Monday, January 21, 2013

Ralph's Rants interviews Joe Bonadonna!

Joe Bonadonna interview

Hello all and welcome back to another exciting episode of Ralph’s Rants interviews
This week we have the pleasure of interviewing the always interesting Joe Bonadonna.
Hello Joe and how are you doing today?

I’m fine, Ralph, thank you. And thank you for this opportunity.

Joe, let’s get right to it, when did you start writing?

Fifth grade, 1963-1964. A sequel to “Nightmare,” an episode of the original Outer Limits television show. I wrote a couple of things later on in grade school, too, and in high school—kids’ stuff, really. But I didn’t get into it until about 1970, after reading Tolkien and Robert E. Howard. I futzed around all through the 70s, bouncing back and forth between writing and playing in rock and roll bands. I sold 3 or 4 stories to a couple of fanzines—including a version of the Dorgo the Dowser tale, Mad Shadows—but as so often happened with these fan magazines back in the day, they folded before I got published. I did come “thisclose” to having a sword and sorcery novel published by Bantam Books back in 1980, but before contracts could be signed they brought in a new editor, changed their minds about me, and started getting away from that genre, concentrating more on romance novels. That took the wind out of my sails for a time.

What was your first published piece?

In 1984, another fanzine came along, called Orion’s Child. My story, Weegee’s Third Wish, was published in the premier issue, which also featured stories by friend and sometime writing partner David C. Smith, Richard L. Tierney, and even a story donated by Ray Bradbury. We all shared the cover, which was quite a rush for me. OC also published my sequel, The Curious Reversal of Ajo the Bear. Stories by Janet Fox, friend and mentor Ted C. Rypel, and another by David C. Smith were also included, and once again I was thrilled. My name didn’t make the cover on this one, though, lol! OC bought a third story from me, another version of Mad Shadows, but alas, they went under and that was it for Dorgo, until I published Mad Shadows: The Weird Tales of Dorgo the Dowser, through iUniverse, in 2011.

Did you always want to write fantasy/action/adventure?

Yep! My Dad introduced me to reading, Greek mythology and films at an early age. I was always turned on by films like King Kong, Gunga Din, The 7th Voyage of Sinbad, Hercules, Hercules Unchained, Spartacus, Forbidden Planet, and scores of other genre films. I devoured almost every fantasy, and sword & sorcery novel published or republished between 1968 and around 1985 or so, when I got totally burned out on the genres. I continued to read science fiction and some horror for a time, while getting into mysteries, hard-boiled detective, westerns, World War II thrillers, and a lot of the old pulp magazine stories. I was born and started reading in the days when pulp magazines were still everywhere magazines were sold. I devoured space opera and sword & planet, and a variety of pulp adventure tales. Then I started reading the Black Mask authors, and novels like The Postman Always Rings Twice, Nightmare Alley, Thieves Like Us, and The Real Cool Killers. I’ve read everything by Raymond Chandler, and I’m still working my way through Dashiell Hammett’s body of work. I don’t read as much or as often as I used to, but I sample some new sword and sorcery, and some of the New Pulp. Most of my reading nowadays is westerns, and the Black Mask gang. I like reading classics from the decades between 1920 and 1950—books published before I was born. I have a soft spot for Mickey Spillane, too.

What is your favorite piece of your own that has been published?

While I am very proud of the new one, Three Against The Stars, and the next one, Waters of Darkness, which I co-authored with David C. Smith, I have to say that Mad Shadows: The Weird Tales of Dorgo the Dowser, is my favorite. I’ve sold two new tales of Dorgo, and plan to include them with another novella in a “sequel,” to MS. Dorgo is closest to my heart.

Is there some part of Joe Bonadonna in ‘Dorgo the Dowser’ or O’Hara (From ‘Three against the Stars’) ?

Definitely. O’Hara’s persona is a little bit of me, but he’s also based on several people I know, one of whom was my foreman for 31 years—a Viet Nam veteran, and one of those guys that the saying “Once a Marine, always a Marine,” fits perfectly. O’Hara’s name is taken from the Joe Sawyer character on the old “Rin-Tin-Tin” television show. But he’s very much my homage to Victor McLaglen’s many roles as a sergeant in film director John Ford’s westerns, and most of all to his character of MacChesney in Gunga Din. As for Dorgo, his sarcasm and one-liners, his friendships and romantic troubles with women—these are “me,” and are based on my own experiences. That’s true of many of my characters. One young character holds the hand of a dying comrade. He looks at Dorgo and says, “I was holding my mother’s hand, just like this, when she died.” I was holding my Mom’s hand when she died. I didn’t even think about using that in the story. It just happened. I aim for the heart when I write. I’m not really interested in writing for the brain, making people think. What have I got to say, what wisdom or philosophy have I to give that haven’t already been thought of? It would just be my opinion, anyway, or I’d be repeating what others have already set down in writing. To press the “emotion button,” to make the reader laugh and cry, to make the reader feel is far more of a challenge than making them think.

What is the best part of writing novels for you right now?

When I know what I’m doing and where I’m going with a story. When I have all the characters down, when I have all the questions answered. When I can get “into the zone” and just let ‘er rip. I like it when the characters take over, when I have no control over them. I just type away until they stop. After that, I take over and use only what I think serves the story best. I love the interplay between the characters. One of the things that endear me to someone’s character is their “attitude,” their sense of humor. I try to win readers over with humor and the interaction between characters. I take my inspiration from old movies and TV shows. As for right now? I’ve slammed on the breaks. Too many other things in life are happening now.

And the worst?

Facing the keyboard (or pen and paper) and having no clue what to do and where to go. Fear of the blank screen. Having the switch turned off. Hitting that block, that wall. Sometimes you can smash through it. Sometimes you have to detour around it. Sometimes you have to wait for inspiration. I’m detouring around it right now. Whether I have to wait for inspiration remains to be seen. But I’ve published novels in 2011 and 2012, and have another coming out this year, around March. I also sold 2 novellas and a short story last year, and am working on another for my first shared-world experience. For me, this is a lot. So maybe my mind is on vacation for a while.

How do you feel about the process of getting published? Unnecessarily strenuous? Or rite of passage?

It’s both, I believe. And I had my share of both back in the 70s and 80s with my near-misses and frustrations. Let me back up a little, here. My first book, Mad Shadows, was self-published through iUniverse. That sort of led to my Three Against The Stars being published by Airship27 Productions. Then, when Dave Smith wanted to take Waters of Darkness to Damnation Books, who published his Dark Muse, they snatched it up less than 36 hours after he sent them the manuscript. What makes my experience so unbelievable is that I’m working with people I first made contact with back in the mid and late 1970s. Charles Saunders, Ron Fortier and I belonged to the same writing group: SPWAO, the Small Press Writers and Artists’ Organization. Through Charles I met Dave Smith, through Dave I met Ted C. Rypel, whose excellent, 5-volume sword and sorcery saga about Gonji the Samurai, is being republished by Borgo Press. Little did I know that, 30-odd years later, the circle is complete. Getting back to your question, I’m starting to learn my “market,” and when I write something I have a pretty good idea to whom I’m going to pitch the idea, or submit the file. It’s still strenuous, still hard work. It’s a new rite of passage, too.

You and I have talked at length about companies like ‘iUniverse’ and ‘Publish America’ before, do you feel they are harmful or helpful in getting new authors published?

Personally, I found it helpful. I know there are a lot of punches thrown at vanity and self-publishing, but this is a new day, a new age, and we must change with the times or be left behind. We must embrace all the new technology that makes it possible to get published without an agent and a traditional publisher. And I don’t buy into that, “If you don’t got an agent that means you ain’t no good.” That’s a load of crap. We all know that there is plenty of junk published by the big mainstream houses. Just as I know guitarists who can wipe the floor with Eddie Van Halen, but never got the big break, I know some indie writers out there who make Stephen King and JK Rowling look like rank amateurs. Now, that being said, Mad Shadows got my name out there. It opened doors and introduced me to publishers and other writers, too. There are now opportunities, even offers to collaborate and join in a “shared world” universe. If I hadn’t attended the Windy City Pulp and Paperback Convention in 2011, I might not have met up with Ron Fortier again, or met so many great writers and people working in the New Pulp arena. And what’s cool is how much I’ve learned just this past year, and what I’ve been learning this year.

The genre called ‘New Pulp’ has been good to us both, what do you feel about the way New Pulp has opened doors to so many authors who have obviously been waiting to get published before this, but had the proverbial doors slammed in their faces by so-called ‘Traditional’ publishers?

I think this a marvelous thing going on, this New Pulp movement. There’s a market out there that wants to read more stories featuring their favorite heroes, and New Pulp is filling that need. At the same time, New Pulp is constantly introducing new writers, new characters, new adventures to the world at large. I think mainstream publishing is missing a great opportunity here. But they’re too involved with searching for the “next big thing,” looking for more sparkly vampires, teenage wizards, 19th century novelists mashed-up with 21st century writers and stories, and presidents slaying all sorts of wicked things that go bump in the night. That’s all well and good. There’s a market for that stuff. But there are many “next big thing” authors and novels and characters being published every month by the New Pulp houses. And for those of us who know, no kudos are necessary. But for those who don’t . . . pulp fiction is more than a brand and a type; it’s a literary art form, noble and honorable. It goes almost as far back as Gutenberg’s great invention that first ran on muscles, sweat and ink. Charles Dickens, for instance, made his bones writing for “pulp magazines.” And just look at the vast number of writers who got their start writing for the pulps, authors who are now revered, people like Chandler, Hammett, HPL, REH, Ray Bradbury. The list is endless. “And that’s a good thing,” as Martha Stewart would say.

What is your next project or projects?

I’m preparing a promotional video trailer for Waters of Darkness, gearing up for my book-signing at this year’s Windy City Con, and working on marketing and promotion for my books. Besides getting some work done on the next Dorgo novel, I’m trying to work up an outline for a sword and planet sequel to Three Against The Stars, based on a nugget of a premise. I also have a partial and very rough draft for a sequel to Waters of Darkness. Vampire and zombie novels may be on the table, too. Maybe a novelized biography of my 20 years playing in rock and roll bands; I’ve been toying around and writing a couple of new songs, too. I’ve even thought of writing about my childhood and youth, but honestly—Angels with Dirty Faces, Mean Streets, Good Fellas, a Bronx Tale, and a few other films have already done it better than I probably could, lol!

Final question: When people ask you what do you do for a living, do you answer with “I’m a writer”?

Well, I don’t consider myself a writer, in a sense, because I don’t write for a living. I do tell people that I’m retired, that I write and network every day. I was forced into retirement 3 years ago. It’s hard enough to find jobs these days, especially at the age of 61. I’m just grateful to be in the position to retire early. And I’m blessed to have all these wonderful things happening to me, to have met and to continue to meet so many great writers and wonderful people. Life is grand!

Thanks Joe! Everyone give Mr. Bonadonna a round of applause for joining us this week. Who knows? Next week it could be YOU!

Thanks, Ralph! All the best to you and yours.


  1. This is great, Ralph! I thank you very much.

  2. Thank you, gentlemen -- and thanks again, Ralph!

  3. Thank you, guys! This was a great interview with Joe. I've enjoyed them all so far.