Tara Lazar is a children’s book author and the creator of PiBoIdMo (Picture Book Idea Month), the picture book writer’s answer to NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month). This month marks the publication of Tara’s debut picture book, The Monstore:
The Monstore is a one-stop shop for all your monsterly needs in this enormously funny story that’s full of friendly, kooky creatures.
“At the back of Frankensweet’s Candy Shoppe, under the last box of sour gumballs, there’s a trapdoor.
Knock five times fast, hand over a bag of squirmy worms, and you can crawl inside The Monstore.”
The Monstore is the place to go for all of your monsterly needs. Which is perfect, since Zack definitely has a monsterly need. The problem? His pesky little sister, Gracie, who never pays attention to that “Keep Out” sign on Zack’s door—the one he has made especially for her.
But when Zack’s monsters don’t exactly work as planned, he soon finds out that the Monstore has a few rules: No Refunds. No exchanges. No exceptions.
And there’s much more to look forward to from Tara as well. Her next picture book, I Thought This Was a Bear Book, will be published from Aladdin in 2014 and a third picture book, Little Red Gliding Hood, will be published from Random House Children’s in 2015.
It’s my unmade bed. Don’t believe me? See for yourself . . .
Describe a typical workday.
My days are never typical. I try to mix it up as much as possible. Routines stifle my creativity. However, I do get myself a nice drink in the morning—usually a huge steaming mug of Earl Grey tea or a Chai. Then I figure out what I’m going to do. Shall I write? Blog? Tweet? Work on marketing and promotion? Peruse my ideas and brainstorm? Bug my agent (which I do a lot)? Stare at my screen? Don’t worry, staring *is* writing.
I have to do all this between 9:15am and 2:45pm. Then I pick up my daughters from school. If they have playdates, I can keep working until it’s time to cook dinner. If they don’t, I try to do something with them, like go to the park and ride the zip line. Now that the summer is here, they’ll be in camp half-days, so I’ll have less time to work. But that’s OK. The community pool is right behind my house. They have lots of tables and wifi access (to which I *guessed* the password! Can you believe that?!) So I bring the girls there and work poolside. I gotta admit, it’s pretty sweet.
List three of your most favorite things in your workspace and why they are meaningful.
I keep little tchotchkes on my nightstand for inspiration. One is a tiny ceramic bear I bought when I was writing I Thought This Was a Bear Book.Sadly, he has disappeared. I think my cleaning woman dusted him off his perch and vacuumed him up!
I also bought a tiny ceramic kitty muse, although I’m not sure why. I don’t really like cats and I don’t plan on writing a cat book. At least I don’t think so . . .
I’d like to collect more of these little muses, but I don’t have space for them. I might buy a little hanging curio, and I can continue snatching up miniatures.
I love my breakfast tray/bed desk/whatchamacallit simply because it allows me to work in bed. I have MS and my feet and legs are full of pins and needle sensations, so it’s essential for me to be comfortable!
Then I love my teddy bear. I was in the hospital when I was 17, and a fraternity from Seton Hall visited the children’s ward to cheer us all up. One boy gave me a teddy bear because he felt so badly for me, I suppose. I had had an operation that made me look like I had been in a car accident, and I was hooked up to a breathing tube. I was half-conscious when he came in. But that teddy bear did cheer me up and I’ve had it ever since. It’s one of the few things I have from my childhood, if you count 17 as still being a child!
Now I use the teddy bear in my Skype school visits. I won’t tell you how . . . that would spoil the surprise . . .
Do you have any rituals in your work habits? If so, describe them.
No. I’m not a ritual/routine kind of person. I try to do things differently every day.
What do you listen to while you work?
The cicadas! Seriously, they are LOUD! But I don’t listen to music; I find it too distracting. I always want to sing along and it’s difficult to sing and write. When I’m not working, I listen to a Pandora station I created called “Squeeze Radio” after the band Squeeze. I love 80’s music and I’m not apologetic about it! I also like 90’s grunge and alternative rock.
What is your drink and/or snack of choice while you’re working?
Well, I mentioned the Earl Grey and Chai. Recently I’ve been hooked on vanilla egg creams. I also love “hint” brand water in blackberry. And ginger ale. And Limonata. Or just a tumbler of water with crushed ice.
I loooooove Rice Krispies Treats. But I have those very rarely. I like trail mix or crackers, like Kashi’s Pita Crisps. I’ll have them with hummus or munch on them straight from the box. An apple and/or grapes with cheese is another favorite—it’s gotta be Manchego or aged Rembrandt Gouda. However, I don’t snack very much. Although I love food, I often have nausea from MS and my appetite has been diminishing over the years. When I’m busy at work, I don’t pause to snack. I simply forget to eat.
What keeps you focused while you’re working?
The writing itself! The excitement of a new story. I’d love to say I turn off the wifi, but I don’t. I need the online thesaurus and rhymezone.com while I’m writing. I get distracted, but only when I need to think of a plot twist. The diversions actually help me avoid getting overly stressed and stop me from forcing something into my writing that doesn’t ring true. I go into “marination” mode again.
Do you write longhand, on a computer, or another way?
I write on my MacBook. MS has made my fingertips numb, so it’s difficult to write longhand—I just don’t feel the pen very well. But I write longhand (really, I doodle) to brainstorm.
How do you develop your story ideas? Do you use an outline, let the muse lead you, or another technique?
I use “marination”. I’ll come up with an idea, write it down, and then let it marinate. Your unconscious mind works on that idea while you’re busy with other things. But other ideas hit me like a ton of bricks and I have to write them immediately. So it really depends on the idea itself—is it ready to be written, or does it need some time to soak up flavor? I rarely use an outline. I’m a write-by-the-seat-of-your-pants kinda girl.
If you were forced to share your workspace but could share it with anyone of your choosing, who would it be?
I would share it with my husband. He makes me laugh. (And that’s the key to a successful marriage, I think. Laughter.)
What is the best piece of writing advice you’ve heard or received?
That’s a tough one! I’ve heard all kinds of great advice, but I truly believe you have to find what works for you. I recently heard a bestselling novelist speak and she insisted on writing every day. I don’t do that. Sure, she has umpteen books coming out, and that’s great for her, but she’s not me. What works for her doesn’t necessarily work for me. I’ll brainstorm every day, but I don’t write every day. I find that those little breaks in my writing keep my imagination fresh. You have to carve out your own space and your own routine (or like me, a non-routine routine). Be comfortable with the kind of writer you are and don’t force yourself to be like anyone else. Be true to yourself; be true to your writing.