A Quick Tip for Revising a Sequel

Posted by annastan on July 31st, 2015 | No Comments »

I’m currently in what I’m calling the Super Cave, a combination of a revising cave, drafting cave, and baby cave, but I’ve emerged to share a quick tip that’s really helping me with my current revision.

I’m working on revising FINDERS REAPERS, the sequel to I’M WITH CUPID, and trying something a little bit different this time. In order to make sure that the tone and pacing of the second book are comparable to the first book, I’m doing a side-by-side, chapter-by-chapter reread for both. That means I’ll read Chapter 1 of Book 1, and then switch over and read Chapter 1 of Book 2, and then move on to Chapter 2, etc.

This technique might sound a little bizarre, but it’s been helping me tremendously. Not only have I caught a couple of tiny inconsistencies between the two books, but I’ve also noticed places in Book 2 where things are dragging or where the tone and humor aren’t quite right. I love having new revising tools to put into my toolbox, and this one is definitely a keeper.

Have you tried out any new writing or revising tricks lately?

I’M WITH CUPID Release Day!

Posted by annastan on July 7th, 2015 | 3 Comments »

Today is the day! My newest book, I’M WITH CUPID, is officially out from Sourcebooks!

i'm with cupid final cover

Almost exactly two years ago, I was rereading The Children of Green Knowe by LM Boston for a class I was teaching at Simmons College, and a brief mention of a play in which Cupid and Death accidentally swap powers jumped out at me. I started to wonder what would happen if Cupid and Death were thirteen-year-old kids (because that’s how my brain works), and of course I had to write that story to find out.

I must admit that this is probably my favorite of the books I’ve written, partly because balancing the humor with the slightly darker themes was a fun challenge. I’m so excited that the story is out in the world!

If you’re on Twitter, I’m having a release day contest. Which 2 fictional characters would YOU fix up Cupid-style? Tweet your entry with the hashtag #ImWithCupid by 12am EST Wednesday, and you’ll be entered to win a signed copy of the book.

Also, if you happen to be near Cambridge, Mass. this Friday at 7pm, I’d love to see you at the launch party at Porter Square Books.

How am I celebrating this momentous day? By working on a revision of Book 2, of course! We writers sure know how to party.

What Does “Have More Fun with the Story” Really Mean?

Posted by annastan on July 2nd, 2015 | 4 Comments »

It’s July! Which means I’M WITH CUPID will be officially out in a few days! I’m getting really excited for the launch party next week. Think people would be freaked out if I went around shooting them with love arrows? ;-) It’ll be my first time bringing the baby to a book event. We’ll see how that goes!

Okay, on to writing matters.

I’m working on revising the CUPID sequel, titled FINDERS, REAPERS, and even though I’m several drafts into the manuscript, there’s still a lot of work to do. One of my editor’s suggestions was to have more fun with the story, and I realized she was absolutely right. But I started to think about what this advice–advice I’ve given my students many times–actually means.

Here are a few things I came up with, and I think they apply to writing comedy as well as more serious stories.

-Don’t Censor

If you think something is too stupid or too silly, try to run with it and see where it takes you. Sometimes the craziest ideas lead you to storytelling gold. Plus, it’s always easier to rein a story in than it is to amp it up.

-Keep Asking “What’s the Worst That Can Happen?”

I think sometimes we just don’t push our characters enough, either because we’re lazy or because we’re being too nice. But a story doesn’t really work if you’re not pushing characters to their breaking points. That’s when the really interesting things happen. So if your character makes a bad decision, for example, try to make the consequences of that decision as plausibly bad as you can.

-Write What Entertains You

This might seem obvious, but if you’re bored then your readers will be too. If you find yourself skimming scenes as you reread them, that might be a clue that something is awry. Or if there’s a scene that’s always felt a little off, be honest with yourself about it. I had this problem with a couple of scenes that I knew weren’t right, but I didn’t know how to fix them. A nudge from my editor pushed me to cut them out, and now I’m working away to replace them with ones that are (hopefully) better.

I think having fun with a story really means being brave. Letting your wacky side loose. Writing scenes that are so ridiculous that you know you’ll probably cut them. But sometimes those extreme, over-the-top ideas are the ones that will bring your story to the next level. And, if nothing else, having more fun with a manuscript means that your story will never be boring.

Board Book Reading List

Posted by annastan on June 2nd, 2015 | 1 Comment »

BabyBot is seven weeks old now which means I’m still not getting a lot of writing done, but I’ve been enjoying lots of cooing, smiling, and general baby cuteness (in addition to the crying and stinky diapers). We’ve been doing more and more reading together now that BabyBot is starting to really engage with what she’s seeing. Here are some of our current favorite board books.

Black on White and White on Black by Tana Hoban

These have been a hit since the baby was just a week old. She loves staring at the silhouettes, and I like coming up with different things to say about them. Wordless books are also nice because I can “read” them to her in both English and Polish.

Don’t Push the Button by Bill Cotter

BabyBot is a little young to fully engage with this interactive story, but she seems to enjoy us making funny sound effects and having her touch the pages.

Early Bird by Toni Yuly

I like the simple yet clear narrative, and BabyBot is fascinated by the illustrations. There’s one flower-filled page that she stares at intently every time we read it.

Baby Baby Baby by Marilyn Janovitz

This is another interactive book that’s full of fun,  active language and bright illustrations, and one that we reread often.

Those are our current favorites. What board books do you enjoy?

A New Cover for I’M WITH CUPID

Posted by annastan on May 6th, 2015 | 4 Comments »

As I mentioned last time, my newest book, I’m With Cupid, is getting a new cover! The publisher decided to go with a look that would appeal more specifically to fans of the Dirt Diary series. I hope this fun, new cover will entice readers to pick it up!

i'm with cupid final cover

I can’t believe the book comes out in a few short weeks! If you’re in the area, I’ll be having a launch party on Friday, July 10th at Porter Square Books in Cambridge, Mass. It should be a fun time. Maybe I’ll even bring the Girl-Bot along. :)

Speaking of the baby, I can’t resist sharing a picture of her wearing a Little Robot onesie that some awesome friends had made for us. She’s clearly very excited about it!

lia little robot


We’re still working on teaching her how to power down for the night…



Posted by annastan on April 26th, 2015 | 9 Comments »

The past few weeks have been absolutely jam-packed with excitement. Here’s what’s been going on.

A Baby!

Yes, Girl-Bot decided to come a couple weeks early. I was getting mighty uncomfortable toward the end of the pregnancy, so her early arrival was just fine by me. Here she is reading her first book. (We don’t waste any time around here.)

lia reading

I can’t say I’ve been sleeping all that much these days, but Husband Ray and I are pretty gaga over our new addition. Even when she’s screaming, she’s still pretty darn adorable. And once I teach her to type, she’ll be great at helping me keep up with writing deadlines. ;-)

A New Book!

Not only is there a new human baby in my life, but there’s also going to be a new book baby in the mix. I’m so excited to announce that the Dirt Diary series is going to have a fourth installment! Tentatively called THE TRUTH GAME, the book will be out next year.

After I finished writing The Gossip File, I thought that Rachel’s story was all wrapped up. But as more and more readers started asking if there would ever be another book, I realized that while I was happy with where I’d left Rachel’s story, I’d also set her up for a lot of upcoming transitions in her life. Transitions are always interesting to write about, especially when characters aren’t good at dealing with change. I’m excited to be able to explore those in the new book and to revisit Rachel’s world for a bit.

A First Review!

I’ve mentioned that first reviews of books are scary, especially when they’re from notoriously tough reviewers, so I was beyond excited that I’m WITH CUPID received a lovely review from Kirkus. Here’s an excerpt:

“As always, Staniszewski provides a deft mix of comedy and sensitive, deeper themes, making her book not only entertaining, but one that offers wisdom. She knows where to mine the humor from middle school life but does not sacrifice her characterizations for easy laughs. Light—but not lightweight—fun for preteens.” (You can read the full review here.)

 A New Cover!

Speaking of I’M WITH CUPID, I just found out that the cover for the book is going to be changing. I’m a little sad about saying good-bye to the original cover since it was so cute, but the new cover is also adorable and perfect for Dirt Diary fans. Hopefully, I’ll be able to share it with you guys soon!

Phew! I think those are all the highlights from this past month. Bursts of excitement always seem to come in clusters, don’t they? What’s new with you these days?

LITTLE ROBOT Launch Party Recap

Posted by annastan on March 26th, 2015 | 7 Comments »

I know this is about a week late, but I wanted to do a quick recap of the launch party for Power Down, Little Robot. I was so grateful to see so many friends (old and new) come out to the Brookline Booksmith to celebrate. You’d think that book launches would get less exciting over time, but I think they might get more so, especially when I have a chance to show off my maternity robo-PJs!


little robot launch 5

Wondering what’s on my shirt? This! (The internet really does have everything.)

little robot launch shirt

The event started with a short intro and a dramatic reading of Little Robot. I was losing my voice, so I wasn’t able to do robot voices, but luckily people still laughed at all the right places.

little robot launch 1

Yes, that is an awesomely enthusiastic robo-child in full costume sitting at my feet! Here’s a better view:

little robot launch 4

Then it was time to party! I was beyond excited to have the children’s band In the Nick of Time there to perform their adorable Little Robot theme song. I’ve known Nick and Tracey (the members of the band) since high school, so it was surreal/awesome to see them again after all these years and watch them rock out robo-style.

little robot launch 3

After the music, we made robots, and colored robots, and even had some robot snacks. (I’m pretty sure someone actually turned into a robot by the end of the afternoon.)

little robot launch 2

I loved chatting with people and signing books, although (as usual) I felt like I could have used a lot more time to talk to everyone. People seemed to have a good time, and I was thrilled to see how many folks actually wore their PJs and joined in the fun!

I have one more book event coming up–if you’re in the Dedham, Mass. area tomorrow (March 27th) please come by the Blue Bunny at 6:3opm–and after that I’ll be taking a break to focus on book deadlines and the baby’s arrival. If it’s a bit quiet around here, that’s probably why, but I’ll be sure to share updates (and cute baby pics) when I can.

A reminder that if you’re itching to get your hands on a signed copy of Little Robot or an ARC of I’m With Cupid, I have two Goodreads giveaways going on right now. :) Power on!

What If? Or Re-Imagining the Classics with Michelle Ray

Posted by annastan on March 18th, 2015 | 2 Comments »

I’m excited to welcome author Michelle Ray whose first novel, Falling for Hamlet, was the inspiration behind the E! television show The Royals. How cool is that? Michelle has just released a brand new retelling, this one of Macbeth, and she’s here to talk about how she finds her own modern spin on classic stories.

What If? by Michelle Ray

I love reimagining classics. I guess my whole writing life started with re-imagining stories. See, I couldn’t sleep when I was a kid. My parents told me that I wasn’t allowed out of bed, so if I couldn’t sleep, I should just try and tell myself a story. I thought about stories I already knew from TV and books. I started by asking myself: “What if?” What if Laura Ingalls had another sister on the prairie? What if I traveled to Oz? As I grew older, I kept still couldn’t sleep, so I considered new issues.

Most stories I loved in my teens were all boys. What if a girl were traveling with the boys from Stand By Me? What if Johnny from The Outsiders had a sister who had a crush on Ponyboy? (Not hard to imagine since I had a crush on Ponyboy.) What if different characters in Dead Poet’s Society had a girlfriend? How would things change depending on who she was with? The amazing thing is how the original stories morphed. I found it such an all-consuming pursuit that sometimes the very activity that was meant to help me sleep kept me up. It still does!

Falling for Hamlet came about after I saw a wonderful version of Hamlet on stage. I got to thinking, “What if Ophelia didn’t die?” It changes so much in the story. What if people thought she was responsible for the tragedies? What if Hamlet was modern royalty? What if the paparazzi, plus regular people with phones, tried to document Hamlet and Ophelia everywhere they went? What if his family had been responsible for her mother’s death? What if the press said he cheated but he said he didn’t? What if she wanted to get away? The questions kept coming, and they changed everything. And didn’t.

The ‘what-ifs’ are the key to any good story, I think, but a ‘what-if’ in a re-imagining is huge. The trick to me is balancing the ‘what if I change this’ with ‘what if I don’t.’ People reading a re-telling or a re-imagining want their story to be recognizable. Some stories do more of an allusion (like Warm Bodies took me until ¾ in to realize it was a zombie Romeo and Juliet), but if I’m doing a story to help people feel like a classic work is accessible or I want to honor its greatness, I don’t want to stray too far.


For my Mac/Beth, the initial question was “What world today is closest to royalty that isn’t actual royalty?” The answer was Hollywood. So the questions began. What if Mac and Beth were teen stars? What if their friend (now Duncan King rather than King Duncan) was more famous and they were jealous? What if they killed their friend? What if it was an accident? What if she wasn’t sure that it was? What if she started seeing ghosts? Ghosts have come up in both of my re-imaginings because they’re an integral part of Shakespeare’s stories. However, I’m a modern gal and I (mostly) don’t believe in ghosts. But what if a character saw, or thought s/he saw one? What if it had a message for her? See? Interesting. How does one square the world of a classic with the modern world? I think it makes for a fun challenge.

Michelle Ray’s novels include the newly released Mac/Beth and Falling for Hamlet, which was adapted for E!’s The Royals. She teaches middle school in Silver Spring, MD, where she also lives with her family. Find out more at www.michelleraybooks.com.

Does Planning Out a Book Make It Easier to Write?

Posted by annastan on March 12th, 2015 | 3 Comments »

I know I’ve talked about how I’ve slowly evolved from a pantser into a planner (although still not an outliner), but I’ve been wondering recently if making that switch from pantser to planner has actually made it easier for me to write books. The short answer: Maybe.

Here’s the long answer. There are things that planning out books before I write them (by which I mean having a working synopsis and character goals/turning points before I dive into drafting) has helped me with.

-Finishing Projects

Back in my pantsing days, I would often abandon projects when they got too hard. But now that I have a plan for the story, I find that I can push myself to keep going because I know where the story needs to end up, even if I’m not sure how I’ll get there. (And, of course, writing on deadline is a big motivator, too.)

-Making Fewer Missteps

My first book, My Very UnFairy Tale Life, had to go through several HUGE revisions because I’d had absolutely no plan when I was drafting it. I’m happy with how the book ultimately turned out, but I spent most of my revision time undoing what I’d done in those earlier drafts. Now I spend less time undoing and more time improving what I have.

-Seeing the Bigger Picture

I used to really struggle with figuring out what my characters wanted, what was driving them, and how that all related to the overall plot. Now I make sure to figure all those things out first before I get too far into the drafting process. (I won’t launch into another infomercial for The Anatomy of Story, but seriously, I would be lost without it.) That doesn’t mean my initial plans are always right, though. Sometimes I get partway through the manuscript and realize that the character’s wants and needs aren’t working, and then I have to go back and rework them.


Does this all mean writing books has gotten easier? As I said above, maybe. My confidence in my ability to finish projects in a timely manner has increased, partly because I’ve proven to myself that I can do it and partly because I know that if I get stuck, I have certain tools that I can use to help me keep going.

But the process hasn’t really gotten easier; I just spend more time focused on different things now. Instead of forging ahead and writing aimless chapters that I’ll probably have to cut later, now I try to think through what I’m going to write before I write it. Surprises still pop up all the time, which is part of the fun, but it rarely feels like the book is completely out of my control.

Then again, the past few weeks, I’ve been struggling with a revision that simply wasn’t coming together. Finally, I realized that the plan I’d had for the book had been flawed from the beginning. I had to go back and think about how to make things stronger and more dynamic. Then I wound up scrapping a lot of scenes and putting in several new ones. I was reminded that you can make missteps anywhere, no matter how organized you are.

Bottom line: You can plan as much as you want, but writing is an art. Sometimes you’ll get stuck or have to backtrack or want to cry into your chocolate. I don’t think there’s any way around that. But I’m honestly glad I’ve become more of a planner because, as I said earlier, it gives me more of a sense of control. And in something like writing, which is done so much by feel and intuition, it’s nice to have at least one solid thing to cling to.

How about you guys? Has planning ahead made writing any easier?


Posted by annastan on March 6th, 2015 | 4 Comments »

I’ve been teasing you guys for a couple of weeks now, but the day has finally arrived to reveal the official POWER DOWN, LITTLE ROBOT book trailer. Here it is:

I hope you like it! If you’re wondering about that ridiculously catchy song in the background (which has been stuck in my head for the past month), it was written and performed by the awesome children’s band In the Nick of Time.  If you’d like to hear the entire song or download it for future rocking out, you can do so here.

By the way, if you come to the LITTLE ROBOT launch party on March 14th, In the Nick of Time will be performing the song live! Plus we’ll have crafts and fun robot-inspired activities. And some sort of robot snacks, of course. Cog cookies, perhaps?

Speaking of robot crafts, check out this adorable review of the book which includes a great robot-related project that helps kids with their bedtime routines. I love how people take the robot bedtime idea and run with it!

Finally, I found out that LITTLE ROBOT has been chosen as one of Amazon’s “Big Spring Children’s Books for Ages 3-5” which completely blew my mind, especially after I saw my book on a list that includes Neil Gaiman and Adam Rex!

It really has been one heck of a week, and I’m so grateful that so many people have helped to spread the word about the book! Since I’m in the midst of deadlines and getting rather hugely pregnant these days, I can’t tell you how nice it’s been to have a supportive community of writers and friends to lean on.