Friday, January 15, 2010

Friday Feature: Journeys Toward Publication and Beyond: Anna Staniszewski

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!


  1. Wow--that's two weeks now that The Giver was mentioned in a Friday Feature. That's going to the top of my must-read list.

    Anna--Thanks for being here today!

    A friend and I drooled over that Writer-in-Residence sign when we saw it at the Boston Public Library--can you tell me a little bit about what that experience was like?

  2. I love hearing the stories of how writers get their agents because it seems every time it's a unique story.

  3. What a great interview! Anna, you've really raised my spirits! I'm right in the middle of getting 'you're writing is great and I'm sure another agent will snap you up, but I'll pass' rejections. It's great to get support from agents who pass, but it's hard not to despair when nobody 'snaps' you up immediately.

  4. Heather, thanks SO much for having me! The BPL Writer-in-Residence experience was amazing. Besides forcing me to write consistently, the fellowship also encouraged me to use the library's resources for research. It was the first time I'd ever done any real research for a book, and I learned so much about that process. I applied for the fellowship on a whim, never thinking I'd actually get it. I'm so thankful they chose me and helped me start to see myself as an actual writer. I encourage anyone who's in or near Boston to apply!

    Thanks A. Grey! I've definitely been there with the "so close but not quite" rejections, and in a way I think those are the most frustrating because you're not sure what else you can be doing. The only thing you really can do is to just keep trying and keep writing! Good luck to you!

  5. Loved this! It was wonderful to learn more about Anna. And your questions were thoughtful. Well done!

  6. Anna--what a great experience the writer-in-residence must have been. I think that one of the biggest stumbling blocks for new writers is not feeling like a writer.

    And, I'm interested to try your egg timer technique--I use it to get my kids to clean their toys--I never thought I could use it to get myself to focus on writing. Great idea!

  7. Great interview, Anna. I'm sure we'll be reading your books soon!

  8. Anna, great interview! I went right over to read your improv post. I love that idea. I usually think the rules for improv work so well in life but the idea of applying it to fiction seem really fruitful. I especially like "don't deny anything." In life anyway--I'll have to try with my fiction.

    I wanted to ask: What is your revision process with a NaNoWriMo draft? Have you done it more than once?

  9. Thanks Tina! This year was my second time doing NaNo, so I feel like I'm in slightly more familiar territory this time around.
    Here's the overall revision process:
    1. Finish book November and put it aside for at least a week or two.
    2. Go back and read it over, making notes on things that need to change (like clarifying plot elements and cutting out parts that overstate the obvious).
    3. Revise.
    4. Send to beta reader and wait for comments. (I'm in that stage right now.)
    5. Consider comments and revise.
    6. Send to another beta reader or to my critique group.
    7. Revise.
    8. Send to agent (and get ready to revise some more!)

    Last year, I didn't have an agent yet, so the last step of that process was: query agents with new novel. Luckily, I found a couple who actually liked it. :-)

  10. Anna, Great Interview! Thanks for your emphasis on being patient and positive. Both are so important. Good luck with your submissions!

  11. Hey Heather and Anna, great interview! It was nice getting to know Anna better as I am one of her loyal blog readers. Anna, did you get your MFA in writing? What do you teach at Simmons college?

  12. Hi Karen! I got a dual degree from Simmons - an MA in Children's Literature and an MFA in Writing for Children. I've taught a few different courses, all writing and children's lit related, but this year I'm teaching classes on writing for children (which has been a lot of fun).

  13. What a great interview, Anna! It was lovely learning more about you and your writing journey!!! Why wasn't I already following your blog? I don't know!

    Heather, I loved THE GIVER. I thought about it for DAYS after I read it.

  14. Thanks for posting the interview with Anna. She's the best. A really nice person who shares her passion for writing with others.

  15. Wow Anna! No wonder I get so much from your thoughtful posts!

  16. Great interview!! I clearly need to read "The Giver" again—it's been a LONG time.

    And three cheers for tea!!

  17. Casey--I'm looking forward to checking out the Giver. And I'm glad you enjoyed the interview!

  18. Karen--I'm glad I could spotlight Anna. She is so supportive to other writers!

  19. karenb--Anna certainly has a strong educational background in writing!

  20. Joanna--Thanks for coming by! More praise for the Giver--how did I miss that book?

  21. Great interview, and isn't her smile beautiful?!

  22. Anita--Anna's all around beautiful!

  23. Okay, you guys are seriously making me blush. Thanks so much for all your questions and comments! :-)

  24. Great interview Anna! Nice to learn the details of your writing journey! My fingers are crossed for a book sale for you this year!

  25. What a great interview! Thanks for sharing your writing journey, Anna, and to you, Heather, for the interview.

  26. Kiki--Welcome. That would be great for Anna to have a book contract soon!

  27. Heather--Thanks for stopping by! I'm always so happy to find out more about the people behind the blogs... I love these interviews, and Anna was very forthcoming about her journey.


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