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Monday, April 01, 2013

Author Spotlight: Anne M. Slanina

This month, I interviewed children's author Anne M. Slanina.


Tell us a bit about yourself. 
I am the author of The Adventures of Annie Mouse picture book series for children ages 3-10. As an educator, I have devoted my life to improving the lives of children. I began my career in Ohio as a kindergarten teacher, then taught remedial reading for many years. I was also a remedial math teacher and served as gifted support. My books are intended to be a learning experience, as well as enjoyable.  

Do you write under a pen name? 
No, I write under my real name, but some of my books have Anne M. Slanina and some are under Anne Maro Slanina

What’s your writing background? When did you begin writing and what inspired you?
From the time I was a little girl I was an avid reader. I would get lost in books and dreamed about being the person who would write books that others felt the same way about.  I always wrote in journals from the time I could write.  As a teacher, I wanted to inspire children to develop a love of reading. When I taught remedial reading I worked with children on an individual basis and I learned so much about how my students’ emotional pain prevented them from succeeding academically. This is when I began to specialize in bibliotherapy- using books for healing. Once I began my career in higher education, I focused on more serious, academic writing and began doing workshops on bibliotherapy. I shared many books from other authors and many stories from my teaching career.  I finally began turning those stories into my own picture books.  

What is your day job or are you lucky enough to write for a living?  
I am lucky enough to have the perfect “marriage” between my “day” job and my writing career. I am a professor of early childhood education. I prepare people to become early childhood teachers. Writing children’s books and conducting author’s visits in schools allows me not only to share my books with children and get authentic reactions from real children, but also helps inform my instruction in my university classes. 

What books have you written so far?
Currently my picture book series, The Adventures of Annie Mouse, consists of five books:  

Anne Mouse Meets her Guardian Angel 
Baby Brother Goes to the Hospital 
Annie Mouse Meets a New Friend 
Where the Rainbow Touches Ground
The first four are part of the “Guardian Angel” series where Annie is faced with challenges and often misinterprets what is happening. 
The last book, Annie Mouse’s Route 66 Adventure: A Photo Journal
is what I hope to be the start of a travel series. While it has the same type of illustrations as the other four books, it is also filled with actual photographs from Route 66, facts that Annie learns, and her thoughts and confusions about how she is interpreting her adventures. 

Do you plan on being a full-time writer, or do you have other career plans?
When I “retire” I plan on becoming a full-time writer.

Do you have any hobbies? What do you like to do in your free time?
“Free time?!!” I have to create “free-time” since it simply does not exist in my life. I have a “to-do” list that can keep me busy 24/7 for the next 10 years. There is never enough time to read, travel, and visit with my children and grandchildren.  I love music and play the mountain and hammered dulcimers and a Native American flute. I would love to master those instruments, but for now I just have fun with them when I can.

What do you write? Specific genres, ages groups, etc. 
I write children’s picture books for ages 3-10. However, my book, Annie Mouse’s Route 66 Adventure, is being enjoyed by people of all ages. It can be viewed as a social studies text book for teachers. It is also a “trip down memory lane” for some people, and a travel guide for others. 
The Guardian Angel series can be classified as “bibliotherapy” - using books for social-emotional growth.  As such, the books should be read with children and adults should listen carefully to the children’s responses. Children often feel very different about things than we think, because they don’t always understand adult euphemisms. This could lead to anger, confusion and behavior problems. So, reading the books with them helps children share their understandings and helps the adults get into the minds of young children. It can be a very healing experience for all.  I also had a 72 year old woman purchase Annie Mouse Meets her Guardian Angel for herself because she saw her mother in the book and related to the content. So, in many ways my books are for adults as much as children.

Do you write about your personal experiences in your books? 
Each of my books has a very personal part of me in them.  The Guardian Angel book is a compilation of my childhood and children I have worked with in educational settings.  Baby Brother Goes to the Hospital is based on an actual experience I had with my sons.  Annie Mouse Meets a New Friend is based on a compilation of school experiences. Where the Rainbow Touches Ground is based on a poem that was gifted to me and was the perfect opportunity for me to write a book that incorporated what my own father taught me about a parent’s love.  And of course, my book, Annie Mouse’s Route 66 Adventure: A Photo Journal is six years of traveling Route 66 compiled into one trip- every photograph in the book is one that I personally took over that six year period.

Are the characters in your books based on people you know?

How much of your books are inspired by real life events?
Except for the “mice people,” everything in my books has been inspired by real life. The title of the series itself: The Adventures of Annie Mouse, suggests autobiographical accounts.  I am, clearly, not a mouse, but as a very introverted child, I was called “mousey.” Also, I find myself constantly spelling my name for people by saying: “my name is Ann-with an E” - hence “Annie.”  

Who is your favorite character from your books? Why?
My series is The Adventures of Annie Mouse, so Annie is my favorite character; the books are all about her, and she is my alter-ego.

What is your favorite scene in your story?
In my book, Where the Rainbow Touches Ground, Annie hugs her Daddy when he lets her know she is more important than any pot of gold.  That was inspired by my father’s message to me when I was a little girl and had started a fire that burned down quite a bit of our property. I relive his message to me that I was more important to him than anything that burned and the feeling of his reassuring, loving arms around me through that scene. 

Tell us about a typical day in your life as a writer.
I don’t have a typical day. Every day is different for me. I never teach at the same times from semester to semester and supervising student teachers is randomly scheduled, so I can’t get into a routine. 

Where and when do you write?  
I typically do my serious writing in the summer months.  My preferred location is outdoors, in nature.  

Do you have set times?
Since my “day job” has erratic hours, I can’t schedule specific times for writing.

How do you manage to fit in writing among other commitments?
I don’t teach in the summer, so that frees up time for researching and writing.

How long does it take you to write your book/s?
It varies. The first one took me a few years to get into print. The last one took several years to get all of the photographs I wanted for it.

Do you listen to music while you write? If so, what do you listen to?
I do have to have background noise to get me to stay focused. If I’m outdoors it is the sound of the birds and the water running in the stream. If I’m inside, I need to have a radio or TV playing softly in the background.  Oddly, perfect silence is distracting for me. 

Do you have to be alone to write?
Yes, I need solitude for the ideas to gel and the words to take shape.

Do you have a specific writing style?
I try to write as a child would talk or think, since all of the books are written from the perspective of a child.  

What makes your writing unique?
Children are much more complex than we give them credit for, so my books are more complex than the simple text we often see in children’s books.

Is there a message in your novels that you want readers to grasp?
I want to improve real communication between adults and children. I want parents to see how their children feel and think, and I want children to be able to say, “That’s how I feel” or “Remember when I thought that….”  I want parents to be surprised by the depth of their children’s feelings and I want parents to use the books to help children understand their world.

Do your books have a common theme or are they all different?
They all focus on how children interpret the world around them, and need consistent guidance from adults to they don’t carry those misinterpretations around and get hostile and angry. In my last book, Annie Mouse’s Route 66 Adventure: A Photo Journal, I want parents to think about taking a family road trip together, or at least a virtual road trip, pointing out the wonders of our countryside and using it as a family bonding experience.

What’s the hardest part of writing for you?
Finding continuous time to write.

If you could do everything over (writing your book, or publishing, etc.) would you change anything?
Yes. I would have taken control of the self-publishing from the start. 

Is there anything particularly helpful you have found as you have written/edited/published? 
Let many people read your work before you publish, to point out editing errors or to ask questions about what you mean by certain things. We often have ideas in our head and know what we mean, but our words might mean something very different to others.  I let children read my books now before I publish and their questions and insights have helped a great deal with the editing process. 

Do you have to travel/do much research for your books?
I have done a great deal of traveling and my books, Where the Rainbow Touches Ground, and Annie Mouse’s Route 66 Adventure would not have come about without the travel component. I plan on doing extensive traveling for my next book as well.

Name one entity that you feel supported you outside of family members in your writing journey?
My first book was actually inspired by a dream in which a Guardian Angel showed me the cover of the book, Annie Mouse Meets Her Guardian Angel

Did you learn anything from writing your books and if so what was it?
Don’t compare your work to anyone else’s. If it’s going to be your work, it SHOULD be different.

Do you design your own covers, or have someone else help?
An artist creates the art work and the graphic artist designs the covers.

Do you have a critique group/partner or beta readers, or do you self-edit?
I generally have children read the stories to get a sense of how they will interpret things.  I will change the story line or adapt as the children ask questions or provide insights.  Then I have a several colleagues read to provide editing and further insights.   My colleagues are all professionals and each serves a different role. Each looks at the content through different eyes. These individuals consist of a lawyer, English major, Counselor, and several other Early Childhood professors. Editing is done not only for grammar and style, but for content as well. I self-edit as well, yet after reading it so many times, I see what I think it should say and can overlook what is actually on the paper. 

Any advice for the editing process?
No matter how good you are at editing, you need another set of eyes to look at your work.  Do not simply trust your friends to do this for you, either.  Do you have a local college nearby? Perhaps you could ask an English professor to use your manuscript as a class project for a senior level editing or journalism class.  

What do you do to keep yourself going when you aren’t motivated? 
Sometimes I just let things “sit” until I am motivated. That time away from it helps me look at it with fresh eyes when I pick it up again.  

How do you pick locations for your stories?
The content of the text determines the location (home on the farm, school bullies, hospital, Route 66).

Are you published or self-published? What is your experience?
I am self-published. I have learned a great deal with each book, and continue to learn. 

How do you find the marketing experience? 

Do you have any advice for other writers?
Do not publish a poorly edited draft of your book. Make sure it is edited before publishing!

When you read, what is your favorite genre?
It varies according to the mood I am in. 

What books have most influenced your life?
As a young child, I read the Nancy Drew series. I learned that a woman could be strong and independent and have a brain. I was also inspired to learn sign language from one of the books and learned the signed alphabet in the fourth grade as a result. 
As an adult, the most influential book I read that was life-changing for me was The Sleeping Prophet by Jess Stearn.

For reading, do you prefer ebooks or physical books?
I love to take my Kindle into the gym and read books while I work out. That is the only time I will read an e-book. I love to read real, physical books while relaxing in a bubble bath at night.  And since I do a LOT of driving, I always have an audio book in my CD player in my vehicle.

What is your most favorite book and why? 
I can’t pinpoint one.

What is the worst book you have ever read and why? 
I would not want to embarrass the author by naming the title, but the children’s book was poorly edited, had serious “flow” problems to the story line, and ridiculous illustrations.  

What tips would you give readers when choosing a book?
Read things that you would never choose to broaden your world.

If you had to choose, which writer would you consider a mentor?
I have had many. About 20 years ago, I heard Chris Crutcher speak at an educational conference. His books are for adolescents and many think they “cross the line” when dealing with sensitive issues, but I shared them with some of my older students and saw the impact that the books had on their lives. This inspired me to “cross the line” with my first book for younger children: Annie Mouse Meets Her Guardian Angel.  Jerry Pallotta has inspired me a great deal. I have had the pleasure of sharing author space with him at a few conferences and not only is he gracious and encouraging to new authors, he is a huge supporter of authors who self-publish.  

Are there particular writers that you admire?
Aside from those previously mentioned, to name only a few: Stephen King, Lois Lowry, Denise Fleming

If there was one author you could meet with and learn from one on one, who would you choose?
I have had the pleasure of meeting several of my idols, so I would not want to name just one as they all have been wonderful inspirations.

Is there a genre you haven’t done before that you would like to try?
I have been taking notes and outlining two different adult books that would be considered “inspirational.” I’m saving them for the right time.

Do you have any ideas that you plan to work on in the future?
I have a list of projects that I am working on. I hope to finish a chapter book soon. It is going to be for grades 3-5, and is intended to be a companion to the picture book:  Annie Mouse’s Route 66 Adventure: A Photo Journal.  
I’ve also begun working on another photo journal book for Pennsylvania. 

Do you have a blog? What do you blog about?
I don’t have enough time to do a regular blog. I use my blog for updates to my books, posting specials or appearance schedules.  My blog could be accessed from my homepage of my website: www.anniemousebooks.com

What is the best review of your work you've received to date? 
I’ve received many great reviews, and I love them all. The following review from Annie Mouse’s Route 66 Adventure: A Photo Journal is one of my favorites because the writer thought that anyone who loves Route 66 would enjoy the book, not just children. 

4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Route 66 Surprise April 26, 2012
Format:Perfect Paperback|Amazon Verified Purchase
When I saw this book listed among the other kindle books on route 66 I was not expecting much, it being packaged as a children's book. But I was very much pleasantly surprised. The book had many facts and went deeper about Route 66 than I thought it would. I think any and all Route66ers would love this book. I know I did.

What format(s) are your books available in? 
All of my books are available in both print and e-book format.

Is there anything else you would like to share or tell us?
International shipping of my print versions of my books is available through my web site: www.anniemousebooks.com
My website is: www.anniemousebooks.com  and there is a link to my blog on my homepage.




I'd like to thank Anne for answering my questions. Remember, to support independent authors; buy and read their books, visit their sites, and leave reviews. I hope you enjoyed this interview and thanks for reading.

1 comment:

  1. Great interview! I love your books, Anne, but I think I have mentioned that to you before!