Prolific author and one of my writing buddies Anna Staniszewski is here today to talk about researching ONCE UPON A CRUISE, the first book in her latest tween series. It’s always fun and informative to have Anna on the blog!
by Anna Staniszewski
Before I embark on a post about the process of researching my newest tween novel, ONCE UPON A CRUISE, I have a confession to make: I’ve never been a big fan of the research process. For many authors I know, research is one of the most fun parts of the process, but for me, it can be paralyzing.
When I start researching something, I often feel overwhelmed by the amount of information I don’t know, and I start to panic that I’m going to get everything wrong. That’s why, when I can, I write stories that require minimal research (e.g. ones that take place in completely made-up worlds) or ones that require the most enjoyable type of research (e.g. creating the perfect brownie). But when my editor at Scholastic approached me with the idea for a story about a girl who spends her summer working with her mom on a wannabe Disney cruise, I was instantly on board, even though it meant knowing a lot more information about cruise ships than was currently in my brain.
Now, in an ideal world, researching cruise ships would also be the enjoyable kind of research. You just go on a cruise and write it off as a business expense, right? Sadly, not in my case. When I started working on the book, I was hugely pregnant and too bogged down with deadlines to be able to dash out of town. That meant I had to remain firmly on land and explore other research avenues.
First, I started with what I knew. I had been on a couple of cruises in the past, so I wrote down as many details as I could remember about the experience—the seas of sunbathers who were starting to resemble leather suitcases and the extremely enthusiastic people spraying hand disinfectant at every turn. But those details weren’t enough for the book, especially since my character wasn’t a passenger on a cruise—she was an employee. I had to dig deeper.
I set out to read as much as I could on what it’s like to work on a cruise ship, including the crazy hours, the cramped living quarters, and the personal dramas. This gave me a better idea of what my protagonist’s room might look like and what her schedule might be, but I was missing one very important detail. This wasn’t any cruise. It was a knockoff Disney cruise, and Disney cruises are their own special kind of nautical adventure.
With that in mind, I started looking into life on a Disney cruise, which led to watching training videos and even a documentary on how Disney cruise ships are built and operated. Once I had this info, I went about twisting it to make it fit my “knockoff cruise,” which often meant making things goofier and a lot less organized than they would be on a Disney vessel. Thankfully when it came to the fairy tale details of the story, I could use a lot of the info that I’d gathered for my UnFairy Tale series.
Finally, after all of that research and writing and revising, I was pretty happy with the result. But, being the paranoid researcher that I am, I still wasn’t sure the details were right. So I put out a call on social media, asking if anyone happened to have experience working on a cruise ship, and the Internet did not disappoint!
Thanks to the magic of Twitter, I was able to find someone who’d not only worked on a Disney cruise but had actually done the same job as my main character! I couldn’t believe my luck. Not only was this woman willing to answer my questions, but she agreed to read through my manuscript and flag any errors. She pointed out a few small mistakes and had a couple of suggestions that helped make the details more authentic. When she wrote, “I can tell you did your research!” in her comments, I had to admit that I was so relieved. If I’d passed her scrutiny, I was a lot more confident that I’d pass young readers’ as well!
So did my experience with ONCE UPON A CRUISE change my approach to research? Yes and no. I still find the process a bit daunting, but because the amount of research I did for this book was much more in-depth than for my other projects, I now have more confidence in my ability to do even more research for future books. And hey, maybe next time, I’ll even get a tropical vacation out of the deal. 😉
ONCE UPON A CRUISE blurb:
Ainsley never wanted to spend her summer on a fairy tale cruise–especially since, instead of lounging by the pool, she’s running around the ship doing favor after favor for her cruise director mom.
Things aren’t all bad–it’s good to see her mom acting confident again after the divorce, and she’s learning a lot about obscure German fairy tales and how to fold towels into entertaining shapes for little kids (um, yay?). There’s also a guy who’s super cute, even in a dorky dwarf costume–if only Ainsley could get Prince Handsome to stop babbling about himself long enough for her to say more than ‘hi’ to the cute dwarf!
But once the cruise starts, things start to go wrong: the laundry turns pink, the kitchen runs out of food, the guy playing the Pig King is always in Ainsley’s hair, and her mom expects her to be in a hundred places all at once. Is this fairy tale cruise under a wicked curse? Or can Ainsley stand up for herself and make the cruise end happily ever after?
Anna Staniszewski is the author of the My Very UnFairy Tale Life series, the Dirt Diary series, and the Switched at First Kiss series–-all published by Sourcebooks–-as well as the picture book POWER DOWN, LITTLE ROBOT. Her latest tween novel, ONCE UPON A CRUISE, will be released by Scholastic on September 27th. Anna was a Writer-in-Residence at the Boston Public Library and a recipient of the PEN New England Discovery Award, and she currently teach in the MFA Writing for Children Program at Simmons College in Boston. You can find out more about Anna and her books at www.annastan.com.