Author Spotlight: Tara Lazar
Happy Tuesday and welcome to Picture Book Spotlight!
Thank you so much to all who participated in the Cirocco Dunlap giveaway. Three new friends will get to enjoy the awesomeness that is Crunch the Shy Dinosaur. Please congratulate:
Today is a wonderful day. Everyday above ground is a wonderful day, but today is extra special. Because today is Tara Lazar day. Tara is one of my very favorite picture book authors. Hands down. If you haven't read one of her books, stop what you are doing right now. Stop reading. Go to a library or (even better yet) a bookstore. And checkout or buy EVERY SINGLE BOOK SHE HAS EVER WRITTEN.
I know. I know. By now you're used to my hyperbole. By now you're used to the all caps yelling. By now, you sort of expect the hype. Perhaps it's lost its novelty for you. And maybe you're thinking, Brian, when you go straight to the ceiling...where else can you go?
That's where I can go.
TO. THE. MOON.
Let me reiterate. There is no actual quantifiable limit to the extent of my enthusiasm when I think someone is absolutely brilliant in every way. Which Tara is.
Okay. Okay. We get it. You like her books. We should read them. Tara is great.
But do you get it? Do you? If you have read her books, you probably do. If you haven't...there's no possible way you can. So please do yourself a favor and remedy this!
In all sincerity, I really do believe in Tara's voice and cannot recommend her books enough. I've learned so much about writing just in reading her work and her blog posts in my email are always a highlight of my day. Tara Lazar is the author of several hit picture books as well as the blog, Writing for Kids (While Raising Them). Be sure to visit and subscribe to follow her blog and give her a follow on Twitter.
Tara is doing a unique giveaway with this post so be sure to read to the end to find out more!
Like her interview and her books? Make sure to let her know! Here's Tara.
Name three things you can’t do your job without.
Quiet. More quiet. Cheese.
Where do you feel most inspired and why?
There’s not a place I feel most inspired, because I try to find inspiration wherever I am.
Tell us a little about your background and your path to publication prior to The Monstore. Why picture books?
Because they have pictures!
I have no quintessential days. I try to mix it up as much as possible. The only constant is cheese.
You are the creator of Storystorm. Tell us how this idea got started and about its overall objective.
I was jealous of NaNoWriMo! I wanted a challenge just for picture book writers. The Storystorm goal is to create a new story idea every day for an entire month.
Which of your stories are the fruit of Storystorm? How have you, and other writers, benefitted from this annual practice?
Zero. I am too busy running Storystorm to actually participate! But I typically have a burst of creativity right after it’s over.
I love all of your books, but I absolutely adore 7 Ate 9. Serious mad props for the word play. AND THE PUNS! I just grinned the whole time. What’s the story behind this story?
I was reading the MG novel SMALL MEDIUM AT LARGE by Joanne Levy, and I thought it was so clever to use the punchline of a joke as a title. I tried thinking of a punchline to a popular schoolyard joke that every elementary-age kid would know. BOOM! 7 ate 9 smacked me upside the head.
You have several new books coming out just around the corner! Congrats! What can you tell us about your books coming out in 2019? I’m particularly interested in The Upper Case: Trouble in Capital City. Is this a follow up to 7 Ate 9 with the same Private I character?
Yes, Private I and B star in THE UPPER CASE! It’s a new mystery full of wordplay and puns like 7 ATE 9…plus a third Private I book will be coming after that!
You have a very extensive repertoire of author visits that you offer. What do you hope to accomplish with each visit? What do these author visits mean to you?
I hope to get the kids fired up about reading and writing. I hope that if there’s a kid in the audience who wants to be an author, they will learn that it’s an achievable goal. I’m just a girl from Jersey! There’s no secret to it—just reading and writing and having fun. If my books bring laughter and joy and make kids want to read more, that’s the best reward.
Because you get out to see the children, interact with them, and inspire them. They, in turn, inspire you right back!
Tell us about a memorable moment that has stuck with you while at a school visit (either good, bad, hilarious, or anywhere in between!)
When I do my Language Lollapalooza presentation, the students get so excited and even unruly, I typically have to stop a few times to calm them down.
In my Day in the Life of an Author presentation, I feature a photo of Gene Wilder as Willy Wonka. I always ask the kids who he is. Best answer: Abraham Lincoln. I now use that as a joke in the presentation!
Not all of your school visits cost money. You also offer free skype sessions up to 20 mins. AND YOU SKYPE IN JAMMIES! This is fabulous. Please tell us more about this creative way to connect to kids.
I work from home in my pajamas. I tell this to students all the time so I prove it in my Skypes! For my Skype visits I typically read a book and answer questions. But I have also done writing lessons around the world. I’ve been to Kuala Lumpur and Sao Paolo in my jammies!
When an idea first pops into your head, maybe from Storystorm, do you instinctually go to a legal pad to write it down or do you go to the computer? Secondly, when you’ve gotten the essence of the idea down, what do you usually do next in terms of fleshing it out into an actual story?
When I get a good idea, I either write it in my phone or on my computer…whichever is closest at that moment. Then, I have to let it marinate. I don’t sit down and write immediately. I have to think of the logic of the story, I have to know the WHYs. Why the characters want what they want. Why they go about getting it the way they do. Even though it’s a picture book, the story still has to make logical sense.
I think a lot of authors obsess over revisions. I know I do. We want it to be absolutely perfect. But there has to be a moment when we can find inner satisfaction with our work and let it go, otherwise it would never get out into the world. What does that look like for you, and how can we develop a sustainable relationship with making our work the very best it can be without falling into the trap of perfectionism?
Whatever you think is perfect, an editor is still going to have you make revisions. Obsessing over it isn’t worth the time. If your concept is solid, if the language is right, if you’ve developed the voice, and your critique group deems it “ready”—then it’s good to go. Honestly, if the concept isn’t unique and fresh, you can revise until the cows get their electric blankets and it still won’t matter. You can write the story well, but if the concept is too common or familiar, the manuscript won’t be bought. My advice is to focus on concept rather than sentences.
I have deep concerns about our culture’s overuse of social media. As a querying author (and even now) I feel an unspoken push to constantly engage online. Build a platform. Increase followers. It’s constant. There’s also a disconnect with real life and online life. What are some ways we can control our social media use and not let it control us?
Only do social media if you have fun with it. Honestly, social media use doesn’t translate into book sales. So don’t panic if you think you don’t have a large enough platform or enough followers. That makes no difference. It doesn’t hold some secret key to being a successful author. The book is still the thing. If social media is keeping you away from writing, then quit social media. Writing and reading are important to your author career, not Instagram followers. Good things will come to you by writing good books, period.
What are some picture books that have come out in the last few years that make you laugh or have inspired you?
So many! I love Josh Funk’s LADY PANCAKE AND SIR FRENCH TOAST series.
It proved to me that inanimate objects as characters are here to stay!
I am blown away by Laurie Wallmark’s biographies like HEDY LAMARR’S DOUBLE LIFE and wish I could write biographies half as well.
Laurie Keller has been a long-time favorite and I love her wacky sensibilities.
What’s not to love about POTATO PANTS?
Maintaining a healthy work-life balance is something I’m really interested in. As a busy author and mom, how do you maintain this balance in your own life, prioritizing the things that matter most?
I don’t plan anything. I’m not a planner. I’m very fly-by-the-seat-of-my-pants. But two things I always make time for is reading and thinking. Thinking is very important to my creative process. I need that downtime to just sit and let my mind wander.
Just keep swimming. If you stop, you’ll guarantee your book will never be published. So just keep swimming. The people who become published are those who never quit.
What is something upcoming that you want to celebrate or promote?
I have two new books out this year—YOUR FIRST DAY OF CIRCUS SCHOOL, illustrated by Melissa Crowton, on June 4th…
And THE UPPER CASE: TROUBLE IN CAPITAL CITY, illustrated by Ross MacDonald, on October 15th.
Thank you so much for stopping by, Tara! So looking forward to reading The Upper Case!
And thank YOU for reading, kid lit fam! Tara has a unique giveaway for one lucky winner. She will be doing a "winner's choice" prize. If you win, you can choose either a signed book of any of her books (including her upcoming book The Upper Case Trouble in Capital City) OR a picture book manuscript critique!
Signed book of your choice
A picture book Manuscript Critique!
To enter this contest:
Retweet this post on Twitter AND
Subscribe to Picture Book Spotlight
Share our Facebook post AND
Subscribe to Picture Book Spotlight
The deadline for this contest is Tuesday, July 23rd at 9AM CST
The winners will be contacted on Tuesday, July 23rd and announced on Twitter and Facebook
About Tara Lazar:
Street magic performer. Hog-calling champion. Award-winning ice sculptor. These are all things Tara Lazar has never been. Instead, she writes quirky, humorous picture books featuring magical places that everyone will want to visit.
Her picture books available now are:
THE MONSTORE (Aladdin/S&S, 2013)
I THOUGHT THIS WAS A BEAR BOOK (Aladdin/S&S, 2015)
LITTLE RED GLIDING HOOD (Random House Children’s, Oct 2015)
NORMAL NORMAN (Sterling, March 2016)
WAY PAST BEDTIME (Aladdin/S&S, April 2017)
7 ATE 9: THE UNTOLD STORY (Disney*Hyperion, May 2017)
YOUR FIRST DAY OF CIRCUS SCHOOL (Tundra/Penguin Random House Canada, June 2019)
Tara is represented by Ammi-Joan Paquette of the Erin Murphy Literary Agency.
5 Unusual Facts About Tara:
Her last name rhymes with “bazaar”—you can listen to Tara pronounce her name on TeachingBooks.net. She’s not Tara Laser-beam (although that would be awesome).
Tara loves children’s books. Her goal is to create books that children love.
She writes picture books and middle grade novels. She’s written short stories for Abe’s Peanut and is featured in Break These Rules, a book of life-lesson essays for teens, edited by author Luke Reynolds.
In November 2009, Tara created PiBoIdMo (Picture Book Idea Month) as the picture book writer’s answer to NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month). In 2017, PiBoIdMo’s name was changed to Storystorm and it’s now held on this blog every January…with nearly 2,000 participants from around the world.
Tara was diagnosed with Multiple Sclerosis in 2010. She has an inspirational story to share about overcoming a chronic illness to achieve your goals and dreams. Tara can speak to groups big and small, young and old—just contact her for more information.
Tara is the co-chair of the Rutgers University Council on Children’s Literature One-on-One Plus Conference and an SCBWI member. In 2017, she served as a picture book mentor for We Need Diverse Books.
Tara speaks at conferences and events regarding picture books, writing, brainstorming techniques, and social media for authors. Her former career was in high-tech marketing and PR.
Tara is a life-long New Jersey resident. She lives in Somerset County with her husband, two young daughters and the world’s cutest hamster, Ozzy.
Other Interviews & Reviews Featuring Tara Lazar:
Brian is a figment of our collective imagination. If you really think about it, you can't prove that he is, in fact, an actual person in real life. It's more probable that what we know as "Brian" is more of an illusion. More of a state of being born out of digital hums and ones and zeros, the twinkle in the stars, the giggle of children, and the screams of goats high in the Andes. Yes. More that. Theoretically, "Brian" is only that which you are reading in this very moment and so he may only be a bit of grey matter or neuro-electricity somewhere deep in your unseen consciousness. Yes. That. He might be that. Or even still, perhaps he is just a guy who lives in Kansas City and who writes picture books. He may also work at not one, but two libraries. And he may also be married to a woman some may call "Katherine" who possibly birthed him a son named "Peter." Perhaps. Perhaps. Of course nobody knows for certain. And nobody will ever know. Because as soon as you stop reading this and stop thinking of this "person" named Brian, he will, in all likelihood, cease to exist. Now that you are profoundly confused...the emoji code is cheese. Cheese. Toss a cheese emoji onto your retweet of this post and you will get X4 entries to Tara's giveaway. Good luck.