Diannika Alyse Star: Hi Tamara. Thanks for agreeing to speak with us!
Tamara Hecht: Thank you for having me as a guest.
Star: We are more then happy to have you.
Your newest book came out just in time for everyone to read before Halloween. But before we get to that, could you start us off with a little about your first book?
Hecht: My first book, “Welcome to Monsterville” is about the main character arriving in the aforementioned all-monster town. Because she is the first human kid ever to live there, she has some trouble with making friends at first. The whole first story is about the funny and awkward miscommunications between Jen and the monster kids as they get to know each other. By the end of the story, readers can tell that friendships were established, so the second book picks up where the first one leaves off. Friendship is an important theme again in “The Music Room.”
Star: That sounds very interesting. I know it’s aimed at children, but I think I may have to give it a read myself too.
Speaking of which, what age children is the series recommended for?
Hecht: Let’s say maybe 8-12. But I know some younger kids who liked the first book read to them. I also know some big kids – you know, big kids in their 20s and 30s – who enjoy it.
Star: Oooh perfect for my daughter. lol
I know many authors dread this question, but I really do need to ask it. Where did you get the idea for Monsterville?
Hecht: I’ve always loved monsters, I’ve always loved Halloween, and I’ve always loved the idea of there being some secret alternate world to get away to. The first spark of the idea was initially for a cartoon series, but after pitching the series to many cartoon studios and TV channels, I decided to just write it myself. I mean, I wrote the scripts myself anyway, but a script isn’t a finished product in the same way that a book is. Right now, I prefer writing books to scripts: there’s no length limit, no restrictions based on other things that are currently popular, and nothing is “designed by committee.” I still love writing scripts, but right now I feel like Monsterville is better suited to being a book series.
Star: That is really interesting. Do you feel like the story has benefited from the change in format?
Hecht: Some things were lost and some things were gained. Any time you go from one medium to another, there are changes you have to make. In the cartoon scripts, there were a lot of jokes that depended on timing or instant visuals. Those don’t quite hold up in books because reading something is slower than just seeing or hearing it, and the writer has little control over how the jokes are presented in the reader’s mind. What works very well in books is description. You can’t do that in a script because it doesn’t show up on the screen, but description and commentary is basically what a book is made of. So I have fun with that. Within the text, I write a lot of silly comments about the characters or places, or I use unusual metaphors, or suddenly switch into casual language. I’m telling jokes about the story rather than showing a story full of jokes.
Star: That makes sense. Do you intend to pursue a cartoon based on your books in the future, once they are more established?
Hecht: I would like to, eventually, but I also have a lot more Monsterville books I want to write.
Star: Do you have some idea of how many books you expect the series to be, or do you plan to keep writing until it comes to a natural ending point?
Hecht: I plan to keep on writing them. The worldbuilding is fairly detailed and I’ve put a lot of thought into the characters, so I imagine I can write an infinite number of stories. I don’t have an ending point in mind as of now.
Star: So back to the newest book in particular, is there anything you wanted to tell us about it?
Hecht : With this one, I’m trying out a story that is more mystery-based. There is some actual danger. The conflict in the first book was Jen’s struggle to make friends, but in the newer one, there is an external force that acts more like an enemy. Although, interestingly, both of these very different situations are solved by people learning to understand one another.
Star: Do you see that as possibly being a theme that runs through the series, or just a coincidence?
Hecht: I only realized it after the fact. I didn’t plan it. I only set out to tell interesting stories, but of course, my values are going to influence that. I think empathy and communication are very important, and I prefer heroes that use kindness and intelligence to solve problems. There is a good chance my stories will all have that as a common thread.
Star: Nicely put.
When did you first realize you wanted to be an author?
Hecht: I always wanted to tell stories. Even as a little kid, I was acting out scenarios or writing and drawing very short visual gags. The idea of writing a whole book seemed quite daunting back then. However, there were a lot of frustrations with trying to tell a joke or a short story in the moment – people would get distracted or interrupt or steal the punchline. I started writing things down because a blank page is an excellent listener. The hobby just grew with me. By high school, I was writing chapter books. The stories I wrote then were about me making sense of (or making fun of) all those strange social rules that people follow at that age. I still use writing to help me make sense of the world. Besides, writing is a skill I’ve been refining for a long time and I’m proud of it. I can do things with it that, ironically, get people to pay attention. So, thank you, people who didn’t pay attention before. My not being super great at connecting with the outside world made me really, really good at making inside worlds.
Star: Other than that, who would you say has inspired you most in your writing?
Hecht : Any authors who break the rules (or at least break what I thought the rules were). When I was little, I discovered Robert Munsch’s “Paper Bag Princess” – at the time, I was so sick of trope-filled fairy tales and insulting stereotypes, and then all of a sudden there was this hilarious book about an independent princess who was a quick thinker and it just made me realize that books can be about anything. I could make stories about anything I wanted.
Later on, I found the works of Gordon Korman and eventually Terry Pratchett. Their humor and insights come in the form of tone and meta-commentary. That was how I learned about using writing itself to say something with how the story is told, and not just what the story is about.
Star: I should probably let you go. One last question to wrap things up.
Do you have any advice for other writers?
Hecht: Yes! Write “you.” Don’t write what it feels like you’re expected to write or worry about what is trending. Write the story you want to write, the way you want to write it. That’s what makes it important.
Star: That is great advice!
Thank you so much for taking the time to talk to me today. I can’t wait to read your books!
Hecht: Thank you for the interview.
Visit Tamara’s webpage at www.turtlehill.wixsite.com/monsterville