The Backstory: CALVIN GETS THE LAST WORD
It is my honor this week to welcome my agent sibling, Margo Sorenson. She is kind, knowledgeable, creative and I can't wait for her to share the inspiration behind her latest book.
Welcome to The Backstory and thank you for joining us and sharing the inspiration behind CALVIN GETS THE LAST WORD.
First off, please tell us a little bit about your story.
In my newest picture book, CALVIN GETS THE LAST WORD (Tilbury House, October 2020), Calvin is constantly searching for the perfect word to describe his rascally, annoying brother. Yes, that's the same brother who waits to tell a joke at the dinner table till Calvin has his mouth full of broccoli. You guessed it—Calvin sprays broccoli all over the table! Who wouldn't want to find the right word for a bratty brother like that?
That sounds incredible! I love how relatable the sibling relationship is in this story.
What’s the story behind the story? What was your inspiration?
As we writers all do, I've always loved words and wordplay as a lifelong avid reader, as an English teacher, and as a Speech and Debate coach. Well, *true confession, here*—when I was in junior high, however, I secretly wanted to be voted "Best Actress" of the ninth grade in the yearbook. Nope. I was voted "Walking Dictionary." Sadly, there's probably nothing more I need to explain to you. 😊 When I first thought of writing this story, I was toying around with the idea of a kid who is enthralled by words and wants to use them perfectly in all kinds of situations. The ability to choose exactly the right word can be empowering, especially for a young person.
How did you approach going from this seed of an idea to what is now CALVIN GETS THE LAST WORD? Was it something undeniable you had to write immediately or did you need to sit with this idea and let it grow for a while before it found its way to the page?
The idea of a strong need to find the right word stuck with me for a number of months, and, at first, the story was called HENRY LOVES WORDS, but, Henry didn't really have much of a conflict or a strong goal when he used words in different situations. It was a blah—"oatmeal" kind of story, not "jalapeno," as I used to discuss with my writing students. Then, the rascally brother appeared out of nowhere and the story gelled. As playwright and screenwriter David Mamet says, "Who wants what, and why? Why now? What happens if her [sic] don't [sic] get it?" It's all about character and conflict, and the super-annoying brother provided that. Of course, without talented illustrator Mike Deas's whimsical work (oh, that PHHHTT of the broccoli all over the dinner table!), Calvin would be just words on a page; Mike truly brought him to life, and my creative editors cooked up the idea for the intriguing endpapers.
Wow! What a different story that would have been. I love your comparisons of "oatmeal" and "jalapeno" stories! Also, I completely agree about Mike's illustrations. They are wonderful!
Where do you tend to find your inspiration or your sparks for ideas?
When I do school author visits (now on Zoom and Google Meets, of course), I tell students that stories are everywhere---all they need to do is listen to and watch what is going on around them---and then ask themselves, "What if???" I have dozens and dozens of story ideas that haven't gone anywhere—yet. 😉 It takes discipline to buckle down and put the story down on paper, apply Mamet's maxim, and work on a character arc/transformation of your main character. A story needs to mean something important to a child, and the emotional heft of a story must resonate, and that takes time to puzzle out, as well. Jotting ideas down by hand really helps. I'm a firm believer in the power of the hand-brain connection, as opposed to doing everything on a keyboard. I draft everything by hand, first, before I put it on the computer. That synergy is key for me.
I love hearing about your creative process and your optimism about an idea not going anywhere ---YET! Every idea holds so much potential.
What books have been the most inspirational/impactful to your writing?
Besides my childhood favorites, MARY POPPINS, OUR ISLAND STORY, and MISTRESS MASHAM'S REPOSE, books that inspire me tend to be silly and off-the-wall, like Doreen Cronin's CLICK-CLACK-MOO and Josh Funk's LADY PANCAKE AND SIR FRENCH TOAST. The emotional impact of books like Pat Zietlow Miller's SOPHIE'S SQUASH are also great models.
What are the must-haves for your workspace? Tools? Inspiration? Reference materials?
I share an office with my dear husband and family pictures are everywhere, sweet, smiling faces of the Adorables, our grandchildren, and a small model of a Sicilian cart is on my desk, a remembrance of my childhood, along with my childhood favorite books.
Must-haves for my workspace (which is not limited to my office—it can be anywhere I happen to be) are lots of pencils and a pencil sharpener, (yes, very old school) collections of notebooks (I take them with me when I go out), and a dictionary are important. My favorite childhood books are on my desk for inspiration, too—must-haves, as well.
Any inspirational words of advice for aspiring authors?
I particularly like writer Ellen Kozak's "First Commandment for Writers: Thou Shalt Not Fall in Love with Thine Own Words." That is very difficult to do! Put the manuscript away in a drawer and don't look at it for a while, and you'll be surprised to see what you think when you take it out. My typical reaction, cringe-worthy, is "What was I thinking?"
Do you have any upcoming projects or news you would like to share with us?
My (our mutual 😊) wonderful agent is submitting some new picture book manuscripts---a daredevil little girl who goes toe-to-toe with her teacher about her playground antics, a dog who texts to his over-scheduled family begging them to help him achieve his all-consuming vision of Frisbee-tossing glory, and…others. I'm doing some Zoom visits in the coming months with some wonderful schools, as well. It is always so affirming to be able to connect with young readers. That, as you well know, is why we writers write, after all—to broaden horizons and help them to dream dreams.
Those sound like exciting projects and I am so looking forward to seeing them in print!
Where can people connect more with you?
Margo's website: www.margosorenson.com, which includes my contact email
Twitter: @ipapaverison (yes, it's part of the chorus of my favorite childhood song
growing up in Italy)
Thank you again Margo for taking the time to talk with us and for sharing your inspiration behind CALVIN GETS THE LAST WORD.
Readers be sure to check out CALVIN GETS THE LAST WORD written by Margo Sorenson and illustrated by Mike Deas, out now from Tilbury House.
Margo has generously offered a query critique to one lucky winner!
To enter you can...
1. Leave a comment on this post.
2. Quote retweet my tweet about this blog post. Additional entry for tagging friends!
Interested in being featured on The Backstory? Click here
ABOUT MARGO SORENSON
Author of over thirty traditionally-published books, Margo Sorenson spent the first seven years of her life in Spain and Italy, devouring books. A National Milken Educator and former middle and high school teacher, Margo has won national recognition and awards for her books, including ALA Quick Pick Nominations, recommendations from Multicultural Review, and was named a finalist for the Minnesota Book Award in YA Fiction. After having lived in Hawaii and Minnesota, Margo and her husband live in Southern California. Margo enjoys visiting her grandchildren, watching sports, Skyping and Zooming with students everywhere, and, of course, reading.
ABOUT MIKE DEAS
Mike’s love for illustrative storytelling comes from an early love of reading and drawing while growing up on Salt Spring Island, British Columbia.
Capilano College’s Commercial Animation Program in Vancouver helped Mike fine-tune his drawing skills and imagination. Work as a concept artist, texture artist and art lead in the video game industry took Mike to England and California.
Mike lives with his family on sunny Salt Spring Island. Representation Shannon Associates (World wide excluding Canada)
Disney Lucasfilm Press Viking Books for Young Readers
Orca Book Publishers Knopf Books for Young Readers
Simon & Schuster Scholastic Canada
Capstone Publishing Highlights for Children
OwlKids Tilbury House Publishers
Viking Books for Young Readers
ABOUT ANDREW HACKET
Andrew’s background of being surrounded by children, both at work and at home, has been a treasure trove of inspiration.
A nature lover, Andrew can be found exploring the woods of Massachusetts with his wife and three kids.
While often witty and imaginative, Andrew’s stories can also delve into the more serious and emotional topics that children can experience.
Andrew is represented by Dan Cramer of Flannery Literary.