Transcript from The Nature of Authors Episode 001: The Depth of Characters with Essence Bonitaz
Chrissy Holm (00:02): Do you love to talk about books? Do you wonder how authors build their stories? Each month, I'll take you on the journey of discovering how authors work. Listen to how writers explain their craft and the mission behind their writing with The Nature of Authors. I'm your host, Chrissy Holm. Let's talk books.
Chrissy Holm (00:25):
I'm very excited to welcome our first guest, Essence Bonitaz, author of Ajha's Web: A Series. Today, we're going to be talking about contemporary fiction and the depth of characters.
Chrissy Holm (00:38):
Hello? Hello. How are you doing today?
Essence Bonitaz (00:43):
Doing well, doing well. It's a busy day.
Chrissy Holm (00:45):
Yes, definitely. Well, I'm so happy to have you. Thank you for joining us today. Essence. I really appreciate your time and I'm excited to talk more about your book and have some fun here today.
Essence Bonitaz (00:56):
Thank you. I'm delighted to join. So yes, this is fun. I'm excited.
Chrissy Holm (01:02):
Cool. I'm going to start off with a couple little icebreakers and then we'll dive into our topic a little bit more. We're going to start with nature because I'm outside. I don't know if you can tell. The bugs might be a little loud. But if you were to pick one of your favorite nature elements, what would it be? So maybe it's bugs, mountains, grass, trees. What would you say your favorite nature element is?
Essence Bonitaz (01:27):
Probably sun and then water. Hard to separate the two.
Chrissy Holm (01:34):
And then why are those your favorites?
Essence Bonitaz (01:36):
I am definitely someone who would suffer from seasonal effective disorder. So when it's gray, cloudy to rainy, even in the winters, when it's just cold and kind of just gray, it affects me big time. And my mood totally lifts when it's sunny. No matter how sad of a day it is, if it's sunny or I notice it's also like on a cloudy day and then the sun breaks, how it's just like... That.
Essence Bonitaz (02:07):
And then water. I love water, pictures of lakes, pictures of the ocean, pictures of river, and literally sometimes on Pinterest where there'll just be a snapshot of a puddle and some rocks. I'm like, oh, I love that. So there's something about water that also, I don't know, that also I just find interesting and uplifting for some reason.
Chrissy Holm (02:34):
Absolutely. I think the combo of them both like laying by a lake and the sun beating on you just can uplift and brighten the mood.
Essence Bonitaz (02:42):
Chrissy Holm (02:44):
Awesome. Well thank you for answering that. And then we're going to play a quick rapid fire game. And so get on your toes. It's just a yes or no to these. All right. So have you read a book of poetry in the last year?
Essence Bonitaz (03:01):
Chrissy Holm (03:02):
Ooh. Which one?
Essence Bonitaz (03:03):
What God is Honored Here?
Chrissy Holm (03:06):
Ooh, I love it.
Essence Bonitaz (03:07):
It's a book I picked up from one of the Loft's conferences.
Chrissy Holm (03:12):
Fun. Very cool. Gracie thinks it's great, too. She's walking by. Awesome. All right. So the next one is, do you like to read in the bath?
Essence Bonitaz (03:21):
Chrissy Holm (03:23):
Yeah. Are you ever afraid of getting the pages wet or anything?
Essence Bonitaz (03:27):
No, but I definitely do read only books with pages in the bath. No iPads. But no, no, not so much. I come prepared with the tray and everything.
Chrissy Holm (03:37):
Yeah. You don't want the electronics to get ruined or whatever.
Essence Bonitaz (03:40):
Chrissy Holm (03:41):
Yeah. That's smart. Have you fallen asleep with a book in your hands recently?
Essence Bonitaz (03:47):
Yes, of course. Sadly, that's the reason I have not finished The Water Dancer yet. And I started reading it probably a year ago. It's really sad. So I'm a chronic multitasker. And so reading for me is kind of when I decided I'm just going to settle down and try to read, and by the time I stop all the multitasking and settle down and start reading, it's like...
Chrissy Holm (04:14):
It's time to shut the brain off.
Essence Bonitaz (04:15):
Chrissy Holm (04:17):
Yeah. I'm totally that way, too, I think. I tend to do too much at once and I'm like, okay. Then when I finally relax, I'm out just like that.
Essence Bonitaz (04:25):
Chrissy Holm (04:25):
I hear that. All right, we'll do one more. This one isn't a yes or a no. Well, I guess it could be a yes or a no, but then we're going to have to see if you can actually do it. But can you recite a tongue twister like she sells sea shells by the sea shore?
Essence Bonitaz (04:41):
I can. Let's see. There were a lot of warmup ones when I would be doing voice acting. And so there's Red leather, red leather, yellow leather, red leather, yellow leather, red leather, yellow leather... Peter Piper picked a pack of pickled peppers, all of those. She sells seashells by the seashore, all that stuff that gets your mouth just ready to grasp words without slurring. Yep.
Chrissy Holm (05:05):
Yeah, that was beautiful. know I was practicing my red leather, yellow leather before this, but I'm not as... Yeah, I'm not very good at that.
Chrissy Holm (05:17):
Well, awesome. Well thank you for diving into some of those icebreakers. We're going to jump into your book. I have it right here. Yay. Ajha's Web. Yay. So for those of you that are just joining us, this is Essence Bonitaz and she wrote Ajha's Web. And I am going to just ask her to tell a little bit more about what her story's about. It is a contemporary fiction, correct? Yeah?
Essence Bonitaz (05:40):
Chrissy Holm (05:41):
Perfect. All right. Yeah. So if you want to just explain what this is about and we'll go from there.
Essence Bonitaz (05:46):
Absolutely. So Ajha's Web is a series and that's the volume one. It's a story about a weary suburban mom who seeks respite in her anonymous advice blog and finds herself discovering family members' and friends' secret dilemmas. And she gets wrapped up into trying to help them in stumbles through a series of issues that things possibly get worse. Some things get resolved, but she really finds herself at the center then of all of everyone's lives. And of course they aren't aware that she's kind of pulling some strings, but in her mind, it's all for the greater good so it's okay.
Chrissy Holm (06:37):
Yes. Yeah. It's so good. And I've read it before and I really enjoyed it.
Essence Bonitaz (06:41):
Chrissy Holm (06:42):
And I know that you're working on the next.
Essence Bonitaz (06:43):
Chrissy Holm (06:46):
But how was writing this for you? What were kind of your ups and downs as you were writing this first part of the series?
Essence Bonitaz (06:52):
It was a huge uphill climb. I've never attempted to write fiction before. My writing experience came from the business world. I've written business plans. I've written grants for organizations. I've written curriculum for childcare centers and stuff like that. But I've always had storytelling inside of me, whether it was retelling events to family members and just kind of dramatizing it.
Essence Bonitaz (07:26):
And so I often go through the world and I see situations and people just on a daily basis, and I wonder, gosh, what's that person's story? And when you see someone acting a certain way, I've always kind of wondered, what's going on in the background?
Essence Bonitaz (07:43):
And so these stories just pop up in my head and I'm always thinking, what if this and hypothetical situations. And after a while, I was just really motivated to just play with those ideas. So I started writing and my husband and my kids would ask what I was doing and I would share with them, oh, I'm just writing some scenarios and writing some stories.
Essence Bonitaz (08:07):
But the stories just kept getting bigger and having plots and all of this. And my kids asked, "Why? Are you going to publish it?" And I thought, what? Oh, my God, no. It never ever occurred to me. And so them asking me that and then saying, "Well, why not?" And "Oh, you should." And it just opened a window. And I kept writing and step by step, I decided, well, let me take some classes and then let me take some risks. And so one thing led to the next, but just the process of learning how to write a story beyond my own personal entertainment was very, very educational and took a lot of practice.
Essence Bonitaz (08:48):
That book was probably a seven year process because I was also raising kids and working full time and all of that. So not like I just grind it out every day for seven years, but from taking a break and learning some more and working with an editor and working with a writing mentor and all of that. So I finally got it all together in a package that I'm really proud of and was just really excited to share.
Essence Bonitaz (09:17):
But it was a long process, lots of steps, lots of learning, but I love learning. And if you have the attitude of, well, I got this, so I'm just going to kick out some books, and then you're probably not on the downside of your journey.
Chrissy Holm (09:33):
Absolutely. Yeah. I mean, it sounds like you've experienced a lot from not even thinking that you're going to write a book to now it's going to be a series. And I love the learning like milestones that you've gone through along the way. I think that's awesome. And I'm a big learner, so I always like to go through that as well. So I think that's great.
Essence Bonitaz (09:53):
Chrissy Holm (09:54):
Thank you. Thank you. Well kind of on that same vein, a lot of the reasons why I try to write is to like help change society and the thoughts that people might have just to get out of that normal, what society tells us to do. So that's the reason why I write. What would you say the reason you write is, and do you feel like there's a bigger purpose behind your stories?
Essence Bonitaz (10:24):
I definitely think the stories go beyond the page. I would say, first and foremost, I write for entertainment in the sense that it's fun for me, it's fun to share, it's fun to explore different ideas through the writing process. And I think for the reader, I certainly want them to be entertained. I mean, no one wants to be bored, right?
Essence Bonitaz (10:50):
I want them to be entertained, but I also hope that what they see in the characters and what they discover through the situations that they read about will allow them to reflect on their own lives and situations in their own lives. That's why I write and the stories are set in real time, realistic situations, and oftentimes I'm kind of exploring some of my own, like, what if this happened? What might someone do?
Essence Bonitaz (11:23):
And sometimes I'm intentionally having a character do what might seem to be the wrong thing. But at the end of the day, I really want people to see that character deeper and see their story because everyone has a story. No one's, I don't believe, is born wicked, evil, nasty, or whatever, or perfect, certainly. And so when you see that character, initially there's a thought about them and it's based on our own background experiences, beliefs, but hopefully within the story, when you see that person's individual story, you have more compassion for them and a greater understanding for the choices that they make, whether or not you approve. That's the bigger picture.
Chrissy Holm (12:12):
I love that. That's so great. I know in your book you have such depth to your characters, and I can tell you that you take a lot of time to make sure that you can understand and hear their stories, but I mean, the readers so that they can almost have a little bit more empathy for why someone made that decision and a little bit more of their backstory, which is, I think is just as important. So awesome.
Chrissy Holm (12:39):
So this is actually diving deeper into your book. Do you have one handy?
Essence Bonitaz (12:43):
Chrissy Holm (12:44):
Perfect. And if you want to turn to the page or wherever, what would you say is like your favorite line or paragraph from the book? Would you mind reading it to us?
Essence Bonitaz (12:54):
Sure. I do have a particular spot that I like one of my favorites. It's Ajha's voice. It's an Ajha's voice. The chapters are in different characters' point of views and this one is Ajha's.
Essence Bonitaz (13:07):
And it says, "She told me through a text message and my stomach dropped. 'Personal emergency. I have to go,' I wrote an IM to my manager and I left. Twenty minutes later, I was gathering ingredients, beef and root vegetables to comfort the soul, herbs and spices to mend her ego, and a sweet surprise to boost her mood. Then I bagged my remedies and headed to Tara's house to break bread. I've kept an eye on her through my blog, but I'm ready to reconnect for real. I need to see my friend and she needs me.
Essence Bonitaz (13:42):
"'Two weeks ago?' Marcus says, 'Hector's been keeping that on the low. I didn't know he was back with Issa.'
Essence Bonitaz (13:49):
"'I know. I'm pulling up to Tara's now. It'll probably be a late one, so...' 'Don't worry about it,' Marcus says. 'I'll take care of home. If you end up drinking, call me, okay? I'll come get you. I love you.'
Essence Bonitaz (13:59):
"'I love you, too,' I say, and then hang up. As I step off the elevator, Tara's waiting at the end of the hall, outside of her door. She rushes to me, takes a bag off my hands and puts it on the floor. I set down the other one and we hug, a long, forgiving embrace. Then each of us picking up a bag, we walk the rest of the way together."
Chrissy Holm (14:23):
Wow. I was so entranced into that. I mean, I love the beginning when you're talking about the ego and you're matching these different food sensation kind of things with it. And I mean, that's beautiful.
Essence Bonitaz (14:38):
Chrissy Holm (14:38):
Why is that your favorite part or one of your favorite parts?
Essence Bonitaz (14:41):
I think because it speaks to the depth of their friendship and friends in general, what you do for one another at the end of the day, despite maybe fights or difficulties. And when you love someone and you're truly a friend to that person and you find out they're in need, you kind of drop everything and you reconnect and try to resolve.
Essence Bonitaz (15:06):
And so there is a lot that happens between them, and less so between them and more so between Tara and some members of Ajha's family that make it difficult for Ajha to stay bonded with Tara. And that moment, I really like, because it shows that they are good friends. They truly are. And I just think it kind of shows what love really feels like, for me, anyway.
Chrissy Holm (15:33):
Yeah. I think that's beautiful. And I think friendships are, we might go day to day and be like, oh, this is my friend. We might not think about it, but it digs at the heart of why we need connection and why we need people, friends in our lives, for sure.
Essence Bonitaz (15:50):
Chrissy Holm (15:50):
It makes me think of like a cheer. I don't know if you've heard it, but it's, "There are tall ships or small ships or ships that sail the sea, but the best ships are friendships, so here's to you and me."
Essence Bonitaz (16:01):
Oh, I like that.
Chrissy Holm (16:02):
So it's a little like, it's drinking cheer, but you can have whatever you want to it.
Essence Bonitaz (16:07):
Chrissy Holm (16:08):
But, that's lovely. One of the questions that I got from a member of the community is how important is it for contemporary fiction writers to include the politics of the day? How important is it into included in politics into your writing?
Essence Bonitaz (16:26):
I think it depends on what you're writing. For me, for example, I've made a conscious choice to not put COVID in the next book because we're living through it and that's everybody's day to day. And I would like to escape just a little bit. So however, if my topic is related to a family going through some issues and what day to day life feels like and how burdensome it is, then I think it's important to maybe pile on a few of those politics or circumstances that we're all grappling with or familiar with.
Essence Bonitaz (17:09):
But I do think in terms of when you set the scene, if you completely, I mean, unless you're writing some fantasy of another world, but we're talking contemporary fiction, I think to completely ignore that anything's going on other than what these two people live with in the book is probably... You're missing something. So I think it's important to sprinkle it in there unless it's your topic. But I certainly don't think if it's not your topic, the topic of the story to overwhelm the audience with all of this backstory, be it politics and whatever, because I think it could just take still focus.
Chrissy Holm (17:52):