Bonnie ZoBell‘s chapbook collection The Whack Job Girls is coming out with Monkey Puzzle Press in 2013. She has received an NEA for her fiction, the Capricorn Novel Award, a PEN Syndicated Fiction Award for a story later read on NPR, and a spot on Wigleaf’s Top 50 Very Short Fictions. Her work has appeared in numerous publications, including Night Train, The Greensboro Review, New Plains Review, PANK, Cosmopolitan Magazine, Prick of the Spindle, and Cutbank. She received an MFA from Columbia on fellowship, currently teaches at San Diego Mesa College where she is the Creative Writing Coordinator, and is Associate Editor of The Northville Review. More of her work can be found at

What is your feeling about having mentors as a writer? Talk about the mentor relationship if you will, its importance to a writer…

 I do think it’s important for writers to have mentors, people they look up to, though the mentorship relationship can mean different things to different people. In my case, it mostly means it’s someone who inspires me to work even harder, who helps me see even better what beautiful writing is and what it can do. It means someone who really gets what I’m trying to do and can help me make it even better. When I was in graduate school, that was Fred Busch. Dorothy Allison has been my mentor by simply writing her astounding fiction and when I got to work with her at Tin House. “You need to have a goddamn motherfucker in that book,” she told me, which was absolutely true. Too much tiptoeing around. Kathy Fish told me you have to have surprises in your fiction, things that are completely unpredictable. Steve Almond is my mentor right now, and I’ve been fortunate enough to work with him several times at Tin House. “Slow down where it hurts,” he says.

I also consider writers I’ve never met before to be mentors by way of their amazing writing:  Flannery O’Connor, Dan Chaon, Gabriel Garcia Marquez, Joyce Carol Oates, William Trevor, Toni Morrison. I could go definitely go on.

What do you do when you feel stuck or uninspired and does it work to trick the brain into working?

I either get away from writing entirely for a few days or a week, which usually makes me rearin’ to go when I get back to it. Or I work on a different kind of writing.

If I’m stuck on a particular work and trying to get back into it, sometimes I print out some of it and retype it. This gets me back into the voice and mood, invariably I start doing some editing, and with any luck I’m able to forge ahead in the work from there.

Are there favorite writing exercises or prompts which you use regularly & will share? (if this replicates the previous question, ignore…

I don’t have regular prompts, probably. Answering my email in the morning gets me warmed up to talk in a regular voice to other human beings, which is what I strive to do in my fiction. I do like to write to other people’s writing prompts. The Flash Factory on Zoetrope Virtual Studio is a wonderful place for exercises. Many of the ones I’ve written there have turned into flashes or full-length short stories. If I’m stuck on a particular work and trying to get back into it, sometimes I print out some of it and retype it. This gets me back into the voice and mood, invariably I start doing some editing, and with any luck I’m able to forge ahead in the work from there.

Suggestions for making characters live?  Do you know who they are before you write or do you find out who they are in the writing?

I may have some ideas about characters before I write, which contributes to my wanting to write a certain piece, but I really don’t know who they are when I start out. I find out as I start writing. Probably what helps me make them live the most is trying to be as loose as I can be in the writing without being overly critical or cutting a lot of things yet. This way weird details about the person spill out, quirks, that hopefully I can go back in and milk for more for some defining characteristics of the person.

Please talk a bit about The Whack-Job Girls here. Anything related to writing and birthing this book!

The Whack-Job Girls & Other Stories (Monkey Puzzle Press 2013) was a pleasure and fun to write. None of the women in the stories quite fit into society the way they’d like to. Some are profoundly disturbed, like the first one who sees the Madonna on her living-room wall. Others are off-beat, but not quite so worrisome—like the girl in the last story, a hotel maid, who’s taking anthropology at a community college and can’t help trying to interpret what the bizarre details left behind in hotel rooms say about the humankind.

Most of us have worried at one time or another about being “normal,” but we keep it in check, so this was fun because I didn’t have to keep anything in check while writing this chapbook.

What is next for you?

I’m finishing up a collection of connected full-length short stories, What Happened Here, about a neighborhood living on the site of a major airplane crash in San Diego. After that, I plan to work more on a novel I’ve started.

The Fictionaut Five is our ongoing series of interviews with Fictionaut authors. Every Wednesday, Meg Pokrass asks a writer five (or more) questions. Meg is the editor-at-large for BLIP Magazine, and her stories and poems have been published widely. Her first full collection of flash fiction, “Damn Sure Right” is now out from Press 53. She blogs at

  1. Cezarija Abartis

    I love the comments on the mentors–what Dorothy Allison, Kathy Fish, and Steve Almond said. Thanks for the whole interview.

  2. Matt Dennison

    Slow down where it hurts.

    Finally, some useable writing advice(!)

  3. james claffey

    yes, good stuff. thanks for the insights.

  4. Bonnie ZoBell


    I agree! Those words really made me thing.


  5. Bonnie ZoBell

    Make that think. I should have thought about that sentence a little longer.


  6. April Decker

    Congratulations Bonnie, on the publication of the The Whack Job Girls. And thanks for passing on some great advice. I especially like your solution for making characters live, and the idea of slowing down where it hurts. You are a great teacher in and out of the classroom!

  7. Marie Shield

    Am so excited for you. Can’t wait for it to come out. Sounds like such fun stories to read. Congratulations.


  8. Sam Rasnake

    Nicely done. Enjoyed the interview.

  9. Judy Reeves

    Nice interview, Bonnie. I am so looking forward to the publication of THE WHACK-JOB GIRLS. Your characters are always so well-drawn and you do it with those few, well-chosen strokes that tell so much.

  10. Gerri Brooks

    Bonnie, I loved the interview. I’m so excited every time I see that you have written something. Can’t wait to read The Whack Job girls.

  11. Kitty

    Nice interview Bonnie, I’m even more interested in the The Whack-Job Girls. Can’t wait.

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