I'm delighted to feature Megan and Jorge Lacera - the husband/wife dynamic duo creators of ZOMBIES DON'T EAT VEGGIES!/LOS ZOMBIS NO COMEN VERDURAS! (Children’s Book Press/Lee and Low Books). I loved learning about the process and inspiration (including their son, Kai!) behind their collaboration. Read on for their insightful thoughts about stories . . . creativity . . . and connection.
STORIES – Discuss the inspiration for your ideas and stories, and share the process about your latest projects.
Hi Melissa! Hi Blog Readers! We are excited to share a bit about ourselves and our projects with you. Thank you so much for this opportunity.
We met years ago while working in the kids entertainment studio at American Greetings, and we’ve been collaborating together ever since. For us, inspiration is everywhere . . . we find it as we’re talking over coffee in the morning, during our daily walks and workouts, while we’re playing and cracking up with our six year-old son, Kai. As we’ve both worked professionally in demanding, competitive creative fields, we’ve learned how to consistently ready ourselves to be present so ideas can flow.
ZOMBIES DON’T EAT VEGGIES! is our debut traditionally published picture book. It centers around Mo Romero, a zombie kid who loves growing, cooking and eating vegetables. The trouble? Mo’s parents and the rest of his zombie community only eat zombie cuisine. Mo hatches a plan to convince his parents to finally give peas a chance . . . but will they ever trade brains for greens?
Kai is a major source of inspiration for Mo and his story. He loves "the scaries" and has since he was a toddler. He's fascinated by vampires, Frankenstein, skeletons, and of course zombies. But these kind of characters are usually written for much older audiences. It’s hard having to say “no, you can’t read that book,” to a kid who knows what he wants. We knew we wanted to tell a story that featured a safely "scary" character like Mo - so Kai and kids like him could read it without being in over their heads or ending up with nightmares.
Another big source of inspiration is our family and families like ours - bilingual, quirky, imperfect, a mix of cultures. We wanted a book that centered around this kind of family. The Romero’s speak English and Spanish. They eat Latin-inspired Zombie food like arm-panadas and chili con ojos. They love each other first and foremost, even when they need to work a little harder on accepting each other’s differences.
Finally, we were inspired (and frustrated!) with our kiddo’s championship picky eating habits. He can turn away food faster than The Flash! We've tried all kinds of ways to get him to eat more vegetables. Most of the conventional wisdom ends up in epic fails and yet another peanut butter sandwich.
ZOMBIES is one way we've tried (and succeeded) to encourage Kai to try spinach, bell peppers, and cucumbers. He thinks it's hilarious that a zombie kid wants his parents to try vegetables. He loves Mo - his story has given him the nudge he’s needed to look at veggies in a whole new way. (Quick tip: If you haven’t tried Tajin, it’s delish! It’s a seasoning salt with chili and lime flavors. Kai loves it on raw spinach, cukes, and peppers).
CREATIVITY -- How do you showcase your creative side through writing/illustrating and other pursuits?
With ZOMBIES, and everything we work on, we tend to put a great deal of ourselves and our accumulated skills into our projects. We are very meticulous and conscientious about every detail of our stories. For example, Jorge taught himself book-binding (and then subsequently taught Megan) in order to create an actual book to serve as the dummy for ZOMBIES. It was a great deal of work (we were up in the middle of the night, sewing and gluing and swearing at ill-behaving paper in order to get ready for an SCBWI conference in LA), but completely worth it to be able to hold in our hands and share with others a tangible manifestation of our creation.
We love using our creativity in the marketing of our book. It comes in pretty handy to be an author-illustrator team! We can execute a lot on our own. It’s so much fun to dream up ways to share the story in different ways - whether it’s on social media, for our website, or videos about our process. We even created our own book trailer from beginning to end. Recording the voices was probably the most fun part.
Kai is a very unique, imaginative kid and we love doing creative things together as a family. Whether that’s making something out of cardboard and cloth, inventing a new game for us to play together, or pretending to all be monsters as we take an evening walk around the neighborhood, we definitely keep each other entertained.
CONNECTION -- How do you connect to your young readers through your writing/illustrating, and how do you stay connected to the KidLit community?
It’s a simple yet not always easy answer: the best way we know to connect with kids is to listen and pay attention to them. In our experience, many people THINK they know what kids want. Or they project their own thoughts, feelings, wishes onto kids. But when you let kids be who they are, let them talk without a time limit or obstacles, play without instructions and adult-infused rules, they reveal so much. We love hearing Kai’s point of view on the world, and we make a point to listen and play with his friends, cousins, and others kids encountered during each day. We are eager to visit more schools so we can share ZOMBIES DON'T EAT VEGGIES! with kids, and listen as they share their stories with us.
As far as the KidLit community, we started a critique group in Providence, Rhode Island when we lived there years ago and stay connected with our friends in the group, even though we’ve since moved to Texas. It’s amazing to watch everyone progress in their careers! We also take part in critique groups here in Texas and attend local SCBWI events as much as possible - we’re looking forward to participating on a panel at the upcoming Texas Library Conference in April and hope to meet other writers, authors, educators and librarians at the event. We are also leading several workshops at the Houston SCBWI Conference this fall and would love to do more things like this (Please let us know if you’d like us to run a workshop or seminar for your group).
Lastly, we participate in several online groups (such as KidLit411) and connect with fellow KidLit folks on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram. Social media is a wild world that, at its best, connects us in amazing new ways!
Jorge Lacera was born in Colombia, and grew up in Miami, Florida, drawing in sketchbooks, on napkins, on walls, and anywhere his parents would let him. After graduating with honors from Ringling College of Art and Design, Jorge worked as a visual development and concept artist at American Greetings, Irrational Games and Ghost Story Games. As a big fan of pop culture, comics, and zombie movies, Jorge rarely saw Latino kids as the heroes or leads. He is committed to changing that, especially now that he has a son.
Megan Lacera grew up in the suburbs of Cleveland, Ohio, with a book always in her hands. She became a writer and creator of characters and worlds for entertainment companies like American Greetings, Hasbro and GoldieBlox, and later formed her own creative company, Studio Lacera, with husband Jorge Lacera. After reading many stories to their son, Megan realized that very few books reflected a family like theirs—multicultural, bilingual, funny, and imperfect. She decided to change that by writing her own stories.
CONNECT WITH MEGAN AND JORGE:
Twitter: www.twitter.com/Jlacera and www.twitter.com/MeganLacera