but I have to get it out. You know, when I'm writing something-- this novel, I'm about 130 or 40 pages into it about 13 or 14 chapters. It's odd to me because some of it really has been inspired, especially when I remember experiences and use those as a basis. There was a lot of color and smell and texture in my life growing up, so those parts are easy, but actually trying to craft it is harder. And the painful subjects that I deal with in my book, that I feel I'm not expressing well, are the ones that my friends are also-- I belong to a writers' group and they're all published one way or another, except for one person. Those are the chapters that seem to have the most impact. So it's always been work for me. So maybe because it was work I never pushed it. It was a very strange mix of influences on me.

Diesenhaus: Well, you talked about the beginning of the writing, the professional side coming out of your job and your work, and I wonder was there a big break? Do you feel like that was the break, or when you came to Wilmington and started?

Bon: I think that was the break back in Pittsburgh even though I wasn't getting paid by the health system. Everything was in glossies. Because I ran a voc rehab progr-project we got published in some national publications, and I wrote the stories. And the best thing for me about writing those stories, sure I threw-- put the statistics in on how the program was structured and the rationale, but I did sidebars of some of the people that went through the training program, and I illustrated them with stories of them in action. That's when I realized there was a part of me, I think, that wasn't expressing itself. For some reason it had gotten sidetracked into my career. I've been always gifted with doing-- if I like something I'll learn how to do it, if I don't like it then the heck with it. I was never much in math. Let me put it that way. So I've always done well in career paths I've chosen, but when I went back to that initial sitting down and putting color into something that was the turning point, and that's where, I think, the break was. When I was writing for the hospital the best pieces I did were stories of people that went and did mission work in Peru. They went through struggles. The interviews, and it was the people writing about the people, and that's been very useful to me. That's where I think the break came because I wrote a lot, I mean, I've written a lot for every job I've been in, but it's all been very technical. And I've been told, "Oh, you write such a good individual progress report, and you do this and you do that, and that's a great analysis." Even in graduate school at the University of Pittsburgh my mentor and advisor would use my papers as examples. But it was the color and the creative side that really caught my heart, or brought me back to where I started.

Diesenhaus: That sounds like something that you do with the Role Call section of WILMA, the subtitle Women Worth Watching. I wonder what's it like to tell those stories of so many interesting women in the community.

Bon: I, I really enjoy it. Well, a couple of reasons, obviously, and I think any writer that says they don't enjoy the feedback, or don't care about it is not telling the truth. I think we write to express ourselves and what's inside of us, and to give shape and form to what we see and experience, but we also enjoy the feedback. So I enjoy the fact that those women have been gratified by what I'm doing. I also am stunned by some of the accomplishments of some of these ladies. That part is really gratifying, and also getting their personalities on paper because they're all different and some are naturals. I mean there are some women I've interviewed like Paula Haller [ph?] who actually has taught here at the university. That woman is so colorful that it was-- it almost wrote itself. But I also like the challenge of women who are just as accomplished, but maybe don't have that personal flash and animation, but bringing their personality-- I never want to lie about who I'm writing about, but I do think it's my job to bring who they are to the paper so when the reader looks at it they get a look at maybe a side of a person they didn't see before. Some people are more challenging than others. Sometimes it's like, "Wow, how am I going to do this, you know? You know, please say more than three words, you know."

Diesenhaus: You also do writing for business publications, and you mentioned...

Bon: Yeah. I've always done business and travel. I wrote for the Convention and Visitors Bureau.

Diesenhaus: And I wonder how do you bring life to those stories where you might be dealing with more technical information?

Bon: Well, that's what's so cool, I think, about being a writer. And that's where I wish I've mentored other writers and that's our challenge is to bring it to the reader. When I do the business writing, you know, all I have to do is think well, what do I want to know, and then I try to make that meaningful to people that don't know-- I assume they know nothing about the subject. And essentially the writing I'm doing mostly for the business side today is for a business portal internet site out of Connecticut, and they essentially contract us to do articles. I do the articles, the research, their business spotlights, and then they sell them to bigger firms. Like ATT has used them, some of the banks, you know, it's kind of fun to see your name all over the internet. But it's making it-- trying to find a kernel in there that maybe people don't know, you know, and then hanging the story on that. And that's how I try to make it interesting. And oddly enough I had statistics in graduate school, and I did well. I hated all that stuff, but I try to bring-- what people want to know is well, you know, you could say something like, "Using mobility devices is becoming even more important in construction trades than it has been in the past," but what's interesting is even like three man firms are using certain high tech, so I try to bring that color into it. That's what I try to do with those. Also, I think, style's very important when you're dealing with a technical subject. I have, my husband's a scientist and I've proofed a lot of his stuff. And he's actually a good writer, but technical journals are just really dry. And I try to use simple good writing tricks like staying away from passive voice. I know it sound elemental, but, you know, I avoid it at all cost unless it sounds ridiculous, you know, trying to keep sentences very sentence length, trying to keep it organized, trying not to pontificate. There's lots of things you can do that are just good writing techniques for either the creative side or the commercial side that can make something readable.

Diesenhaus: Are there opportunities for either story, or the personality coming out of that, or narrative in the business side as well?

Bon: There have been. It's easier when I've done business writing-- I did some business writing for Cy Cantwell for the Star News when he was the business editor. I stopped writing for him when I went to Greater Wilmington Business because I was doing so much writing for them, and I felt it was a conflict of interest, and I really believe in ethics. I, again, in interviews-- when you write journalistically you, I find that you can't fabricate, but you can indicate. So for example, if I interview an architect who gets really excited and kind of leans forward when he's talking, then I think you can bring color by saying, "Smith leaned forward as he shuffled the papers on this desk." That's a bad example. "Yes, we have 55 architects in Wilmington who can do this," he said. You know, that's the kind of thing you can do. You can describe. And I had to learn that because when I started writing for the Star News, and that's Scott Wisnet, you know, it sounds weird a middle aged women getting mentored by a much younger man, but Scott is an excellent writer and he has published, you know, a book. He did publish a book. He taught me to do that because I wanted to just report it, okay, he said this, and this, and this. He says, "You've got to warm this up." And I said, "But how can you do that and be objective?" Well, you can because people give a lot away by their attitudes, and if they're looking at you, or if they're not. You can really do a lot with that. I remember one of the best stories I wrote, and I was afraid, I was a little nervous because I've always been a people pleaser. I wrote a story about a councilman up in Surf City and he was at odds with everybody about something. I don't even remember the subject now, but those beach meetings can get really nasty. He just, he was so passionate. Nobody agreed with him. So I reported everything he said, but he actually smacked the table at one point, and I said, "He smacked the table as he...," and he called me. I thought, "Oh, my God, he's going to be mad because they don't like to..." You know, it's weird. I've been interviewed before for various stories when I was doing the management in Pittsburgh, and stuff comes back to haunt you. "Did I say that?" Well, he called me and said, "This is the most honest story anyone's ever written about me." And I thought, "Well, there you go. You can give it color." And my editor really liked it too. He said, "This is what I mean. This is what you need to do." So yeah, there's lots of opportunity for doing that. You have to look for it.

Diesenhaus: You talked about being bored in your previous life. Did moving to Wilmington and becoming more engaged in the various types of story telling did that feel like being freed up creatively?

Bon: Yeah. I'm never bored. And, you know, it's funny you would ask me that because I love starting things. I love getting things up and running. I like to have the odds stacked against me. So when it's-- and what writing's given me the opportunity of doing, if I get bored with a particular genre there's always another one, whereas, what I did in my previous life, as you put it, I'd change careers, or I'd try something new, and then when it was up and running I'd look for something else. I've always been that way. You know, sometimes it's good. Sometimes it's not so good because I tend to-- if I get bored I don't stick with it, but if I love it then I really can make a go of it. Writing's that way. In a way the novel taking place I needed to do something else, and I thought, you know, after I built some confidence I thought-- and you know how you build confidence is you look at something you've written a year later and you're more objective. You think, you know, "That's not bad," or you know, "I should have done it this way." So that writing the novel it's like just-- I can do anything I want, and that's what I really like. It's like there are no holds barred. I mean, obviously, there's a discipline, and there are skills, and there are rules for writing a novel and Ellyn's been helping me a lot with that. But I wanted to tell a story of what's inside me, and most of it based on what actually happened. But I want to create my life, or the life of the heroine, and of course I based her on me because I know me best, but I want to have that freedom to do anything I want. And I've never felt I've had that freedom in my life. I was raised, you know, very strictly. That part of it's wonderful. In fact Ellyn had suggested I write it as a memoir, but I don't want to have to depend, rely-- I mean, memoirs you do have a lot of latitude, and you can be very creative, but a memoir's really how you remember something, how the writer does. But I just wanted to be the god in my own little universe, I guess, and to do that, make my characters do what I want them. You know, it's funny though because they start doing what they want to do anyhow. I thought there's another cliche, but it's true. It's true.

Diesenhaus: Was moving from the editorial position at WILMA to a writer position was that primarily because of time, or was there other limitations?

Bon: Well, there were a couple of things. I was getting, you know, I mentioned to you I get bored when I've been doing the same thing. I was tired of working within the framework. As editor I have to say I had a lot of latitude, but we were still under the confines of budget, page count, word count, to some extent our market, well, to a great extent. There were things that I couldn't say that I wanted to say, the politics. That was getting frustrating. I became ill for a while, and it was just a very-- it was thyroid cancer which is highly curable. It's one of the most high cure rate of any, but it kind of gave me a little nudge thinking, "What are you doing working on someone else's dream," because it wasn't my magazine, "And you have this novel," which I had started, but it kept getting pushed to the back burner. Because, I don't know, I'm not as young as I used to be and I put in long hours and lots of emotional energy into WILMA, and I was pretty spent by the time I got home. So that was part of it too. I just thought, "You know, I just want to write what I want to write." So, of course, now I'm writing commercially again. I don't know how these things keep happening. You know, I was asked to-- again, I enjoy the money. Fortunately I'm at the point in life my kids are grown and I'm expecting a grandchild, my first grandchild, so I don't have to have a second income, but I do enjoy that part of it. But having the luxury like to go home today and work on my book, and you know, if it's a dry day, some days are better than others, and then I'm thinking, "My God, I have deadline I have to meet," so it's a real luxury.

Diesenhaus: Does continuing with the freelance lifestyle-- it sounds like that suits you both with time.

Bon: It does.

Diesenhaus: Does it also kind of help you stay inspired for the more creative side that you're working on?

Bon: Yeah. I think it keeps me moving because it's very easy, again, for me to get interested in a whole lot of other things and get side tracked. You know, I get interested in a lot of things and I pursue it. Having the deadlines for some of the commercials, commercial work I do, which thank God is not as intensive as it was with WILMA which I was always on deadline. I was keeping other people on deadline. After all of that, you know, for me it wore thin. But it's just enough to keep me on track. It does because sometimes I meet people that I interview, and I'm thinking that's kind of cool. That would be a good thing to put into a book, or certain characteristics. I mean everything, all the people I meet teach me something. So a lot of the people I meet go into my writing even if they're not directly. Now, a lot of the characters in my book are based on people I grew up with or compilations of-- fictitious characters that are compilations of two or three people that I might have known. But meeting, continuing to meet people, having to observe and think about them, and thinking of original ways to present them because I just hate doing the same thing twice. It keeps me fresh with my book, you know, so it does help.

Diesenhaus: I want to ask a question, I think, that relates to the freelance side, and I'm curious about the novel more creative side. When you're doing these commercial works are you doing a fair amount of research to learn about...

Bon: Oh, yeah.

Diesenhaus: So what is it like kind of continually learning something?

Bon: I love that part. That's what I love about freelancing. As I said I've mentored a lot of writers and had interns. My feeling is that a good writer should be able to write about any subject and adapt to any market. Now I'm looking at it more from a commercial perspective, but I know it's possible because I've done it for so many markets. Now, obviously, if it's highly technical where an expertise is needed, I'm not going to write something about brain surgery, but I could interview an surgeon, which I've done, and have him explain it, or her explain it in clear enough terms that I can help my readers understand it. So yeah, and I do, I always go prepared into an interview. I never go in cold. I have done it in the past when I was very-- probably a lot younger. I mean, years ago when I started actually doing writing for the health system and that's when I learned. But yeah, I research it ahead of time. I ask a lot of questions. Thank God for the internet and e-mail because I have no shame in e-mailing. In fact I always ask during an interview, "Can I call you, or can I e-mail you if I don't understand something as I'm writing it?" Because after time passes and you're writing it maybe I can't read my notes. People talk really quickly, of course, so do I. Yeah, I do learn a lot. I learned a lot about a lot of different thing. The funny story I like to tell is, I'm no gardner at all, I love plants and flowers, but I wrote a garden column for the Star News every week for almost-- more than four years. I quit it when I took on WILMA because I couldn't be writing for a rival publication. And my editor at the time said to me, the features editor said, "You know, we don't need a gardner..." How did she put it? "We don't need a gardner. We need someone who can write about gardening." Because that was a problem they had. They tried to use nonprofessional writers. So I learned a lot. And actually I did learn something about gardening. It was just funny though because I interviewed people. That's how I did it. I'd start out with something that interested me and I had people I would interview here at the university at the arboretum, you know, different people, commercial nursery owners. Then I would write about it and research it, and I'd forget about it because I'd go onto the next subject. I remember people used to ask my advice, and I'd have to go back to my articles, you know, and check out what I wrote because I'm not a gardener, but I can write about it. And I think you can really do that, you know, for a lot of it. And I've edited a lot of master's theses. And I don't know about the subject, but I know enough about it to intelligently instruct them if it's to what I need. So, you know, you do learn a lot.

Diesenhaus: I'm curious about where you get your ideas and if that research process kind of leads you to the next idea.

Bon: Yeah, definitely. A lot of times I'll be looking at something, or reading something, or doing research on one side and think, you know, that would be a good idea for a story. And actually I've suggested stories to WILMA because I continue to contribute because the publisher asked me when I said I was leaving if I could continue to write an occasional feature in Role Call, and I said, "Yeah, I'll do that for a while." Oh, a lot of times, I mean, a statistic maybe so many women are in the field now, in a certain field that weren't in it five years ago. Oh, yeah, all this, especially, most especially when I was freelancing a lot. At one point I was freelancing for five or six different people. Star News I was doing the gardening and their lifestyle section. I was writing for the Convention Visitors Bureau. I was doing travel writing which I-- any day I'll do travel writing. I was writing, I was doing a retrospective for the Workforce Development people down at the Council of Governments. It was an actual 50 page book on one of their programs. But it was constant. I'd be doing research and think, "Well, this would be a good article for Connie Nelson to look at, at the Convention Visitors Bureau," or you know, I interview somebody for the travel writing that would make a wonderful human interest story for lifestyles in the Star News, so definitely. Even watching television shows I look at things like, "You know, we really should be covering that, or WILMA should be doing something about this, or whatever."

Diesenhaus: Has that kind of research process played a role in the novel or even going back to family talking to them?

Bon: Yeah, it has because I found as I'm writing this novel I want to write a real book, and I want to write honestly about the particular time that the novel takes place in which is staring around the mid '50s through the early '70s right now. But memory, you know, I remember what I remember, but I have to be able to use it-- put it into a framework of the times, and it's very subjective. So I have done research on the east end of Pittsburgh in the '50s. I think it's really important to be true. You know, I've always loved historical novels too. I'm not writing a historical novel. This is literary fiction. I mean, the story is growing out of the characters. There is not, there is a plot, but this is not written for plot it's written for characterization, but it has to be real, so I do a lot of research, even using Italian in it. My grandmother spoke-- my maternal grandmother lived with us and the character Rose is based on her, and even using Italian phrases. I mean, I go back to checking the language. There's one character and I had her coming form a small town in Italy. She's a very important part of the book. She's based on our next door neighbor, my mother's best friend when I was growing up. I have no idea where she came from in Italy, but I thought whether to pick-- I knew she came from around central Italy, so I picked two towns and did research on the towns so that even though I'm not sure if she came from those particular towns when I wrote about them, the train, I made sure there was a train. You know, that kind of thing to me is really important. Even though it is fiction it has to be true, and so yeah, I research a lot, and probably because I love to research too. I've often said I'd be very happy just researching. You know, I love digging. And the internet, my gosh, I mean, I've done it all ways because there wasn't the internet around when I was your age. So, I mean, I've been to the library and gone through the stacks. I loved it then, and now like the internet to me is just amazing.

Diesenhaus: Are you fully comfortable using kind of developing technologies to get to information?

Bon: Oh, yeah. I think it's critical. And you know, I look at-- I think it's critical. I don't know how anybody writes today without getting online. Just the tremendous-- just what's out there, what's available to you in the blink of an eye, I mean, collections, you know, you get to some of your university sites are wonderful. You know, you have to be careful what sites you use, and I tell this to young writers. I said, "I don't want Betty Smith's, you know, column on statistics. If you're going to get numbers on, you know, doing taxes then you go to the feds, you know, or you go the state, you know, the Department of Revenue. You do that." You have to be very discriminating, but yeah, I'm definitely comfortable, more than comfortable. I mean, I'm really proactive about it. And it's weird because a lot of women my age aren't, but it's like you want to get left behind? I mean, how do you do this? It's a shame I had one writer that was a wonderful writer. She came from actually, ironically, came from a university background. She's older than I am, but that's not an excuse because there are a lot of writers older than myself who use the internet extensively. She said, "Well, I have to use a typewriter." I said, "Well, then I can't take the story." This was when I was with WILMA. I said, "I don't have someone that can type it up for you. It's me," and I said, "I edit from the file, the digital file and then we proof it, the hard copy." I couldn't use her. I just didn't have the time. It was a shame, but most publishing places are cutting costs now so they don't have time for a secretary that sits there and types. So yeah, you better learn the technology.

Diesenhaus: Excuse me, I want to go back a bit to the distinction you made between novel and memoir, and your intent to make it a novel rather than a memoir even though you're doing this kind of research. Can you talk more a bit about the choice to go in that direction and why that's important?

Bon: You know, some of it's a comfort level. Some of those things I write about-- I had a relatively normal childhood, but who doesn't have some dysfunction. There was some uncomfortable things about my childhood that are really a critical part of the character's motivations. When my friend asked me, she said, "Make it a memoir." I said, "It's too naked. It's too naked." I'm not ready to do that. I'm not ready to expose that part of myself so directly. There are things in there that I just don't feel comfortable. I guess maybe that's the commercial side of me. I'm used to writing about other people, so creating characters that are true to a large extent, at least as my mind interprets them, but I can hide behind them a little bit. You know, actually now that I'm writing it I've thought maybe I should have made this a memoir, but see I wanted to get into other people's heads too. I didn't want it just from my point of view because what fascinates me is what makes other people tick. What fascinates me about a good book, a good piece of fiction is seeing how all the characters interplay. I like different points of view. Although, I have noticed a lot of contemporary literature, and again I read extensively, is written in the first person. I think it would be a lot easier in many ways because you don't have to do any exposition, and I'm trying to stay away from a lot of exposition because it's really not what I want to do. If you do it in first person it can always be your point of view, you know, one character's point of view. So I think what I've taken on is probably a little more difficult than is has to be, but hey. I think it's coming all right. I wanted to be able to get inside other people's heads. You know, I think some of it's my age too. When my mother, who my mother was-- she died in her 50s, she died really young, but who she was ten years ago isn't who she is to me today. And I'm more interested today in not judging her, but in looking at what made her a good mother in so many respects and a mother who could have been better in others, you know. So it's just, it's a whole process for me.

Diesenhaus: In answering that last question you talked a bit about the feedback you've gotten from some people, and you talked about your writers' group, how important is that kind of community to what you're doing?

Bon: It's important because it keeps me honest. It's important too because it's good to know that I do have some skills. You know, I don't know-- I'm a confident writer, but it took me a long time to get to the part where I can do interviews, and I can do featur, and I can do research and really heavily technical pieces and feel comfortable. With the fiction I feel like a babe in arms, I mean, I'm new at it. So the support of the group's important, but also pointing out things like point of view. You know who's...? It's just learning. They're teaching me a whole lot, especially, again, my friend who has published a series of books and sold a bunch of them. She knows how to put together a story. I respect her writing because she is not afraid to experiment with style. It's, you know, she knows what she's doing. She's commercially successful. She's critically successful. So that kind of feedback, it's not the blind leading the blind. You know you have to-- when I learned to play bridge my son was a baby and I was a stay at home mom at the time. My daughter was in nursery school. I learned to play bridge with three other women and we all learned together so we never got any better because none of us knew anything more than the other one did. And it's the same with writing. You have to be challenged. I learned to be a better bridge player by playing with people that terrified me who were much better than me. It was frightening. They'd be bidding like way up here, and I'm like what am I doing, but that's how I learned. So, you know, I needed to go to a writers' group with people that have proven that they can succeed just as I feel very comfortable mentoring anybody that comes to me that wants to write for publication commercially. So it's a learning experience.

Diesenhaus: With this group are you showing your work, or are you talking more about the craft? Are they readers?

Bon: We read our work. The way this group is-- the group started at-- it's a smaller group now because there are only three of us actively working on publication. We read it and critique it. We send via e-mail, or we make copies if it's a huge lot of pages. And they read it and critique it, and everybody goes around the table. And talk about humility, that really teaches you to be humble because they're very direct, you know. It not just, "Well, you're doing a wonderful job." It's nice to hear that too, but it's always like, "I don't understand what you're saying here. Why would you do it this way? I would think you would want to do it that way." We talk a little about the craft. You know, sometimes if I'm at a dead end it's like, "You know, I'm trying to think of how to handle this, and what do you think would be the best way to go? Should I structure it this way," and we do talk about that too.

Diesenhaus: That sounds a lot like the kind of writing workshop process and I wonder if you have thoughts on the MFA degree.

Bon: Yeah. I thought about doing it actually, which is nuts. The reason I hesitate, you know, I have worked so closely with the MFA students on editing on the cusp. And you know that's the contribution from the Women Writers, and boy there's some stuff that's blown me away, and that was probably some of the inspiration too, inspired by people, younger people, or people that are reaching for something. Yeah, you know, the only thing is we travel a lot which is another passion of mine, and didn't get to do it much when the kids were growing up, but my husband has his own business now, he's a consultant so we travel a lot. And my fear would be being tied down for too long. I thought about auditing some courses because I'd just like to learn more about the craft, you know, and to meet other people that are doing what I'm doing. My stomach is rumbling too, and I hope it's not on the tape.

Diesenhaus: I think you probably already answered this, but can writing be taught? It sounds like you think at least parts of it can.

Bon: I think, I think. I used to think anybody could write because I could always write, and I could write even without an outline, because I, it's a natural sense I have. But I don't think everybody can write, has talent for writing. I think there's no reason people can't put together a paragraph or two or three and learn some good techniques, you know, like using-- although I don't know, using active voice as opposed to passive seems very difficult for a lot of people which I don't quite understand. But I think you can learn to write capably. I don't think everybody can be a great writer. It's too hard. It's really-- it's not-- I mean, everybody can probably draw a figure, but not everyone's da Vinci or Michelangelo, you know? There are some God given talents I believe. Some people just are naturals, you know.

Diesenhaus: Somewhat related to that I'm curious with the novel and with the organization. You talked about you have maybe some natural affinities for it. Are you doing outlining, or plotting, or kind of structuring before you're actually getting to the writing? How are you organizing it?

Bon: Yeah, well. I'm finding as I'm getting so many pages I need to keep a running-- I'm sort of keeping a running track of the plot line because it can be very easy to get lost in dates and times. Another thing that our writing group is very good for is spotting that kind of thing that sometimes a writer it's just little technical things. "Well, you said here she was born in '58 and then here she's five-years-old," you know, so that kind of thing, but yeah, I do track it. I know how the story started. I know how the story's going to end, and I know two particular incidents that are going to happen to the main character that are going to impact. It's just about ready to happen. That part's really tough. But who it happened to and how it happens changed. So I work within a framework, but I give myself a lot of freedom. I'm also learning to-- trying to think in the character's head, not in my head. So it's not what would Marti Bon do here, but what would Susan do, or what would Ann do here. That's why I say the characters are almost deciding their own, taking off on their own. In fact to a point where there's like-- I have six pages that are great. I decided that I needed to give one character a little more background and got carried away with her mother. The mother was such-- but she has no place in the book. I had to take them out because it's not going to be something I can use. So that kind of thing happens, you know. So yeah, I do have-- I know how it's going to go, but it's not all detailed and outlined, no. It sort of forms itself. Let me go back. It kind of writes itself inside out, but you know, I write my interviews up that way too. I'll start with a few kernels, and obviously, after doing Role Call, especially. I've written hundreds, and hundreds, and hundreds of features and interviews. Then that is a natural process because you know what you have to say in the beginning to set the tone for the rest of it, but still in all I write inside out. I'll be writing something, go back and take pieces. Another reason why you have to be at the computer, I don't know how people write with that-- write on longhand any more, I just...

Diesenhaus: So you don't do any writing in longhand?

Bon: I'll jot ideas down, or sometimes-- the first sentences of chapters and leads of any story are the hardest. Once you write your lead the story is much easier. So I will, if I'm sitting in the car driving I keep little pieces of paper, notebooks, and I'll write that kind of thing. When I actually sit down the computer actually gets my thought processes going. I couldn't do that at one time. One time I had to write it longhand first then I'd put it on the computer. But it's learning to think in pieces, I guess, instead of longitudinally where I have to do this, or linearly, I guess, is the word I want to do where I have to do this, and this, and this. So for somebody like me who's so scattered and gets interested in so many things it really is great. It was made, you know, for me.

Diesenhaus: In terms of that computer is that always in a specific place? Are you sitting down to an office, or?

Bon: I do have an office, and I found I can think better at my desk. When we built the house ten years ago I actually went into this. I want my own place. I don't want to be writing at the dining room table, though God knows I did it long enough, you know? So we had an office built off the bedroom, and I really do like to write in there. It's like my little haven. I have a laptop as well, though. And I've gone, sometimes just for a change of scene, usually when it's a story I really don't want to write I'll take it to a coffee shop, or something because I find that going in the-- I love to cook and I do jewelry too, so if I get too frustrated I'll start making-- fooling with beads or cooking, where if I take it to a coffee shop then I'll finish a story. But usually I like to be in my office, my own little refuge in there.

Diesenhaus: Are there any rituals or habits that you kind of need to do to get started in the office, or outside of it?

Bon: Well, I feel better if-- I need to be dressed for the day. Now that sounds crazy, but you know, I'm not-- that's not to say that I don't go start writing in the middle of the afternoon after a pool of nothing. I'll just go and think, you know, I have an idea and write. But I feel like I have to answer my e-mail and I have to be ready for the day, and then I will write. Also I am finding that if I write something creative in the morning I'm a lot better off. If I start, even it's only a couple of sentences I'm more inclined to stick to it later. If I fiddle the morning away then I end up giving myself permission not to get started. Because it's not always fun to write. Sometimes it's fun, but sometimes it's like you agonize. One thing I do tend to do, and I'm trying to get away from, is I tend to edit as I go. Because I'm a very clean writer, I like things to be the way they're supposed to be right up front. So I tend to want to revise as I go along. And actually, so I've probably done seven drafts by now on what I've written so far because I tend to keep revising as I go. So that's a ritual, I mean, I have to be dressed. I have to be sitting down. I have to--I do have to look at what I've written before, not all 150 pages, but at least the chapter before and read it and make sure that chapter's okay, and then I can get creative.

Diesenhaus: I guess I have another question about balance. If you're still doing the commercial work along with the creative do you try to do one at a certain point of the day? You talk about in the morning you might be better off.

Bon: Well, what I find myself doing, and this is just a bad habit. It's always where I've been. I probably need somebody to say you have to have this book done in six months. Deadlines really motivate me and I do really well when I'm working on a deadline. So I have two stories due. I have Role Call-- actually Role Call was due, but we couldn't get the woman who I'm interviewing tomorrow, actually. So what I'll have to do is promise my publisher this story by Friday morning and then I'll have it done by the end of the day Friday. She knows how I operate though, so I will devote my whole day, and I'm very organized, and I can sit down, and I'll start writing, and I can write thousands of words at once. Same with this business piece I'm not quite sure of the deadline they're still telling me, but it's on the healthcare industry which is kind of a familiar subject because I wrote so much for both the hospital here and the hospital in Pittsburgh. But what's going to happen is I'll start doing some research this week because it'll be a way of escaping having to write Role Call, but it's still constructive and I can still rationalize all of this, but then I will just sit down and do it. Deadlines are great motivators.

Diesenhaus: Is it that you're kind of playing them off each other?

Bon: I do play them off each other. That's a good way of putting it. If I panic because I can't think of something for what Susan should be saying next-- I'm starting chapter 15, I think I'm on now. It took me a long time to windup up 14. Fifteen's ready to start. I'm trying to decide-- well, it's going to be from the mother's point of view, but you know, I'm just-- I don't know, it's all roiling around in my head right now. So if I go home and do some research for this medical piece, or try to find some background information on the lady for Role Call it helps. I don't know why. I think it's because I had to balance things for so long. When you're writing-- in fact that's why I went to WILMA for four years and did WILMA exclusively because it's very difficult to write for five or six people at a time. You know, you're juggling deadlines constantly, and that was very stressful, but also kept me really active. So I seem to be lapsing back into that old pattern of having to have three or four things going on at once, and then I do a really good job on everything.

Diesenhaus: Given what you've said about deadlines, do you try to impose a quota on your creative work like a page per day?

Bon: No. I did try that, but I found if it's just not there it's just not there. I mean, I can't make things happen for that book. I can to an extent. I mean, it's one thing to have a solid person you're writing about, or a solid field you're writing about and thinking I need this, and this, and this, and I'll develop this, and this, and this. It's very concrete, but the book is right out of my soul and it's different. It's a whole different experience for me. There are days where I'll go in, and I think I can't write anything, and I'll write one sentence. Then all of a sudden it takes off and I'll write a whole chapter, 2,000 words. There are days when I sit there and it just-- I grapple with it and grapple with it and I'll get a paragraph. Those are the chapters that it amazes me. Sometimes when my writers' group looks at it those are the ones that make the most impression. You know, it's the ones that didn't come quite so easily, so yeah. Then I try to explain that to my husband. There's a great movie that Will Ferrell was in called-- oh, I can't remember the name of it. It was totally a departure from his usual crazy characters.

Diesenhaus: With the watch where he was talking, the watch that spoke to him is that...

Bon: It's the one where Emma-- I mean, it was about a writer who was writing a book and he turned out his life was being narrated by this narrator. It was really kind of a cool concept. Emma-- oh, an English actress was the writer. She was due. She had a deadline. She was a very accomplished writer, but she was struggling with how to end the book. And she was walking along the beach, and lying on the floor looking at the ceiling. And she had a writing coach. The publisher sent a coach to get her-- I didn't know they had people like that, but to keep her moving, you know, to keep her moving. I guess if you're good enough and famous enough, but. She was just doing everything but writing, but then she sat down and wrote a whole chapter-- and Emma Thompson that was the writer. And I said to my husband, "See that's what I need." I can't-- I'll be walking around, I'll be driving and nothing will be happening, and all of a sudden it happens. And that's not to say the whole book is inspired because then I go back and there's stuff that has to be crafted. You know, I'll think this isn't the place for this chapter to happen. This should have happened earlier, or the reader has no hint this is going to happen. You need to allude to it somewhere to give them a reason to keep reading. You know, so the crafting is what I'm learning. The writing and the characters, apparently, are something that are real enough that they're actually coming along. They're turning into real people and that part's good, you know. That part's really good. People are telling me what they think people look like, you know. And they're looking-- seeing things in characters that when I wrote it I didn't know it was there, but, you know, I think well maybe it is there. I didn't realize. But see I'm talking about real experiences in different people's bodies. I never knew what they meant when they said you have to write about what you know because I thought, "Well how can that be they're writing Gone With the Wind, or she's writing a great novel." The guy that wrote the one about the geisha, that was a wonderful book. I thought, "Well, how can he know this?" Well, he might have been a man writing about a woman who was bred to make men happy, but he knew there was enough in him that he could put it into her. So that was a masterfully written book, diary.

Diesenhaus: I wanted to ask you about writer's block, but what I think I'm hearing is that, at least with the creative side, if it's not coming you're okay with that. You're okay to wait for the moment.

Bon: Yeah, which I get is the luxury of not having any huge deadline for this one. I mean, I suppose if somebody said, "Marti, you have to have this done, money was riding on it," I could probably do it, but I have the luxury right now of letting it happen. And it is getting written. It's not as if, you know, I have 20 pages. I mean, I have 15 chapters. I'm probably a third of the way there. The chapters will be restructured because I have to give the characters a chance to grow up in the book and to develop in the book. I can't rush their processes. It is a process what they're going through in the book. You know, being an editor really helped me with writing this book because not only am I looking at it from my perspective as the writer, and also in a part as a character, but also looking at what are the readers going to see here? What do they need to know, what are they understanding? Editing, that's all an editor does is making it easier for a reader to understand, you know.

Diesenhaus: I just want to ask maybe two more questions, and my second to last one relates a bit to what you just said in talking about the editing process. I wonder if you could talk-- you mentioned a few times mentoring other writers. It sounds like those are somewhat related. What do you get out of the mentoring process, and what are you kind of hoping to transmit to other writers?

Bon: I think when I mentor somebody it kind of makes me go through the steps of what I'm trying to teach them. It keeps me fresh. It keeps me focused. If I'm telling them that they are not using strong verbs, if they're wandering, if they're not, you know, the article doesn't seem to have a purpose or clarity. It makes me look at my own things. Also I just love-- I get so excited when they get excited. You know, it really makes writing real. Because what I'm learning and what I've learned it's giving it to somebody else, and I just think it makes it a very dynamic organic process. There's a lot of satisfaction in that.

Diesenhaus: Given how you feel about that, and it sort of relates to the MFA thing a bit, do you ever think about teaching or kind of coaching as a profession?

Bon: I wouldn't mind coaching. I don't think I'd be-- you know, my under grad degree was in English education because that's what I was said was nice girls would do. I never really taught in a classroom. It's too confined for me. Although I've done presentations-- you know, it's funny because I love to present, so like I've done presentations that are career related all my whole career history, but I love working with the writers one on one. But I like it because we don't have to set-- we're not stuck. I'm not stuck with a subject matter. It's interactive. That's what I think I like where I'm looking at what they're writing and saying, "Look, you did this and this really well," and I think it's really important to mentor writers from their strengths because I just think it's awful people that are negative or hurtful. I don't believe in that, you know. I believe in honesty, but I think that usually there's something. If somebody wants to write there's probably something that they're doing well. That's not to say I've not worked with some very-- people that want to write and they just can't, and it makes me feel terrible. But there are people that want to write, have wanted to write for WILMA or anything, and I've worked with them and worked with them and they just don't have it which has taught me that not everybody can write.

Diesenhaus: And as a last question I think it relates if you had any advice for writers either on the creative side that you're working with not, or the kind of journalist and freelance commercial side that you've had so much experience with?

Bon: I think it would be stay open. Don't be too proud. Your way, my way was not always the right way. I had to learn, and one of the benefits was-- I was probably already close to 50 and I had a man much younger than me tell me how to write a news story. He said I had promise, but he had to break me of my corporate writing habits which I had developed doing what I thought were these amazing articles for this health system, and there were a lot of bad habits in there when I looked back. So it's being open to learn. It's understanding. Understand that it's not always going to be fun. You know, I'm very suspicious of people who say to me I had such fun with this article. I went on for 7,000 words. Somebody actually said that to me once. I said, "Well, you're going to have to pare 5,000 words out of that," and she said, "I don't have the heart to do it," and I said, "Then I can't use it because I'm not going to..."-- you don't edit 5,000 words down. You rewrite when you're doing that many words. So it's learning that it is hard work. And sometimes for me the pieces that I have just sweated over, and agonized over, and thought they're not so good are the ones that turn out to be my best. And the ones that I've just sailed through they're full of-- they just don't mean as much to other people. So that's it. And just keep on. And write early. Don't let people tell you that you can't do it because you waste a lot-- you can wait, I mean, I won't say that. Let me take that back. I mean, I did a lot of things in my life that made me who I am, and I did a lot of good things, have done a lot of good things, and there's still plenty of time to write. There's always time, so.

Diesenhaus: Thank you very much.

Bon: I hope I didn't talk too much. Thank you.

Diesenhaus: Thank you.

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