Tara Lazar, Writing for Kids (While Raising Them)

Very few people take my breath away and make me say, “Wow!”  Tara Lazar is one of them.  Hysterically funny and a creative genius, Tara is a prolific blogger, former ice skating champion, super mom of two, and the author of The Monstore and I Thought This Was a Bear Book, to be published by Aladdin/Simon Schuster in 2013 and 2014, respectively, as well as Little Red Gliding Hood, which will be released by Random House Children’s in the fall, 2014.  In addition to writing picture books, Tara writes middle grade novels, and has authored short stories for Abe’s Peanut.  She is also featured in Break These Rules, an upcoming book of essays for teens, edited by Luke Reynolds.  And if you think I’m done, I’m not! Tara also teaches for the Writer’s Circle Workshops and was recently the “Success Story” speaker at the esteemed Rutgers University Council on Children’s Literature conference. 

I recently had a chance to catch up with this super woman. 

Thanks, Robin, you’re too kind.  You should see my piles of laundry and dirty dishes.  You’d totally rethink that super-woman status!

Inquiring minds want to know:  Did you always want to be writer?  What were your favorite books as a child?  What books have influenced you the most as a writer?

I knew I wanted to be a writer from the moment I read stories like Charlie and the Chocolate Factory and Tales of a Fourth Grade Nothing and From the Mixed Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler.  I hooted and hollered when my teachers announced a creative writing assignment.  I didn’t realize the other kids were staring at me like I had a split watermelon for a head.  I thought everyone loved to write and create!

Roald Dahl is my biggest influence.  I love realistic stories with a sprinkling of magic.  I seek out magic every day.  I enjoy writing about secret things only kids know about.  The adults must remain clueless.

How did The Monstore, I Thought This Was a Bear Book and Little Red Gliding Hood come about?

The Monstore was originally a title in my head. I Thought This Was a Bear Book was written after I found a middle-of-the-night scribble on my bedside dresser: “character who doesn’t belong in the story you’re writing.” And Little Red Gliding Hood was a title my friend Corey Rosen Schwartz created.  She said she could do nothing with it.  Knowing I had been a figure skater, she gave it to me.  In return, I gave her the idea for her next fractured fairy tale…featuring Little Red! We plan to do a “Red” tour together when our books are released.

What’s a “Day in the Writing life of Tara Lazar” like? Do you work on more than one book at a time?  Can you give us some insights into your creative process?

I abhor routine of any kind.  I can’t even remember to take a vitamin every day, that’s how badly my mind wants to buck routine.  It’s like doing the same thing every day sticks me in a trap.

So there is no “typical” writing day for me.  I don’t write every day.  Some days are set aside for thinking.  Or doing mommy & wifey stuff.  Or napping.  I blog when the mood strikes, there’s no schedule.  I find that shunning schedules keeps me open to possibilities while sticking to schedules makes me shut down creatively.

I get ideas all the time and I write them down for future stories.  I focus on writing one story at a time, but if I’m really stuck, I’ll write something completely fresh and that frees up my mind.  I Thought This Was a Bear Book was written when I got stuck on something else (that I’m STILL stuck on)!

Some writers are planners and some are pantsers.  I’m a pantser all the way—I fly by the seat of my pants.  I like not knowing what my day will bring.

What was your lucky break as a writer?  How did you meet your agent? 

My lucky break was receiving a referral to my agent, Ammi-Joan Paquette. My friend Corey sent my manuscript to another author, Jean Reidy, who in turn tweeted about how much she enjoyed it.  Joan saw that tweet and asked what Jean was reading.  The rest happened fast—I submitted to Joan, she called me, we talked, we clicked, I signed!

What projects are you currently working on?

I currently have a few picture books out on submission, so I’d like to get back to my middle grade novel.  I can’t seem to write PBs at the same time as MGs—I need my brain to change gears.  So I’m hoping after a couple more PB sales (fingers crossed), I can devote six months (or more) to finishing my novel.  I find it a scary prospect, to write more than 500 words at a time, but if I don’t challenge myself, I’ll never grow as a writer.

I am one of the gazillion (we may even be talking a googolplex here!) people who loves your blog.  And of course, there’s also your biggest fan, Ryan Gosling!  Your blog is funny, heartfelt, educational, and honest.  What made you decide to hit the blog scene?      

I began the blog in the fall of 2007, at the same time I began writing for children.  It seemed like a natural thing to do.  I didn’t think about it, I just did it.  Which shows from the name of the blog. Wish I would’ve come up with something more clever.

How did you come up with the idea for PiboIdMo (Picture Book Idea Month)?  Can you give us the scoop on how folks can get involved with it?

I was jealous! Many of my friends did NaNoWriMo every November and there was no writing challenge for picture book writers.  So in November 2008, I tried to create 30 picture book ideas in 30 days (since writing one picture book in a month was not a challenge and writing 30 was impossible).  Then in 2009, I put it on my blog.  I figured I might get 10 people to do it with me.  I had no idea it would become so popular!  NONE.

Registration for PiBoIdMo 2012 will begin October 24th on my blog. Registration closes November 4th.  You can still join in the fun after that date by visiting my blog daily, but you won’t be eligible for the BIG prizes, like an agent consultation. Follow taralazar.com and you won’t miss a thing.

One of your funniest blog entries is your kidlitionary, which defines terms for folks working in children’s literature.  Some of my favorite terms are:

Blubbergasted:  When you cannot believe someone has never read a Judy Blume book.

Caldecutt:  Being snubbed for a Caldecott honor.

Dahlings:  Fans of Roald Dahl, particularly those of the female persuasion.

For the complete kidlitionary, please check out:  http://taralazar.com/2012/10/04/kidlitionary/

What was your inspiration for the kidlitionary?    

I love word play and puns.  One night I read a comment online:  “I’ve never read a Judy Blume book” and I immediately thought, “I’m BLUBBERgasted!” I wrote it down in a document called “Kidlitionary” and then promptly forgot about it. Then one day I was organizing my files and found it.  I added a few more terms and posted it on my blog.  It was a hit—even the ALA mentioned it in their newsletter—so I plan to make another installment soon…

Your “Success Story” Speech at the Rutgers University Council on Children’s Literature was extremely moving, funny and inspiring.  http://taralazar.com/2012/10/14/rutgers-council-on-childrens-literature-success-story-speech/

Thank you!

What’s your best advice for new writers?

Read as many books in your genre as you can.  And then don’t read at all.  Seriously, I give a lot of conflicting advice.  But for writing picture books, reading hundreds of them with my kids is what got me in the right zone for writing my own. But then don’t read too many that someone else’s style seeps into yours.  You don’t want to be “the next so-and-so.”  You want to be the one and only YOU.

What’s the best way for someone to get in touch with you?

Through my blog/website at taralazar.com.  Leave a comment or click the envelope icon above my picture to email me.

Tara, thanks so much for answering my questions.  I cannot wait to get my signed copies of The Monstore, I Thought This Was a Bear Book, and Little Red Gliding Hood.

Thank you! I am thrilled you asked me!

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By rnewman504

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