I’m having so much fun hanging out in the Cafe with one of my kidlit heroes, Tara Lazar! She’s a prolific author, an award-winning blogger, and Supermom. And she’s about to add “Pocono Retreat 2018 Faculty Member” to her resume! If you haven’t registered for the retreat yet, there’s still time! But there are only TWO DAYS left to reserve a critique with Tara, so don’t delay!
Lindsay: Hi there, Tara, and welcome to the Eastern Penn Points Cafe! We are so excited to have you as a faculty member at this year’s Pocono Retreat! As we settle into our cozy booth, can we get you something to drink?
Tara: An Earl Grey tea, thank you, milk and sugar. Twinings if you have it. It was Gene Wilder’s favorite, and you know that I idolize Willy Wonka. (Never Johnny Depp–forever Gene.)
Lindsay: Twinings coming right up, and guess what? I heard you love tacos almost as much as I do, so I’ve already ordered the Taco Supremo. What’s wrong with our families, not wanting to eat this every day? Mmmm…..
Tara: OH MY. WITH FRESH GUAC??? I just bought the frozen ripe avocado…cannot wait to try it. I have problems with avocados not being ripe when I’ve got a hankering for ’em.
Lindsay: I need to start shopping where you shop, because I have the same avocado problem. Genius! So, I’ve got to tell you that your first book, THE MONSTORE, has long been my youngest daughter’s favorite book! She even has a stuffed monster named Mookie. I’ve always wondered, what’s the story behind the story of THE MONSTORE? (If you tell me, I’ll give you a bag of Squirmy Worms in the Poconos!)
Tara: Ooooh, the beginning of THE MONSTORE was just the portmanteau itself: mon-store. I thought it was so clever. I knew it would be about a store that sold monsters, but I didn’t know there’d be “no returns, no exchanges” until I sat down to write it. Zach wanted to return Manfred, and I knew I had to give Zach an obstacle. That policy was perfect.
Lindsay: I first came across your blog, Writing for Kids (While Raising Them) in 2013 and really connected with it because I was doing the same thing – starting to write seriously for kids while keeping up with a 2 and 4 year old. How old were your kids when you started writing, and how have they inspired and encouraged you along the way?
Tara: I always wanted to write children’s books, from the time I was a child. After college, I tried to get a job in children’s publishing so I could learn the business from the inside-out. But jobs were scarce at the time and I took the first one offered, which was the furthest thing from kidlit. When I had my kids and settled into stay-at-home life, I read them tons of books and my creativity came calling. It wasn’t until my youngest was one year old that I began to seriously pursue it. (Because I could finally leave her for two hours to go to my critique group.)
When they were little, I read A LOT of picture books. I learned that I should stick something in my books for the adults reading them. Honestly, they are not all that interested in my work. I am a MOM, first and foremost. So my job, although a cool one, reads as a BORING MOM JOB to them. I have given up trying to impress them. They thought “7 ATE 9” was too cheesy!
Lindsay: Well, the blogosphere is impressed! Your blog has been awarded several times as one of the best blogs out there for kidlit writers. Can you tell us a little bit about Storystorm (previously PiBoIdMo)? What has been your favorite part of hosting this annual feature?
Tara: Honestly, I love how everyone loves it. When I first started it, I wondered if I could get ten people to join me. I’m flabbergasted that it has gone on for nearly ten years with thousands of participants…and dozens of success stories.
Lindsay: I know you’ve been very open about your struggles with chronic illness, so generously sharing inspiration and strength with others. How do you stay positive through the ups and downs?
Tara: It is what it is, whether I like it or not. I have to figure out a way to live with it. I could be miserable every day, but then I’d be miserable every day! I choose to be happy and to do what I love. People often tell me I am an “inspiration,” but honestly, I am just living the way I want to live. I do not think other people, if saddled with this, would choose to be miserable when it is easy to choose happy.
Lindsay: Out of all of the wonderful, funny characters you’ve written, which one feels most like YOU?
Tara: NORMAL NORMAN. I was never the normal kid, and I am NOT a normal adult. I love going to school visits because I can be myself for the kids and they think I am funny and quirky, not weird.
Lindsay: Got any new books coming out soon?
Tara: I have six under contract, with the next ones releasing in 2019 and 2020.
Lindsay: Eek! That’s exciting! Can you give us a little sneak peek into what you’ll be sharing at the Pocono Retreat?
Tara: Writing an attention-grabbing first line. The first line of a picture book is so important to entice the editor and the buyers of your book. I’m going to talk about the business end of things in addition to craft, because you have to balance your creativity and your marketability.
Alrighty, now, stuff one last bite of taco into your mouth, take a deep breath, and prepare for Flash Favorites! Tell us your favorite….
Midnight snack: I never eat at midnight. I am a heavy, deep sleeper.
Netflix binge: Santa Clarita Diet right now. But I’m a little afraid to continue.
Candle scent: Vanilla Cupcake.
Imaginary alter-ego: Dorothy Hamill.
Bedtime story as a kid: In a People House.
Bit of writing advice: When the going gets good, keep going. I think we’re all scared to continue because we think it will go south, but we are more apt to keep writing well than suddenly produce junk. (And even if it is junk, keep it. You might be able to use it later. All writing is good practice.)
Lindsay: Thank you so much for joining us, Tara! We’re looking forward to spending more time with you in May!
P.S. If you are attending the Pocono Retreat, you’ll have a chance to bid on a critique by Tara in our silent auction! Faculty members, businesses, and SCBWI members have generously donated books, critiques, memberships, and more to the auction, which benefits our scholarship fund. For more information on the items up for bids, click here.