Tara Lazar is a special guest this month. In this interview she talks about the experience of having her picture book text illustrated after being accepted for traditional publication. I thought it would be interesting to hear how a writer feels about what the illustrator does to their words in the illustrated half of a picture book’s creation.
Tara Lazar is a children’s book author, mother, foodie and boogeyman assassin (currently booked at 3am nightly). Her debut picture book, THE MONSTORE, opened in your town June 2013 from Aladdin/Simon & Schuster. I THOUGHT THIS WAS A BEAR BOOK follows from Aladdin in 2014, with LITTLE RED GLIDING HOOD skating your way via Random House Children’s in Fall 2015. Tara is represented by Ammi-Joan Paquette of the Erin Murphy Literary Agency. Visit her at http://taralazar.com/
WMI: Your debut picture book, “The Monstore’” came out in June 2013. What is it about?
Tara Lazar: At The Monstore, you can buy a monster that’s just right for doing tricky things around the house, like scaring a pesky little sister away. That’s what Zack tries to do with his monsters, but they don’t exactly work to plan. And The Monstore has a rather strict policy of no returns and no exchanges, so what’s a boy to do?
WMI: I normally interview artists. You’re an author. Can you tell us about your experience having your words illustrated?
Tara Lazar: Having your story come to life in the hands of a talented illustrator is the most exciting part of being a picture book author. I try to keep my mind as blank as a fresh sheet of paper, meaning I don’t try to envision what my characters look like. I don’t want any preconceived appearances being scrambled by what the illustrator does. In one of my books out on submission, there’s a main character that’s an animal, but I don’t specify what KIND of animal. I don’t know! It’s totally up to the illustrator’s imagination—he or she can puzzle it together from the story. I like it best that way. I’m the wordsmith—the illustrator is the charactersmith.
WMI: Did you have any input in choosing the artist?
Tara Lazar: I hear this is unusual—but yes, I did! Firstly, my editor and art director asked if I had any ideas about what the art should look like. Yes, I try to keep my mind blank, but I did envision bold colors and a cartoony feel at the very least. I threw some names out there, too. Then they came back to me with James Burks’ online portfolio and said they liked him because he could draw children and monsters/animals equally well, which is a tough feat. I checked out his work and said YES! HIM! A THOUSAND TIMES HIM!
WMI: The illustrator for your book is James Burks. Were you familiar with his art before finding out he was chosen to illustrate your book?
Tara Lazar: I didn’t know of James prior to the conversation with my editor. He had been working for Disney and Nickelodeon, but his first book had not yet been released. But after seeing his art, I knew immediately that he was a rising star in the book biz.
WMI: How involved in the illustration process were you?
Tara Lazar: Not very. And I like it that way. I think there were two art notes for the entire book! But the first step was the character sketches. I got to see Zack, Gracie, Manfred, Mookie and Mojo before James began work on the dummy. Then I saw the dummy in various stages. And I gave feedback on the cover, too. For instance, the first cover didn’t include Gracie, and I thought it was important that she make an appearance. But that’s about it. I’m much more involved in the art process for my next book, I THOUGHT THIS WAS A BEAR BOOK, but because it’s a complicated story—it’s really two books in one.
WMI: You have an agent. Was she more involved in the illustration process than you?
Tara Lazar: No. I think most agents defer to their author when it comes to illustration decisions—they’re looking out for what we want. But we talked about James when he was recommended, squealing like schoolgirls over how excited we were!
WMI: Do you have any other thoughts as a debut author on the picture book publication process you’d like to share?
Tara Lazar: It’s a long process, but it’s worth the wait once you’re holding the book! I wish I spent more of the waiting time on thinking of ways to market the book, because that’s really the challenge—selling the book. Right now Barnes and Noble isn’t carrying it because of a dispute with Simon & Schuster, and I can’t help but think it’s hurting my book’s sales. On the bright side, the reception for the book has been stellar. I love reading the reviews from complete strangers, knowing my book is inspiring monstrous fun in their homes. There’s nothing better than that. My goal as a writer has always been to write some child’s favorite book. I think I may have gotten there!
Thanks, Tara, for taking time out of your incredibly busy debut author schedule to visit us. Good luck with the Monstore! I can’t wait to see the bear book or the gliding hood book!