Shannon Hale's Blog
October 20, 2014
She wears glass slippers.
She sleeps in a tower.
She sings to birds.
She is the perfect princess.
And for a monster-fighting heroine, that is the perfect disguise.
Princess Magnolia is...
The Princess in Black
When she was four years old, my daughter Maggie (aka Magnolia) was examining her favorite article of clothing: a multicolored, butterfly-covered skort, the kind of thing that makes her feel pretty and princessy while still allowing her tumble about with ease.
She pointed to each of the butterfly colors.
“Pink is a girl color,” she said. “And purple, and yellow. But not black.”
“Girls can wear black,” I said. "I wear black all the time."
She looked at me as if to say, you're not a girl, you're a mama.
“Well, what about Batgirl?” I said, sure I'd won the argument.
Maggie said, “Mama, princesses don’t wear black.”
It was like being struck by lightning.
All day I couldn't stop thinking about a princess who did wear black. I took inspiration from The Scarlet Pimpernel, Zorro, and Buffy the Vampire Slayer. She'd be a seemingly typical princess with a secret. She'd secretly be a superhero, working hard to keep her kingdom free of monsters. And like Superman needs Clark Kent, the Princess in Black would maintain a secret identity. To all the world, she is Princess Magnolia. But when trouble calls, she sheds her fluffy dresses and glass slippers, dons a black mask, leaps onto her valiant pony, and rides off to save the day!
I pulled my husband Dean into writing it with me, because he's awesome. And funny. And clever. And I like working with him. And there would be monsters, so he'd have insight to offer, being of their own kind. LeUyen Pham agreed to lend her bedazzling illustration sorcery to the project, Candlewick published it with aplomb, and the result is something I love dearly. Here are things that are important to me about this book.
1. The kind of book you can read to a four-year-old, because even though it's a longer chapter book (15 chapters, 80+ pages, over 2000 words), there are full-color illustrations every page that will keep their interest.
2. The kind of book a 6-7 year old might be able to read to you, and feel so proud doing it! Because the font is larger, a young reader will be capable of reading a big, thick book in one sitting and feel a surge of self-confidence afterward.
3. The kind of a book a mom like me can read to all my kids at the same time--10yo, 7yo, and 4yo--because the slightly more complicated plot interests older readers and high-concept story and ubiquitous illustrations keep the younger readers interested.
4. A book unashamedly about a girl (a princess even!) that any boy can enjoy too. She's a ninja! She fights monsters! There's an awesome goat boy! It's very important to me that from a young age, boys realize they can read and enjoy books about girls. If they start young, they're more likely to keep reading about girls and more likely to develop empathy for that other gender.
5. This is a girl who enjoys wearing the fluffy pink dresses and glass slippers and having tea parties. And this is also a girl who enjoys wearing black combat boots and galloping on horses and waging battle against huge monsters. She's not an either/or, just like my daughters. Girls are more complicated than some characters make us out to be.
6. This is not a traditional early reader. While the sentences are short and manageable and most words are short and manageable, and there's lots of repitition to aid in learning new things, there are also lots of wonderful, fun, big and crunchy words for new readers to sharpen their teeth on, like: "minced," "pranced," and "swished." Like "handkerchiefs," "snuffling," and "hog-tying." Why, there's even "hornswaggle."
7. As a parent, it's hard for me to find those transitional books that can carry a my kids from picture books and early readers to chapter books. This is longer and more complex than Fly Guy, Go, Dog, Go!, etc., but shorter and simpler than Junie B. Jones, Magic Treehouse, etc. I think the best comparison is Kate DiCamillo's Mercy Watson books.
8. There's a unicorn named Frimplepants. (at least, he seems to be a unicorn...but is he reallly?)
9. The Princess in Black's signature battle move is "Twinkle Twinkle Little SMASH!"
10. This is the first of a series. I've seen LeUyen's sketches for book 2, and you are going to die when you meet Princess Sneezewort. Those who have read all of them often love book 3 the most (so funny, Dean worked some magic). And book 4 is going to make fans of book 1 very, very happy. I hope for years to come, Princess Magnolia/the Princess in Black and her pals will be your pals too.
October 6, 2014
Good morning, superheroes!
Just a week away from the release of The Princess in Black! I am so excited for this book, it may as well be my first. Instead of my nineteenth. Can that be true? (*counts*) Nope.
This book is my 18th.
This book is my 19th. It comes out Oct 21, a week after The Princess in Black. Did I tell you about this? A collection of Ever After High short stories. Some were previously published as free ebooks. Five are new, plus fun extras. I'm excited to see this one!
This book will be my 20th, out March 3, 2015.
For my Princess in Black tour, I'll be in the DC and Chicago areas as well as the Texas Book Festival in Austin and of course my home state of Utah. See my events page for details.
Today Mr. Schu's blog features a short video interview Candlewick (the PIB publisher) did with me. I hope I'll get to see many of you when I'm out on the road!
September 30, 2014
Recently someone in publishing told me, "You're not really a YA author."
It bugged me, but I wasn't sure why, because middle grade rocks. If the only readers I ever reached were ages 8-12 I'd be a happy author. I love kids those ages as much as I love teenagers. So it shouldn't bother me. But I think I've finally figured it why it does.
As an older teenager, I would have loved my books. The Goose Girl, Book of a Thousand Days, Dangerous, as well as my books that are considered younger like Princess Academy and Ever After High. And I have a lot of teen readers. I get emails from them. I meet them at signings, alongside those valiant 8-12 year olds. So I bristle when anyone suggests that my books aren't actually for them. I don't like labels that might get between a reader and the book that's right for them.
So how do I label what I write?
Some say "upper middle grade," some say, "lower young adult," but I have plenty of readers who don't fit into either camp. And I realize that I'm just tired of exclusivity. Exclusive clubs always give me hives. Those who try to make something like feminism an exclusive club, for example: "You're not a real feminist if you're a stay at home mom"; "Well you're not a real feminist if you exclude stay at home moms," etc. The narrower the definition of who can be a member of something, the less I want to be a part of it, whatever it is. (btw I do consider myself a feminist, in all its inexact nebulous importance)
What do you think? How would you define young adult? Some say books written for ages 14-17. But that's weird too, because can we really be sure of author intent? Authors have written plenty of books without a specific audience in mind that ended up being great for older teenagers. So is it just the age of the protagonist? We know that's faulty. All of my middle grade books have older protags, and there are plenty of other examples where that rule doesn't work. Tone and story style and substance are way more important in finding a reader than the age of the protag. Is it by who likes to read the books? That's tough too. I regularly get fanmail from readers ages 6-to-grandparent. Some suggest that the YA label is just for books with more graphic content (sex, swearing, mature themes). I bristle at that too. I agree that books with mature content belong more in upper YA than MG, but I also think it's an erroneous assumption that teens are uninterested in and incapable of appreciating any story that doesn't have sex, swearing, mature themes. There are all kinds of teenagers. There should be all kinds of stories.
Age ranges are tough. Teachers know, just because all the kids in the class are the same age doesn't mean they're at the same level in reading, math, maturity, comprehension, etc. Parents know that what one child was ready for at a certain age, another wasn't even close.
I wish we didn't have labels. I wish we didn't have age ranges. I wish we could all just be matched to books we might like regardless of our age or what age range the publisher has to declare the book for.
But at the same time I'm conflicted about this because I love that there's such a strong YA community, a community that calls BS on those who try to marginalize or demean teenagers, who values them as humans and believes passionately that they deserve their own stories. And the same for children and toddlers and babies and women and men and everyone. We all need champions. And the label of "Young Adult" has helped develop a community of champions for teens. I love it. I want it to remain strong and grow and grow. I just don't want it to limit itself in exclusivity.
What do you think? Am I wrong? Is the YA and MG distinction clearer than I think? Have age labels shamed you for reading something apparently not in your age range? How do they affect you? How do we employ the helpfulness of age ranges in books without limiting who the books might be best for?
September 23, 2014
In honor of the 10th anniversary of Princess Academy and the upcoming publication of the third book in the trilogy, Bloomsbury has redesigned the jackets in this series, with artwork by Jason Chan. I'm excited to reveal them here at last!
The Forgotten Sisters pubs in hardcover March 3, 2015, with the rejacketed paperbacks of the first two at the same time. The first review is in, a starred review from Booklist!
"On the day that Miri is to return to her beloved Mount Eskel, she is summoned by King Bjorn of Danland, requesting her to travel to outer-territorial Lesser Alva where she is to tutor three royal sisters. If the King of Stora chooses one to marry, war will be prevented, and it’s up to Miri to succeed. Unhappy but dutybound, Miri accepts the task, only to meet three wild girls who spend their days wrestling on the floor and hunting and fishing in the swamp. ...Action packed and wellpaced, the story’s depth incorporates artful negotiation, the importance of education, and citizens’ equality and rights. This final installment of The Princess Academy trilogy certainly leaves room for more books if Hale were so inclined. Won't she reconsider?"
What do you think of the covers?
September 15, 2014
"I don't get the love interest. I mean, am I supposed to like him?"
This is a response I hear often from readers. And it's started me thinking. Are writers supposed to write a love interest that every reader will fall in love with? For example, in a story where the main character is a female who falls in love with a guy, then this should be a guy that the reader can fall in love with too. But as years pass, I completely question that thought. It just doesn't make sense.
This is a story, not a blind date. A book is an opportunity to experience someone else's story. We certainly wouldn't all be attracted to the same people in real life either. Rather than asking if we can fall in love with the love interest, a more honest question would be, Can we believe that the main character would fall in love with him/her?
The problem of the "universal" or "neutral" or "default" love interest: someone so non-specific that a hetero female reader can imagine into him the kind of guy she would want to date. (Think of the Disney princes: Phillip, Charming, Eric--very little personality there, which makes it easy to fall for them and write onto them our own ideas of perfection.) But by writing these neutral love interests, we run into the same problem as we do with those neutral main characters. We lose so much of what makes books amazing and powerful.
I'm a heterosexual female but I didn't fall in love with Harry Potter, and yet I still enjoyed the books. But then again, since he was the main character, was my job as a reader to identify with him, not fall in love with him?
What are we as readers supposed to do? Feel? Experience? Take away from a story?
When a book successfully writes a love interest who is "universal" enough that millions of readers can fall in love with him, that book has the potential to be a huge hit. But is that the only kind of book worth publishing? Is it the only kind of book worth reading? Can we enjoy and find worth in a book that doesn't give us a main character who easily reflects us back to ourselves and a love interest who we wouldn't fall for in real life?
One suggestion: toss out the term "am I supposed to" when talking about books. What that implies is you're trying to figure out what the writer intended you to think/feel and if they succeeded or failed. 90% of the time when I read what someone claims I was intending to do as an author, they're wrong. Trying to guess author's intent is a pointless exercise. This is no longer my book. This is your book now. You are the reader. You are the director of this movie in your head, of which I just wrote the script. You are in control. What do you want to get out of it? What do you learn about yourself by reading it? Are you seeing something a little differently than before? Are you experiencing a story you couldn't have come up with on your own? Are you entertained, interested, feeling and/or thinking something worthwhile? Are you different now than before?
September 9, 2014
[for mature readers, please get your parent or guardian's approval to read if you're under 14]
Some recent events prompted me to look back on last year's discussions about rape culture and consent, and a followup post. Several people commented anonymously about a related matter that I think is really important. I'm going to repost some of those comments here. Some cultures and religions advocate for celilbacy before marriage. I completely respect and support those who make that choice, but there is the misconseption that celibacy=silence, that the decision to not have sex outside of marriage means one cannot even talk about sex outside of marriage. And often the taboo of communicating about sex extends into a marriage. This silence leads to misinformation, misunderstanding, and a sometimes crippling separation between spouses.
I personally want to advocate for parents having long, varied, open conversations with their children, both sons and daughters, about sex, consent, what it's about, how to communicate, how to listen to your partner, how sex is about the pleasure of your partner and when your partner is enjoying it, your own pleasure increases. And I'd also like to advocate for couples who are having problems to please open up that line of communication. Please go see a counselor together. It's not too late. There should be no stigma about seeing a marriage counselor. Marriage is weird! How on earth can two people maintain that close of a relationship over years and years when both are changing? We all need some outside, non-judgemental help sometimes.
I want to respond to Lizzie's comment that there are women who wouldn't want to have sex EVER if they had to give their consent enthusiastically before they did it.
My big question is, why don't those women want to have sex? Is it because women innately don't like sex and men innately do like it? I don't think so, because in other cultures, trends are different. In some cultures, and I'm especially thinking of some things I learned about from the Renaissance, women are seen as the sexual predators and men as the sex that has to protect themselves from the other sex's advances.
Here's my story. When I first got married, I gave my consent willingly AND enthusiastically in the beginning. But over time, my husband started to pressure me to do it when I didn't want to, to the point that I actually felt like I was being raped at times, but I told myself I was being crazy or too sensitive because I never really told him NO, so it couldn't be rape, right?
But over time, as that happened more and more, my enthusiasm for the whole thing really waned. Now, I only do it when I'm feeling really guilty because it's been a long time, but I'm never enthusiastic about it.
I can't say for sure what would have happened if my husband had accepted that I didn't want to do it /all the time/ and not pressured me back in the beginning, but I suspect that we never would have gotten to this point if he had done what the boy in Mary's story did - if he had cared as much about my feelings as he did his own and not pressured me.
I think he was afraid that if he didn't pressure me, I'd never want to do it. But that couldn't be further from the truth. I wanted to do it, I just wanted to feel like I mattered when we were doing it.
But the culture we're in right now shaped the way my husband and I related to each other from the beginning. It says that if you don't have sex whenever your husband wants it, he's going to find it somewhere else. A counselor even told my husband that if I didn't have sex with him whenever he wanted it, or at least twice a week, he would be a lot more susceptible to having an affair or looking at pornography. What kind of counselor does that? One who thinks that men have to have sex a certain number of times a week or else they just won't be able to help acting out those desires with someone else.
How much of that is true biology, and how much is shaped by our culture? I certainly don't know the conclusive answer to that, but I think a lot more of it is culture than we generally think it is.
The reality is that there are many reasons for differences in drive, and hopeful asking by one partner is pressure to the partner who struggles with sex for one reason or another. I am approve of the contents of these posts, but my advice is different. If you have problems with sexual differences, get professional help as soon as possible! We all get embarrassed talking to doctors and counselors about something so intimate as sex between two committed individuals, but the alternatives are worse. If you experience pain during sex and repeatedly engage in unenthusiastic sex, if you don't discuss it with your partner and seek professional aid, you will years down the road be "someone's spouse," and to your horror both people are scared and scarred. Resentment will build. Neither will understand why others have sex at least a few times a month, but they struggle with managing it once every six months, and when they do it is not fulfilling. So, you avoid the whole issue and are just great roommates who love each other, but somewhere deep in your hearts have some mistrust, hatred, and wounds. It all comes to a head when one person feels that they have foregone romantic love long enough (they never cheated) and decides that leaving wouldn't be that bad. It's unfair to both to be unable to have romantic love. And she does love him, she asks him to stay. The wounds are so deep, and they begin seeing a counselor. They can get to romantic love again, but they still feel deeply confused at times. They occasionally still avoid it, but they do so because it really isn't that important anymore. If it happens, great. If not, that's okay too because their focus has changed. Each is forgetting themselves and simply loving the other.
People, please go to counselors and doctors at the first signs of trouble. If it's a doctor issue and the doctor doesn't understand our help, change doctors. Don't live with it. Brushing it under the rug has far reaching consequences. Same with the counselors.
Someone's Wife, that is unfortunately my story too. I was about to type it up after reading Shannon's post, but you have done it for me. Thank you Shannon, for opening my eyes to something that on one hand I have been someone naive about (what goes on in the world, and how important it is that I must work to educate my children about it), and on the other hand something that I have dealt with for over a decade, and not really understood just how to express my feelings about.
September 2, 2014
Thanks for your comments on the last post. The school district that banned my books also got rid of all their K-8 librarians. I see a correlation. I can't express enough how important librarians are. I've visited about 200 schools to do assemblies and writing workshops. Within a minute of meeting the librarian, I know exactly how the event will go. If the kids will be engaged, excited, and leave the assembly eager to go read a book, or if they'll half-ignore me as some other adult blabbing about nothing. The relationship the librarians has with the kids and the prep they do prior to the assembly is 50% of how it goes.
The librarian is the heart of the school, the center of literacy. I don't mean a book-checker-outer. I mean a Librarian. There are many library aides that are extraordinary and go above and beyond, but in my experience a fulltime, MLS-trained librarian is consistently phenomenal. They know books. They curate a library perfect for their school's population. They booktalk and get kids excited about reading. They match the right books to the right kids, which is the #1 key in turning a "non-reader" into a Reader. They know the school's curriculum and work with teachers to integrate the right books with what they're teaching. They organize literacy events.
Research shows: Kids who are confident readers have a chance to excel in any subject they face. Kids who aren't confident readers will struggle in most subjects. Teachers and parents don't have to be alone in this mission to engage kids with books. Again, librarians make all the difference.
Hug your librarian today! Do you have a fulltime librarian in your school? Write a note to the superintendent or district execs thanking them for valuing librarians! If you don't, maybe write a note expressing why you think it's important. They're often looking at numbers. If they don't understand the added value a Librarian brings, they'll just think, "Why hire a librarian with a master's degree to just check out books? We can get someone for that on minimum wage."
I could hire a lot of people to do something for minimum wage rather than a professional: like add a new electrical outlet in our garage, tile our bathroom floor, do my taxes, fix my car, set a broken bone, cut my hair. When something matters, when we want it done right the first time, when we value it, we get a professional. When we value children and literacy, we make an effort to staff our schools with professional librarians.
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.