Bonnie Shimko: Author Finds Novel Success in Retirement by Robert Lee Brewer

Writers have on and off days just like any other professional. However, when you’re an unpublished fiction writer, it can become harder and harder to call yourself a professional writer and mean it. Such is no longer the case for Bonnie Shimko, author of Letters in the Attic(Academy Chicago).

“The day Anita Miller called to say they wanted to publish my book validated me as a writer,” says Shimko. “The thought of people outside my immediate family and circle of friends reading my words was a real thrill. You know how it feels when you’re not expecting something completely amazing to happen in your life and it does so that you go around for the next week smiling inside and out? That’s how it was.”

It wasn’t until after retiring from a 33-year career as a second grade teacher that Shimko realized she wanted to be a writer. Four years after her writer’s epiphany, Letters in the Attic will be released this month. Such a quick turnaround might lead one to suspect she had other writing interests helping to prepare her for novel writing, but that was not the case. In fact, she had never written a short story or poem. Needless to say, she learned a lot in a short amount of time.

“The hardest lesson I learned was when my agent line-edited one of my books,” recalls Shimko. “I found out I didn’t know how to write. It’s a good thing she uses blue ink, because if she used red, it would have looked as if she’d cut its throat. I learned you can eliminate 3 full pages of the word ‘that,’ and it’s not a good idea to use your narrator’s name 16 times on 1 page. Also, you don’t have to repeat the same thing over and over to make sure the reader understands what you’re trying to say–once is usually enough.”

All of Shimko’s work learning the craft paid off in Letters in the Attic. The coming-of-age novel has received several favorable reviews. The novel follows a “feisty 12-year-old” girl from Phoenix to upstate New York as her Mama deals with coming back to a home she once fled.

Here Shimko introduces her agent, shares her thoughts on self-promotion, and gives her most important piece of advice for writers.


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