Kara LaReau http://karalareau.com/ is the author of Snowbaby Could Not Sleep, illustrated by Jim Ishikawa; the Rocko and Spanky stories, illustrated by Jenna LaReau; and Ugly Fish, Rabbit and Squirrel, and OTTO: The Boy Who Loved Cars, illustrated by Scott Magoon. She has a Master of Fine Arts degree in Writing, Literature, and Publishing from Emerson College. She worked as an editor at Candlewick Press and Scholastic Press. She also did freelance editing through her creative consulting firm, Bluebird Works.
Welcome,to my blog, Kara! Thanks, Linda! Great to be here!
I’ve just finished reading your newest picture book, OTTO: The Boy Who Loved Cars to my grandson. His response? “That was a funny book. Let’s read it again!” (Of course I did!)
Can you tell us a little about the book and what inspired it?
I’m glad your grandson liked it. OTTO is the story of a boy who loves cars so much, he turns into one! As he spends time as a car, he realizes how limiting it is, and how much he misses all the things he can do as a boy. The story was inspired by my husband, who is a car fanatic — but maybe a little less fanatical than Otto!
It was illustrated by Scott Magoon. He’s done some of your other titles, as well. Can you talk about his illustrations for Otto and what it’s like working with him?
Scott and I were friends and colleagues (we met when we were both working at Candlewick Press) before we ever started working together on our own books, so we already knew we liked each other and shared the same sense of humor. Now we get to harness all of that great creative energy! I find I write many of my picture book texts with Scott in mind now; for instance, when I mentioned that Otto’s favorite cereal would be “Wheelies” (a play on Wheaties), Scott went ahead and included all sorts of other funny car-related paraphernalia (or as we call it, car-aphernalia) throughout the book, to give kids something extra to notice as they read. You’ll see that Otto’s teacher, Mrs. Dodge, has a hairdo that looks a lot like the Dodge Ram logo, and one of the book spines on Otto’s shelf reads “Karfka,” a play on Kafka’s Metamorphosis. Both of those were ideas Scott came up with on his own; the more I get to know how his mind works, the more I try to leave room in the story for him to play. We’re lucky we share the same sensibility (and love of bad puns); I think that energy really shines through.
Your sister, Jenna LaReau, has also illustrated some of your books. How did your collaboration process work?
When Jenna and I were making books together, were living together, so we were sharing much more than just creative sensibility! It’s a pleasure making books with Jenna, because we have a lifetime of common history, and we trust each other implicitly. Often, she’d come up with an idea for a visual, and I’d say, “You know, if I changed the text just a bit, it would allow you to make that image even funnier.” And of course, the reverse of the scenario happened just as often. We play off of each other, which enriches our creative efforts — and makes them a lot more fun!
You began your career in children’s books as an editor at Candlewick Press. You’ve also worked at Scholastic and been a freelance editor with your own company, Bluebird Works. Can you discuss your career as an editor?
I acquired and edited children’s books for more than ten years, and then spent a bit of time editing on my own. It was an incredibly gratifying experience, and it allowed me to work with brilliant authors and illustrators and make extraordinary books. I’m so thankful to have had that opportunity.
You recently made a life-changing decision. Can you tell us about that?
I’ve decided to retire from editing and focus on my own writing full-time. It was a difficult decision to make, since I love editing so much, but it feels right for me.
As an author, do you usually work alone or with the help of a critique group or first readers?
When I first draft something, I keep it to myself; I just need that time to be alone with the work and figure out what I want it to be. But once I have that first draft under my belt, I share it with a couple of people close to me; I call them my Trusted Readers. I know they have my best interests in mind, and they have great imaginations and are innovative thinkers, so they always give me constructive and inspiring feedback. Some writers feel more comfortable in a larger writing group environment; so far, I’ve preferred a more intimate dynamic.
Would you like to share something about your current work in progress?
I have a new picture book coming out at the end of the year called Mr. Prickles: A Quill-Fated Love Story, about a socially-maladjusted porcupine. And in 2013 I have a picture book about table manners coming out with Disney. In the meantime, I’ve been writing for an older audience. My most current work-in-progress is a middle grade novel about summer camp. I’ve just finished my first round of revision, and I’m waiting to hear from my Trusted Readers (fingers crossed)!
Is there anything else you’d like to say to our readers?
Thanks so much for your interest in me and my work! Happy reading!