Seattle’s ‘Bear’ author on kids and writing
Courtesy of Bonny Becker
Bonny Becker lived quite a full life before pursuing her dream of becoming a published author, working as a hotel maid, fruit picker, typist, photographer, journalist, editor and corporate communications manager. She earned two degrees, one in psychology and another in English/creative writing. Becker didn't turn to writing until she had two young girls of her own.
Today she has 13 published books to her credit. After falling in love with Becker's Bear and Mouse series, which begins with A Visitor for Bear and includes the most recent A Library Book for Bear, we talked with Becker at her house in Seattle to learn more about her writing process and experience as a mom.
How did your writing career come about?
I didn't get my first book published until I was 44. I had always wanted to write novels. In my late thirties I had kids. I was reading them picture books, and I did the classic "I can do that," not realizing just how hard children's books are. But I fell in love with the form, and that got me into writing.
Can you describe your writing routine?
I have a really bad writing routine. I go in spurts. I work every day, but actual writing I may only work on a couple times a week. I know that's heresy. I fought it for years, trying to tell myself to write every day, but I finally gave up and recognized how I work.
What are some of the things you do to keep your writing going?
When I first started writing I had kids at home, and I had very little time for writing. I had to figure out space somewhere. Over time, you can get something done with 15 minutes a day. Lots of times I wrote on the weekend, and I took personal vacation time to write, instead of going on a trip. There were long periods of time where I didn't write because life, especially family life, has no predictability to it.
What advice would you give to anyone trying to summon the courage to pursue the dream of becoming an author?
I think the number one thing is you just have to plunge in. You have to sit down and write. Get those words down on paper, and don't worry about how crummy it is. A blank page is nothing to work with. A page full of bad writing is a starting point.
What are some of the parenting lessons you've learned?
I've learned that most of what kids go through is a stage. Miraculously, they all end up pretty civilized by 6. A more important realization than that was to enjoy my kids. As maddening as it could get sometimes, and as worried as I could get, I tried to just plain enjoy how delightful they are.
Are there any self-care techniques that you've learned to help you stay sane as a parent?
I needed time to myself where I wasn't responding to anybody else's needs or demands. This is especially important if you're trying to be a writer, but it's true for everybody. I know it's really difficult because the days are really hard and so busy, but do something just to get that time for yourself, even if it isn't every day.
What are you reading right now?
I'm reading The Ocean at the End of the Lane. I've read it before, but I'm re-reading it. And I read The Goldfinch and The Boys in the Boat, and I'm reading something by Michael Gruber called The Good Son. I've just started that.
What picture books would you recommend?
It's almost impossible to narrow it down to a few. On any given day, this list could change:
Once Upon a Memory by Nina Laden
Journey by Aaron Becker
Millions of Cats by Wanda Gág
Two Bunny Buddies by Kathryn Galbraith
Odd Duck by Cecil Castellucci
The Last Puppy by Frank Asch
Do you have any more advice for aspiring writers?
I think every writer needs someone to bounce their writing off of. It's either going to be a critique group or for some writers it just might be their spouse. I think for Stephen King, his wife is his primary reader. For some writers it's their editor. But there's somebody else who has to see it and react to it because you just don't know what you've written. They are just enormously helpful. I'm in two groups and both groups meet once a month. And they are all published professional serious writers and are just critical for me. I will do a piece and think that I've just nailed it and can't imagine that they'll have something to say about it and they always do and it's always something good, something that's meaningful for me to hear.
How have your life experiences informed your writing?
In lots of funny ways my life has shown up in my stories. My first book that I sold was called A Quiet Way Home about a dad and daughter who listen to the quiet sounds on the way home. That came out of being a mom working out of my home. I was so busy and so harassed. Taking my kids for walks, all I wanted was some peace and quiet and of course they wanted the noisy way home. Another one of my books is called An Ants Day Off. It's about the first ant in history to take a day off. It came from that same time in my life when I wanted nothing more than to take a day off and lie in the grass and stare at ants moving around in the grass like I did as a kid.
Did the character Bear come out of anyone in your life?
Bear sort of came out of me in that I'm a bit of an introvert and part of me likes nothing more than to sit at home and read my book and be left in peace. And I also like to joke that a lot of it came out of my husband, who also is an introvert and likes to hunker down on his computer and read his magazines. Like Bear, he can seem grumpy on the outside, and he's really a sweetheart on the inside. I think there's a Mouse and Bear in everyone, a piece of them that wants to sit there and a piece of them, like Mouse, who wants to celebrate life.