Carlie Sorosiak writes books about magical summer camps, missing people, and the inner life of dogs. She grew up in North Carolina and has an American dingo (Google it!) who is her writing companion (but she doesn't let her type on the keyboard!). By day, she's a creative writing professor at the Savannah College of Art and Design in Atlanta. Not gonna lie, it's pretty awesome.
Always, Clementine (Nosy Crow Books)
Carlie Sorosiak's Always, Clementine takes us into the mind of a lab mouse, Clementine, and what happens when she is set free but also parted from her best friend in the lab. The book, which is aimed at readers aged 7+, explores the world through the eyes of a small but hugely intelligent mouse, as well as friendship and communities. Author Carlie Sorosiak tells us more.
Q&A with Carlie Sorosiak
1. Why do you enjoy making your main characters animals - and do your own pets help inspire your stories?
I've always felt like I understand animals a bit better than humans. Growing up, all my best friends were dogs, and at one point in elementary school, I tried very hard to become a wolf. (It might go without saying, but the results were unsuccessful!) When it came to writing middle grade novels, animals felt like the natural choice for my main characters.
My pets absolutely help inspire my stories. My childhood rabbit, Strawberry, was actually my main source of inspiration for Clementine.
2. Why did you decide to make your lead character in this story a lab mouse, Clementine, and to explore how mice and other animals in laboratories are treated?
Animal rights is an issue very close to my heart. When I was a kid, my family adopted a research rabbit - liberated, much like Clementine, from a local science lab. She still had the research tag in her ear, and I vividly remember taking her to the vet to have it removed. My mom said that she wanted Strawberry, the rabbit, "to be free". It's difficult to imagine the life that Strawberry endured before her time with us. She wasn't given a voice in that lab. Neither are the hundreds of thousands of animals used yearly in research. I wanted to change that in some small, small way.
I chose a mouse because, when I think of animals in science, mice immediately pop to mind. I also had two rats growing up - Ziggy and Miss Mellow - so I was familiar with whisker-y, rodent behaviour!
3. Is it important for authors to help children question the world around them through their stories?
I think it's important for authors to encourage their readers to be curious, yes. The world is so vast, as Clementine discovers. There really is a lot to it! Brussel sprouts, for example. And sunflowers. (You'll get these references if you read the book!)
4. Where can your readers go to find out more about further questions they might have?
Teachers, parents, or adult caregivers are always a great place to start, but PETA (People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals) also has a very helpful website for kids, www.petakids.com.
5. How did Clementine the mouse develop as a character?
I knew I wanted to write about a mouse, so I spent a great deal of time thinking about what a super intelligent mouse would sound like. Finding Clementine's voice was the most labour-intensive part of this process; I tried a few different opening chapters in a few different voices. Then, one day, I woke up from a long nap . . . and her voice was just there. The first sentence of the first letter came to me fully formed. Everything unrolled from that. She definitely led the action - although I did have some "touchstone scenes" already mapped out, things that I knew I wanted to happen in the narrative.
6. Why did you decide to tell Clementine's story through letters?
I feel like letter-writing is almost a lost art form. Receiving a letter is a gift; it's so wonderfully personal. And I wanted to personalise a lab animal as much as possible, to give her agency and an even bigger voice. Plus, I'd never written a book in letter form before! I wanted to challenge myself.
7. Clementine turns out to have a talent for chess - why did you decide to make that her special skill - and how good are you at chess?
I was the captain of my chess team in elementary school! It's such a cerebral game - and Clementine is a very cerebral mouse. I thought that this particular game fit her perfectly. During the pandemic, I watched a show called The Queen's Gambit, which really reignited my love of chess, and I began watching a lot of chess YouTube for research.
8. Who is your favourite supporting character?
Oh, this is a tough one! Always, Clementine has some of my favourite side characters that I've ever written - like Ginger, feather-coated octogenarian chess phenom. But I'll go with Hamlet, "the other mouse". He is a fellow mouse in the experiment that made Clementine a genius. I don't want to spoil anything, but he turns out to be quite a surprising character! And he has a good, gentle heart.
9. Would you love to have a 'Clementine' in your life?
Yes and no. I sincerely hope there will come a day when there are no animals bred in labs. But the idea of a friendly, loving little mouse hanging around with me - that certainly has its appeal! My cat, Bella, is just as wise as Clementine; I'm sure of it.
10. Where do you prefer to write - and which of your pets like to keep you company? What does a good 'writing day' look like for you?
Always, Clementine was written mostly in my back garden. Since a large part of the action takes place in a garden, I thought that was fitting! Other times, I write at my desk. But no matter where I am, my dog, Dany, is my constant writing companion. I'm currently finishing structural edits for a novel about a fox, inspired by Dany's wisdom and grumpiness.
A good writing day involves a decaf cappuccino from my favourite coffee shop (Tuesdays, in my hometown of Marietta, Georgia), at least a three-hour block of time to write solidly, and at least 750 words on the page by the end of the day.
11. What kinds of things do you enjoy doing when you're away from your desk?
I volunteer at a cat shelter called Good Mews, the first no-kill, free-roaming shelter in Georgia. I'm also very into a sport called CrossFit (I lift heavy weights, early in the morning), and I spend a wonderful amount of time watching my dog sniff around our local park.