Books, Babies, and Ice Cream (an interview with RED BUTTERFLY author, A. L. Sonnichsen)

I have a special treat for you today: an interview with one of my dearest blogging friends, Amy Sonnichsen. I can't wait for you to get to know her, as she's one of my favorite people. If we lived closer (there's this whole continent thing between the east and west coasts, unfortunately), we'd have this chat over cups of cocoa and bowls of ice cream. But since that can't be, over email was second best. :)

FEH: Welcome, Amy! Thanks so much for stopping over to celebrate the release of your debut novel in verse, RED BUTTERFLY. I've been so excited for this since you first announced its publication! Could you tell us a few words about the story?

ALS: Thank you so much for having me, Faith, and for all your excitement and support. It means a lot! RED BUTTERFLY is a novel in verse about an eleven-year-old Chinese orphan who is left behind in China when her American mother is repatriated.
FEH: I know that you spent much of your childhood in Hong Kong and still have a great love for that part of the world. (I share that love, though all my knowledge is through books. :) I am very well-traveled in my imagination if not in real life!) I'm sure your experiences informed much of the story, but are there any bits that would surprise your readers to find out are based on real life?
ALS: Ha! I love to travel in my imagination through books, too ... and in real life, though I don't get to do the latter very much anymore (five kids=very limited travel fund). I am so grateful for my growing-up years in Hong Kong and the years I got to spend in China as an adult. As far as how much my own experiences informed the RED BUTTERFLY story, they completely did and completely didn't all at once. The novel is purely fictional, but I did pull from stories I heard when I spent time volunteering for an organization that supported our local orphanage in China. I was the secretary for several years, so I wrote down a lot of stories, and, much like a lawyer, pulled from that big melting pot of information when I was finding precedents for how my main character Kara's story might turn out. So yes, I couldn't have written RED BUTTERFLY without my experience in China, but I didn't base any of my characters on specific, real-life people. 
FEH: So there was a brief mention there of something I'm very personally interested in talking about: "five kids." Since I'm expecting Baby #5 in August, I'm definitely there with you on the mothering/writing train. I know you probably get asked "how do you do it?" even more than I do--so I won't ask that. :) Still, let's discuss this a little... Everyone is quick to point out how difficult it must be for mothers like us to succeed in writing or art--and yeah, we have a really limited schedule, for sure--but I think few people realize the many ways in which mothering enhances the artistic life and helps us grow as writers. How has being a mom helped you as a writer?
ALS: Great question! ...And I'm so excited that you're going to join me soon in the Mom-of-Five Club! I do think being a mom has helped me, but it's taken awhile for me to arrive at this place of gratefulness. When we lived in China, I had household help, so I had writing time built in to my schedule. It was awesome! But then we moved back to the United States and reality hit. Finding balance was hard. My kids were perpetually late for all their activities, thanks to my writing habit. It took me about a year to find a better balance, and that prepared me for the present day, when I am probably five times as busy as I was when we first moved back to America. I'm hardly ever home now, thanks to my kids' schooling needs and activities. I'm home schooling a couple of my kids because of their specific needs and I'm pretty much useless at staying up late at night to get anything done. So, as you can imagine, I have very little writing time! But what my crazy schedule has blessed me with is, first of all, focus, and second of all, a need to schedule, something I didn't have before. I now have two hours in the afternoon that I can devote to writing (even though I'm still half-playing with my four-year-old) and during that time I am focused. I know it is my time to write, so I write. I've realized what a lazy bum I am on the days when I don't have myself scheduled. I recently took a trip with my husband and planned to write while he was in a conference. I found myself lacking the discipline I seem to have when I'm juggling the kids. All that to say, I'm starting to wonder if my "I could get so much more done if I didn't have kids" excuse was ever valid. Raising them drives me to be a better person who is able to prioritize and get a lot more accomplished. Not that it's easy, but nothing about discipline ever is!
"But what my crazy schedule has blessed me with is, first of all, focus, and second of all, a need to schedule... I now have two hours in the afternoon that I can devote to writing (even though I'm still half-playing with my four-year-old) and during that time I am focused. I know it is my time to write, so I write."

 FEH: What a perfect answer--I totally agree. I can attest to this in my life; having a tight schedule makes me so aware of every minute of wasted time. I can't lie to myself about it, and unfortunately it used to be really easy to do that. I look back at my pre-kid days and wonder what on earth I did all the time. (I didn't even have internet to blame.)
Okay, mind if we move on to some random fun stuff? That's my favorite part of interviews!
My little sister claims that you can really get to know someone from their answers to the questions:
1) What is your life motto?
and 2) What's your favorite flavor of ice cream?
I seem to remember you having an affinity for the creamy goodness that gets us through the terrible twos and long nights of homework...ahem. Didn't mean to type all that... :) Anyway, I just had to ask you that question--and you can answer the motto one, too, if you feel like it. :)
ALS: Oh dear, I know I've been asked the life motto question before, and I think I said, "Seize the day," but if you read somewhere else that my life motto is something different, please remember that I have five children and my life motto most days is "SURVIVE." 
My favorite ice cream flavor? Well, that's a toss up between two delectable Ben & Jerry's flavors. I wish Ben & Jerry's would sell them combined! Half-baked (which I'm about to eat straight out of the carton, as a matter of fact) and Pfish Pfood. Pardon me while I go grab a spoon. 
FEH: why did I ask that question when I recently emptied my last carton (peppermint stick)? Now I now what my pregnancy cravings will be today. :)
Okay, one last question, so we can both get back to the writing and homeschooling and toddler chasing! I wouldn't dream of pinning you down to one, but can you share with us a few favorite books or writers that inspire you?
ALS: Especially when I'm writing verse I go back to two books that I own, OUT OF THE DUST by Karen Hesse and MAY B. by Caroline Starr Rose, and re-read, just to get in the correct frame of mind. I've also re-read Jandy Nelson's THE SKY IS EVERYWHERE for the same reason. Another huge inspiration is SOLD by Patricia McCormick. I love simple, beautiful language. When I read these books I feel a huge sense of inadequacy, but that's healthy--it keeps me energized to improve my craft.
"When I read these books I feel a huge sense of inadequacy, but that's healthy--it keeps me energized to improve my craft."

 FEH: I love your last sentence! I have the same feeling when I read great books; as soon as the feeling of "Oh my gosh, I'm never going to write again" has passed, I feel more ready than ever to jump in and make my work better. (By the way, since we started this interview, I picked up my copy of RED BUTTERFLY at our local bookstore, and so far it is just gorgeous. "Simple, beautiful language" are exactly the words I would use to describe it.)
Amy, this interview has been such a pleasure. Thank you so much! Congratulations on the release of RED BUTTERFLY!
ALS: Thank you, Faith! It's been wonderful chatting with you! I'm so glad you're enjoying RED BUTTERFLY so far. 
You can order RED BUTTERFLY from Amazon here, or find it at your local bookstore since everyone knows that's more fun. And if you don't already know where to find her, here is a link to Amy's lovely blog, which always leaves me feeling encouraged and inspired and ready to write.


  1. What a lovely interview ladies. You both inspire and encourage. I'd love to have you over for tea and conversation and writing and chasing toddlers and fiddler crabs in the marsh. Congratulations, Amy, and Congratulations, Faith!!!!!

  2. I'm looking forward to reading this one! I totally get having to live in your imagination, because kids mean limited travel. :) And I love what she said about having a tighter schedule makes you more focused.
    Thanks for a great interview, Faith! Congrats on # 5! And congrats, Amy, on your debut!

  3. I love you both so much. This is an excellent interview. Thank you. Especially as I navigate just one child and writing! You both make it look easy.

  4. What a wonderful interview, and of course I love the mommy bits in addition to the writing bits :) I'm looking forward to reading this one!


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