Interview with Bonnie Leon
I know Gayle Ranney is an Alaska pilot who provides info for your flight stories. Have you ever flown over Alaska and landed in a small plane?
No. Never. I’ve only flown on commercial flights, and once in a friend’s helicopter. That was fun. I relied on Gayle, my brother, Bruce and I read lots of books about and by bush pilots. Bruce also provided lots of aerial photographs he took while flying over portions of the state.
2. Can you tell readers how you researched medical symptoms which show up often in the book?
I used a variety of sources—internet medical sight, my doctor and medical books. And for a couple of conditions firsthand experience from family.
You also pick the brain of your brother, Bruce, who lives in Alaska. Do you view Alaska as a whole different world from what we experience on the U.S. mainland?
Yes, in a sense. It is cut off from the Lower Forty Eight. And life in Alaska, even in this modern era, can still be a challenging place to live. There are nearly as many pilots as there are drivers because so much of the state is inaccessible by road. In fact, my grandparents homestead still can only be reached by plane, boat, or snow machine or dog sled during the winter months.
Many Alaskan residents seek the frontier lifestyle and are still panning for gold, trapping and living a subsistence life style. My brother is one of those and my sister lives in a remote area where she and her husband rely on the ocean almost exclusively to provide the protein part of their diet.
Even in Anchorage you’ll find moose and bears roaming the neighborhoods.
How do you write about coming down on the ice so realistically with the bounce, the vibrations, and the crunch of the plane on the ice and snow. I’d think it takes more than research and interviews.
It is mostly research, but I do have a good imagination and can visualize a lot of what pilots and passengers experience when flying. What made it possible to create the scenes realistically was the input of people who experience flying all the time—like Gayle and my brother. They filled in the gaps for me. Gayle’s expertise is the only reason I was able to plant readers in the cockpit of Kate’s Bellanca.
Are you mechanically inclined, or were descriptions of necessary plane inspections before each flight a challenge?
I am absolutely not mechanical and in the beginning the scenes were a challenge. The inspections and repairs came straight from Gayle. She has been flying for so many years so she’s experienced most of what I wrote about and what she didn’t know, she knew where to find the information. Sometimes she’d direct me to an internet site where I could get what I needed in order to describe a scene. I can remember watching and rewatching one illustration because I just couldn’t “get it”. Finally it came together in my mind and I was able to recreate for an incident in the book.
What did Kate do as a character that frustrated you as you wrote? Were you tempted to change her?
When I wrote the first book in the series, Touching the Clouds, I felt something was wrong. When I turned the manuscript in to my editor she responded quickly with “Something’s not right. Fix it.” I didn’t get much else from her. I remember praying and asking God to show me what I needed to do. The answer came quickly – the characters weren’t right to tell this story. It’s been so long ago, I can’t tell you who they were in the beginning, but I remember transforming them as I reworked book one.
What I do know about the Kate who ended up on the page is this – I admire her courage, perseverance and determination, but I was sometimes frustrated with the self doubt that raised its ugly head from time to time, even though I understood why she felt that way. From book one to the end of book three, Kate grew a great deal, maturing and gaining confidence as well as an assurance that if she placed her life in God’s hands that He would lead her along the right path.
I must add that there were times that I had to agree with her mother and her husband and wished she’d be more careful.
Kate and Paul have many conflicts, just as most newlyweds. Despite their exceptional love, disaster strikes and their lives begin to unravel. This happens so often to marriages in real life. Was it a challenge to find something or remind them of what they must hang on to?
It wasn’t difficult at all. I’ve lived a good many years and have been married forty-one years so I know real life. My husband and I’ve been through heartache and sorrow, we’ve had to find our natural and spiritual roles in our marriage. What Paul and Kate experience, though in somewhat extraordinary circumstances is the same things all couples must learn.
I relate with Kate. I can be stubborn and if my husband tells me, “No,” I naturally rebel. However, he almost never does. I’ve been blessed with a man who is not threatened by my abilities and strengths. He’s always encouraged me be exactly who I am. He’s terrific.
Is there inspirational takeaway as Kate and Paul grow spiritually or in character?
Throughout the series there is more than one theme. But the one that speaks to me most loudly is that we each have a path to walk and our path doesn’t look like anyone else’s. God has an individual plan for each of us. And if we want to live within His will we need to begin with Him. If we surrender to Him there is nothing we can’t do and life may be hard but it will be full of joy and adventure.
1 How many books have you written?
Up to this point, I’ve published nineteen books, all of them series except for one stand alone.
. This seems to be the last in your series Alaskan Skies series. If so, what is your next writing project?
It is the last book in The Alaskan Skies series. I am now stepping into a true life story and writing it as a memoir. I’ve never written this type of book and I have a lot to learn. It hasn’t been easy, but I’m getting into the rhythm of this style of writing and the story is so amazing that I’m having a great time.
A Cherokee woman who grew up in an Athabaskan village in Alaska asked if I would write her story. At first I didn’t think it was for me . . . that is until she started telling me about her life. Soon I was crying and thinking that maybe I was meant to write it.
This gal has lived an incredible life—some of it is magical and some so tragic that I’m in awe of how God restored the spirit of a battered girl who grew up to love him and understand how great his love is for her.