Member Spotlight: Bonnie J. Doerr
When her short story, Kenzie’s Key, was published in 2003 by Milkweed in the anthology
Stories from Where We Live — The Gulf Coast, Bonnie Doerr was understandably
excited about seeing her work in print, but she thought there was more to the story that
had to be told. That is what led her to write her first novel, Island Sting, published in
2010. An ecological mystery aimed at young adult (middle school) readers, Island Sting
went on to win the 2011 National Children’s EBook Award, EPIC. That was followed by
Stake Out, a 2012 finalist for the National Green Earth Book Award. The last book in her
series, Tangled Lines, is scheduled for publication this summer (2016).
A former teacher, who had lived in many states before settling into her current log cabin
home in North Carolina, Bonnie spent more than seven years on the Florida Keys, the
setting of her novels. Each book revolves around an endangered species in trouble not
just from the environment, but also from humans. The mantra of the trilogy is “Rescue,
Rehab and Release.”
Although she is writing fiction, Bonnie says her story lines are based on reality. Often
events in the news become her inspiration. She has spent approximately two years
researching each of the books, visiting wildlife settings, observing and interviewing
members of the featured conservation organizations. Island Sting highlighted the
National Key Deer Refuge. Stake Out championed the Sea Turtle Hospital in Marathon,
Florida. And Tangled Lines, which focuses on Pelicans, involves the Key West Wildlife
Bonnie claims creating the characters is the most fun. She enjoys developing their
relationships overtime. The main characters in this trilogy are Kenzie Ryan, a fearless,
activist girl, recently transplanted from New York City, and her new friend, Angelo, a
Cuban boy, at home on the Florida Keys. One of her favorite characters, Ana, wasn’t
initially part of the story arc. “She seemed to appear fully developed as a character,”
says Bonnie, “as she wheeled out onto her balcony in book two.” Ana, who has spina
bifida, rides a beach wheel chair and fully engages in the adventure.
Rather than creating a detailed outline, Bonnie works more with a timeline and chapter
notes as she writes. Since these are mysteries, she must have the final outcome in mind
from the start. For her characters and the readers to solve the mysteries, Bonnie must
consider where to place the clues and continually watch for plot holes. To insure
credibility and continuity, she researches history, geography and culture. She also creates
backstories for all the main figure, heroes and villains, alike.
Her road to becoming a published author took quite a few twists, turns and delays before
reaching its destination. She credits “patience and persistence” for bringing her to this
point. Everyone has his or her own style, Bonnie acknowledges, so she hesitates to offer
advice. She does recommend getting out and meeting other writers and publishers.
Conferences at which publishers are present are a good start, she says. Some publishers
will accept cold manuscripts from conference attendees. Most importantly, however, she
cautions writers to “write for yourself because you enjoy it. Never write only for the
In addition to the novels, Bonnie has developed a board game, Endangers Lives, A Game
of Survival, which she often uses when visiting classrooms. Her website,
www.BonnieDoerrBooks.com also contains education tools and links to ecology sites that
allow teachers and her readers to more fully engage in the underlying theme and concerns
of the books.
Bonnie Doerr has been a member of the Winston Salem Writers for about seven year.
What she especially enjoys about the organization is “associating with gifted people who
enrich our community.”