GUEST POST: Bonnie ZoBell: My Writing Process

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Below is a guest post written by Bonnie ZoBell.

Bonnie ZoBell: My Writing Process:  Blog Tour

Today I’m taking part in the #MyWritingProcessTour. It’s so interesting and instructive to see how other writers go about their work. I was nominated by my friend, Susan Tepper, writer extraordinaire.  Be sure to get a copy of Susan’s latest book, The Merrill Diaries, beautifully written and a thought-provoking romp through the U.S. and parts of Europe.

The awkward part about writing this blog post is that at the moment I don’t have much of a writing process because besides teaching, I’m in the process of birthing my newest book, What Happened Here: a novella & stories. I’m doing everything I can to ease her passage into the world, making sure she’s nurtured in every possible way, and giving her a good wholesome introduction with the hope people will be as good to her as they’ve been to me. At the moment, it’s on pre-release and available only on my site, but she’ll be officially launched on May 3rd. What I’ll do here is write about my process when I’m writing. I warn you: This process isn’t entirely the healthiest for children and other living things, in other words younger writers. Don’t show this to your students.


Final Cover What Happened Here 1-10-14 What am I working on?

I’ve gone back to an old novel, most recently called Animals Voices—which I worked on for many years—because I think I’ve finally figured out a solution to a problem I was having. The story starts out with some young kids, the boy very curious about the unusual girl, after he gets over her strangeness and the way all his friends make fun of her, because she can communicate with animals. They grow up and marry and he is diagnosed with AIDS in the early years. Communication is difficult when no one will acknowledge the disease, probably even more so than communicating with owls. Then I’m going to go back to another novel that I also spent years on called Bearded Women, about a woman who goes to an electrologist because she’s hirsute. There are class issues between her and the electrologist, and it comes down to the main character needing to pluck other parts of her persona as well.


How does my work differ from others of its genre?

I’d call what I write literary fiction, though I’d like to write more magical realism. Oh, give me anything to read that contains beautiful language and a good story, and I’ll devour it. Perhaps mine differs because of my love of setting. I’m thrilled going back to Animal Voices, getting the chance to revisit the southern part of Del Mar in San Diego, land filled with an estuary, all kinds of unique crawly life, and the magnificent Torrey Pine trees. These gnarled pines grow crooked because they’re on the bluffs right above the ocean and therefore get a lot of strong winds. They’d be creepy if they weren’t so beautiful.

I’m no minimalist, though I try to be as spare as I can. I like to think that sometimes I’m successful at writing beautiful, in-depth descriptions that let you see images in life in a unusual way without going overboard.

I’m whimsical.

Why do I write what I do?

I write because I love language and because writing fiction helps me figure out the world. I’d be lost without it.

How does my writing process work?

This is the unhealthy part: I’m a binge writer. I can go for days, weeks, even a couple of years and do nothing but write. I ignore my husband and animals, my hair gets dirty, my bills don’t get paid, and I wear clothes that should have been recycled some time ago if I get really passionate and possessed about what I’m writing. But it takes a toll. So after doing this for a while, it’s hard to allow myself to go back there—there’s so much deprivation. Unfortunately, the other side of it is that I can also go for a long time not writing at all. That’s where I am right now while I promote and regroup from my collection. But I’m daydreaming about those Torrey Pine trees

My tags

I’m tagging four of my favorite writers who will take the baton next and telling you about their writing process:

Myfanwy CollinsLiveson the North Shore of Massachusetts with her husband and son. She has published her debut novel Echolocation, a short fiction collection I Am Holding Your Hand, and her YA novel The Book of Laney is forthcoming.

James ClaffeyJames’ collection Blood a Cold Blue was published earlier this year. His writing has appeared in numerous journals, magazines and anthologies, and he is currently working on a novel based on his childhood in Ireland.

Tamara Linse – Writer, cogitator, recovering ranch girl ~ broke her collarbone when she was three, her leg when she was four, a horse when she was twelve, and her heart ever since. She lives in Wyoming, and just released her collection, How to Be a Man.





You are treasured. Grown by bone and hair, pushing up and out. Flesh surrendering to the pull of gravity, the earth. The basil on the windowsill smells of summer and an open wound. The house smells of ash and the decay of last night’s meal in the can. The day’s frozen air smells of infinity, snaking forward, pushing you into breath, the ache.







We say we will follow the deer tracks in the snow later in the day but we never do. They all lead to the same place, back to the denuded arbor vitae. We could trace them to our windows and look in as though strangers seeing it all for the first time. The empty bed. The daffodils blooming in the jar. Dust on the picture frame. We would not see the hard line or hear the clock ticking down time. We would not know that to fear death is the worst fear of all because there is no escaping it. There is no wishing it away. The deer always come back to that which feeds them.








When I was eleven, my best friend and I would talk endlessly on the phone. I remember pulling the cord as far as it would go, up and down the hallway. I don’t even know what we said to each other but there seemed to be a lot to say.

As an adult, I eschew the phone. I feel trapped by it. Even cordless, I am strangling.

The smartphone is different. I don’t use mine much for talking and when I’m having an actual face-to-face conversation with someone, I try to remember to put it down. In truth, I fought against getting a smart phone but was very quickly addicted to it once I had it. Even so, I’m struggling to see how it has enhanced my life. I’ve cut back already–no Facebook on the phone. No more words with friends. But still it calls me.

For a while, my son’s favorite movie was WALL-E. I remember watching it with him and becoming depressed at the scene where all of the humans are shuttling around on their chairs talking into devices. The scene is meant to represent a possible future but, in truth, we are there already.

I realize, I’ve come to use this device in the same way I used to use a cigarette. I use it when I am uncomfortable or alone. It makes it easier not to look and listen when all I should be doing is looking and listening and living in the moment. I tell myself that I need to capture these moments of my son’s childhood and post them out to the world, but do I? The pictures of me at his age are few, but my memories remain. I lived those moments for myself. They belonged to me and not the world. They still do. I wonder if I am robbing him and I do believe that maybe I am.

As a rule, I don’t make resolutions but this year I am. This year I am going to fight the urge to pick up the phone when all is quiet. I am going to fight the urge to pick it up and hold it in front of me when I should be using my own eyes instead.

I am going to look. I am going to listen. I am going to let the world be quiet.





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The cold is quiet. It is still. Crows are larger than expected. Frost edges the cracks in the pavement. The light is gentle, not punishing. The brother and sister are dressed appropriately for the weather. From a distance, they might be a middle-aged couple walking their dog. Closer, he carries a radio and sings along. She holds the lead. They do not feel the cold in their fingertips and toes. They did not grow up in the north, waiting for the bus at -30 degrees. They do not know the squeal of boot on snow when it is past midnight and the moon breathes down. They do not know the crunch of tires over ice. They do not yet know the way that winter settles into your mind.The quiet of it. The stillness.

2014, a year in preview

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My son will say something that dazzles me and reminds me of the beauty in the world.

I will come to the anniversaries of loss and wonder that you have been gone for 35 years, or 13 years, or five years, or less. You will come to me in my dreams and I will know you then as I once did.

My heart will turn black with envy, or worry, or shame, or anger. I will rage and rage and rage, until I remember our time here is short and then I will let it go.

Sometimes I will overeat and drink too much. Other times, I won’t.

In the dark night, I will worry over my health and promise to take better care of myself.

I will lie next to my child at night and he will tell me that there is no better mother in the world and I will believe him and know, as always, that this life we are living together is precious and should never be taken for granted.

Often, I will fear that I will lose you only to discover that you are not lost.