Sonya Sones
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Sonya Sones What My Mother Doesn't Know To Be Perfectly Honest Facebook Sonya Sones Twitter Sonya Sones Sonya Sones Pinterest Instagram Sonya Sones Tumblr page
Myra Cohn Livingston
Myra Cohn Livingston  
How did you get the idea to write Stop Pretending?
The idea for Stop Pretending came while I was taking a poetry class at UCLA, taught by Myra Cohn Livingston. I’d only been writing funny poems, but then one day Myra asked us to write a poem using dactyl and trochee rhythms, which are really somber rhythms. When I sat down to do the assignment, something very unexpected happened—out popped a poem about how sad and scary it was to have to visit my older sister in the mental hospital on my thirteenth birthday. I was hesitant to share the poem with my teacher, because it was so personal. But when Myra read it, she suggested I write more poems about my sister, and that’s how Stop Pretending, my first novel in verse, was born.

How did you get the idea to write What My Mother Doesn’t Know?
Towards the end of Stop Pretending, there are some poems about my first love, a boy named John. I had such a good time writing about those first feelings of passion, that I knew I wanted to write some more about them. I wanted to explore all the firsts that happen to teenage girls: first bra, first period, first crush, first kiss, first love, second love, third love ... That’s when the poems for What My Mother Doesn’t Know began bubbling to the surface.

What inspired you to write What My Girlfriend Doesn’t Know?
I didn’t get the urge to write What My Girlfriend Doesn’t Know until a couple of years after I wrote What My Mother Doesn’t Know. But I kept getting emails from fans saying: “OMG! What happened next? I’ve got to know!” And after hearing this question posed day after day, I realized that I, too, wanted to know what happened next. And that the only way for me to find out was to write the sequel.

How did you get the idea to write One of Those Hideous Books Where the Mother Dies?
The idea for One of Those Hideous Books Where the Mother Dies came to me gradually. I was interested in telling a story about a girl who moves from the east coast to the west coast, because I had moved from Boston to Los Angeles. And I thought it would be fun to let my character experience some of the same feelings of culture shock that I did when I first arrived in California. I wanted to explore the idea of things not always being as they seem, and Hollywood seemed an especially good backdrop for a story that dealt with that subject.

What inspired you to write To Be Perfectly Honest?
Well, to be perfectly honest, I’ve been the victim of some pretty huge lies in my lifetime, and I hoped that writing this novel would help me come to terms with that.

When I sat down to begin writing the book, all I knew was that I wanted to explore the theme of dishonesty—the effect that lies have on the people who are told them, and the effect that lies have on the people who tell them. I decided that Colette, a minor character from my novel, One of Those Hideous Books Where the Mother Dies, would be the perfect unreliable narrator for my new story. Colette hadn’t told any lies in that book (at least not any that I was aware of), but I knew that she’d be the sort of girl who’d have an excellent reason to lie a lot. Because her mother is Marissa Shawn, an Oscar winning movie actress who, as Colette explains:

is more talented,
more beautiful, more just plain awesome
than I will ever be.

That’s why I’m always making stuff up—
to try to make myself seem
more fascinating than I actually am.

Because the problem with being
Marissa Shawn’s daughter
is that no one is interested in me.

Why did you decide to write The Hunchback of Neiman Marcus, your first book for adults?
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 write the young adult novel I was supposed to be working on, I found myself wanting to write about the issues that were pressing in on me at the time—my hormones were taking me on a wild ride, my son was getting ready to leave for college, and I was way behind on the deadline for my book.

I fought this wicked urge for awhile, but eventually I gave in and let myself write my first book for adults. It began as a sort of memoir in poems, but I soon realized that the tale I wanted to tell was not just my own story, but every woman’s story.

What inspired you to write Saving Red?
People often ask me where I get my ideas. Sometimes I know exactly where they’ve sprung from, and sometimes I don’t. But I think I can pinpoint the very first spark of the idea for Saving Red. It happened when I was still a teenager, way before I even knew I’d become a writer. I had learned how to make animated films, and what I liked best about creating those little movies was that I could make my wildest dreams come true on the screen. I could conjure up entire universes and have total control over what happened within them.

I had no control whatsoever over my real life. My first book, Stop Pretending, was based on what happened at that time—when my older sister had a nervous breakdown on Christmas Eve and had to be hospitalized. She was diagnosed as manic-depressive, which would be called bipolar today, and had to stay in the hospital for a few months while the doctors got her illness under control with medication and talk therapy.

But even after my sister was released from the hospital, I continued to worry about her. I feared that she might get sick again, lose touch with reality, and wander away from home into the unforgiving streets of the city, never to be found again. Which is one of the reasons why I’ve always felt so moved and troubled whenever I see a homeless person trudging down a sidewalk dressed in rags.

It was this deep concern for the homeless that led to the second spark of the idea for Saving Red. Around fifteen years ago, I began to notice one homeless person in particular—a woman who I often saw shuffling along Montana Avenue, the main street of my neighborhood, mumbling to herself, stopping now and then to shine the rims of the trashcans with a grimy cloth. Her short gray hair was matted, her skin red and raw from exposure. She wore mismatched shoes, shredded pants with boxer shorts showing through, and a filthy flannel shirt with sleeves that hung in tatters at her swollen wrists.

One day when I saw this woman, I suddenly remembered the old pair of walking shoes stashed in my closet, the long denim skirt a friend had given me that was too big in the waist, and the T-shirt and jacket I’d been planning to donate. My heart began to race. I pictured the homeless woman wearing these things—she’d be so much warmer during the approaching winter…

I hurried home and gathered the clothes into a bag, imagining the startled look of gratitude that would light up the woman’s face when I presented them to her. Then I hopped back into the car and drove down Montana Avenue until I found her, scrubbing a trash can in front of a coffee shop. I parked, strode up to her, and offered her the bag. She peered into it briefly, with mild interest, then pulled back and murmured, “No thanks. I better not.”

Of course, I didn’t know it then, but that was the instant that Red was born.

What inspired you to write The Opposite of Innocent?
Writing this book was the opposite of easy, because it’s loosely based on something that happened to my sister Diane when she was a teen. She was sexually abused by a friend of my parents who was living with us at the time, and then coerced by him into keeping it a secret.

There are so many #MeToo stories that will never be told. Though I’ve been heartened and inspired by the brave women and girls who’ve been coming forward and demanding justice. And I’m grateful to be able to add Diane’s story to this ongoing narrative of strength.

I wrote The Opposite of Innocent because I wanted abuse victims to feel less alone and realize that there is a way out. And I’m hoping that it will help teens who are still in the early phase of being groomed by a predator to recognize what’s happening, and to extricate themselves from the situation before any real damage is done.

Laurie Halse Anderson and me
Laurie Halse Anderson and me

What is the best part about being an author?
There are so many great things about being an author. I love getting letters from teens who say that they’ve never liked to read before, but since reading my book they’ve changed their minds. And I love the writing process itself—the high I get when I’m feeling inspired and the words are flowing. I love reading my poems out loud to people and being able to make them laugh or cry or even gasp. And I love having the chance to meet and become friends with amazing writers from all across the country, like Laurie Halse Anderson, Jandy Nelson, Jacqueline Woodson, Gayle Forman, and Richard Peck. I love it all!

Why do you write your novels in poetry?
Actually, when I wrote Stop Pretending, my first novel in verse, I didn’t even realize I was writing a novel. I just thought it was a themed collection of poems about my sister. It wasn’t until my editor, Alix Reid, wrote me a wonderful editorial letter full of poem-provoking questions, that the collection began to morph into a novel.

Editorial letter
an excerpt from Alix Reid's wonderful editorial letter

With the rest of my novels in verse, it never even crossed my mind to try writing them in another form. I guess I’m a poet first, and a storyteller second. Poetry is such a good way to get to the center and truth of things. It’s the only way I can say what I really need to say. I love searching for the words, not just any words, but the exact right words, to describe a certain feeling or a moment in time. Besides, the idea of writing a novel in regular prose scares me! Maybe someday, though ...

my inner teen (me at sixteen)
my inner teen (me at sixteen)
photo by Betsy Hochberg
How come your characters sound like such real teenagers?
People often talk about having an inner child, but I have an inner teen. And she’s right there with me, whispering in my ear, whenever I sit down to write. In fact, she’d probably argue that she was the one who wrote my books, without any help from me at all. And you might even believe her. She can be very persuasive. Last week she almost had me convinced I should get my bellybutton pierced. Which is not a good look for someone my age.
It’s easy for me to get in touch with my inner teen because I’ve been keeping diaries and journals since I was old enough not to be chosen as a cheerleader. I have boxes and boxes of them stored away in my closet. And sometimes, when I’m trying to remember what things were like in the bad old days, I leaf through them. And it’s all right there—every miserable moment.


Steven Malk and Sonya Sones
Steve and me

Was it hard to get published?
No. It was shockingly simple! Right after I finished writing Stop Pretending, I went to the annual conference of the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators, which is an absolutely wonderful organization to join, if you want to write for kids or teens. On the last day of the conference, I met a fabulous agent named Steven Malk. He read my manuscript, flipped for it, and in less than a week he had a bidding war going between two different publishing houses!

I have a lot of writer friends, so I know that it doesn’t usually happen that easily. I was just phenomenally lucky.

View from secret office
the view from my secret office

Where do you write your books?
I ride my bike everyday to my secret office—an outdoor public place with a comfortable chair, a plug, and a beautiful ocean view. I keep its location a secret, because if people found out where it was I’d have to stand in line for that plug! If it’s raining, I stay home and write in the lovely guest cottage that’s in my backyard. You can take a tour of it here.

What are you working on now?
That's a secret, too.

What is a typical writing day like for you?
Actually, my writing day starts at night, when I get into bed. I load up my brain with a question that needs solving. Then I go to sleep and let my unconscious mind begin working on it.

  Sonya's Bicycle

In the morning, before I even get out of bed, I reach for the pad of paper and pen on my night stand, and then I begin writing. I don’t even think about it. I just let the words flow straight from my unconscious onto the page. It feels magical, as though my unconscious mind is writing my book for me! The words I jot down will serve as a rough draft for all the poems I will be working on the rest of the day. Then, I take a four-mile bicycle ride to my secret office at the beach. When I arrive, I park and lock my bike, fire up my computer and transcribe my handwritten unconscious notes into a Word file.

I know that once I fling those roughs draft onto the page, no matter how rough (okay, how awful) they are, I’ll be able to turn them into something good. All I have to do is revise and revise, and then revise some more…

Which is exactly what I do for the next four or five hours. Unless I get sidetracked by the internet. Unfortunately there’s wifi where I work. But I’ve discovered an inexpensive app called Freedom that blocks the internet from your computer for as many minutes as you ask it to. I usually ask it for 90 minutes, and by the time those 90 minutes are over, I’ve made terrific progress on my manuscript. Seriously. You should buy Freedom, too. It’ll change your life. Or, you could just exercise a modicum of self-control and save yourself some money.

me sleeping
me hard at work

When I finish writing, I have a picnic lunch at the beach, then I ride my bike home. After a nice hot bath with a good book, I while away the rest of the day, until it’s time to reload my brain and let my unconscious mind get back to work as I drift into dreamland.

Do you have any children?
I have two funny, brilliant, and talented children—Ava and Jeremy. They’ve both decided they want to follow in their dad’s Saved By The Bell footsteps (he was the head writer of that show for many years) and are forging careers writing for television and movies. I’m extremely proud of both of them and love watching their lives unfold!

Copyright 2004-. Sonya Sones. All rights reserved.