Women’s Fiction Comes in All Shapes: Meet Author/Poet Sonya Sones and The Hunchback of Neiman Marcus

In case you haven’t noticed,  I have healthy author groupie tendencies. Therefore, I’m thrilled to introduce Sonya Sones and her absolutely enthralling book of women’s fiction, The Hunchback of Neiman Marcus.  If the title doesn’t get you, the fact that Sonya included this photo (because of the WFW tagline) should do the trick. The Hunchback of Neiman Marcus is a novel in verse.  Catch your breath.  Yes, it’s poems.  But it’s not. But it is.  But it’s not.  But it totally is.  I am not an avid poetry reader so I was, I’ll admit, more than a little skeptical.  Until I read the first page.  This is a novel, folks. I laughed so hard at the blah-blah-blah part (you have to read it yourself) that my daughter came into my bedroom to see if I was ok and the dogs started barking.  I cried so hard at the blah-blah-blah part that I had to get out of bed for tissues.  I read it on my Kindle and ordered the paper book because I want to possess it.   And, add to all this the fact that Sonya is funny and generous and has a video of her writing space on her website — and well — you know me.  I’m a groupie, so Sonya is on the blog on a Tuesday when I usually post on Tuesdays. (I’m a blog rebel, yes.)  I’ve bought this book twice as gifts already and will undoubtedly do so again. 

Please welcome Sonya Sones to Women’s Fiction Writers — you’re in for a treat — a great read below — and when you buy the book!

Interview with Author/Poet Sonya Sones

ASN: A two-parter to start! Can you introduce yourself and THONM to the readers — and — how do you pronounce your last name? When I blab about your book in person, I want to get it right!

SS: Hello, one and all! My name is Sonya Sones, and how thoughtful of you to ask how it’s pronounced. But don’t get me started! The correct phonetic pronunciation is: Sown-yah Sones (rhymes with “Jones,” but with an “S” instead of a “J”). But over the years, I’ve heard my last name butchered in countless way: Stone, Stones, Slone, Soness, Soames, Sone, Soones, and (my personal favorite) Sonya Scones…

I write novels in verse, a series of poems which, when read all in order, tell a story. I’ve written four YA novels in verse that have found a lovely following, despite the fact that there are no vampires, werewolves or zombies in them. The Hunchback of Neiman Marcus (HarperCollins) is my first book for “grownups.” I say “grownups” because if I say it’s my first adult book, that makes it sound too much like porn…

The Hunchback of Neiman Marcus is the story of Holly—a writer way behind on her deadline whose fiftieth birthday is looming like a vulture waiting to pick her bones clean.  Holly’s editor has been calling her every day to tighten the screws, but how can she be expected to get any writing done when her hormones are making her feel like a Szechuan flambé, her daughter’s just begun applying to colleges (none of which are within a thousand-mile radius of home), and her eighty-year-old mother’s been biting her nurses?

The Hunchback of Neiman Marcus is a story about loss. And about acceptance. A story about falling apart and putting yourself back together.  A coming of middle-age story about learning to grow old disgracefully.

ASN: I don’t remember how I discovered your book, but that’s how I see it — as discovering a real treasure. Your books before this are YA. Did you set out to write a novel-in-verse for adults or was it “an accident” at first? I realize that finishing and publishing a book like this is no accident!

SS: I didn’t mean to write The Hunchback of Neiman Marcus. In fact, I tried very hard not to write it. But every time I sat down to work on the young adult novel in verse that I owed Simon and Schuster, I found myself wanting to write about going through menopause instead, and about my imminent empty nest, and about being offered my first senior discount—not exactly subjects that teens would find enthralling.

I fought this wicked urge for awhile, but eventually I gave in and let myself write my first novel in verse for adults. The book began as a sort of memoire in poems about the issues that were pressing in on me at the time—my hormones were taking me on a wild ride, my daughter was getting ready to leave for college, and I was way behind on the deadline for that young adult novel I owed Simon and Schuster. But I soon realized that the story I wanted to tell was not my own story, but every woman’s story—a story about how all of us deal with the inevitable losses life hands us. And how we eventually come to accept them, and even to laugh about them. That was when The Hunchback of Neiman Marcus morphed from a memoire into a work of fiction.

ASN: How did you draw the line between yourself and your main character, Holly?

SS: It’s very hard to draw the line between myself and the main character of any book I write, because every character I create is, at least in some small way, a part of myself. So, when I’m writing a book, I try not to even think about that.

But this was especially tricky with The Hunchback of Neiman Marcus, because the main character, Holly, is a poet, like me. So it was hard to let her tell the whole truth—about her insecurities, fantasies and deepest yearnings—because I was painfully aware that people reading my book would assume that all the most humiliating parts were based on my feelings and experiences.  And on my body! Even the most sophisticated readers fall into this trap…

Though, it’s always a thrill when my characters begin saying things that I would never say, or even think of saying—that moment when I feel as though my characters are speaking through me, that I am channeling them, merely jotting down what I’m overhearing them saying.

ASN: Do you encounter a lot of questions or resistance to this being a novel-in-verse? I know that I wasn’t sure what it meant but the title took me by the shoulders and shook me until I started reading. And then I was hooked.

SS: In the world of YA, novels in verse have found a huge readership. Adult readers are much less familiar with the form. But since the book was published, I’ve receive so many emails from women saying, “When I opened the book and realized it was poetry, I almost slammed it shut it and put it back on the shelf (I am not a poetry lover. Okay. I hate poetry.)…But then I started reading your book, and fell in love with it.”

This makes me very happy! So many people have been turned off to poetry by uninspired English teachers. So it’s an enormous thrill to have the chance to reunite people with it. One of the perks of being a verse novelist!

The title by the way, is a reference to one of the poems in the book, which I will share with you here:

The Leaning Tower of Me                                                                   

Samantha and I are cruising
the Neiman Marcus Last Call Sale—
because who can afford
to shop at Neiman’s
when it’s not having a sale?

I’m admiring my daughter
as she glides through the racks—
her back so straight
she looks as if she’s balancing
a rare book on her head.                                     

I glance in a mirror at my own posture                                  
and am appalled at how
my head’s jutting forward,                                          
as if it’s trying to win a race
with the rest of my body.                                                                      

I’m stunned by the gorilla-esque curve
my spine seems to have taken on,    
as though determined to prove
once and for all                                 
that evolution really did happen. 

I snap my shoulders back                        
and pull myself up,
arrow straight,                           
like a child being measured
against a wall.                        

Then, a few minutes later,
while we’re browsing through  
a mountain range of marked-down panties,                                                                                                                                  
I see an old woman sifting through
the thongs on the other side of the table—                                                         

the hump                                                                                              
on her back                                                                                           
so enormous                                                                                  
she resembles
a camel.                           

She looks up suddenly
and catches me staring.                                                                            
I avert my eyes                                                 
and am confronted with my reflection
in yet another mirror—

which is when
I notice that my
frighteningly King-Kongish posture
has snuck right back up
on me...                                                                        

Oh no! 
Is this how                                                                                                              
it all began for her?                                                                                        
Twenty years from now, am I going to be
the hunchback of Neiman Marcus?

ASN: THONM proved to me that women’s fiction really does come in all shapes. As this is your first foray into published women’s fiction — do you also read women’s fiction? Who are some of your favorite authors of traditional novels?

SS: I read all sorts of fiction—women’s and otherwise. Lately I’ve been especially enjoying the work of Elizabeth Berg, Elinor Lipman, and Lian Dolan. A couple of my favorite traditional authors are Truman Capote and W. Somerset Maugham. And I love the poetry of Sharon Olds, Billy Collins, and Ron Koertge. I also read tons of YA novels, because I’ve got so many close friends who write it. There’s a list of YA novels that I love  on my website (http://www.sonyasones.com/imreading/novels.html) and there’s another section of my site, called “What I’m Reading Right Now” that I try to update whenever I can (http://www.sonyasones.com/wp/reading/).

ASN: What is your definition of women’s fiction?

SS: Mine is a pretty loose definition: women’s fiction is any novel whose main character is a woman, and whose story has something to do with that fact.

ASN: What is your best advice for aspiring authors of women’s fiction?

SS: I would tell them to read it. A lot of it! And don’t be discouraged if your first draft isn’t as brilliant as you hoped it would be. My first draft always stinks. But I just keep on working on it, revising it until it gets better, and better, and eventually I start to like it…Also, find some other people who are into writing, and form a critique group with them, so you can get some intelligent and thoughtful feedback on your work.

And try your best to let your characters be totally honest. Which can be the hardest part of all. But your readers will thank you for it when they recognize themselves in the pages of your book!

By the way, I’d be happy to Skype into any book club meetings that would care to have me visit. I can be reached at sonyasones@gmail.com.

Happy writing! And happy reading!

xx,

Sonya

www.sonyasones.com

SONYA SONES was born in Boston and overprotected in the nearby suburb of Newton. Before becoming a poet, Sonya was a struggling poet. She was also an animator, a baby clothes mogul, a photographer, a film teacher, a production assistant on a Woody Allen movie, and a film editor.

Sonya has written four young adult novels in verse: Stop Pretending, What My Mother Doesn’t Know, One of Those Hideous Books Where the Mother Dies, and What My Girlfriend Doesn’t Know. Her books have received a Christopher Award, the Myra Cohn Livingston Poetry Award, the Claudia Lewis Poetry Award, a Los Angeles Times

Book Prize nomination, and a Cuffie Award from Publisher’s Weekly for the Best Book Title of the year. But the coolest honor she ever received was in 2010 when the American Library Association included What My Mother Doesn’t Know on its list of the “Top 100 Most Challenged Books of the Decade.” (To find out why, please see page 46.)

Her first  novel in verse for adults, The Hunchback of Neiman Marcus, leapt onto the L.A. Times Bestsellers list three weeks after its publication in April of this year.

Sonya lives with her husband, and the occasional child, near the beach in Southern California. You can find out way more than you ever wanted to know about her at www.sonyasones.com.

Special Note:

Sonya shared with me this incredible review author Jane Green shared on her Facebook page:

Another book recommendation, this time for the most stunning and original book I have read in years, and a MUST READ for all mothers and “women of a certain age”…

The Hunchback of Neiman Marcus, by Sonya Sones.
Written in verse, it is poignant, funny, searingly real and completely wonderful. I read it in a day.

GO BUY IT NOW (and not just because it has the greatest title ever)!”


15 thoughts on “Women’s Fiction Comes in All Shapes: Meet Author/Poet Sonya Sones and The Hunchback of Neiman Marcus

  1. Love this! Love love it! 😀 — going to get my own copy and I know a friend who will love this book, as well!

    Always so happy to come by here and read up on what’s going on in your head and the head’s of the authors you interview, Amy!

    Like

  2. I’m so intrigued by this book (now on my summer reading list) and the idea of telling a story in verse. With my second novel (in progress), I tried writing the perspective of a character in a coma in verse. It didn’t work that well — probably because I’m not a poet and have no idea what I’m doing — but it was a great exercise in paring down the words.

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  3. Thank you sooo much for this. Truly one of the great titles of all time! Love Sonya’s POV and even love that it’s written as poetry, not my usual genre. Bottom line: Just great! Thanks again for the intro.

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  4. I think writing a novel is hard enough, let alone writing it in verse! It must be extraordinarily challenging to not only tell the story and develop characters, but to also weave it all together in a series of poems (never mind the difficulty of WRITING good poetry – you know, not my variety of “Roses are red, violets are blue” – in the first place!). I must say that I was one of those considered ‘not too fond of poetry,’ but I agree with Sonya that my lack of enthusiasm was more about English teachers who gave poetry a bad name. I had the distinct pleasure of listening to a local Arizona poet during at reading in Flagstaff and came away in LOVE with his poetry, the lyrical way his words danced through the air and across the page. So THIS sounds perfectly wonderful. Thanks, Amy, for brining such interesting folks to your site – and for broadening our horizons.

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  5. Melissa…come with me into the fold…wander through poems…and not just mine! Try Sharon Olds, Billy Collins, George Bilgere, Ron Koetrge.

    Another great source: I’ve discovered a lot of great poets on Garrison Keillor’s site: The Writer’s Almanac.

    It IS hard writing novels in verse, but it’s mostly incredibly rewarding…My favorite part of writing is when my character begins to take on a life of her own, and I get the awesome sensation that she’s dictating the story to me and I’m simply writing it down. On days like that, I feel like a writing goddess. My least favorite part is when I know what I want to say, but I can’t figure out how to say it. On days like that, I feel like I’m in writing prison, serving a life sentence. But luckily, I don’t have too many days like that…

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