When award-winning author, Lori Mortensen, is not letting her cat in. Or, out. Or, in–she’s tapping away at her computer, conjuring, coaxing, and prodding her latest stories to life. All that tapping has resulted in the publication of more than 70 books and over 350 stories and articles. Recent releases include Chicken Lily (Henry Holt 2016), Mousequerade Ball (Bloomsbury, 2016) illustrated by New York Times bestselling illustrator Betsy Lewin, and Cowpoke Clyde Rides the Range (Clarion, 2016) a sequel to Cowpoke Clyde & Dirty Dawg, one of Amazon’s best picture books of 2013.
For what ages do you write?
All ages. I love picture books and when they’re well written, they can captivate, enlighten, and entertain readers young and old.
Tell us about your latest releases.
Any release is exciting, but it’s a special thrill to have three picture book releases in 2016. First out of the gate–or the egg as the case may be–is Chicken Lily, a punny story about a chicken that’s . . . chicken! Who knew, right? In this case, Chicken Lily doesn’t want to recite a poem at the school’s Grand Slam Poetry Jam, but it could have been almost anything because (don’t tell anyone) Chicken Lily was a lot like me when I was a kid. Raise my hand in class? Forget it! Eat something new at lunch? No way! These days, I’m not so chicken, but it was fun to reconnect with my own “inner chicken” and write this egg-citing story.
The next release is Cowpoke Clyde Rides the Range, the sequel to Cowpoke Clyde and Dirty Dawg. In Clyde’s next adventure, he learns how to ride one of them new-fangled bicycles. Thankfully, I haven’t met all the pokey, pesky, and downright dangerous critters Clyde encounters on his first ride, but as an author, I was plum tickled to conjure up some mischievous mayhem for Clyde to sort out along the way. “Another doggone funny cowboy caper chock full o’ chuckles.” Starred Kirkus Reviews.
The last book to waltz out onto the bookshelves this year is Mousequerade Ball, A Counting Tale. This book is particularly gratifying because eons ago, I earned my degree in dance from Brigham Young University. Although I don’t leap across the stage anymore, I’m tickled to people my literary stage with whatever whimsical characters come my way–moon-jumping cows, dirty dogs, chickens, cowpokes, . . . and even some dancing mice!
Henry: And who doesn’t really like dancing mice? No one, that’s who.
What do you hope readers will get from reading these books?
A ginormous helping of humor, with a dollop of courage, determination, and friendship.
Henry: Hey, is ginormous a word? Oh, wait. We authors get to make up our own words!
What aspect of writing do you find most challenging?
For me, the biggest challenge is coming up with that initial idea. While some writers can’t scribble down their ideas fast enough, I’m more like a patient hen that pecks here and there. When I find an idea that resonates with me, I scratch my ideas together like a hen building her nest. (It’s clear I’ve spent too much time with Chicken Lily!) After lots of false starts, it comes together and I get a glimmer of hope that this could be something! Not all of my ideas come this way, however. Sometimes a title pops into my head and I’ll know exactly what I’ll want to do. The hard part is when you’ve finished a project and think, now what?
Henry: For me, the two biggest challenges are the first draft, and knowing when to stop revising.
What is a powerful lesson you’ve learned from being a writer?
I’ve learned that passion and persistence make all the difference. Without passion, you won’t care enough to keep trying. Without persistence, you won’t pursue your dream long enough to cross the publishing finish line.
Henry: Very true.
What has been a memorable experience that you never would have had if you had not been a writer?
Standing up in front of an auditorium full of people and talking about my books. I was always the shy kid at school, (much like Chicken Lily!) so the idea that I would one day fill an author’s wobbly shoes in front of an eager crowd is mind-boggling.
What advice would you give to aspiring authors?
Read, read, read. Read some more. Then, write what you’d love to read. Be patient as you learn the craft and enjoy the journey. Join SCBWI. Find a critique group. Sidle up to revision. It’ll be your best friend.
Henry: I completely concur.
Do you have any favorite quotes?
“Nothing in this world can take the place of persistence. Talent will not: nothing is more common than unsuccessful men with talent. Genius will not; unrewarded genius is almost a proverb. Education will not: the world is full of educated derelicts. Persistence and determination alone are omnipotent.” Calvin Coolidge
Henry: Nice. I also like, “Whether you think you can or you think you can’t, you’re right.”
Do you have any strange rituals that you observe when you write?
Interestingly, no. While my very ordinary life unfolds, I show up at my computer and see what happens. (If you know any strange rituals that work, let me know.)
Henry: When it comes to strange rituals, I don’t think the benefits are transferable. Eating large amounts of Boston Cream Pie may not help your writing one bit.
If you could have one superpower, what would it be?
Flying would be at the top of the list. (Who doesn’t want to fly?) However, if I wanted to consider this very important option carefully, I would wave my magic wand and remove the curse of self-doubt. . . Unless of course, there’s a better super power. You never know. Self-doubt isn’t everything. There’s probably lots of super powers that would be far superior, like laser vision, invisibility, shape-shifting. You know, now that I think about it, I should have chosen something else. I’m not the best person to ask about super powers. Now, if you asked about baking cookies, or straightening a picture, I’d be on much sturdier ground. So let’s give this some more thought…
Henry: Well played, Lori.
If you could have three authors over for dinner, who would they be?
Arthur Murray (love to dance!), Arthur Rubinstein (imagine the great dinner music!), and Arthur D. Levinson (talk about tech support!). Oh! You meant authors. I get it.
In that case, I’d invite Madeline L’Engle, Beverly Cleary, and Maurice Sendak, each of whom made a lasting impression in my childhood. L’Engle for how she pulled me into the far-reaching wonders of A Wrinkle in Time. Cleary for creating Ellen Tebbits, a young character so much like me, trying to figure out the complexities of friends and foes, and Sendak for Where the Wild Things Are, who first showed me the inexplicable enchantment of a picture book.
Henry: Sendak is why I love fantasy books so much. I’m distantly related to Madeline L’Engle!
What do you like to do when you’re not writing?
Go on walks, browse the library, ignore the weeds, and think about my next writing project!
What would you like it to say on your tombstone?
She’d rather be writing.
Henry: Indeed, wouldn’t we all?
Where can readers find your books?
Amazon, Barnes and Noble, indies, and cozy laps everywhere. For more information about me and my books, visit my website at http://www.lorimortensen.com.
Henry: Thanks for spending time with us, Lori.