I pressed pause on the blog but realized–hey, now is the perfect time to be talking about books! We all need them, and thanks to much of the country being shut down, people need to learn about wonderful new ones.

Last week, Lori Mortensen released her newest book and it’s a wondrous NONSENSE! romp. No, the book isn’t filled with language you can’t understand! It’s about the quirky genius, author-illustrator Edward Gorey.

Lori, why did you want to write about Edward Gorey?

I was reminded of Edward Gorey one day while I was out on my morning walk and happened to catch a podcast about him on “Stuff You Missed in History Class”. As I listened, his name and dark style reminded me of a book from my childhood. When I arrived home, I found the book I’d been thinking of—THE MAN WHO SANG THE SILLIES. It was a collection of odd poems written by John Ciardi and illustrated by Edward Gorey.

One of the most memorable poems, “The Happy Family” began:

Before the children say goodnight,
Mother, Father, stop and think:
Have you screwed their heads on tight?
Have you washed their ears with ink?

The poem was accompanied by Gorey’s memorable illustration of children trying to catch their floating heads.

As I delved into the research, I couldn’t wait to write an equally memorable picture book biography about this curious, whimsical, one-of-a-kind artist.

Why do you think we don’t see more books with children’s heads floating away? I mean, it’s dark, but it’s equally zany and humorous!

Bring on the floating heads! Actually, while THE MAN WHO SANG THE SILLIES was a bit of silly unexpected fun in 1961, I’m delighted children’s literature has continued to grow, expand and evolve in so many wonderful directions. The best part has been, and is, being part of this wonderful industry as well. Some of my favorite picture books include I JUST ATE MY FRIEND by Heidi McKinnon, SAM AND DAVE DIG A HOLE by Mac Barnett and Jon Klassen, and RUDE CAKES by Rowboat Watkins. Zany. Silly. Clever. Sign me up! It doesn’t get better than that.

Telling a life story in the compact space of a picture book is a difficult task! How did you find your focus for this biography?

People’s lives are always vastly more complex than what can be included in a picture book. As you noted, the key is to find that thread or focus that ties certain events in a subject’s life together in a meaningful way. Interestingly, as I researched Edward Gorey’s life, a particular thread stood out right away—how a brilliant child turned into the curious, mysterious, eccentric and whimsical creator we know today and influenced so many others along the way.

After writing about this creator of silly and zany, do you have any plans for those kind of fiction PBs yourself?

Humorous, zany picture books are some of my favorites and I’m always excited to write (and read!) new ones. One of my most popular silly and zany titles is COWPOKE CLYDE AND DIRTY DAWG, where Cowpoke Clyde spots his ol’ dirty dawg, but when Clyde tries to give him a bath—the chase is on! It was great fun to figure how it would all turn out. Does Dawg get his bath? That’s the question, isn’t it? Next year, Abrams will release my new silly and zany picture book, ARLO DRAWS AN OCTOPUS, illustrated by wonderful Rob Sayegh.

Do you have any surprising “making of” stories?

Interestingly, before the coronavirus hit, I would have shared where-I-got-the-idea stories about some of my favorite stories, such as CINDY MOO (I saw a cow-jumping-over-the-moon figurine at the thrift store) or COWPOKE CLYDE AND DIRTY DAWG (my neighbor’s dogs used to regularly escape from their backyard and race down the street, hence the chase to catch the dog for a bath), but these days, I’ve entered a whole new realm of surprising “making of” stories when I began tackling author videos for some of my publishers who encouraged them.

Yes, it’s a whole new world for book videos! Not something authors are used to doing!

For my first project, decided to do an author reading of my picture book biography, AWAY WITH WORDS, THE DARING STORY OF ISABELLA BIRD. You’d think it would pretty straight forward—sit down and read the book, for goodness sake! Over the course of a week, I filmed in my office, then in the backyard, then to a local park, but every location had its problems from neighbors bouncing their basketball, to chatty people wandering by in the park. Then, my husband said, “Hey, why don’t we drive up to the mountain top where I go paragliding?”

Suddenly, the only location that made sense was the mountain top. So off we went. An hour later, there I was. By now, I’d read the book about a zillion times, and after recording a read aloud for the third time for good measure on the mountain, we went back home. Surely, we’d done everything we could do. However, when I looked at the video more closely at home, (I’ve since learned how to see results on location—duh!) I realized the shot was pulled in too close. Shouldn’t you be able to see the book in my hands while I’m holding it? And wasn’t the top of the video too close to the top of my head? Ack! I tried to convince myself that it didn’t matter. And, after all, if I wanted to redo it, I didn’t have to go back to the mountain. Now that we knew what to do, we could go to the nice woodsy park.

But somehow by morning, only the mountain would do. So we went back and videoed again. The good news is tomorrow, April 7, Peachtree will be sharing my reading of AWAY WITH WORDS on Instagram. Although I’m not riding a horse up a volcano, or hiking across the numbing, windswept desert at the roof of the world like Isabella, I think she would be pleased. (I am, anyway!) Since then, I’ve made several other author videos. Check them out here!

Lori, thank you so much for this quirky look at a visionary creator. And I also have to thank you for nudging me to blog again! We all need the hope that new books provide! 

Blog readers, leave one comment below and you can win a copy of NONSENSE! THE CURIOUS STORY OF EDWARD GOREY.

Of course, it will be shipped when publishers get back to their offices. Good luck!

Lori Mortensen is an award-winning children’s book author of more than 100 books and over 500 stories and articles. Recent releases include her picture book biography, AWAY WITH WORDS, THE DARING STORY OF ISABELLA BIRD (Peachtree), about the first woman inducted into the Royal Geographical Society, 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). 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, events, critique service, and upcoming releases, visit her website at lorimortensen.com.