Wednesday, April 3, 2013

OMG…It’s the Sonya Sones Schmooze Recap Blog Post!

Twenty or so Schmoozers were on hand for the March Schmooze where we welcomed a very special guest – acclaimed YA novelist, Sonya Sones.  From the start, it felt like a casual gathering of like-minded artists, rather than a big shot Guest Speaker delivering career and writing advice to lowly
minions.  Sonya even wrote everyone’s name down on a makeshift seating chart so that later, when people asked questions or shared their haiku during the mini-poetry writing workshop, she could call   them by name (seriously, how cool is that?)…but we’re getting ahead of ourselves.

The evening started with Karol and Charlie both asking Sonya their personal burning questions (because they run the whole shebang and such perks come with the long hours and exhausting intellectual calisthenics of Schmooze coordinating). 

Charlie asked – when you write a novel in verse, how do you get the plot to work? 

Sonya admitted that she generally starts with the theme, then the character, then the voice.  At some point in the long process, she gets around to figuring out how to get all of the elements to work together in a cohesive plot.  She’d used this very long process with all of her novels except her new one coming out in this fall, To be Perfectly Honest (A Novel Based On a Untrue Story), for which she took an entirely new approach that she loved so much, she intends to utilize it on future work…but we’re getting ahead of ourselves again.

Karol asked – what makes a poem a poem and not just “interesting prose” as an old high school teacher had dismissively described some poetry a young and impressionable Karol had shown him.

After “dismissing” Karol’s old teacher with a choice four-letter word, Sonya had this to offer:

  • Rhyme and rhythm
  • Repetition
  • How it looks on the page
  • The rhythm of three – which is incredibly satisfying
  • Simile and metaphor (though Sonya says she much prefers the former and uses a lot of similes to describe feelings)

Sonya then took us on a journey of he writing career, starting with the poetry class that led to her first semi autographical novel, Stop Pretending: What Happened When My Big Sister Went Crazy.  Sonya was taking the poetry class with the venerable children’s poet Myra Cohn Livingston and was known in the class for being the one who  “always brought the class up from the depths” with her lighthearted material. But then, a class assignment resulted in her revisiting her experiences when her big sister suffered a mental breakdown.  After Sonya shared this new work with the class, Myra took her aside and said, “You should write more poems like this one.”  Sonya let us know that she originally submitted the material as a collection of themed poems, and it was the editor’s probing questions that ultimately led her to transform it into a novel in verse.

Similarly, her second novel, What My Mother Doesn’t Know, began with Sonya writing a series of poems exploring “firsts” – first crush, first love, first kiss, etc.  Eventually, it became a fan favorite and frequently banned book, something of which Sonya is very proud. (The banning was predominantly due to a fairly tame poem called Ice Capades, which features bare breasts and a cold window…you do the math.) 

The storyline for her next novel, One of Those Hideous Books Where The Mother Dies, came from Sonya’s desire to explore the culture shock of moving to Los Angeles (to the uninitiated, it may as well be the moon, right?).  What My Girlfriend Doesn’t Know followed and was a response to so many fans writing to Sonya, desperate to know “what happens next” with the star-crossed lovers from What My Mother Doesn’t Know.

After that, Sonya owed her publisher another YA novel, but first, she just “had to” to write her first book for grownups, The Hunchback Of Neiman Marcus.  Again, she drew from personal experience; her main character was a LA-based poet, struggling with, among other things, the book she owed to a publisher!

With her latest novel (the one she owed the publisher), Sonya was determined to bypass the long, arduous process she’d taken with her other novels.  She turned to screenwriting guru Syd Field’s three-act structure for a more practical approach to plotting.  She used an outline for the first time and liked it so much, she plans to use it again.  She shared with us that her need to “have things perfect” slows her down so much, she’s going to try to not even put poems in form at first.  For those suffering from writer’s block, she recommends, “Do what I do. Stop worrying about whether what you write will be any good or not. Just assume that what you write will stink to high heaven, and that will free you up. Once you have something crappy on the page, you can polish it up until it gleams.”

A publication party for To be Perfectly Honest (A Novel Based On a Untrue Story will be held at Diesel in Brentwood on August 25th, and Sonya promised to send us a link to the event to post on our Facebook page.

The evening wrapped up with a little poetry-writing workshop.  Since time was limited, Sonya decided to focus on haiku.  She told us haiku used the following rules:

    • They should contain three lines – five syllables, seven syllables, five syllables

Sure, sure.  We all knew that, right?  But did you know there are OTHER rules?  (We here at Schmooze Central didn’t.)

    • There needs to be an indication of the season
    • They should not rhyme
    • They should only be about one thing, describing one scene
    • They should be written in present tense; readers should experience what you’re writing about now 
Sonya wrote out a couple of haikus on a big sketchpad so we could analyze them together.  

Then, as a group, we rewrote one of the sample haiku together, and then wrote the following original haiku:

Ocean, is it far?
I hear the tsunami bell.
How fast should I run?

The workshop concluded with Schmoozers trying their hands at their own haiku and then sharing them with the group.  It was truly a fantastic evening!

Karol hard at work crafting her haiku

We’ll leave you with a few additional tidbits from Sonya –

  • Try reading your work aloud while wearing earplugs.  Sonya says you’ll hear yourself differently.
  • Create a special place to write.  She has a “secret place” with just a chair, a plug and a view (no – she would not tell us where!)
  • Try searching your documents to make sure you’re not overusing certain words.  (She uses control-find to search for words like “heart,” “stomach” and “throat.”)
  • Trying writing from observation – take a walk and look at the world through your character’s eyes
If you missed this Schmooze, I bet you’re pretty bummed right about now, huh?

Well, then – don’t miss the next one on April 10th!

It’s the Westside Writer’s Schmooze’s immensely popular Picture Book Critique Night.  ALL the cool kids will be there?  Will YOU?

We’ll be sending out an e-mail with guidelines for the material you should bring (but, as always, bringing material is not mandatory).

Until then, keep passing the open windows,

Charlie & Karol


  1. What neat tips! Read your work aloud while wearing earplugs?? I'm totally going to do that! I'm intrigued!

    Sounds like it was a fantastic evening--but of course it would be with such a fabulous guest speaker. I'm sorry I wasn't able to make it!

    Thank you for the lovely recap!!

  2. Oh, wow, sounds like it was really great! Love the tip on reading to yourself aloud while wearing earplugs. Gotta try that out next time!

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