Shannon Hale's Blog
August 25, 2014
Dear librarians, teachers, parents, and readers,
I received this email from a school librarian. If you've had any experience with The Goose Girl, Enna Burning, River Secrets, and/or Forest Born with elementary kids, could you leave a comment for him?
"The powers that be in my school district are not allowing your Books of Bayern series of books in our elementary school libraries, based largely on the fact the reviews in professional journals tend to view them as appropriate for grades 6 and up. I feel, however, that we are doing a disservice to those elementary school kids that are ready for your books. It would be extremely helpful if you could write a few words justifying keeping your books on the shelves in elementary school libraries."
August 18, 2014
I promised to post every Monday this year and I'd been doing so well, but I kinda burned myself out in July doing the weekday posts. Summer is so wonderful! I love having the kids home! But at the same time, I have the kids home. Their presence makes it harder to get my work done. Summer is glorious and yet killer on word count.
This past week my spare attention has been absorbed in what's going on in Ferguson. Last Thursday I felt a disconnect between what the media was reporting and what the people on the grown were reporting through twitter, so I storified Antonio French's account. Feeling distant and helpless, all I feel I can do is help signal boost what people of Ferguson are saying. I'm frequently on twitter if you are too.
I've also been closely following the Amazon-Hachette news. As you may know, the two are in negotiations for new terms, and because Hachette hasn't been relenting to changes Amazon wants, it in turn is not stocking Hachette titles. My Ever After High books are published by Little, Brown, a division of Hachette. Authors are caught in the middle of this feud and many are hurting a lot. A Wonderlandiful World (my third Ever After High book) publishes a week from tomorrow. Amazon won't sell preorders of it. As Amazon accounts for 40-50% of book sales, their choice not to sell certain books is significant. I hope people who normally shop from Amazon exclusively will use this opportunity to support bookstores who are stocking these titles. This article links to an email Amazon sent to many of its customers as well as Hachette president's response.
I promise to have marvelous things to say here next week. And going forward there will be much book news and hopefully plenty of good discussions. Stay tuned!
August 1, 2014
I read through it speedily and didn't stop to write notes. It's often true for me that last chapters come quickly. If I get the rest of the story right, the last chapter usually feels natural and doesn't need as much revision as some. Looking back at my first draft, I'd gamble that the last chapter is the least changed of all of them. Then I go back and spend a year or two revising what came before, trying to lead up to and earn that final chapter.
I started this book years before getting pregnant for the first time and turned in the final draft exactly one week before giving birth to my first child.
My editor, Victoria Wells Arms, helped me hugely to shape this story. She read many drafts over a couple of years and gave me copious notes, which I used to help myself see the story objectively and make it stronger. Some think that editors just look at grammar, spelling, etc. That is a copy editor's job, who comes in at the end when there's a final draft. An editor like Victoria works with the author over the whole writing process and is essential for helping a book be the best it can. No author can work in a vacuum. A good editor makes all the difference. My husband, as always, was also a great in house editor and sounding board. In the acknowledgements I mention T.L. Trent. This is Tiffany Trent (author of The Unnaturalists), who I met in grad school. She read early drafts of both Enna Burning and Goose Girl.
Rachel says, "I loved the ending of Enna Burning; I think the whole 'learning each other's languages' twist at the end sums up the essence of reading. And also, great picture (the other one was great too, of course :)." Yes! It was important for me to make that work. I love themes! Yeah, I got a new author photo. It was time. The old one was several years, hairstyles, and children ago. I finally decided not to be lazy and get a new one when my 7yo saw the cover for Dangerous and said, "Mama, if you put that picture on the book people will think that's what you look like."
Ralsa asks, "If Enna had died at the end of this book, the events of River Secrets and Forest Born would've gone a lot differently, wouldn't they?" Definitely! If they'd have happened at all. I never wrote a version of Enna dying, but I always want to explore every possibility. If a writer always knows there's only one possible ending and considers no others, the text reflects that and the reader can't as easily imagine other endings either.
Thanks for taking this journey with me! This took a lot of my writing time this month so I don't know that I'll do it again, but it was rewarding for me to look back at this book.
July 31, 2014
Original ending: Enna gives up her powers entirely. That was what I was writing toward in the first draft, but I eventually discovered it wasn't the best story. I also considered ending it in her death.
Found this note I apparently never incorporated in the story: "Mimicbeetles introduced, mimic sounds of men or Finn coming."
The ceremony: I was always curious about these verses from Isaiah in the Old Testament (which is generally poetic and full of strange and interesting images):
6 Then flew one of the seraphims unto me, having a live coal in his hand, which he had taken with the tongs from off the altar;
7 And he laid it upon my mouth, and said, Lo, this hath touched thy lips; and thine iniquity is taken away, and thy sin purged.
This ceremony seemed like something the fire worshippers might believe in.
Wind and fire: In an early draft, my editor was not on board with the wind/fire solution. She thought I should change it to rain/fire. I thought it was working until her comment, which made me look closer and work harder. I decided not to take her exact advice but it was still helpful because she pushed me to make work what I wanted to have happen. I deleted most of it and rewrote the whole thing. And then again. And again. I overwrote and then deleted liberally. And then wove strings throughout the entire book that helped lead up to the moment when Isi and Enna teach each other their languages. And now it's 10x stronger. Reminds me of what others have said, "If someone says something's not working in your manuscript, they're always right. If they tell you how to fix it, they're always wrong." I don't like "always" but mostly I think that advice is true.
Nicole asks, "I was wondering what your favorite book is, outside of those which you've written?" I don't have a favorite book. I don't have a favorite anything. I like choices! But the first book that popped into my mind when you asked that is I Capture the Castle, which is a book I completely adored until the last page, and then I was so upset by the abrupt, unclosed ending that I couldn't deal. That book taught me a lot about what I love as a reader and what I don't. Highly recommend it for both reasons.
Eliza asks, "Sorry to hijack the Enna discussion, but I have another EAH question. Are Apple and Daring siblings?" No, that would be weird! Apple inherits her mother's story, but her father (the previous Prince Charming) doesn't have a son to inherit his. I explain more in a short story about Dexter that's coming out this fall in the Once Upon a Time collection, but the Charming family is huge, lots of branches, and there are plenty of prince charmings to take up those roles so there's no incest!
July 30, 2014
"silly songs about swimming rabbits and no-tailed squirrels": it occurs to me I should have had my husband write this song! He wrote the "bodiless piglet" song Tegus sings in Book of a Thousand Days. He also expanded the rap I wrote for Humphry in The Storybook of Legends and then wrote new raps for him in The Unfairest of Them All and A Wonderlandiful World. He's my go-to song writer! I should have made him write all those songs in the Princess Academy books. (I think he wrote part of one or two in the upcoming third book, actually.)
The journey south: I mentioned my love of fever dreams. Other things I love: journeys through wilderness. Love it. I feel very disappointed by high fantasy books that don't move, stay in one place. They feel stagnant to me. I want to wander, feel the landscape beneath me and around me, changing and threatening. Writing Book of a Thousand Days felt so risky to me because I knew I wanted to start the book inside the tower and stay there for some time.
"Over there!" After this book, Dean and I used to shout that to each other sometimes. I'd forgotten about that till I read this scene.
Yasid: Looking over my notes, I had so much more info about Yasid than I could use in the story. That's generally the case, I think. You use about 5% of your research. You need to rifle through the other 95% just to discover the 5% that you need. Here are some notes I took:
"The Magi were the priests of the Persians, kept fire and ash upon an altar and without them no sacrifice could be made. Believed that sun, fire, and light were emblems of Ormuzd and sources of all light and purity. Worshiped fire not as separate being but symbol, embodiment. Worshipped on mountaintops, not in temples. Magi connected with astrology and enchantment. Ancient Zoroastrians forced to give up their religion, some refused and fled to the deserts of Kerman and to Hindustan. Arabs call them Guebers from Arabic word meaning unbelievers. Fire is still adored as the symbol of divinity. “Lalla Rookh” = “Fire Worshippers”.
Audrey asks, "Shannon what is your favorite Bayern book-inspired fan creation? (example: clothing/ cosplay, objects, art)" There are so many wonderful things! Sometimes people will email me photos, Halloween costumes, art. I love the watercolor paintings some have done.
Nicole asks, "I was just thinking that, since my favorite book is Enna Burning, what is your favorite book?" I couldn't choose. They really do feel like my children.
Eliza asks, "In The Storybook of Legends, the Narrator makes a passing reference to "the goose girl's daughter" attending Ever After High a year ahead of Raven. Does this mean...sister for Tusken? At least in your head? Or is it just a nod to your Bayern fans?" Yes! You're the first person to ask me about that. It's really just a nod. The Goose Girl and Ever After High take place in totally different worlds, so I don't think she'd literally be Ani's daughter.
Just two more chapters!
July 29, 2014
"So she laughed." I remember a moment in Hero & the Crown where Aerin is so distracted by a rash on her neck from plant sap that her wizard uncle can't quite make her afraid or enchanted with his words. That real detail stuck with me. A physical thing. A mundane thing in the midst of magic and drama. Those are good story choices. I can't remember now if I was thinking of that when I wrote this scene, but perhaps. Here what keeps Enna grounded is a laugh. A realization of the absurd. That works for me in real life too.
"Enna-girl": This is the nickname Razo calls her. In this scene, I think it's interesting that she gets strength by thinking of herself the way that Razo sees her, not the way Sileph sees her. Or even Isi or Finn. The laugh. The ridiculous. The absurd. And...I think I just broke a rule about not trying to interpret my own story for you. Hopefully you'll forgive me this once. As much as I don't want to place myself as the Voice of Authority, it might be interesting to know that writers like me think very, very carefully about word choices, connotations, layers. That stuff English teachers make us analyze.
Sileph: I wouldn't mind if some readers fell in love with him a little bit. Some don't like him from the beginning (my husband always thought he was a douchebag) but some, like Enna did, might fall for him. I don't think Sileph is pure evil. I do think he loved Enna in his way. I think it's tough to have people-speaking. I can understand and feel for him, but I also wouldn't want him anywhere near me or my daughters. I hope some readers did fall for him and when they got to this point, were able to take a step back with Enna, and say, that was an abusive relationship. That is not the kind of person I want in my life.
"Then there was wind." Gives me chills. I know I wrote it, but if my own writing doesn't affect me emotionally then it fails. I work at it till it does.
The other day we were outside. The weather was uncanny, dark and crackling. The wind was blowing. My hair beat around my head and rose up. I turned to my husband and said, "This is what I am, Sileph! This is what I am!" (teehee) But I honestly love dramatic moments. If I could paint, this is the scene I would paint, Enna in this moment.
Finn!: as I recall, this wasn't in the original draft. I believe it was my husband's suggestion. He thought Sileph was a douchebag. And he always identified with Finn. I think he wanted to vicariously punch Sileph in the face.
Rebecca says, "I feel like this chapter specifically juxtaposes Isi's trip from Kildenree to Bayern. The betrayal she experienced on the first trip versus the bonding and growth of their friendship in the second." Yeah that's a nice thought. I wrote Forest Born in contrast with The Goose Girl too. I hope any of my books can be read alone, but I think FB means so much more if paired with GG.
Nicole asks, "I read that you weren't going to write another book of Bayern, but if or hopefully when you do, do you think you would write it about a character we already know or introduce someone new, like Rin?" I currently have no plans to write another book of Bayern. If I came back to this land one day, perhaps it would be in the future and tell the story of Tusken when he's grown.
Anna asks, "I've always wondered how you pronounced Anidori." However you like! Most say "Ah-ni-dorry" or "Annie-dorry"
July 28, 2014
Part 4: Friend: Here's where the structure of this story gets really unusual, I think. There is still a quarter of the book left, but Enna ending the war would have been a traditional climax. Some readers might expect no more than a denouement here. Our brains are trailed to expect that story structure, which I totally appreciate. But I wanted to tell a slightly different story. So we head into the final quarter.
Fever dreams: I mentioned my love for fever dreams?
These two lines always stay with me:
"It was war."
"I was me."
Yasid: For words in their language, I borrowed from Guarani, a language indigenous to Paraguay. "Tata" means "fire" (accent on the second vowel). As well, the tea Isi drinks that smells like "seeped hay" is my feeling about mate, a drink I often had in Paraguay. I prefer mate dulce (with milk and sugar) or terere (yerba mate with cold water and ice and often mint or other herbs) to traditional mate. With apologies to mate purists. :)
AH! Sileph again! What will that man do next?
Catherine says, "This has nothing to do with the book club, but I thought you would like to know. I visited Jane Austen's home today (which was absolutely amazing) today and I overheard the cashier in the gift shop giving a raving review of Austenland, the movie. Congratulations! You've made it back to the motherland!" Ha! That's awesome.
Nicole asks, "Are Isi and Enna based off people you know or did they just spring to life in your wonderful mind?" Thank you! I rarely base characters off real people. They develop as I write the story. A character is what they say, do, think, and until I write I can't see that. I thought I knew Enna when I wrote The Goose Girl, but not till this book did I realize I'd only scratched her surface. You may notice she seems slightly different in all the Books of Bayern, because we're seeing her through other characters' points-of-view.
Lynn asks, "Do you think of a character and then name them or do you start with a name? I don't know why but I pronounce Enna's name as Eena or Ina." I say "Eh-na" but I don't mind if anyone says it differently. I met a baby named Enna once (after my character I believe) and recently someone named a baby Isilee (which is a name I made up, as far as I know).
Eliza says, "Last time I read this book, it was about struggling with a problem no one else could see and conquering your inner demons. And now it's about friendship! Haha, you tricky book, changing on me like that." Yay! I love that about books, how they change with you.
July 23, 2014
No one can relate to Enna's actual position at the beginning of this chapter, but I believe we've experienced times when there seemed to be no options. When we were trapped by the choices we'd made and the circumstances we were in. Inside those moments, all can seem impossible. As I hope it seems so now in the story. Impossible. She is truly trapped.
The catalyst for change: Isi. Always Isi. She changes nothing except perspective. I think sometimes that's all we need. Not for someone to take away all our problems but just help us turn a bit, see a slightly different way out. Isi was raised on stories, and so that's what she can offer. A story. I feel the same. I can't reach back to every reader who reaches out to me with letters and requests and needs for friendship or mentorship. I can't find every person who is lonely or afraid or trapped by people who don't have their best interests at heart or stuck in their own mistakes or sad or desperate or yearning. But I can offer a story. That's what this book is for me. A story like the one Isi tells Enna. And hopefully it will reach the right people in the right way. Hopefully the right reader can take what they need from it and turn just a little bit, see the path they hadn't seen before.
But--oh! After weeks in that tent, as horrible as this chapter is, I'm so relieved when she starts escaping in the camp.Run, Enna, run!
Stories are characters. Characters are their relationships. With others as well as with themselves. Everything in this story matters because of Enna's friendships with Isi, Razo, and Finn. Can you imagine this story without them? If you're story is stuck, look closely at the relationships. Which need to be strengthened? More important? Can you add a friendship/sibling/parent-child relationship that will matter to the story?
Anna asks, "If the Goose Girl was a movie, who would you want to play Ani and Enna?" I truly have no idea. Who would you pick?
Lizza asks, "Are any of the characters in Enna Burning LGBTQ+?" The text doesn't specifiy but surely there must be. 5-10% of the population in the US identify as LGBTQ, so it's reasonable to assume that at least 5% of a book's population as well. I've had readers email me that they read Enna's fire-speaking as a metaphor for their own homosexuality, which I hadn't intended but I love how fantasy can create metaphors to speak to everyone's own experiences. Telling the story of characters who are LGBTQ is not something I've done yet (there are so, so many stories I haven't done yet!) but if you're looking for recommendations, I love authors like Holly Black, Malinda Lo, Libba Bray, A.S. King, Maureen Johnson, and David Levithan. A couple recent books I've loved featuring LGBTQ characters are Smile by Raina Telgemeier and Afterworlds by Scott Westerfeld. The Stonewall Book Awards also provide an excellent list.
I'm off to Comic-con and won't be able to blog again until Monday. Thank you, readers!
July 22, 2014
Sileph and Enna: some are upset by this relationship, but it occurs to me how important stories are, how a distanced reader can see and understand things that a character can't. And in turn, that helps us take a step back from ourselves and see and understand ourselves better. How many people have been in a relationship like Enna's with Sileph but couldn't see it for what it was?
"You lying son of a goat." Feel free to use this at need. You have my permission.
Someone close to me had a hard time with this book, and it occurred to me that she had never made any big mistakes. Maybe it's uncomfortable for those who have lived a quiet kind of life to try to empathize with a character like Enna.
A note to myself in an earlier draft: "What are Sileph's motivations? Does he really love her?" I came to my own conclusion in later drafts but since the text doesn't specifically say I'll let you decide for yourself.
Rebecca asks, "Would you rather have this series adapted into movies or a TV show ...or neither if you had the choice?" Ooh, wouldn't a Game of Thrones style miniseries be wonderful? If done well. But I highly doubt any of the Bayern books will ever be made into a movie. The Goose Girl was optioned years ago. And I remember (about 7 years ago?) someone shopping it around as a potential vehicle for a young actress. Obviously nothing happened. It's very rare that any book is optioned for a potential movie, and of those that are, maybe 10% actually are made into one. The only power a writer has in the matter is to wait, and if someone asks, to say yes or no. That's it.
Viola says, "Haha, they definitely have stood up to many rereads--with me, at the least. They're my go-to books for when I've got nothing else to read. I've lost count of how many times I've read each one. Each time, they feel like old friends and new adventures all at once. I'll never grow out of them." Thank you! Someone who read a draft of the last book in the Princess Academy trilogy (not out yet - next spring) said that reading it felt like coming home. I feel that way too when I write these characters.
July 21, 2014
Looking over one draft's notes (I don't know which draft except that it was in November 2002), I marked to make clearer that Sileph was a foil for Finn. He's an interesting character to me. I genuinely loved writing him, even if I was so uncomfortable putting Enna in his power.
Other draft notes:
What is going on in this section? Must use it to move forward 3 plot lines:
1. grows farther away from Bayern and Isi
2. learns to consciously love S and contrast with F
3. relationship with fire—must learn more about it, learn to control or give into it
Whew. These chapters are all so intense for me! I've said before, I don't think I could have written this book when I had children. I'm so much more sensitive now, I couldn't have lived inside this story for so long.
Viola asks, "Is it possible for you to pick a favorite book out of the Bayern books? ;D" Nope! Like picking a favorite child. The mood of this one is quite different from the others. But I'm fond of them all. They were all extremely hard books to write. I poured my everything into each one, hoping they would stand up to many rereads.
Anna asks, "I ADORE this UK cover for Enna Burning. I'm partial to the older painted ones as well, but I've had trouble finding them. Would any stores still carry those older covers, or is my best bet to scour the internet some more?" I love the Alison Jay covers too! The US hardcovers are still in print and have these covers. I know my local store The King's English keeps them in stock. Or any bookstore can special order them if they don't have them on the shelves. Forest Born has a special edition cover with the Alison Jay artwork.
Eliza asks, "You've made a few references to your sisters in recent posts. How many do you have?" Enna Burning is dedicated to my three sisters Melissa, Katie, and Jessica.
(ps. I have a book announcement on my tumblr page)