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?





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.





MY COLD PLUM LEMON PIE BLUESY MOOD

4 03 2013

tameka on benchI’m thrilled to be the first stop on an exciting blog tour. Today we’re welcoming Tameka Fryer Brown, picture book writer extraordinaire, who is launching her most recent release, MY COLD PLUM LEMON PIE BLUESY MOOD. With a title like that, you just know it’s going to be a great read.Official MOOD cover (552x640)

In fact, I was so struck by the title that it was the first thing I asked about when I interviewed Tameka:

I adore your title, Tameka, and the way you play with words. I’d love it if you could talk about how you come up with your creative ideas and then pull them together in such a lyrical way.

Thanks, Laurie. It is a pretty cool title—but I can’t take sole credit for it. My agent, my editor, the art director, sales and marketing…all of us were involved. It was a major team effort.

I suppose my ideas come to me much the same as most writers’ do: an interesting turn of phrase, human behavior, song lyrics, memories, even dreams—these are all things that have influenced stories I’ve crafted. The lyrical part, I suppose that’s just a characteristic of my personal voice as an author. Even when I’m not attempting to write in rhyme, my stories tend to emerge in some poetic fashion. For example, MY COLD PLUM LEMON PIE BLUESY MOOD (Viking Children’s) came out as free verse—and when I say “came out,” I mean that literally.

One day I was being self-reflective, acknowledging that my behavior that day was due to my being “in a mood.” Immediately it struck me that this would make a great title or first line of a picture book (first lines and titles are what usually come to me initially). Once I sat down to write the story, the words just started flowing.

Here’s a sneak peek at the book trailer:

Can you tell us a bit more about your other books–published and in process?

AROUND OUR WAY ON NEIGHBORS’ DAY (Abrams, illustrated by Charlotte Riley-Webb) is my debut title. I describe it as a love story between a young girl and her close-knit, multicultural neighborhood. MY COLD PLUM LEMON PIE BLUESY MOOD (Viking Children’s) is my second picture book. It’s illustrated by Shane W. Evans, winner of last year’s Coretta Scott King Illustrator Award, and I am extremely excited about it! I fell in love with the sketches when I first saw them, and the finished artwork does not disappoint. The pictures are so colorful and lively—I believe kids are going to adore them as much as I do!

I am working on another picture book project, but I’m keeping the details a secret for now.

Can’t wait to see that secret project go public. And how lucky you are to have two talented illustrators for your books. I loved the art in Shane W. Evans’s award winning title, Underground: Finding the Light to Freedom, which is quite different from his work on your book. But both of these books have amazing illustrations. And Charlotte Riley-Webb has a wonderful vibrant style in your book as well as in her many other titles, including Sweet Potato Pie and Our Children Can Soar.

***

Everyone always enjoys hearing authors’ success stories. Can you tell us yours?

I decided to pursue children’s book writing after being a stay-at-home mother for about eight years. I felt it was time for me to get back to some type of cerebral pursuit and, having read tons of wonderful and not so wonderful picture books during that time, I was sure I could write some pretty good ones myself. Of course, I had to learn what “pretty good” was and was not, but I do believe my hard work and persistence are finally paying off.

And I don’t know about you, but I always enjoy seeing pictures of an author as a child. Tameka was kind enough to supply a picture of her as a youngster and as a fifth grader. I’m betting she was a talented writer and storyteller even then.

For more about Tameka Fryer Brown you can visit her website or visit her Facebook page. And be sure to follow her whirlwind blog tour this month.

tameka kid closeup 5th grade





Celebrating Black History Month

29 01 2013

The Brown Bookshelf was founded  to raise awareness of wonderful and exciting African American voices in children’s literature. Since 2008, one of their initiatives has been 28 Days Later, a month-long showcase of the best picture books, middle grade and young adult novels written and illustrated by African Americans.

28dayslogoThe 2013 list has been selected and these authors and illustrators will be featured during February:

Feb. 1 – Malaika Rose Stanley (MG)

Feb. 2 – Christian Robinson– (Illustrator)

Feb. 3 – Alaya Dawn Johnson – (YA)

Feb. 4 – Glenda Armand – (PB)

Feb. 5 – Glennette Tilley Turner – (MG)

Feb. 6 – Traci L. Jones – (YA)

Feb. 7 – Brynne Barnes – (PB)

Feb. 8 – Brian F. Walker – (YA)

Feb. 9 – Veronica Chambers – (MG)

Feb. 10 – B.A. Binns (YA)

Feb. 11 – Donna Washington – (PB)

Feb. 12 – Alice Randall and Caroline Randall Williams – (MG)

Feb. 13 – Octavia Butler – (YA )

Feb. 14 – Ann Tanksley – (Illustrator)

Feb. 15 – Lyah Beth LeFlore – (YA)

Feb. 16 – Tololwa M. Mollel – (PB)

Feb. 17 – Arna Bontemps – (MG)

Feb. 18 – Jasmine Richards – (MG)

Feb. 19 – James Ransome – (PB)

Feb. 20 – Ashley Bryan – (Illustrator)

Feb. 21 – Nalo Hopkinson – (YA)

Feb. 22- Daniel Minter – (Illustrator)

Feb. 23 – Angela Shelf Medearis – (PB)

Feb. 24 – Linda Tarrant-Reid – (MG)

Feb. 25 – Willie Perdomo – (PB)

Feb. 26 – Chudney Ross – (MG)

Feb. 27 – Becky Birtha – (PB)

Feb. 28 – Jaime Reed – (YA)

For more information about the authors and their latest creations, check out 28 Days Later every day this month.

You can read more about the founders of The Brown Bookshelf here.





Inspiration

20 07 2011

Somehow my vacations always seem to end up as working vacations. My husband could never understand why I didn’t consider camping a vacation. For some reason, cooking for all seven of us over an open fire or on a small cookstove while keeping an eye on smallfry who each ran in different directions, washing dishes under a pump, and spending the night on a slowly deflating air mattresses while being kicked in the ribs, head, and stomach by various sleeping offspring, never topped my list of summer fun. I usually went home more tired than rested, not to mention bug-bitten, sunburned, and sore.

So this summer I planned a different type of working vacation. I agreed to help teach writing sessions at an out-of-state university. I was expecting to come home exhausted and drained. Instead, I came back excited, energized, and eager to dive into my own creative work.

It probably helped that my destination was the Mazza Summer Institute in Findlay, Ohio. For those who aren’t familiar with it, Findlay University holds a fabulous weeklong conference featuring picture book authors and illustrators. The University is home to the famous Mazza Museum, which houses the world’s largest collection of original picture book art.  From the early works of Randolph Caldecott to many of the latest award-winning picture book artists, Mazza has it all. Watercolors, oils, prints, collage, pen and ink, pastels, and every medium in between. Each piece of art hangs above a shelf with the picture book it’s printed in. For anyone who loves picture books the way I do, it’s an inspiration. So much so, that someday I hope to see my own work hanging on their walls.

So I spent a week co-teaching breakout sessions in between listening to famous illustrators give visual presentations on their artistic processes and tell about their lives. Even more fun was being around an audience of teachers, librarians, writers, and art lovers who enjoy reading picture books even when there isn’t a toddler within hearing distance. I felt right at home.





African Animals

4 04 2011

As long as I’m on the subject of art, I thought I’d post one more picture I finished recently for a book on African Animals. Because the series of stories and folktales are from West Africa, I wanted a mudcloth border for the pictures.

Jaguar

© Laurie J. Edwards 2011

Anyone who knows me, knows I love drawing jungle animals, so this book was a treat. Perhaps my love of the jungle comes from living in West Africa when I was young and impressionable. Which reminds me of a story… which I’ll save for another post.





Characters Who Look Like Me

10 10 2010

I’m thrilled to have Kelly Starling Lyons here today as part of her blog tour leading up to the 15th anniversary of the Million Man March. I asked Kelly to tell us about her experiences growing up when there was a dearth of African-American characters in books. Here’s her reply:

As a child, I loved to read. Most days, you could find me snuggled somewhere with a book in my hands. I couldn’t wait to travel through the magic of stories into other lives and lands. But on my literary journeys, one important thing was missing – people who looked like me.

In my early years, I remember reading just one children’s book with an African-American character, Roll of Thunder, Hear My Cry. Though that book was set in Depression-era Mississippi, it spoke to me in a special way. For the first time, I was reading a story through the eyes of a girl whose skin color was the same as mine. Though I hadn’t realized it until I read that story, that was something I hungered for.

I was a grown-up writer when I rediscovered children’s books. At Ebony magazine, I wrote feature articles and chose books to showcase in the Bookshelf column. One day, I opened a package from a publisher and my life changed. I saw a picture book called Something Beautiful by Sharon Dennis Wyeth. Entranced, I read page after page until I reached the end. Then, I smiled, stroked the cover and read it again.

The story takes you on a walk with an African-American girl searching for “something beautiful” in her city neighborhood. She visits a laundromat, fruit stand and other places and learns what others consider beautiful. Then, she decides to create beauty herself by cleaning up her community. In the end, she learns who her mother considers the most beautiful person of all.

That book, just 32 pages, sent me through so many emotions. The story was told with such economy and grace. It reminded me of everything I loved about children’s literature and more.

That was the start of my mission to write for kids. Seeing picture books, middle-grade and young adult novels with African-American children as the main characters fed something inside my soul. I knew I had to add my voice.

I began writing for children because I wanted them to see their faces and hear their voices in stories. I began writing for children to help them discover parts of the world and themselves. I began writing for children to give back.

I know what it feels like to never see yourself, your family, your traditions or your history reflected in the pages of books. I write so kids today have a different reality. I love going into schools and sharing One Million Men and Me and hearing a child say, “That story reminds me of a trip I took with my dad,”or “That character looks just like me.”

As part of The Brown Bookshelf, a team that’s dedicated to raising awareness of the many African-Americans creating children’s books for kids, I continue the mission to help kids see themselves in the pages of books. Our signature initiative, 28 Days Later, shines the spotlight each February on African-American children’s book authors and illustrators who are under-the-radar or veterans of the industry. We’re taking nominations through the end of October.

Thanks so much for sharing a part of yourself with us, Kelly. It’s wonderful to know that kids growing up now have some fabulous choices of books with characters who look like them. Check out all the terrific titles at The Brown Bookshelf, including Kelly’s, of course. Her One Million Men and Me has received multiple awards.

Along with the blog tour, Kelly will be heading to several live events (more about those on the Susquehanna Writers blog):

October 15 – 4:30 p.m. Reading  & Meet the Author event at All Booked Up Used Books & Collectibles

October 16 – 15th ANNIVERSARY OF THE MILLION MAN MARCH — 11 a.m. Storytime & Reading  Hour at International Civil Rights Center & Museum

October 18 – 6 p.m. March Anniversary Program at the August Wilson Center for African American Culture