It’s been a while since the original Kickin’ The Willy Bobo Interview with Joe so I thought it about time we caught up with what he’s all about and what he’s doing 28 MONTHS LATER…
Derrick Ferguson: Have there been any major changes in your life since we last talked?
Joe Bonadonna: Well, Waters of Darkness, my third novel, was published since then. I’m officially retired now and collecting social security. Two stories I wrote have recently been published: A new tale of Dorgo the Dowser called “The Book of Echoes”, (inspired by Mickey Spillane’s “Kiss Me, Deadly”) is featured in a Kindle-only anthology called AZIERAN PRESENTS: ARTIFACTS AND RELICS—EXTREME SWORD AND SORCERY. This was edited by author Christopher Heath and published by his Heathen Oracle press. The other story is called “The Blood of the Lion”; it’s my first sword-and-soul story and it appears in GRIOTS: SISTERS OF THE SPEAR, published by Milton Davis’ MVmedia, which he and Charles Saunders assembled and edited. I also sold my first horror story, “Queen of Toads”, to be featured in a paperback anthology coming next year.
And I sold a story to Airship 27 for a future volume in one of their ongoing series. This summer I have two stories—one a collaboration—coming out in a long-running, very popular and successful shared-world series, and I am extremely excited about that. Currently, I’m working on a couple of fantasy and sword & sorcery stories unrelated to my Dorgo the Dowser character, although I have just completed the second draft of a special project involving him and his world, a novel that I’m hoping will become a reality.
Lately I’ve taken it upon myself to review the Author’s Cut editions of Janet Morris’ novels and anthologies that she is republishing under her own house, Perseid Press. Janet is one of the few living writers whose style, philosophy and character-driven stories influenced me years ago. I especially liked her Tempus and Niko stories for Thieves World; her Sacred Band novels, many of them co-written with her husband, Chris, are among my favorites of heroic fantasy. Her shared-universe series, Heroes in Hell, has been around since 1986 and is still going strong. Had my book-deal with Bantam Books not fallen through in 1980, Janet and I would have shared a publisher. I guess I appointed myself as the unofficial chronicler of her work. My reviews have been featured on Black Gate Magazine’s website. This has been keeping me quite busy for almost a year now.
DF: How do you feel your writing has developed since we last talked?
JB: I find myself wanting to experiment with different styles, as I did in “The Blood of the Lion”. (I must thank Milton and Charles for inspiring me and encouraging me in that direction, and for the opportunity and honor to write for such a great anthology as GRIOTS.) I want to go deeper with my stories, to say something about life and the human condition, without turning the stories into diatribes, lectures or dissertations. I’ve been reading philosophy lately, especially Heraclitus, to give my characters more depth. The plots of my stories are becoming very character-driven, and I’m trying to develop different and even more serious themes and subtext, with more introspection on the part of my characters. For instance, I have a 3-part heroic fantasy novel of Dorgo the Dowser waiting in the wings. One of the stories is about the loss of a child, loss of a mother, and a father’s betrayal. I plan to write another one where Dorgo’s involved in a case of child abuse and loss of innocence; might be interesting, for a sword & sorcery tale. The overall theme of Mad Shadows: The Weird Tales of Dorgo the Dowser is about loss of one kind or another: financial loss, loss of trust, loss of identity, loss of family, friends and loved ones; one of the novellas in that volume deals with a lost race and the funerary customs of different cultures. I also find myself going for a more colorful and even poetic style of prose.
DF: In what direction do you think your work is heading now as opposed to 28 months ago? Or is it heading in the same direction?
JB: I guess I’m now attempting to write stories that are more literary in nature, while still remaining firmly in the sword & sorcery and heroic fantasy genres. Even my pulp stories seem to be heading in a different direction; my characters want me to go deeper, to tackle some social issues, if possible. I’m more interested in writing about characters and their relationships than I am with writing the next action scene, slaying the next monster. I can sit all day and let my characters talk. But when it comes to action scenes, I’m hard-pressed and often grow quickly bored: it’s a challenge for me to write fight and battle scenes, but not the sort of challenge that inspires me. What inspires me is planting the “McGuffin,” surrounding it with as interesting a cast of characters as I can devise, and then let them do whatever they want to and for and against each other to steal and sell, use or destroy the McGuffin.
The films of Alfred Hitchcock, and the stories of Raymond Chandler and Dashiell Hammett, as I’ve said many times, are the inspirations for the Gothic-Noir tales of Dorgo the Dowser. I just want to grow as a writer and storyteller, and not stick too much with one kind of tale. In this one project I’m working on I found that I needed to tell the story from different POVs, at times. So what I experimented with is this: in scenes with Dorgo, I write in first-person, past tense; in scenes that do not feature him, I write in 3rd person, present tense. In battle scenes, action scenes, scenes that need to have a certain power of immediacy, I use present tense. And of course, I have a horror novel I’d like to write someday, as well as a novelesque—if I may be allowed to coin a word—version of a personal memoir. I might even try a romance novel or some erotica. Who knows?
DF: MAD SHADOWS: THE WEIRD TALES OF DORGO THE DOWSER is Fantasy. THREE AGAINST THE STARS is Space Opera. Does it take two different sets of creative muscles to write in two different genres?
JB: Most definitely. Dorgo is pretty much written in first person: he’s me. So the mindset is easy, and the door to his world is always open, although sometimes he isn’t in the mood to talk. And it really does feel like I’m chronicling his adventures, more than creating them. He tells me what to write. However, he doesn’t always take center stage, and the stories are really about one or more other characters. When I need some inspiration to write a Dorgo story, I watch a lot of film noir, read some Chandler and Hammett, and another favorite, Chester Himes, and then just step into the Dowser’s world. I know his world as well as I know the one I live in, and the style I use is pretty much my/his natural voice.
As for the space opera . . . that was tough, at first. There were three main characters and one central character to deal with, as well as a number of main and secondary heroes and villains. Plus, it was an exercise in style: I had to evoke that old-school, traditional space opera feel. I watched the three original Flash Gordon serials again, plus a lot of 1950s sci-fi films, and a few Republic Pictures Serials. Then I re-read some Edmund Hamilton and Henry Kuttner, and even some old novels I had never before read.
Once I got started, I was totally lost in that world. Now, I have been battling with a sword and planet sequel to Three Against The Stars, but the characters do not wish to cooperate. I even read and re-read Burroughs, Bradley, Brackett, and a host of others, to get the feel. I want my story to be character-driven, as opposed to plot-driven, and I want it to be about something: marital problems, infidelity, child adoption, with the main plot concerned with the hunting and killing of endangered species on an alien planet, and the effect on the environment of that world. I was hoping to have the first draft completed by the end of last December, but I’ve only managed about 6000 words in in 2013. Of course, five other stories demanded to be written first. As it is, I keep falling further and further behind on this project. I really want to write this novel, but I find myself losing interest in the project. I keep hoping that something, someone’s novel or a film or TV show, will rekindle the fire.
DF: Tell us about WATERS OF DARKNESS.
JB: That came about because David C. Smith, author of “Call of Shadows” and “Dark Muse”, had a 30 year-old, unfinished rough draft of a sword & sorcery novel lying around: an old-fashioned pirate yarn set in the Indian Ocean, eastern Africa, and on Madagascar. I had a 30 year-old, unfinished pirate novel that bore many similarities to his. So I convinced him that I could do a mash-up of the two and create something new and different, and thus went to work. He had already done so much research that I did only a small amount for what I wanted to incorporate into the story. Dave had already had a dash of Robert E. Howard and a sprinkle of Rafael Sabatini and Alexandre Dumas in his original manuscript, and I added a bit of Lovecraft’s Deep Ones, the Philistine sea-god, Dagon, a pinch of King Kong, a drop of Arthur Conan Doyle’s The Lost World, a sprinkle of Ray Harryhausen, and a lot of Douglas Fairbanks and Errol Flynn—and then I put it all in a blender.
I did about four drafts before I showed it to Dave, and then he added more of his own to it. Matching his style was a fun challenge, and handling a large cast of characters, a lot of action scenes, and different ethnic “voices” turned into a labor of love. In the end, it’s roughly 60% Dave and 40% me. We argued over where to send it, and settled on Damnation Books because they had just published Dave’s very interesting thriller, “Dark Muse”, and they made us an offer we couldn’t refuse, even consulting with us on what we wanted book cover to look like. I’m really happy with the novel, and hope more people pick up on it. It’s dark, action-packed, and with some great dialogue and meaningful relationships. It has two romances, and a lot of tragedy. It’s bloody, it’s violent and it’s a whole lotta fun!
DF: You’ve got a story in GRIOTS II: SISTERS OF THE SPEAR. Tell us about it.
JB: It’s called “The Blood of the Lion”, and it is set in the southern rainforest of Dorgo’s world, although he’s not in it. My main character is a young black woman named Nidreva, and her voice is the one I use to tell the story in first-person; I went with a semi-formal style I thought suited her personality. It’s a pretty universal theme: the relationship between a brother and sister. Nidreva’s older brother, Vidaro, has made an unusual self-sacrifice for the good of his tribe; their father is the chief. But this sacrifice produced an unforeseen adverse reaction on his physical and mental being that will eventually affect and change his life for the worst, if not dealt with immediately. To say more about this would give away too much of the story. So I’ll just say that Nidreva and Vidaro go on a quest to find Kijazura, a powerful Juju Mother who may be able to save Vidaro. Along the way Nidreva and Vidaro battle Monkeymen, encounter racism, and become prisoners of the Tulonga K’Adru, the Men with Two Horns, before their story ends. At the heart of this tale is the love between a brother and sister, their courage, and how they risk their lives for the good of their people. In a way, it’s a family-oriented, sword & sorcery tale, and one I am very proud of and honored to be included with such a fantastic group of writers in GRIOTS II: SISTERS OF THE SPEAR.
DF: Where do you see Joe Bonadonna in five years?
JB: God, I’ll be 67! I hope I’m still breathing and in decent health. Hopefully I’ll be in a nice retirement community in Arizona, chasing women half my age on the weekends . . . and still writing during the week.
DF: Hollywood calls and says that they’re going to give you 500 million dollars and the director of your choice to adapt one of your books into a movie. What book do you choose and what director?
JB: Mad Shadows, probably, and I’d want to write the script with my friend, Ted C. Rypel, author of “The Gonji Trilogy”. Now, since John Ford, Raoul Walsh, William Wellman, Michael Curtiz, Budd Boetticher, Burt Kennedy and John Houston are dead, and they probably won’t let me direct, I’d have to think about that. Martin Scorcese, Josh Whedon, Tim Burton, Guillermo del Toro, Gail Anne Hurd, Ridley Scott, Peter Jackson, if his tendency to over-indulge can be curbed, and Zach Snyder, if we can pry him away from the CGI long enough to try something old-school, I’d have to say. But I’d to hire the best British actors, and to have real sets built, to use miniatures, matte-paintings, and state-of-the-art stop-motion animation, because Ray Harryhausen and Willis O’Brien are at the heart and soul of almost everything I write.
DF: Recommend a movie, a book and a TV show.
JB: I can’t recommend any recent films, because I’ve pretty much lost interest in what Hollywood is cranking out these days, and I am so burned-out on Marvel Comic films. But for genre films, I do recommend Watchmen, Sin City, John Carter, and The Avengers. I also urge people to watch any black and white film noir of the 1940s and 1950s. John Ford westerns, the great costume epics of ancient Greece and Rome, too, and for the best fantasy and sword & sorcery films, watch 7th Voyage of Sinbad, Jason and the Argonauts, The Golden Voyage of Sinbad, and Sinbad and The Eye of the Tiger. The samurai films of Akira Kurosawa are a must.
Novels: anything by Ross Thomas, Robert W. Campbell and Guy Gavriel Kay. For television: The Big Bang Theory, NOVA, Masterpiece Mystery, The Simpsons, Family Guy, American Dad, and the brilliant Futurama. I also like Antiques Roadshow, Louis Gates’ ancestry specials, and The Red Green Show.
Derrick Ferguson: Anything else we should know?
Joe Bonadonna: I lead a rather uneventful life, so there’s no drama to report. I do want to wish you well in all your endeavors, Derrick, and thank you for this nice surprise and wonderful opportunity to warp and corrupt the minds of your readers and fans. I hope I haven’t rambled on too long!
Many blessings, my friend!