My #FirstPictureBook

THE MONSTORE

February 21, 2016

Tags: The MONSTORE, Tara Lazar, James Burks, Simon & Schuster, first picture book, PiBoIdMo

Tara Lazar is a busy woman—a mom, wife, children's book writer, workshop presenter, and creator of PiBoIdMo. But thankfully, she carved out some time to reflect on her first picture book, THE MONSTORE—a Finalist for the 2014 SCBWI Crystal Kite Award.

Q.What event or person inspired THE MONSTORE?
A. My stories always include a hidden chunk of my childhood. I had a pesky younger brother, pesky in the way Zack feels about Gracie, but he was also my playmate. We were neighborhood entrepreneurs. We opened a kid-casino in our basement and also held auctions for five-and-dime toys and trinkets. Our first auction netted $18 because there was a bidding war over a Yes-and-Know invisible ink book. Those things rocked. THE MONSTORE is a little homage to our own secret stores.

Q.How did you pick the title of your book?
A. The title came first. I don’t recall how I thought of it. It just flashed into my head. I enjoy word play and puns, so that kind of thinking is common for me.

Q.What is your favorite part of the book? And was that part in the first draft?
A. Honestly, my favorite part is when Zack collapses onto the cash register in frustration and defeat. It’s my favorite because James Burks, the illustrator, plopped the eyeball monster down on Zack’s butt. Anytime you can say “butt” to kids is a guaranteed laugh. So I always point it out when I’m reading. Obviously, “Peepers” was not in the draft!

Q.How did you select the names for your characters? 
A. I wanted them to have “M” names for “Monstore.” At first, the monsters had specific talents. Manfred was musical, so I named him after Manfred Mann’s Earth Band. Mookie played baseball, so he’s named after Mookie Wilson. And Mojo was originally named Mac, but my editor asked me to change it to something more monsterly. Immediately I said “Mojo” and it stuck.

Q.Why did you decide to tell the story in third person?
A. Aha! I had originally written the story in first person, in Zack’s voice, but my editor asked me to change it. That was so we could get some fun repetition with Zack speaking, as in “Zack wanted a refund. ‘I want a refund!’”

Q.How much of the story did you know when you began to write? 
A. I knew I wanted Zack to go to the Monstore to buy a guy to scare Gracie away. And I knew he was going to return the first monster because it didn’t work. So I began writing. When the Monstore manager’s line popped out, “Sorry, no returns, no exchanges,” I knew I had a story.

Q.Describe your reaction when you received an offer on THE MONSTORE.
A. Well, it was a very bittersweet time. I had recently been diagnosed with Multiple Sclerosis and I was in a bad place both physically and emotionally. I remember Joan (my agent) calling me and wondering why. And I remember being pleased, but I can’t say that I was happy. It was impossible to be happy then, honestly.

Q.What kind of input did you have in choosing an illustrator for the book? 
A. My editor showed me James Burks’ work and asked me if I liked him for the book. I said YES, YES, A THOUSAND TIMES YES.

Q.What jumped out at you when you saw the first sketches and jacket cover?
A. I jumped out at me. I jumped with excitement and enthusiasm. There’s an extraordinary feeling you get when seeing your characters come to life.

Q.How long did THE MONSTORE take to be published--from the time you received an offer until it was printed?
A. Three years.

Q.Is there anything you would change in the book today if you could reprint it? (Was there a part that you really loved but had to edit out? Or did you think of something later that you wanted to add?)
A. Not a thing! (Except maybe a pronoun or two.)

Q.Can you share any funny or memorable parts of letters from kids about THE MONSTORE?
A. There’s an activity sheet I created so kids can draw the monster they’d like to buy at THE MONSTORE. I encourage the children to give their monster a special talent. One little girl wrote that her monster “shoots cupcakes from his feet” and I thought I want that monster for myself!

Q.When you do readings of THE MONSTORE, which part of the book gets the best reaction?
A. When I do the Monstore manager’s wacky voice. The kids find it hilarious. I wish I would have recorded the audio version.

Q.What is your #1 tip to those who want to write picture books?
A. Read a lot of picture books first. Then write a lot. There are things you learn only by doing these two things and doing them often.
To learn more about Tara and all her projects, visit her website.