Wednesday, May 6, 2015

Wednesday Debut Interview: Anna, Banana, and the Friendship Split by Anica Mrose Rissi

Today, we're excited to chat with Anica Mrose Rissi about her MG debut that just came out yesterday, Anna, Banana, and the Friendship Split!

First off, tell us a bit about yourself!
Hello! Thanks for having me. My name is Anica Mrose Rissi and I am a writer, storyteller, and editrix, based in Brooklyn, New York. I like dogs, ice cream, and dancing around the room.

How would you describe ANNA, BANANA, AND THE FRIENDSHIP SPLIT in one sentence? What gave you the idea for this particular story?
Anna, Banana, and the Friendship Split is the first book in a new series about a girl named Anna who navigates the ups and downs of third-grade best friendship, with a little help from her wiener dog, Banana.

The idea for the book started with the title, and the story spun out from there. I had a lot of fun writing it!

How long has this process taken for you, from the time that you began the first draft of this book until the date of its publication?
I spent more than two years writing and revising (and revising, and revising) the draft of the manuscript that sold to my editor, the super-fabulous Kristin Ostby at S&S. Kristin signed up the first four books in the series in July 2013—at which point I revised Friendship Split twice more.

So, from the start of the first draft to publication day took over four years.

The next three books in the series (which I wrote under contract, and therefore with a much stricter and more regular writing schedule) took about six months of writing and revision each.

They will all be released within two years of conception. Book two, Anna, Banana, and the Monkey in the Middle, comes out on July 7.

And the "Banana" in the title is a little wiener dog -- too cute! Do you have dogs of your own?
Yes! My dog, Arugula, is a long-legged hound mix who wiggled her way into my heart six years ago when I saw her sitting in the window of an adoption bus that was parked on my street in Brooklyn. I’d been on my way to the train station to visit my parents, but I called them said, “I’m going to be late. I’m adopting a dog.” My father said, “Bad idea. Call us when you know what train you’ll be on.” Her middle name is “Badidea” in honor of him. She’s the very best bad idea I’ve had.

A rather adorable "bad idea"

What part of this book did you most enjoy writing?
Some of my favorite scenes to write were the ones with Anna and her family, especially the moments with her older brother, Chuck. Chuck loves teasing Anna, and Anna both likes and hates being teased, and the dynamics of their relationship were really fun to draw out. (They were inspired, in part, by my relationship with my own older brother, who has always been a key figure in my life.) I use Chuck throughout the series for moments of comic relief, but he also has some surprising big-brother wisdom to offer, and serves as a great example of how sometimes someone you love can drive you nuts, make you angry, or make you want to scream or cry, but no matter what, the love is always there. That’s what family and good friendships are all about.

Every writer experiences some rejection and setbacks along the way. How did you learn to cope with them and move on?
I spent more than thirteen years working as an editor at three major publishing houses, so I know from first-hand experience on the other side of that fence that rejection is not personal. As an editor, I turned down hundreds of manuscripts every single year. Most of the projects I rejected were good manuscripts, I just wasn’t the perfect editor for them at the time. An editor needs to fall head-over-heels in love to acquire a manuscript—she has to want to spend her nights and weekends with it, because if she acquires a project, that’s when she’ll be editing it—and it has to be something she feels she can publish well in the current market, at her current publisher, considering the other projects currently on her imprint’s list and out in the world. And although rejection stings, it’s like dating: You don’t want to be matched with just any editor, you want to land the editor who is the right match for you and your book. That can take time, luck, and perseverance. When a rejection comes in, I remind myself that finding the right editor is worth the wait. (And, I try to listen with an open mind to any feedback or suggestions that might come in the rejection note—a thoughtful rejection letter can be a real gift.)

How did you find your publisher? What makes them a good fit for you and your book?
My literary agent, Meredith Kaffel at DeFiore and Company, crafted a careful submission list of editors and imprints she thought might be a good match for the project. After we discussed it, she sent out the manuscript to our top picks. Rejection letters almost always come first, and I was prepared for that (and got some very nice ones, for which I’m grateful). But after a few weeks, Meredith got a call from Kristin at S&S, who was bringing the manuscript to her editorial meeting. I knew that this didn’t necessarily mean she’d be making an offer, but I allowed myself to start dreaming—and to learn everything I could about her from Twitter, which led to an immediate editor crush (she’s smart and funny and loves dogs too! how could this not work out?). By the time the offer came in, I was convinced she’d be a wonderful editor and advocate for Anna, Banana, and me, so Meredith and I accepted a pre-empt offer. And I was right.

Tell us about your cover. Who designed it? How much say did you have in it? What do you want it to tell your readers about your story?
The adorable cover is thanks to illustrator Meg Park (who also did the interior art) and designer Laurent Linn, who added wonderful touches throughout. The publisher chooses and hires the illustrator (after consulting with the author), and I was thrilled when S&S matched the project with Meg—she draws especially wonderful animals, and when I saw her online portfolio, I was immediately smitten. I sent my editor some character descriptions for Meg to work with and gave reactions to the sketches, but really the cover is the domain of the publisher, and I think they did an excellent job with it. Seeing the art for each book has been one of the most exciting parts of the process—so fun.

Tell us about your title. Was this the original title you'd had in mind? If not, what made you change it?

The idea for the book actually started with the title, though at first I was missing a comma. The breakthrough moment in coming up with the plot happened when I realized this wasn’t a book about a girl named Anna Banana, it was about a girl named Anna and her wiener dog, Banana.

That a-ha moment happened while I was out walking my dog in the park. We ran straight home and I wrote the opening scene.

Tell us about the other books in the Anna Banana series! They're already written?

Yes, they are already written and Meg Park is hard at work on the interior illustrations. Anna, Banana, and the Monkey in the Middle comes out this July, followed by Anna, Banana, and the Big-Mouth Bet in September and Anna, Banana, and the Puppy Parade in January 2016. I can’t wait to see them all together on the shelf!

How does it feel to finally have your book out in the hands of readers? Do you have any events planned you want people to know about?
It’s hugely exciting, especially getting to share the story and talk about writing with kids. I did a few events in the weeks right before publication, including the Newburyport Literary Festival in Newburyport, MA, and release parties and school visits in Decatur, GA and Alexandria, VA. I’ve got one more release party (at BookCourt in Brooklyn, NY on Saturday, May 9–if you’re in NYC, please come!) and several more school visits coming up. I’ll also be at the Decatur Book Festival in September. If you’d like me to visit (or Skype with) your class, school, or library, please reach out! You can find my email address on my website,

Is there any other advice you'd like to pass on to others pursuing publication? Anything you would have done differently?

An author I adore, the wonderful Rebecca Serle, once told me: “You have to celebrate every good thing along the way, no matter how small.” I think that’s an excellent way to approach the writing life. I celebrate everything from finishing a tough chapter to getting a personalized rejection letter (hey, that’s better than a form rejection!) to signing a contract to seeing a comp of my next book cover. When something good happens, I text a close friend, buy myself an ice cream, or sometimes even break out the prosecco. Celebrating the good moments helps me push through the less fun parts of this career and remember how truly lucky I am.

Excellent advice! And, just for fun, which book in your own library do you think would be your main character Anna's favorite?
Anna can’t wait for Erin Soderberg’s Puppy Pirates series, which comes out this summer. Pirate puppies! Brilliant. (And she already loves Erin’s other series, The Quirks.)

Awesome! And thanks for the interview, Anica!

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