The Picture Book Buzz - Interview with Tara Lazar
Tara Lazar’s biography is as fun as her books: “Street magic performer. Hog-calling champion. Award-winning ice sculptor. These are all things TARA LAZAR has never been (though she was a champion figure skater!). Instead, she writes quirky, humorous picture books featuring magical places that adults never find. She lives in New Jersey with her husband and two young daughters. If they had a dog, it would be a small white fluffy thing named Schluffy.”
Such a sense of humor! Who wouldn't want to spend time with her?
In addition, many of you know Tara as the creator of Storystorm (formerly PiBoIdMo), her January challenge to create 30 picture book ideas in 30 days.
Her newest picture book, Your First Day of Circus School releases tomorrow, June 4th!
Happy Book Birthday!
Tell us a little about yourself. (Where/when do you write? How long have you been writing? What is your favorite type of book to write?)
I have been writing since 2nd grade! It’s the truth! My best friend Francine and I wrote a fractured fairytale and made it into a book back then. I wrote, she illustrated. I always disappoint at school visits when I tell the students I don’t have it to show them! I wish I did!
What is something no one (or few) knows about you?
All my best friends in life have been named Fran. Weird, huh?
That is both fascinating and strange. Where did the inspiration for Your First Day of Circus School come from?
I wanted to write a book with a lot of visual gags. I think the first image came to me in the form of a school bus—but not the ordinary type of school bus!
You definitely succeeded in creating an unusual back-to-school book! As your seventh picture book, what was your greatest struggle in writing this picture book? How many revisions did it take? How different or similar was its creation to your other books?
Actually, Circus School didn’t take a long time to write, but it took a while for my agent and I to realize there were so many art notes, it was too difficult to read and comprehend. So she suggested submitting it in grid format, which is what we did. I wrote a blog post about it, hoping it would be helpful to others whose manuscripts relied on art notes to tell the story. You can find the article here: (https://taralazar.com/2012/10/03/art-notes-in-picture-book-manuscripts/)
Interesting. Thank you for the information. Is there a common theme, besides the obvious one of humor, in your books?
I think a lot of my ideas come from the sibling dynamic. I have a younger brother, whom I used to call “little,” but now that he’s 6’2” with a scraggly beard, that no longer works! Growing up we were playmates and yet adversaries. We cooperated with each other and yet we sabotaged one another.
So, you were typical siblings. It is a good source of ideas, that's for sure. Who was your favorite author, illustrator, and/or favorite book as a child?
I loved Roald Dahl and Charlie and the Chocolate Factory was my favorite. Although today, I prefer cheese over chocolate…
You're kidding, right? Is there anything special you want your readers to know about Your First Day of Circus School?
There’s a push and pull between brothers in the book—like any sibling relationship. And there are no scary clowns, I promise!
Very good to know. You did an amazing job of having the text apply to “almost” any normal 1st day of school (steaming piles usually aren’t on the playground 😊). Exactly how many illustration notes or suggestions did your manuscript include? An opening note? Or was the title alone enough for Melissa Crowton to produce her amazing illustrations?
Lots and lots of art notes. All the humor relied upon there being a playfulness between the text and the illustrations.
Did any of the illustrations surprise you?
(I love this book poster)
Seeing the entire circus come to life was amazing. I was blown away by the simple yet bold color palette. Melissa only used blue, yellow and pink to color her drawings. That takes some amazing talent. It’s like getting three crayons and a coloring book—you have to plan carefully so no two adjacent items get the same color and everything runs together. Which is frankly what every one of my coloring pages look like, no matter how many colors I have! (Check out Tara's interview of Melissa Crowton about her illustrations and the cover - https://taralazar.com/category/your-first-day-of-circus-school/)
That is amazing and very creative on Melissa's part. Since the main character of The Upper Case: Trouble in Capitol City is Private-I, is this considered a sequel to your delightful 7 ate 9? Might there be more Private-I books with shapes or colors, perhaps?
Yes, it’s a sequel…but yet not a sequel. It doesn’t continue the story of 7, 8 and 9. There’s an entirely new mystery and cast of characters, except for one familiar waitress…and, of course, our hard-boiled detective.
I just finished writing the 3rd book in what we’re calling “The Private I Series”. Again, it’s a separate, new mystery. It ends on such a gonzo last line that I’m satisfied with this one being the final book!
Well, I suppose we can be satisfied with just three! Can you talk about what caused the year delay to The Whizbang Wordbook?
The Whizbang Wordbook was pitched as a pseudo-dictionary, but we didn’t want it to be read like a dictionary, as an A-Z listing of words. So we had to figure out a new way to organize it, and my editor, Bunmi Ishola, did—brilliantly. We put in a lot of work over the last six months, reorganizing the content and adding even more. And, it’s getting a new title, too, which we haven’t figured out yet!
Now I'm intrigued. Can't wait for this one. What is something you’ve learned from your critique partners?
When I am being too ridiculous for ridiculous’s sake, or when I hold onto to something for linguistic reasons rather than logical ones.
It's such a great thing to find writing partners that balance you out. Are there any projects you are working on that you can share a tidbit with us?
Oh gosh, yes! I hope to have a new classic Hanukkah book in the making. And one that would make Willy Wonka proud, too!
Really?! I can't wait until you announce that second one. Is there anything about writing, illustrating, or publishing you know now that you wished you had known when you started? Or something you are grateful you did not know at the beginning?
At the very beginning, I wished I knew about the importance of concept in a picture book. I rehashed a lot of worn, tired ideas before I came upon something fresh and new. The writing itself isn’t as important as the overall concept behind the story. You can rewrite a story until every sentence is perfect, but that won’t matter if the theme is too familiar.
Great lesson to learn and share. Thank you. Do you have any advice on querying agents, surviving rejections, managing bouts of success, or anything else for authors or illustrators?
Every small success should be celebrated because there are too many ways to get disappointed in this business. So much is out of your control. Control what you can—the writing—and let the rest go. Don’t be discouraged by rejections because you will be getting them the rest of your career. They don’t magically disappear once you get your first contract (or your 50th). I used to get upset by rejections. Now I think to myself—you don’t want my book? YOUR LOSS!
I'm adding that last line to my board. What is your favorite animal? Why?
Maybe because one of my very first memories, around age 3, was discovering a group of frogs on a walk with my Grandma. I somehow remember there being about 50 of them sitting beside a pond. I yelled to my Grandma to catch one while I ran toward them and tried to grab one, but she was just screaming her head off and running in circles because they were hopping all over her feet. I brought one home that day, put it in a sand bucket on the front porch, and covered it with foil into which I punched breathing holes. That night there was a loud thunderstorm and when I went to get my new pet the next morning, there was a huge, bursting hole in the foil—he had jumped away. I was devastated.
Maybe I love frogs because of Kermit, too. He’s my favorite! I do a very believable Kermit impression, too. (plus Miss Piggy, Fozzie, and Cookie Monster)
[*Go to: https://news.nationalgeographic.com/2015/04/150421-glass-frog-kermit-discovery-animals-science-costa-rica/ and
https://twitter.com/MuppetCentral/status/590169594783932416/photo/1 to learn about a newly discovered frog that looks like Kermit!]
I hope to meet you someday in person and hear those impressions!
Thank you, Tara for participating in this interview.
Be sure to come back this Friday for the Perfect Picture Book #PPBF post on Your First Day of Circus School.
For further information on Tara Lazar, or to contact her: