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Author Spotlight: Dawn Bonanno

Dawn Bonanno

Welcome to my weekly Author Spotlight. I’ve asked a bunch of my author friends to answer a set of interview questions, and to share their latest work.

Today: Dawn Bonanno lives in the Chicago suburbs with her family, where she works as a real estate paralegal. She suffers from an obsession with pens, paper, and fixing things. She’s a firm believer in balancing sit-down time with movement, so there’s a good chance you’ll find her lifting weights at the gym and riding her bike through the forest preserve. After graduating from the Viable Paradise writing workshop, she joined Codex Writers, then SFWA. Her short fiction has appeared in Nature, Daily Science Fiction, Fireside Fiction and more. When her feline overlords allow, she blogs about her writing journey at

Thanks so much, Dawn, for joining me!

J. Scott Coatsworth: When did you know you wanted to write, and when did you discover that you were good at it?

    Dawn Bonano: There was never a point of knowing or deciding. I started by telling stories to my black shepherd Loki, who died when I was about six years old. After that, I wrote stories to my second-grade friends (who were usually very confused). I scribbled the stories on the back of Eastern Airlines luggage tags, which resembled current day post it note squares. For a while I wrote bits and pieces, mostly making lists, until my eighth-grade Math teacher insisted I couldn’t make a living writing short stories, and my eighth-grade English teacher taught me what a complete scene needed. I never needed anyone telling me I was or am good enough. I write the stories that I need to tell.

    JSC: How would you describe your writing style/genre?

      DH: My writing buddies have called my stories “a warm hug.” I write across the genres from paranormal and urban fantasy to epic fantasy to science fiction, but the thread linking most of these stories is that they are about people, women usually, trying to take care of someone or save someone, oftentimes themselves. My stories dig into humanity, and I hope, make people feel better about who we are and where we are going. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not wearing rose colored glasses. I touch on some tough issues: family dynamics, broken relationships, failed marriages, and death. My characters suffer, but there’s always something on the other side of that pain, whether it’s new growth, healing, or hope, it’s a journey that I take with each of these characters. I particularly enjoy writing about sisters, or mothers and daughters. As the second of five children, I have some experience with how things break and how they mend.

      JSC: What do you do when you get writer’s block?

        DH: Writer’s block is another way for my subconscious to tell me something is wrong. It might be something wrong with me – maybe I’ve been working too hard and need a break, or maybe the creative well has containment issues needs refilling. Often, it can mean there’s something wrong with the story I’m working on and my current plan is not working. In all these cases, I stop what I’m writing. I read, watch tv, go bike riding. I trust my subconscious, and I take the hint to take that break and rejuvenate mind, body, and soul.

        JSC: What are your favorite parts of publishing?

          DH: In any writing, it’s finishing a project. Long, short, it doesn’t matter. The story is what matters. In short story publishing though, it’s always the acceptance. Release day is fun, but without knowing if anyone is reading my story, I’m not quite sure how to react. At least with a contract, I know someone loved it enough to throw money at me. I’m new to the indie publishing experience, but so far it’s the cover art. I buy cover art early in my revision process and enjoy the heck out of it before I release a book. It’s with me while I finish the project, and the pics are on my phone for me to tease my friends.

          JSC: How did you choose the topic for this book?

            Hidden magic in the real world is the premise of most of the stories in this collection. It’s something I find fascinating enough, that I’m working on a paranormal fantasy series exploring that. I am planning to start releasing later this year. I write fast, but I edit slow, and I want to give readers a chance to see the kinds of story I write. And maybe, a little something to read between book releases.

            JSC: What were your goals and intentions in this book, and how well do you feel you achieved them?

              DH: There are two answers to this really, the business side and the writer side. On the business side, this is my indie publishing debut. I wanted to test myself with an actual deadline (I moved this one three times, alas), with collaborating with editors and artists, and with sticking to my story choices. I enjoyed the experience very much and cannot wait to do this again. On the writing side, I wanted to craft a collection of stories that would carry an emotion. Not a message, but an actual emotion. I want my readers to ride the emotional roller coaster and step off the ride with a smile and a feeling of contentment. It’s too early to tell if that worked, but no one has thrown eggs at my house yet.

              JSC: Who did your cover, and what was the design process like?

                DH: Wendy Nikel designed this cover, and all my other covers (which haven’t been released yet). She asked me several questions over email about the book, about my vision for it, and what was important to me. Since this is a short story collection, I leaned heavily on the title story for the art. Wendy sent me three very different images to review. At first it was difficult to choose because they were each so lovely, but I realized I was drawn most to this sunflower image with the fairies. I asked her to bring in the font from one of the other covers, and she made it work beautifully. I really couldn’t be happier.

                JSC: If you were stuck on a desert island all alone with only three things, what would they be?

                  DH: An endless ink pen, a waterproof notebook, and a magical squirrel in a tux to bring us snacks to share after I write.

                  JSC: What’s your drink of choice?

                    DH: There have been rumors of my Cherry Coke addition, but when I’m avoiding the sugar and caffeine combo, it’ll be Black Cherry Propel.

                    JSC: What are you working on now, and what’s coming out next? Tell us about it!

                      DH: I am so excited to share my paranormal fantasy series. Titled after the main character, Sofia Watson, the series starts in a midwestern college town when Sofia, a college junior, discovers her best friend is a mermaid. She is swept into a hidden world of secrets where magic and danger go hand in hand, and even her own mother lies about the spells she cast on her. The first book, All The Missing Girls, will be out later this year.

                      And now for Dawn’s forthcoming book (Summer 2024): Sunflowers in the Snow.

                      Do you believe in magic? It might exist all around us in everyday life, hidden in trees and sunflowers, slipping into view when needed, leaving gifts when all hope has abandoned us. 

                      • Why does a young woman caring for her elderly grandfather find a secret sunflower patch in the snowy hills of Wisconsin?
                      • What happens when a demon woken from sleep happens upon a grieving cat dad?
                      • How will a sentient house end its long loneliness?
                      • Can the smallest water fairy find her missing sister?
                      • What does a bride even do with an enchanted wedding veil?
                      • Who will save a city cat from a haunted country bridge?

                      Sunflowers in the Snow and fifteen other stories explore the existence of magic and how it affects us. From sentient houses to psychic bartenders, this collection will carry you through stories of heartbreak and mending, families fighting and reconciling, and friends who will cross between worlds for each other.


                      The Unknown Language of Trees

                      The death trees are marching again. Three twenty-foot-tall pines rumble through the nursery on the second night of their nocturnal rampage. They haven’t actually killed anyone yet, but if they rampage every night, it will only be a matter of time. It’s not their fault my crazy Uncle Henry cast a spell on them. What did he think the pine trees would do once they could pull their roots out of the ground?  With those prickly boughs and thick trunks, they were sure as hell not making a shade garden; they were Christmas-scented rage. 

                      I know just enough about magic to understand how serious this is. Sorcerer’s Digest, a new magazine published right here in Pickney, Illinois, warns about the reckless practice of magic. But they don’t tell me how to stop someone else’s irresponsible hobby. Uncle Henry isn’t around anymore; the pines became my problem when I inherited this nursery. ‘Prickly Friends’ has a deeper meaning now that I am babysitting newly awakened trees with an attitude problem. 

                      It’s past closing. The new gates are locked, so fortunately the pines can’t leave, but since I didn’t leave before sundown, I’m trapped here with them. The second story office window provides a frightening vantage. The pines strutted from Henry’s personal collection at the back of the property. They had dragged soil through the gravel parking lot, dragging fallen leaves from their neighboring oaks and maples in a smear of red and gold. I admire their autumn carpet, but I worry it’s a bloody omen. 

                      They slow as they arrive at the newly installed chain- link fence.  I would have sprung for steel, but the fence installer needed two months for materials and a crew to do that job. The chain link was ready. It better freaking hold.

                      “Miss Daisy?” A squeaky voice comes from behind me.

                      I whirl. “Shane, what are you still doing here?”

                      “Extra hours.” His voice is still squeaky, not fitting his nearly six-foot frame. Working his first job to pay for a fancy racing bike, Shane was always the first to volunteer. Except, I had asked him to come in early, not stay late. 

                      Labor was another cost on top of that fence. Even though Prickly Friends was the only nursery in this town, Henry was in the red. My U.S. history degree hasn’t done squat for me, but with all those years bouncing between retail jobs, I know how shops work. I’d have to watch my budget carefully if I wanted to stay in business. If that was even possible after the pines’ attack. If we survived tonight, we would work on Shane’s listening skills. If he even wants to stay on.

                      I shift so he can’t see out the window. No need to scare Shane. If Henry hadn’t seen fit to tell anyone about his magic, that was his business, but now that people were hurt and property had been damaged, his secret had run its course. I need to tell Shane before he sees the trees.

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