A Peek at the Creative Space of Tammi Sauer

I’m thrilled to be a part of Tammi Sauer and Dan Santat’s launch week festivities for their latest collaboration Bawk & Roll. Bawk & Roll is a sequel to one of my all-time picture book favorites, Chicken Dance.
Those who know me well may think I’m partial to Chicken Dance simply because I have a thing for chickens. But it’s not just any chickens that draw my interest, it’s chickens with personality. And Marge and Lola are definitely some chicks with personality. In Chicken Dance they compete in the barnyard talent competition and in Bawk & Roll they hit the road to tour as backup dancers for Elvis Poultry. Both books are excellent, filled with clever puns and packed with humor. I highly recommend you check them out!

Incidentally, these are my chickens Gladys and Marge (no relation to Tammi’s Marge):

the chickens in their birthday hats

2012 is a prolific picture book year for Tammi as she has five picture books coming out. In addition to Bawk & Roll, look for Me Want Pet (available in stores now), Princess in Training, Oh, Nuts!, and The Twelve Days of Christmas in Oklahoma. 

For more Bawk & Roll fun and festivities, be sure to check out the rest of the blog tour going on this week:

Now let’s join Tammi in her creative space and learn a little bit about how she works. (And if you’re interested, you can see Dan Santat’s Creative Spaces interview here.)

Describe your workspace.

If you walked into my house and took an immediate left, you would be in my office. It’s a warm and cozy place (mostly because I almost always have a space heater running at full blast). I’m surrounded by some of my favorite books and favorite things.

My office also comes with this guy.

Describe a typical workday.

A typical work day? Ha! I have two kids who are constantly going in thirty directions. On top of that, I do a ton of school and library visits and speak at both writing and educational conferences. I wish I had a typical day.

For the most part, my days are spent revising a current manuscript, brainstorming, checking email/facebook/the Blue Board/etc., critiquing a manuscript, reading at least a couple of picture books, checking email/facebook/the Blue Board/etc., tweaking a presentation, preparing for a school visit, working on a blog post (for me or for somebody else), checking email/facebook/the Blue Board/etc., answering questions for an interview, sneaking in 30 minutes on the treadmill, waiting, wondering, worrying, and hoping.

List three of your most favorite things in your workspace and why they are meaningful.

Three? I have a whole pile of favorite things in my workspace.

On the shelves above my desk, I have stuff that makes me happy/keeps me inspired.

Top shelf stuff (left to right):

The cupcake container is from my sister to celebrate the launch of Mostly Monsterly.

Underneath the cupcake container are two books that my S&S editor Alexandra Penfold gave me the first day we met. Aw.

The painting of Marge and Lola from my book Chicken Dance came from oh-so-awesome friend and illustrator Ken Min. Lola’s shirt reads “Chicks Dig the Thunder” because die-hard Lakers fan Ken knows where my love is at.

I have a stack of some of my favorite picture books that includes A Pet for Petunia, Grumpy Bird, and Ugly Fish.

Bottom shelf stuff (left to right):

The star cookie cutter is from my editor Alexandra Penfold.

The word BELIEVE is there as a constant reminder.

Underneath BELIEVE are more beloved picture books, one of which is Hush, Little Dragon.

In front of BELIEVE is a tiny duck figurine given to me by my amazing and wildly talented friend and picture book author Tara Lazar. Tara thought the duck reminded her of my Mr. Duck in Mr. Duck Means Business and felt it might be a good muse for me. This duck also proved to be my lucky duck. Within days of its arrival, I got an offer on a new picture book. Ooh.

The disco ball necklace was given to me by best-selling author and all around super nice guy Jay Asher.

The card was given to me by my sister after my first book Cowboy Camp came out. Yeehaw!

The tiny glass pig was given to me by my daughter because she knows I think pigs are funny.

The flower pot and star pen were given to me by a principal at one of my school visits.

The duck pencil was given to me by Newbery Honor Winner and inspiration-to-writers-everywhere Cynthia Lord. When Rules debuted, I ordered a signed copy of the book through Cynthia. The book arrived with a fun business card, a Swedish fish, and that pencil.

The small card that reads, “Anything is possible. Believe!” was given to me by the very same pen pal I have had since I was fourteen years old.

The tiny frog was given to me by my son. For luck.

I love having all of these things sitting directly above my desk. They hold memories. They motivate me.  They make me realize how incredibly lucky I am to be in this crazy whirlwind of a business. Now I should probably get back to work. The Mr. Duck figurine is very pushy.

Do you have any rituals in your work habits? If so, describe them.

I like to ease into my work day. The first thirty minutes are all about checking email and enjoying a Caribbean Passion Jamba Juice. After that, anything goes.

What do you listen to while you work?

While I work, I don’t listen to music or the TV. Occasionally, however, I take some Hulu (www.hulu.com) breaks. Guilty pleasures:  Parenthood, Modern Family, and Grey’s Anatomy.

What is your drink and/or snack of choice while you’re working?

Drink of choice:  32 oz. cup of blackberry jasmine ice tea
Snack of choice:  Hideaway Pizza with a side of ranch

What keeps you focused while you’re working?

Uncovering a great idea is the hardest part of the process for me. Once I have one, though, I become consumed with creating the story around it. My son’s fifth grade band class could be practicing behind me, and I would barely notice.

Do you write longhand, on a computer, or another way?

I generally write at the computer, but, since I’m a mom, I spend many, many hours in carpool, at basketball practice, in the dentist office, etc. I almost always carry a hard copy of my latest manuscript with me so that I can dig into it during those on-the-go moments.

How do you develop your ideas?

I do lots of brainstorming. Some of the questions I ask myself are as follows:

Who is my main character?
What’s the perfect name for the main character?
What words/phrases tie into the character?
What words/phrases tie into the setting?
What could go wrong?
What would be even worse?
How does my main character grow/change by the story’s end?
What’s the perfect title?

As the story evolves, I remind myself to tell as much as possible in as little as possible.

If you were forced to share your workspace but could share it with anyone of your choosing, who would it be?

I pick my sister! Kathy and I share the same sense of humor and basic take on life. Plus, we are all about going out for lunch.

What is the best piece of writing advice you’ve heard or received?

This is my all time favorite quote when it comes to writing picture books:

“My main considerations for any picture book are humor, emotion, just the right details, read-aloud-ability, pacing, page turns, and of course, plot. Something has to happen to your characters that young readers will care about and relate to. Oh, and you have to accomplish all that in as few words as possible, while creating plenty of illustration possibilities. No easy task.”—Lynn E. Hazen, author of Buzz Bumble to the Rescue

13 Responses to “A Peek at the Creative Space of Tammi Sauer”

  1. tammi sauer

    Thankyouthankyouverymuch for having me at Creative Spaces (and for being pro-chicken)! I must be in the first 30 minutes of my work day. I'm checking email and blogs annnnd enjoying the aforementioned Caribbean Passion Jamba Juice.


  2. Renee LaTulippe

    Wonderful interview, and I loved the tour through your special items. Five books in one year – I don't know you yet, but I am really excited for you! 🙂

  3. Alayne Kay Christian

    Jennifer, thank you for sharing this great interview.

    Tammi, thank you for your advice and the wonderful, inspiring glimpse of your life and workspace.

  4. Penny Klostermann

    Oh! This was fun. Tammi, your Creative Space is inspiring! Best of luck with all your books. You've probably noticed that I'm a fan 🙂

  5. tammi sauer

    Thanks for stopping by, everyone! 🙂

    These pictures give the illusion that I am organized.

    Confession: My drawers and closets are horrifying.

  6. Beth Stilborn

    Wonderful interview. I so love getting to know people better in these interviews. And oh, Tammi — that desk! Lovely doesn't even begin to describe it. Thank you so much for sharing your special inspiration treasures with us.

  7. Sally

    I am just getting caught up on my blog reading! ME LOVE WORKSPACE – ME LOVE DISCO BALL NECKLACE. Thanks for the great advice from an accomplished writer.

  8. Anonymous

    That is the sweetest dog photo ever!
    I think my daughter will love your books.