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Wednesday, May 6, 2015

Interview with Anica Mrose Rissi, author of Anna, Banana, and the Friendship Split

Today Anica Mrose Rissi is at The Hiding Spot to celebrate the release of the first Anna Banana chapter book! Chapter book readers are going to love this new series. The main character, Anna, is wonderfully imagined; readers will easily relate to her actions and feelings. Check out my interview with Anica below to find out more about the experiences that informed Anna, Banana, and the Friendship Split, collaborating with illustrator Meg Park, why "pants" is her favorite word - and more!

In your book, the main character, Anna, struggles to make sense of a broken friendship and the anger, sadness, and loneliness she feels. Did you draw on any specific experiences or memories when creating Anna and the situation in the book? 

Oh, absolutely. When I was Anna’s age, I was part of a friendship trio that was a lot of fun but also included all the hurt feelings that can arise from the tensions of being a threesome. We took turns being the one who felt left out by the other two—or sometimes all three felt it at once. Best friendships are intense and when things go wrong—whether in an explosive moment or a slow drifting apart—it’s so confusing and painful, especially when you’re younger and those experiences are new. I remember those experiences vividly. 

When I wrote the first draft of Anna, Banana, and the Friendship Split, I was reeling from a romantic breakup that I just couldn’t shake. It was cathartic to pour all of my hurt, sadness, anger, and confusion into a very emotional first draft. And it was even more cathartic to revise it. In later drafts, I kept in much of that real, raw emotion, while also infusing the story with humor and hope. It was a relief to make it funny, and to see Anna and Sadie find a way to come back together in the end, but on new terms that will make their friendship better for both of them. 
Tell me a little bit about your writing process: Do you outline? Start at the beginning? The middle? The end? 
The idea for Anna, Banana, and the Friendship Split started with the title—as have the plots for the other three Anna, Banana books I’ve written so far (more on those below). I don’t outline, but I do plan ahead. My process begins with a flurry of ideas—plot possibilities, dialogue snippets, emotions to hit, jokes to include. I let them all tumble out into a Scrivener doc over the course of several days or weeks. Once I have about three different books’ worth of material and multiple directions in which the plot might turn, I pull out starting points, middle points, and end points. I arrange those into some kind of order and begin eliminating the ideas that don’t fit, adding new ones that do, shifting things around, connecting dots. Once I have a rough idea of what the beginning, middle, and end of the story might be, I start writing chapter one. There are always shifts and surprises along the way; usually the plot changes quite a bit as a I go. But I like to have some sense of where I might be going before I begin. 
I loved Meg Park’s illustrations, especially the facial expressions which add so much to the text. How did you come to collaborate with Meg? 
Isn’t she great? Seeing the art for each book is one of the most exciting parts of the process for me. 

Soon after the book was acquired, my editor, Kristin Ostby at S&S, started sending me links to the kinds of illustrations she thought might work well for the project. It was thrilling to imagine Anna and Banana rendered in the many different styles we looked at. We sent links back and forth for a few months as Kristin discussed the possibilities with the team at S&S, including the book’s fabulous designer, Laurent Linn. When Kristin sent me Meg Park’s online portfolio, I was immediately smitten. Meg draws adorable animals and infuses her characters with so much personality. I was delighted when S&S approached her to do this project and she said yes! 
If you had to pick a favorite word, what would it be and why?  
The word “pants” makes me laugh. I especially enjoy it as a suffix, and especially in nicknames (example: Rissipants). 

My favorite scrabble/anagrams words are “ai” (a three-toed sloth) and “ort” (food waste). I use them in almost every game. 
My blog is dedicated to my personal hiding spot, books. Who, what, or where can be credited as your personal escape from reality? 
Music. I’ve been playing violin since I was two years old and viola since I was a pre-teen, and although I don’t play my instruments nearly as often now as I used to, music is still an escape and a safe haven for me. I work through a lot of emotions while playing Bach, Bruch, or Hindemith, and while listening to Gillian Welch, Gorillaz, or a new favorite pop tune. Music is centering, and one can escape into it alone or with other people. 
What can readers look forward to next? 

There are there more books in the series scheduled so far: Anna, Banana, and the Monkey in the Middle comes out in July, followed by Anna, Banana, and the Big-Mouth Bet in September and Anna, Banana, and the Puppy Parade in January 2016. It was so fun writing them. And in summer 2017 my first picture book comes out: The Teacher’s Pet, illustrated by Zachariah Ohora. It’s about a teacher so enamored of the new class pet, he can’t see all the trouble it’s causing. Zach is working on the sketches now—I can’t wait to see them!

About the book:
A charming new illustrated chapter-book series about a girl named Anna who navigates the joys and challenges of third-grade best-friendship, with her beloved wiener dog, Banana, by her side.

Anna has two favorite things: her best friend, Sadie, and her dog, Banana. She can't wait to celebrate her birthday with both of them.

But Anna's birthday party turns into a birthday disaster when Sadie starts a terrible fight that Anna never saw coming. Anna doesn't know why her best friend is suddenly acting like her worst enemy, but she knows she'd do anything to fix it. She and Banana just need to come up with a plan.

Only, what if Sadie doesn't want their friendship to be fixed?

Watch the book trailer:

About the Author:

Writer, storyteller, editrix. Author of Anna, Banana, and the Friendship Split (S&S, May 2015). Fan of dogs and ice cream.

Anica Mrose Rissi grew up on an island off the coast of Maine, where she read a lot of books and loved a lot of pets. She now tells and collects stories, makes up songs on her violin, and eats a lot of cheese with her friends in Brooklyn, New York. She is a former executive editor at a major publishing house. She tweets about bookish things and her dog, Arugula, at @anicarissi. Anna, Banana, and the Friendship Split is her first book. Find out more at


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