I’m Erin Dealey, and I write books for kids. I’m a teacher, presenter, rhymer, blogger, and proud Drama Mama.

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Happy Book Birthday ARLO DRAWS AN OCTOPUS & 6 Qs on 100+ books by Lori Mortensen

May 11, 2021

Lori Mortensen’s 100th (+) picture book, ARLO DRAWS AN OCTOPUS (Abrams),

released May 4th, with Illustrations by Rob Sayegh Junior:

“Well-written and full of fun surprises.”

― Kirkus Reviews

THAT calls for a blog-party Q & A!


And boy do we have questions!

Q 1. What was the inspiration for ARLO DRAWS AN OCTOPUS?

Lori Mortensen: When I was young, my sister and I used to spend hours drawing at the kitchen table. Since she was nearly three years older than I was, sometimes I’d compare my drawings to her drawings and wonder why mine weren’t as good as hers.

When I decided to write a story about a frustrated young artist name Arlo, I was tickled to imagine that he could see his drawing in a new way and realize that his drawings were actually wonderful all along.

ARLO DRAWS AN OCTOPUS by Lori Mortensen / Abrams / Interior art by Rob Sayegh, Jr. / 2021

Q 2. Were there any surprises that illustrator Rob Sayegh Jr. brought to the book?

Lori Mortensen: I love Rob Sayegh’s illustrations. One of the fun surprises he brought to this story were all the little octopus references he sprinkled throughout the town before the main story begins—signs, the number eight, an octopus here, a tentacle there. Readers can start enjoying Arlo’s story as soon as they open the book and start looking around.

Q 3. I LOVE the word “disaster-piece.” Did you ever write a manuscript (that turned into a book) that felt like a disaster-piece at first? If so, which one—and what made you keep going?

Lori Mortensen: “Disaster-piece” is a great word, isn’t it? I was delighted when I made it up. However, when I begin writing anything, I have to love something about it to keep working on it, so calling it a “disaster-piece” wouldn’t occur to me even though it might be challenging to write.

I’m always very hopeful when I’m working on something because I know it’s only a matter of time before it evolves into something wonderful.

Q 4. What was the most surprising discovery you made –about Arlo, your process, octopuses (octopi?), or the story itself, as your book, ARLO DRAWS AN OCTOPUS, went from idea to published book?

Lori Mortensen: When I begin writing, I don’t always know where I’m going and that was the case when I began writing ARLO DRAWS AN OCTOPUS. I knew he’d try to draw something and it would go horribly wrong in all kinds of fun and imaginative ways. But the question always is—Then, what? That was the challenge. As an author, I realized the story could have gone off in many different directions at that point.

ARLO DRAWS AN OCTOPUS by Lori Mortensen / Abrams / Interior art by Rob Sayegh, Jr. / 2021

Lori Mortensen: However, whatever direction I decided to go, I knew the ending had to be surprising, yet satisfying. So, I sat at my computer with my fingers curled over the keyboard and thought and thought (as many of my characters do—ha, ha!). Hmmm . . .

Spoiler Alert! (Well–sort of…)

Finally, the perfect ending popped into my head. Who knew that an octopus might be having the same sort of bad drawing day as Arlo? One of the joys of writing is taking a kernel of an idea and coaxing it into something meaningful, memorable, and delightfully unexpected.

Q 5. What do you hope young readers will take away from ARLO DRAWS AN OCTOPUS?

Lori Mortensen: That we’re better than we think we are and maybe the best thing about doing anything is the sheer joy of making the effort. In fact, I recently sat down and drew my own ARLO octopus picture. And—I like it! I think Arlo would like it too.

Nice octopus, Lori!
For a fun activity, check out these preliminary Octopus sketches by Rob, and then try to draw your own!

Speaking of which–> download the BONUS activity guide for ARLO DRAWS AN OCTOPUS here!

Q 6. How have you managed to write more than 100 books and 500 stories and articles? (CONGRATULATIONS!) Any tips for those of us with similar writing goals?

Lori Mortensen: Thanks, Erin! That’s a lot of writing, isn’t it? And that’s what it comes down to—parking yourself at the computer and making it happen word by word. Interestingly, many years ago when I first began writing, I set my sights on children’s magazines and set a goal for myself—100 manuscripts sold. I carefully studied what magazines such as Highlights, Ladybug, Wild Outdoor World, The Friend, and many others published. Then, keeping their style, readership, and tone in mind, I sat down and got to work.

Little by little my manuscripts sold. Each sale boosted my confidence until I met and exceeded my goal. Confidence from magazines sales gave me confidence to pursue other writing goals in the trade and educational market. Along the way there were plenty of rejections—I still get rejections today—but writing children’s literature is such a extraordinary endeavor, I can’t think of anything I’d rather do.

My writing tips?

  • Read, read, read. (The best writers are readers.)
  • Think about the stories you like and why you like them.
  • Then, show up and write even if your Muse has taken a hike.
  • Have fun. (My best manuscripts are always the ones I had fun writing.)
  • Write the kinds of stories you’d love to read.

To learn more about Lori Mortensen and her 100+ books (Still amazed!) check out LoriMortensen.com,

read her previous blog post (about Kindergarten Lori),

and follow her on Twitter: @lorimortensen

or Facebook: LoriMortensen.

Lori will also be celebrating ARLO DRAWS AN OCTOPUS at Face in a Book on May 15th 11am-1pm.

Go say HI!!!

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