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May 2011

My First Sale: Bonnie Calhoun

Bonnie Calhoun's superhero capeFaster than a blog tour on steroids.

More powerful than a Facebook privacy setting.

Able to produce huge ezines in a single month.

Look! Up on your computer screen!
She’s an organizer. She’s an editor. She’s a Blogger-whisperer. She’s Bonnie Calhoun!

By day, a mild-mannered seamstress. By night, Superwoman of the Digital World.

By day, Calhoun is a mild-mannered seamstress who owns her own shop, but at night? At night she transforms into Superwoman of the Digital World:

  • As the head of the Christian Fiction Blog Alliance (CFBA), she organizes two book blog tours every week.
  • As the voice of calm and reason on various online loops, she helps others jump through Facebook’s and Blogger’s hoops successfully.
  • In her role as publisher of Christian Fiction Online Magazine (Have you CFOM’d lately?), she oversees production of that monthly ezine.

And now, our heroine is about to add “novelist” to her many titles, with the publication of Cooking the Books, a murder-suspense set to release in 2012 from Abingdon Press.

The real Superhero

Regardless of which role she’s filling, God is in every sleeping and waking hour of Bonnie’s life. With everything she has to do, life can get overwhelming. It may even seem, at times, to be going off-track and headed in the wrong direction. But Bonnie believes God is always in control—He never seeks to hurt us, just teach us. Like her life verse says, “I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.” (Philippians 4:13)

(The Lord) blessed me with the desire of my heart, and that is to be a writer. So I give it back to Him as an offering.

“God created me to be an entertainer and encourager,” Calhoun said. “Sometimes I have sandpaper on the encourager part because I believe in tough love, but I am a consummate entertainer. To that end, the Lord didn’t give me a mandate to write a particular story to a particular people, but He blessed me with the desire of my heart, and that is to be a writer. So I give it back to Him as an offering.”

Are you experienced?

Bonnie CalhounBonnie has had what she calls a “wild and unsheltered life.” Her father was a Lackawanna County Sheriff when she was young, so she’s seen and touched dead bodies, handled guns, been shot at, and a whole bunch of other things that would curl—or uncurl—your hair.

From those experiences, and many others, she pulls inspiration for her stories. She uses her experiences and turns them into stories that speak of God’s continual presence, even during the darkest times of our lives.

Marlene Bagnull, director of the Greater Philly and Colorado Christian Writer’s Conferences says Bonnie’s servant heart makes her a joy to work with—and has earned her a permanent position on the faculty at Bagnull’s conferences.

Bonnie is a giver who invests time and energy in helping other writers succeed.

“Whether working behind the scenes, encouraging a conferee, teaching a workshop, or belting out a song, her love for Christ and desire to use her gifts for His glory is obvious,” Bagnull said. “Bonnie is a giver who invests time and energy in helping other writers succeed through publishing the Christian Fiction Online Magazine, directing the Christian Fiction Blog Alliance, and serving as ACFW’s Northeast Zone Director. I rejoice that her first novel is about to debut—although I can’t help wondering how she’s found time to write it!”

Suspense is a way of life

Cooking the Books is the story of a battered woman who has come from a past of finding men in all the wrong places. Just when she thinks her life is turning a corner for the good, her world explodes with the death of her mother, a stolen antique book, and threats on her life. The protagonist, Sloane Templeton, is a computer forensic investigator and a snarky Christian version of a Janet Evanovich’s Stephanie Plum character, who gets in just as much trouble.

Calhoun chalks up her inspiration to a warped mentality associated with being a suspense writer.  That’s her story and she’s sticking to it. The old axiom, “When things look really bad, push the protagonist off a cliff,” was created for Calhoun and propels her writing.

Calhoun has been writing for 40 years. At 61 this year, she still has a lot of stories left to tell. Her most difficult challenge is the balancing act, but she doesn’t find it hard to find time to write.

Stitching her stories together

When the story in her head gets too intense, she stops sewing and starts typing.

In fact, her best time to write is when she’s at her store, sewing. Her laptop is always set up and running—who can live without Facebook and email?—so she sews and thinks. And when the story in her head gets too intense, she stops sewing and starts typing. When she drains her brain, she goes back to sewing.

What comes easiest for Calhoun is the plot. She admits to being plot-driven and her characters always start out as just people thrown in for the ride. She’s had to learn to develop them so that they don’t look like she ran over them in the process of plotting.

To help her do that, she turns to known suspense writers, Alton Gansky, Robert Liparulo, and Brandilyn Collins. She’s read and owns most everything any of them have written. Early on, she learned a love for Christian suspense from Alton, but she’s learned plot from Robert, and character development from Brandilyn.

Fun is relative

And not much has surprised her about the publishing world. Her agent, Terry Burns (Hartline Literary Agency), warned and taught her about that. The surprises come more in facts about her. Most readers would run away screaming—or set their hair on fire at the things Bonnie considers fun.

She’s been a nurse, been in the Army, been a group leader for product development working on military jets for all the U.S.’s armed services—“I’d tell you about that, but I’d have to kill you”—knows more about recreational drugs than normal people should, can shoot most any kind of gun, including an AK47…and ... well, we’ll just stop there.

What she doesn’t want to stop are the adventures of Sloane Templeton and her zany cast of characters. She hopes to publish more of their adventures—and has a treasure trove of characters yet to choose from. There’s Sloane’s Aunt Verline, who considers herself an Iron Chef, when in reality you need a cast iron stomach to eat her cooking. There’s the gun-toting manager at the bookstore she inherited, who looks and acts like Lucille Ball—and the list goes on.

For now, Calhoun asks for prayers that she’ll keep her sanity for at least another 50 years or so. Plenty of time to write all those stories she has locked in her mental arsenal.

Learn more about Bonnie here.

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