Last guest of the month! Another Heroika author! Ladies and gentlemen, please welcome Joe Bonadonna!
Where do you live and write from?
I live and work where I was born and raised — Chicago, IL, USA.
Why do you write?
I’ve always been something of a natural-born fabricator and exaggerator of the truth — I’ve enjoyed telling tall tales ever since I was a kid. Starting as far back as I can remember I was a fairly voracious reader. I really have no memory of learning to read and write, of when and how that happened; it just seems as if I’ve always been able to do both. My Dad worked next door to a book bindery called Spinner Brothers, and was friends with the manager there. So Dad always brought home these wonderful books for me back in the late 1950s and early 1960s, many of them educational books for kids; they had no dust jackets, however; the books were shipped elsewhere for that. The only publisher I remember among the lot is Grosset and Dunlap. I am very fortunate that both my parents encouraged and supported me in anything I tried my hand at. They always believed in me. When I was a kid I’d always make up little plots and scenarios for my toy soldiers, give them names and dialogue. I’m an only child, never had an imaginary playmate, but my soldiers, cowboys, Indians, dinosaurs, knights, and other toy figurines served me just fine.
When did you start writing?
In 4th grade — 1962/1963. The first story I remember writing was inspired by an episode of Joseph Stefano’s original The Outer Limits television show. The episode is called “Nightmare,” and the next day I wrote a sequel about the alien Ebonites landing in and attacking my old Chicago neighborhood. Big mistake on their part. I also wrote a play in 6th grade called “The Return of the Greatest Monster Ever,” which was a sequel to Frankenstein Meets The Wolf Man. Unfortunately, no one in the neighborhood said, “Hey — my Dad has a barn. Let’s put on a play!” In freshman year of high school I wrote a sequel to the Ray Harryhausen special FX classic film Jason and The Argonauts, using various bits and pieces torn from the pages of Edith Hamilton’s Mythology — Timeless Tales of Gods and Heroes. I called this innocent attempt at screenwriting Jason and The Glass Impala. In every story I’ve thus far written and published, there is some type of “Harryhausen creature.” One of my publishers’, Airship 27 Productions, has a new anthology series called Sinbad: The New Adventures, which picks up where the Sinbad films left off. My one contribution, “Sinbad and The Golden Fleece,” is my homage to Ray Harryhausen. Hey, maybe I should try my luck with Hollywood again: I guess I have “writing sequels” in my blood, lol!
What genre(s) do you write?
I’ve written in 4 genres so far. My first book is epic/heroic fantasy, a picaresque novel titled Mad Shadows: The Weird Tales of Dorgo the Dowser. Then I wrote a space opera called Three Against The Stars. My third novel is a sword & sorcery pirate adventure, Waters of Darkness, which was co-written by veteran fantasy author David C. Smith. I’ve also written one horror story, Queen of Toads, which will be published in an upcoming anthology scheduled for next year. I am now writing my fourth story for author/creator Janet Morris’ Heroes in Hell series: this shared-universe series defies description because just about all genres can work within the confines and rules of Hell. Many people have called the series “Bangsian Fantasy,” a genre which concerns the use of famous literary or historical individuals and their interactions in the afterlife. It is named for John Kendrick Bangs who often wrote such stories. I try to create a sort of neo-Gothic horror/fantasy with the stories and characters I write about for the series.
What does your writing routine consist of?
I take a lot of notes while sitting in front of the television watching PBS shows like NOVA, or some mindless late-night talk show. I’m an early-morning writer, so I like to hit the keyboard at about 5 AM or earlier, and work until I’m exhausted. Huge amounts of coffee play an important role in the writing process, too. Sometimes in the evening I’ll proof and edit what I wrote that morning, or if I have a hard time getting started at the crack of dawn, I’ll proof, edit, and rewrite what I wrote the day before. I usually start with what Alfred Hitchcock called the McGuffin, or perhaps a character or two. Then I build from there: my stories are not about the McGuffin but about the people who come into its orbit. Why do they want it? To what lengths will they go to possess it? Will they beg, borrow, betray, lie, cheat, steal, or kill? What do they plan to do with it? Hide it, use it, sell it, give it away, or destroy it?
What do you feel are your strengths as a writer? How have you developed these qualities?
My characters and the dialogue I write for them. People tell me they like my characters, the way they “talk” and interact, and they like my sense of humor, too. I just try to create and develop stronger and more realistic characters. Over time I’ve learned that doing a little research into the lives of real people helps me with not only bringing more depth to my fictional characters, it also sparks more story ideas and plot twists. I find action and battle scenes difficult and boring to write: I prefer the “bat out of the hell” sudden burst of action, the sudden shot from out of the dark. I’ve witnessed quite a few fights in my time on this planet, and they were a far cry from a boxing match. I saw guys get jaws and noses broken with one punch, saw skulls cracked, leg bones snapped, and blood spurt faster than New York minute. So I try to hit the reader that way — hard and fast. Battles scenes are totally different, often requiring the use of military strategy and tactics, and a lot of research and preplanning “choreography” is called for before I start the actual writing. I’ve written only a few battle scenes, and have just completed a 40-K word siege of a city. I’m getting better at it, but I still have a ways to go.
Where do you find your inspiration? Do you put yourself in your stories?
Mythology, legend, folktales, history, and in the biographies of real people I find interesting. I try to read out of the genre in which I write, and I’ve found a lot of inspiration in the crime and mystery stories and novels of Raymond Chandler, Dashiell Hammett, Cornell Woolrich, Chester Himes, Mickey Spillane, James M. Cain, and many of the authors who wrote for Black Mask magazine back in the 1920s and 1930s. I watch a lot of PBS mysteries, especially the period pieces like G. K. Chesterton’s “Father Brown” mysteries, and I’m a huge Dorothy L. Sayers fan, too. I am also heavily inspired by the classic Warner Brothers Studios gangster films of the 1930s, and the film noir that followed in the 40s and 50s. Film directors like Alfred Hitchcock, Billy Wilder, John Ford, Raoul Walsh, and William Wellman are a big influence on me. Screenwriters like Charles Brackett, the great Leigh Brackett, Ben Hecht and Charles MacArthur, and Preston Sturges are among my heroes. In many of my stories I try to capture the flavor of the dialogue from a Howard Hawks’ film. I suppose a little bit of every writer goes into his or her characters. My character of Dorgo the Dowser is pretty much me: his tales, which I call gothic noir, are almost all written in first person, so his voice is my voice, his attitude is my attitude.
Outliner or improviser? Fast or slow writer?
I can be both an outliner and an improviser. As every writer knows, every story is different, and it depends on the story. Each story has its own needs and goals, and each story requires a different set of tools to design and build — which is what I call the outlining and the writing of a story. If the characters are really “talking to me” then I just hold on to my seat and write by the “skin of my fingers.” Sometimes, as in the case of many Dorgo the Dowser stories, which are often little puzzles or mysteries, I have to do a lot of outlining and plotting in advance, planting a few clues here and there along the way. I am a very slow writer, hardly prolific. I’d starve if I had to depend on writing for my bread and butter. Sometimes I feel like Jeff Goldblum’s character in the 1979 film version of Invasion of the Body Snatchers: he plays a writer who agonizes over each and every word, who will spend days searching for the perfect word. Not a very productive way to write, to say the least.
Tell us about your latest book
Well, my latest novella was recently published in the first volume of author Janet Morris’ new anthology series of heroic fantasy: Heroika: Dragon Eaters, published by Perseid Press. I’m proud to have my story included in this splendid volume with 16 amazingly talented writers, including Janet herself. These are heroic fantasy tales that span the ages, from the distant past to the distant future, with a couple of stories, like mine, taking place on alternate worlds. There is even a steampunk tale and one that takes place during the American Civil War. We’ve taken the dragon hunting and slaying to new heights, including recipes for cooking dragons. It’s a really fine volume of tales, and a lot of fun to read, if I say so myself. It’s been getting many excellent reviews.
My story, The Dragon’s Horde, is set 500 centuries after the last dragon was destroyed. It concerns a high priestess named Shadumé, who is sent on a mission by the goddess she serves to destroy the egg of a Queen Dragon before it can hatch and begin a new cycle of Dragon Wars. Shadumé is accompanied by two very unusual wolverines and her ex-lover, Vadreo, a descendant of the Dragon Eaters of old. He is one of the warriors who guard his people against the Draakonim, humanoid creatures bred by the last Dragon Queen to serve her and her spawn. The story asks the questions: Who came first, the dragon or the egg? And who laid this new egg of a Queen, if dragons have been extinct for 500 hundred-years? It’s a character-driven tale with what I hope are some unexpected twists and turns, and through it we learn the connection between Man, Dragon and Draakonim.
(Also, by the time this is posted on your website, Doctors in Hell, volume 18 in the Heroes in Hell series, should be published. It includes my story, Hell on a Technicality.)
Heroika: Dragon Eaters, is available worldwide in paperback, Kindle, and Nook editions. Here’s the link to Amazon: http://www.amazon.com/HEROIKA-DRAGON-EATERS-Janet-Morris-ebook/dp/B00VFVCQRS
Indie publishing or traditional publishing – and why?
My first book, Mad Shadows: The Weird Tales of Dorgo the Dowser, I self-published through iUniverse. Probably not the best choice in publishers for a book of heroic fantasy novellas, but 5 years ago I knew nothing about small press and DYI publishing. Since then, I’ve had the great fortune to write articles for Black Gate online magazine, and meet and connect so many authors and publishers. My Three Against The Stars was submitted to and published by Airship 27 Productions, and Waters of Darkness was published by Damnation Books. Authors Charles Saunders and Milton Davis asked me to contribute a story to their sword and soul anthology, Griots: Sisters of the Spear, and author Janet Morris asked me to write for her Heroes in Hell series, as well as her new venture, Heroika, of which Dragon Eaters is the first volume. At my age, I figured I’d forego the query letters to agents and traditional publishers, and just self-publish; all those letters and research into where and to whom to send them takes time, and I’d gone through all that back in the 1970s and 1980s. My original plan was to just publish one book, retire and go wander off somewhere. But self-publishing opened a lot of doors to me, and more doors are opening all the time. I’m having a ball. When the fun stops, then I’ll go take up golf or something.
Any other projects in the pipeline?
I’ve been toying with a sword and planet novel over the past few years, something along the lines of Edgar Rice Burroughs and Leigh Brackett, but with a more hip, 21st century attitude. I have two more Dorgo the Dowser novels in the works, and doing research for a weird western. I hope to continue writing for Janet Morris’ Heroes in Hell series because it’s challenging, rewarding, makes me “up my game,” and is so much fun. My latest story for Janet is “Hell on a Technicality,” and it appears in Doctors in Hell, which I believe is volume 18 in the long-running series, published by her Perseid Press.
What is your goal as a writer and what are you doing to achieve it?
To get published, to get people to reading my stories, of course, and hopefully hear back from them that they enjoyed what I wrote. One thing I work at is writing for the heart, not for the head. I don’t feel that I have any special wisdom or insight, or anything of grave importance to say, and I don’t want to make people think about anything in particular — they will form their own thoughts and ideas while reading my stories. I just want to entertain and, above all, I want to make people feel something. I think there is some warm and comforting aspect about my stories, no matter the plot or setting. Someone told me that reading my stories is like reconnecting with a long-lost friend. That makes me smile. I want to touch emotions, make people laugh and cry.
What is the best piece of writing advice you’ve ever been given?
Write what you feel, what you love, of course. Explore human emotions, relationships, and the way people interact. Remember: dialogue is action, and it can move the story forward, conveying information that, if given as exposition, can all too often be dull and boring. Show, don’t tell: action speaks louder than words. In screenwriting, you can’t write what can’t be filmed, like thoughts and emotions: you have to show what characters are thinking and feeling through something they do, how they react to a situation. Anger? Have them throw something at the wall. Nervous? Have them light a cigarette or pour a drink. Happy? Have them dance around a room. Very simple, really. I also suggest that you read outside the genre in which you write: don’t limit yourself to just horror or fantasy — read romance, history, mythology, mysteries, WWII thrillers . . . read a little bit of everything. Write and revise, and don’t be afraid to cut the fat. And a good editor can make all the difference between a so-so story and a very good or even great one.
Thank you very much for featuring me on Creative Barbwire!
Mad Shadows: The Weird Tales of Dorgo the Dowser — Heroic Fantasy. http://www.amazon.com/Mad-Shadows-Weird-Tales-Dowser/dp/1450276156
Three Against The Stars — Space Opera.
Waters of Darkness, (co-written with David C. Smith) — Swords and Sorcery.
ANTHOLOGIES IN WHICH I HAVE STORIES:
Azieran Presents: Artifacts and Relics — Extreme Sword and Sorcery. Sword and Sorcery tales, created by Christopher Heath. Published by Heathen Oracle. Featuring “The Book of Echoes,” by Joe Bonadonna.
Griots: Sisters of the Spear. Sword and Soul Heroic Fantasy. Created by Milton Davis and Charles Saunders. Published by MVmedia. Featuring “The Blood of the Lion,” by Joe Bonadonna.
Poets in Hell — Bangsian Fantasy, Volume 17 in the Heroes in Hell series, created by Janet Morris. Published by Perseid Press. Featuring “Undertaker’s Holiday,” by Joe Bonadonna and Shebat Legion, and “We the Furious,” by Joe Bonadonna.
Sinbad: The New Voyages, Volume 3 — Heroic Fantasy anthology, created by Ron Fortier, published by Airship 27 Productions. Featuring “Sinbad and the Golden Fleece,” by Joe Bonadonna.
Heroika: Dragon Eaters — Heroic Fantasy anthology, created by Janet Morris. Published by Perseid Press. Featuring “The Dragon’s Horde,” by Joe Bonadonna.
Doctors in Hell, volume 18 in the Heroes in Hell series, created by Janet Morris. Published by Perseid Press. Featuring “Hell on a Technicality,” by Joe Bonadonna.
BOOKS I HAVE EDITED:
Hello, My Name is Max and I Have Autism, by Max Miller. Published by Authorhouse. Essays and artwork written and drawn by 13 year-old Max Miller, edited by Joe Bonadonna.
COMING SOON:Being Max’s Mom, by Rebecca Miller. Edited by Joe Bonadonna.
Her story of raising her autistic son, Max, and the battles she fought with schools and doctors and government bureaucracy in order to give him the best of care and teach him to cope with the world.
LINKS TO MY BOOKS’ VIDEO TRAILERS:
THREE AGAINST THE STARS