Friday, March 14, 2014

Interview with Lindsay Bonilla

(At the Ohioana Book Festival in 2011)

Lindsay Bonilla is a storyteller unlike any I've interviewed thus far. Lindsay has written a few picture books, but most of her stories you'll never read. Lindsay tells most of her stories through live performances! She has even written and starred in two movies. Lindsay uses her organization "Make a Difference" to teach children about other cultures and to support a variety of organizations that are there to make our world a better place. I'm proud to be able to bring you my interview with Lindsay Bonilla today!

(Doing an interactive reading of my book
“O Christmas Tree” as the title
character ‘Treena’)
Dani: Tell us how your story telling style is different from other picture book writers.

Lindsay: That's a good question, and to be honest, I'm not sure how to answer it. I don't know if I could characterize my writing as any particular style. I enjoy writing all kinds of things, and each project seems to bring out something different in me. I'm a big fan of C.S. Lewis, so I love writing in allegory – taking deep truths and simplifying them for young readers or else allowing people to hear them with fresh ears. I also love rhyme. I know that PB writers are often discouraged from writing in rhyme, but it's so much fun that I can't resist! I love playing with language, and I also love the way that rhyme gives you a structure to follow. It limits you within a certain framework, yet there are so many creative possibilities within that framework. I also enjoy writing from the point of view of a character within the story. Maybe it's the actor in me, but it's great fun to get inside of someone else's head and see how they would think, speak, etc. So I guess I would say that my style is constantly evolving!

Dani: PB & J or BLT and why?

Lindsay: Definitely PB&J. I've been a vegetarian for the last 17 years, over half of my life, and meat doesn't even appeal to me anymore. Now if you replaced the bacon on the BLT with some kind of cheese, then it would be a much tougher call!

Dani: How do you find that verbal story telling is different than the written word?

(A scene from the live storytelling version of my book
“Lily and the City of Light”)
Lindsay: Verbal storytelling is more fluid and flexible. I may tell the same story a hundred times, but it's never going to come out exactly the same way. There will always be variations in my word choice and my delivery. Many of these will be as a result of the relationship that I build with the audience. I am feeding off of their energy, looking into their eyes and seeing where we are connecting and where I still need to draw them in with my voice, movements, etc.

My listeners hear the story and then they go and tell it to someone else. Inevitably, they are going to change it in the process. They may emphasize one part more than another, forget a detail or replace it with something else, whether intentionally or unintentionally. The story is going to take on a life of its own the more it is shared, especially since most likely the listener isn't going to be able to go back to the teller from whom they heard it to clarify details, etc.

With the written word, you can rely on the text. It's always there to go back and refer to, and chances are the story is not going to undergo too much variation. It's going to stay fixed. For this reason, word choice is extremely important. It's not to say that it's not important in verbal tellings, and I still give it a lot of consideration in this context. However, when I'm writing and I know that it's going to be in a printed format, fixed for “all time,” it becomes that much weightier of a task to find the perfect word choice. And with publishers looking for picture books between only 500-1,000 words these days, you really have to make every word count! There are no word limits when you're doing a verbal telling!

Dani: You've travelled a lot, which location did you enjoy the most?

Posing with the children after a storytelling session
 at a school in Guatemala
Lindsay: I've been to lots of fascinating places, but if I had to pick only one, I would pick Kruger National Park in South Africa. I've been in love with African wildlife since I was little girl, and it was always my dream to go on a safari in Africa. Two years ago, my husband and I realized that dream on a 5-day self-drive safari through Kruger. We got up close with lions, cheetahs, giraffes, hyenas, rhinos and many other amazing creatures in their natural habitat. We even got roared at by a hippo! We'd wake up every morning at 4am and drive around all day to see things, and we never got tired of it! I had purchased some folktale books about African animals in Johannesburg. The books told such stories as “Why the Zebra Has Stripes” etc, and also gave interesting facts about the animals. So I served as our tour guide while my husband drove! The experience was so beautiful that I was actually crying when we left the park. (A close second to Kruger would have to be the Dunes of Merzouga in Morocco. If you ever get the chance to ride a camel into the desert and spend the night there in tents, watching shooting stars, don't let it pass you by! It's incredible!)

Dani: What's it like working and staring in a movie?

With the cast of my first film “Flight to India"
Lindsay: It's exactly that – a lot of WORK! People see movies and don't realize all that goes into it. It looks glamorous, but there are a lot of unglamorous things that actors go through! One of the things with film is that you have to do multiple takes. Maybe the first time you do a take and you get it right, but someone else in the scene makes a mistake. The next time, it's you goofing up. You have to do it over and over again until you get a clean take. And our director liked to have at least two clean takes before we moved on, just in case he'd missed something. We would also shoot the same scene from different angles and different character points of view. In Hollywood, they probably have multiple cameras to do this. But ours was an independent film, so just one camera. That means that one page of the script could easily take hours to shoot, depending on how much action and how many people were in the scene!

We had a lot of child actors in our film as well. All of them were excellent to work with, but as you can imagine, their attention spans are not as long as most adult actors so we had to be creative to keep them engaged and motivated-- and of course, take lots of snack breaks!

Overall though, it was a really gratifying process. Having written the screenplay for the film, acted in it and co-produced it, to see it all come together – from words on a page to actors bringing it to life -- was fantastic. And to know that children are watching it now and going on their own “story adventures” right in their living room is a great feeling. I've had parents tell me how after watching the film their children have used their imaginations to re-tell the story or take a “trip” to another far-off destination, and this makes all the hard work more than worth it! I have two films now and would love to make a whole series, but that is probably something that would have to happen further down the road due to time and funding!

Dani:. You have two more picture books waiting to be published and two films. What other things does the future hold for you?

(At the Plant the Seed to Read Book Festival in 2013)
Lindsay: Well, the biggest thing the future holds for me is that I'm about to become a mom in only a few short weeks! My husband and I are very excited to welcome a little boy into our family. He will join his “older brother,” our rescue dog Blitzen, and we can't wait to meet him.

I know this new addition will significantly change my life and my approach to work as well. I am still planning to write and tell stories professionally (and if all goes well will be back performing at libraries again this summer!) However, I think now I will have even more reason to tell stories and even more stories to tell! At the moment, I've got lots of picture books at various stages of development so perhaps in some of my quieter moments (if there are any of those once baby arrives!), I'll try to continue working on those and getting them submitted to agents.

Also, my fourth book, Lily and the Return to Htrae, the sequel to Lily and the City of Light, should be released in the next few months!

Dani: Do you have any thoughts you'd like to share?

Lindsay: Hmm... I'm very rarely at a loss for words, so. . . as far as writing is concerned, I would have to say that there is a lot of different advice out there. Some people say you have to write every day to consider yourself a writer. (I wish I could!) Others say you need to know the market. (I've still got a ways to go on this one!) But I believe that the most important thing is to be true to yourself and allow your own voice to shine through. Learn as much as you can from others, but be careful about comparing yourself or judging yourself by their standards. If all the advice gets overwhelming, shut it out for awhile and just WRITE! And remember, whatever your goals are for writing, enjoy the journey and don't be so focused on the destination that you miss out on the wonderful fun of discovery and creativity that comes along the way.

A shot for my interactive storytelling company, World of Difference Ltd. 
Lindsay Bonilla's LINKS:



Lindsay also blogs bi-monthly at:

Amazon author page:
(All my books and DVDs are available on Amazon by searching “Lindsay Bonilla” or my site links to Amazon here:

Stay Connected with Lindsay on FACEBOOK, TWITTER, & LINKED IN.

To sign up for Lindsay's e-newsletter, click HERE!


  1. a lovely interview with a lovely person. good luck with the wonders of parenthood to Lindsay and thanks Dani

  2. Such an outstanding interview, Dani, about my Cheers to Writing friend, Lindsay. I like your advice to *be true to yourself.* All the best to you as a Momma to be.

  3. What a fascinating interview. Thanks, Dani and Lindsay, for sharing. I love the animated voice and lively body language that goes with verbal storytelling. It really makes the story come alive. As a kid, I was fortunate to experience this from my librarian. She made a lasting impression on me. She is probably responsible for my interest in writing picture books. I am sure that you, Lindsay, have inspired many!