Jana Bommersbach interview with David Alan Binder
Post date: Jun 11, 2016 7:37:01 PM
Jana Bommersbach interview with David Alan Binder
Her bio from her website: Jana Bommersbach is an acclaimed and respected journalist whose work has encompassed every facet of the profession: she’s been a reporter and editor for both weekly and daily newspapers; she’s written books and is a major contributor to an anthology; she’s written columns and investigative stories for magazines; she’s appeared on television with both political commentaries and investigative stories.
1. How do you pronounce your name (only answer if appropriate)?
Jan-a Bomm-ers-bach. phonetic
2. Where are you currently living?
3. What is the most important thing that you have learned in your writing experience, so far?
Writing is simply storytelling written down. Too many people see writing as a daunting, painful task, and miss the joy of putting into words scenes and emotions. I teach creative writing at Phoenix College and tell my students to always remember, “all you're doing is telling a story—telling it in the most interesting and compelling way you can.”
4. What would you say is your most interesting writing, publishing, editing or illustrating quirk?
I love taking very complex scenarios and working through them. When I was writing as an investigative reporter (for decades in Arizona) I delighted in taking the most complicated issue possible and making it clear to readers. I like intrigue. I like twists and turns. I put a lot of them in my fiction writing, but I learned that when I was writing as a journalist.
5. Tell us your insights on self-publish or use a publisher?
I have always used a publisher and have no experience with self-publishing.
a. Who is the name of your publisher and in what city are they?
Over my career, I've had several publishers. Simon & Schuster in New York published my initial book, the 1992 non-fiction expose, “The Trunk Murderess: Winnie Ruth Judd.” St. Martin's Press in New York published my second non-fiction book, “Bones in the Desert,” in 2008. Five Star Publications in Chandler, Arizona, published my first children's book, “A Squirrel's Story—a True Tale,” in 2013, which happily I've just recorded for Arizona Talking Books!! My first historical novel, “Cattle Kate” was published in 2014 by Poisoned Pen Press in Scottsdale, Arizona, which also is publishing my fiction series that began in 2016 with “Funeral Hotdish,” introducing a kick-ass female investigative reporter in Phoenix named Joya Bonner—she's originally from North Dakota which also shares a spot in these books. My second Joya Bonner book is being written this summer. Also in 2016, the German publisher, Droemer in Berlin, published my last non-fiction book about an innocent woman who spent 24 years on death row-- “A Stolen Life, the story of Debra Milke.” I'm still awaiting an American publisher for this heart-wrenching story.
6. Any insights eBooks vs. print books and alternative vs. conventional publishing?
7. Do you have any secret tips for writers on getting a book published?
It certainly helps to have an agent for the big publishing houses. Regional houses, however, don't demand that and for them, your “book proposal” is key. It should start with one page of the most fabulous writing you can muster to outline your story. Then I do a chapter-by-chapter outline, a paragraph for each, to show the movement of the story. Your bio and any special ingredients come next. And then I include one complete chapter.
8. How did you or would you suggest acquire an agent? Any tips for new writers on getting one?
This is as much a mystery to me as to everyone. Don't have any good advice. Except, if there's a book you like that is similar to yours, look for the “thank you” to the agent and try that person.
9. Do you have any suggestions or helps for new writers (please be specific and informational as possible)?
Read your work out loud! The best reads are those that read like we speak, so if you can't read your story and have listeners following along, there's something wrong with your writing. Respect the simple sentence—it's the bedrock of our language and too many writers think they have to gussy it up to make it work, but instead they sound pretentious and like they're “padding” the story. The words “that” and “just” and “very” are the three most irrelevant words in the language. Delete them from every sentence. Remember that we need to SHOW readers what we want them to know, not TELL them. Showing demands description and clear thinking, telling is just telling. And Point No. 2: research. Some people think they can just go to their “good brains” and get anything they need, but a real writer isn't that delusional. If you're writing about an issue, learn all you can about it to help shape your narrative. You don't want to copy someone else's work, but their work can help you develop your approach to the subject. I do enormous research for whatever I'm writing. Some of it will never show up in my books, but it will give me the confidence to know I'm writing from knowledge, and not from ignorance or ego.
10. What was one of the most surprising things you learned your creative process with your books, editing, publishing or illustrating?
How much fun writing can be! There's a moment when you've written a truly honest sentence that your heart stops a second and you smile. I often throw up my hands in triumph. In my latest book, “Funeral Hotdish” I'm writing about a small town in North Dakota, trying to get at its heart and soul so people who've never experienced a small town can appreciate its specialness. The honest sentence I wrote was this: “It was a town where nobody knew your address but everyone knew where you lived.”
11. How many books have you written?
[By my count 7 - DABinder] I've detailed them above.
12. Do you have any tricks or tips to help others become a better writer (please be as specific and information as you possibly can)?
This is an exercise I use with my creative writing students at Phoenix College. Choose a picture—any picture; one of your favorites or something interesting you find in a magazine. Write a 2-page feature about what you see. Try to make a “verbal picture.” If you're in a writing group, have everyone in the group write their own version. You're going to be astonished at how many different angles there will be. None will be alike. It's a great exercise to expand your writing horizons to see there are many ways to look at a story.
13. Do you have any suggestions for providing twists in a good story?
Keep the narrative moving; keep people guessing what's coming; and end each chapter with a cliff-hanger.
14. What makes your or any book stand out from the crowd?
Even my non-fiction books read like novels, for I am always aware I'm telling you a story. Now, if I get to educate you along the way; get to touch a part of your heart; get to enlighten you about a problem or an issue; get to inspire you—that's great. But if I try to pontificate or preach to you, I've lost you. Stories should mean something. There's a reason you're reading these books. But spoon out your real reasons as you tell the story, don't plow people down with a fire hose.
15. What are some ways in which you promote your work? I appear at libraries and book stores, I write op-ed pieces about the theme of my books, I post a lot of pictures and moments on Facebook. I've found that online blogs like this are very helpful in introducing new people to my writing, and I so appreciate it when they find me, as bloggers are truly intent on finding good books and promoting them!
16. What is the one thing you would do differently now (concerning writing or editing or publishing or illustrating) and why?
Not a thing. I could say I'd have started writing fiction earlier, since it's so much fun, but I don't think my fiction would be as good if I hadn't spent so many decades as a reporter and then investigative journalist. It's those real traits that I bring to my fiction and I think that's why people find my books interesting.
17. What saying or mantra do you live by?
Get as close to the truth as you can. That was my mantra as a journalist and remains on the top of my list now that I'm writing fiction. My next book is about an emerging social problem that is plaguing the nation and to research it, I put myself in the middle of that issue with experts and street-wise folks to “experience” what was happening. I'm hoping that will make the book very real and very honest.
I want to add this. Writing is a singular activity. Even if you're doing it journalistically, after all the interviews and the fact gathering, it's you and the keyboard. So do yourself a favor and realize you're not going to write this book quickly or in the next few days. It's going to take some time. But you can't JUST write the book—you've got to live, too. So most writers make sure they devote part of each day to fun, family and frolic. Maybe a martini or two. Give yourself a specific time of day when you're devoted to writing—mine is 5 a.m. until late morning—and then knock off for the rest of the day to do life. You'll find your mind is still working through issues in your writing—like a computer on “search”--and you'll rejoin your writing the next day with fresh ideas.
Thank you, David, for giving me this opportunity!! Jana
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