Greetings from Sarah Sundin! Today I have the joy of interviewing prolific and popular novelist Bonnie Leon—this is an extra joy for me because Bonnie has been one of my critique partners. Today Bonnie is sharing about her latest historical novel, Valley Melodies!
Welcome, Bonnie! Please tell us about Valley Melodies.
Emmalin Hammond decides the Oregon Territory is not the place for her and chooses to return to her Philadelphia home. Jacob Landon has other ideas and asks her to marry him. Emmalin can’t say no and tries to convince herself she’s capable of stepping into the role of pioneer woman. Is the challenge too much? Is love enough to overcome the hardships thrown at her and the man she loves?
I was privileged to read this novel when it was in progress! So what inspired you to write Valley Melodies?
When I finished writing One Hundred Valleys, the prequel to Valley Melodies, I knew there was more to Emmalin and Jacob’s story. I’ve always admired the courage and tenacity of the early pioneers who came in search of a new life in the Oregon Territory. The pioneers were exceptional people. And I wanted to tell their story, and I chose Southern Oregon because that is where I live, in the Umpqua Valley. The landscape is stunning and the history is rich. It seems a perfect time and place to plant this story.
It certainly is! What is the primary focus of your book?
Lives are like songs that roll through the valleys of our existence. Some are serene while others are a cacophony of sound, but no matter the melody God is a part of it and He is always good. He will walk with us and strengthen us in times of trouble, and He will use the hardships of life to perfect shape perfect us.
A beautiful message for your readers. Is there anything else you hope readers will take away from this book?
Do not fear. When fear is allowed to get a hold on us, it can dismantle the good God intends to create in and through our life. We can stand up to what terrifies us, and we are able with the power given by God.
What was your greatest challenge in writing this book?
It was a difficult season for me. I was still grieving the loss of my sister and my mother. COVID was rampaging across the world, and a forest fire hit our community, leaving behind devastating losses to us, our family and our friends. My husband and I are still working to restore what we lost.
The hardships distracted me, and writing a story felt trivial in the midst of tragedy and uncertainty. I managed to keep at it, and the story unfolded, though at a much slower pace than normal. I did find my way to the final pages and finally it is ready to share with my readers.
You certainly went through a lot! With all the lessons God teaches you, are there any themes you return to again and again in your writing?
God’s presence. He never deserts us and walks with us along the path of our lives.
Why do you love writing?
Writing is a way to dig deeper into the creative places of my mind. The process allows me to become acquainted with people who live out my stories. They feel like my friends, and sometimes the Holy Spirit speaks to me through these characters, their trials and adventures teach me life truths.
Tell us about your most touching moment with a reader.
Readers are one of the precious gifts of being a writer. I love to hear from them. A letter I received many years ago reminded me of the reason I write and it has always stayed with me.
An envelope arrived in the mail with the post mark of a federal prison. It piqued my interest immediately. I opened the envelope and took out a handwritten letter. The writing was a bit untidy but easy enough to read. It was from an inmate at a federal prison in California. He’d been incarcerated for many years. At the age of nineteen he’d taken part in an armed robbery that resulted in the death of man, and he’d received a life sentence with no parole. Someone had given him a copy of my book The Journey of Eleven Moons, definitely not a book I would have chosen for a tough criminal type. God knew the man’s heart and made sure the book got into his hands. While he read the tale of a native girl who had lost all she knew and treasured and was forced to find a new home and a new way to live, the inmate’s heart changed.
He’d been a believer as a child but had walked away from his faith. By the time he laid the book down, he rededicated his life to the Lord and had committed to serving God the remainder of his life right there in prison. He’d written to let me know about his transformation.
When I get discouraged or weary in my chosen profession I think about that man and I am encouraged. A simple story changed his life and possibly the lives of others.
That is an amazing story! What a joy to know the Lord used your writing in such a wonderful way.
Now, other than storytelling, what talents do you have?
I’m a good listener, which makes me a better grandmother. Becoming a parent was a precious gift from God, but becoming a grandparent might be even better. I love those special times when it’s just me and one of my grandchildren and we share laughter and sometimes treasured secrets.
I’m also known for making some of the best chocolate chip cookies west of the Rockies.
Yum! What do you read for pleasure? What are you reading right now?
My favorite books are historical romance and biographies. I am presently reading a book written by Cara Grandle called The Ribbon, a historical romance.
Do you have pets and do they inspire your writing or hinder it?
I have a big white lab called Henry. He’s a wonderful friend. Animals often show up in my books. In Valley Melodies there is a big white dog called Henry. He’s a special friend to Jacob, a mountain man who lives in the Oregon Territory.
I loved Henry! What are your hobbies or activities or passions outside of writing?
Growing vegetables and getting into the dirt is a joy to me. I have a large garden, which includes onions, broccoli, cauliflower, potatoes, green beans, corn and a lot more. I love the mysterious process of putting a seed in the ground, watching it emerge from the soil, then tending it as it grows and eventually produces food. Enjoying the deliciousness of fresh vegetables straight out of the garden is a prize at the end of the process.
So what are you working on now? Please tell us about your next project.
I am working on a contemporary story set in the wine country of Northern California. When a high-powered San Francisco marketing agent inherits her aunt’s home in the Napa Valley the last thing Makenna Tillman is looking for is romance, that is until she meets a quiet serious-minded man named Sean Dunning who enjoys an easy pace of life. The two couldn’t be more different, but there is a spark between Makenna and Sean they can’t ignore.