AUTHOR INTERVIEW: Tara Luebbe
I recently reviewed Tara Luebbe's first two picture books (which were written with her sister, Becky Cattie), and I loved the clever concepts of the books, plus the humour in each. You can learn more about my review of Shark Nate-O here and my review of I Am Famous here.
Today, I'm thrilled to have Tara stop by to take in my Author Interview series, to discuss her most recent picture book, her inspirations, creative process, and more.
Let's take it away...
Can you tell us a bit about your latest book, and the themes/issues it explores?
Here is a synopsis of Shark Nate-O, a book written by myself and my sister Becky, illustrated by Daniel Duncan, and published by Little Bee Books:
Nate is a shark aficionado and an expert on in all things shark. He devours shark books, gorges on shark shows, and floods everyone’s ears with non-stop shark facts. But Nate isn’t just a shark buff, he’s a shark himself. CHOMP! At least he likes to pretend he is. There is just one small problem: Nate can’t swim. And “there’s only one real Shark in the family,” as his older brother Alex points out.
In order to regain his place as the fiercest predator in the family, Nate must face his biggest fear: the swimming pool. Will Shark-Nate-O be able to join Alex on the Sharks swim team and get his bite back? For shark lovers, there is also a shark facts section in the back of the book. The themes in this book include hard work, perseverance, and overcoming obstacles, and it also explores relationships between brothers, learning to swim, facing your fears and sharks.
What was the inspiration behind writing this particular story, and did it change much as you were writing it?
Shark Nate-O was inspired by a classmate of mine in second grade. This boy was obsessed with sharks and pretended to be one at school, where he’d frequently try to eat me at recess. When I began writing picture books, I remembered this kid and how funny that was. However, in and of itself, that did not provide enough of a storyline for an entire picture book.
But then my own son, Nate, became obsessed with sharks too, and we went through a non-fiction shark books phase. Around the same time he also began swimming lessons. My brother called him Shark Nate-O and it was like lightning struck. I suddenly had a great title, and a concept—a shark obsessed boy who needs to learn to swim.
The ending came to me in the midst of writing the book. I kept hearing crowds chanting “Thorpedo” in my head for the great Olympic swimmer Ian Thorpe, and then I decided to have my main character Nate join the swim team. This was surprising to me, and hopefully a satisfying ending to readers, as I never saw it coming!
(Kellie's aside - As an Aussie, I'm so glad our very own Thorpie provided inspiration for the ending of the book. I bet he'd be happy to hear it!)
Biggest challenges in writing this story, or in getting it published?
The biggest challenge to getting this published was the use of the title Shark Nate-O. The legal department at the publisher did not feel comfortable using it without permission from the people responsible for the Sharknado movie franchise. Luckily the producers were very cool and let us use it. My agency did all the work to get permission, which was a relief as I had no idea how to go about doing that.
Are there any tidbits from the publishing process of this book that you could share with regards to working with the publishers and/or the illustrator?
As picture book writers, we are often warned about including any unnecessary illustration notes in our manuscripts, almost to the point of paranoia.
I originally had an illustration note about a funny pool sign I remember seeing as a kid. I took it out before submitting as it was not technically “necessary” to the story. But as I was working with my editor on the revisions, I mentioned it to him, and to my delight he loved it and was happy to put the note back in the manuscript. So my favorite illustration note ever written made it into the book after all.
(Kellie's note: Here, on the left, is the aforementioned illustration by Daniel Duncan. I'm happy to say I grew up with this same sign around the pool at my parents' house for many years. It's a classic!)
Do you have any suggestions on ways parents, teachers, librarians, booksellers and readers can get more out of the book? For example, questions to discuss or ponder, activities to complete?
I believe books are tools of exploration and learning, and readers can find activity kits for both of my books on my website at www.beckytarabooks.com
What got you into creating books?
I used to own a toy and book boutique, so I knew the retail side of picture books. I often had ideas for them while running my store, but there was never enough time to figure out how to write them. It was not until my family moved and I no longer had the store that I sat down to learn about the writing and publishing process.
Do you have some tips for other creatives
Once you open your mind to thinking like a children’s book writer, ideas are everywhere. I get ideas from songs, movies, comics in the newspaper, non-fiction animal books, kids and what they say, expressions and idioms, funny news sites like Bored Panda, memes, viral videos, and my own memories.
I AM FAMOUS, published in March of this year by Albert Whitman & Company, came from a Weird Al song, so you never know what is going to provide the spark. The important thing is to write every idea down, no matter how small, even if it is just a joke or a thought. I’ve found that by combining several of these little ideas, I often have enough material for a complete book.
When you get frustrated with creativity, I highly recommend reading Big Magic by Elizabeth Gilbert. And I recommend listening to Weird Al when you get a rejection. It is impossible to stay upset —and not laugh—when listening to Weird Al and appreciating his creative genius.
Do you have a favourite picture book (or top three) that you can never get enough of?
I have so many favorites and could never limit the list to three, but here are a few. Disclaimer, I prefer humorous and subversive books:
What a Naughty Bird by Sean Taylor, illustrated by Dan Widdowson
We Don’t Eat our Classsmates by Ryan Higgins
I’d Really Like to Eat a Child by Sylviane Donnio
Dragon Was Terrible by Kelly DiPucchio, illustrated by Greg Pizzoli
Steve Raised by Wolves by Jared Chapman
Charlotte the Scientist is Squished by Camille Andros, illustrated by Brianne Farley
Little Bird’s Bad Word by Jacob Grant
Best Frints in the Whole Universe by Antoinette Portis
A Couch for Llama by Leah Gilbert
Wolf Camp by Andrea Zuill
Ugly Fish by Kara LaReau, illustrated by Scott Magoon
Lion vs Rabbit by Alex Latimer
Tara Luebbe is an ex-retailer turned picture book author. She co-writes with her sister Becky Cattie. They are the authors of I AM FAMOUS, illustrated by Joanne Lew Vriethoff, (Albert Whitman 2018); SHARK NATE-O, illustrated by Daniel Duncan, (little bee books 2018); I USED TO BE FAMOUS, illustrated by Joanne Lew Vriethoff (Albert Whitman Spring 2019); and CONAN THE LIBRARIAN (Roaring Brook Press Spring 2020). She is also the founder of Writing with the Stars, a free mentorship program for aspiring picture book writers. You can learn more at beckytarabooks.com and you can find her on Twitter @t_luebbe.