I am a connoisseur of all picture books with potty jokes, underwear, farts, burps (I have three boys), so when I saw the title of One Big Pair of Underwear, I knew it was for me. The concept is great, the title brilliant, and so Laura Gehl joined my “picture book authors to watch” radar. I was thrilled when Laura agreed to participate in Writing with the Stars.
You have a B.A. in psychology from Yale and a Ph. D in neuroscience from Georgetown. I’m going to go out on a limb and say that you were not planning on becoming a children’s book writer. How did you get into the industry?
I’ve always loved children’s books and writing, but children’s book writer definitely did not seem like a career I could actually aspire to. It was more in the category of “cool jobs I could never have,” like ballerina. I was pregnant with my second son when I finished graduate school. I worried I could not continue lab research and spend as much time as I wanted to with my family. So, I started science writing for both children and adults, which I still do today, and over time the science writing for children grew into writing children’s books. No luck on the ballerina front, though.
You have four kids! I think most writers with kids find it challenging to find writing time. What are your time management secrets?
If you think of writing as something you MUST do—like taxes or visiting the dentist, except way more fun—instead of a luxury to fit in if you can, I think that helps! I am also a big fan of the “write every day” school of thought. Most people feel weird if they don’t have a chance to brush their teeth on a certain day, or don’t have the opportunity to change their underwear on a certain day (okay, I may have one kid who does not feel weird about that at all). Even if you can only get in a few minutes of writing every day, you form the habit, and then you feel weird when you don’t write, which makes you more motivated to write every day, which keeps the cycle going!
I understand you are a chocoholic. Are you a “I only eat Vosges Haute Chocolate” type of person or “Give me a Hershey Bar” type?
It all depends on my level of desperation! I prefer good quality dark chocolate, and that is what I eat on a daily basis. But I was once in Ecuador, in the jungle, surrounded by cacao trees but with no actual processed chocolate anywhere for DAYS (shudder). When I finally reached a location with Hershey’s chocolate bars, I think I ate five at once!
Was there anything you splurged on when you got your first book advance?
I usually celebrate a book sale with extra chocolate…such as a Belgian Chocolate Shake from Häagen-Dazs.
Peep and Egg has been a very successful four book series. Is it easier to write in a series or a stand alone?
I think there are challenges to both. With a series, you need to stay true to the characters and style of the series, yet keep each individual book interesting. With a stand-alone, you need to come up with a completely new idea and fresh, intriguing characters. I truly love both types of writing.
I am always fascinated about where book ideas come from. Can you tell us a little bit about your upcoming book My Pillow Keeps Moving and the spark that started that story?
My Pillow Keeps Moving is about a lonely man and a dog who needs a home and how they find each other. When I started the story, the man was the main character and the dog was a source of slapstick humor (the title comes from the fact that the man mistakes the dog for a pillow and then does not understand why his pillow keeps moving around when he is trying to sleep). When I realized, in an AHA! moment, that the dog should be a more active participant, that the dog should make the decision to purposely disguise himself as a pillow and find himself a home, the magic really started to happen. I can’t wait for this book to come out.
Thank you Laura. To apply for a picture book writing mentorhsip with Laura- http://beckytarabooks.com/contest/
an image from One Big Pair of Underwear