Please welcome Bonnie Leon today! I’m so thrilled she’s sharing her story. To Dance with Dolphins is definitely on my to-be-read list!
Twenty-two-year-old Claire Murray has suffered from a mysterious disease for years. Her social circle has shrunk to a small support group for people with chronic illness and disability. But what if life could be about more than doctors, pain, and medications?
Claire and three others—old grouch Tom, hippy-holdout Willow, and moody Taylor—hatch plans for a cross-country trip to swim with the dolphins in Florida. Only a day into the trip, they unexpectedly need help. And who happens to be hitchhiking along the highway but a young, good-looking loner named Sean Sullivan? However, the last thing he wants is to be harnessed to a bunch of ailing travelers.
Though the journey proves difficult, following God’s plan might be even harder. Will they find the courage to follow their dreams and dare to live again?
1.To Dance with Dolphins is the story of five people with disabilities – both mental and physical. Why did you want to write such a story?
Following an auto accident in 1991, I’ve lived with chronic pain and disability. Every day is hard. Hanging onto joy, hoping for better days, and seeking purpose is difficult.
The months that followed my accident were devastating as life as I knew it slipped away. Physicians prescribed pain medication, told me there was nothing that could be done and advised that I adjust to the new me. I never have completely accepted that directive, though a certain amount of acceptance has been necessary.
Through the years I’ve met many others who live with chronic illness, disability or pain. And most live the same struggle I do. I wrote this book mostly for them, to uplift and encourage. To help the disabled to see there is always hope and life is a gift filed with potential no matter where we stand or sit.
I also wrote this for family and friends of those who fight for their life. Sometimes the ones who stand beside us suffer the most.
2. What led to your own disability?
In 1991 I was driving up a winding country road when a loaded log truck, coming from the opposite direction, barreled around a corner and tipped over in front of me. The logs spilled down an embankment and the trailer hit the front of my van. I was told by a local sheriff that “someone” was watching out for me. He couldn’t see any way that I should have survived the accident.
Without God’s intervention I likely would have perished that day. But God had other plans for me. And although I was left with a number of injuries and spinal damage that has remained through all the years, I’m grateful for my life, and all that God has done with it. However, I admit that on some of the rough days I do long for heaven.
3. What did God teach you through your struggles?
There have been, and continue to be, more lessons than I can share here, but there is one that stands out. It is that our sovereign God knows best. And even on my worst day, he loves me and has a plan for my life. I can trust him. I don’t need to know the why’s of how I got here or why some days are all about pain. God knows why, and one day I will stand before my heavenly Father in the Kingdom and see clearly what he had in mind all along. It is my hope that I do not fail in what he has called me to do.
4. Some would say that such a book is too depressing. How would you answer them?
This is a good question. And I can assure readers that this book is not depressing, though a reader may shed a tear or two.
When I set out to write the story I was determined to give a real and honest account of what living with disability is like. We each have our own unique experiences, but share many of the emotional and physical challenges. And one of those challenges is to not soak and sour.
Depression is a real human emotion – disabled or not, we are all familiar with it. It is worsened by things like chronic pain, which hinder the production of good chemicals like endorphins and increases the chemicals that elevate emotions like unhappiness. So, keeping our moods above ground can sometimes be a challenge.
Unique and fun characters are the key to this story. They are real-to-life and present a genuine picture of what it’s like to live with chronic illness or pain. They grieve and they rejoice. And just like all humanity, they sometimes triumph and other times fail.
I crafted my travelers with rough edges and depth of character. And it is my prayer that the challenges they face will help those who suffer find vision and hope for their own lives.
5. Have any of your other books been based on real-life people or events?
All of my books have some elements of real life, but not necessarily personal experiences. However, true incidents do creep in from time to time.
In one of my Alaskan books, a character becomes entrapped in heavy mud in Cook Inlet. That scene came straight from an experience my brother had. He became mired in the beach mud so badly that he had to wait for the tide to come in before he could free himself with help from his workmates. He very nearly died.
Another book, A Sacred Place, was based on an experience my grandparents had when they were first married. Just as in the book, they had an arranged marriage, which did not sit well with my grandmother in the beginning. And they also spent their first winter stranded on an Aleutian island. I had a lot of fun creating a fictional account of their true-life story.
6. Was it difficult to write a book that hits so close to home?
To Dance With Dolphins was more difficult to write than I had expected. Many of the topics did hit close to home, and I was forced to take a closer look at my personal life. And I realized I need to make some changes. I’m working on it.
My characters, though they came from my own mind, had a lot to teach me.
One issue that was especially painful had to do with Claire’s sister who suffers from bi-polar disorder. My sister did also. She died young, in a nursing home, from lupus. While she was alive, I never fully understood her bi-polar condition, and I wasn’t as supportive as I could have been. Now, I long to tell her how sorry I am, but it’s not too late. She’s waiting for me in heaven.
In the end, writing the book was a positive experience. I am better for having written it. And it is my prayer that the experiences of Claire, Sean, Tom, Willow, and Taylor will uplift readers.
Bonnie Leon is the author of more than twenty novels, including the recently released To Dance With Dolphins and bestselling The Journey of Eleven Moons.
June 11, 1991 a log truck hit the van she was driving, and her world changed. The accident left her unable to work, and after months of rehabilitation she was told by physicians that she would never return to a normal life. Facing a daunting fight to reclaim her life and in search of personal value, she discovered writing. She has been creating stories ever since.
Bonnie is familiar with the challenges of disability beyond her personal experience. Her sister endured the debilitating illnesses of lupus, MS, and Bi-polar disorder. And her daughter is grappling with the chronic progressive disorder of syringomyelia.
Through chronic pain and disability Bonnie found new purpose. She enjoys speaking for women’s groups, teaching at writing seminars, and mentoring young writers. She also administers an online support group for those living with chronic pain and disability and is a participating member of the Syringomyelia and Chiari Network.
She is married to her teen-age sweetheart, the mother of three grown children, and grandmother of eight. Bonnie and her husband Greg live in the mountains of Southern Oregon.