Sonja is well known to Why The Writing Works–she’s a fellow graduate of Converse’s low-residency MFA program.
WTWW: Starter House is a ghost story with a twist. Your short story “Medora” also deals with the supernatural. What draws you to this type of writing?
Sonja: I think we are all strongly influenced by whatever we read before we were twelve. I had a huge collection of books about folklore and mythology: Greek, Roman, and Norse myths and legends, a complete Grimm including some horrible stories you don’t usually see (like “The Jew Among Thorns” and “Mary’s Child” for example–both very nasty), and the Dover reprints of Andrew Lang’s Fairy Books. Lang’s collection came from all over the world, and it had beautiful illustrations. So I learned all these archetypes before I learned anything else.
WTWW: For Starter House, the trigger for the novel was, as stated in this interview, a rental house you knew of that seemed to frequently change renters. Where else do you find triggers for stories, and do you keep a list or journal of your ideas?
Sonja: Every now and then, which means once a year for the last four years, I do a thirty-day project. That means I have to write down the idea for a story every day for thirty days. There are so many ideas in my thirty-day files, I could never write them all in a hundred years! And I have another one scheduled for March. Also, when I’m in the middle of a project, related ideas pop into my head all the time, most often when I’m doing something else. Just after an orchestra rehearsal is a great time for ideas.
WTWW: “Medora” is a fantastic short story. What was the trigger for this tale of an old woman and her dealings with Death?
Sonja: Medora’s life is, to a surprising extent, nonfiction. It’s based on some incidents from the lives of my great-grandmother’s sisters, mostly the youngest sister, Maude, who really was named by the census taker because her family had run out of names. That’s what happens when you have a Texas family with far too many daughters, two or three names per daughter. The two sisters before Maude were Johnnie and Tommie. And she and her first husband really did conceal all their assets from unsavory debt collectors by selling everything and buying diamonds; I inherited one of the rings, a small one, Art Deco platinum with tiny stones. The rest of the set is lost, sadly. Then the idea of Death as a human-like character, a person you can bargain with, goes right back to some stories in Grimm.
WTWW: What does a typical writing day look like for you?
Sonja: A good writing day would be one in which I have six hours of uninterrupted time, plenty of coffee, and somebody else cleans my house. That never happens. A typical writing day is, I plan out the day and write down my goal, and at the end of the day I look back and have accomplished about half what I intended. The goals are big, though, so it works out. I’m near the end of a second draft and today my goal is twenty pages.
Read Sonja’s short story Medora here
Another article here:
Read several chapters here