Posted by annastan on October 15th, 2014 | 4 Comments »

Things have been a little quiet around here lately while I’ve been in the revision cave for I’M WITH CUPID which is due back to my editor next week. But I have some (slightly overdue) news! POWER DOWN, LITTLE ROBOT has an official cover!

Power Down Robot final cover

And I even got advance copies in the mail. (Here’s the front and back of one of them.)

little robot arcs

Now that I’ve seen the almost-finished product in all its adorableness, March can’t come soon enough!

What’s new with you guys?

NESCBWI Encore Presentation

Posted by annastan on September 29th, 2014 | 1 Comment »

This weekend, I was thrilled to take part in NESCBWI Encore at Rhode Island College. It’s a jam-packed day of a handful of workshops that were originally presented during the spring conference. For the event, I took my 2-hour workshop from last time and–after some head-scratching–managed to boil it down to a 1-hour presentation.

I promised the attendees that I’d post my PowerPoint, so for them (or for anyone else who might be interested) here is the presentation of 7 common writing missteps and how to avoid them:

Common Writing Missteps

(Note: I’ll keep this presentation up for the next month or so.)

It was a long but inspiring day, and I’m excited to put some of the nuggets of wisdom to use as I dig into revising I’M WITH CUPID this week.

Happy writing!

Should Your Characters Be You?

Posted by annastan on September 23rd, 2014 | 5 Comments »

In my writing class this semester, my students and I have been talking a lot about ways to create believable characters. One of our recent discussions was rooted in this quote from Emotional Structure by Peter Dunne:

Your hero should be a lot like you since his emotional truth is your emotional truth. If your hero is not like you, then stop and go back until he is.

I’ve been thinking a lot about this statement since it caused some disagreement in my class. Some authors clearly write characters who are very much like them, and some even create a reputation for themselves doing it (Jack Gantos, for example). But if all your characters are like you, don’t you run the risk of making them all blend together?

When I think back to the characters I’ve worked on in my projects, I realize that they tend to be pretty different. Jenny in the UnFairy Tale books is brave and feisty, qualities that I may only possess in tiny quantities. But she also struggles with loneliness and the desire to fit in, both emotions that I can relate to. Rachel from the The Dirt Diary is painfully shy and always doing/saying the wrong thing, something I can definitely identify with. Both of these characters embody some elements of my personality while still having plenty of their own characteristics.

For the new characters I’ve been working on, I realize the same holds true. They might not be like me overall, but there are tidbits of me in them: fears, desires, or emotions. I think that’s what helps them feel like real people, even if the context for those emotional truths is completely different from that in my own life.

As Orson Scott Card says in Characters and Viewpoint, we like characters who are like us, but we’re also bored if they’re too much like us. We like to find tidbits we can relate to, but we also like to read about characters who do and say things that surprise us.

So I guess I do overall agree with Peter Dunne’s statement, but the emotional truth he talks about seems like it could be a mere nugget in the character, enough to make him/her feel like a real human being without making the character simply a carbon copy of its author.

How much of yourself do you put into your characters?

Some Recent Reads

Posted by annastan on September 16th, 2014 | 1 Comment »

Look what arrived on my doorstep last week: advance copies of THE GOSSIP FILE! How is this book a real thing? How is it coming out in January? And how is it possible that the whole series is totally out of my hands??

In other news, my reading luck has continued! Here are a few books I’ve enjoyed recently:

Veronica Mars: The Thousand Dollar Tan Line by Rob Thomas and Jennifer Graham

It’s the Veronica Mars book. Need I say more? Okay, I will. I have to admit it was a bit of an adjustment to read about these characters instead of watching them, but I loved slipping back into the Mars world, and the mystery in this novel was extremely well-plotted. I’m excited for the next installment which comes out in October.

Breathe, Annie, Breathe by Miranda Kenneally

I believe I’ve read all of Miranda’s books thus far (published by Sourcebooks–yay!) and this one, about a girl who’s training for a marathon in honor of her ex-boyfriend who died in a car accident, might be my favorite so far. The characters were well-developed, and I just loved how genuine the emotional journey felt.

Isla and the Happily Ever After by Stephanie Perkins

I really enjoyed the other two books in this series, so I was hoping this one delivered, and it did. As usual, Stephanie creates characters who are flawed and interesting and real, and the romance is sweet and full of twists and turns. This one did feel a bit melodramatic to me at times, but that actually seemed to go with the main character’s personality. I’ll be looking forward to whatever comes next for this author!

What have you been reading?


Posted by annastan on September 9th, 2014 | 9 Comments »

I’m excited to feature a guest post today by my agency mate, Jeannie Mobley, who is one of the sweetest and funniest authors I know. Her newest book, Searching for Silverheels, just released last week! Here is Jeannie’s advice on creating strong female characters in historical fiction.

When Anna asked me to drop by and talk about strong female characters, I said, “Sure! I’d love to.” Then I sat down to write the post and thought, “Wait. What do I know about strong female characters?!”

So I did what all strong female characters do. I panicked, ran away, and hoped the post would write itself. When it didn’t, I waited for the Strong-Female-Character Fairy to drop by with her magic wand and *ting!* bestow a brilliant flash of knowledge upon me which I could then pour out onto the page. I even left the windows open for her. No luck. Stupid fairy.

So, with a deep sigh, I realized I was going to have to push through and find the answers to my dilemma within myself. Resigning myself to hard work and perseverance, I sat down at the computer to really dig in and think about what constitutes a strong female character.


The silly thing about my panic is that I’ve thought plenty about this before. In fact, the reason Anna suggested I come talk about it is that my newest book, SEARCHING FOR SILVERHEELS revolves around the theme of what makes women strong. It’s a theme I’ve been particularly interested in as a writer of historical fiction, because let’s face it, in the long and glorious history of the English language, in which phrases like “the weaker sex,” “you throw/run/scream/cry like a girl,” and “man up,” abound, the phrase “strong female” has been something of an oxymoron. It is significant, I think, that nobody is asking advice about how to write a strong male character.

And yet down through the centuries, hidden behind all those linguistic insults, women have been scrubbing laundry, feeding big households three square meals a day, surviving high infant mortality rates and the toll it took on their bodies, keeping the home fires burning while sending their sons, husbands and brothers to war, raising kids when their men walk out on them, plowing and harvesting the fields right next to their husbands, standing up for their rights in powerless situations….

Frankly, being the weaker sex has been damn hard work.

And yes, over those years there have been ladies whose entire job was to sit  and embroider cushions, smelling salts at hand, while their husbands were slaving away at the billiards table. But in the grand scheme of things, women haven’t exactly been slackers, whether or not history has valued their labor and their emotional strength.

So when I set out  in SEARCHING FOR SILVERHEELS to write female characters who were debating the truth behind a legendary Colorado woman, I didn’t think about how to make my women strong. I only had to think about how to highlight and celebrate all the ways that women already are strong.

One of the difficulties I faced, however, is that history has not only masked the hard work of women, but it has shaped our very idea of what constitutes strength around the ideals of masculine strength. A strong man is a stoic man, history tells us. A man who can hide his feelings or perhaps doesn’t even have them. A woman, on the other hand, is the “weaker sex” with her effusive motherly love, empathy, and nurturing behavior. But whose to say that being nurturing, loving and empathetic, pouring yourself into the well-being of others, isn’t strength too? Why as a society do we define hiding emotion as “strong” and expressing emotion as “weak?”

While writing SEARCHING FOR SILVERHEELS, I spent some time in the historic cemetery of the town where the story is set, and saw this grave marker. It is a four-sided monument, inscribed on all four sides. On each side is the name of a child, ages 9, 7, 3 and 8 months, 1 day. All dead of an infectious disease within a two week span in 1888.


You think being a mother doesn’t take enormous strength?

Me neither.

So, here’s what I’ve learned about writing strong female characters. Write real female characters.  They don’t have to be tom-boys to be strong. They don’t have to reject the feminine and embrace the masculine (although they can if they want to.) They can be pretty or plain, they can like boys, they can curl their hair and worry about their appearance. They can even be gushy or giggly or flirty. Because the world is full of real girls and real women who do all those things.

Make them real–with loves and doubts and fears. Then put them in a sticky situation and let them find their own way out of it. Let their traits, feminine or masculine, silly or serious, be their strengths to get them through. Because strength can take a lot of forms. But if you let your characters find the answers within themselves, and the strength of will to act on those answers and succeed, you will have written a strong character. And if you’ve given them traits that girls have, really have, then your readers will see themselves in the book. And if you have written a real girl, whose actually girly, and she has the strength to succeed, then you have sent a real girl reader a message that she can be a girl AND be strong. She doesn’t have to emulate a man. Being a strong female is not an oxymoron!

So go on, give it a try.

Let a mother’s overwhelming love for her children turn her into a hero.

Let a suffragist’s sense of injustice drive her to acts of personal sacrifice.

Let a young, romantically-minded girl realize for herself that her own opinions matter more to her than the attentions of some handsome, dominating young gentleman.

(Um. Actually, before you do all of the above, you might want to read SEARCHING FOR SILVERHEELS first. Just, you know, so that our books don’t look exactly alike.)

Love, hate, beauty, ugliness, wisdom, intelligence, grit, passion. There are so many traits in the world that can–and do–make people strong. People of every sex, color, race, creed. Give those traits to your female characters, turn them loose in the world, and let them soar.

And for God’s sake, someone make a T-shirt that says “Being a strong female is not an oxymoron!” (And cut me in on the profits.)

headshot 1

Jeannie Mobley writes middle grade and YA fiction. Her debut novel, KATERINA’S WISH (Margaret K. McElderry Books), won the 2013 Colorado Book Award, is on the 2014-2015 William Allen White Award Master List, and represented Colorado at the 2013 National Book Festival.  Her second novel, SEARCHING FOR SILVERHEELS, released September 2, 2014. When not writing or reading fiction, Jeannie is a mother, wife, lover of critters, and a professor of anthropology. Jeannie is represented by Erin Murphy of the Erin Murphy Literary Agency.

Where Do You Get Your Writing Confidence?

Posted by annastan on August 26th, 2014 | 4 Comments »

A while back, while a critique partner and I were talking about my upcoming book projects, she asked me, “How do you write so many books without doubting yourself? Where do you get your confidence?”

I laughed in surprise at her question because I don’t consider myself a terribly confident person; in fact, I tend to be very anxious and insecure. But when I thought about it some more, I realized that my “writing confidence” comes from a few different sources.

1. Writing quickly. I tend to draft very quickly not because I particularly enjoy it but because it’s the only way I can stay ahead of the self-doubt that would otherwise paralyze me and make me stop. I have much more confidence in my revising abilities than I do in my drafting abilities, so the sooner I can get to the revision stage, the better.

2. Always improving my craft. I’m always trying to find ways to strengthen my writing, whether that’s through reading craft books, attending conferences, or trying out new techniques. The more tools I have in my writing arsenal, the more I trust that I’ll be able to figure out the trickiest problems.

3. Accepting that failure might be an option. Another friend asked me the other day if I’d ever given up on a project based on someone else’s feedback, and I admitted that I had. Sometimes a story is not your best work, no matter how much you want it to be. And some ideas are not salvageable. That’s okay. This isn’t a personal failing. It’s  the nature of creativity. If I’ve tried everything I can think of and things still aren’t working, I give myself permission to put something away.

Where do you get YOUR writing confidence?

Vacation Reading Highlights

Posted by annastan on August 19th, 2014 | 4 Comments »

If you’re in the Cambridge, Mass. area on Sept 6, stop by Porter Square Books at 3pm for a “Middle Grade Mavens” event with yours truly and fellow children’s book authors Jen Malone, Dana Levy, and Jennifer Mann. It should be a great time!

I’m back from my cruise, and I must say that it was fantastic. We snorkeled and ate (and ate and ate) and managed to survive a whole week without internet access! I also got a bunch of reading done. Here are some highlights:

Loop by Karen Akins

Since I’ve been tinkering with a time travel book of my own, it’s been interesting to check out other titles in the genre. While the time travel details left me a little confused at times, I really enjoyed the voice and the fast-paced nature of the story.

Famous Last Words by Katie Alender

I’m usually not a big fan of murder mysteries, but if you throw in a ghost, I’m sold. This book really sucked me in, to the point where I spent the last day of our cruise in my cabin, frantically reading. I’m very curious to read other books by this author, particularly Marie Antionette, Serial Killer, which has one of the best titles I’ve heard in a long time!

The First Fifteen Lives of Harry August by Claire North

When I first heard about this grown-up book about time travel, I knew it was a story my husband would enjoy. Sure enough, he devoured it on the cruise and strongly encouraged me to read it. I’m about halfway through and fascinated by the premise and the characters. Honestly, some of the philosophical stuff about the nature of time makes my brain hurt, but I’m still enjoying it!

What have you been reading?

Now that I’m back in town, it’s time to ease into the real world again. I’m working on first pass pages for THE GOSSIP FILE (my absolutely last chance to make changes to the manuscript before it hits stores in January!) and working on prepping for the fall semester. The weather has turned decidedly fall-ish, so I guess I can’t be in denial about the end of summer for much longer. :-)

I’m on a Boat! But Here’s Some News

Posted by annastan on August 11th, 2014 | 1 Comment »

I’m on cruise this week for a much-needed vacation (after furiously working on I’M WITH CUPID for the past several weeks), but here are a few bits of news I wanted to share.

-If you’re itching to win a signed copy of THE PRANK LIST, check out this giveaway on Goodreads:

Goodreads Book Giveaway

The Prank List by Anna Staniszewski

The Prank List

by Anna Staniszewski

Giveaway ends September 06, 2014.

See the giveaway details
at Goodreads.

Enter to win

-I mentioned last week that I was included in this article in Bay State Parent Magazine along with three other middle grade authors, but I forgot to say that the four of us will be doing an event at Porter Square Books on September 6th. I hope to see you there!

-I’m beyond thrilled to have been asked to be part of NESCBWI Encore in Rhode Island on September 27th during which I’ll do an abbreviated version of my “Common Writing Missteps” presentation from this springs’s regional conference.

-And finally, I discovered you can now add POWER DOWN, LITTLE ROBOT to your Goodreads list. Yay!

What’s new with you this week?

Thinking in Cause and Effect

Posted by annastan on August 5th, 2014 | 3 Comments »

I was recently interviewed for Bay State Parent Magazine with 3 other local authors–they had us come in for a photo shoot and everything! Here’s the official article. And my first draft I’M WITH CUPID is off to my editor! Woohoo! That means I can actually take a real vacation for a little bit before it’s time to dive into  revising the novel and teaching my fall class.

I saw a great video from the creators of South Park yesterday that  contained an important reminder: An outline of your story that has an implied “and then” at the start of every sentence isn’t really a story because the events don’t depend on one another. Instead, they suggest starting every sentence of your outline with the words “therefore” or “but.” This ensures that your events are interconnected and dependent on one another.  This approach will help the story feel cohesive and creature forward momentum.

Here’s the video. (Just a warning that, unsurprisingly, it contains a little bit of foul language.)

I love these kinds of simple reminders and techniques that help make sure our stories are on the right track. What simple but effective craft advice have you heard recently?

Making the Stakes Too High in Sequels

Posted by annastan on July 29th, 2014 | 3 Comments »

I often get skeptical looks from people when I caution against making the stakes too high in a story. That’s probably because a lot of writing advice tells you to “raise the stakes!” and to “give your character more to lose!” This is generally good advice, but we have to remember that the stakes need to FEEL like the end of the world to the character and not necessarily BE the end of the world.

end of the world eh?

I’ve noticed this trend of making the stakes too high in some book and movie sequels recently. In a YA sci-fi sequel I was reading, for example, the story started with a shoot-out and a chase. While this was exciting stuff, it didn’t match the stakes in the first book. That story had been very internal, full of secrets and mystery. To go from psychological tension in the first book to what felt like an action flick in the second book seemed like a huge jump, one that raised the stakes dramatically and created a different type of story. The series didn’t feel cohesive because of it.

Similarly, I recently rewatched the Anne of Green Gables miniseries. I loved the first two movies when I was young, so I definitely shed a nostalgia tear or two when I was watching them this time around. I didn’t realize that there was a third installment (made in 2000) and I was eager to watch it. I have to admit that I was disappointed precisely because of the stakes issue.

Now, I haven’t read all the Anne books, so I’m not sure how true the miniseries was to them, and thus I’m only going to talk about the movies here. At the start of Anne’s story, the focus is all on everyday, small stakes. Oh no, someone called her Carrots! Oh no, she accidentally got her best friend drunk! Even though the stakes are sometimes life/death in the first movie (a friend’s sister falling ill or Matthew having a heart attack) the focus is still on the home and the daily stakes of Anne adjusting to her surroundings.

In the third movie, though, Anne finds herself in wartime, searching for Gil in the trenches, disguising herself as a nun, and getting shot at by Germans. It all felt a bit silly to me, mostly because it didn’t seem like it could be part of the same story. The stakes were suddenly so high that they felt absurd, and I didn’t believe them anymore.

Now, of course the stakes in a series have to escalate from book to book (or movie to movie) in order to keep audiences interested, but it’s important to make those stakes still feel genuine to the character and his/her world. Maybe you do need a shoot-out in your story, but be very careful of how and when you bring it in. Just because there’s a gun in the scene doesn’t mean the audience is automatically riveted. Often, there are a lot more interesting stakes you can explore for your character that don’t involve whizzing bullets and high-speed chases.