It’s time for #ChatWithThePBLady 🥳🎉
I’m so excited for this super fun interview with Laura Lavoie. We chatted about her amazing book VAMPIRE VACATION.
Illustrated by Micha Player
📚Tell me about your first job.
I started babysitting when I was twelve, but for jobs I had to apply and interview for, I really, really wanted to work at this super cool record store when I was in high school. I put so much effort into the application. They asked for your five favorite albums of all time and I agonized over making that list. Alas, they didn’t hire me, so maybe my taste in music isn’t as good as I think it is—HA! I wound up selling people nails and electrical outlet covers at a hardware store instead.
📚What’s the most daring thing you’ve ever done?
Oh man, what a question! Probably going rappelling at summer camp when I was in high school. I’m afraid of heights, so I’m still pretty impressed that I managed to rappel down a rock face.
📚If you could learn a new skill, what would it be?
I really want to be fluent in a second language. I grew up in the U.S., but close to Quebec, Canada. We had some French-speaking students at our school, so I took French starting in elementary school and was conversationally decent at speaking French by high school. I’ve since lost a lot of that, but I’d love to be able to speak either French or Spanish fluently.
📚What’s your favorite thing to do at the beach?
We take our girls, who are six and four, to Maine every summer. We jump over waves, build sandcastles, and collect seashells. It’s always an absolute blast just hanging out with them, watching them have so much fun. So, playing with my kids at the beach and doing whatever they want to do is my favorite thing!
📚Let’s talk about your hilarious book VAMPIRE VACATION. There’s so much humor in this book. How would you describe the book’s humor and can you share a funny line from your book?
I’m so glad you find the book funny! That’s always my goal with everything I write. I’m a huge fan of puns and wordplay. That’s a big part of how I write humor. For example, the main character in VAMPIRE VACATION, Fang, is training his pet bat for the “Vampminster Bat Show”, which of course is a play on the Westminster Dog Show.
I’ll share my 4-year-old’s favorite line from the story. When my little vampire main character, Fang, doesn’t think he’ll ever be able to convince his parents to take him to the beach, he has a total meltdown. He sulks, sniffles, and finally sobs: “I’ll n-n-never feel the salty ocean breeze in my h-h-hair!”
📚Fang is such a fun and loveable character. What was the process like for developing his character?
Thank you! I have a soft spot for Fang, myself. I’ve always loved spooky stories and really wanted to write at least one book with a vampire or a witch as the central character.
Originally—in earlier drafts of the story—I focused on the logistics of how a vampire family could go to the beach. I had Fang running science experiments, trying to create a strong sunscreen in order to convince his parents that a beach vacation would be safe. After receiving feedback from my critique partners, I shifted focus to this strong desire Fang has to build sandcastles, snorkel, and surf, instead of thinking about the technicalities. Since my writing style is so focused on humor, I sometimes struggle with emotional arcs and adding in those layers of heart. Once I realized that Fang’s desire to go to the beach could be more comical than tragic, something really clicked. His character developed from there.
📚How might children relate to Fang?
I hope that, from reading Fang’s story, children can see that it’s okay to be different from everyone else—even people in your own family. If you want to wear a tropical print cape, go for it! In my experience, people are happiest being true to themselves.
I also hope that kids might be encouraged to try new things—even things that might feel a little scary. Like those rappelling adventures I talked about earlier, it can be anxiety-producing to try something you’ve never done before, but it can also be so rewarding.
📚The concept of Vampires vacationing on a beach is very creative. What inspired this creative idea? What advice do you have for writers who are trying to spark creative ideas of their own?
My brainstorming process focuses a lot on coming up with good hooks. I’m trying to think of commercial concepts for picture books that will sell to Big 5 publishers and give readers browsing in a bookstore an idea of what the book is about just by reading the title.
VAMPIRE VACATION is a bit of an outlier for me in that I actually didn’t come up with the title first. I read a brilliant blog post (by Jen Betton) about characters with inherent conflict, so I started brainstorming characters who, if placed in a particular situation, would automatically be in some sort of peril. A vampire visiting a sunshine-y beach came to mind, and the rest is history!
For writers who are trying to spark ideas, the best advice I can give is to play around with titles. Personally, I love titles that play with words or put a new spin on a familiar concept. One of my forthcoming books that serves as a good example is Duck, Duck, Taco Truck, which will be out from Doubleday in 2024.
Some other examples of titles I find absolutely brilliant include:
· Bearplane!, written by Deborah Underwood and illustrated by Sam Wedelich (Dial, May 2022)
· Sheepwrecked, written and illustrated by Ashley Belote (coming from Random House in summer 2024)
· Not Quite Snow White and its sequel, Better Together Cinderella, written by Ashley Franklin and illustrated by Ebony Glenn (HarperCollins, 2019 and 2021, respectively)
· Ronan the Librarian, written by Tara Luebbe and Becky Cattie and illustrated by Victoria Maderna (Roaring Brook Press, 2020)
The TLDR version of my advice is: study titles of recently-published picture books and/or read through the weekly Publishers Weekly Rights Report to see what works!