First I have some winners to announce.
The winner of DARKFALL is:
And the winner of CROSSED is:
Congrats! E-mail me your addresses so I can send you your books.
Today I’m excited to interview Anna Staniszewski about her debut book MY VERY UNFAIRY TALE LIFE. One of the things I loved about this book was that it was not only a fantasy, which you know I love, but it was also funny. You get the sense it’s going to make you laugh right away from the cover.
Here’s a description from Goodreads:
"You know all those stories that claim fairies cry sparkle tears and elves travel by rainbow? They're lies. All lies."—Twelve-year-old Jenny has spent the last two years as an adventurer helping magical kingdoms around the universe. But it's a thankless job, leaving her no time for school or friends. She'd almost rather take a math test than rescue yet another magical creature! When Jenny is sent on yet another mission, she has a tough choice to make: quit and have her normal life back, or fulfill her promise and go into a battle she doesn't think she can win.
Hi Anna. Thanks so much for joining us.
1. Tell us a little about yourself and how you became a writer.
I was born in Poland and raised in the US, so I grew up loving stories in both Polish and English (especially fairy tales). After studying theater at Sarah Lawrence College, I worked at the Eric Carle Museum of Picturebook Art where I realized my true calling: children’s books. I went on to study writing for children at Simmons College and left the program determined to become a “real writer.” Being chosen as the 2006-2007 Writer-in-Residence at the Boston Public Library and a 2009 winner of the PEN New England Susan P. Bloom Discovery Award gave me the courage to keep pursuing my writing dreams. All that work finally paid off when I signed with my agent, Ammi-Joan Paquette, in 2009 and sold my debut novel to Sourcebooks a year later. Currently, I teach at Simmons College and live outside of Boston with my husband and our adorably insane black Labrador, Emma.
2. Wow! You’ve had an interesting life that I’m sure you must draw on in your writing. You’ve chosen to use humor and clichés, both magical and ones that pops out of Jenny’s mouth on occasion in your story. Why did you decide on these and what challenges did you find in making them fit your story? And are you funny in real life?
As I was working on My Very UnFairy Tale Life, I wanted to play with the role of the traditional fantasy hero who’s whisked off to another land to save the day. I liked the idea of a hero who’s been saving the day for years now, and is sick and tired of it. What better weapon to give her in a stereotypical quest than the power of cheesy sayings?
I did find that it was difficult to come up with clichés for Jenny to say in various situations; I didn’t want to force them into scenes, so I had to try out different ones to find ones that fit. I never thought I’d be Googling “cheesy sayings” but you never know where book research will take you!
Am I funny in real life? Well, I’m a total goofball and love making people laugh. I’m also a huge lover of puns, as is my husband; in fact, the mutual friend who introduced us told me: “You both like puns, so I think you’ll get along.” He was right.
3. Well, you’d never guess from reading your book that you had any trouble coming up with the humor. I’m no good at it so it’d be torture for me. That’s awesome you share your love of puns with your husband.
Besides questioning being a superhero, Jenny has to face some pretty hard challenges in her real world. Tell us a bit about how you developed Jenny’s internal struggles.
When I started to learn more about Jenny, I realized she was very isolated. Her parents disappeared when she was young, so she lives with a guardian who doesn’t understand her. Her friends have long since abandoned her, so all Jenny has is her adventures which don’t make her happy anymore. Not only is Jenny lonely but she’s also unsure of her identity and place in the world. I realized there was much more depth to her than her sly humor and cheesy sayings.
4. I loved that Jenny’s enemy is a crazy clown sorcerer and that his evil fortress is circus tent. That’s so original. Where’d you get the idea for him?
To be honest, I’m not really sure. When I was first writing the scene in which Jenny meets the bad guy, I hadn’t quite figured out his identity. But when Jenny saw him unmasked for the first time, I guess one of my subconscious fears came out because suddenly she was faced with a super creepy clown.
5. Interesting how it just sort of came to you. Your agent is Ammi-Joan Paquette. Tell us about your journey to find an agent and to publication.
When I first started querying agents, I had no clue what I was doing. I also had a manuscript that was not ready. I finally did my research and learned the right way to write a query letter, and I also kept working on new manuscripts until I had one that was strong enough to catch an agent’s attention. In the midst of the querying process, I was lucky enough to meet Joan at a PEN New England reception, and I saw right away what a great person she was. When she was as excited about my manuscript as I was (a book that, sadly, never sold) I knew we were a good fit. She’s been an amazing mentor and cheerleader ever since.
6. That’s awesome that you got to meet Joan at a conference before you picked her as your agent. What was the revision process like with your editor? Do you have any tips on tackling revisions suggested by your editor?
When I revised the manuscript with my agent, I spent a lot of time cutting out unnecessary subplots and characters. By the time the book got to my editor, it was almost too slim. That meant much of the revision process involved fleshing scenes out. I also rewrote the ending after my editor pointed out that the ending didn’t feel “big” enough. She was absolutely right. I went back and completely rewrote the last few chapters to try to make the ending bigger and more satisfying. One tip I took away from that revision is that the ending should never be too easy for your character; we as readers need to feel like there’s a real possibility the character won’t succeed.
7. So interesting that your book was too short. Most of us struggle with the opposite problem of having too many words. That’s a great tip about endings. How are you marketing your book? Do you have any advice for aspiring authors?
Much of my marketing has been online. I’ve been blogging, Facebookin, and Twittering for a while, so I’ve met some wonderful and supportive people that way. I’m also involved in online communities such as The Enchanted Inkpot, The Elevensies, and The Blueboards.
Everyone I’ve met along the way has been amazing in helping me spread the word about the book. When I asked a few of my real-life and online friends to take part in an informal ARC tour, I was so grateful at how eager they were to help. Marketing-savvy people always talk about the importance of making personal connections, and I’ve found that to be absolutely true. If people know you on some level, they’re much more likely to help spread the word about your book. And, of course, you have to be willing to return the favor.
8. Yes, you’re right. It’s so important to pay it forward and help other authors. What are you working on now?
I have a few different things in the works: a light middle grade fantasy, a somewhat bizarre picture book, and a dark, fairy-tale-inspired YA novel.
Thanks Anna for all your great advice. Good luck with your debut. You can find Anna at her blog and website.
Anna’s publisher generously offered an ARC for a giveaway. All you need to do is be a follower (just click the follow button if you’re not a follower) and leave a comment by midnight on November 12th. I’ll announce the winner on November 14th. If your e-mail is not on Blogger, please list it in your comment. International entries are welcome.
If you mention this contest on your blog, Twitter, or Facebook, please let me know in the comments and I’ll give you an extra entry.
Marvelous Middle Grade Mondays was started by Shannon Whitney Messenger to spotlight middle grade authors. Check it out here.
And check out these other Marvelous Monday Middle Grade Reviewers:
Anita Laydon Miller
Kit Lit Frenzy
Here’s what’s coming up the next few weeks. Next Monday I’m interviewing Adam Jay Epstein and Andrew Jacobson and giving away a copy of THE FAMILIARS SECRETS OF THE CROWN. On November 14th, I’ll be interviewing debut author DJ DeSmyter and giving away a copy of HUNTED. Then on November 21st, I’m interviewing a teenager from Asia who blogs for my Ask the Expert series and doing another book giveaway.
Hope to see you next week!