Interview with Bunny Goodjohn

Longtime followers of The Writing Life will know that I occasionally give a shout-out to truly inspiring authors whose work I admire and respect. Past posts have featured Helen Benedict and Anne-Marie Oomen. Today, Bunny Goodjohn joins The Writing Life. Her new book of poetry, Bone Song (published by Briery Creek Press), is one of the most powerful, accessible, vivid collections I’ve read in years. I can already tell this book will be my “go-to gift” for the next year–I can already think of a dozen friends who simply must read these poems. My thoughts:

Bone Song hits every bullseye of locked-up longings, broken promises, and tiny victories in life’s grapple with love. These poems weave a raw, emotional tapestry into moments as vivid as film: a husband’s final insult, a mistress’ barefaced need, a daughter’s stealth observations, a dog’s unapologetic loyalty, friends struggling with sobriety, a sister facing cancer. From the familiar territory of a mishandled heart, to the playful newness of words re-defined, to tongue-in-cheek instructions on how to train a dog, author Bunny Goodjohn has built a neighborhood for readers to explore. Each block, each entryway, each uniquely fashioned home, offers an image precisely rendered, a thought keenly realized. I find myself wanting to take risks, to get hurt or dirty again—as if a child, yet with all the hunger and pent-up impossibilities of being an adult—because Bone Song has shown me it will be worth the consequences. Reading this book feels like holding a life lived full-throttle in the palm of your hands. Even during its quietest intervals, Bone Song keeps time, revving insights toward their powerful, crafted release.

I reached out to Bunny via email with a few questions:

Katey Schultz: Please share a little bit about books you have read that have proved instrumental in shaping how you write, or how you think as a writer.

Bunny Goodjohn: I read the short story “Lizzie, Annie and Rosie’s Rescue of Me with Blue Cake” by Carolyn Chute in my Intro to Creative Writing course in college. It changed everything for me in that it gave me permission to really shift into child voice in  my fiction. Of course, I had encountered other kids’ voices in fiction. I was dragged through childhood with readers like Janet and John (your version is Dick and Jane) and struggled with Dickens and Henry and all manner of bad young adult titles. But Chute’s story was the first time I had encountered a voice that nailed the reality unhampered with the weight of adult experience. I then read all of Chute’s work and fell in love with her and her work. She’s blurbed my next novel–it doesn’t get better than that. 

The same happened for me with poetry when I read Linda McCarriston’s Eva-Mary. That voice–in this case, the adult voice returning to the childhood world–is bluntly honest and lets the poetry go where it needs to go. 

Maybe this obsession with truth through the child voice speaks to a sense that I have of my own emotional life stalling at around age nine. I was…how can I say, “sexualized” by an older boy. It seems, at times, that my view of the world is often her view–particularly when I sit down to write.  Everything feels like a secret, like an exposure.

Katey Schultz: Can you tell us about your ritual or discipline at the desk? You work a very full time job, have very full time pets, live in an interesting town, have a social life, and write multiple books. What works for you? Give us the nitty gritty.

Bunny Goodjohn: My writing life is fraught with challenges–four-legged, financial, work-related, and personal. I teach full time in order to pay my bills. So for the fall semester and the spring semester, I teach. My students are great, but they leach away my words. Or maybe I hand them over in an attempt to show these new writers how brilliant this writing life can be. Anyway, add that to two one-mile plus dog walks a day, grocery shopping, an intimate relationship with Netflix and the need to sleep, and you have why I don’t write poetry and fiction during the semester. I do write reviews. I’m the Book Review Associate Editor for Mom Egg Review and that’s really the focus of my spare time during academia. So in the spring break and over the summer, I take myself off to cabins in State Parks, to writers’ residencies and to cheap motels and hotels. I hole up for a few weeks and kickstart the process and this lets me shift away from academia and into creativity for the breaks. It has to be enough at the moment. 

I have to say that my addictive personality helps here. I can be tunnel visioned when it comes to all manner of destructive things: alcohol, working out, shopping, relationships. I turn this same compulsion to writing. It’s nothing for me to say, “Bunny, for the next ten days, you sit in this particular chair for 4 hours and 17 minutes and turn out three revisions and one new piece. Then you can eat. Then you can walk the dog. Then you can watch ‘This Life’ on Youtube.” And I do that. For four hours and seventeen minutes (the duration is unimportant, it’s the idea that’s core), for ten days, I write like that. 

It’s working. Two books this year and a new project begun. I think I’ll keep on doing what I’m doing!

Want more? Bunny Goodjohn’s writing, including Bone Song and her novel Sticklebacks and Snow Globes, are available via Bunny’s Etsy store (which is a whole other story!), where she makes the most money on each sale. Her work is also available online through Amazon, including her new novel, The Beginning Things, forthcoming November 2015.

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