Born in Poland and raised in the United States, Anna Staniszewski grew up loving stories in both Polish and English. She was named the 2006-2007 Writer-in-Residence at the Boston Public Library and a winner of the 2009 PEN New England Susan P. Bloom Discovery Award. Currently, Anna lives outside of Boston with her husband and their adopted black Labrador, Emma. When she’s not writing, Anna spends her time teaching, reading, and challenging unicorns to games of hopscotch. Visit her at www.annastan.com.
1. MY EPIC FAIRY TALE FAIL is the second book in a trilogy – notoriously a huge challenge for writers. What was the biggest challenge of writing book two of Jenny’s story?
I was thrilled to be able to send Jenny on another adventure, but figuring out how to start that adventure was a challenge. The original opening I wrote for the book was jam-packed with background info that I thought readers would need to know. The result was a first chapter that was BORING. Finally, I let go of trying to fill readers in and just focused on making the opening fun and engaging. I think the end result was much better.
As I was working on the sequel, I realized I was feeling even more pressure than with the first book. Not only was I putting pressure on myself to write a book I could be proud of, but I also couldn’t help thinking about other people: my editor, readers who enjoyed the first book, etc.
I didn’t want to let anyone down. That pressure was a little paralyzing. What I had to do was try to quiet all those voices and just focus on writing the best book I could.
3. Jenny often finds herself in what seem like classic fairy tale worlds…but there’s always a Shrek-style twist. What fairy tales were your favorites as a kid? Did any of those inspire the worlds Jenny visits?
As a kid, I was obsessed with a collection of Polish Gypsy folktales that were filled with strange creatures and mysterious magical beings. I think those stories really stuck with me, since I find iterations of those creatures appearing in my novels.
(If you need proof that I was obsessed with these tales, here’s a photo of me at age five or so, dressed as a Gypsy princess.)
As an adult, I discovered the tale “East of the Sun, West of the Moon” which features a heroine who has to go on a quest to save her prince. I think that girl-power message also found its way into Jenny’s story.
4. Tell us a little about how you came up with this idea of a reluctant adventurer. Now that you’re working on wrapping the series up, is it pretty different from what you first envisioned when Jenny popped into your head?
The first scene I ever wrote of the book was about Jenny coming home from school to find a talking frog sitting on her bed. What really struck me about Jenny was how annoyed she was at the sight of this frog–she actually chucked him out a window! I instantly fell in love with her spunky character and wanted to find out more about her.
I suspect part of the inspiration for the series came from all the fantasy novels I’ve read throughout my life. I love stories of an average person having to save a magical world. But I started to wonder: What if you had to save the world EVERY DAY. Wouldn’t you get so sick of it? And thus, the idea of a reluctant adventurer was born.
The main thing that’s evolved throughout the series is Jenny’s relationship with her parents. Originally, I just had them out of the picture and had Jenny living with her aunt. I didn’t plan on exploring what had happened to her mom and dad. But as the story developed, I realized that the parent thread was an important one, and it became even more important as I started planning the sequels.
5. What are a few of your favorite fantasy books? And outside of fantasy, what other genres do you love as a reader?
Of course, I love anything related to fairy tales: Ella Enchanted is one of my favorites. Really, any story that takes me to another time or place (whether it’s sci-fi, historical, etc.) is right up my alley. Some examples: The Giver, The True Meaning of Smekday, and Princess Academy.
The next few questions are for 12 year old Anna!
I want to be a teacher, a ballerina, and a writer just like Beverly Cleary.
2. Who’s your best friend, and who’s your worst enemy?
It’s hard to choose one best friend, but I have a really tight group of friends–two of them are named Sara! As for my worst enemy, I don’t want to name any names, but there’s a certain popular girl who is totally evil.
3. If you could be any character in a book, who would you want to be?
I’d want to be Anne Shirley from Anne of Green Gables. She gets to live in a beautiful place and go around spouting poetry all the time. Plus, I’d love to have long, red hair.
Thanks so much for stopping by, Anna!
Have you checked out the trailer for MY EPIC FAIRY TALE FAIL yet?
Jenny’s stories have classic fairy tale elements with a modern (and often hilarious!) twist. They’re great to use in the classroom! Amanda and I have put together free, downloadable book club packets for both books, with classroom questions, Mad Libs, creative writing exercises, and more fun activities! Check ’em out!