Author Bio: B.L. Sauder (from the author’s website)
Bonita (Bonnie) Lynn Sauder was born in the northern city of Grande Prairie, Alberta in 1961. In 1979, Bonita moved to Edmonton to attend college and later University of Alberta where she completed her Bachelor of Education majoring in English Literature. After longing to live in China, she was convinced by a friend to move to Hong Kong where she spent several wonderful years. It was in Hong Kong where she met her husband and after moving to Singapore for a year, they decided that Cape Town, South Africa was the place they wanted to be. Bonita’s two sons were born in the Cape and she completed her Master of Education in Language and Literature. In 2000, family and friends in Vancouver beckoned Bonita and her young children back to Canadian soil where they lived until 2005. During this time, Bonita wrote “Year of the Golden Dragon”, the first book in what she calls her “Journey to the East” trilogy. While she was searching for a publisher, Bonita and her husband were once again drawn back to Asia, this time to live in Bangkok. After several years, her family has returned to Canada along with their two ‘fu dogs’.
I met author B.L. Sauder during this year’s SCBWI Summer Conference. We immediately connected. Along with other writers Lissa Price, Melanie Abed, Kristen Kittscher and Sophia Chang, we bonded over food and stories and formed the Secret Asian Club, the premise being we all had a secret (or in mine, Sophia’s and Lissa’s case not so secret) Asian in us. We all spent the three conference days, attending panels, sessions and workshops together.
Although Bonnie and I had only spent three days together, we felt like we’d known each other for years. She was one of the reasons the SCBWI Summer Conference was fun and memorable for me.
Here’s an interview with author and friend B.L. Sauder.
1. What were your favorite books growing up?
I always liked fables, folktales, rhyming verse then abridged versions of the classics ranging from “Lorna Doone” and “Robinson Crusoe” to “Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde”. Later I got into work that was less western such as “Siddhartha”, “The Far Pavilions”, “Lost Horizon” and “Cry, the Beloved Country”.
2. When did you know you were going to be a writer? What prompted you to take your writing seriously?
I’ve always enjoyed writing but I never thought of pursuing it as a career. It wasn’t until I started writing “Year of the Golden Dragon” and learning more about the ‘writing life’ that I realized it might be a good option for me. I went to the ‘Writers & Readers Festival in Vancouver in 2001 and sat with writers, teachers and children to listen to a series of author presentations put on by well known authors. It really inspired me to take my writing to another level.
3. What inspired you to write “Year of the Golden Dragon”?
My husband is an ABC (American born Chinese) and long, long before I met him I was interested in everything Chinese: the people, country, language, art, furniture, literature, poetry and of course the food. By the time we had children, my husband and I had moved from Singapore to South Africa. Since I am an English teacher and lover of books, I searched everywhere for books with Chinese characters to read to my sons. It was tough. Even when we went to the US and Canada, I found several beautiful books such as Ed Young’s artistic rendition of “The Monkey King” and Amy Tan’s “The Moon Lady” but I wanted a modern day quest story with a sprinkle of fantasy and a Chinese twist. I couldn’t find anything like that, so I wrote my own.
4. Which character in “Year of the Golden Dragon” did you enjoy writing the most and why?
I enjoyed writing Chen Hong Mei, my 16-year-old protagonist. There are many Chinese women in history who have been known for their beauty, intelligence, leadership or bravery. I wanted Hong Mei to have it all—without realizing it.
5. What compelled you to live in China? What is it about the East that continues to draw you?
I don’t know if there is one really good answer for this. I just know that for as long as I can remember from when I was about 3 or 4, I’ve had a thing for all things Chinese. It really hit me when I first began travelling and landed in Beijing on the Trans-Siberian from Moscow. As soon as I crossed into China, I felt different than I had in any other country. I know it sounds weird, but it felt as if I was coming home. This was in 1991 and the course of my life completely changed. I NEEDED to figure out how to spend more time there. When I returned to Canada I decided that I would go to university and study to become a teacher (which I knew I’d enjoy) and also study Mandarin. And that’s how it began. Eventually, I returned to study in China, but only for a few months. I decided that Hong Kong would be easier place to live and work and I could travel to China when I wanted. And that’s what I did. I was very, very happy living in Hong Kong and traveling in China and around the rest of Asia. Don’t get me wrong. I love Canada as my homeland…but I also feel quite at home in many parts of Asia, but mostly Hong Kong and China.
B.L. Sauder at her book launch at Neilson Hays
6. How long did you work on your book? How many rewrites did you do before you finally felt it was ready?
I worked on my book on and off for about five years. This includes the time I wrote fairly steadily while my children were at school and it also takes into account the weeks and months I didn’t write due to school vacations or when I just didn’t have the time due to family commitments. Rewrites? Who knows? I’m one of those people that constantly tweak as I write so it takes me forever to finish the so-called first draft.
7. Tell us about your path to publication.
My path to publication was not as bad as some but probably not as good as others. First, I knew nothing about the publishing aspect of writing. Everything I learned was from conferences, the internet and books taken out of the library. I followed advice that I thought sounded reasonable which was to research as many publishers first before sending queries. In Canada, it is not common to have an agent when you are first starting out or an editor, I don’t think. I’m not sure. I don’t have an agent and a friend of mine was taking an editing course so she edited the first complete draft of ‘Golden Dragon’. Once I had followed some of her suggestions and made a few changes, I started sending out queries—perhaps to about a dozen publishers in the US, Canada and the UK. I was asked to submit full manuscripts to one in the UK, and two in Canada. Each of publisher had ‘Golden Dragon’ at different times, so the process took quite awhile. Finally, after being rejected by the UK and one of the Canadian houses, I received an email from a publisher saying they were interested in “Year of the Golden Dragon”, but they wanted to know more about me. Was I Chinese? Once I explained my background and experiences, they said they would publish my book. And that’s how I got my publisher, Coteau Books in Regina, Saskatchewan to take me on.
8. How has your life changed since you got published?
My life has not changed too much since being published, except that people take me more seriously now. Before, if someone found out I was writing a book they might say something like, “Oh, that’s interesting. I’ve always wanted to write a book too!” Then, they would move onto the next topic.
9. What genre do you love to write (fantasy, historical fiction, romance, etc) Why?
I love to write many kinds of things: short stories, rhyming verse, adventure, fantasy. I guess the things I am writing.
10. Do you write outlines for your stories, or do you just follow wherever the story leads?
I know I should say that I write outlines because that is what I teach students. However, the truth is, that I get an overall idea of the story and then just sit down and see where it leads me. I do, however, have to go back fairly often to make sure everything is fitting together.
B.L. Sauder at her book launch at Neilson Hays
11. What’s your typical day as a writer like? Do you have any writing-related rituals or quirks?
If I am really into writing, a typical day begins with me dropping off my kids at school, taking the dogs for a quick walk and then eating a bit of breakfast. Then I sit down and write until I feel myself getting stiff—maybe three or four hours. I take a short break, eat something and make some tea and sit down again until I either have to pick up my children or they come home. I never write in the evening or on weekends. That’s when I try to catch up on things around the house—cooking, doing laundry, answering emails etc. Quirks? None that I know of.
12. Do you encounter challenges in your writing life? What are these challenges and how do you overcome them?
Yes, my challenges are that I spread my time too thin. I would like to sit down four or five days a week and write. The reality is that between my family, nomadic lifestyle and community service, I have not been very successful at managing my writing time. I’d like to say I’ve tried to overcome this challenge by sticking to a schedule. It works—sometimes.
13. Are you currently working on any other projects?
Yes. I’m trying to finish the follow-up to “Year of the Golden Dragon” and am also writing to local and international schools about doing author readings during 2012 which is the Year of the Dragon!
14.What advice would you like to give to aspiring writers?
I would say that if you want to write, sit down and WRITE! You do not have to be ‘talented’ or ‘gifted’. You must be dedicated to being the best writer you can be and that takes practice.
15.What would you like to say to your young readers? Is there any advice that you would like to give them?
Read everything you can in whatever way you can get it—books from the library or bookstores—use an e-reader—listen to audio books on a road trip or before you go to sleep–pick up magazines, brochures, newspapers, newsletters, the encyclopedia, travel journals, handouts—anything. Just read. It’ll give you a constant supply of ideas and help you to learn more about the world you live in. And the best thing? Being a good reader makes you a better writer. After all, who ever heard of a writer who didn’t love reading?
Be sure to come back for Friday’s Spotlight Week Giveaway!
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