Congratulation to Sally Pla on her new release, Stanley Will Probably Be Fine. We asked Sally about her writing journey on this new book which features comic trivia, a safety superhero, and a super-cool scavenger hunt all over downtown San Diego. The main character, Stanley Fortinbras, is a loveable underdog who must grapple with his anxiety—and learn what, exactly, it means to be brave.
MGM: What was the inspiration for this book?
It’s funny how differently my two books came about. With The Someday Birds, the writing just flew (sorry!). With Stanley, it came much more slowly, in fits and starts, with a cobbling-together of different inspirations, such as:
(1) Comics: I’m from San Diego, and Comic Con was going on when I was starting to think about book two. My comic-fanatic sons had actually told me, “Hey Mom, write something that might score us free badges!” I kid you not, they said that, and at first I laughed… but then it got me to thinking.
(2) Characters. My sister-in-law had sent me a notecard with a picture of this skinny, scrappy little kid in nerd-glasses flexing non-existent muscles. I instantly fell in love with that kid. It was like I recognized him as family. I knew instantly that it was a photo of my main character. And I would give him a story.
(3) Coyotes. I fell in a hole and broke my leg, right at the start of drafting this manuscript. It hurt at night, so I’d lie awake listening to coyotes howling in the canyon – such an eerie sound. They found their way into the story, too, as did a leg injury to a character. The story all kind of melded together through life-influences and happenstance inspiration. Somehow, it worked.
The main thing, though — the one true absolute thing I knew from the very first word — was that this was going to be a story about childhood anxiety.
MGM: The main character loves superhero comics. How did you weave that into the story?
Stanley is a superhero comics trivia expert par excellence. I did lots of research, and rewatched most of Marvel movies, and read a bunch of databases, wikis and fan sites with my son. I can now speak somewhat knowledgeably about subjects such as the DC reboot in the Crisis on Infinite Earths. Now that’s something to “Marvel” over! (sorry!)
Also, I wanted to give Stanley a treasure hunt quest, a big scary exciting thing to do that would take him outside his comfort zone.
Most importantly, I wanted to write a story that is enjoyable even if you are not interested in comics. This is actually a book about anxiety, about facing personal fears. That’s really the heart of it. I had some people who could care less about comics read it, and when they said they had fallen in love with Stanley and related to him, then I was happy.
MGM: What is your writing process? (Do you write every day? A certain number of pages, etc.)
I write, or at least think about my current project, or do research for it, every day. Sometimes all day, dawn to midnight; sometimes hardly at all. I don’t force a word or page count. I’ve tried that, and when I inevitably fail to make my goal, I feel like a loser. It’s like flubbing your diet. (I hate diets.) (Sigh.)
MGM: What is the best piece of advice you’ve received regarding writing?
Five words from Stephen King: “The book is the boss.”
You do what the story tells you to do, aesthetically, thematically, in every way. You write what the story needs.
MGM: How long from when you started writing Stanley Will Probably Be Fine until it was published?
A little under two years. It will be published just twelve months and two weeks after The Someday Birds, so my two middle-grade novels are pretty closely-timed siblings. I have a picture book, Benji, The Bad Day, & Me, coming out later this year with Lee & Low. And I am currently working on a third mg novel, about a girl this time– a story about identity, gene science, and some fascinating bio-ethical implications.
MGM: Do you have a fun photo you would like to share?
Here’s one that photographer Chris Cline took of me and my golden doodle, Leo. He’s a pretty big boy.