★ “A stellar biography, as creepy and fun as its subject.” —Kirkus, STARRED review
I’ve been a big fan of Edward Gorey for ages. His creepy, creative prose and eccentric style appeals to me. So when I heard there was going to be a children’s book on the biography of this brilliant man, I couldn’t wait to get my hands on it. It turns out the author, Lori Mortensen writes creative prose as well! And the art? Amazing! Chloe Bristol’s detailed illustrations are eerily reminiscent of Gorey’s style.
I have a special treat for my readers today at the end of this review —we’ll talk “Nonsense” with the the author herself!
Interior spread sneak peek
Watch the Book Trailer
Talking Nonsense!: A One-on-One Interview with Author Lori Mortensen
Danna: Hi Lori, thank you for joining me today for some Q & A nonsense!
Danna: Edward liked writing stories that made readers uneasy. Why did you decide to write the story of Edward Gorey and what, if anything, made you uneasy during the writing process?
Lori: Edward Gorey is a familiar name from my childhood. When I was young, we read, The Man Who Sang the Sillies, written by John Ciardi and illustrated by Edward Gorey. The poems were as strange and silly as the illustrations. An especially memorable poem called “The Happy Family” began with the lines: “Before the children say goodnight, Mother, Father, stop and think: Have you screwed their heads on tight? Have you washed their ears with ink?” All these years later, I still remember Gorey’s whimsical illustration of children chasing their floating heads around their bedroom.
What, if anything, made me uneasy during the writing process? Once I decided on my approach to the story, all the fun and fascinating bits seemed to fall into place rather naturally which was a great delight. However, since Gorey’s passing was only 20 years ago, I knew there were many people alive today who knew him and it was going to be nearly impossible to satisfy whatever expectations they may have about a picture book about him. Of course, I hope everyone loves it.
Danna: According to Edward, the world was an uncertain place where anything might happen. When your publisher “happened” to ask the fantastic Chloe Bristol to illustrate the book and she “happened” to accept, how did you feel about their choice? Can you share an early sketch or two with us? Or an image that didn’t make it into the book?
Lori: I was delighted when I discovered Chloe Bristol would illustrate this project. Her unique, moody style is a perfect match to tell Edward Gorey’s own sometimes dark, sometimes silly, story. For this particular project, I wasn’t privy to a lot of early sketches. But I did see an earlier version of the cover where there was an eel in Gorey’s hat instead of a bird, and a bat flitting around. It’s always interesting to see how illustrations evolve. I think the final version turned out brilliantly.
Danna: I do too! I enjoyed learning about the pen names Edward used by creating anagrams of his name. Will you share some anagrams of your name? And would you ever publish a book under any of them?
Lori: I loved the idea that Edward Gorey published books using anagrams of his name. When I finished writing the manuscript about him, I couldn’t resist getting out a Scrabble game and creating dozens of anagrams using my own name. My favorites? Rose N. Tornmile, Merlin Noserot, and Smirn Treeloon. While I don’t plan on publishing any stories using those names, I hope readers will get excited about creating their own fun anagrams based on the letters in their names.
Danna: Merlin Noserot! Snort, that one makes me giggle!
Danna: Before Edward worked at a publisher on other people’s books or his own books, he had what he called a “ghastly” job filing reports. What jobs (besides being a writer) have you had? Were any of them ghastly?
Lori: I had many jobs before I became a writer, including a high school dance teacher, sign language interpreter, and working as a secretary for accountants, engineers, and attorneys. Although none of my previous jobs were “ghastly”, I’ve definitely had my share of boring jobs. My least favorite was a temp job stuffing Chevron credit cards into envelopes for two weeks straight.
Danna: You’ve included an Author’s Note at the end of the book, which gives readers more information about Edward Gorey. It seems he had a covey of cats living with him in his old sea captains’ home Do you have cats, if so, do they help you create your stories? Or is that “a hat full of nonsense”?
Lori: Yes, I’ve had several cats over the years, but today I have just one—Max. While he hasn’t starred in his very own picture book yet, I’ve been delighted to work cats into many of my stories including Cowpoke Clyde and Dirty Dawg, and Mousequerade Ball.
Danna: One of Edward’s favorite books growing up was The Secret Garden. What were your favorite books as a child? How have they influenced the writer in you?
Lori: I had many favorite books as a child, including Leopold the See-Through Crumbpicker by James Flora, A Wrinkle in Time by Madeleine L’Engle and adventure books by Willard Price. However, one of my all-time favorite books was Ellen Tebbits by Beverly Cleary. From the opening line, “Ellen Tebbits was in a hurry,” I was drawn into Ellen’s world. As I read along, she seemed just as shy and uncertain as I was as she struggled with her own small but very important ups and downs. Page by page, as I rooted for Ellen’s success, I wanted to believe that if she could succeed, maybe I could too.
When I write today, I hope readers will see themselves in my stories and love and connect with them as much as I loved and connected with some of my childhood favorites.
Danna: Edward loved to read, gobbling up adventures, mysteries, poetry, and comics. What can your readers look forward to gobbling up in your next book?
Lori: In 2021, hungry readers can look forward to gobbling up my upcoming picture book Arlo Draws an Octopus, inspired by the many hours I spent as a child drawing at the kitchen table and scrutinizing the results. I hope readers will have as much fun reading it as I had writing it.
Danna: I can’t wait to meet Arlo! Thank you for spending time with me at Picture Book Playlist, Lori!
Readers, you are in for a treat. This hit drops on March, 24, 2020. Head on over to Lori’s website to Reserve your copy now and check out the fabulous Teacher Activity Guide to further the picture book fun!