Author Spotlight: Lori Mortensen
Sept. 28, 2018
We are excited to feature the award-winning children’s book author of more than 70 books and over 350 stories and articles Lori Mortensen and her fabulous new book, IF WENDELL HAD A WALRUS, illustrated by Matt Phelan (Henry Holt). Welcome, Lori!
Enter to win a copy below!
Tell us about yourself and how you came to write picture books.
Interestingly, I wasn’t one of those writers who are born with ink in their veins. Although I was an avid reader growing up, writing never occurred to me. It felt like whoever wrote those childhood favorites must have lived a million miles away from my ordinary home on Jennie Drive.
I didn’t begin writing until I was a stay-at-home mom of three. Before the kids came, I’d typed mountains of documents for attorneys, accountants, and engineers. When I was reintroduced to children’s literature through my children, I wondered what I could write. I’ve been writing ever since. I write picture books because I love them. Although they’re short, they’re this perfect little package of art and words packed with humor, heart, wit, surprise, and meaning.
Congratulations on your latest book, IF WENDELL HAD A WALRUS. Tell us about it and what inspired you?
It would be awesome to say I was frolicking about with some walruses on the beach when the idea struck. However, the truth is far less glamorous. Sometimes when I’m searching for an idea, I read a bunch of my favorite picture books to get the creative juices flowing. After a while, all those images and lyrical narratives start stirring my imagination.
In this case, I’d been reading AND THEN IT’S SPRING by Julie Fogliano, THE QUIET BOOK by Deborah Underwood, and several others. As I sat there in my office, I imagined being a boy staring up at the clouds. What would he possibly see? I wondered. A walrus, of course! Once I had the idea, it was fun to see how it would all work out.
You’ve had a long career as a picture book author. Was your road to publication long and windy, short and sweet, or something in between?
Great question. For me, it’s been a long road filled with stepping stones. When I began writing, I focused on the magazine market. It was a great fit as a beginner. Magazine publishers need content every month and it was challenging to study what they published and see how I could create stories and articles they would want to buy. I liked the variety as well. Sometimes I’d write fiction, sometimes nonfiction. Sometimes poems, puzzles, or rebuses.
As sales increased, my confidence grew and I contacted school and library publishers for writing assignments. It was a huge plus to be able to include magazine credits in my cover letter. I was thrilled when KidHaven Press published my first book BASILISKS, in their Monsters series. At the time, writing this 5,000-word book was a huge learning curve. But with each book assignment, my skills improved. Along the way, I began writing picture book manuscripts for trade publishers—the most satisfying and tantalizing goal of all. But it all began with magazines.
What projects are you working on now?
I recently completed two books for Capstone Press in their Dance Today series, and I’ve got two picture book biographies coming out in 2019 and 2020. One with Peachtree and another with Houghton Mifflin Harcourt. Right now, I’m working on a couple of fiction picture book manuscripts. It’s challenging and frustrating, especially when I may not always know where I’m going in the beginning. But bit by bit, it starts to come together. The trick, I’ve found, is to keep at it.
What are the top one or two pieces of advice you'd give to aspiring authors?
Persistence. One of the most meaningful comments I heard at a writing conference came from the fantastic writing team of Judith Enderle and Stephanie Gordon, published as Jeffie Ross Gordon. They once said, “If you only knew how many times we’ve been rejected.” In that instance, I knew several important things. I knew they hadn’t pinned all their hopes on a single manuscript. They were writing a lot of manuscripts to be rejected so many times. I knew that rejections weren’t the end. They were just the beginning. I knew that even successful writers are rejected. And that gave me hope.
What is something most people don't know about you?
It might surprise some people to know that I earned my degree in dance. Who knew, right? I used to wonder how a dance major became a children’s author and I’ve come to conclusions that they’re both ways of telling stories. Before, it was on stage. Now, it’s on the pages of a picture book.
Where can people find you online?
My website, www.lorimortensen.com, is the best place to find me.
But I’m also at FB, Pinterest, Twitter, and YouTube. Readers can also find my books at Amazon, Barnes and Noble, Indie booksellers, and publishers’ websites.
Lori Mortensen is an award-winning children’s book author of more than 70 books and over 350 stories and articles. Recent picture book releases include If Wendell Had a Walrus (Henry Holt), Chicken Lily, (Henry Holt), Mousequerade Ball (Bloomsbury) illustrated by New York Times bestselling illustrator Betsy Lewin, and Cowpoke Clyde Rides the Range (Clarion, 2016) a sequel to Cowpoke Clyde & Dirty Dawg, one of Amazon’s best picture books of 2013. When she’s not letting her cat in, or out, or in, she’s tapping away at her computer, conjuring, coaxing, and prodding her latest stories to life. For more information about her books, critique service, events, and upcoming releases, visit her website at www.lorimortensen.com.
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