Saturday, March 30, 2013

Of Goodreads, Amazon, and book talk

So Amazon bought Goodreads, and I found myself with a dilemma. It's a good dilemma, one where my life is intertwined with a pretty awesome bookstore and, coincidentally, I'm in the habit of talking and posting about books.

I don't equate Amazon with evil; there are so many problems in the world, and a website that's one of the many options out there for obtaining books just doesn't rank that high among them. I've had some issues with their tactics over the years, but what it boils down to for me is this: there are many cooler options for finding books, and there are also many other ways to record and discuss them in spaces that I personally feel better about than I now feel about Goodreads.

This announcement got me thinking about how I've found Goodreads most useful since I joined a few years ago. I have posted reviews there and occasionally commented on other people's reviews, but really, I mostly use it as a listing device. It's a great place to go when staff rec time rolls around at the bookstore to remind myself of what I've read lately. But Goodreads isn't the only place I can do that. If I find myself craving the nonstop action of a website, I can always revive my old LibraryThing profile. But I think I'm going to try migrating all the way off the Internet for my personal record-keeping needs. Thanks, friend who gave me a Reading Journal for Book Lovers!

I'll sure as heck still engage with others about books both on and offline, in spaces where I've been doing so already. Like right here, and wherever else such discussions spring up. You'll all be spared my agony at the lack of an option to give three and a half stars. Sputters are still fair game, but next time, they'll be at books, not websites.

Tuesday, March 19, 2013

A Very Unfairy Tale Interview with Anna Staniszewski

Anna Staniszewski's My Epic Fairy Tale Fail, sequel to the hilarious My Very UnFairy Tale Life, has just hit shelves, and she has several other projects in the works. I sent her a few questions about all of the above.

How is marketing a sequel different from marketing the first book in a series? From what you can observe, has the release of My Epic Fairy Tale Fail brought new readers to the series, or are you mostly finding readers who've already read My Very UnFairy Tale Life and are looking for the next installment?

Marketing a sequel is definitely a tricky business. For a debut, there tends to be a lot of built-in excitement because of the newness of the book. For a sequel, luckily there are readers who enjoyed the first book and are looking forward to the second installment, but you also have to find new ways to reach people who haven't read (or heard of) the first one. I've found that interviews, events, and word-of-mouth go a long way in helping to spread the word.

I've been pleasantly surprised, though, to hear from readers who started with the second book and are now going back to read the first. I guess that's proof that the second book works independently of the first, which is exactly what I'd been hoping for!

I'd love to know more about The Dirt Diary. You've said that the protagonist learns "dirt" about her classmates when she helps her mother clean their houses, and I'm curious about the tone of the book and series. Are we talking juicy gossip? More serious secrets? Bed-wetting? All of the above?

The tone of the book is very light and funny, so the gossip that Rachel discovers is pretty G-rated. I wanted the "dirt" to be mortifying in that middle-school sort of way. The inspiration behind the story was a piece I heard on NPR that mentioned a girl who cleaned houses with her mom and wound up cleaning the homes of some of the most popular kids in school. The idea really stuck with me, and I thought: What kinds of secrets could she discover that would not only mortify the popular kids but also make her feel utterly embarrassed?
A lot of authors seem to stick with just realism or just fantasy, but you seem comfortable jumping between the two, and your fantasies are very accessible to readers who don't necessarily dive into every fantasy world out there. Do you feel more connected to one genre or the other? What were your reading tendencies when you were in elementary school?

I've been drawn to fantasy since I can remember, but when I think about the books I loved when I was young--The Secret Garden, Mrs. Frisby and the Rats of NIMH, A Wrinkle in Time--it wasn't so much the fantasy that drew me in but the appeal of a different time or place. It's so fun to get lost in a different time period or setting, but I think it's equally intriguing to contrast it with your own life. I guess that's why even my fantastical stories tend to be grounded in the regular world. 

I must say, though, that THE DIRT DIARY was a big change of pace for me. Whenever I'd tried to write realistic fiction in the past, it always morphed into fantasy. This story, however, seemed content to stay realistic.
You also have a picture book, Dogosaurus Rex, coming out from Henry HoltHow has that publication process been different? Do you have an illustrator?

I'm so excited about my first picture book, though I don't have a lot of details to share yet. The process of publishing a novel is slooow, but the process of publishing a picture book is downright glacial. I've really just had to trust my publisher and remind myself that even if it feels like I'm twiddling my thumbs, there's a lot of work happening behind the scenes. Hopefully, I'll be able to reveal more info soon!

What's one question you wish more people would ask about your books or your writing life? And of course, what's your answer?
This is actually a question that I would love to hear other authors answers: How do you balance it all?

The issue of balance is always on my mind these days, particularly as I juggle two series. Writing on deadline and having multiple projects going at once has been thrilling but also daunting at times. It feels like I'm in the midst of an intricate dance, and I just keep flailing around and hoping I'm getting the steps right. I keep wondering how other authors balance different aspects of their lives. Maybe--like me--they're just pretending to say on top of everything!

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, Mass. 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. You can visit her at

Here's the book trailer for My Epic Fairy Tale Fail: 

Saturday, March 2, 2013

It is fun to have fun, but you have to know how.

When the sun does not shine and it's too wet to play, a good way to have fun is to play along when a talkative, human-sized cat makes a mess of your house and gives your fish a good scare. When you're a builder of peculiar machines, a good way to have fun (and make a bundle) is to prey on the petty insecurities of a group of lemmings Sneetches. And when it's week 23432 of winter, a good way to have fun is to make a big deal about one of your favorite authors turning 109.

Much as I'm enjoying discovering new books lately (I will  finish Seraphina before it's due back to the library), it's a lot of fun to direct my attention back to an old favorite, and they don't come much favorite-er than Dr. Seuss. I learned to talk on Hop on Pop, and I credit Seuss's longer works with the fact that anapestic tetrameter is my favorite meter, which is a long-winded way of saying that he was a major contributor to my interest in writing in rhyme. These days, it's really gratifying to see how many parents love Dr. Seuss's work and pass on that enthusiasm to their kids; having Seuss books on display and hearing parents read them aloud has provided a welcome break from all the TV show-based spinner books kids usually insist on hearing. (Only Elephant and Piggie, many-time winners of the Seuss-inspired Geisel award, seem to have the same power to inspire spontaneous read-alouds.) The one complaint parents seem to have is that most Seuss books are too long, which is reasonable, but their repetitive nature can make them great for kids learning to read. (And it's okay to skip a few lines when you're reading aloud. Really.)

As I tell customers all the time, the most important thing you can teach kids about reading is that it's fun. And if anyone knew how to have fun, it was Dr. Seuss.