Tuesday, August 18, 2009

The Unread - Interview with Tara Lazar

Tara Lazar is one hard working children's book writer, food lover, and mother of two. She was an Editorial Assistant at a large publishing house in a previous life. Now she runs one fantastic blog where she features author interviews and book reviews among other tasty tidbits. She is knee deep in kidlit, and lucky for us, Tara agreed to be my next victim for The Unread...

So Tara, why do you write?

I write because I have to write. It’s who I am.

(I'm glad I've already seen a picture of you, or I might envision you as a pen. I love pens.)

How many manuscripts have you written and what have you done with them?

I’ve got more unwritten than I have written! I keep coming up with ideas and jotting them down. The tricky part is deciding which ideas are compelling enough to pursue.

I’ve submitted four picture books and racked up a dozen rejections, four of them personal. The personals tell me that I’m getting closer. (They whisper it to me. Hold one up to your ear and you can hear it. Or maybe that’s the ocean?)

(Those personals, always whispering encouragement. They're such lovely creatures.)

What are you working on now? Care to share a bit about your work-in-progress?

I’m always working on picture book manuscripts. And now I’m also plotting two middle grade novels.

Many of my manuscripts have something to do with food. One picture book is set in a pizzeria and two are in a bakery. One middle grade novel takes place in a Texas town that’s obsessed with giant watermelons…and the other features a chocolatier whose confections brainwash a suburban neighborhood.

(Mmm. They sound tasty!)

How long have you been writing and what keeps you going?

I started writing in junior high. I wrote scathing stories about the populars that went viral in an 80’s-John-Hughes-movie way—photocopied and read for a buck in the bathroom.

(I so wish I would have been in your class. That's awesome!)

I have a degree in English and Creative Writing, even though I rarely finished a story. I thought there was some magical formula for story endings that my professors were holding hostage. It wasn’t until I started writing fiction again two years ago that I realized a story gets finished by finishing it. There’s no other way. Simple logic I should have learned a long time ago. But now I love discovering the end. Usually it’s another beginning.

(So you're certain they aren't tricking us? I'd really like to have that magical formula. Please?)

There was a long period between college and motherhood that I didn’t write fiction. But I penned marketing copy, press releases, and market research reports…so I was still writing. It was just in the name of irrational exuberance instead of kidlit.

What keeps me going? Blank pages.

(Well lets hope we don't run out of trees then :-)

How do you make the time to keep up with everything?

If there’s something you love to do, it becomes part of your lifestyle. Runners run. Spelunkers spelunk. Writers write.

As a stay-at-home mother to two young children, my writing time is limited. But that’s no different from most writers who work other jobs to make ends meet. It’s a rare and wonderful thing to be able to write full-time.

I write early in the morning or late at night and on weekends, or whenever I can have uninterrupted time. I carry a notebook at all times so I can capture shiny things when they choose to sparkle.

It’s unusual to find me writing in the middle of the day when the kids are home. That’s when I’m impersonating Shrek, baking Lego layer cakes, or discovering dinosaur fossils in the basement. I’ll find spare time between games and during naps to read, blog, or Twitter.

Both my children will be in school for the first time this fall—a glorious 2 ½ hours will be mine. I’ll try not to spend them spelunking.

(Oh, but the spelunking sounds so fun!)

How does your family feel about your writing?

I think my husband secretly wonders when I’ll make money. When he sees that first advance check, I think he’ll still be wondering.

(Can you see me nodding?)

My kids think it’s a normal mom thing to do. They don’t know anything different. We spend a lot of time writing and drawing together, creating our own construction-paper books.

When one of those books winds up in the garbage, I’ll ask my daughter why she threw it out. “It got rejected by Sterling,” she’ll explain. At least she’s submitting regularly.

(Precious! Getting them used to rejection at an early age can't be a bad thing either.)

You run a blog filled with great info for writers, book reviews, and author interviews, how do you do it?

Again, it’s something I love to do.

When I attend writing events, I take copious notes and type them up afterwards. Doing so helps me to learn. And if I can share that knowledge with fellow aspiring authors, why not?

I’ve also met many talented people and I’m fascinated by their paths to publication. Luckily they’ve granted me interviews and I’ve been able to share their stories.

I’ve learned that everyone’s “big break” is different. There’s no magic recipe to becoming an author. Just hard work and maybe a pinch of good luck. And cumin. Everything is better with cumin.

(I definitely agree, especially about the cumin.)

You seem to have a lot of connections in the kidlit world. What are some good ways you have found for writers to connect with others in publishing?

Social media—blogs, message boards and Twitter—have allowed me to make friends with authors and writers I never would known otherwise. I’ve connected with people at SCBWI events and the Rutgers One-on-One conference. I’ve written reviews about books I’ve loved and some of those authors have contacted me.

Everyone has been generous with suggestions and advice. The kidlit community is the nicest group of people anywhere. I always feel compelled to give back.

You are also known to be a foodie. What are some of your favorite things to eat? Wanna share a recipe?

Coffee, chocolate and grapefruit. Whoops, sorry. Those are my least favorite things. (Insert gasp of horror.) They taste bitter to me. Yet I love arugula, and that’s bitter. But taste buds are fickle creatures. Just ask Little Pea.

When you love food as much as I do, cooking well becomes a necessity. Eating out is too expensive for a family of four. I cook ethnic dishes from Greek moussaka to Filipino pancit (thanks to Cora Cooks Pancit from Shen’s Books). And I love regional specialties, like South Carolina she-crab soup and New Orleans beignets. There’s no recipe I won’t try. I’m fearless in the kitchen.

Instead of sharing a recipe, I’ll share my other dream job: to ride shotgun with Guy Fieri on “Diners, Drive-Ins & Dives,” chowing down across the country. His show proves that you don’t have to be fancy to be gourmet. Some of the best food comes from mom-and-pop stands in Middleofnowheresville, galaxies away from Michelin’s stars. I’d love to learn from them.

(Road trip!)

As far as writing goes, what are your goals and what are you doing to further them?

My goal is to have a writing career. I’ll just keep writing until I get there. Crazy how writing begets a writing career. At least that’s what the voices keep telling me.

(Ah, those darn voices.)

How far would you go to get your book published?

I’d revise and rewrite until it met with a publisher’s satisfaction. And I’d keep writing new books. I don’t think there’s another way, unless I can find an editor or agent who wants a personal chef-slave.

(You'd better be careful, you might get some offers.)

But seriously, I’m inspired by Anne LaMott’s story about her second novel, Rosie. She had already spent her advance, but her editor rejected the final product. She ripped apart pages, rearranged them in piles on the floor and pieced the book back together…only to be rejected again. It took another major revision to get it accepted. I heard from Kathi Appelt’s agent that Newbery Honor The Underneath went through eight major revisions. And when I first got interested in writing for kids, I followed members of Verla Kay’s blueboard who were sharing their rejections—authors like Boni Ashburn (Hush, Little Dragon), Mandy Hubbard (Prada & Prejudice), Suzanne Young (The Naughty List) and Cindy Pon (Silver Phoenix) who now have their books published. They kept at it until they got a “yes.”

(All inspirational gals!)

So will I serenade a senior editor? Send dahlias to Dutton? Bake muffins for Marshall Cavendish? Wave a banner outside Blue Sky Press? Maybe. After I get a contract.

(I bet you're tempting them!)

If you could live in any book which one would it be and why?

Although I’ve confessed to not liking chocolate, my answer would still have to be Charlie and the Chocolate Factory.

That factory hides a gazillion more sugary secrets. And I’ve always wanted to taste the three-course-dinner gum of tomato soup, roast beef and blueberry pie, even if it means I’d turn violet and get rolled to the juicing room. We could all use a little more purple in our lives anyway.

And who doesn't want a piece of that gum?! Thank you Tara for becoming a part of The Unread. I'm sure I will be interviewing you someday as an author!

Can't get enough of Tara? You can always find her at her blog; Writing for Kids (While Raising Them)
and on Twitter.

Watch out readers, you may be the next victim of The Unread...


  1. Tara rocks!
    Fantastic interview & her blog is exceptional. A book contract will be cumin round the mountain any day now!

  2. Awesome interview! And to think, I saw your girls today and had no idea they had been rejected by Sterling! I would have offered them my condolences :)

  3. "Racked up a dozen rejections." Oh, Tara, you slay me. A dozen, pschaw. You cannot use the phrase "racked up" until your arm feels slightly weak when you pick up your rejection folder. (But I'm definitely not wishing this upon you!)

  4. I just wanted to add that Tara is a professional tweeter! Her twitter posts are great!!! :-)

  5. Hey, great interview! Tara, you make me want to like cooking. :)

  6. Great interview! Good luck on your writing, Tara, and thanks for mentioning Cora Cooks Pancit!

  7. Excellent interview! I love reading Tara's blog and her tweets. And now I must have the pancit recipe - yum!

  8. Great interview, Heather. Thanks for introducing Tara to the people who didn't know about her.

  9. Fun interview, Heather and Tara! Tara- your drive, your wit and your great attitude should (and most likely will) get you there :)

  10. Great interview Tara!!! Informative and funny.