Debra Bokur knows a thing or two about the arts. Over the past few decades, the mystery author of The Fire Thief, The Bone Field, and the upcoming The Lava Witch has studied and taught theater and stage movement, worked as a professional freelance writer, written scripts for the film industry, and edited the arts and entertainment section of a daily newspaper. With such a strong artistic foundation to build on, it stands to reason that she eventually found her way to fiction.
Writing has been a part of Debra’s life since her school days. “Junior high was probably when I began writing fiction and poetry,” she says. “I was—and still am—someone who generally prefers being immersed in a quiet nature setting with a pen and a stack of notebooks at hand.” Debra confesses that, as a child, she caused her family “no end of grief” by inventing tall tales to excuse tardiness or incomplete homework. “I’d been kidnapped by giants, or had become lost in a secret cave, or had been called on to speak before a council of bears. The reaction of teachers and other authority figures was usually less than understanding.”
All of that changed when an English teacher encouraged Debra to turn those fantasies into written fiction.
Still, it would be years before she tried her hand at producing a full-length novel. Her first book, which she still hopes to publish someday, was set on a fictional version of Block Island, where Debra worked during college. The story was inspired in part by the women in her family, including her “indomitable great-grandmother, Magdelana LaRose.”
Over time, Debra noticed it wasn’t just her personal history that shaped her writing, but her expert knowledge of theater and journalism. Both enable her to craft the authentic and captivating characters that set her mysteries apart. “The character development that’s part of theater training has made me think of my book characters as whole people,” she explains, “individuals whose actions are motivated by a specific desire or desires. I think that makes them—and what they do—more believable. And from newspaper journalism, I understand the importance of telling the whole story: the who, what, when, where, and why.”
Debra’s work as a journalist has afforded her the opportunity to explore the globe, and it isn’t surprising that these experiences have influenced her as a storyteller. “Being immersed in different cultures has been highly educational, and a lot of the things I’ve discovered have found their way into my (writing) to become works of fiction or poetry.”
One example of this is visible in her Dark Paradise Mystery series, set in Hawaii. Several of the magazines Debra has worked for not only focus on healthy lifestyles, herbal medicines, yoga, and meditation, but also on “how these practices manifest in different parts of the world. It was while working closely with spiritual leaders and wisdom keepers who are part of the Hawaiian culture,” she says, “that the germ was planted for my mystery series.” The Fire Thief, The Bone Field, and The Lava Witch (coming spring 2022) all feature a female detective with a cultural anthropology degree. “Her knowledge of the myths, lore, and legends of the islands are crucial to tracking down criminals and solving cases,” Debra says.
Debra has some wisdom to share with other writers who find themselves pulling from personal experience. “Sometimes, what makes it into a story is more along the lines of a remembered feeling of fear, awe, or gratitude. Or a lesson: Let’s just say that if you’re in Thailand and someone offers you tea, be sure you know what’s in it; or if you’re out trekking in Norway past the Arctic Circle and you’re warned not to pet the reindeer, you should probably pay attention.”
So what’s next for Debra? She’s currently sketching out ideas for a fourth mystery, and working on the first book in a new series set in Downeast Maine. There are always short stories and poetry submissions too, something Debra tries to engage in several times a year. She’s also preparing to travel again for work – “Which reminds me,” she says, “I have no idea where my passport is.” Fortunately, you won’t need yours to escape the everyday by way of her books.
How much personal experience do you incorporate into your own writing? Share your thoughts in the comments below.
Debra Bokur is an award-winning writer, journalist, and poet whose work has appeared in a wide variety of publications and literary journals. She is the author of the Dark Paradise Mysteries series from Kensington Books: The Fire Thief, The Bone Field, and The Lava Witch (Spring 2022). Bokur is also a columnist and feature writer at Global Traveler Magazine and the Global Researcher and Writer for the Association of Safe International Road Travel (ASIRT). In 2015, she received a Lowell Thomas Award for Travel Journalism. She has served as a staff writer and editor at national publications including Fit Yoga, Delicious! Living Magazine, Healing Lifestyles & Spas Magazine, and Global Traveler Magazine. Bokur was a contributing author to Spreading the Word: Editors on Poetry (The Bench Press, 2001), and is a recipient of the Frances Buck Sherman Award for Outstanding Woman Poet. For more than a decade, she was the poetry editor of Many Mountains Moving literary journal, and was commissioned to create original essays that appeared on the boxes of ten separate flavors of Celestial Seasonings Teas—including the company's flagship flavor, Sleepytime. When not traveling for pleasure or while on assignment, Bokur enjoys theater, wildlife photography, and hiking along Maine’s wild coasts or through snow-drenched forests in the Colorado mountains.
Tessa Wegert is the author of the Shana Merchant series of mysteries, which includes DEATH IN THE FAMILY and THE DEAD SEASON. A former freelance journalist, Tessa’s work has appeared in Forbes, The Huffington Post, Adweek, and The Economist. She grew up in Quebec and now lives with her husband and children in Coastal Connecticut. Find her on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram, and sign up for her monthly newsletter.