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Oregon Literary Fellowship Recipient: Sonja Thomas

We’re excited to be featuring the 2016 Oregon Literary Fellowship recipientson our blog this spring! The applications for 2017 fellowships are due Friday, June 24, 2016 and you can read the guidelines and download an application by clicking here.

2016 Oregon Literary Fellowship Recipient

Sonja Thomas


Young Readers


Sonja Thomas is a recovering CPA who writes for children of all ages, from humorous middle grade to young adult fantasy. Raised in Central Florida (the wonderful world of Disney, humidity, and hurricanes) and transplanted to DC for eleven years (go Nats!), she’s now “keeping it weird” in Portland, OR.

Q&A with Literary Arts

1. What are your sources of inspiration?

Anything that floods me with emotion, from excitement to fear, from anger to hysterical laughter, and things that my mind can’t stop thinking about…so LOTS of stuff inspires me. An amazing book, movie, TV show, or song. Hiking in the Gorge. Traveling somewhere new, from Charleston to Iceland. My mom sharing her experience of growing up in Germany after WWII. Trying something new, no matter how impossible it seems, like running in the Marine Corp Marathon or doing the flying trapeze. It all comes down to living life and wanting to share my experience with others or to explore a situation I haven’t personally encountered, real or imaginary, but “feel” strongly about.

2. How would you describe your creative process?

Cyclical, dotted with spurts and droughts. Racing forward when the idea hits…creeping uphill, especially during the dreaded middle…stuck in place, trying to remember why I wanted to write this in the first place….words flowing as I plummet towards the climax…eager to get feedback, then dreading what to do with it once I have it…put aside, letting the feedback simmer…chugging along during draft number three, five, nine…jumping for joy when complete!

3. What is most exciting about receiving a fellowship?

Hands down, the validation that someone other than people who know and love me actually like my words. There are many days where I don’t feel like my work is “good enough” and for someone to say, “yes, it is,” is a much needed push to keep writing.

4. What are you currently working on?

I’m currently working on revising my middle grade novel Mira & Whiskers (the submission that won this fellowship). It’s about twelve-year-old Mira Williams living in a summer of suck. When her best friend Thomas moves a billion and one miles away, she puts a laser focus on winning next year’s science fair and knocking her nemesis Tamika Smith from her first place reign. But Mira’s world surpasses the suckiness factor to the nth degree when she discovers that her cat Whiskers has the new cat-killer disease.

5. What advice do you have for future applicants?

Never give up. Keep writing and keep submitting everywhere your work fits. Success is only possible when you take a chance.

OLF Judge’s Comments

It’s impossible to resist the charm in Sonja Thomas’ Mira & Whiskers. Starting with the unforgettable opening line, “I live in a world of suck,” Thomas immerses her reader instantly into Mira’s world—a place rich with love, hope, humor, and an infectious abundance of youthful energy and optimism. Seeking solace and wisdom from her “massive, humongoid cat” Whiskers, Mira is an endearing protagonist who agonizes over cleaning her room, her father’s unemployment, and her desire to become the World’s Greatest Scientist. Not once does Thomas’ authentic voice falter. It’s evident she has a masterful command of creating relevant stories for young people, written in an accessible and truthful narrative that consistently comes across as genuine. Here she has painted a compelling, heart-warming tale of a young girl discovering her potential and true self. Young readers will certainly identify and connect with Mira—and many will fall in love with the equally adorable Whiskers. As a writer, Thomas maintains an extraordinary ability to find beauty in the ordinary and celebrate it for all it’s worth.

—David-Matthew Barnes

Excerpt from current work:

From Mira & Whiskers

Chapter One: A World of Suck

“I live in a world of suck,” I announced to the empty room.

Well, technically there was an audience of one. Sprawled across my unmade bed, my massive, humongoid cat (so big he looked like he’d swallowed a basketball, along with the whole Magic team) paused his early afternoon tongue bath. His paw hung mid-air, his lime-green eyes wide, piercing directly into my thoughts.

“You understand, don’t you, Whiskers?”

He slowly blinked, an obvious nod to my crap situation. Message received, Whiskers resumed grooming his belly with steady determination.

Back to the suckiness at hand, I pinched my thumb and forefinger around my red monkey sock and rescued it from the smothering pile of empty water bottles, an open box of baking soda, AA batteries and a kitchen timer. I held the sock right up to my nose and sniffed. There was a slight stink, kind of like burnt toast, though nowhere near sweaty armpit territory. I tossed the sock into the fold-and-put-away pile and fished out another, this one blue covered in cat hair.

I hated cleaning my room.

At the beginning of summer two weeks ago, I’d made the mistake of swearing on my life, with one hand over my heart and the other on my Mom’s treasured bible, Great Housekeeping’s 101 Tips to the Perfect Home, that “I, Mira Williams, would keep a spotless bedroom in exchange for a generous allowance.” The allure of five dollars plunked into my Einstein-in-a-lab-coat piggy bank every week was too def to pick up on Dad’s softly spoken warning. “Too soon to be teaching our twelve year old daughter extortion, don’t you think?”

I had looked up the word “extortion” later that same day when my euphoria simmered down. “The crime of obtaining money or some other thing of value by the abuse of one’s authority.” I now suspected Dad was right. But it was too late for Mom to change her mind. The payoff was mine. With all the money I was banking, I’d be able to buy a whole bunch of supplies for my experiments. Maybe seventh grade would finally be my year to win the science fair.

I shook a pair of wrinkled shorts, causing litter and potato chip crumbs to shoot off in multiple directions. Too bad I couldn’t train Whiskers to clean my room. Still busy primping, he licked the same spot over and over, just over his shoulder, until his gray fur shined. His half-closed eyes—a definite sign of calm satisfaction—supported my theory that he enjoyed having a meticulous coat. In fact, Whisk was picky about the cleanliness of everything his. He even refused to use the litter box if it wasn’t scooped after every…um…bathroom break. I’d even timed his bathing session once (to maintain the sanctity of indisputable facts) and clocked an entire five minutes of him picking away claw jam with his teeth.

I tossed another dirty sock onto the “to be cleaned” pile and sighed. Even though cleaning made my toes curl tighter than nails on a chalkboard, it really wasn’t the suckiest part of summer. My best friend Thomas had moved nine hundred and one miles away.

I grabbed my favorite shirt, licorice red with a white cartoon drawing of Albert Einstein on the front and the words “Imagination is more important than knowledge” in block letters across the back. A birthday gift from Thomas, I cradled it against my chest. Before I had a chance to determine the shirt’s reek factor, fingers drummed against my bedroom door. It swung open, shoving aside my pile of clothes that must-be-washed-immediately-due-to-lethal-odors.

Dad towered in the doorway, a clipboard in hand. My shirt dropped to the floor. No way was I going to pass the spic-n-span test.

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