Thursday, January 13, 2011

7 Questions For: Author Joni Sensel

Joni (pronounced Johnny) Sensel was inspired by great writers like Norton Juster, Ray Bradbury, and Ursula LeGuin. She grew up near Tacoma, WA, and now lives in Greenwater, WA, a mountain hamlet so far out of touch that most of her work involves supernatural or fantasy elements. Her picture book Bears Barge In was awarded a Henry Bergh Children’s Book Honor by the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals in 2001. The Farwalker’s Quest was a 2009 Cybils Award finalist and a Bank Street Best Book for 2010.

And now Joni Sensel faces the 7 Questions:

Question Seven: What are your top three favorite books?

Oof. Now? M.T. Anderson’s FEED, Rosemary Sutcliff’s THE MARK OF THE HORSE LORD, and Stephen King’s DARK TOWER series.

There are others I’ve loved a lot *coughPHANTOM TOLLBOOTHcough,* but these rank highest, I think.

Question Six: How much time do you spend each week writing? Reading?

I probably spend something like 20 hours a week writing — zero on some days, 12 on a flaming Saturday or Sunday. It varies a lot depending on whether I’m writing a first draft (for which I ignore anything in my life that doesn’t bite and write like crazy) or revising, which tends to be more spread out.

I do a lot of my “reading” on audiobooks in the car, because I drive a lot. And this varies a lot, too, but it’s probably only two or three hours a week on average. That sounds awful. But if I have to choose, writing always wins.

Question Five: What was the path that led you to publication?

Convoluted. I spent more than 10 years writing screenplays, then decided to start a small press, won a grant to do so, and published a couple of picture books that did well. But I realized I liked writing a lot better than publishing, so I started turning one of my screenplays into what became my first novel for young readers, REALITY LEAK.

Question Four: Do you believe writers are born, taught or both? Which was true for you?

Born. That doesn’t mean we all can’t learn to improve whatever we’re born with — but the writers I know who are the most successful are the ones that would be doing it even if they didn’t get published, who sometimes try to quit and can’t, like addicts, and who would probably sneak in some writing even if it were illegal. I fall in that category. I started writing stories and poems in second grade and though it took me a long time to realize that I could be a “real” writer, not just someone who played around with it, telling stories is simply how I help myself understand life.

Question Three: What is your favorite thing about writing? What is your least favorite thing?

My favorite thing is the rush of a first draft, which for me is like taking dictation or a divine download. I love that sense of tumbling along in the current of the story without knowing where it is going.

My least favorite thing? Hmm. Feeling obligated to promote my books, I think. I hate to feel like I’m pushing myself or my work on people.

Question Two: What one bit of wisdom would you impart to an aspiring writer? (feel free to include as many other bits of wisdom as you like)

Learn to enjoy the process, the creative act itself, or the stories and characters that come to you for themselves, not as a means to an end. That inherent joy is the only thing, in my experience, that can keep you going through the disappointments and setbacks. This is a business in which a lot is out of the writer’s control, but nobody can ever take the pleasure of creation or the word play away from you.

Sometimes I think you have to hit the potholes in the road to publication before you can really let go of end results and love the process for its own sake. I know I had to hit some hard bottoms first, at least.

If I get more bits, I’d echo those who suggest building a community, in person or online, with other writers. And join SCBWI, which is good for that and many other things.

Question One: If you could have lunch with any writer, living or dead, who would it be? Why?

I started to say Stephen King, because I’m in awe of his ability to create believable, 3-D characters, and I’m just plain a King junkie. But then I thought, “oh, wait —dead?” and might have to change my answer to William Shakespeare. Huge fan. Would love to talk shop, find out how much the layers of meaning in his work was conscious on his part, and dish about the Globe and the theatre politics of the time. Although I’d rather have lunch in this century than in his.


  1. Great interview. I especially like Joni's advice to enjoy the process because there's so much you can't control. That is about the best advice I've heard and so true. Thanks.

  2. Hi, Robert -- thanks for the interview and review! I apologize, I've been having major computer havoc this week and this was the first time I've really gotten online. But happy Friday and anyone with questions can always email me at my website, if not here. Cheers!


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