Welcome, everyone, to another Friday Feature. If you've missed any, be sure to check them out over on the right side of my blog. Today, I am more than pleased to introduce Anna Staniszewski. I enjoy hanging out at her informative, professional conglomeration of website and blog. Anna is so genuine and supportive on-line--I feel that I already know her. I'm sure you'll feel the same after this interview!
Born in Poland and raised in the United States, Anna grew up enjoying stories in both Polish and English. After studying theater in college, she worked at the Eric Carle Museum where she rediscovered her love of children’s books. She’s been scribbling furiously ever since. Anna lives south of Boston and teaches at Simmons College. She is represented by Ammi-Joan Paquette of the Erin Murphy Literary Agency.
Welcome, Anna. Thanks so much for the interview today! What are you currently working on?
I like to have a couple projects going at once so if I get stuck on one, I have something else to obsess about. Right now I’m revising a funny MG adventure about a girl who zips around the universe helping various magical creatures. I’ve also been hacking my way through my NaNoWriMo project; it’s a YA fairy tale retelling based on Polish Gypsy folklore.
What made you start to write seriously?
Shortly after finishing grad school, I got the amazing news that I’d been chosen to be the Writer-in-Residence at the Boston Public Library. I was given my own writing space and expected to spend twenty hours a week working on a novel. After nine months of putting to use what I’d learned in my MFA program, I turned in a completed manuscript. It was the first time I felt like I could officially call myself a writer, and the experience got me in the very useful habit of writing almost every day.
Anna, in 2009, you signed with an agent. You went into depth about it in a recent blog post. Recap for us, so people don't have to click away just yet.
It took me over a year to find an agent, and it was definitely a journey. I went into the process pretty naive, not having done all that much research. I queried an agent I'd heard at a conference and miraculously got a request for a full. Unfortunately, I never heard back. I queried another agent who was recommended to me by a friend. He asked for a revision, gave me some good advice, but ultimately passed. At that point I realized I'd need to do my homework if I was going to find an agent, so I researched a lot and revised my manuscript and my query over and over. In all that time, I never stopped writing, and it's a good thing because it was a second manuscript that finally changed my luck. In the end I got offers of representation from two agents (which left me in shock after so many rejections!) and I wound up going with my gut and signing with Ammi-Joan Paquette.
How has your writing life changed since you signed with your agent?
Since I signed with Joan in June, we've been working on submitting a couple of projects and revising a couple more. In that time, I think my writing has gotten stronger because I have someone who can give me very specific feedback on how to make my manuscripts better. I've also become more aware of what a manuscript needs in order to be submission-ready. Finally, it's been great to have someone as invested in my writing as I am! It makes the writing process feel a little less lonely.
If you had to pick one favorite blog, what would it be?
Oh dear. I feel like I’m drowning in blogs these days! But if I had to pick one, I guess I’d have to say Pub Rants. It was one of the first publishing blogs I followed regularly. I love how honest Kristin Nelson is about her work as an agent and about her thoughts on the publishing industry. I always learn something new from her posts.
What is a favorite blog post that you have written?
I just finished a post that was a lot of fun to write; it’s a list of comedy writing tips based on the rules of improvisational theater. I’d never realized before how much crossover there is between the two kinds of comedy. It was interesting to see improv rules like “Don’t deny anything!” applied to fiction.
What online resource have you found most helpful?
I don’t know what I’d do without Verla Kay’s Blue Boards; everyone there is so knowledgeable and supportive. Writing tends to bring out my hermit-like tendencies, so it’s nice to have a place to chat with fellow children’s book writers who know exactly what I’m going through and who squeal along with me when I get some good news.
What has been your biggest trial in writing?
Being patient and positive! You can’t rush things in writing. Something may feel “done” to you, but then you go back a few weeks later and notice a slew of gaping holes. Then your critique group reads it and points out a million more flaws. And that’s only the writing part! Once you get into finding an agent and trying to get published, then you really need to learn patience. There are so many ups and downs in the process that it can be easy to get discouraged and wonder why you’re doing this to yourself. At those times, I have to remember that I love writing and that’s why I keep doing it.
What tricks have you acquired to make you write or create when you don’t feel up to writing?
I’ve learned that goals and deadlines are my friends. I give myself word count goals and specific dates by which to send chapters to my beta readers. Also, entering contests has been a great way to push my writing along. If I’m having a particularly hard time focusing, I use what I call the Egg Timer Method: I set an egg-timer for thirty minutes, shut off everything else (Twitter, email, etc.), and force myself to just concentrate on writing. Anyone can focus for a half hour, right?
Anna--tell us about a book that has impacted your writing life.
The Giver by Lois Lowry is one of my all-time favorite books. Every time I read it, I’m amazed all over again by the quality of the writing. The way Lowry brings us into the world at the beginning of the story and lets it develop around us is amazing. Whenever I’m feeling uninspired or stuck, I go back and reread a few chapters and it gets me going again.
What is your practical goal with your writing? Do you have a reach-for-the-stars goal that you would like to share?
Well, obviously I’d love a few shiny book contracts in my future. But as far as long-term goals go: You know those books that stay with you for days after you’ve finished reading them? I would be ecstatic if my writing had that kind of impact on someone.
So far, what has been the best part of your writing experience?
People who write children’s books are probably some of the nicest people in the world. Thanks to writing classes, critique groups, and online communities (like the Blue Boards and the Enchanted Inkpot) I’ve met writers who love the same books and enjoy thinking about the same topics I do. It makes my inner dork dance with joy.
If you could be a character in a book, and live within their world, what character would you be?
I would want to be a slightly less know-it-all version of Hermione Granger and live in the Hogwarts library. Actually, if I can cheat a little, I’d like it to be a cross between the Hogwarts library and the library in Garth Nix’s Lirael – then it would be a super magical library! I’d probably never leave there, except maybe to go get some butter beer.
And, just because I’m curious, coffee or tea?
I could drink tea all day. The moment cold weather hits, I have a mug of hot tea practically glued to my hand. I have a completely unproven theory that warm, soothing liquids help the words flow.
Everyone--Please make Anna feel at home and leave her a question in the comments--she'll be stopping by to answer them!