Monday, August 8, 2011

Sonya Sones
In Conversation with The Pen And Ink Blogspot

Dear Writer-Readers:

Sonya Sones
Boy, do we have a treat for you! After strategic alignment of The Pen & Ink Blog’s lucky stars, Bestselling Author Sonya Sones (pronounced like Jones with an ‘S’) has agreed to be interviewed by this lowly blogger on The Pen & Ink staff. Oh, happy day! 

To catch you up on all things Bestselling-Author-Sonya-Sones, I’ve listed her bibliography below.

YA Work:

Adult novels:

Short stories:
  • Love and Sex (2001) - a story called Secret Shelf
  •  Necessary Noise (2003) - a story called Dr. Jekyll and Sister Hyde
  •  Sixteen: Stories About that Sweet and Bitter Birthday (2004) - a story called Cat Got Your Tongue
Children's Books:

1) Your bio sounds like it was Myra Cohn Livingston’s poetry class that was the inciting event in your writing career. Was this the case or had you always written throughout your life?
I really loved reading to my children. It was my favorite time of day. So, since I knew how to draw, I decided to try to write a picture book. My first attempt was a rhymed book called Smitty the Hollywood Kitty. I thought it was great until I began showing the manuscript to people at the SCBWI summer conference and found out that there was a lot I needed to learn. That’s when I decided to take a course on writing poetry for children at UCLA taught by Myra Cohn Livingston. For one of the homework assignments, Myra asked us to write a poem using dactyl and trochee rhythms, which are these really somber rhythms. I'd been concentrating on writing funny poems. When I sat down to do the assignment, out popped this really sad poem about having to visit my sister in the mental hospital and how sad and scary that had been for me. I was embarrassed to share the poem with Myra because it was so intensely personal, but when she read it, she took me aside and said, "You should write more of these." She said she knew it would be hard, but that if I could put myself through it, I'd be doing a service. At first it was just a themed collection of poems about my sister. But when it was sold to HarperCollins and my editor sent me an editorial letter that asked me all sorts of wonderfully thought-provoking questions. I ended up writing fifty more poems to answer those questions—and that’s when it turned into Stop Pretending.

2) You are a Renaissance Woman in your professional life; being a teacher, animator, film editor, photographer, clothing designer, poet and writer. Why do you think the writing came out in verse, as opposed to screenwriting or prose? Did your other professional experience impact your writing? I did a lot of things before I started writing.
I was an animator, a filmmaker, an editor. I started a hand-painted baby clothes company and sold them to Neiman Marcus, Nordstrom’s, and Macy's. It was perfect, because I could paint the clothes while my daughter napped. But after awhile, I got tired of trying to come up with one more cute little dinosaur design, and one more sweet little bunny ... I needed to find something new to satisfy my creative urges. Oddly enough, editing film is a lot like writing poetry. Both film and poetry use images to tell stories. An editor chooses when to cut to the close-up and when to cut to a long-shot. Writing is essentially the same thing --- choosing to see close-up and study a detail, when to pull back and show the big picture. Also, editing is very much about rhythm and pace --- when to speed things up, when to slow them down, how long to stay with each image. Poetry deals with these same exact issues. So in retrospect, the years I spent editing were probably great preparation for writing. 

3) Are you the type of writer who can sit down and put in her 8 hours of work on the manuscript per day? Some of your interview comments seem to suggest that you felt ‘compelled’ at a certain point in time to, for instance, write about your sister’s illness or the turn your life has taken at age 50 etc. Do you feel you have control over what you write? 
When I’m under deadline I can write 8 hours a day and weekends too. I didn’t mean to write The Hunchback of Neiman Marcus. In fact, I tried very hard not to write it. But every time I sat down to work on the young adult novel in verse that I owed Simon and Schuster, I found all these other issues coming out, my daughter was going away to school, my imminent empty nest, and about being offered my first senior discount—not exactly subjects that teens would find enthralling. I resisted the urge for awhile, but eventually I gave in and let myself write my first novel in verse for adults. The book began as a sort of memoire in poems about the issues that were pressing in on me at the time—my hormones were taking me on a wild ride, my daughter was getting ready to leave for college, and I was way behind on the deadline for that young adult novel I owed Simon and Schuster. That was when The Hunchback of Neiman Marcus came out and I just gave in and decided to write it. 

4) You are on the ALA list of The Top 100 Banned/Challenged Books of 2000-2009. I know this is a great honor for you being among colleagues such as Mark Twain, Judy Blume, Maurice Sendak and J.K. Rowling, Maya Angelou, Toni Morrison and Dave Pilkey among many others. Why is it important that kids see kids like themselves in stories? What does it do for them?
My novels have also won some awards too. The American Library Association named all three verse novels Best Books for Young Adults, and Quick Picks for Reluctant Young Adult Readers. Stop Pretending won a Christopher Award, the Claudia Lewis Award for Poetry, the Myra Cohn Livingston Poetry Award, and a nomination for a Los Angeles Times Book Prize. The ALA included What My Mother Doesn't Know on their list of the Top Ten Most Challenged Books twice in 2004 and 2005 because of issues of sexism and sexually explicit material in the book. While it’s great that kids who are picking up my books are reading them and seeing characters like themselves and saying, “hey, that’s like me” or “they feel like I feel” but it’s preaching to the choir. The real success is going into a school and giving a talk to kids, teachers and librarians and reading a section to them and those kids questioning, saying to themselves, “huh, now what’s so bad about that”? 

5) Generally, if you want to clear a room of teenagers quickly, breathing the word ‘poetry’ has been known to do the trick. However, verse narrative represents some of the oldest story-telling in human language and is enjoying a resurgence; as demonstrated by the popularity of such authors as Ellen Hopkins, Steven Herrick and yourself. What is so integral about reading and writing a narrative in verse over prose?
I think the biggest difference between writing a prose novel and writing a novel in verse, is that in a prose novel there’s a lot more padding, a lot more description, a lot more detail. In a novel in verse everything needs to be stripped down to its barest essentials. And with poetry, you’ve got to think about how the words look on the page, too, which you don’t have to consider when you’re writing a novel. So that adds another layer of difficulty to the process. I’ve never tried to write a novel in prose. The idea sort of scares me. But that’s exactly why I will try it someday—I like to push myself to my limits.

So many people have been turned off to poetry by uninspired English teachers. So it’s an enormous thrill to have the chance to reunite people with it. It's an especially good choice for telling stories to teens because poetry brings you straight to the feelings -- and that's where teens live. After Stop Pretending, I discovered that I loved writing in this form, I just continued on from there. Plus, I get emails from kids who say they’ve never read a book but they’ve read mine because the verse doesn’t look so intimidating on the page, then they get into it and in two hours they’ve read the entire book! And who knows, maybe they go on to read books in prose after that.

Thank you Bestselling Author Sonya Sones, for taking the time to stop by The Pen and Ink Blog to answer questions for our readers. Thank you too for your thought-provoking, lyrically-written books that let us know that someone else out there feels like us.


  1. Don't be fooled by the word verse, Sonya writes stories like the kind we all read everyday. The verse just makes them more beautiful. One of my favorites is on her website here.

  2. Holy Jalapenos! I gonna read me some Stop Pretending and What My Mother Doesn't Know.

  3. That was fascinating. I have to read The Hunchback of Nieman Marcus just for the title.

  4. This is wonderful. My goodness, you are just a woman of many gifts. I loved your interview!

  5. This was such a great interview. Thanks to you both! I was so happy to learn more about Sonya and her work.

  6. Beautiful! Great interview with a truly gifted writer. I must run out now to get The Hunchback of Neiman Marcus, because this made me want to read it NOW! Thanks!

  7. "...that in a prose novel there’s a lot more padding..."
    Jeepers, I hate to think my prose is padded.
    Adjective Implant

  8. Fantastic interview! Sonya is such an amazing, inspiring woman. Really enjoyed learning more about her and her many talents!


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