Bonnie Milani is an award-winning science fiction author with one of the coolest book trailers I have ever seen. She has a Master’s in Communication/Journalism from Stanford. We are both active members of the Sci-Fi Roundtable, a group dedicated to talking nerdy and helping other SFF writers hone their skills. Let’s learn more about Bonnie, shall we?
Do you kill bugs or leave them alone?
Kill. Definitely kill. Except for my Sisyphus stories. The natives of that world are sentient, 9 ft. tall tarantulas – and that’s just the males. The dominant females come closer to 30 ft. Generally not a good idea to smack one of them with a shoe.
How do you do research for your books?
Depends on the nature of the story. In my novel Home World, for example, nearly all humans have been genetically engineered into specific Types, each with its own set of talents and physical characteristics. One of those Types is Lupan, a human polymorph engineered specifically for combat, so Lupans have characteristics of wolf, owl, and eagle built into their genome. To make sure this worked, I sat with the head of genetic engineering at CalState Northridge, who worked out the methodology (scary interview…). Then, to make sure I got behaviors right, I interviewed the head of predator studies at the LA Zoo – same fellow Spielberg went to when he was developing Jurassic Park. For the space travel tech I interviewed fellow Stanford grads who now work at JPL. Fight scenes I went to several different martial arts teachers to see how the different characters would be likely to fight.
Do you like traveling or do you prefer staying indoors?
Travel, hands down. Mind, I want to be comfortable when I get wherever I’m going – traipsing around the backcountry in heavy boots and insect repellent is NOT my idea of a good time.
What are the tools of the trade?
Well, there’s always the obvious: good, reliable laptop and internet; a dedication to research, and plain stick-to-it-tiveness. But the real tool of the trade is the CRAFT of story telling, and to master the craft takes both years of dedication and a willingness to invest in yourself in order to learn the craft. To my way of thinking, when anyone posts a book on Amazon, say, with a price tag on it – even if it’s only 99 cents – that person is making a promise to readers that the person posting the story is a professional who expects to be paid for practicing his/her profession. Such a promise means a reader has the right to expect any story they buy to be not just properly edited, proofed, and formatted, but to engage the reader in the emotional charge of the story. To keep that promise requires a writer to put in the time and tears, frustration and money to learn how story structure works; how a character arc develops, and what it takes to create and intensify story conflict.
Writers are often associated with loner tendencies; is there any truth to that?
I think it’s really more an ability to plant the butt than being a loner. After all, let’s face it: as writers, we share our heads with our characters. So we are never really alone.
Another misconception is that all writers are independently wealthy. How true is that?
Hah! ‘Nuff said. ‘Course, it’d sure help!
Which book inspired you to begin writing?
Um… good one. I can’t recall the book that inspired me to start writing initially, but I can most certainly recall the book that made me say ‘I can write better than that!’ It was a biography of Dr. William Harvey, the 16th century physician who proved that blood circulates. I was maybe 7 years old, stretched out with that book on my grandmother’s couch. I was so annoyed with the clunky sentences I found a pencil and started line editing – not that I had any idea what line editing was. I was smugly proud of my efforts until my mom saw how I’d marked that book up. After that I was just… really, sincerely sorry for having marked up a library book.
I do recall the book that got me back to writing sci-fi: C.J. Cherryh’s Pride of Chanur. I certainly didn’t think I could write better (I wish!). It was that reading that book just blew the lid off my imagination. From that point on, there was no going back.
Do you believe attractive book covers help in its sales?
Absolutely! A cover is more than just eye candy. The quality of the cover implies the quality of the story within – cheap out on a cover at your own risk! The subject matter and style in which it’s presented make additional promises to the browsing reader: color, subject, depicted action all hint to the reader what kind of story they can expect. I’ve listened for years to mid-list authors complain that the covers their publishers inflicted on them had no bearing at all on their stories.
Name something you’d like to get rid of but keep putting off.
Where can readers find out more about you and your books?