Tuesday, November 1, 2011

Eleven Up: Interview with Anna Staniszewski, author of My Very UnFairy Tale Life

Sourcebooks Jabberwocky: TODAY!
I talked with the delightful Anna Staniszewski, whose middle grade debut, My Very UnFairy Tale Life launches today.  Okay, so the first thing you need to know about this book is that it's immediately engaging.  You can read the first chapter and see what I mean.  After I read that chapter, I just had to ask the following question:
Maybe you could start by giving us a sort of public service announcement.  What is the best thing to do when one is being chased by a herd of unicorns?

This Message Brought to You by the Author:
If you find yourself chased by unicorns, the best thing to do is to run really really fast. And if you have the misfortune of being cornered by unicorns, don't bother trying to reason with them. They only know the word "nay" which doesn't exactly make them great negotiators.

Is your magical kingdom falling apart? Twelve-year-old Jenny is on the case, whether she likes it or not. Saving the world might sound exciting, but for Jenny it’s starting to get old — even staying in the real world long enough to take a math test would be a dream come true! And when you throw in bloodthirsty unicorns, psychotic clowns, and the most useless gnome sidekick ever, Jenny decides that enough is enough. She’s leaving the adventuring business and not looking back. Or…is she?

I love it that Jenny is a strong girl main character, a plucky adventurer.  I also love the concept of a girl whose life is very magical and eventful longing for the life of a regular girl, complete with math tests and well, sleep.  Which of Jenny’s adventures (or misadventures) was your favorite to write?

In the story's main mission, Jenny is asked to travel to a land filled with magical animals and defeat an evil clown. Populating a land with magical animals was so much fun, especially since I was doing my best to annoy Jenny. I kept throwing pretty obnoxious characters at her to see how she would react. I'm not sure she's quite forgiven me yet.

When you were Jenny’s age, who were some of your favorite adventurers, in books or in real life?  What are some of your favorites now?

When I was Jenny's age, I was shy and a total nerd, so my adventures usually happened through books. I loved stories that transported me to other places, magical or otherwise, including Anne of Green Gables, The Secret Garden, and Mrs. Frisby and the Rats of NIMH.

Writing funny stuff is hard—do you have any tips for getting a laugh, or for how you manage to tap into the sense of humor of your audience?   

I'm a total goofball in real life and am always trying to make people laugh (not that I always succeed). When I was writing UnFairy Tale Life, it was a welcome break from other, darker projects. My goal was to make myself laugh. Then I used my husband as a joke-o-meter to tell me if what I had was actually funny. Usually, when something makes him laugh then I know I've done a good job.

Jenny as a character is instantly engaging—she has a snappy voice that keeps the pace quick and the tone light.  How did you go about developing Jenny’s character and voice?  Was there anything surprising about her that came out as you were writing? 

Developing Jenny's voice was a bit of a process. For a long time, the story was written in 3rd person with a snarkier, more mature narrator. But as I went through several revisions with my agent, she pointed out that the voice didn't seem to be working. I finally tried writing the story in 1st person and everything clicked into place. I could almost imagine Jenny saying: "Finally, you're letting me tell my own story! What on earth took you so long?" 

Your website says you’re interested in doing Skype visits with classes.  What kinds of topics might you talk about with a group of students, and how could they prepare for their visit?

I'm happy to do all kinds of visits, from a general Q&A to a more detailed discussion of the writing and publishing process for UnFairy Tale Life. In addition to the book's fairy tale themes, I also think of it as a satirical spin on a traditional quest fantasy. I'd love to see how students feel about the fairy tale and fantasy threads in the story, and how those relate to other books they've read.

I’m super excited about the release of My Very UnFairy Tale Life, but I’ve seen on your blog that you participated in the Camp NaNo project and started working on a picture book, too.  How do you as a writer balance the load of preparing for a release, first-drafting, and working on revising other projects?  Do you stick with one until it’s done or hop between them?  How is it different working on new writing since your debut sold?

Balance? What's that? *twitches* I actually like to work on a few different projects at once since it allows me to keep writing even if I get stuck on one story. I find, though, that juggling different projects works best if they're all at different stages: drafting one, revising another, etc. Otherwise, my brain starts to get too crowded and I have a hard time focusing on anything. As for working on new projects after selling my debut, I do feel like I put a bit more pressure on myself to write something sell-able. I try to hush the business part of my brain and let the creative part have its fun, but I don't always succeed.

And this is, after all the Apocalypsies, so let’s talk about the end of it all.  If the Apocalypse is now, what are your top three reasons why you do NOT want a gnome named Anthony as your sidekick?

This is a very important question. First, Anthony is obsessed with candy to the point where he needs to be munching on it every second. I'm not sure surviving the apocalypse and feeding Anthony's sugar habit are manageable. Second, Anthony rarely takes anything seriously, especially injuries. So if a flesh-eating zombie rips off your arm (in what I assume will be a zombie apocalypse), Anthony would probably just shrug and declare that it's just a scratch. And finally, remember how I said I put characters into the story who would annoy Jenny? Yeah, Anthony is definitely at the top of that list (though he does mean well most of the time). If he annoys Jenny, I have a feeling he'd annoy just about anybody. I'd say it's probably better to brave the apocalypse without a wise-cracking sugar addict by your side.

Thank you so much to Anna Staniszewski, and congratulations on your debut! 


  1. Thanks so much for having me, Elissa! Watch out for those unicorns...

  2. Great interview! Can't wait to read the book. :)

  3. I've been looking forward to Anna's book for a long, long time! It sounds like so much fun. Unicorns can't climb trees, can they?


  4. Aw this was cute, this books sounds perfect for my daughter.

  5. I have to read this book! It looks great. Anna sounds like the kind of person I'd love to hang out and be silly with.