Vacation Reading Highlights

Posted by annastan on August 19th, 2014 | 2 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.

The Gossip File Cover Reveal and Reading Highlights

Posted by annastan on July 22nd, 2014 | 3 Comments »

Since it popped up on Amazon, B&N, etc, I guess it’s okay to share the cover of The Gossip File (the third installment in the Dirt Diary series).

gossip file cover

Isn’t it fun? Look for the book in January 2015!

Speaking of news, I just found out that The Prank List is going to be part of the Scholastic Book Club, along with My Very UnFairy Tale Life and The Dirt Diary. I grew up with the Scholastic Book Club/Book Fairs, so the fact that my books are part of it is just awesome.

And finally, here’s a snippet of a nice review from VOYA Magazine:

“The Prank List hooks readers with snappy dialogue from the beginning… Rachel is a likable character for middle school readers, who will relate to her problems.”

Now, on to some reading highlights! I’ve been in the midst of writing deadlines and book events, but I’ve managed to sneak in some fun reading. Here are my three most recent:

Talker 25 by Joshua McCune

This book was so intriguing, especially in its world building. It read almost like an alien invasion story except with dragons instead of little green men. It was gritty and brutal, and it left me very curious to read the sequel.

Compulsion by Martina Boone

The atmosphere of this story drew me in right away. The story is set on an island in the South, one that’s full of family history and ancient secrets. The characters and setting really drew me in and kept me reading.

Afterworlds by Scott Westerfeld

This is basically two books in one: a story about a teen author who gets her first book deal, interspersed with chapters of the novel she’s working on. It was an ambitious project that really could have gone awry, but somehow it all worked. This was one of the most satisfying books I’ve read in a while.

What have you been reading?

Prank List Launch Recap

Posted by annastan on July 17th, 2014 | 1 Comment »

The Prank List blog tour continues with an interview in which I share the “secret” of writing quickly, an interview about creating a baking landscape, an interview that includes tips on writing humor, and a guest post about having multiple writing personas.

In other news, check out this snippet from a lovely review of The Prank List from VOYA:

The Prank List hooks readers with snappy dialogue from the beginning… Rachel is a likable character for middle school readers, who will relate to her problems.”

Yay! And finally, I’ve dipped my toe into Tumblr. I’m still figuring it out, but it looks like it could be fun.

So, this past weekend was the launch for The Prank List at Blue Bunny Books in Dedham, Mass. It was a great time, and I think my book was happy to have a birthday party. Here is the obligatory “book commercial” shot:

blue bunny 3

I started by talking about the book and doing a short reading, then we did a Q&A. After that it was time to decorate cupcakes!

blue bunny 4

One of the great things about the Blue Bunny, besides the fact that it’s an awesome indie bookstore, is that they sometimes have an actual bunny on the premises. It wasn’t blue, but it was still cute!

blue bunny 6

And this picture proves the scientific theory that if an author sees her books in a store window, she will pose beside them.

blue bunny 5

The celebrating continues this Saturday at Wellesley Books where I’ll be decorating cupcakes and signing books from 2-4pm. After that, I’ll be focused 100% on fine-tuning a draft of I’m With Cupid before it’s due to my editor at the beginning of August. And after that, I’ll be sneaking away on vacation and doing some serious relaxing! :-)

How to Write When You Don’t Feel Like It

Posted by annastan on July 8th, 2014 | 5 Comments »

This week on the PRANK LIST blog tour: I share my messy bookshelves with the world (including my Star Wars ones) and I talk about using picture book techniques in novels

I’ll be honest. There are days when I should be writing but just don’t feel like it. I’m sure I’m not the only one who’s experienced this particular phenomenon, right? But the trick is, I’m on deadline for my next book right now which means I HAVE to write, even if it’s the last thing I feel like doing.

I’d like to say there’s an easy solution to this problem. And I suppose there is. Stop whining, sit down, and write.

But sometimes tough love isn’t enough, so here are a few others techniques that have been helping me plug along with my project.

Formulate a plan

I’m not an outliner, but I do write a synopsis of the story that helps me figure out the overall narrative and the character’s emotional arc. Having this synopsis worked out beforehand–even if it’s pretty general–gives me a map to follow as I’m drafting.

Create a spreadsheet

I like to make a spreadsheet of each chapter, including length, POV character, major events, and anything else that seems relevant. This helps me flag chapters that are too long or short, too boring or too cluttered, etc. It also helps me see which chapters I need to write next. (I don’t always make this spreadsheet when I’m drafting, but I always make one before I start revising.)

Make a list

Write down what’s fun about your book, or list the scenes you’re looking forward to writing. This can help make the process of writing the project feel less like a chore and more like the exciting creative endeavor it was when you first started.

Use another book as a guide

When I was having trouble getting into the mood of the second UnFairy Tale book, I went back to one of my favorites, Whales on Stilts, to help get me in the right mindset. Analyzing the book also helped me to figure out why my project felt like it was lagging.

Reward success and forgive failure

Sometimes a reward method is a good motivator–if I finish this chapter, I get to eat a cookie. Sometimes having a daily or weekly word count goal can help keep you accountable, especially if you get others to cheer you on. But if you miss a day or even a week, don’t beat yourself up. Just write out your “what makes this project fun” list and find a way to get back into it.

Do you have a technique that helps you keep going? Share it in the comments. Happy writing!

Twitter Contest Winner

Posted by annastan on July 2nd, 2014 | 1 Comment »

Thanks so much to everyone who took part in the #pranklist Twitter contest yesterday and shared their favorite pranks. It was a tough choice, but I think the winning tweet was by Louise Galveston:

 ‏@LouiseGalveston In 7th grade I put a frog lung (from dissection) in a piece of my foe’s macaroni. Evil, I know. #pranklist

Isn’t that hilarious? She clarified that the foe didn’t actually eat the lung, but I still laughed a lot. Congrats, Louise! You’re the winner of a signed copy of The Prank List!

Here are a couple honorable mentions:
@PCzajak  #pranklist replace mayo in jar with vanilla pudding then eat it like a snack in front of those who hate mayo

Hopefully, I didn’t just give any of you ideas for mischief. :-)

The Prank List Is Out Today!

Posted by annastan on July 1st, 2014 | 1 Comment »

The Prank List blog tour continues with a post on making multiple protagonists distinct, an interview about the book and my upcoming projects, and a post on the difference between middle grade and young adult books.

Book birthdays are a funny affair. Of course it’s ridiculously exciting to know that my book is officially out in the world, but it’s hard to wrap my brain around that when my day is pretty much business as usual. Luckily, I’ll be at a summer reading carnival at the Shrewsbury Library this afternoon to help make the day feel a little more out of the ordinary. (Maybe I’ll see you there?)

Okay, let’s get this party started! Prank List, welcome to the book family.

prank list cover 2

How about you blow out a candle to make your birthday official?

Darn, if only I’d written in some lungs… :-)

If you’d like to win a signed copy of the book, swing by Twitter today where I”ll be doing a fun contest with the hashtag #pranklist.

EMLA Spotlight: Revenge of the Flower Girls

Posted by annastan on June 24th, 2014 | 5 Comments »

The blog tour for The Prank List continues! I was interviewed by Vonna Carter about creating the story, I shared the inside scoop on the inspiration behind the book, and I did an interview that includes a giveaway of a signed copy.

Back in May when I was at my agency retreat, I was reminded of how lucky I am to have so many talented agent-mates. After I got home, I vowed to put more of their books on my summer reading list. First up is Jennifer Ziegler‘s hilarious new book, Revenge of the Flower Girls, about triplets who have to stop their sister from marrying the wrong guy.


This was exactly the kind of light, fun read I needed this week. The story is full of funny misadventures and general shenanigans, but what I particularly loved about it was the voice. Plus, the triplets have such a great relationship with each other and with their older sister that you’re rooting for them to break up the wedding, even if that means watching them do some pretty crazy stuff. This is the perfect summer tween read.

What’s on your reading list this summer?