Saturday, October 14, 2023

Q&A with Laura Lavoie




Laura Lavoie is the author of the new children's picture book Monster Baker. She also has written the picture book Vampire Vacation. She lives in upstate New York.


Q: What inspired you to write Monster Baker, and how did you create your character Tillie and her family?


A: I got the idea for Monster Baker after reading a Storystorm post about pairing things that are scary with things that aren't scary. I wrote down a list of scary things and a list of not-at-all scary things, and pairing 'monster' with 'cupcake' felt like a fun concept.


I originally named the little monster Millie McMonster, because I thought it sounded cute. Then someone, I honestly don't remember who, commented that editors don't like alliterative character names, so naturally I freaked out and immediately changed her name to Tillie.


In hindsight, I don't think it likely made much of a difference in the acquisitions process! 


This story actually went through a few R&Rs before being acquired. My editor was encouraging me to dial up the heart. I can write puns and humor all day long, but for whatever reason, I find heart to be more challenging.


I dug deep and relied on some childhood memories to create the other main character, Grandmonster, who actually wasn't in the version of the book that went out on sub. 


So, childhood memories! A great place for inspiration, especially since we're writing for kids. When I was growing up, I used to watch cooking shows with my maternal great-grandmother, who we all called Nanny.


In the story, Tillie watches cooking shows with her grandmonster and they idolize a famous French pastry chef named Pierre du Monstere. So that part was definitely inspired by my relationship with Nanny. 


The inciting incident in the story is when Tillie decides to bake a birthday cake for Grandmonster's birthday.


My family would always do a big dinner for a combo of my paternal grandmother's birthday and my grandparents' anniversary, which were back-to-back. I have really fond memories of those dinners, so including a birthday element felt like a natural place to take the story.


My gram actually passed away shortly after my husband proposed to me, so we got married on her birthday the following year so that the family could all still be together for a happy occasion, plus eat some cake.


It feels pretty sweet--pardon the pun, I can't help myself--to have both Gram and Nanny memorialized in the book's dedication. 


Q: What do you think Vanessa Morales's illustrations add to the story?


A: Vanessa's illustrations... I can't say enough good things. When I saw the final birthday scene in the book, I actually shrieked. The whole family is sitting around a big table celebrating Grandmonster's birthday, and it was like--BAM--instantly transported back to my childhood.


I don't think Vanessa knew about those birthday dinners, so it felt wild that she managed to capture what was in my head. I hope other families can relate to that imagery of sitting around a big table together, too.  


When I was going through revisions with my editor, I kept asking if the team was envisioning Tillie as more of an under-the-bed monster or more of a Halloween monster, like Zombelina.


I had no mental image of what Tillie or her family would look like, and when I saw Vanessa's sketches, I instantly fell in love. Seeing her vision for the characters, it was like the story gelled for me, and it made it so much easier to finish revisions.


My favorite part about Tillie is how her hair reacts to her emotions. Such an amazing detail! 


Vanessa also added some fun puns in the illustrations. I came up with the Museum of Monster Art, but she added the Tincent Van Ghoul detail you see in that spread, which I love. It's always neat to see how illustrators can expand on an aspect of the story and make it even better. 


Q: The Kirkus Review of the book says, in part, “A little patience and plenty of creativity result in a recipe for a yummy success!” What do you think of that description?


A: I'm always interested to read reviews of my books, because oftentimes the reviewer sees something in the story that I didn't. When finishing up the book, we kept talking about “determination” as a theme, but when I saw that Kirkus review, I was like, Yeah! Tillie is creative and she does demonstrate patience.


At my kids' school, they do the Positivity Project, which includes a lot of those same themes. Any time themes in a book can tie into the values that teachers are using in class, that's a huge win. So, thanks for pointing that out, Kirkus! 


Q: What do you hope kids take away from the story?


A: I hope kids see that they don't have to be perfect. I've struggled with perfectionism, and I think it's so important for kids to see that trying your best is what really matters, no matter the outcome.


Also, I really hope that kids will bake some Chocolate Cherry Scaries--the cookies from the recipe in the back of the book--with a family member. Working on a task like that together is a great bonding experience. 


Plus, and maybe this sounds conceited since it's my own recipe, but I'm told from many reliable sources that the cookies are really dang good. 


Q: What are you working on now?


A: I just recently sent over a revision of my fourth picture book to one of my editors, Luisa Beguiristain, who is also my editor for Monster Baker. So, more on that book soon! I can't say too much yet, other than that it also has strong family themes and I'm really, really excited about it. 


I'm also working on a totally different sort of WIP right now that isn't a picture book. But for some reason I always feel like I'm going to jinx myself saying too much about projects before they go out on sub, so mum's the word on that one! 


Q: Anything else we should know?


A: If you're interested in Monster Baker because of its spooky themes, then you'll probably also like my debut picture book with Micah Player, Vampire Vacation, which came out in 2022.


And if you like Monster Baker because it's about food, then you should definitely check out my next book, which is illustrated by Teresa Martinez and coming in June 2024.


It's called Duck, Duck, Taco Truck, and it's a rhyming story about a food truck battle between two ducks and a rival goose, featuring all kinds of kid-favorite foods.


As you can see, I very much have a brand: food and Halloween. Just kidding! I do write stories with other themes, and hopefully you'll see them on shelves someday!


--Interview with Deborah Kalb. Here's a previous Q&A with Laura Lavoie. 

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