Interview with Author Anthony L. Manna – Ramona Portelli Blog

Interview with Author Anthony L. Manna

Anthony L. Manna’s first collaboration with Soula Mitakidou, Mr. Semolina-Semolinus: A Greek Folktale, illustrated by Giselle Potter, was an ALA-ALSC Notable Book, a Marion Vannett Ridgway Award winner, and a New York Public Library Best Book for Children. Another collaboration of theirs, The Orphan: A Cinderella Story from Greece, illustrated by Giselle Potter, was a Bank Street College of Education Best Book. They also collaborated on the anthology, Folktales from Greece: A Treasury of Delights. Loukas and the Game of Chance, Anthony’s illustrated fantasy for middle grade/middle school readers (9 – 12 years old) was a 2019 Book Excellence Award Finalist and a 2019 eLit Awards Gold Medalist.

A retired professor of Literacy Development, Anthony has worked with children and teens in drama and storytelling, has been an actor, a director of children’s theater, a vehicle repossessor, and a janitor, and he has taught in schools and universities in Turkey, Greece, Albania, and the United States. He divides his time between Ohio and Arizona.

Tell me more about your latest book

A reimagined Greek folktale, Loukas and the Game of Chance is the story of a flute-playing boy who befriends a magical talking, dancing snake. The snake bestows fortune and favor upon Loukas, but some years later, tempted by greed and pride, Loukas loses all his riches and even his family. He now must embark on a treacherous journey filled with suspense and intrigue to find Destiny, Sun, and Moon. The strange souls Loukas meets along the forest path threaten his endurance, his will to survive, his hope of ever reaching Destiny, Sun, and Moon. He trudges on. He will beg the three supernatural powers to forgive him for his foolishness at gambling away his family and riches in a game of chance.  They’ll surely allow him to reverse his misfortune, restore his honor, and win back all that he loves and treasures, won’t they?

What was the most challenging aspect of writing this book?

The Snake Tree, a Greek folktale, haunted me long after it appeared in my co-authored collection of folk and fairy tales. As a folktale, the story worked its magic economically and quickly with unnamed characters representing various human and fantastical conflicts. I wanted to transform the story into a complete, complex fantasy. My challenge was to take a few of the folktale’s elements—a snake, deception, unnamed conflicting characters, a simple plot—and build a world filled with fully realized flesh-and-blood characters, an intricate story arc, a deeply human challenge, and the hope for redemption. Many attempts. Many revisions. Much research into Aegean island flora and fauna, snake types, characteristics, and behaviors, the work of fishermen/folk, fishing boats, flutes, and the characteristics of flute tunes. The writing is demanding work but also a labor of love. Discipline is the key that kept me returning to the tasks at hand.

What is your normal procedure to get your books published?

Let’s see. My co-authored picture books were written and pitched in the days when traditional publishers accepted unsolicited manuscripts. My co-author and I researched companied that published traditional tales. We simply sent the manuscript to publishers that looked promising. Many rejections later, our stories found a home with a talented, trusted editor who helped us to reshape the story to make it readable and entertaining. Fast forward to Loukas and the Game of Chance circa 2015. Now, there were few publishers who accepted unsolicited manuscripts. You hired an agent to represent your work in promising companies. Simply put, I wasn’t that keen in seeking an agent who would represent me—for a number of personal reasons. Thus, I did what a lot of writers do these days—I pitched my story to independent publishers, and it worked. One favorable feature about working in the independent market is having the option of collaborating  with an illustrator of the author’s choice. How fortunate I have been to work through every aspect of the story with talented artist Donald Babisch. He helped me see and discover aspects of Loukas and the Game of Chance that would have passed me by without his close reading of the emerging story.

Do you view writing as a kind of spiritual practice?

What a great question. I will answer it with a quotation from the late Aminah Brenda Lynn Robinson, my artist friend and mentor and the recipient of a MacArthur Genius Grant,  who wrote, “Making books is meditation. It’s where I find peace. It’s bliss. True bliss.” Indeed, it’s my sacred place where I can find pieces of myself that I welcome or want to be released from. Story is a window out to the world-at-large and a mirror where I see myself uncovered. Writing is magical. Writing is a concrete task. It’s labor that helps me to grow spiritually. 

How many books have you written so far?

In addition to publishing many essays and chapters in academic journals and writing several academic books, all of which reflect aspects of my research in literacy development—my academic topic—I have co-authored two award-winning picture books: Mr. Semolina-Semolinus: A Greek Folktale and The Orphan: A Cinderella Story from Greece, both illustrated by Giselle Potter. I also co-authored Folktales from Greece: A Treasury of Delights, a collection of twenty stories illustrated with photographs by Georgios Katsagelos. As mentioned above, Loukas and the Game of Chance, my fantasy for middle grade/middle school readers (9 – 12 years old), illuminated with illustrations by Donald Babisch, was a 2019 Book Excellence Award Finalist and a 2019 eLit Awards Gold Medalist.

What’s the best way to market your books?

I discovered that book market is a complex, time consuming labor. To help me learn how to reach a wide audience with my most recent book, I am currently collaborating with Rick Lite, the CMO of Stress Free Book Marketing ([email protected]). With Rick’s assistance, I refurbished my website (, developed a book trailer (, established a presence on several social media platforms  (@drtony42,,, and (Anthony Manna). Over time, I have learned about the value of a consistent outreach, bolstered by quality memes and graphics and appealing content. My outreach also includes interviews with online radio hosts, such as Dena Marie at “Lift Your Spirits with Dena Marie” and Ashley Berges at “Live Your True Life Perspectives.” I have also interviewed several authors and published the interviews on my website (

How hard or easy is it to establish and maintain a career in writing?

When I started writing children’s books in the late 1990s, my co-author and I did what most children’s book writers did: we searched for relevant publishing companies in the then recent issue of Children’s Writers and Illustrators Market. Like other children’s book writers of the time, we sent the text of what we considered a picture book—without illustrations—to many publishers, and then we waited anxiously for a response from an interested publisher. Since then, the process of looking for a publisher has changed radically. Very few publishers accept unsolicited manuscripts these days. Instead, the author is expected to be represented by a literary agent whose task is to find the most promising publisher for your book. That’s how a career in writing materializes. The writer needs to find an agent who believes in their work, past, present, and in the future. There are many agents to choose from. In fact, a simple Google search reveals a host of agents for the writer to consider. It is fiercely competitive, but if a writer wants to launch a career, then finding an agent is an essential task.

What is your advice for aspiring writers?

Read as many books as you can in your chosen genre. Let these books serve as mentor texts that introduce you to literary elements of every type—-character, plot, structure, theme, style, and so forth. Read books about writing such as A Writer’s Notebook: Unlocking the Writer Within You by Ralph Fletcher, On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft by Stephen King, and On Writing Well, 30th Anniversary Edition: The Classic Guide to Writing Nonfiction by William Zinsser. Join a writers group—virtual these days— to help you with your craft, your courage, your perseverance. Check your local library to see if there are local groups that would welcome a new member. In a writers group, you share your writing and ask members for a response. Be sure to join a group that is known to offer constructive, sensitive, and gentle critiques. Finally, search Google for local and state writers conferences. For example, the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators ( is an organization I subscribe to annually. In addition to offering online classes and webcasts for children’s/teen book writers, SCBWI offers national (LosAngeles and NYC) and regional conferences and other helpful programs and meetings.

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