Megan & Jorge Lacera
Happy Tuesday and welcome to Picture Book Spotlight!
Thank you again for participating in my critique giveaway last week. I was humbled and BLOWN AWAY by the turnout. And I'm very excited to start offering critiques this coming August! I will do another big giveaway in July in anticipation of that, so stay tuned. If you participated in the June giveaway you get 20% off any of my critique offerings!
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On with the meal of the day. Here's a hint...it's veggies. Chopped and diced. Steamed up nice. Today we have a sizzling bowl of delicious veggies in the form of exceptional giveaways and an Author/Illustrator co-interview that would make any T-rex turn vegetarian.
I want to publicly issue a formal apology for my bad jokes. I would say I'll do better...but I probably won't.
When I first saw the cover art for this book I simply thought, "YES!" What a fresh take on a zombie story. And then I read it. It was even better than I thought it would be! The word play, heart, humor and stunning artwork make this a standout picture book. Would be very surprised if this didn't end up on my list of top picture books for 2019. It is, in a made up word, zombierific.
Please welcome to the stage, picture-book-super-star-power-couple, Megan and Jorge Lacera!
Megan: Laptop, coffee, more coffee.
Jorge: Drawing tablet, Photoshop, music.
What’s something you absolutely must have in your refrigerator or pantry?
Megan: Have I mentioned coffee yet?
Jorge: Topo Chico
We know it’s incredibly cheesy, not to mention gag-worthy, but we’re most inspired when we’re together. The physical location is less important.
Give us a little about your background. How did you get into kid lit, and why picture books? We met years ago, in a galaxy far, far away, at a company called American Greetings. Jorge was an artist and Megan was a writer and we were creating and developing intellectual property for kids. Think classic kids brands like Care Bears, Madballs, Strawberry Shortcake. We also had to pitch new concepts for entertainment, toys, consumer products.
We started thinking about creating picture books maybe 7 or 8 years ago. We realized that all we need to write and illustrate a picture book is…each other (we mean this pre-sale, pre-working with an editor and art director etc). Being able to fully execute on a vision was very appealing to us (and still is). And we’ve always loved all kinds of books, including picture books. We plan to create more picture books, as well as stories for older audiences.
Let’s talk about Zombies Don’t Eat Veggies. This book is fabulous! I love the world play, puns, dark humor and message of this story! The premise is really solid--such a fresh take on a zombie story. How did Mo and his culinary creations come about? What’s the story behind this story?
Thank you, Brian! We really appreciate your enthusiasm for Zombies. We had our days where we wondered if we would be the only ones to like our book, so it’s nice to know we’re not completely alone : )
There were many different “inciting incidents” behind the development of this story. Perhaps the easiest was that we wanted to write a zombie book for kids. So many people (including us) watch Walking Dead or other zombie shows/films. Kids are aware of these shows, at least in some way, because there are posters in public spaces, ads in magazines, or they overhear someone talking about it. Then they’re curious, but there’s so little that is age-appropriate for them.
Our son absolutely loves creepy things, monsters, zombies, vampires. He’s a dress up master—with a closet full of costumes to prove it. We found very few picture books that appealed to that side of him so filling that void was a big driving force.
Another key motivation was the lack of books that featured multicultural families like ours. Megan is white and Jorge is Latinx. Jorge is a fluent Spanish speaker; Megan is not. On any given day, there is a mix of languages in our house. There is a mix of foods. A mix of music. We set out to create a book that that honors that special mix. With zombies.
From a writing standpoint, I think the first page is absolutely brilliant. LOVE the alliteration. And what a perfect example of establishing the given circumstances and leading us to turn that page! It’s so important to jump right into the story but that can be easier said than done. When every word counts, a picture book simply cannot have weighty exposition. But you give us everything we need to know in 9 words! “Mo was a zombie with a deep, dark craving.” Talk to us about earlier drafts of this story and how it evolved. Was the first sentence something that survived multiple rounds or was it a later edition?
Megan: Whoa, I’m blown away. Thank you for such a careful reading of this story.
I’d love to say that the first page text just came to me…that it was always there from the beginning. But the reality is that the first page was revised again and again and again.
At one point, the first page began like this: “Mo was a zombie. He loved vegetables.” I still like that and find it funny—the matter-of-factness combined with the twist—but it doesn’t have the all-important page turn going for it. And isn’t quite as fun to read aloud.
Our editor, Jessica Echeverria, expertly guided us in many ways, including in the revision of this first page. She helped me to keep pushing on these first lines to raise the stakes, the readability, and to create suspense. I love watching kids’ faces when we begin the story…they really have no idea what to expect regarding Mo’s disgusting and absolutely despicable craving. Their eyes widen, they grimace a bit…and then they’re not sure what to think when they turn the page and see Mo with all of those vegetables. One kid shouted “are you serious?!?” at an event. It was hilarious.
The art in this book really leaps off the page and adds so much to the heart and humor (and brains...muhahaha) of the story. I love how even from the very first page we’re immersed into a world that’s equal parts creepy and fun. And also just beautiful...and beautifully gross in the best way! I think arm-panadas are my favorite. What process and medium did you use to create the artwork?
Jorge: Can I share this with review committees? Or can you be on a review committee? Thanks, Brian.
I created the artwork digitally, using Photoshop primarily. I do rough sketches with pen and pencil to get some of my thinking out and to start to get a feel for characters, the world. But most of the work is done on the computer. For Zombies, I switched back and forth between a full-sized Cintiq, and a smaller travel-sized one. I ate arm-panadas while illustrating. Or did I?
Mo’s design changed quite a bit. You can see some early sketches and then Mo’s final character-turn around below.
And then here’s a spread from the project as it was submitted to publishers…
And here is the final spread as it appears in the final book:
I LOVE THE BACK MATTER! Gazpacho for DAYS! Was this something your agent or editor wanted or was this always in the plan?
Let us tell you something awesome….shouting GAZPACHO with a room full of kids is pure joy. It’s really a great word.
Jessica (our editor at Lee and Low) suggested that we may be able to include the Gazpacho recipe during our initial creative call after signing our contract. We LOVED this idea, and then asked if we could add two more. The “Shockamole” recipe is our family’s guacamole recipe that we eat A LOT. Our kiddo loves it with all kinds of things like cucumbers, carrots, and, of course, chips. And then the “zombie fingers” at the end are so fun…perfect for Halloween parties.
I bet kids are just eating this book up : ) . What are some things that you have done to celebrate and promote Zombies Don’t Eat Veggies?
Have you seen our trailer? We put a lot of time and care into it…that was definitely one of the most fun things we did to promote.
Watch the trailer for ZOMBIES DON'T EAT VEGGIES!
We did a preview story time event at the Tomball Library just a few days before the book hit shelves. So much fun!
The Texas Library Association Conference took place just a few days after Zombies launched…so we headed to Austin! We were on a terrific panel about big emotions in picture books, along with Jonathan Stutzman, David Goodner, Galia Bernstein and Todd Parr. We also had a really fun signing (where, surprise! we sold out of books!) and attended several different events with librarians, and the Lee and Low team. Plus, Jorge met Spiderman.
Oh, we also had hoodies made:
We’ve been doing a number of interviews and podcasts…including a piece with Laura Jenkins for Kirkus Reviews Magazine (The Rebel Edition). In the coming days, you’ll be able to hear us on The Courage to Create Podcast (Bethany Hegedus) and The Children’s Book Podcast (Matthew Winner).
More to come!
Tell us about your working dynamic as a team. What’ the collaboration like? Do you discuss revisions over dinner? How do you balance work and family life...or does it all just feel like family life?
You got it…it all feels like family life. Collaborating is who were, who we’re meant to be. We always have ideas being developed, sketches being sketched, words doing their word thing. We can work almost anywhere.
When you think about your future as kid lit creators, what makes you most excited?
Reaching more kids with fun, quirky, heart-filled diverse books. Being able to create together!
We are in thick of creating book #2 with Lee and Low. There are kids! And monsters! We also have another picture book nearly ready for submission and have slowly been developing an illustrated middle grade series set in Cleveland, Ohio.
Jorge: I’m also so happy to be illustrating two books for other authors; one book by Deborah Underwood, the other by Nancy Viau.
Megan: I’m writing a middle-grade novel solo about a girl who wishes for her bully to disappear…and what happens when she does.
What are some picture books published recently that have inspired you or had you laughing out loud?
Ten Rules of the Birthday Wish, by Beth Ferry, illustrated by Tom Lichtenheld
Dreamers, Yuyi Morales
High Five, by Adam Rubin and illustrated by Daniel Salmieri
Anything coming up that you are looking forward to and would like to promote? Shout out to anyone?
Few things…we are mentors in Justin Colon’s inaugural #PBChat mentorship program. It’s free, so everyone dedicated to a picture book career, who is pre-published, pre-agented, please apply! Justin has brought together a stellar line-up of mentors and is running a really tremendous program.