Sonya Sones 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. But eventually, she gave up showbiz to become a young adult verse novelist. Her books have frequently been honored by the American Library Association, and have been highly successful, despite the fact that there are no vampires in them.
Her first novel, Stop Pretending, received a Christopher Award and was a finalist for the Los Angeles Times Book Prize. For more info, visit her website.
Let the conversation begin!
Do you begin with character or plot?
I write novels in verse, a series of poems which when read all in order tell a story. So I’ve always noodle around and written a handful of poems, waiting until the character sort of walked up and introduced herself to me, allowing me to hear her voice.
That’s how I began my latest novel, The Hunchback of Neiman Marcus (Harper Collins). Soon after “meeting” my narrator, Holly, I discovered the plot—a coming of middle-age story about learning to grow old disgracefully. By the end of the book, Holly has decided to become the kind of old woman that all the young women hope that they will become when they grow older. “Spanx?” she says. “No thanx!”
What book was the easiest to write? Hardest?
The Hunchback of Neiman Marcus was the easiest (and the most fun!) book for me to write, because the main character, Holly, is a poet, like me, and I’ve always wanted to write about writing poetry. Holly’s problems were familiar to me, since I’d been through so many of the same ones myself: going through menopause, stressing over my body falling apart, dealing with having an empty nest, caring for a sick mother who lives far away, being behind on a book deadline…
So, because of that, The Hunchback of Neiman Marcus was the easiest book for me to write. But it was also the most difficult. It wasn’t easy to allow Holly to tell the whole truth—about her insecurities, fantasies and deepest yearnings—because I was painfully aware that people reading my book would assume that all the most humiliating parts were based on my feelings and experiences. And on my body! Even the most sophisticated readers fall into this trap…
But when I was writing this novel, it felt especially important for me to let Holly be totally honest about what it’s like to grow older. I wanted the women who discovered my novel to know that they weren’t in this thing alone, that someone else truly understood what they were going through.
What was the best thing that happened to you this weekend?
I got a beautiful letter from a woman who had read The Hunchback of Neiman Marcus who said, “I am SO loving your book – I am headed to the hospital tomorrow because instead of fighting menopause, I am fighting cancer and having this book of yours makes me laugh, cry and forget all my troubles.” Receiving a letter like this one makes all the hard work more than worthwhile.
Describe your perfect day.
Write a few good pages, water the garden, take a bicycle ride on the bike path down at the beach, play some “Oh hell” or ping pong with the family, cook a rosemary garlic rack of lamb and a berry crumble with my daughter, for my husband and my son, and then…go contra dancing! (What is contra dancing? Here’s what it looks like.
What advice would you give young writers?
I would tell them to read. A lot! And don’t be discouraged if your first draft isn’t as brilliant as you hoped it would be. My first draft always stinks. But I just keep on working on it, revising it until it gets better, and better, and eventually I start to like it…Also, find some other people who are into writing, and form a critique group with them, so you can get some feedback on your work.
Do you let anyone read your work-in-progress?
I share my work with two different critique groups on alternate weeks, so I get terrific feedback once a week. This is an invaluable part of my process. I’m so lucky to have such brilliant writers commenting on my work and helping me to make it better!
What element would you add to your writing space if money wasn’t an issue?
A wood-burning fireplace.
What do you consider to be the most valuable thing you own?
My family photo albums and my home movies. They would definitely be the first things tossed into the car if a fire was approaching my house. My computer would be right after that, or at least my external hard drive.
What one word describes you?
Worrywart. But, oh dear, what if that’s actually two words? Is that cheating? (See? I’m even worrying about that!)
What would you like your life to look like in ten years?
I would like to be healthy, I would like my family to be healthy, I would like to have at least two grandchildren, and be in the middle of writing a fabulous novel, the words flowing out of me like lava from an active volcano…
What’s the first item on your bucket list?
The first item on my bucket list is: Write a bucket list.
How long does it take to write a book?
Too long—anywhere from a year and a half to two and half years. But I’m working on becoming the kind of author who writes a book a year. (That’s the second item on my bucket list.)
Easier to write before or after you were published?
It was hard to write before I got published and hard to write after I got published. Hard, but satisfying, and sometimes even thrilling!
If you could spend a vacation with three authors, who would they be?
Truman Capote, W. Somerset Maugham, and Colette—how fascinating it would be to see those three interact!
Tell us about the book you’re working on.
The novel I’m writing now, about a really big liar, has been a departure from my usual “character before plot” method. I’ve actually got the whole story mapped out ahead of time. And so far, at least, it seems to be making the writing go much more quickly. Which is a very good thing, since it is due in December!
Daily word count?
Not enough! Which is why I better get back to work—right now!