Bobi Conn was born in Morehead, Kentucky, and raised in a nearby holler, where she developed a deep connection with the land and her Appalachian roots. She obtained her bachelor’s degree at Berea College, the first school in the American South to integrate racially and to teach men and women in the same classrooms. After struggling as a single mother, she worked multiple part-time jobs at once to support her son and to attend graduate school, where she earned a master’s degree in English with an emphasis in creative writing. In addition to writing, Bobi loves playing pool, cooking, being in the woods, attempting to grow a garden, and spending time with her incredible children.
1) First, I want to thank you for taking the time to do this interview with me! When did you know that writing is what you were called to do? What is it about being a writer that you love the most? What about being a writer frustrates you the most?
Thank you for having me – I appreciate it! Writing became important to me when I was about twelve. That’s when I realized I could express myself through words if I wrote them down, which was very important because I couldn’t often express myself verbally due to the kind of home, I grew up in. That ability to say so much and working to make my writing as expressive and powerful as possible, are what I love about being a writer. As far as what frustrates me, I just want more time to fully immerse myself in my creative writing, which I don’t always get a lot of due to other responsibilities.
2) Can you tell us a little about your book(s) and where our readers can find out more about them and you?
My forthcoming novel, A Woman in Time, and my memoir (In the Shadow of the Valley) both explore life in Eastern Kentucky, and specifically, experiences of girls and women. I have a deep love for my home, but it is a complex place. I try to honor that complexity along with the undeniable beauty of Appalachia. Readers can find my books at their local bookstores and libraries, and they purchase my books online, learn more about me, and read shorter pieces through links on my website: https://bobiconn.com.
3) What projects are you currently working on?
I’m currently working on a book that explores my mother’s experiences of growing up in rural Eastern Kentucky in 1950s and 1960s. She wanted more people to know her story after reading my memoir, and as I’ve learned more about her, I’m eager to shed more light on the kinds of choices women often face due to the environment they are born into. This book may ultimately be a somewhat fictional approach to telling her life story, but it is based on her very real experiences.
4) What has been your most significant achievement as a writer thus far? Where do you see yourself within your career in the next five years?
Thus far, every time a reader is moved by my work is a significant achievement. Of course I want to reach as many people as possible, but I feel like it’s important to recognize that my life’s purpose might be to have a positive impact on just one person and if I accomplish that, I can be happy. Having gotten positive responses from multiple people who care about and value my work has been invaluable. I’m not sure what the future will bring, but I invest myself fully in my writing and give everything I can to it, trusting my path will unfold in a beautiful way.
5) How have you dealt with rejection within your writing career?
Oh yes – and I think pretty much every writer gets to experience their share of it. I’ve had readers complain that my memoir is too sad or that I made poor choices after escaping my abusive childhood (which is a big part of my memoir’s message – abused children don’t magically become healthy adults). And not everyone will like my novel, so I expect there will be negative reviews to find. However, I do my best work and try to learn and grow as I move along in my career and personal life. We can’t let ourselves be paralyzed by rejection, which we can always find if we look for it.
6) Do you have a schedule for when you write? Do you outline your novels? How long does it generally take you to finish a novel?
I prefer to write in the evening, after I feel like I’ve taken care of all my responsibilities (including my day job). I try to write every day because that helps me stay in my story and make steady progress. I didn’t outline this novel, though I had some anchoring moments along the way that I knew I wanted to include. I think of this one as my “pandemic book” because I wrote it in about six months, when there was little else to do in the evenings. We will see how long the next one takes!
7) Do you believe that there is ever a point in life where it’s too late for an aspiring writer to become successful in this industry? Do you feel a late start would hinder their chances?
I don’t think it’s ever too late to do or be anything, though it can be more difficult if we put certain things off, of course. There is a lot of wisdom that comes with age, though, so I imagine a writer who gets started later might have a different aesthetic to bring to the table. Ultimately, I think we should always seize the opportunity to do what we want to do now because the future is not promised. But telling ourselves it’s “too late” is also an illusion. As long as we’re alive, there is possibility.
8) Are you an avid reader and have you always been? What’s the first book you ever read that really touched you emotionally and moved you? Who is your favorite author? What book are you currently reading?
I have always been an avid reader, and reading was an important escape for me as a child. The first book that sticks out as really impacting me is Gabriel Garcia Marquez’s One Hundred Years of Solitude, and he is one of my favorite authors. I’ve read everything I could get of his, though I need to check again and see if other books that weren’t available in English or that were out of print are now available. I have to admit that I’m not currently reading anything, as I’m using my little spare time to write. However, I have a stack of books by authors I’ve met over the past two years, and I am very much looking forward to reading Raphael, Painter in Rome, by Stephanie Storey.
9) The Pandemic was a challenging time for some writers and creative individuals but also for others it was time that they needed to focus on their creative passions. Which side of that spectrum do you fall on? Are there any lessons or nuggets of wisdom that you gained during the Pandemic that help you within your writing career? Did the quarantine stifle your creativity or did it make you even more driven to get things done?
I touched on this earlier because thankfully, I was able to use the Pandemic to focus on my novel. It did take a lot of work to stay emotionally steady – I created opportunities to laugh, exercise, and connect with others, even when it felt really hard to do those things. But during that time, I learned the value of creating my writing schedule and sticking to it. I kept track of my daily word count and reached my goal day by day. On days I didn’t feel like writing, I told myself that it was okay not to write, but if I just got in 200 or 300 words, I would be keeping up with my daily goal, and that incremental progress was important. Looking back, that was a great lesson for me, and it helped me stay focused during a time when it was hard to feel anchored in our daily routines.
10) What are your thoughts about how the publishing industry as it is being represented today? Do you lean more towards traditional publishing or self-publishing as a preference? Does being a hybrid author interest you?
Personally, I prefer being traditionally published because I am not naturally a self-promoter, and I don’t want to be involved in every aspect of the publishing business or process. Still, self-promotion is important for an author in the earlier stages of their career today. That kind of drives me crazy because I am an extroverted introvert, and I don’t relish the idea of posting on social media and reaching out to connect with other media outlets. However, this is another opportunity for growth, so I appreciate it for what it is.
11) I feel like writing is a remarkable tool to help people not only express themselves, but also to cope emotionally and mentally. I know for me I write to be and feel more authentic. What unique quality is there about you, about your art, that you feel represents your authenticity? How does writing help you to be more empowered in your purpose?
I believe my writing comes from my unique interaction with the world around me. As a child, I grew up in an Appalachian Forest, surrounded by natural beauty and man-made violence (quite literally). I loved to read, so I was exposed to different worlds and the infinite power of language; I was also raised in a conservative Evangelical church and loved the writing within the King James Bible, but thought I was damned because of the way our preacher interpreted those words. Now, in my own writing, I love to find the universal experiences we share, the subtle heartaches and triumphs that make us human. I believe that’s the best thing I can do with my writing – to show us, myself included, how connected we are to one another and to the world around us. It keeps me mindful that life is beautiful, even when it’s hard.