I was excited to get an early copy of Bobbie's newest book. I'd read (and loved) her previous novels for middle-grade readers. But THE DOGS OF WINTER was snow-filled. This one's full of Florida sunshine. I have so many questions!
Welcome, Bobbie. Since you're up the road a piece from me for another day or so, let's have a glass of sweet tea and chat a while.
Augusta: What are you doing down here anyhow? Other than escaping to Florida in the middle of the winter like a lot of us.
This is an artist-in-residence program called Escape ToCreate in Seaside, Florida. The purpose of the residency is to provide artists of all types a month of space and time to create, uninterrupted. They only take a few artists (6-9) each session. They provide you with a place to live and work (usually a lovely little cottage within an easy walk to everything, including the beach) and explore your craft. It’s all kinds of artists—film makers, composers, visual artists, musicians—not just writers. During your residency, you do a couple of projects to give back to the Seaside community. It’s just an amazing opportunity!
Augusta: A perfect spot to write from!
What made you choose Florida as a setting for LUCKY STRIKE? And how did you capture the feeling of a sleepy little Florida town when you live in anything but?
Place is really important to me when I write a book or am planning a book, and usually the muse (at the risk of sounding all woo-woo) will tell me where the story wants to take place. I’d just finished writing THE DOGS OF WINTER and sent it off to my agent when I decided to get down to work on this book I’d been thinking about for a while—the book that would become LUCKY STRIKE. THE DOGS OF WINTER was set in Russia. In my mind, I’d been “living” for months in this cold, intense place. It was such a joy to be able to live in Florida, at least in my imagination!
It was actually quite easy for me to write about a sleepy little fishing town on the Gulf coast of Florida because that’s where I grew up! I lived mostly in the panhandle of Florida on the Gulf of Mexico in what were then small fishing towns. I know what it’s like for people to make their living from the sea and be dependent on the vagaries of nature, boom and bust cycles, and the re-routing of the interstate. I remember so well living in a little town like Paradise Beach where everybody knows everybody else’s business, where all politics are local, and during hard times folks put aside their differences and help each other out. This book is, in many ways, my personal “love letter” to all the things I loved about growing up in the panhandle: the quirky people, the fish fries and shrimp boat races, the nature all around and the magic of the sea.
Augusta: And the book is just that- a love letter. Speaking of your loves, you always manage to work a dog into your books. I love Mayor Barney!
Bobbie: Ha, you’re right! I do always manage to work a dog or two into my books, even if it’s not technically a “dog book” like A DOG’S WAY HOME and THE DOGS OF WINTER. I love dogs so much and they are such a part of me, my life would feel empty without at least one, and so would a book I’m writing. Dogs ground me in a way humans can’t. When I was writing LUCKY STRIKE and dealing with all the complex humans and their relationships, I could almost feel that old black lab, Barney, watching with patience and doggy amusement from the sidelines. And I will tell you that having an animal as mayor of a small town is not unheard of. When my parents lived in Ramona, California the mayor was a llama and his name was (brace yourself) Tony. I’m not kidding!
I have two dogs now, a Shetland Sheepdog named Sherlock and a coyote mix named Boo, and two cats, Mittens and Kami. All are rescues. I also do a lot of volunteer work with a couple of different animal rescue organizations in Park City and Salt Lake City.
Augusta: Aha! I detect a llama in a future story.
I love the voice of this novel. It has such a storytelling quality. I can just hear it being read out loud. How did you decide to use this omniscient narrator?
Again, at the risk of sounding obnoxiously elusive, I don’t consciously decide these things--it’s the way the voice of the story comes to me. That said, sometimes I try to go a different direction, but I always end up going back to what the story wants. For instance, when I first started writing A DOG’S WAY HOME, the voice of the story was actually two voices: the girl, Abby and the dog, Tam. The girl’s voice was in first person and the dog’s was in what I call intimate third person (or dog). After I wrote a couple of chapters, I thought it would be more acceptable (to whom, I don’t know!) to write them in consistent POVs, so I changed Abby’s to third person. Well, that just didn’t work for me at all so I went back to doing it the way the story first came to me in two different POVs.
Augusta: Sadly, I think a lot of writers have had that experience of changing tenses and voices, but I'm not naming names.
What's your writing process? Does it change with each of your books?
To some extent, the process is a little bit different for each book, but certain things remain constant. I always think about an idea for a long time before I work on it. Sometimes I’m writing one thing while another is percolating in my mind. It makes me a little difficult to live with I suspect. I used to think for me characters came first but I’m realizing usually it’s the basic plot or idea that comes first. And the idea can be sparked by so many different things: something I see or overhear someone say; something I’ve read, or even as a response to what everybody’s reading.
I never outline before I write a first draft, and I try not to edit much as I go along. Generally, I don’t show my first draft to anyone while I’m writing it unless it’s a shorter something like a picture book or short nonfiction or short story.
I think the thing I’ve learned after writing a number of books is that I don’t have a set “process” and that’s perfectly okay!
Anything else that strikes your fancy you'd like to share? No pun intended.
I often get asked by kids if this or that book of mine is based on something that really happened to me (“Did you lose your dog?”) or if the main character is really me. Of course as you know, bits of us filter through into all of what we write. That said, LUCKY STRIKE is probably the closest to me and my childhood of any of my books. There’s a lot of me—past and present—in Nate Harlow and a little bit of me in Gen. I did feel unusually unlucky as a child, I did watch shrimp boat races, I did have a beagle who was carried away in his dog house by a tornado (thankfully found unharmed two blocks away), and I did collect single, abandoned shoes. Oh, and I still love to play Goofy Golf!
Thank you for these great answers, Bobbie. It was such fun chatting.
LUCKY STRIKE debuts on February 28, in bookstores everywhere! The reviews are fabulous (see those two bright and shiny stars up there on the book?), and I agree --the story will delight young readers. Don't miss this one.