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, 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.”


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