"I was told by numerous critiquers (including editors and agents) it didn't 'work' because it's told in alternating points of view," Bobbie told me. "I'm happy to say my wonderful agent sold it at auction this past summer!"
I asked her to tell us about this new work.
It’s the interwoven stories of ten-year-old Abby and her beloved Shetland Sheepdog, Tam. When Abby and her mother are in a terrible car accident on the northern end of the Blue Ridge Parkway, Abby is badly injured and Tam is lost in the mountains. Told in alternating chapters in alternating points of view, the reader follows Abby and Tam’s journeys as they try to find their way back to each other. It’s my personal love letter to all those great dog classics like Lassie Come Home and The Incredible Journey that I loved so very much as a child.
I wondered how much of herself Bobbie puts into her characters.
"I think quite a lot. I was very much an outsider as a kid and as a teen. As a kid, I preferred animals to people, like Abby does in A Dog's Way Home. And as a teen, I was pretty rebellious, like Mardie in The Ring," she told me. "I also find that, at some level, all my books (published and unpublished) deal with loss. I had a great deal of loss in my childhood. I'm sure I'm still trying to work through all that in my writing."
Bobbie enjoys writing for the YA and MG crowd because she loves the honesty and passion in books for that age group, not to mention the honesty in the readers themselves.
"If a ten-year-old or fourteen-year-old reads your book and loves it, they really love it!" she said. "And if they don't, they'll let you know. I also think, for the most part, the subject matter of books for these age groups are much more interesting to me. Themes of loss, one's place in the world, what makes life worth living, friendship, family, questioning the status quo, questioning who you are apart from your family, your peer group, your culture—all these are reasons I love to read and write teen and middle-grade fiction."
"How do you think YA fiction has changed since you were a kid…and who was your favorite author?" I asked.
Bobbie told me she doesn't think she had a favorite author as a teen. She was reading many different things—nonfiction as well as fiction.
"And I was a teen back in the Dark Ages-- the early 1970s. Young adult fiction wasn't even really a genre then. But I do remember loving The Chronicles of Narnia, Lisa Bright and Dark, To Kill a Mockingbird, Black Boy. I think teens today are so lucky to have such a great variety of books to read written by gifted writers who really care about their audience."
"Did you always want to be a writer?" I wondered.
"Well first, I wanted very much to be a mermaid when I grew up. After that, at about age nine, I wanted to be a writer. I had a lot of detours along the way doing other things like being a professional singer, gladiola harvester, bookstore manager, dog trainer, wilderness instructor, and librarian. But I finally got back to my original dream, and it was worth the wait!"
When Bobbie first has an idea for a story, she mulls it over for a long time—until she decides whether or not it's worth pursuing. If, after a couple of weeks, she's still excited about the idea, she writes as much as she knows about the story in a notebook--the plot, the characters, the setting, etc.
"I can’t actually start writing it until the voice of the narrator comes," she continued. "It doesn’t matter if it’s in first person or third, the voice has to start 'talking' to me before I can do a darned thing."
Once she starts writing, however, it's all done on the computer. She tries not to edit as she goes along, although she admits that's very hard for her. When she gets the first draft completed, she lets it sit awhile before she rereads it…trying to do that in one sitting.
She shared with me that she didn't used to believe in outlining—thinking it would cramp her creativity.
"But now, thanks to my agent, I'm a great believer in outlining after I'm done with the first draft," she said. "I go back and list for each chapter the main things that happen. It helps me see how the chapters move the story forward (or don't) and the arc of the story. I like to think there are no 'dead zones' in my stories, but I always find that there are when I outline in this way."
Bobbie has an office in her house—a room she took over after the last of the kids moved out.
"My desk faces a window that looks out on to our back yard," she said. "There's an apple tree just outside the window my step kids gave me for my birthday a couple of years ago. It's a wonderful reminder of how my relationship with them has grown over the last ten years."
"What's the most embarrassing thing your mother ever did to you?" I asked.
"OMG!" Bobbie exclaimed. "When I was in, like, first grade, I forgot to put on underwear. I didn’t realize this until I went up a slide at recess and the little boy behind me said—well, you can guess. The teacher called my mother. As it happened, I’d also forgotten my lunch box. So my mother brought my lunch box to the school, gave it to the principal, who gave it to my teacher, who gave it to me just before we went to the cafeteria. Just imagine my 'surprise' when I opened the lid to my lunch box (of course, with a bunch of other kids around) and there, right on top, lay my lacy underwear. That put me in therapy for years!"
Finally, I asked Bobbie what advice she would give to a young writer.
"Keep your eyes open and your ears alert. Every experience, every person you meet is a story," she said. "And don't just dream of writing, do it! Don't be afraid of not being 'good enough' or 'as good as'. Don't wait for permission to pursue your passion. Sit down and write."
Leave a comment on this interview for a chance to win an autographed copy of The Ring.
Blurb for "The Ring": Plagued by slipping grades and a budding criminal record, Mardie’s heading down a path of self-destruction she can’t seem to avoid. Unlike her perfect older brother Michael, who does everything right according to their father, Mardie can’t meet those high expectations.
But when she discovers a girls’ boxing club at the gym, Mardie’s drawn in by the fighters’ fearlessness and strength. Having already lost her parents’ trust and shunned by her boyfriend and even her best friend, the ring is the only place left where no one judges her. Angry and hurt by the state of her life, Mardie can’t wait to start throwing punches. But her wise and patient trainer, Kitty, a former boxer who’s coached her share of troubled teen girls in the ring, shows Mardie that boxing isn’t just about fighting—it’s also about strategy and mental discipline—the things that make a fighter into a winner.
Mardie begins to apply the lessons she’s learned in the ring to her battles at school and especially at home, where she finds she’s not the only one struggling for acceptance. And, as she trains for her upcoming championship bouts, Mardie hopes to find a way to make her parents proud. Filled with exciting sports action, The Ring is an inspiring story of a girl learning to believe in herself.