Today I am delighted to welcome Tara Lazar to my blog. Tara is a mover and shaker in the world of children’s books. She graciously agreed to an interview with me to share about her journey and the exciting things she is learning and doing as a writer.
Tara, welcome! Thank you so much for consenting to allow me to pick your brain. First of all, congratulations on the publishing in 2013 of your first picture book The Monstore. It is a fabulous picture book. (To read my review click here.)
Now, let’s dig right in. Please tell us a little about yourself.
I’m a pajama addict and I have one husband, two daughters, and far too many stuffed animals. I love to laugh. And according to my daughters, I laugh far too loud in far too many public places.
I love to laugh, too, and to make people laugh. Nothing wrong with that! 🙂 When did you first know you wanted to be a writer? Who or what inspired you?
Honestly I knew from just about the time I learned how to write. I would always cheer HOORAY! when a teacher announced it was time for creative writing…while the rest of the class groaned.
All the books of my childhood inspired me—those by Roald Dahl, Judy Blume, Beverly Cleary, Paula Danziger, William Steig and Charles M. Schulz. The kicker was learning that “She Was Nice to Mice” was written by 12-year-old Ally Sheedy. I said to myself, “I can do that, too!” Of course, it took me a little longer to actually do it…
But, you did do it. Yay! As a writer, do you do much reading? How important is it to you to read other authors’ work?
I read daily. It’s a joy, an escape and an education. It’s like a football coach studying the competing team’s plays.
Over the last five years I’ve read so much that I’ve stopped watching almost all TV. I find that it just doesn’t stimulate me the way reading does. I get easily bored with TV. I never thought I’d ever say that. I was a TV kid growing up; you couldn’t unglue me from the set.
You have inspired me already! There’s where I can pick up my reading time instead of idly watching TV to veg, except for some movies. Who were/are your favourite authors? How have they affected your own writing?
Roald Dahl is my favourite author and a quote from The Minpins reflects my attitude towards my own writing: “And above all, watch with glittering eyes the whole world around you, because the greatest secrets are always hidden in the most unlikely places. Those who don’t believe in magic will never find it.”
Oh, I love that inspiring quote! Why are picture books where your heart is?
I love the play of images and text that combine to create the whole—it’s greater than the sum of its parts. I never outgrew my six-year-old need for illustrations in a story.
Many of my readers will have heard about PiBoIdMo – Picture Book
Idea Month. This is your brain child, and a challenge I participated
in three times so far. How did you get this started and why? For our
readers who don’t know much about PiBoIdMo, please tell us about it.
I got started because I was jealous of all the novelists having fun in November with NaNoWriMo. I wanted a challenge for picture book writers. So I created one.
The challenge of PiBoIdMo is to create 30 picture book concepts in 30 days. Just an idea a day—you don’t have to write an entire manuscript (but you can if the mood strikes). Every day in November my blog features author, illustrator and editor guest bloggers who write about their own sources of inspiration, to encourage you along on your journey.
You do so much each year to inspire others through PiBoIdMo; it’s obviously loads of work. How long does it take you to get each year’s challenge set up with all your wonderful guest contributors, exciting prizes, and well-executed scheduling?
Funny, I have no idea how much time it takes! I love doing it, so time isn’t of consequence. I compose my wish list of guest bloggers throughout the year and start sending out invitations in August. By October, I’ve got it all scheduled. Each year I get a little better at organizing it. Organization is not my strong suit.
How has PiBoIdMo affected your own writing over the years, what has it done for you?
Well, I never complete my own darn challenge, that’s for sure! But being so immersed in picture books during the month gives me plenty of inspiration. I usually write a new manuscript in November.
Excellent! Do you have an agent? A critique group?
Yes and yes. I think both are crucial to my career.
How long did it take you to pull this book together to your satisfaction? And then how did you catch the attention of a publisher so The Monstore became a reality? Did you have to change your story much for it to be accepted and ready?
Honestly it was never to the point where I felt comfortable submitting it. I was gun-shy after years of rejections. My crit partner, Corey Rosen Schwartz (author of “The Three Ninja Pigs”), thought it was ready and encouraged me to query agents. It got attention and I signed with Ammi-Joan Paquette of the Erin Murphy Literary Agency. Joan sold it a few weeks afterwards. It was a whirlwind. And it spoiled me. No other sale has been that quick.
What a great start! How did James Burks become the illustrator of The Monstore? Your work and his are an excellent combination.
My editor and art director at Aladdin suggested James. They sent me a link to his online portfolio, explaining he could draw children as well as he could draw monsters—not an easy feat—and I agreed, “Yes, yes, a thousand times YES!”
It is exciting that this year you have another book coming to our bookstores! Please talk about that and what you have lined up for publishing.
I THOUGHT THIS WAS A BEAR BOOK features an alien who gets knocked out of his book and crash-lands into the book of Goldilocks and the Three Bears. Chaos ensues. I then have three more picture books under contract. And hopefully more…and more…
What a delightful story! Three more under contract? Wow! I look forward to the more … and more … 🙂
When do you write? Do you set goals for yourself?
I write all different times of day. While eating lunch, while falling asleep, while taking a shower. I don’t follow any particular structure or routine. In fact, I’m a very anti-routine type of person. I like doing things differently every day, and that means I don’t necessarily write every day. But I am almost always thinking of my stories, and I count thinking as “writing with invisible ink.”
“writing with invisible ink.” That must be what I do as I mull an idea over in my mind quite awhile, the trick is to get it onto paper. What process do you go through when writing and perfecting a story? How do you keep track of your ideas?
I write down ideas as soon as I get them. If the idea is really eating at me, I’ll begin a Word Doc with the title, premise, or first few lines. Sometimes I’ll even write a first draft immediately.
My process is different for every story. Some shoot out like a rocket; I can’t stop them. Others take a lot of “marinating”—that is, letting them sit in my subconscious for weeks or months. And yet others get revised 90 gazillion times, for years.
How do you manage your time with family, speaking engagements, PiBoIdMo, and everything else going on in your busy life?
I’m a fly-by-the-seat-of-my-pants kind of gal. I try not to structure my days and instead gravitate toward what I feel like that day. Plus I have MS, which means every day is different for my body and I can’t really plan too much or else I get exhausted. So I go by feeling. Miraculously, it all seems to balance out. Except the laundry.
Wow! You manage very well with what you have to deal with daily. I have a hard time living by a schedule on the best of days. What interests do you have apart from writing and anything involved with writing?
I used to be a figure skater, but since I was diagnosed with MS, I have not been able to skate. Writing has filled up that spot in my heart.
I also enjoy making jewelry. I taught myself how to wrap wire and bead, and I can sit for hours just creating. Right now I’m making book rings—they’re adorable!
I’m sorry you can no longer skate, that must have been a disappointing loss. It’s wonderful you are such a creative person so you can still find expression through your artistic projects … and I’m so glad you love to write. In closing, do you have any advice for hopefuls?
Have fun writing. Let your enthusiasm shine through. Choose this career because you love it—you love it like you can’t live without it. This business is extremely difficult, and you need that love to pull you through.
Thank you for this excellent advice and inspiring interview, Tara!
Check out Tara Lazar‘s blog here for helpful information for writers, and see what books she has coming up. If you are a hopeful writer of children’s books, and you want to participate in a fun, inspiring, information-filled challenge, while there click on the link for PiBoIdMo.
Thanks for reading, and … Creative Musings!