by Rick Watson
It was during her fourth grade year at tiny Empire School that Bonnie Powell became a writer. “I had written my first story and my teacher Elowese Bynham asked me to read the story aloud to my classmates,” Powell explains. After reading the story in her own classroom, Mrs. Bynham also took her to other classes where she read the story to other students. “I was hooked,” she says “I knew at that moment that I wanted to be a writer.”
Bonnie saw her dream come true this fall with the publication of her first novel “Forgiving Sam” which is now on bookshelves and in libraries across the country.
Bonnie Powell, who writes under the name of Powell Clark, graduated from Dora in 1972
But the memories of her high school years are not all together fond ones. She says that she overweight in high school, and not in the “In Crowd”. It was never stated, but one can tell there is some pain associated with those years.
People are motivated to succeed by various things. Some people find inspiration from parents and some by mentors, but Powell’s motivation came from teachers who made her angry. “I had some teachers who thought I wasn't’t smart enough to be a writer,” says Powell. She is dyslexic and had some problems in school, but she has continued to write through the years.
After high school, her mother had her heart set on Powell becoming a nurse. So she attended Jefferson State and began her nursing career after graduation. Though she continued to write, she put her dreams on hold.
Nursing was not a bad life experience, especially the time she spent in pediatrics. In fact, Powell gained a wealth of knowledge about children and the tremendous challenges they face just to survive. The young character Sam in her novel is a compilation of many children she met in her work as a nurse. Powell is quick to point out that she is no expert on abuse or other psychological issues faced by children, but working closely with children who are hurting gives one insight to these problems and the impact it has on their lives.
Powell got out of nursing when she hurt her back lifting an uncooperative patient. She now writes each day through the week with only minimal work on the weekend.
The novel started out as a short story. Back in the early 90’s, Powell wrote about a man that was going through difficult times and went home to visit his mother. His mother would always say, “Eat Something First, it will make you feel better.” So the name of the short story was “Eat Something First,” but the story kept evolving and grew into the man’s childhood and then into his adult life. The end result is an 800-page novel. She completed the first draft in 1993.
The novel made the leap from bits and bytes on her computer’s hard drive to the book that is on shelves this way: Powell went to a writer’s workshop in 1995 at Birmingham Southern College. She met Randall Williams who was the editor and chief of New South Books. As the conference was wrapping up, Powell approached Randall and asked what it would take for him to read an 800-page manuscript. Randall told her that if she could keep his interest through fifty pages that he’d read the rest of the manuscript. Randall kept reading. Powell was really encouraged, because this was the first pitch she ever made to a publisher and it sold.
Since the original draft, the book went through six re-writes. They kept trying to find unnecessary words and paragraphs, but Powell says that the editor could not bring himself to edit any of the story. “The book is pretty concise,” says Powell. So it was decided to leave the story intact.
How does it feel to have a book published? She says that it feels good and frightening at the same time and that she has no idea what to expect. She said “writing the book was like being pregnant with a child for two years.” But she says she’s aiming high and taking advantage of every opportunity she gets.
“I really hope that a lot of people read “Forgiving Sam”, I hope they love it, respect it, and I hope it makes them feel something when they read it ” she says. There is a quote on the front of the book from the Library Journal that says: “A powerful story of guilt and redemption…..highly recommended.”
Ferrol Sams wrote “Horrifyingly graphic but gripping…engrossing….a page turner….I felt rewarded for having follow Sam to his eventual emancipation.”
Powell currently lives in Empire, Alabama and is married to Robert Clark. She has three girls: Blakley, 23; Blaire, 21; and Bailey is 18.
Powell says that she loves her life now and that while things are going very well for her now, she wonders where she’d be had she followed her dream when she was much younger and in better health. “If there’s any advice that I would give to anyone it is that people should push themselves and to take opportunities while they are available.”
Since the book just shipped at the first of November, her book-signing schedule has just gotten underway. She will be signing copies of her novel at Jasper Mall on 11/23/02 beginning at 11:00 a.m. She will also be signing copies of her book at “The Little Professor” in Homewood, Alabama on December 7th. You can keep up with Powell by visiting her new website at http://www.powellclark.com