Welcome, Tara! Congratulations on your debut picture book, The Monstore, illustrated by James Burks! I love the idea of a malfunctioning monster that needs to be returned. How did you come up with such a clever concept?
The concept came from the title. I love to play with words like most kids play with their food. I smooshed “monster” and “store” together to make “The Monstore” and I knew I had a high-concept story on my hands—if only I could think of a story! After letting the title rattle around in my brain for months, I was finally forced to create a premise when I met an agent. I wrote, “a boy wants to return the monster he bought when it doesn’t spook his sister.” The agent thought the concept was a winner so I raced off to write it. Then when the boy, Zack, got to the Monstore, I knew there must be a manager to whom he could complain. Then I made the manager say, “Sorry, no returns, no exchanges!” Or maybe I didn’t make him say that, the manager TOLD me that was his line. Seriously, the story just spilled out from there.
James Burks’s illustrations are amazing! Were you able to communicate with him during the editing stages? Tell us about that process.
There wasn’t any direct communication between us. But I received sketches from my editor and I was blown away every time. The only illustrative input I had was with the cover. The first version didn’t have Gracie, and I thought she should be featured. After all, she always seems to have the upper hand in the story.
Once it was accepted for publication, how long did this project take? What was the most surprising part of this process?
I received the offer in May 2010 and the book was published in June 2013—a little over three years from start to finish. Honestly, the most surprising part of the process was when they accepted my second revision as the final version. I had gotten so used to tweaking the story, I couldn’t believe my work was finished! I actually told my editor I’d be fine with another round of rewrites! But, I never needed to change another word.
That is surprising! I guess you did such a great job polishing your story before submitting, that it only needed a few more revisions!
As a new writer, I am always curious to hear about the submission process that writers go through. Was The Monstore the first manuscript you circulated into submission as a picture book writer? If not, how long have you been actively submitting work as a children’s writer?
“The Monstore” was not the first manuscript I submitted. I had written several others and had submitted maybe 5 or 6 that went nowhere. I just didn’t have the right concept yet. I had gotten so many rejections that I was submission-shy for a long time. I hadn’t submitted in maybe a year when I finally got the nerve to circulate “The Monstore”, and I only sent it out because an editor at a conference had been hooked by it.
What do you feel was the most important thing(s) you did that lead to publication?
I kept writing new stories. I must have written at least a dozen picture books prior to “The Monstore”, and all those manuscripts were great practice. I couldn’t have written “The Monstore” if those other stories didn’t come first.
Some new writers write one manuscript and year after year submit the same work. You can tweak a manuscript forever, but if the concept is mediocre, it’s never going to sell. You must move on. You must accept that an unsold manuscript was a learning experience and trust that it will ultimately lead you to something better.
Thanks for that bit of inspiration to keep going! I understand you have several upcoming projects! What can we look forward to?
I Thought This Was a Bear Book releases next year, again with Aladdin. It’s really two stories in one—an alien gets knocked out of his book, spaceship and all, and crash-lands into the story of Goldilocks and the three bears. Hilarity ensues. Benji Davies is illustrating. I’ve seen his sketches and they’re out of this world!
Then, in 2015, I have Little Red Gliding Hood, about Little Red as a figure skater, and she desperately needs a partner for the pairs competition. That one’s with Random House.
Then, of course, there are several more in the works. I hope to have good news soon!
With your determination and commitment, I just know that you will! I can't wait to join you for PiBoIdMo in November! Thank you for joining us today, and best wishes!
She is celebrating her debut picture book, THE MONSTORE, which was released 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.
Her last name rhymes with “bazaar”—you can listen to Tara pronounce her name on TeachingBooks.net. She’s not Tara Laser-beam (although that would be awesome).