Warning! Do not open this interview. Anyone who has toured with Dave Matthews, helped David Copperfield make magic on stage, and lived with turkeys on a kibbutz can’t possibly have anything interesting to say. Kidding aside, I am thrilled to have Adam as a mentor this year, and one of you is going to be so lucky to work with this creative powerhouse!
Your books cover a wide range of kid-friendly topics. Are there any key ingredients you stir into every one to make it an “Adam Lehrhaupt” book?
Whenever I want to add an ingredient, I add a lot of dark chocolate. But we’re not talking about desserts. We’re talking about stories. For my stories, there isn’t really one specific ingredient I add. It’s more of a way of approaching things. I don’t want to approach an idea the same way as anyone else. I try to think outside-of-the-box whenever possible. I’ll try to create a character from something unexpected (personifying the parts of speech), make a reader interact with a story in a new way (have interacting with the book be part of the story), or approach a familiar idea in a new or different way (an art book about someone who doesn’t draw). These are the hallmarks of an Adam Lehrhaupt story.
You’ve had an array of fascinating jobs in the past (from working with the WWF to David Copperfield). How did your previous career choices help prepare you to be a children’s book author?
Yeah, I’ve had some pretty crazy jobs. And those jobs have presented me with some very unusual problems to solve. How do you make 13 random people disappear? How do you light up a stage, in the middle of a field, in a thunderstorm? Now, how would you do it without electrocuting anyone? Where can you find six identical red ties in Moscow at 6:30 am? Sometimes, the answer is simple. Ask the guy at the front desk of the hotel where to find ties. Sometimes it isn’t. We’re gonna need 350 feet of industrial grade aluminum, six grey ferrets, and a kite. Figuring out how to solve these problems helped me learn to think about difficult situations in new, unique ways. It helped me learn to be more creative. To try out different solutions in order to find the best one for a specific problem. To experiment. Does this sound familiar? It should. This is exactly what we should be doing in our writing. I’m not always successful at it, but my past careers have helped me become pretty good.
The CHICKEN series was sold as a six-book deal! That may be a record. Did you and your agent pitch this as a six-book series or did it morph into that once an editor came onboard?
It morphed! I actually submitted CHICKEN IN SPACE as a stand-alone tale of adventure between two great friends. HarperCollins liked it so much they decided to give these delightful characters five more books. Which was totally AWESOMESAUCE! I just finished working on book six a few months ago. I’m sad knowing these two great characters will be finishing up their adventures in a few short years. Maybe they’ll have more. We’ll need to see.
Do you see any common mistakes writers make on their journey to getting published?
I do. Lots of them. From new writers to established authors. Including myself. We all make mistakes. One of the easiest to fix is when you get married to an idea so passionately you don’t want to change it. I’ve always been a big believer in the concept that everything can be made better. You just have to be open to improving it.
It can be difficult.
It can be painful.
It can be amazing.
When we are truly honest with ourselves, we understand that trying out a different tactic, using a new tone, or revising, isn’t saying our idea was bad. Or wrong. Or poorly executed. Just that it could be better. Don’t you want your stories to be better? I sure do.
Was anyone in particular especially helpful to you on your journey to published author?
A ton of people were helpful, but I’ll call out Lee Harper. He initiated the connection between me and Alexandra Penfold that turned into my first book and led to her eventually becoming my agent. Also, Lee is an awesome illustrator. So, check out his books if you haven’t before.
Do you have any advice or unusual ways to deal with writer’s block?
Do something you wouldn’t normally do. If you only write at home, go out and write. If you don’t go to the movies, go see one. Go out shopping instead of online. Eat milk chocolate instead of dark. Drink wine instead of beer. Mix up as much as you can. Then, sit down and brainstorm. Don’t reject anything. Just capture any and every idea you can. Whether it’s related to what you’re working on or not. You’ll be surprised at what happens.
IDEA JAR comes out February 6, 2018. Do you have your own idea jar where you get new ideas?
I do. It’s a digital idea jar. I keep every idea I come up with. Dragons. Mice. Pixies. Talking rocks. I jot them down in my digital notebook and go back through when I need something new to work on. And they all exist in the cloud. So, if you wave your arms around, you’ll be touching my ideas. Cool, huh?
Are your fellow children’s book authors, many of whom are female, jealous of your locks?
HA! I wish. Actually, I grow my hair out in order to donate it. I gave my first donation in 1991, and I’ve been donating my hair every few years ever since. Somewhere there’s a wig store full of my hair. Eww.
What is this we hear about you creating a new kind of picture book writing program?
WOW! Great question. Yes. I have. And it’s super exciting. I originally started thinking about this program during the first writing conference I attended as a published author. I was sitting in a room full of potential authors and feeling a bit confused. The presenter was talking about how difficult it was to get published. I was baffled. I knew, KNEW, that it couldn’t be that hard. I mean…I did it. If I could get something published, then ANYONE could. I started thinking about how I managed it. And I realized something. Anyone really CAN do this. So, I sat down to figure out how to demonstrate the methods I use to get my books published. Methods that anyone can use. Methods that will help someone write picture books that sell. And that’s what my program is.
Get your free ‘Tips and Tricks for Knocking Revisions Out of the Park’ booklet and learn more at http://writepicturebooksthatsell.com/ The first classes will be starting soon.
Thank you, Adam. Look for IDEA JAR (illustrated by Deb Pilutti) on February 6. Please remember to support the mentors by buying their books, leaving online reviews and telling your librarians.
Adam is accepting mentee applications for writers in the categories of prose and nonfiction. Because of his art director background, he is also accepting applications for author/illustrators. Details can be seen here http://beckytarabooks.com/wwts-contest/