After I drew the doodle and sent it to the Hoffmanns, however, something strange happened. Jilanne’s son, Liam (the fellow who wanted that cat pic), and I developed a correspondence. In so doing, I slowly learned that he and the entire Hoffmann family – despite their cat fancier instincts – are lovely people.
This knowledge has helped me to grow significantly as a person. And I am grateful.
As a sign of this newfound friendship, I offered to draw the Hoffmann’s another doodle.
Jilanne replied: “Oh, you are too kind! Liam is very excited. When I asked him if he had a request, he immediately grinned and said, ‘a very naughty kitten to go with the naughty stamp-shredding cat.'”
Are you people trying to get back on my Enemies List?
Welcome to the second installment of my interview show, Waffles with Writers! Every month I chat with a working writer over a nice, waffle-centric meal.
Today’s brunch companion is Tara Lazar, whose first book, The Monstore, hits stores this week. Two other titles are hot on its heels: I Thought This Was a Bear Book (Aladdin, 2014) and Little Red Gliding Hood (Random House, 2015). If that wasn’t enough, this September her essay “Grow Up. Be Serious. Oh, Nevermind!” will be published in the YA anthology Break These Rules (Chicago Review Press).
Long story short, Tara is busy.
Mike: Good morning, Tara! The waffles are just about ready and– Um…I know I’m serving breakfast food, but I didn’t expect you to arrive wearing jammies. Do you find that jammies work well with your writing lifestyle?
Tara: Of course! All my life I wanted a job that required me to work in jammies. Since the Macy’s mannequin and midnight boogeyman assassin positions were already filled, being a children’s author was the next best thing.
Congrats on your first book, The Monstore, by the way! I’ve always liked monsters. If you could customize your very own monster, what would be some of his main attributes?
I think I will borrow a monsterly attribute dreamed up by a student from Mrs. Mozer’s second grade class: a monster that shoots cupcakes out of its foot.
Why its foot?
Well, it’s better than from the mouth, I say. That would be an ABC Cupcake (Already Been Chewed).
In addition to your writing skills, you are also an accomplished figure skater. If you were to compete at the 2016 Winter Olympics, which 1980s pop ballad would you choose to accompany your routine?
“Rio” by Duran Duran. Because she “dances on the sand,” so it would be a hot, beachy number. If you haven’t noticed, ice arenas are really, really cold.
You recently introduced your daughter to a number of episodes from The Brady Bunch – and shame on you. Is there anything about that show that could help a writer improve his craft?
You can often learn by non-example. The Brady Bunch writers came right out with the lesson, smacking you the way Alice whacked that award-winning sculpture of Mr. Brady’s head.
Mike Brady would tell his kids the lesson with a stern yet loving stare, or the kids would repeat the lessons aloud for themselves (and the audience). When Jan campaigned for most popular girl, she made many promises but didn’t keep them. Her entire family admonished her for not making good on her promises, but she ignored them. At the end of the show, Jan finally learns her lesson and reads a speech apologizing for her selfish ways. Instead of showing that Jan was sorry, the writers told everyone she was sorry. I guess they only had 22 minutes and had to tie things up neatly with a bow. I say leave neat bows for gifts, not stories. Nothing ends on that perfect a note.
Have you ever discovered a good nugget of writing on The Brady Bunch?
How about “Oh, my nose!”?
In addition to the children’s book thing, you and I have something in common: we both headed up public relations departments. Let’s see if you still have the old magic: You work for BP. In 100 words or less, please put a positive spin on a two million-gallon oil spill off the coast of Atlantic City.
Come on down the shore! Just bring a bottle of balsamic and there’s free salad dressing for all! Bon appetite!
Yep. You’ve still got it. You once mentioned that you collect junk for inspiration. What is the junkiest thing that has ever inspired you?
Junkiest thing that ever inspired me has to be a piece of shriveled pepperoni.
What did it inspire?
A pizza story, silly! What else?
What is the junkiest thing you own that you hoped would provide inspiration, but hasn’t?
A chipped, miniature ceramic kitten with a ball of blue and red string. I thought it was really cute and would make a good writing mascot, but I’m perplexed because I don’t even like cats and I have no intention of writing a cat manuscript. Yes, we writers can be strange.
Well, thank you so much for stopping by, Tara! It was a pleasure. Would you like to grab a piece of junk from my house as a souvenir?
May I have that rusty bicycle wheel in your garage? With writing, you gotta just keep rolling on…
A couple of months ago, I wrote a post about the inspiration behind my picture book manuscript, Momma No-Nose. The story is about as dissimilar from Sarah Gives Thanks as you can possibly get.
Here’s the gist of it: After a petting zoo burro goes rogue and gets a bit too nibbly, our narrator’s Momma suddenly finds herself noseless. This turns out to be quite a problem. She can no longer keep her glasses on her face or tell if the milk is sour. Worst of all, the once happy and outgoing Momma no longer wants to leave the house. Just in time for Mother’s Day, however, her artistic son makes Momma an ingenious PlayDoh proboscis that, in one fell swoop, restores her self-esteem and improves the family’s fortunes forever.
Oh, and, in case you need me to tell you, Momma No-Nose is supposed to be funny.
Now, I knew this story had long odds for publication before I finished the first draft. I kinda figured Momma No-Nose was gonna be one of those stories “just for me.” I was cool with that.
But I soooo loved the results of my early writing efforts. So I put in more effort. Then I put in even more effort. Then I presented it at my critique group – twice – and revised the story accordingly.
I admit, I went a little daft. I caught No-Nose Fever.
Sadly, No-Nose Fever is not contagious. Editors aren’t feelin’ the love for this story in a way editors have never not felt the love for a story of mine ever before. I actually got a rejection one hour after I submitted No-Nose – a personal record I have no desire to break, but one that kind of dazzles and impresses me, nonetheless.
But like the coyote’s obsession with his roadrunner, I couldn’t quite put this thing behind me. The more No-Nose was rejected, the more I refused to read the writing on the wall.
“I just haven’t found the right market,” I told myself.
So I kept at it, tweaking the cover letter and looking for ways to punch up the comedy and tighten the word count. Oh, and I kept submitting.
My son, Alex, is the only other person with No-Nose Fever; it must be genetic. He would sometimes ask me about Momma No-Nose’s progress – and was almost as amazed as I was that no editor on earth seemed to like it. So the other day I made him a solemn promise: “If Momma No-Nose doesn’t get picked up by the end of this year,” I said, “I will draw all the pictures and make the book just for you.”
“Mine will be the only one?” he asked.
“Yes,” I said.
“The ONLY one?”
“The only one.”
“Wow. The only one.” He let that roll around his brain for a while. Then he smiled.
I smiled, too. Suddenly the idea that Alex would have the only copy of Momma No-Nose felt like a wonderful, wonderful thing. I decided right then and there to stop pitching this story. I didn’t want to do anything to mess up my promise.
Besides, in that little moment with my son, I had achieved my goal; I had found a market for Momma No-Nose. It wasn’t a large market, but it was big enough for me.