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Month: December 2016

Meet mentor Laura Gehl



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- https://beckytarabooks.com/contest/


an image from One Big Pair of Underwear

Meet mentor Pam Calvert


I first learned of Pam Calvert back when I still owned my toy and book store. I hand-picked every book that made it onto the shelves, searching for books that were visually appealing and worked well with the themes of the toys I was selling, but were also unique in some way. I hit the jackpot when I found Princess Peepers. It was beautifully illustrated, relevant for my princess theme, and dealt with a niche subject in a novel way that would appeal to every little princess, bespectacled or not. Fast-forward a bunch of years and now I am on this side of the business and get to actually interview Pam!

I love that your main character in the Princess Peepers series wears glasses. What sparked this story idea and what has been the most gratifying part of sharing these books with children?

The idea came from a combination of things. A lady asked me if I could write a book about a princess with glasses or if I knew of a book like that because her little girl wouldn’t wear glasses, since princesses don’t. I found that odd, so I did some research and found out that it was indeed true! Princesses don’t wear glasses. Immediately, I set out to correct that situation and, along the way help the self- esteem of little girls. I knew the hardships of being different–I wore glasses as a child and suffered a lot of teasing. 

I loved the line in Princess Peepers Picks a Pet where she uses the phrase “Fairy Dust” like a curse word.  How did that come to you? Was it instant or something that took a while to come up with?

There was a little-known chapter book series that I loved where the little girl main character cursed using words like “bumbleberries” or “flapjacks.” I thought that was so cute and decided Princess Peepers should do something equally memorable. Thinking about her character, I figured she’d use words like “fairy dust” or “stinky troll’s feet.” Then I remembered how Robin, Batman’s sidekick, would use “Holy Fill-in-the-blank” and Peepers repertoire of cute curses was born. Holy glass slippers! 

You are dedicated to helping writers perfect their craft and your blog highlights many amazing educational opportunities. What did you find particularly helpful when starting out?

ICL (Institute for Children’s Literature) was by far the biggest help to me as a novice writer. I worked with two different authors and they helped me see that I needed A LOT of help. The class gave me kid goggles and a great perspective on how to write for children. After that, I was ready for picture books and furthered my education by taking Anastasia Suen’s Intensive Picture book Workshop. I’d advise anyone who really wants to get published to take some of her classes. Well worth the money.

What was the most amusing thing that has happened to you on a school visit?

Oh goodness! Something funny happens almost every time. The funniest was at a school in Mesquite. Here’s a conversation from that event (CK means cute kid):

I’m walking down the hallway after my presentations are over and after I signed some autographs (probably about fifty kids surrounded me in a flurry).

 CK 1: Ms. Calvert, you signed an autograph for me, didn’t you?

 Me (wide eyed, had-no-idea-if-I-did, smiling): Oh, well, yeah, of course!


 CK 2 (shakes head): Un uh! He forged your signature and is charging kids $2 an autograph!

 Me (stomach plunges)

There you go!

Thank you, Tara!

To apply for a picture book mentorship with Pam- https://beckytarabooks.com/contest/

Meet mentor Peter McCleery



One look at Peter McCleery’s website and you instantly know he’s a funny guy. I first learned of Peter when I was in the get-an-agent trenches. He was being interviewed about how he got his agent and shared his query letter. I tried to write a query in that humorous way, but I could not pull it off with aplomb. But, it worked for Peter and his debut picture book Bob and Joss Get Lost releases February 2017.

What is your writing process? Do you write every day?

The word that might best describe my writing process is “sporadic.” So no, I do not write every day. Or every week. I probably wouldn’t recommend my approach for most people, because I certainly wish I was more productive and steady. Getting my butt in the chair is probably the hardest part of being a writer. An analogy of my writing process is akin to a miner. When I hit a creative vein, I’m enthusiastic and determined and I keep at it regularly until the creative flow dries up. Then I wait around for inspiration. But I long ago realized that the “waiting around” is as essential and productive part of the process as anything else. My mind is working on old ideas, new ideas, figuring out solutions to problems in manuscripts. That part is also “writing.” And it also gives me a good excuse why I’m not as productive as I’d like to be! Bonus!

I also think that it’s important to step back and put some distance between myself and my manuscripts. There’s old advice about putting your work in a drawer and forgetting about it for a while. It’s very valuable advice and works especially well for me because I have a terrible memory and often I’ll reread a manuscript and forget that I wrote entire parts of it. It gives me a very objective perspective. So, this means I have dozens of incomplete manuscripts in various stages of development. I go with the one that’s speaking the loudest and the one I’m most excited about at any given moment.


What was the idea that started Bob and Joss? How long did it take you to write?

The first draft came to me very quickly and completely. I woke up one morning and started writing it. I didn’t know what it was or who these characters were. But I had to get their dialogue and situation down as soon as I could. At that point all it was alternating dialogue between these two very different friends, Bob and Joss. No description, no action, just funny, absurd banter. It was almost like little vignettes or scenes. When I shared it with people almost everyone said, “This is great but it’s not a picture book.” So I shelved it for a few years. But it was always there speaking to me. So one day I pulled it back out and expanded it into an “easy readerish-graphic novel-chapter book type of thing. I sent that version off to my agent and a few weeks later we had a 2-book deal. Because a few publishing houses made offers it was interesting to see the wide range of approaches they had for the book. Some of them saw it as a picture book, one saw it as an early reader graphic novel series, and one wanted to lengthen it and turn it into a chapter book. In the end, HarperCollins’ vision of it as a picture book won out.

The sequel, Bob and Joss Take a Hike! (HarperCollins 2018), was a very different experience. I wrote many, many drafts of various ideas. Then, with a deadline approaching, I finally hit that creative vein I mentioned earlier and then it came somewhat easily. I guess I just had to keep picking away with my Mindaxe and blowing up ideas with my creative TNT.


Your first professional review is out and it was a good one! How nerve-wracking was that process?

I felt a huge amount of relief. When you do something creative you put yourself out there. You make yourself vulnerable. So when someone pats you on the back instead of pointing and laughing, it feels good. I felt even more relief afterward because I decided to google “bad Kirkus reviews” just to see what the alternative could have been. I don’t recommend this. They are known for being brutally honest and they do not disappoint. I feel especially lucky now and my sympathies are with any authors who receive a bad review.


Bob and Joss hit the debut jackpot with Vin Vogel illustrating. What was your reaction when you found out?

Vin is amazing. His images are so expressive, vibrant and fun. Our pairing came together a bit different than most picture books because Vin and I shared an agent. She sort of packaged us together knowing that it was a perfect fit. So, Vin did a few character sketches that were sent along with the manuscript to publishing houses. Most of the editors agreed that he was the perfect illustrator for the job! And he was. What I am impressed with most is how he visually created differences in the characters that are echoed in the dialogue and story. With one look at Bob and Joss you know who they are before they even start talking. That interplay is what makes picture books so special. One other side note: Vin’s illustrations of Bob and Joss look a lot like my two sons. What’s weird is that Vin had never met me or my kids. He had no idea what they looked like. Coincidence or fate?


Have you tried your hand at writing anything that is not humor based?

Well, I have a few works in progress that are not necessarily serious but they aren’t as jokey and absurd as Bob and Joss. I like to think they have more poignancy but still maintain a sense of irony and my particular voice (whatever that is). Back to the mining metaphor. If I’m excited about an idea I will follow it wherever it leads, even to a more serious place. Hopefully, in the future I will expand my comfort zone even further. That said, don’t expect to be reading heartfelt tearjerkers from me. I love writing funny stuff. That’s my wheelhouse.

Thank you Peter! For all contest rules and to apply https://beckytarabooks.com/contest/

Meet mentor Stacy McAnulty




As part of the Writing with the Stars picture book mentoring contest, I will be posting mini interviews with the mentors to get to know them a bit better. Details of the contest can be found on the “WWTS Contest” tab on the main page.

I am thrilled to get to interview my very own mentor. Stacy has been instrumental to my new-found success and I thank my lucky stars every day that she chose to give back and that I was the recipient. She has also been a huge supporter of this contest and helped me recruit the amazing panel of authors. We all owe Stacy a round of applause. She is one talented and funny lady and I’m going to be jealous (in a first-born child sort of way) when she picks her new mentee.

You are the catalyst for Writing with the Stars. If you had not mentored me, I would not be hosting this contest. What was your motivation and how did you come to the decision to take on a mentee?

I felt like I was at a good spot in my career after years of struggling, and I wanted to give back. I made so many mistakes along the way, and I could have used someone telling me don’t do that! Don’t send a query letter in the voice of your character. Don’t spend all your time trying to sell one manuscript; write more. Don’t waste hours on Facebook and Twitter. And then there’s the Kevin Spacey quote I used to launch my mentorship search last year. “If you’re lucky enough to do well, it’s your responsibility to send the elevator back down.” Those are words to live by.

One of the reasons I KNEW I would love your sense of humor was the line in Dear Santasaurus where Ernest writes, “It was her idea to sneak behind Granny and yell meteor shower!” Do you remember how you came up with that line?

I don’t remember exactly where that line came from, but that’s what my children would sound like (if they were dinosaurs). I love trying to capture a kid’s sense of logic and justice. They see the world differently than adults. And in my opinion, they are a thousand times more interesting.

Can you give us a synopsis of your new picture book coming out in February, Mr. Fuzzbuster Knows He’s the Favorite? Where did this idea come from?

Mr. Fuzzbuster is Lily’s cat—and first pet. Thus, he was her favorite. But now Lily has five pets, and they all believe they’re number one. The book is illustrated by the amazing Edward Hemingway. His five pets are beyond adorable. They need to be made into plush toys. I want to hug them all. I wrote this book because my mom used to tease my brother and me about who was her favorite. She’d say to me, “You’re my favorite…” (LONG PAUSE) “…daughter.” My brother and I were always trying to cut her off before she could add the ‘daughter’ or ‘son’. I think anyone with siblings can relate to this family struggle of wanting to be mom or dad’s favorite. But now that I’m an adult and more secure, I know for certain I am my mom’s favorite (sorry, Frankie).

Your book Beautiful has gotten accolades for its positive girl power message. Have you received any letters or comments from readers that made you particularly proud?

With Beautiful, most of the emails and comments come from adults. I even had one mom order a signed copy for her daughter who was heading to college. That made my day. I get the most comments from kids regarding the book, 101 Reasons Why I’m Not Taking a Bath. They make great suggestions for follow up books like 101 Reasons Why I’m not Doing my Homework or 101 Reasons Why I’m Not Going to Bed. I love hearing their ideas.

You are a gummy worm aficionado. Is it just the worms, or will the bears, sharks, or twin cherries do?

Haha. Actually, gummy bears are my favorite. And then worms. I’m not a big fan of the larger gummy items. Neither is my dentist.

If you would like Stacy to be your mentor, please see contest details for application.

How we got here…

I began my picture book writing journey when my first son was born. Being a reader myself, I read to him often. Luckily, he was a reader too and loved books as much as I did. I spent a lot of time looking for new picture books to keep us fulfilled.

Fast forward a few years and another son later, when I opened a toy and book store specializing in children aged 0-6. I got to read and buy picture books for a living! It was my favorite part of running the store. I spent lots of time researching new books. I also became obsessed with smaller presses and books from the UK. Often, I found myself saying, “What a good idea for a picture book. I should write one!” But then I had a third son, a store to run and a traveling husband. There was never enough time.

Then my husband took a new job in Charlotte that allowed him to stop traveling, and we left Atlanta. I finally had the time I needed to jump into writing. All that “work” I’d done reading books for my store became an invaluable asset. I studied the industry, wrote my first draft and sent it to my sister Becky for feedback. She returned it with terrific suggestions and changes, then I revised some more and sent it back to her. We began collaborating regularly and suddenly–to her great surprise–Becky was also writing children’s books. And this is how beckytara books came to be!

Publisher’s Marketplace

Our news was released into the world!

Charlie Ilgunas of Little Bee has acquired world rights to Shark-Nate-O by Tara Luebbe (l.) and Becky Cattie, illustrated by Daniel Duncan, about a kid who loves sharks but cannot swim, so he learns how to so he can feel like a shark. Publication is planned for spring 2018. Tracy Marchini of Bookends Literary represented the authors and James Burns of Bright USA represented the illustrator.