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. (Like her debut, THE MONSTORE.) Whenever she’s not sawing words in half and cobbling them back together, Tara can be found creating jewelry and spending time with her family. She lives with her husband and two daughters in New Jersey. If they had a dog, it would be a small, white fluffy thing named Schluffy. For free stories, giveaways, writing advice and silly stuff for grown-up kids, visit her website.
What food do you not eat enough of?
Tacos! (Honestly, slap sour cream and guacamole on anything and I’ll eat it.)
If you could inspect one thing under a microscope, what would it be?
My fingernail. I want to see if there’s really a miniscule universe existing there.
What TV show have you surprisingly never seen?
Breaking Bad. Downton Abbey. Orange is the New Black. This is embarrassing. Wait—the entire Housewives franchise. I’m proud to admit that one.
If you were any animal, what would you be?
A sea turtle. They live a really, really long time. And they get to swim all day long.
If you were going to spend a year in complete solitude and you could only bring one book, one CD, and one movie, what would they be?
The book would be a collection of short stories, perhaps one of the “Best American Short Stories” annual anthologies. Or maybe Joyce Carol Oates’ “Heat” or “The Collected Works of Flannery O’Connor”. A good book is hard to find, y’all.
The CD would be Live’s “Throwing Copper” because it reminds me of early days with my husband and it’s one of the few albums on which I love every song.
The movie would be “Forrest Gump”—my favorite. It makes you laugh; it makes you cry. (“Laughter through tears is my favorite emotion” is so true, although that quote is from “Steel Magnolias”.)
If you could have a remote control for anything, what would you choose?
OMG! A REMOTE CONTROL FOR MY KIDS! So they’d do what I ask the first time, every time! And I’d make them hug each other more!
Which of the Seven Dwarfs would you be?
Dopey. Do I really need to explain?
What celebrity never seems to fade away?
Well this is a tough question because if I name her, she certainly isn’t going to fade, and I would like to contribute to the fading. (I bet you can guess who!)
How would a dictionary define your writing process?
(Sung to the tune of “Pick-a-Litte/Talk-a-Little” from “The Music Man”: ) Think a little, stare a little, think a little, stare a little. Think, think, think. Stare a lot; stare a little more. Write, write, write, write, write, write, write, write.
What irritates you the most in a social situation?
Have you ever heard of an “extroverted introvert”? That’s me. I can thrive in social situations where I know there are people with similar interests—like at kidlit conferences! In regular social situations, I never know what to say and I am very uncomfortable talking to strangers. I often sneak away from the main party group to sit in a quiet place and just be by myself. (Don’t worry, I steal a platter of food first so I won’t starve.)
Who will you probably not receive a phone call from this weekend?
My agent. (She typically calls on weekdays.)
What do Martians do for fun on Mars?
Play Quidditch. Yeah, Harry Potter has gotten around.
What word describes the outfit you’re wearing right now?
Comfy jammies. (But that’s a given. There’s no such thing as un-comfy jammies.)
If you opened the freezer right now, what would you love to find?
Paneer Paratha! It’s an Indian bread with cheese and spices inside. I’d love one for lunch.
What is a lie your mom told you when you were little?
“Ignore them. They’re just jealous.” Oh boy, they sooooo weren’t.
What are your words of wisdom for someone starting out in the field of writing?
Just write. Don’t worry about being published. It’s far too soon to fret about that. I talk to people who have a “story in them” but it never gets OUT OF THEM because they’re busy putting together a bio and designing the cover. These are not a writer’s concerns. The craft is. Read craft books, attend writing classes, find a critique group and JUST DO IT. As Jane Yolen says, “B.I.C. Butt in chair!”
How would you define creativity?
“The Pop-Rocks of the Brain.”
Why were you drawn to a career in writing instead of to a job that might offer more stability and security?
Good question, because I was not drawn to a career in writing straight out of college. I wanted to be independent, and while you can indeed be financially independent with a writing career (see Chuck Wendig’s blog post on this), I didn’t think I could be at that time. And I DID NOT want to go live at home. I didn’t want to live with roommates anymore, either. I had enough of people swiping my sour cream and guacamole!
I wanted a job in children’s publishing so I could peek behind the scenes, learn the business and make industry connections that would eventually help me land a publishing contract. Well, that didn’t happen. I got a job in publishing, but in technical computer reference books, which launched a [rather boring but well-paid] decade-long career in high-tech. It was only after I had my two children and I was stable and secure that I began writing for children.
What obstacles have you had to deal with in your career?
I’ve got one right now. It’s called “summer”.
How did you pick your writing genre?
It picked me. (I wonder if it did “Eeny-Meeny-Miney-Mo” or “One Potato, Two Potato”?) There’s never been a question that I would write for children.
What life experiences have inspired your work?
I always think back to my childhood when I’m writing. The circumstances don’t necessarily inform what I write, but the emotions do. How did I feel when…
my brother threw my favorite stuffed animal in the bathtub?
I was snubbed for the most anticipated slumber party of 6th grade?
I got my first puppy?
my entrepreneurial neighborhood “casino” in the basement netted $16, more money than I had ever seen in my life
All the emotions are still there, just under the surface, and I scratch at them ever so gently.
How do you know when a book is finished?
I rely on my critique partners and my agent to give it the thumbs up. But really, it’s gut instinct. It’s a feeling you need to develop. And you’re not always right.
When did you know for certain that you wanted to pursue a career in writing? Have you ever questioned that decision?
I was eight years old when I knew I wanted to be a children’s author. I never questioned the decision, as it was something I felt deeply and earnestly. However, I didn’t always pursue the decision because I felt it wasn’t the right time.
I believe that things happen at certain times in your life for reasons unknown and that the right time will always present itself.
Like right now…it’s the right time for a nice mug of tea. Excuse me a moment, will you?
What traits, if any, do you think that creative people have compared to people who are not creative?
I think we have the need for occasional quiet and solitude. We require reflection. Some call it “downtime”. I call it “uptime” because it recharges me.
Have you ever felt that your personal expectations have limited your creativity? If so, how have you dealt with this?
Yes. Fear is my unwelcomed companion. I think this is true of every writer, yet we don’t share this fact. We try to stuff fear deep down and keep it hidden, but it’s always clawing its way to the surface. Those who are unpublished mistakenly think that the published are all fearless. Not so. We have the same concerns as every creative being: will people like this…or will they hate it? The answer is simple: yes and yes. People will like your work, even LOVE it, and people will also hate it, even DESPISE it. You must learn to live with that. Live with the fear. Embrace it. But also don’t let it stop you. Power through. Let the fear motivate you, not kill your mojo. Because I guarantee someone, somewhere is going to HATE your work. But are you going to let that one person stop you?