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. Today, she lives in Northern California with her family and their mega-fluffy cat, Max.
What do you hope to be remembered for?
Being a great mom and writing picture books that stir your soul and tickle your funny bone.
Unlike some writers, I didn’t grow up writing stories. Back then, writing never occurred to me. Nobody knew any writers. Whoever they were must have lived far away from my ordinary home on Jennie Drive. Besides, I was much too busy doing cartwheels across the lawn or pushing vegetables around my plate. However, once I learned to read, my nose was often in a book. After graduating from college with a B.S. in professional dance, I worked in a variety of fields including teaching high school dance and typing a mountain of stuff for attorneys, engineers, and accountants. It wasn’t until I was a stay-at-home mom that I was reintroduced to children’s literature and wondered what I could write. I’ve been writing ever since.
Being around my young children not only helped me see things from their point of view, but they sparked ideas that turned into stories. For example, one night my four-year-old daughter came downstairs and said she couldn’t go to sleep because it was too quiet. In that moment, I knew it was a story just waiting to be written. This idea turned into “Ting-a-ling, Squeak and a Bark” published by Ladybug Magazine June 2003.
Thankfully, my writing has evolved over the years. At first, coming up with ideas was overwhelming. There was so much to choose from—everything really—so how did anyone decide? Now, after writing many years, I trust the process. I begin by choosing something that gets me excited. The “me” aspect is important because I have to love the initial idea to dedicate the time it’s going to take to turn it into a finished manuscript. Then, I get to work. The first draft may be awful, but if I like the basic premise of the story, then I keep going. In time, it gets better. It always gets better. That’s where trusting comes in. Anyone who writes knows that you have to embrace the revision process because that’s when the magic happens. As you keep writing and revising, new ideas pop up. New characters. New settings. New ways of saying things. But you have to start with a kernel of something before the manuscript can get where you want it to go.
I don’t really have a favorite sounding board for ideas per se. Once I finish a manuscript to the best of my ability, I share it with trusted writing friends. I belong to an in-person critique group that meets once a month, as well as a group online. The feedback I get is invaluable. They not only celebrate the good stuff, they point out areas that aren’t working, and offer some great suggestions. We don’t always agree, but then we don’t have to. We’re free to “take or toss” whatever comments come our way. But the manuscripts always get better through the process.
It’s always fun to read the Cowpoke Clyde and Dirty Dawg books, as well as Cindy Moo aloud because of their page-turning rhymes. I specifically structured them so children could guess what the rhyme will be when we turn the page. It’s always a delight to hear what they come up with and celebrate with them when they get it right.
Every writer was once a beginner. There’s so much to learn. After all these years, it’s gratifying to help others along their writing journey as they pursue their writing goals. There’s nothing like hearing the words, “We’d like to publish your story.”
Now there’s a question. There are so many authors and illustrators I love and admire it’s truly impossible to choose. However, some of my favorites are Oliver Jeffers, Mac Barnett, Peter Brown, Rowboat Watkins, Tammi Sauer, and Julie Fogliano.