A few months back I was asked read Canadian writer Bonnie Grove’s debut novel, Talking To the Dead. The evocative title and its beckoning cover convinced me to say yes. I am so glad I did. I was blown away by Bonnie’s stellar yet subtle storytelling. She paints a stunning, picture of a grieving, betrayed widow whose sorrow leads her to imagine she hears the voice of her dead husband.. And never fear. It’s not creepy. It’s tender, raw and completely believable, and Bonnie’s writing style draws you in from the first line.I asked Bonnie to stop by the Edge today to talk about her new book. And I have a copy to give away. If you post a comment, you are in the drawing to win it. I’d post a comment if I were you!
Edgewise: Where did the idea for Talking to the Dead come from?
Bonnie: My inspiration for Talking to the Dead is difficult to nail down. The novel came in bits and pieces – I’d love to say I was so smart and savvy I had it all planned out, but that’s simply not what happened. In part, the story came out of my experiences as a counselor, sitting with people who were attempting to articulate their pain and distress. It occurred to me that many of the things these people were doing (the behaviors I saw) were often an attempt to accomplish something very different that what they were doing – in other words, behavior didn’t match intentions. It caused me to truly see why Jesus commanded us not to judge others. We simply don’t know what’s going on under the surface.
The second inspiration for the novel came from watching how God was always present in the messy lives of these people who were hurting. He mingles with our humanity. And that is the story I wanted to tell; God in the midst of our messy lives.
Edgewise: Kate’s pain, grief and sense of betrayal seem real, which is of course your novel’s main strength – among many! How did you tap into that kind of emotional nightmare?
Bonnie: Thank you, Susan. I drew from different sources – those of the people I’ve counseled (not their actual experiences, of course, but their descriptions of grief, loss, etc). It has been a privilege to sit with these people in the midst of their pain. Also, I’ve lived a fairly messy life myself. I didn’t mean to – but I’ve experienced some significant losses and betrayals in my time, and I’ve discovered the costly grace of God is there, always, chasing me down and drawing me closer to the One who knows me.
But, before you picture me sobbing at my keyboard, reliving the pain of my past, let me say it wasn’t like that. I don’t believe God called me to write in order to rip open old wounds – rather, I believe that God has allowed me to write in order to bring healing, hope, and humor.
Bonnie: Grief is a shifting thing. It doesn’t come all at once. This is a good thing; if it did it would crush us. And over time, our grief changes. I dislike sayings such as “In time you’ll get over it,” or “you need to get on with your life.” What I prefer is to speak of grief in ways that accept the “new normal” of loss. And I often speak to people about asking God to come into the center of grief and bear it with us. There is a scene in Talking to the Dead that communicates that sentiment (I won’t give it away!), the idea that God weeps with those who weep.
I was also reminded that God truly is healer – it just may not look like the kind of healing we would expect.
Edgewise: Did Kate ever surprise you? Did the storyline progress like you originally planned?
Bonnie: Kate surprised me often in small and big ways. Once, as I was writing a scene between her and another character (Maggie), I was picturing the scene in my head and Kate turned to me and said, “This is boring.” She was absolutely correct. It was boring! I asked her what she’d rather do instead, and was stunned by what she decided. Her version of the scene made the book – mine went into the dustbin!
As I wrote, I thought I was certain what Kate’s main issues were, but one day, as I was writing Kate sat down and had a talk with me. She had a secret – and now that the book was nearly done, she was ready to share it with me. I can’t tell you what that secret was – I don’t want to spoil the book for you! – but it changed the book a great deal.
Edgewise: Why do you think a story like this needs to be told?
Bonnie: It’s good to be reminded of some of the reasons why God tells us not to judge people. We simply don’t know what’s really going on within them – we can’t tell by looking. That’s one reason for a story like this.
But the main reason I think it needs to be told is because God is real, and He loves us. All of us, without exception. It isn’t about being ‘good enough’ or ‘worthy’. It’s ‘just cuz’ love – that kind that never changes, never dims, never pulls the rug out from under us. God isn’t waiting for us to say the correct words in the right order, or to organize our lives in tidy compartments. He’s just waiting for us to look toward Him and ask, “Who are you?”
Edgewise: What’s next on the horizon for you?
Bonnie: I’m finishing work on another novel. No title yet – I’ve been affectionately referring to it as Gabby Wells, the Musical! It’s all the drama, fun, and intrigue of a musical without the singing. Or dancing. Or music. The kernel of the idea came from a question I asked myself; what would it look like to follow Jesus no matter what? So my protagonist, Gabby Wells, has been thrust into a daunting situation to find out. It will be out (with a title!) next June. And the pot is stirring for another book that will explore the themes of good and evil, love and obsession.
Thanks so much, Susan, for having me on your blog. I’ve enjoyed it!
Edgewise: Thanks for stopping by!
Here’s the link to Bonnie’s very cool website where you can find a video trailer for Talking To The Dead. And please let me hear from you by noon Friday if you’d like to win the book, ‘cause I am heading out of town and the Edge is going quiet next week.
See you Friday.