Sonya Sones Interview & Poems

Longevity is difficult to attain and maintain in a society where videos go viral in minutes and Twitter feeds reload every second with new, vital information. However, Sonya Sones has managed to remain a prominent figure in literary circles for more than a decade with timeless novels in verse. Her books “One of Those Hideous Books Where the Mother Dies,” “What My Mother Doesn’t Know” and “What My Girlfriend Doesn’t Know” have become YA staples and her newest first adult venture “The Hunchback of Neiman Marcus” reunites readers with an adult Holly. Even though her newest novel may have a different sticker on its spine, it’s writing is pure Sonya–tight, magnetic, and as engaging as ever for both teens and adults. It reminds you why you fell in love with her poems in the first place.

YARN is thrilled to bring our readers an interview with Sonya, AND three poems from her newest novel. For even more Sonya follow her on Twitter, visit her author website, and “Like” her Facebook page.

Writing Process:

YARN: What does your writing process consist of, from the idea to publication? Do you outline, draft, revise? What is your favorite part? Your least favorite?

SS: I begin by noodling around, writing a few poems. There’s usually an “aha!” moment, when my character introduces herself to me, and I begin hearing her voice. Then I look for a story to tell about her.

But, with the book I’m writing right now, I decided to try something different—to write a loose outline before I even begin. So far, this seems to be going really well. Instead of feeling like I’m wandering around blindfolded, in a long dark tunnel, I feel like I’m skipping through a sun-filled meadow. Not really. But I do feel a lot less stressed, because for once I actually know where I’m going!

I love revision because it’s so much easier to make something better, than to make something from scratch. My favorite part of writing is when my character begins to take on a life of her own, and I get the awesome sensation that she’s dictating the story to me and I’m simply writing it down. On days like that, I feel like a writing goddess. My least favorite part is when I know what I want to say, but I can’t figure out how to say it. On days like that, I feel like I’m in writing prison, serving a life sentence. But luckily, I don’t have too many days like that…

YARN: In your new book, “The Hunchback of Neiman Marcus,” your narrator confronts writer’s block while on deadline to publish a book. What advice can you give teens who might be struggling with writing assignments and need to get unstuck before a due date?

SS: A sure fire cure for writer’s block is to stop worrying about whether what you write is going to be any good or not. I always assume that what I write will be really terrible. And my own first drafts always are. But I have to write that bad version first, so that I have something that I can work on and eventually improve. You’ve got to remember that even if what you write is awful, you can revise it and keep on revising it, until what you’ve written is good. Maybe even great! Believe that, and your writer’s block will be history.

YARN: You’re known for writing in verse, but we’re sure you know lots of prose writers. From what you’ve gathered, is there anything markedly different about writing novels in verse rather than prose? Have you ever tried a novel in prose?

SS: 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.

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.

YARN: Wow, you’ve also been a film editor! Since storytelling is so important for that art as well, can you tell us a little bit about how being a film editor has informed your writing?

SS: Oddly enough, it turns out that being a film editor was the perfect training ground for becoming a poet. Because when I’m writing a poem, I’m dealing with the very same issues that I dealt with when I was editing a scene. Only I’m using images in poems, instead of images on film, to tell my stories. All the techniques I learned as a film editor, about how long to hold on a certain shot, and whether to go in for a closer look, or to observe a situation from the distance, everything I learned about how to manipulate the viewers’ emotions with the rhythm of a scene, all of that helps me to make my poetry as rich and as emotionally charged as it possibly can be.

Your Books:

YARN: You’ve written a number of YA novels, but you just published an adult novel, “The Hunchback of Neiman Marcus.” What’s it like to transition between writing adult and YA novels? Do you ever want to put a warning on your adult books for your teen readers or their parents?

SS: The transition between writing novels for teens and writing for grownups was a smooth one. I’d written four novels for teens, and thought it might be fun to write a book in the voice of someone closer to my own age. The only difference between the book for adults and the books for teens is the age of my main character.

And I’ve been delighted to hear from a bunch of teens who say that even though “The Hunchback of Neiman Marcus” is about an older character, they like it just as much as my other books. Maybe that’s because they can relate so well to the character’s teenage daughter.

Have I felt the need to put any warnings on my books? Hmmm…not yet. But maybe I should start! Something like: WARNING: THIS BOOK MIGHT MAKE YOU CRY.

YARN:Stop Pretending: What Happened When My Big Sister Went Crazy” was inspired by an extremely personal poem you wrote as assignment for a poetry class you took at UCLA. How often do personal experiences inform your writing?

SS: “Stop Pretending” was my only autobiographical book. But everything that has ever happened to me, informs the poems I write. I may not always be writing about experiences that I’ve actually had, but I’m always writing about feelings that I’ve had.

YARN:What My Mother Doesn’t Know” showcases young love.  Sophie experiences a rather physical-attraction-based fling and then finds a true connection with a boy for whom her attraction grows along with her appreciation of him as a friend. Why was it important for you to show Sophie experiencing both of these types of relationships?

SS: I wanted to help the homely guys of the world get dates! I’m only half-kidding…I guess I wanted my readers to stay open to the idea of love coming in all sorts of different  packages—sometimes even in surprise packages.

YARN:What My Girlfriend Doesn’t Know” picks up Sophie and Murphy’s story, giving it a second chapter. Is there another character you’ve written that you would enjoy revisiting and writing about again?

SS: Funny you should ask! That’s exactly what I am doing! There was a minor character in One of Those Hideous Books Where the Mother Dies” named Colette. When I began writing the young adult novel I’m working on now, I realized that Colette would make the perfect “star” of this story. It’s been fascinating getting to know her better, because it turns out that she’s a big fat liar. So I never know if what she’s telling me about herself is true…or not.

YA:

YARN:
What YA writers do you think aren’t getting enough attention these days?

SS: All the authors who are writing novels that have no vampires, werewolves, zombies or unicorns in them.

YARN: What poets/poems would you recommend to a reluctant poetry reader?

SS: On my website, there’s a huge list of novels in verse.  This would be a great place to start—especially with “Make Lemonade” by Virginia Euwer Wolff, and “Home of the Brave” by Katherine Applegate.

And, to give you an idea of what my new book is like, here are a few from “The Hunchback of Neiman Marcus”:

Christmas in Cleveland

The four of us have gathered
to watch the “world premiere”
of the video montage
that Michael made for my mother.

There’s baby Samantha,
lying on her back in her crib—
floating on her little sheepskin cloud,
crowing along with her mobile’s tinkling song,
gazing up at its spinning pastel birds,
her arms flapping away
as if she wants to join them.

There’s Samantha dressed as Tinker Bell,
trick-or-treating for the very first time.
She runs up all the front walks
chanting, “Twick or tweet! Twick or tweet!”
But as soon as each door opens,
she clams up and buries her face in my skirt.

Photo courtesy of micala (flickr.com).

There’s Samantha doing a puppet show.
Wolf puppet says, “Hi!”
Bunny puppet says, “Hi! Hi!”
Wolf puppet says, “Hi! Hi! Hi!”
Bunny puppet says, “The end.”
Sam says, “Now I’ll do another one!”

And there she is, having a tea party
with Monkey, Wendy, Tess, and Laura,
sipping chocolate milk from teensy china cups
and nibbling on tiny pink cupcakes.

I glance over at my daughter,
all grown up now,
who raises an eyebrow and says,
“Did you bake those cupcakes for us?”
“Yes.”
“And you made those place cards, too,
with our names all spelled out in glitter?”
“Uh huh.”
“Even that place card for Monkey?”
“Yeah…”

“Mom,” Sam says, shaking her head,
“you were out of control!”

But then
she flops down next to me on the couch
and gives me a bone-crushing hug.

Graduation Day Snapshot

Even as I click the shutter
to capture this moment forever—

Photo courtesy of David McKim (flickr.com).

Samantha’s swirling blue curtain
of robes,

her classic square hat
tipped at a rakish angle,

her hair cascading down from beneath it
like a shining brunette waterfall,

the glimmer in her eyes
so full of future…

Even as I click
the shutter

I can almost hear
her daughter saying,

“Wow! Look how cute mom
was when she was my age…”

And I can almost hear
her daughter saying,

“Omigod! Look at Grandma’s
weird old-fashioned hairstyle…”

 

To the One-Pound Bag of Oreos I Just Bought:

Photo courtesy of cartel82 (flickr.com).

It’s so sad
to think

that just moments
from now

you
will be gone

and I’ll
be a cow.

Sonya Sones is a multiple-award winning writer, and in particular writer of one of the American Library Association’s list of “The Top 100 Most Banned Books of the Decade!” for her second novel, “What My Mother Doesn’t Know.”  (To find out why, please see page 46.)

She was born in Boston and overprotected in the nearby suburb of Newton.  Before becoming a poet, Sonya was a struggling poet. She was also an animator, a baby clothes mogul, and taught filmmaking at Harvard University. Then, she moved to L.A. to work as Martin Scorsese’s personal assistant—but was soon fired, because she was lousy at bringing coffee.

Sonya went on to work as the still photographer, a production assistant on a Woody Allen movie, and a film editor.  Eventually, Sonya gave up showbiz to become a young adult novelist. Her books have been highly successful, despite the fact that there are no vampires in them:

All of her novels are in verse–so cool!  Her first, “Stop Pretending,” received a Christopher Award and was a finalist for the Los Angeles Times Book Prize.  See above about her second infamous novel.  Her third novel, “One of Those Hideous Books Where the Mother Dies,” received a Cuffie Award from Publisher’s Weekly—for the Best Book Title of the Year.  And her fourth novel, “What My Girlfriend Doesn’t Know,” received the “Omigod, Having A Mother Who Writes Teen Novels Is SO Embarrassing Award,” from her fourteen-year-old daughter Ava.

Sonya newest book, “Hunchback,” her first novel for “grownups,” leapt onto Los Angeles Times Bestsellers List three weeks after publication. It’s a coming of middle-age story about learning to grow old disgracefully…but there’s a teenage character in it, too, so she hopes it will appeal to all ages.

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4 Comments Post a Comment
  1. Suzanne Kamata says:

    Terrific interview! And another book for my TBR pile!

  2. Dear YARN folks,
    This is my first visit to your site.
    It’s refreshing. I want to return!
    Sonya critiqued poetry at an SCBWI conference more than a decade back. at an open mic. Her volunteering to do this, was a huge generosity.
    Her intensity of interest in my work, her incisive insights & her gentleness were a boost. Her humanity & tenderness shine through not only in her writing but also in her in-person meetings with beginning children’s writers. I am so glad to find this here. Eager to read HUNCHBACK! Yay Sonya. I recommend her books often & know especially that the unusual & autobiographical first, SOMETHING, continues to be of huge help to many families.
    Kudos, all around.
    Jan

  3. Alexis says:

    What year was she born in? I’m doing a school project, and there really isn’t any “personal” information. Like her birthday, and stuff!

  4. Sam says:

    I’m on the same page as Alexis. I have an assignment that I have to do for my English class and one of the questions is: “How old is the person you’re writing about?” I can’t seem to find Sonya Sones’s age or date of birth anywhere!

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