Wednesday, February 15, 2012

An Interview with Author Anna Staniszewski

I'm super-pumped (and in garlic-bread eating mood) to share this interview with author Anna Staniszewski. Born in Poland and raised in the United States, Anna Staniszewski grew up loving stories in both Polish and English. She was named the 2006-2007 Writer-in-Residence at the Boston Public Library and a winner of the 2009 PEN New England Susan P. Bloom Discovery Award. Currently, Anna lives outside of Boston with her husband and their adopted black Labrador, Emma. When she’s not writing, Anna spends her time teaching, reading, and challenging unicorns to games of hopscotch. Her first novel, My Very UnFairy Tale Life, was released by Sourcebooks Jabberwocky on November 1, 2011. The sequel, My Way Too Fairy Tale Life, is scheduled for Spring 2013. You can visit her at

What first inspired you to craft My Very Unfairytale Life?

A few years ago, I was working on a dark, depressing story that was sucking the life out of me. I desperately needed something to cheer me up. So I sat down and wrote a scene about a girl named Jenny who comes home from school one day to find a talking frog sitting on her bed. Instead of being scared or excited to see a magical frog, Jenny was annoyed. In fact, she took that frog and threw it right out the window! I knew I had to tell her story.
Can you share a couple of the walls you hit during your writing process, and also a couple of the real full-speed-ahead parts of your writing process for this book?
I'm a total pantser so the story was all over the place in early versions. When I signed with my agent, she helped me to streamline the story, which involved cutting out two major characters and significantly simplifying the plot. She also suggested that I play around with the voice since it wasn't quite working. For years the story had been in third person, but when I decided to try rewriting it in first person, things really came together. I could practically hear Jenny saying: "Finally, you're letting me tell my own story!" Once the manuscript was in her voice, things really started to flow.

Jenny, your protagonist, has a lot of spunk and boldness. Do you find that her personality arose from your own life, from friends, or from other true-to-life examples?

Jenny is the person I wish I could be. She's fearless and outspoken, and she always manages to figure things out. Since I tend to be shy and wimpy, "becoming Jenny" for a little while gave me a chance to break out of my shell.
Can you share your own favorite line from the book?

My favorite line would have to be the opening: "You know all those stories that claim fairies cry sparkle tears and elves travel by rainbow? Lies. All Lies." This opening was the first thing I wrote when I changed the story to first person. Since Jenny was finally ale to tell her own story, this line feels the most like her.

What is one of your favorite books as a five year-old? Another as a ten year-old? Another of your current favorites?
When I was five, I was obsessed with a book of Polish Gypsy fairy tales that I made my parents read to me over and over. I was convinced that one day I'd grow up to be a Gypsy princess.
As a ten-year-old, I particularly loved fantasy and science fiction. One of my favorites was Mrs. Frisby and the Rats of NIMH.

My current favorites? Oh boy, there are so many! I'm still a huge sci-fi fan, but my love of fairy tales and fantasy is still going strong. I love anything that transports me to another time/place and makes me think.
How has the publication of your first novel changed your writing process--if at all?

Before I was published, my writing process was much less structured. I would write even when I had no idea where a story was going; this would often result in stories that stalled after fifty pages and never saw the light of day again. Now I approach projects a little more carefully. I'm still a pantser so I don't completely know where a story is going, but I try to keep the character's emotional journey in mind as I write. I also try to work out the character's main conflicts when I first start writing so I don't get stuck and give up after fifty pages. I'd like to think I make smarter choices as a writer while still giving myself plenty of room to play.