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Interview With Sonja Dewing — Adventure Writer Enjoys Living On The Wild Side: Inspirational Indie Authors Podcast

Interview With Sonja Dewing — Adventure Writer Enjoys Living on the Wild Side: Inspirational Indie Authors Podcast

My guest this week is Sonja Dewing, an adventure writer who enjoys living on the wild side while she writes about it, whether it’s touring the Amazon or mixing it up in the roller derby. Sonja decided to quit her job a few years ago to focus on her writing, travel, and helping other authors, and has not regretted the decision for one second. 

Every week I interview a member of ALLi to talk about their writing and what inspires them, and why they are inspiring to other authors.

A few highlights:

On the Amazon as a Character

It’s an antagonist because, if you want to get somewhere in the Amazon, it’s like it’s running against you the whole time. There are limbs and there’s creatures and there’s the heat and the humidity. It’s hard to imagine it without physically being there.

On Writing During COVID-19 Lockdown

My recommendation out there to writers who are having issues writing, because I know that’s a huge thing right now, is just, number one, try to focus on the technical things of the story first and see if that gets you to the creative piece. And then, if not, try setting a timer for five minutes and just writing for five minutes and see what happens.

Listen to my Interview with Adventure Writer Sonja Dewing

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About the Host

Howard Lovy has been a journalist for more than 30 years, and has spent the last six years amplifying the voices of independent publishers and authors. He works with authors as a book editor to prepare their work to be published. Howard is also a freelance writer specializing in Jewish issues whose work appears regularly in Publishers Weekly, the Jewish Daily Forward, and Longreads. Find Howard at howardlovy.comLinkedIn and Twitter.

Read the Transcript of my Interview with Adventure Writer Sonja Dewing

Howard Lovy: I’m Howard Lovy and you’re listening to Inspirational Indie Authors.

Every week I feature a member of the Alliance of Independent Authors to find out what inspires them and how they are an inspiration to other authors.

My guest this week is Sonja Dewing, an adventure writer who enjoys living on the wild side while she writes about it; whether it’s touring the Amazon or mixing it up in the roller derby.

Sonja decided to quit her job a few years ago to focus on her writing, travel, and helping other authors, and has not regretted the decision for one second.

Sonja Dewing: I’m Sonja Dewing, I am an award-winning creative writer. I have two published novels and one published nonfiction. I love writing fiction and I also enjoy helping out other authors get into the writing process.

Oh my gosh, I realized I was a writer when I was a kid. I remember writing “a novel” when I was like 13, and I still have it. It’s handwritten, maybe a hundred pages, and it’s awful. But I knew back then that I wanted to write stories and be creative. I took some creative writing courses in college and in high school as well, and I still have some of the papers. And my professors would note on my papers, “Don’t stop writing,” which unfortunately, I did. But I always loved writing stories and being creative about them, and my main interest was always sci-fi, which I thought was interesting that, my first novel, was adventure. But I always enjoyed writing sci-fi originally, in the beginning.

Howard Lovy: Like most authors, the beginning of her career was spent doing something else, but she always found a way to make any project also a writing project.

Sonja Dewing: Well, my mother was like, maybe you should have a backup just in case writing doesn’t work out for you. So, like many writers that I’ve known, I got a full-time job.

I’ve worked as an administrative assistant, as an organizer but, throughout all those jobs, I was always the one who, if they needed a writing project done, they would talk to me. And so, I ended up becoming a technical writer because of all the work that I took on myself. So, for many years I was a technical writer and then a freelance technical writer, which I think really helped me write because, especially when you get to the editing stages, you’ve got to take out all the crap.

Howard Lovy: With her ability to self-edit and her deep desire to write, there was little holding her back from the life she wanted, except for one thing.

Sonja Dewing: So, in my early twenties I met this guy and, I felt kind of pushed into a relationship, because back then all my other friends were getting married or having kids, and here I was still single and I was like, “Oh my God, I’ve got to be in a relationship.” So, I got into this relationship and he just didn’t like me sitting at a table working while he was watching TV. He wanted me right next to him. And it was such a weird thing, and I look back and I’m so mad at myself for letting it get to that point.

And to be honest, I was really worried I would never recapture my creativity, but I am happy to say, you’re totally able to recapture your creativity.

Howard Lovy: Recapturing that creativity also stirred something else in Sonja, a wanderlust, a restlessness to make a big change, not only to write, but to travel the world to do it. So, she made what may seem like a drastic decision, but to Sonja, it was the next logical step.

Sonja Dewing: You know, I wasn’t happy in my job and I had been talking to someone. I was actually just thinking of picking up and moving to another town, and, this complete stranger that I met when I was at a hostel in Colorado, we were just talking over breakfast and I told him what I was thinking, and he’s like, well, maybe a move isn’t what you’re looking for. Maybe a change in your life, or maybe a trip of a lifetime, or maybe something else.

And so that spurred me to think differently about what I wanted in life, and that, maybe I just wanted to be an author and travel and do the things that I really enjoy doing. And so, that conversation with a complete stranger spurred me to quit my job and run off.

Howard Lovy: When that finally clicked, when she realized she didn’t need to be stuck at a job she didn’t like, that is when Sonja’s writing career really began and it went hand-in-hand with her newfound freedom to travel.

Adventure WriterSonja Dewing: In 2012, I wrote Toy of the Gods, which was the first novel I’d written that I actually really liked, and I felt was publishable.

It was set in the Amazon, which I had never been to. So, after I finished writing it in, it was 2014, at that time, I was working for the University of New Mexico and I quit my job and sold all my things and moved whatever boxes I had into my dad’s garage, and then went off to Costa Rica, Panama, and Peru for seven weeks, and that included a trip to the Amazon for, I think, seven days and six nights.

At an eco-resort, in the middle of the Amazon, I took video and audio of the Amazon. Our guide at the resort told us so many interesting things so I took a lot of notes. My best friend went with me to the Amazon, and then we went to Costa Rica to learn how to surf, and then we came back to the US.

Once we were in the US we split up, went our different ways. I decided to travel around the US, thinking I was going to move somewhere else. And so, I got in my car and I drove around the US seeing friends, visiting different cities, and then I stopped in Nevada for a month to rewrite. It was a little town where I didn’t know anybody. And I hated it.

It kind of feels like right now, you know, I was kind of self-isolated in an Airbnb, and the coffee shops there didn’t stay open late, so I didn’t have anywhere to go work other than the Airbnb, but it worked. I spent the month rewriting the story, bringing in different characters, bringing in the character of the Amazon, and when I was done, it was a much better version of that novel.

I mean, it still required some work, but yeah, it was definitely on its way.

Howard Lovy: By going to the Amazon, Sonja was better able to present the place as a character in itself.

Sonja Dewing: So being in the Amazon, I mean it is a character, it’s an antagonist because, if you want to get somewhere in the Amazon, it’s like it’s running against you the whole time. There are limbs and there’s creatures and there’s the heat and the humidity.

It’s hard to imagine it without physically being there. The first day we got there, you see this big gray snake crossing your path as you get off the boat.

The creatures there are amazing. There’s this beautiful blue and orange bird. We saw caiman, and so, just the variety of animals and also the amazing trees. There’s this one tree that the red ants will inhabit. So, if you hit the tree or something, these red ants come pouring out of the holes in the tree and there’s another tree that moves an inch every year to get more sunshine.

So even the trees are out for themselves because they want to continue to be a tree. But it’s like everything’s out for itself in the Amazon.

Howard Lovy: And, while Sonja said she’d never go chasing after a snake, the experience made her happy in that she was finally letting go with her adventurous spirit and capturing it in her stories. But she finally did find a home in Albuquerque, New Mexico. Now forget about the Albuquerque of Breaking Bad and Better Call Saul. The real city, she says, is much more pleasant.

Sonja Dewing: After my travels, I came back here and I got involved in the entrepreneurial ecosystem, which is pretty amazing here. There’s a lot going on. A lot of new companies building up. A lot of new coffee shops opened up, and then we had a huge rush of breweries opening, which is kind of sad, right?

They’re still selling beers right now, but they’re not open for business for people to come and see them. But there’s amazing things in Albuquerque, and personally, I love the weather. It’s blue skies and sunshine, I think, at least 90% of the year.

Howard Lovy: Sonja also jumped right into helping out the local writing community in Albuquerque. As a liaison for National Novel Writing Month or NaNoWriMo, she organized in person write-ins. Hopefully, by November, the in-person part could happen again. As for her own work, the next step was to go completely indie, which meant getting the rights to her book back from the publisher.

Sonja Dewing: First of all, when I went to publish my first novel, I really wanted a publisher. I think I felt like I needed someone to tell me that the book was good enough to publish, and so I went through this process of finding a publisher, and I found one that I liked and we signed a contract. It was a really simple contract, which I’m glad of.

And then, they took the book and they were doing their work and I would get these emails saying, we’ve put your book in our marketing 3000 level, but I would never see any sales, and they would never tell you how they were marketing the book.

I think, being a technical writer, I’ve learned a lot about technology and managing marketing, and so I finally decided, okay, I’m going to take the book back and just become my own marketer and publisher.

And so, I took it back, went through that whole process of figuring out how to do it. And, you know, I’m selling more books than they ever did, so I’m happy that I took it back.

Howard Lovy: Sonja was happy to have the rights to her book, happy about her ability to travel while living in a community she enjoyed. But there was one more thing missing in her life. Why roller derby, of course. So, she filled that gap too.

Sonja Dewing: Well, after I had moved back to Albuquerque, I went to a Comic Con here in Albuquerque with a friend, and a roller derby representative rolled up to us and handed me a flyer. And, I looked at it and I laughed, and my friend who was with me, he said, well, why not? Then that got me thinking, well, why not? Why don’t I go try it?

So, I went to an open house and put on roller skates for the first time in, probably around 35-40 years. I was terrible that first night. I was like a giraffe on roller skates, but I still loved it. And so now it’s four years later, and I’m still skating. My roller derby name is Author of Pain. I love roller derby, and I’m really missing it right now.

All of us are still working out and roller skating on our own, but we can’t really practice roller derby.

Howard Lovy: Unfortunately, the derby, like many things that involve physical contact with others, is on hold for now. But Sonja has the memories of her adventures to call upon now in her writing, and she understands that many writers might be having a hard time, so she has some advice.

Sonja Dewing: The next big vacation was supposed to be Vegas in July, RollerCon, which is a huge roller derby conference. And then, somewhere in October, I was thinking about going back to Peru, to Machu Picchu. I’ve been to Machu Picchu, but I want to go back and then also explore more of the ruins in Peru and then the Amazon. So, there are a lot of plans for travel, I just have to wait and see what happens.

Number one, sticking to a routine. I get up in the morning, I have a trainer, and over FaceTime, we work out together. I just got a dog to keep me company and we go for long walks at lunchtime. And then, writing wise, I’ve been going to parks that aren’t very well used, so quiet little parks tucked away so I can sit in the sunshine and write down some notes.

And then in the evening, when I’m at home, I’ll start on the bones of a story, character descriptions and things like that. And then that eventually segues me into writing the story. So, I don’t try being creative right away. I start being technical first and that leads me to be more creative.

My recommendation out there to writers who are having issues writing, because I know that’s a huge thing right now, is just, number one, try to focus on the technical things of the story first and see if that gets you to the creative piece. And then, if not, try setting a timer for five minutes and just writing for five minutes and see what happens.

Howard Lovy

Howard Lovy is an editor and writer with more than 30 years of experience in journalism, from newspapers to magazines specializing in business, science, and technology. He has spent the past few years guiding coverage of independent publishing, amplifying voices of the marginalized. Howard is also a book doctor who enjoys working with authors to get their work ready for publication.

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