I realize we JUST had a Simply 7 interview with Tara not too long ago, but it’s already time for another 1. This time it’s for a different picture book that was released just last week: “7 Ate 9: the Untold Story.” It’s GENIUS! It’s hilarious! If you are a fan of puns that is, but then you should know what you’re in for with a title that plays on the classic joke “Why is 6 afraid of 7?”
Tara’s story is told by a Private “I” who is given a case by a very nervous 6 to try and solve: the mysterious disappearance of 9. This film-noir style harkens back to Dashiell Hammett’s “The Maltese Falcon” but with a giant slice of humor thrown in. This tickles all sorts of my fancies. I’m a HUGE fan of film noir, Dashiell Hammett, and puns! I was SO delighted with the story when I dove in that I had to read it out loud to my husband. He was giggling at some of the lines right along with me. This mad cap concept is wonderful!
Welcome again Tara!
1: This is perhaps your funniest picture book yet. I loved all of the puns and clever asides. How many revisions did it take to get those polished to perfection or were those there from the very beginning?
Tara: I’m a life-long lover of puns, so they zoomed out of me as I was writing the first draft. The majority of them appeared in that draft, but I was disappointed to have forgotten naming 7 as the “prime suspect.” Luckily, I got that one into the endpapers, which Ross MacDonald and I brainstormed as the last piece of the 7 Ate 9 pi. You will find more clever wordplay in Private I’s bulletin board of clues.
2: The endpapers were one of my favorite parts. I love Ross MacDonald’s approach to creativity, and especially to this project. I know your “behind the story” hopes were to work with him on this project. Did you get to have any interactions or conversations with him about the book while he was creating?
Tara: No, I never spoke to Ross during the illustration process, although I provided feedback to my editor when asked. It was only when I thought the project was completed that I began talking to Ross about marketing and promotion plans…and he clued me into the endpaper process.
3: I’m glad he did. Ross MacDonald’s illustrations are perfect for this story! I love how he added to your sense of humor in the pictures as well. Did you know about any of these or include any art notes? Or were you just as surprised as readers to see the end result?
Tara: Certain things had illustration notes, like 8 being on the corner of fourth and second like a multiplication table, and later disguising herself as 0. I also suggested a slice of pi be advertised as $3.14. Pretty much everything else was Ross’s idea, like putting Private I’s real name of Al F. Bet on the detective agency door. I have not gone through the entire book with a fine-tooth comb yet to locate all the gags, though.
4: What does your writing process usually look like?
Tara: There is no “usual” process for me. I am adverse to habitual behavior of any kind, with the exception of having a cup or two (or five) of tea every day. Sometimes an idea hits me and I am off like a souped-up racecar [note to self—what kind of soup? Cream of Tomato? Broccoli-cheddar? Matzoh ball?], or an idea hits me but I know it needs to simmer a while before I can put a story together.
I can’t explain how I know when it’s time to write, I just do. Sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn’t. I never know what is going to happen, though. I don’t do too much advance planning. I have never been a planner—not of parties, not of books. As you can see above, I’m often zipping off on tangents spontaneously. I’m one of those people who can talk forever and then say—wait a minute, what was my point?
5: Yeah for tea! And wow, soup cars. There’s an interesting concept. I know you were struck by the muse (quite violently) for this story idea. Was your writing process different for this story as a result?
Tara: I took off with it immediately and wrote it fairly quickly. That doesn’t happen often, but I have found the majority of my published works happen that way. The more laborious stories have not made it to print yet.
6: Interesting. Your muse’s visits seem to be incredibly prosperous then. What is one thing that surprised you about this story? The inspiration? Writing it? Revision?
Tara: That it had not been done before in the way I envisioned it. I thought for sure someone else would have come up with a Private “I” and a trembling 6 fearing his days were “numbered”. It seemed so obvious to me as a film-noir send-up. When I did not find one already published, I breathed a ginormous sigh of relief. I think you could hear me in Milwaukee.
7: Right? It seems so simple and yet no one thought of it the way you had! What is your favorite number and why?
Tara: Frankly, I have never been much of a numbers fan. I took a test in 7th grade to determine if I should be in accelerated math, and even though I did poorly on the exam, they put me in the program anyway. What??? I took advanced math all the way through AP Calculus. Every year I questioned WHY they put ME in these classes. Since hate is a strong word, I will say I gr8ly disliked math. I only understood equations when the solution could be plotted visually on a chart, or if it had to do with physics. Plain numbers on a page did not compute. I suppose this book made sense to me because it was all illustrated and plotted. I like numbers now, as long as we don’t introduce pesky x. He complicates everything.
Thanks for the interview, Jena. It is much appreciated. I hope everyone enjoys 7 ATE 9: THE UNTOLD STORY. (That sums it up nicely.)
No problem Tara. You can count on me to spread the word. 😉
Readers, if you haven’t had a chance yet to check out this funny and clever book, track it down today. It’s SO worth the read!