In the month leading up to the 2014 3-Day Novel Contest, we’ll be interviewing previous winners, who will share their experiences and tactics for tackling the contest.
Today’s interview is with Bonnie Bowman of Skin.
1. Which was the moment you decided to sign up for the contest? Why?
I was working as a reporter for the Vancouver Echo and did a story on the 3-day novel contest. After interviewing Brian Kaufman, the publisher of Anvil Press (Anvil Press ran the contest back then), I got very interested in the process and the challenge. So basically, I wrote the newspaper story in half an hour and then I wrote a novel in three days. It should be noted, however, that I entered the contest three times. That first time, I got nothing. The second try, I got Honourable Mention, and the third time was the charm, with “Skin”.
2. What prep work, (if any,) did you compile before the contest?
I did virtually no prep work on any of my three entries, which is not recommended, but it’s the way I work best, i.e. “winging it”. With the winning entry, “Skin”, the only thing I knew before writing was that my protagonist would be a dermatologist with a sexual obsession about skin disease and the female lead would be a porn star with perfect skin that begins to peel off in horrifying ways. I knew I wanted it to be a bit grotesque and twisted (so I could have fun writing it), and to have black humour. That’s all I knew. And… GO. (Other prep work was stocking up on pounds of coffee, a carton of smokes, and tons of snack food, and telling everyone I knew NOT to call or come over during Labour Day weekend).
3. Describe the darkest crevasse you fell into during the writing period.
Since my entire book could be described as a “dark crevasse”, I was comfortable being there. I didn’t run into any writer’s block because you’re writing so quickly, you really don’t have time to second guess yourself or stop to ponder what you’ve already written. If you do, or if you take an hour wrestling with perfect prose, you’re probably fucked. The only minor freak-out was when I had an hour or two left and knew I had to finish it. I NEEDED AN ENDING! And because I had been winging it the whole time, I had no clue how it was going to end.
4. What pulled you out of it?
As mentioned, I had no deep crevasses to pull myself out of. As for the minor freak-out concerning an ending, it was probably the only time I actually sat there, not typing, for about 15 minutes, and put any thought whatsoever into what I was doing. It was just a matter of pulling back the reins on the runaway horse, taking a breath, and deciding which way to go next.
5. What is the most valuable thing you took away from the three days?
The most valuable thing I took away was that flashes of brilliance can occur when you kill your inner editor. When you’re not worrying about every word you place on a page, when you let your creativity fly free and unencumbered by what anyone else will think… the readers, the editors, the critics, or… if you’re writing something edgy with a lot of sex and swears… even your parents! I learned to trust my inner voice and kill my inner editor.
6. What are you up to now? Was the 3-Day Novel Contest a detour on your already thriving passion for writing, or did it direct you into the new love of being a novelist?
I had always written books and stories, but never done anything with them. Then, I wrote professionally for years as a journalist. But, the 3-Day Novel Contest did indeed launch me into writing novels, and, for that, I am forever grateful for the experience and recommend it to anyone. “Skin” went on to win the inaugural Relit award and got optioned for a movie. For a nasty little book written in three days, it did a pretty good job. I have since published a novel called “Spaz,” (not written in three days) several short stories in lit magazines or anthologies, and am working on my third novel.
7. Last – and most important! – any advice for writers looking to sign-up?
Advice? Don’t sweat the small stuff. Just write. As mentioned above, throw out your inner editor. Write about something you would enjoy writing about, not something you “think” others would want to read about. Don’t try to be Margaret Atwood or Mordecai Richler. If you are true to your own voice, it will shine through. If your own voice is dark and twisted, use it – don’t shy away from it. This is a brutal process, no doubt, so make sure you’re enjoying your characters and your subject matter, and not trying to conform your writing to some ideal you think is a winner. I can’t stress that enough. I fell prey to that thinking a bit in my first two (non-winning efforts). But when I just said, fuck it, I’m writing what I WANT to write, I won. And ironically, that was the entry I thought would never see the light of day in a million years, but I just wanted to have fun writing it.
Last bit of advice: This is a worthwhile personal endeavour, whether you win or don’t win. It’s a marathon for non-athletic people and gives you a great sense of accomplishment. It also gives you a finished rough manuscript that you can rework at your leisure if you so choose. So you win, no matter what.