Monday, January 21, 2013

Interview with Anna Staniszewski

Pat: Today on the Cabinet we are lucky to have Anna Staniszewski, author of MY VERY UNFAIRY TALE LIFE and its sequel MY EPIC FAIRY TALE FAIL, which is coming out March 1st. But that’s just the beginning. She also has . . . Well, how about if I let Anna tell you about her upcoming books.

Anna: Thank you so much for having me! Well, 2013 is going to be a busy year. The second and third books in the UnFairy Tale series will be coming out—one in March and one in November. Then I have two books in a new series, The Dirt Diary, coming from my publisher in 2014, and a picture book scheduled for that same year. Oh right…and at some point I’ll have to find time to sleep. 

Pat: Before I open this up to questions from the other Cabinet members, I have one thing I’d love to hear more about. I noticed on your website that you have a downloadable teachers' guide.  Did you know that you were going to provide this wonderful resource before you started MY VERY UNFAIRY TALE LIFE? If not, at what point did you decide to create it?

Anna: The teachers' guide came about after the book had been acquired by Sourcebooks. One of my agency-mates, Natalie Lorenzi, does fabulous teachers' guides, and I knew she’d do a great job with it. I wanted a resource that would help highlight the fairy tale and other influences in the book.

Ginger: Elaborate a bit for us on the art form of picture books versus novel-length stories. Anything surprisingly similar? Anything refreshingly different?

Anna: I love picture books, but for a long time I didn’t think I was cut out for writing them. I used to be a very wordy writer, and it was only after years of practicing cutting and focusing that I learned how to tell a concise story. In terms of my novel and picture book projects, I feel that what ties them together is my wacky sense of humor. That’s something that I think is pretty universal in a lot of the projects I work on.

Laura: Why do you write for young adults/children? What is it about those forms that speak to you as a writer? 

Anna: For a while I thought I wanted to write for adults, but for some reason, all my characters sounded like they were thirteen. Finally, I took the hint and started writing for young readers instead. Once I made that switch, it felt so natural. I love the focus and energy in children’s books; I think that’s what keeps me coming back to them, both as a reader and a writer.

Ginger:  Are you an outliner or a pantster and why?

Anna: I used to be a diehard pantster. I loved letting the story carry me wherever it wanted to. But after I sold my first book and had to start writing on deadline, I realized that being a pantster wouldn’t really cut it. Now I have more of a hybrid approach. I write a synopsis of the story and then keep that in mind as I draft. I still have a lot of freedom in the drafting process, but having that synopsis worked out beforehand helps me be more focused and efficient.

Susan: Your last name caught my ear, and I wondered if there's any story there you'd like to share?  Do you ever have people misspell it?  How do you deal with that?

Anna: My family came to the US from Poland when I was five, so for most of my life I’ve dealt with people stuttering their way through my last name. I swore when I got married, I would change it, but when I actually did get married, I realized that my last name was part of me and I didn’t want to let it go. I’m glad that I decided to be published under my maiden name; it might get misspelled all the time, but at this point I’m used to it.

Laura: In the opening chapter of My Epic Fairy Tale Fail Jenny says of her companion: "Thanks to Klarr, the evil clown sorcerer, she’d spent days as a bear statue." My question is two parts--A) how do manage to evoke so much information/attitude/humor/voice/backstory into such a small sentence? and B) Were you terrorized by clowns as a child? 

Anna: Wow, if you take that sentence out of context, it sounds a little insane, doesn’t it? Weaving back story into the opening of Book 2 was a challenge. I focused on that quite a bit while I revised the first chapter. I tried to put a hint here and there without overwhelming the reader. Keeping it all in Jenny’s voice helped, since it felt like she was the one filling in readers on what they needed to know. And no, I was not terrorized by clowns—or maybe I was and I just blocked it out.

Susan: I love the kitten on a recent blog post, and wondered if there are any magical cats in your books?  I've always suspected cats of having slunk into our world through some crease in the magic barrier!

Anna: No cats in my books yet, although there are certainly lots of dogs (or dinosaurs who think they’re dogs). I have a black Lab mix, and she manages to work her way into a lot of my stories.

Ginger: Where do you come up with all those cute little animal pictures?

Anna: I’m a huge fan of which is full of hilarious and cute photos that you can share on your blog without worrying about copyright issues. You can never have enough puppy and kitten photos.

Susan: This might seem like a crazy question . . . but, did you ever wish you had curly hair?  Mine is straight (as I see yours is, and it looks like Jenny's is, too) so I was just curious if that was something which could be magically fixed or if it's a lost cause!

Anna: YES! All the time. Funnily enough, in the third UnFairy book, Jenny gets a magical makeover and she’s amazed that her hair can actually curl. I guess all of us straight-haired gals secretly covet those curly locks.

Laura: If you could describe yourself using only one book (not one of yours) as a reference, what would it be? 

Anna: Oooh, great question! I would have to say Whales on Stilts by MT Anderson which is one of my favorite books. Not only does it have a bizarre sense of humor that I click with, but the main character is very shy and quiet—much like me.

Pat: Thank you so much for being a good sport and letting us barrage you with a mishmash of questions.  Would you mind stopping back throughout the day and answering any questions which readers might have?

Anna: Absolutely! Thank you so much for letting me stop by.

If you liked to find out more about Anna, her books or even read the first chapters of some of them, check out her website:

Be sure to follow her on twitter:  @annastanisz


  1. It was great to have you. Thank you for being a good sport and for the amazingly helpful answers.

  2. Great interview!
    And, Anna, I loved your answer about describing yourself using a book--that's an awesome reference.

    I think the hair envy is funny--and pretty natural. My aunt ironed her curly hair for years, and then when she had a baby and her hair bizarrely turned straight, she couldn't deal and started perming it back to curly. :) Grass isn't always greener. :)

    I want a cat book, Anna!!

    1. Heather, if I wind up writing a cat book, I might have to come over and stalk your cat for research. :-)

  3. Thanks for the great interview, Anna. I would love to hear about your tips for publicizing your books. What have you found that works?

    1. Hm, publicity tips. One thing I've found is that friends (real-life and online ones) are amazing when it comes to spreading the word about a book. Before my books have come out, I've put out a call asking for help (even if it's just a quick mention on a blog) and people have been so willing to help. And, of course, I'm always happy to return the favor!

  4. Just to butt in with a random comment, I speak Polish. I can totally say Staniszewski...but I have no idea how an American would pronounce it.

    1. Oh yay! It's always so nice when someone knows how to actually pronounce my name. The Americanized way is Stan-ih-zoo-ski. :-)

    2. Seriously, would NOT have guessed that. Thanks for the heads up. When I tell people about your awesome books I will try to speak the right language.

  5. Congrats on your new book, Anna Stan-ih-SHEF-ski. :)

  6. What a fun interview. Anna's books sound like so much fun. Can't wait to read them.