Aliens, Bears, and Tara Lazar, Oh, My!

31 08 2015

tarafall2011picrounded1I’m excited to have Tara Lazar with us today to celebrate one of her books that came out this month.

Welcome, Tara! So glad to have you here. First of all, congratulations on your latest release, I Thought This Was a Bear Book. I see you have other books coming out around the same time. We’d love to hear a bit about those other books too.

 

Thanks, Laurie! Up next is LITTLE RED GLIDING HOOD, which is another fairytale mash-up. (I didn’t plan the releases that way, they just happened!)littleredglidinghood

I bring multiple fairytales and nursery rhymes into the fray. Everyone from The Three Blind Mice to Rapunzel makes a cameo. Illustrator Troy Cummings (NOTEBOOK OF DOOM series) created an icy-cool enchanted wonderland. Cleverly, LITTLE RED is the only red on each spread. (BTW, the book doesn’t rhyme. Just that sentence.)

After that, there’s NORMAL NORMAN in March and WAY PAST BEDTIME in the fall. 7 ATE 9 (based on the joke “Why was 6 afraid of 7?”) is slated for 2017.

How did you come up with the idea for the Bear book? And what revisions did it go through on its way to becoming published?

I Thought This was a Bear BookBEAR came about from wanting to insert a character where he didn’t belong. Prince Zilch and the gang went through at least a dozen revisions, including the resolution, which I changed AFTER Benji Davies had already made initial sketches. (Sorry, Benji!) I also changed the last line of the book in the final stages because I was never satisfied with it. Those who have the F&G will notice the difference!

As Rebecca Colby mentioned in her post, you do humor very well. What secrets can you share for writing “funny”?

Oh wow, what a question! I think humor is something innate and intangible. You know it when it’s funny, but it’s difficult to describe what makes you laugh.

Perhaps it’s a misunderstanding, an exaggeration, the unexpected and/or a clever association between two or more previously unrelated things.

But I don’t analyze my humor. It just spits itself out. Perhaps it has to do with my upbringing with my father, who coughed up brilliant one-line zingers. And my husband, he makes me laugh daily.

There’s a Seinfeld episode where Jerry’s father yells “My wallet’s gone!” at the doctor’s office—he’s certain the physician has stolen it. About 15 years ago, my husband and I were in a department store on a stormy summer day. Department stores in the mall don’t have windows. The power went out and it was pitch black. Within a few seconds my husband yelled, “My wallet’s gone!” I fell on the floor in a fit of laughter.

So I surround myself with humor, and thus, humor comes out naturally. (In other words, get yourself a funny spouse.)i-thought-this-was-a-bear-book-9781442463073.in02

Can you give us an idea of your writing process?

The only constant in my process is letting an idea “marinate”. When I first began writing, I’d get a flash of an idea and sit down immediately. I never paused to think, “Is this a good idea? Is this a great idea?”

Now I do. I think about it. And then I don’t think about it. My subconscious does some work. I tend to get a tingle when it’s ready to come out. Kind of like a sneeze.

Any tips for new writers?

That’s my tip, examine your ideas before writing them. For every 20 or so ideas, you’ll arrive upon one great one. The rest might be mediocre and not worth your time.

Any tips for more experienced writers?

Experienced writers don’t need my tips. Everyone’s process is different, and they’ve probably recognized what theirs is and how they work best. Just keep doing what you’re doing!

Have you ever had writers block? If so, what did you do to overcome it?

I go for a walk or take a bath. (This depends upon how clean or dirty I am.)

Then I start a new project. That’s exactly how I began BEAR BOOK. Another story wasn’t going so well; I had been slaving over it and not getting anywhere. I switched gears to something fresh and exciting.

What are you working on now?

Ahhhh! The 20th revision of a “longish” picture book (800 words) that I’ve always loved but have never gotten quite right. I let it sit for over a year and picked it up again specifically to present to one of my existing editors.

I’m really excited because this time, it’s working. The logic is logical. The tension is there. I removed unnecessary “schtick”. The premise is golden and evergreen—two colors you want. I am hopeful!

It would be great to get to know a bit more about you, so I hope you won’t mind answering some personal questions…

Where are you from and how has that and/or where you have lived/visited influenced your work?

I was born and raised in New Jersey. I never left the state. Some people think it’s the “armpit of America” but that just goes to show what they don’t know. It’s not all Tony Soprano and The Sitch. We’re an hour to NYC, an hour to the beach, an hour to the mountains. What more does one want?

I don’t think geography has influenced my work, aside from my close proximity to NYC and the NJ-SCBWI. I would not be here without the organization and their exceptional events.

tara3yearsoldAs a child, what did you want to be when you grew up?

You’re lookin’ at it!

What super power do you wish you had?

To fly, of course! Although these days, I don’t wanna be up there with the drones.

In addition to your picture books, you’re known as the founder of PiBoIdMo. Can you tell us a bit about the group and how/why it started?

It began out of a desire to have an event specifically for PB writers. It has grown beyond my wildest imagination. The number of wonderful children’s books it has sparked is steadily growing and nothing makes me more proud. I love to share the success of PiBoIdMo participants.

Where can readers find out more about you?

One place, taralazar.com, has links to everything and everywhere you can find me.

Thanks so much for sharing with us, Tara. And I know everyone who hasn’t already snagged a copy of Bear will want to rush right out to get one. If you enjoy aliens, bears, fairytales, and metafiction, then this is the book for you.

i-thought-this-was-a-bear-book-9781442463073.in03About I Thought This Was a Bear Book (from Simon & Schuster website):

When an alien crashes into the story of “The Three Little Bears,” it’s a laugh-out-loud adventure and a classic storybook mash-up!

After an unfortunate bookcase collapse, Alien suddenly finds himself jolted out of his story and into a very strange world, complete with talking bears. Desperate to return to his book, Alien asks the Bear family for help so he can get back to his story and save his beloved Planet Zero from total destruction before it’s too late.

Mama Bear and Papa Bear try all kinds of zany contraptions (with some help from their nemesis, Goldilocks) without much luck. Baby Bear might have the perfect solution to get the Alien out of the woods and back to his planet…but will anyone listen to the littlest voice in the story?





Writing Humorous Picture Books

27 08 2015

Rebecca witch 1Today I have the great pleasure of hosting my friend Rebecca Colby, an awesome picture book writer, whose book, It’s Raining Bats & Frogs, released this month. She’s agreed to give share some secrets for writing funny picture books. And as a special bonus, if you read through the post, you’ll find a clue for her Scavenger Hunt. Be sure to collect all of the clues to be eligible for a prize.

And here’s Rebecca…

 

 

Show Them the Funny: Writing Humorous Picture Books

Everywhere I look on editor and agent submission wish lists these days, I read the following: WANTED: Funny, Quirky Picture Books. Why? Because everyone enjoys a laugh—kids and adults alike. Laughing makes people feel good, and as a result, funny sells.

But if you’re not the kind of person who automatically sees the funny side of life, you may find writing humorous picture books difficult. (And even if you do see the funny side of life, like me, you may still find it a struggle.) So here are some tips to showing editors and agents “the funny.” And if you’re playing my online scavenger hunt, here is one of the names you’re looking for: Sabrina.

 

JuxtapositionPirates Don't Change Diapers

Put two things together that don’t normally go together. This already sets the scene for a humorous story before you’ve even written a word. For example, Melinda Long puts ‘pirates’ and ‘a baby’ together in Pirates Don’t Change Diapers (illustrated by David Shannon). Who can resist laughing at babysitting pirates, especially when they think they’ve been given the task of sitting on babies.

 

Contradictions

Dear Mrs LaRueSome of the funniest books to read are those in which the illustrations contradict the text. Mark Teague does this so well in his book, Dear Mrs. LaRue: Letters from Obedience School. In the book, Ike begs to be rescued from dog obedience school. He writes letters home to Mrs. LaRue, complaining about the school and painting a bleak picture of it, while the color illustrations tell a very different picture—that of a luxury, high-class school that is more akin to a spa retreat.

 

Potty HumorMorris the Mankiest Monster

Okay, so it doesn’t appeal to everyone, but most kids of average picture book age, love (and I do mean LOVE!) potty humor. And if you’re looking for an example of a book that is super-duper, hilariously disgusting then look no further than Morris, the Mankiest Monster by Giles Andreae and Sarah McIntyre. Morris lives in a house made of dung and eats green bogies. Need I say more?

 

The Web FilesWord play

Be it nonsense words, puns, tongue twisters, or other word play techniques, using fun language can add humor to a book. And the sillier sounding the language, the better. A picture book author that knows how to use word play to its best effect (and one to study) is Margie Palatini. With titles like Broom Mates, Moosetache, and Gone with the Wand, you already know she’s an author who likes to play with words. In her book, The Web Files (illustrated by Richard Egielski), someone has pilfered a peck of perfect purple almost-pickled peppers and Ducktective Web must investigate the fowl play. While it proves to be a hard case to quack, he eventually finds the dirty rat involved. Now how’s that for some fun word play?

 

Give it a twistI Thought This was a Bear Book

Another way to ensure your book is humorous is to add a twist. Your book should be anything but predictable, so surprise your audience. A recent book I’ve read that accomplishes this is I Thought This was a Bear Book by Tara Lazar and Benji Davies. The entire book is a twisted fairy tale with an alien accidentally falling into the pages of Goldilocks and the Three Bears. But while some of the elements in the book, like the appearance of Goldilocks, porridge, chairs, and beds are expected, these elements are mish-mashed with the story of the alien, making for a completely new and unpredictable book. And just when you think you’ve got the book sussed and the happy ending is looming, a further twist shows up on the last page. But to find out what it is, you’ll have to read the book!

 

Illustrations

Illustrations are another way to inject humor into your picture book. However, since this is a post about writing, rather than illustrating, I’m not going to say much here, except occasionally–and only VERY OCCASIONALLY–if you come up with a strong, visual image that would enhance the humor in your text, then you might want to consider inserting an illustration note in your manuscript.

Humor is subjective so employing these tricks is no guarantee that every editor or agent will find your book humorous, but you’re sure to tickle a few funny bones.

Thank you for hosting me today, Laurie! I’ve had a great time and I hope everyone will get writing and “show them the funny”!

Thank you for being here, Rebecca. Lots of great advice for those who want to write “funny.”Here’s more about It’s Raining Bats and Frogs! and about Rebecca. Be sure to use that Scavenger Hunt clue.

It’s Raining Bats and Frogs! Blurb

Delia has been looking forward all year to flying in the annual Halloween Parade. But parade day brings heavy rain. So, Delia takes action. Using her best magic, Delia changes the rain to cats and dogs. But that doesn’t work too well! Then hats and clogs. That doesn’t work, either! Each new type of rain brings a new set of problems. How can Delia save the day?

About Rebecca Colby

When not staring at blank pieces of paper, Rebecca can be found scribbling on napkins, walking into lampposts, and talking to herself. You can learn more about Rebecca and her strange habits at www.rebeccacolbybooks.com Alternatively, check out some of her one-sided conversations on Twitter at @amscribbler.

Rebecca is the author of It’s Raining Bats & Frogs (Feiwel & Friends/Macmillan, 2015) and There was a Wee Lassie who Swallowed a Midgie (Floris Picture Kelpies, 2014), and the forthcoming Motor Goose (F&F/Macmillan, 2017).

 





Overcoming Fears

6 03 2015

“If you hear a voice within you say, ‘you cannot paint,’ then by all means paint, and that voice will be silenced.” ~Van Gogh
http://www.full-confidence.com http://full-confidence.blogspot.com/





Increasing Your Creativity

20 12 2014

Albert Einstein HeadI’ve often heard the Albert Einstein quote, “If you want your children to be intelligent, read them fairy tales. If you want them to be more intelligent, read them more fairy tales.” But just this week I received an email from Jean Houston, who actually met Einstein in person and was encouraged to read more fairy tales. I’m posting that story and her own inspiring comments (in red italics) here:

When I was eight years old, I attended a school in Manhattan where they felt it would be good for students to meet some of the great elders of the time.
 
One of those elders was Albert Einstein, and one day we were trotted across the river over to Princeton University to his house there. He had a lot of hair and was very sweet.
 
One of my smart-alecky classmates said to him: “Uh, Mr. Einstein, how can we get to be as smart as you?”
 
He said: “Read fairy tales,” which made no sense to us at all.
 
So another smart-alecky kid said: “Mr. Einstein, how can we get to be smarter than you?”
 
He said: “Read more fairy tales!”
 
We, of course, didn’t fully understand him at the time, but what he was actually encouraging us to do was to nurture and grow our imaginations.
 
He understood something that almost all highly creative and successful people do, that the imaginal realm is where the most potent ideas—the ones that can change your life or change the world—are held.
 
And the more you can nurture your imagination by diving into that imaginal realm, the more often that dive will inspire a stream of creativity when you resurface.

I wanted to post the Einstein story along with Jean’s words because at this magical time of year, it’s good to think about creativity. As the days grow darker and the weather gets colder (for many of us, anyway), many of us go into hibernation. Those hibernation periods, although they may seem unproductive, are actually a time for the ground to go fallow in preparation for spring growth.

This also holds true when you’re in a creative slump. Allow time for rest and rejuvenation. And remember that one of the most productive things you can do is to fill your mind with fairy tales.

Indulge yourself this winter by curling up with beautifully written books, soaking up inspiring music, and strolling through gorgeous art collections. Pamper yourself, and you’ll emerge on the other side more creative than ever before.

*Jean Houston‘s a wonderful teacher who inspires many people to reach their full potential, and she’s has upcoming classes for those who might want to challenge their preconceived notions of what’s possible.




Painting on the Canvas of Your Life

21 10 2014

I’ve been reading Panache Desai’s Discovering Your Soul Signature and wanted to share one of the meditations from the book:

Imagine that your life can be portrayed on a canvas….When you look at this canvas, you’ll see see everything that’s been placed there. And most of it doesn’t originate from you…. As you’ve moved on through life, external labels have been superimposed on the canvas…. People have told us who we are, and this fills the canvas too.

Now start pulling off those labels…. Peel away those limitations. Remove all of those different words that are getting in the way of being a blank canvas…. As you do this, experience the freedom (or perhaps the terror) of the blank canvas.

When an artist approaches a blank canvas, all that is possible is a single brushstroke at a time….
What splashes, splatters, or messes did you erase?

Now what will YOU choose to paint?
soul signature

(excerpt taken from p. 179-180, 182)





Writing Process Blog Tour

7 04 2014

Module One cover

Texas writer and illustrator Mark Mitchell, known for his wonderful watercolors and many picture books, invited me to join this writing process blog tour. I’ve been lucky to be part of his online class Make your Splashes – Make your Marks. Mark wrote about his own process on his blog.

I’m also fascinated by the history of this blog tour, which spans continents, so I traced my invitation back a few links. Akiko White, the winner of the 2014 Tomie dePaola award for her illustrations made out of cake (yes, they’re awesome and delicious), tagged Mark. And she had been tagged by Australian award-winning author Christopher Cheng, who put together the wonderful PAL slide show for SCBWI (Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators) at the Bologna Children’s Book Fair, and I appreciated the opportunity to participate in that.

Now after that lengthy introduction, I’m ready to answer the questions they posed:

1.) What are you working on?

WANTED: Book 4

WANTED: Book 4

At the moment, I’m finishing two books to turn in to editors this week. I’m working on the final chapters of Grace Avenged, Book 4 in the WANTED series, which will be coming out in December 2014 in the UK. Book 1, Grace and the Guiltless, released in February in the UK. (Books 3 and 4 will be coming out there in May and August.) The series will also release in the US with different covers beginning in August under Capstone’s new Switch Press imprint.

Final edits are also due this week on Cyber Self-Defense, a book I’m cowriting with international cybercrime expert Alexis Moore. That will be coming out in October 2014 from Lyon’s Press.

Cyber Self Defense book cover

October 2014

I’m also editing a picture book to turn in to my agent as well as developing a chapter book series while taking a class with Hillary Homzie and Mira Reisberg. And Alexis Moore and I are working on two more nonfiction books together along with a picture books series.

Of course, all these projects are only the tip of the iceberg. I also have a quite a few other projects in various stages of completion and many more submerged underwater in my subconscious. And that doesn’t count all the books I’m editing for others.

2.) How does my work differ from others of its genre?

I write in so many different genres that it’s hard to compare my work to others’. I have picture books (fiction and nonfiction), chapter books, middle grade novels, YA novels and nonfiction, NA nonfiction, adult nonfiction and fiction, along with short stories and articles for both children and adults. I’ve also had a few illustration projects and hope to do more of those. I’m in my 3rd year in Hollins University’s Picture Book Writing & Illustrating MFA.

Book 1 ~ US edition

Book 1 ~ US edition

3.) Why do I write what I do?

The main reason I write is because I love to learn and explore new things. I get excited about sharing my knowledge with others, and writing is a wonderful way to do that. When I come across a new idea, I ask: Who would be interested in this? The answer is almost always a different age group, which is why I’ve written for so many age levels.

I also believe that writing is a form of self-discovery; it helps us understand not only ourselves, but also others. It keeps us from taking things for granted, teaches us to look beneath the surface, and reveals the beauty in everything.

Writing also keeps alive the wonder and awe of childhood. To me, there’s something magical about creating new worlds and peopling them with characters I’ve imagined. Children still believe in that magic, so I’m most drawn to writing for them.

4.) How does my writing (or writing with pictures/illustrating) process work?

I used to wait for the muse to strike, but now I’ve learned that if you sit down expecting to write, the words will come. With all my deadlines (5 books in the past 7 months), I don’t have the luxury of waiting for words to come, so right before I go to bed, I read over the notes of what I plan to write the next day or I pose a problem if I’m not sure what should come next. Then I go to sleep and let my mind arrange the words or solve the problem. When I wake up, I write. My best writing is usually done right after waking or late at night (from 1-3 a.m. is my sweet spot).

I’ve trained myself that the minute I sit down to write, my mind is ready. I don’t need rituals or to spend time agonizing over what I should write, I just do it. Not everything that goes down on the page is good writing, but you can’t revise what isn’t there.

I’m halfway between a pantser and a plotter. I need more of an outline for nonfiction, but when I write fiction, my process almost always begins with a vision of a story opening and a dramatic ending. I usually also see key scenes in my head. I jot them down or just remember them. I use those as mile markers along the way. Then when I write, I record whatever scene is most vivid in my mind. I don’t think I’ve ever written a book linearly. I write bits and pieces here and there.

Once I have all the key scenes down, I work on tying them together. I usually dread this part of the process because I always go in thinking I’ll have to put in boring transitions, but almost always my characters surprise me by doing something unexpected, so it ends up being more fun than I anticipated.

Another important piece of my process is running my work by my critique groups. I find letting others read my work and offer their opinions and suggestions greatly improves anything I write.

I’ve tagged three awesome writers who will share their processes on their blogs next Monday:

Joan Holub‘s new trucky, constructiony picture book is Mighty Dads (illustrated by James Dean, creator of Pete the Cat). Her picture book Little Red Writing (illustrated by Melissa Sweet) garnered 3 starred reviews and spots on many Best Of lists. She co-authors 3 series with Suzanne Williams: Goddess Girls, Grimmtastic Girls, and Heroes In Training. Find out more about Joan and all her other fantastic books at her website and on Facebook and Twitter.

Mighty Dads book trailer

 

Judith Tewes resides in small town Alberta and is a commercial writer writing under several pen names. MY SOON-TO-BE SEX LIFE launches with Bloomsbury Spark in June. As Judith Graves she has a recent release cowritten with Dawn Dalton, KILLER’S INSTINCT, a monster-hunter tale with loads of action.

 
 

 

Army wife, author, and new mom Tracy E. Banghart has an MA in Publishing and an obsession with cupcakes. She has written and published three novels for young adults; her latest, SHATTERED VEIL, a sci-fi adventure, just received a starred review from Publishers Weekly and 4.5 stars from IndieReader.

 

shattered veil front





Tropical Teaser

21 02 2014

My sister, the monkeyI’ve met so many wonderful people in virtual groups. It’s fun to connect and be part of these online communities. You begin with one shared interest, and soon discover you have many more. That was the case with my blog post yesterday on Miss Marple’s Musings. I knew Joanna and I shared a love of books and writing for children, but we found we’re both world travels who have visited five continents and plan to visit two more. She and I also bonded over our African experiences, so I thought I’d a share a childhood picture from Africa.

I posted this a long time ago when I was working on the illustrations for a picture book set in Africa. The title of the picture is “My sister and me.” I’m going to offer a prize to anyone who comments on Joanna’s blog and then leaves a guess here as to which one in the picture is supposed to be me.

Because the first book in the WANTED series, Grace and the Guiltless, just released, I’ll draw a name and send an autographed  copy to one commenter. And be sure to tell me what you liked best on Joanna’s blog (it doesn’t have to be in the post about me; she has so many wonderful posts). You can even leave your guess on Miss Marple’s Musings. I’ll be checking there too.