I am thrilled to have Anna Staniszewski with us today! The Prank List, the second book in her Dirt Diaries series just released on July 1, 2014, and here Anna explores what landscape means in the novel. I am especially excited about this interview because the landscape in The Prank List is a very non-traditional one – it's a bakery! I love this though…expanding the definition of landscape to include man-made environments.
Thank you Anna!
Tam: How did you gather and then articulate the details of the landscape you portray in The Prank List?
Anna: Creating a bakery landscape was both fun and challenging. My main character, Rachel, takes a pastry class in the story, but what she thinks is going to be great experience turns out to be a bit of a disaster. Not only did I have to create an environment that felt like a believable kitchen, but I also had to focus on creating obstacles for Rachel. I combined my personal knowledge of bakeries with some online research, and I asked my foodie friends to help me with the recipes that Rachel makes to ensure that the baking details were realistic.
Tam: What is your personal relationship to bakeries?
Anna: My bakery experiences have been a bit peripheral. I worked at a bagel shop for a little while, so I drew on those experiences in the book, and I also have taken some cooking classes. To be honest, I enjoy eating baked goods more than I enjoy making them so this was one aspect of the book that I had to spend a lot of time trying to get right.
Tam: I love baking, and I fear I might have eaten my own weight in cookies and pastries trying to get the recipes just right!
But back to landscape, for me, in my own writing, I approach landscape almost as a character. What do you think of that idea? And if you have any beliefs or thoughts around it, can you explain that a bit here? Why is this so? How do you manifest this belief in your work?
Anna: The landscape is absolutely a character. Not only does it create an atmosphere in the story but—as I mentioned above—it can also create obstacles for the other characters.
Tam: I've never thought about that! Landscape offering obstacles for its characters. That is so true—
Anna: Seeing the landscape interacting with the characters can add another layer of conflict to a story. I love taking an aspect of a time or place and using it to force the characters to take action.
Tam: What do you think about the idea that landscape holds stories? The way a piece of land is shaped over time (like where I live, for example, from sheep pasture to forest) and what that means for the people (characters) walking and breathing within it. Life happens over and over again on the same piece of land. Do those life stories get told? Or are they felt? So in the case of The Prank List, what does it mean to be a baker? A non-baker? Does a kitchen, or a bakery, hold stories?!!
Anna: I love this question! The bakery in The Prank List is new in town, so it doesn’t have a lot of stories “stored up” yet. But its newness is something I thought about as I was writing. The bakery owner wants to bring in more business, so he reluctantly starts offering pastry classes and even agrees to take part in a baking competition. In order to help his business thrive, he’s essentially adding new narratives to his landscape.
Tam: I love that! What does landscape mean to Rachel?
Anna: Rachel is not good with change, so she wants her landscape to stay the same. In The Dirt Diary, she spends a lot of time trying to restore her broken family. In The Prank List, the fear of her mom’s business failing (and, by extension, her family losing its house) drives her to do all sorts of questionable things. She’s willing to take huge risks to keep her landscape from changing.
Tam: Interesting. So that idea that landscape changes, organically, over time is something that Rachel fights against?
Anna: I think this is why she loves baking so much, because it gives her a constant wherever she is. This is also why she has such a hard time when she realizes that she might not be as good at baking as she always thought!
Tam: Finally, I am curious about your take on the relationship between landscape and home. Do you think landscape helps create home? Do you believe our inner landscape and our outer (environmental) one must be in synch? (What does that even mean??) Again, this is a little bit of a different question when you look at it through the lens of a profession as opposed to an environmental landscape…
Anna: I think this goes back to your previous question about what landscape means to Rachel. She’s very focused on the idea of home (which includes her physical house and also her family) because it’s constantly being threatened. Since things in her landscape are so uncertain, it pushes Rachel to take action she wouldn’t normally take. Only when her home feels safe can she feel like herself again.
Tam: Wow. Yes. When home feels safe, she can feel safe. Thank you for that parting thought, and for all of this, Anna!
Born in Poland and raised in the United States, Anna Staniszewski grew up loving stories in both Polish and English. Currently, she lives outside Boston with her husband and their crazy dog. When she’s not writing, Anna spends her time reading, daydreaming, and challenging unicorns to games of hopscotch. She is the author of the My Very UnFairy Tale Life series and the Dirt Diary series. Her newest book, The Prank List, released on July 1st from Sourcebooks. You can visit Anna at www.annastan.com.