Author of twenty-nine traditionally-published books for young readers, Margo Sorenson has won recognition and awards for her work, including being named a finalist for the Minnesota Book Award in YA Fiction. When she’s not mailing letters to the Adorables (the grandchildren), written by the silly bunnies who live in her yard, she writes down what she hopes are shiny new ideas on random scraps of paper, and reads, reads, reads. She lives in California with her very patient husband who doesn’t mind that she hears voices talking in her head, or that she sometimes stares vacantly into space. Her newest picture book, SPAGHETTI SMILES, taps into her childhood in Italy and her love of Italian food as well as of whimsy.
For what age audience do you write?
I write for young readers from three to eighteen, and I write all genres, but, right now, my favorite is to try to write humorous, whimsical picture books that I hope will make kids gasp and giggle—and give them hope.
Henry: I write picture books too. I love both the young age of the audience, and the challenge of telling a story in fewer than 500 words.
Tell us about your latest book.
SPAGHETTI SMILES was lots of fun to write, and I love the way the artist David Harrington took the text to the next level with his vibrant, vivid illustrations. The young hero, Jake, must find a new neighbor for his Uncle Rocco’s crazy, mixed-up Italian restaurant, but it won’t be easy! Everyone loves to eat there, but no one wants to move next door to such a wacky restaurant. When Jake discovers a new bookstore in town, he decides he has to find a way to convince the bookstore owner to be Uncle Rocco’s perfect new neighbor. It was fun to write all the “what if’s” for each different business, such as the pizzas baking in the bank vault, the gas pumps pumping tomato sauce, and lasagna being airmailed all over the world. I hope readers finish the book smiling along with Jake and Uncle Rocco.
Henry: I’ve written a picture book, NEVER FEED A YETI SPAGHETTI, on submission right now. It does NOT take place in an Italian restaurant.
What do you hope readers will get from reading that book?
I hope they see how they can help someone out by trying hard, that reading is fun, that a community can come together, and that to let your imagination loose can be an amazing experience.
Henry: Letting your imagination loose is fun for both readers and writers!
What is a powerful lesson you’ve learned from being a writer?
A powerful lesson I’ve learned is to be willing to change – words, characters, ideas, and, yes, myself. Sometimes—well, too often, actually—what we first write down isn’t all that wonderful (blush!). We can think of the writer’s First Commandment as: “Thou Shalt Not Fall in Love with Thine Own Words.” (Writer Ellen Kozak). Revision is key, and being open to the possibilities of change is absolutely critical. This is extremely hard to do, but it makes all the difference. This is true about many things—not only writing.
Henry: So true. We authors sometimes forget that a story aspect that is perfectly clear to us may not be clear to someone who doesn’t live inside our head.
What has been a memorable experience that you never would have had if you had not been a writer?
If I were not a writer, I would never have been able to make an author visit at Hale Kula Elementary School, Wahiawa, HI, the Schofield Barracks elementary school, where I spoke to 200 kindergarteners and their parents, many of whom were in cammies, about ALOHA FOR CAROL ANN. Tears came to my eyes as I watched the parents and kids interact in the activity the librarian (School Library Journal Librarian of the Year Michelle Colte) had designed for them, based on my book. To think these parents, who put their lives on the line for our country, took the time to show their kids how important reading and writing are by their attendance and involvement was truly inspirational. Being a writer made that possible.
Henry: Nice. I just created my first study guide, based on mythology, for MONSTER GOOSE NURSERY RHYMES.
What advice would you give to aspiring authors?
Listen, read, read, read, and be willing to change!
Henry: A lion is the product of all the zebras it eats, and readers are the product of all the books they read.
Do you have any favorite quotes?
E.L. Doctorow: “Writing is like driving at night in the fog. You can only see as far as your headlights, but you can make the whole trip that way.”
William Faulkner: “It begins with a character, usually, and once he stands up on his feet and begins to move, all I can do is trot along behind him with a paper and pencil trying to keep up long enough to put down what he says and does.”
Virginia Hamilton: “Writing is what you know, what you remember, and what you imagine.”
Writer Anne LaMott: “Earth is Forgiveness School”
Hanlon’s Razor: “Never ascribe to malice that which can be explained by stupidity.”
William Boswell, Washington Post sportswriter: “There is no substitute for excellence, not even success.
Anonymous: “You will not be asked to bear tomorrow’s burdens with today’s grace.”
Do you have any strange rituals that you observe when you write?
No; actually, I think writing itself is a strange ritual! We’re pulling words out of the air, listening to people talk in our heads, and imagining things happening that no one else can see.
Henry: I have a novelist friend who says authors form a Liar’s Club. We are paid to make stuff up.
If you could have three authors over for dinner, who would it be?
I would like to have William Shakespeare, Hillary Mantel, and Harper Lee over for dinner, but it would need to be take-out food brought in, because I would be too nervous to cook a decent meal. Their writing is electric and has changed our perceptions of people and of the world as we think we know it. They all have a keen wit, a sense of perspective, and mind-boggling insights into the human condition. I’d just listen in to their jaw-dropping conversation and take notes like crazy.
Henry: So, pizza and beer?
What do you like to do when you’re not writing?
I love to read, try to play golf, watch baseball with my husband (go Angels!), visit our grandchildren (the Adorables), and try to be present in the moment.
Henry: Clearly THE ADORABLES is a book waiting to be written.
What would you like it to say on your tombstone?
I won’t have a tombstone; my ashes will be sprinkled at the library. No, I’m kidding. Seriously, probably “Loving Wife, Mom, and Grandma.” That’s how I would like to be remembered.
Where can readers find your work?
Visiting my website http://www.margosorenson.com will give readers all sorts of links for ordering my books from all the major internet outlets as well as directly from the publishers and on Kindle and Nook for some of them. Brick-and-mortar stores will be happy to order them in, also. I’m always happy to sign bookplates that can be put into the books, as it says on my website, and I enjoy hearing from readers through their parents or teachers.
Henry: Thank you for coming out to play! This interview is also posted on the San Diego Children’s Books Examiner.