Street magic performer. Hog-calling champion. Award-winning ice sculptor. These are all things Tara Lazar has never been. Instead, she writes quirky, humorous picture books featuring magical places that adults never find. Her debut The Monstore released in June 2013, with I Thought This Was a Bear Book and Little Red Gliding Hood to follow in 2014 and 2015. She also debunked the rule “Grow Up, Be Serious” in Break These Rules, a YA anthology from Chicago Review Press. Tara lives in New Jersey with her husband, two daughters and 2,749 stuffed animals. Discover original stories, book reviews and giveaways here.
NJSCBWI: What compelled you to create Picture Book Idea Month (PiBoIdMo)?
TL: Jealousy! Oh, that ugly green monster CAN actually be a GOOD THING! I was jealous of all the fun my novelist friends were having with NaNoWriMo, so I decided to create a November writing challenge specifically for picture book writers. Honestly, I thought maybe a dozen people would sign up. But this year there were nearly 1,000 times that amount–1,150 participants!
NJSCBWI: As the founder of PiBoIdMo, has there been anything specific from over the years that you have learned from all the posts and applied to your own work?
TL: I've learned that it's best to spend a little time every day on idea generation. I may not write every day, but I definitely cultivate concepts every day. They say it takes 30 days to create a habit, and PiBoIdMo has created the idea-collecting habit in me. I also don't jump to write the first idea that comes to mind–that's something I did when I first began writing. I have realized that not every idea is worthy, and that it may take jotting down 20 ideas to finally hit upon a truly compelling one.
NJSCBWI: What do YOU do to generate new ideas and how many would you say lead to finished manuscripts?
TL: Most of my ideas come from word play and puns. One recent idea came from the punchline of a popular schoolyard joke. I try to think "high concept" because I know those are the kinds of books that grab the attention of editors and the book-buying public. I do get lots of ideas, but some require my IMMEDIATE attention and just fly out of my fingertips. Others require MARINATION. I have to think about them–or basically forget about them and let my subconscious do the work. Then I write them little-by-little instead of in one frantic burst of creativity. Truth be told, the ones that zip out are the ones that tend to be the most successful. I think a writer's enthusiasm is what makes a book truly stand out.
NJSCBWI: What are you currently working on that you can share with us?
TL: My latest idea is a spoof of a movie that was popular about 30 years ago. I think parents will be instantly drawn to it–and their kids will think it's hilarious and entirely original. It's got something for both audiences–the readers and the cuddler-listeners.
NJSCBWI: If you could give your top tips to writers and/or illustrators at any level, what would they be?
TL: Know your craft and know the various "rules" BUT then be confident enough to make your OWN rules. Work at your own pace. Don't compare yourself to anyone else. Develop your own voice. Be true to yourself and trust your gut instincts.
Thanks, Tara, and best wishes for future successes!
For more about Tara, check these out …
Coming in January, 2014: Interview with Sudipta Bardhan-Quallen