I met TARA LAZAR at the annual NJSCBWI Conference in Princeton in 2011. She greeted me – and everyone else with a warm smile and bubbly personality. Her infectious enthusiasm for all things related to writing for children was evident from the first time she spoke. I got to know Tara better through her wonderful blog : www.taralazar.com where she posts about the craft of writing for children. One of my favorite of these posts is 500 Things That Kids Like which is valuable information for anyone who wants to create authentic and believable characters.
Tara has just released her first Picture Book (PB) titled THE MONSTORE. It’s about a boy named Zack who decides to buy a monster to scare his pesky little sister. Only the monster doesn’t actually do what it is supposed to. When Zack tries to return it, he is told “No returns, No exchanges.”
Thanks for joining us Tara.
- The premise of your debut book THE MONSTORE is very clever. Where did the idea come from? How long did it take from first draft to completion?
The idea came from the title, when I smooshed two words together—monster and store—to make a new one. I love clever word play, puns, and all that silly stuff. But the story was just a lonely title for months. Maybe I was afraid to write the story for fear I’d ruin a perfectly good title! But once I did write it, I knew when Zack trudged back to return his monster, he’d have to be given a hard time. So I made the Monstore manager say, “Sorry, no returns, no exchanges” and the tale just spilled out from there. Of course, there were many revisions, including two with my editor at Aladdin, but the story remained about 90% the same from the first draft.
2. What brought you to the field of writing for children?
It’s something I always wanted to do, from the time I could first read, but it took me a long time to find the time for it. Or rather, it took me a long time to realize I had to make the time for it. I finally did when I had children, and the timing was perfect. Every night I read my daughters tons of picture books and absorbed knowledge about story structure. I always suggest that new writers read at least 500 picture books before they begin writing them. That’s exactly what jump-started me.
3. Your blog has an amazing post titled “500 Things Kids Like”. How did you go about compiling this list?
It began with a list of 99 things that kids like from children’s sports writer Andy Gutelle, whom I credit on the page. When I first posted the list, I added 100 of my own things, and over the years I’ve just kept adding to it. Many people have commented and made suggestions. (And yet others have said, “I don’t like anything on this list! And I’m a kid!”) Today I added “Minecraft” to the list. One thing’s for certain, the things that kids like keep evolving! I recently began a visual companion to this list, a “Things Kids Like” board on Pinterest: http://pinterest.com/taralazar/things-kids-like/
4. What is the most amazing thing that’s happened since the book came out?
Every time I read a review, it’s the most amazing thing ever. Earlier this week a mother boasted about how her two boys loved the book so much, they made their own monsters, booby-traps, and trap doors. She couldn’t recall the last time a book prompted such prolonged, creative play. That made my heart get all warm and squishy, to know that I’ve inspired children. That’s everything a kidlit author asks for.
5. Tell us about your annual PiBoIdMo contest? What is it and how did it come about?
Honestly it was borne of jealousy! The NaNoWriMo’ers were having all the fun in November. There was no November challenge for picture book writers. So I created one. I thought maybe 10 people would sign up. I thought it was a dumb idea! Boy, was I wrong. Now over 750 writers participate and this November marks its 5th anniversary!
6. Complete this sentence: If I could be a kid for a day I’d_____. never grow up.
7. What is your typical writing day like?
There is never a typical day. I try to mix it up. I find the diverse schedule—that is, no real set schedule—helps me stay creative.
8. Who influences your writing? Any PB writers you particularly admire?
Roald Dahl has to be my #1 influence. I grew up on his books. I adore the hint of magic in all of them. I love Cressida Cowell’s “That Rabbit Belongs to Emily Brown” and Timothy Knappman’s “Guess What I Found in Dragon Wood.” What’s curious is that all these authors are from the UK. So maybe I have a British sense of humor? I do enjoy Fawlty Towers…
9. I have to ask this. If you had your own monster, what skills would it have? What would it look like?
My monster would have a microwave-like tummy that could whip up any food or beverage I desired at lightning speed. He’d have wheels for feet so he could zoom to me quickly, before my food got too cold (or too hot). And, of course, he’d be soft and fuzzy so I could get a nice comfy hug. Oh, and if he could trim my bangs, that would be a plus, too.
10. What’s next? What projects are you working on?
Ooh, I am so excited about two projects that are under consideration now. One is about an unusual animal—but I don’t even know what KIND of animal he is, that’s how quirky the story is. I’ve left it up to the illustrator. The other is a gumshoe spoof, the untold story behind a popular schoolyard joke. Wish I could say more, but I can’t. But I promise to spill details if they both get bought!
I have several projects I’m revising right now. One is a longish (yes, over 500 words), magical picture book about another secret place that only special kids know about, which is similar in theme to “The Monstore” but yet totally different.
And many more ideas are begging for my attention, but I’ve been so busy with “The Monstore” launch I haven’t written much lately. But I’ve got an itch that needs a good scratch! Time to get back to work!
If you want to learn more about Tara and her books visit: