I recently had the pleasure of reading Anna Staniszewski’s debut middle-grade novel, MY VERY UNFAIRY TALE LIFE. What a fun read, filled with adventure, imagination, and a strong female character. All the qualities that I looked for when I was a book-devouring kid. I’m sure readers will enjoy following Jenny’s adventures and misadventures as she breaks up unicorn fights, fights evil magic, and struggles to save the citizens of Speak. Today, I interview author Anna Staniszewski, followed by Wednesday’s interview with Assistant Editor at Sourcebooks, Aubrey Poole, to learn all about this book and its path to publication. But first, here’s the lowdown from the jacket copy:
I’ve spent my life as an official adventurer. I travel across enchanted kingdoms saving magical creatures and fighting horrible beasts that most of you think are only myths and legends. I’ve never had a social life. My friends have all forgotten me. And let’s not even talk about trying to do my homework. So-I’m done!! I’m tired and I want to go back to being a normal girl. But then along comes “Prince Charming” asking for help, and, well, what’s a tired girl like me supposed to do?
LBS: Welcome, Anna! I know that sometimes debut novels take a long time to get in proper shape for publication. When did you start writing MY VERY UNFAIRY TALE LIFE and how long did it take you to find an agent and then a publisher?
AS: I first started working on MY VERY UNFAIRY TALE LIFE in late 2006. I’d been writing a dark, depressing YA project that was really getting me down, and I was in desperate need of a change of pace. I sat down and wrote a scene about a girl named Jenny who comes home from school to find a talking frog sitting on her bed. I wasn’t sure what the girl’s story was, but she was so spunky that I was eager to find out more about her. Over the next several months, whenever I was stuck on the YA project, I would come back to Jenny and continue telling her story. In 2009, about three years after I first started working on the project, I signed with my agent with a different manuscript. When I told her about this manuscript, she liked the idea and helped me whip it into shape. I was ecstatic when it sold to Sourcebooks in the summer of 2010. It’s been a long journey, but definitely a rewarding one!
LBS: What was the revision process like before and after you had an editor?
AS: As I mentioned above, I did quite a bit of revising with my agent. During that process, I cut out two major characters and significantly simplified the plot. Once I started revising with my editor, I focused a lot on fleshing out the story, especially the minor characters. I also wound up rewriting the ending to increase the tension and drama. Something I learned along the way: the longer you work on a funny project, the more the humor wears off on you. I felt like I had to keep “upping the funny” throughout the process just to keep myself laughing, and I think it made the story more entertaining in the end.
LBS: I understand you had a few changes of the guard while at Sourcebooks. How did that work?
AS: The manuscript sold to Rebecca Frazer, though I wound up working with both her and Aubrey Poole throughout the process. Rebecca recently left Sourcebooks to study writing at Oxford (aren’t you jealous?) but luckily that happened after the book was pretty much completed. The Sourcebooks team has been amazingly supportive, so the transition has been very smooth.
LBS: Have you been surprised by any aspect of the publishing process?
AS: I was really surprised by how stressful copyedits were for me. I usually love revisions, big and small, but because I tend to be a perfectionist, copyedits fed into my neurotic tendencies just a little too much. I was very glad to have a deadline; otherwise, I could have continued agonizing over words and commas for years!
LBS: How has life changed since your book debuted this fall?
AS: The biggest change is the fact that my writing is on display more than it ever has been before. I’ve always been a bit shy about sharing my work, only letting my critique partners read it in its early stages. Even my family had hardly read anything I’d written before. Now my story is out there in the world for everyone to read! It’s been a bit of a shift for me, but getting positive responses from readers has made it less scary. I even heard from a girl who hadn’t liked reading before she picked up my book, and now she can’t wait to read more. I can’t imagine anything more rewarding than that!
Wow, what a great fan letter, Anna. That’s the ultimate compliment. I’m sure a lot of writers can relate to this interview, from balancing multiple projects to trying to “feel” the humor in a story that you’ve been looking at for years. Congratulations on your debut novel, and thank you for stopping by to share your story!