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Shannon Hale's blog, author of "Princess
Academy" (Newbery honor last year), and "Goose Girl".
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By: Shannon Hale,
Blog: squeetus blog
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Thanks for all your great comments on the last post! I'm very interested in your thoughts in this matter, and please keep talking. Here are a few more thoughts.
The default character is male. I first realized this was true for me when I had my first child. I found myself identifying all of his toys and stuffed animals as "he." In books, too, animals and characters that didn't have obvious girlie eyelashes or wear skirts were all "he." The characters that made up my son's world were 95% male. I began to question that in myself and supply "it" instead or assign "she" to several stuffed animals, in a perhaps ridiculous attempt to help him grow up surrounded by a more diverse cast of characters. Parents, have you noticed this male-first tendency too?
When I do school visits, often I'll bring up 4-5 students to make up a story on the fly. The first question I ask them, one by one going down the line, is "What is the name of your main character?" I try to put the girls on the end and start with them. Boys always choose a male MC, and if the girls go after the boys, they also always choose a male MC (this data is based on doing this exercise perhaps 100 times). But if the girl goes first, sometimes she'll choose a female (though 75% of the time she chooses a male too). This is a strong indication to me that we are used to main characters being male, even in the younger generation when the world is filled with book choices that feature girls. Are movies to blame, which rarely feature female MCs? Are these kids not getting the books that have female MCs? Or do girls not feel like the MC in their own lives? Do boys have the imagination to consider girls potential MCs? Is it possible that some boys do not think girls really matter as much as boys, aren't worthy of their own stories, aren't, perhaps, even as real as boys are?
The default character is white. As a writer who is white, I definitely fall into this trap. If a character isn't white, I often describe that, but if they are white, I don't describe because it's assumed. For the first time writing this book, from the POV of a character who isn't white (she's half white, half Latina), I found myself realizing I had that habit. In Dangerous, when we first meet two important characters, Dragon and Howell, I had Maisie describe Dragon as a "black man" and Howell as a "white woman." Interestingly, the copy editor noted that and asked if the "white woman" signifier was necessary. Because "white" is default, assumed, even if you don't specify. But I thought Maisie would specify so I left it.
I want to challenge myself and all of you to become more observant of this. To toss out the "male and white are default" ideology that's so deeply written into our brains. Change comes after awareness.
I remember when I first told my husband that some suggested that teens wouldn't be able to identify with Maisie because she was too unique in too many ways. That teens like to read about a character most like themselves. And Maisie just had too many points of difference: she was half Latina/half white, she had one arm, she was home schooled, she was a science geek, she was obsessed with space.
He said, "When I was a teenager, I couldn't relate to growing blades out of my knuckles or having super powered healing, or being chased by the Canadian government or having no memory of my past. But I could relate to feeling like a freak, to being an outsider." (he's talking about Wolverine)
I really believe it's not the details of a character's appearance or particular circumstances that most draw in a reader but the shared human the emotions. Books are a great place to realize that, where the visual is in our head and we are inside the character's head. I think we just need to read more books about characters who don't look like us, whatever we may look like, and eventually any misgivings that may still linger about Specific characters being unrelatable will become meaningless.
Thanks to everyone who is talking about this book. You really make writing a book like this possible. Thanks to everyone who came out to my events in Massachusetts and New Hampshire last week! It's great to be home. I'm back to touring next week and I have lots more events this spring so check out my event page.
By: Shannon Hale,
Blog: squeetus blog
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When I was in the rewrite stage of Dangerous several years ago, a Smart Person read the first 50 pages and immediately let me know her concerns. She said, "Your main character is unrelatable. You made her a home schooled, science geeky, one-armed, half-Paraguayan." Until this person said all that I had never thought it. I mean, of course I knew knew those things about her, but I'd never strung together all those adjectives in my mind, maybe because the decisions about her character came about piece-by-piece while writing the story, not all at once.
- Science geek - I know science geeks. I was writing science fiction. Allowing her to be into science seemed a good way to include cool science stuff. Because if I was going to write science fiction, I wanted to write SCIENCE fiction, really have fun and celebrate that part of it.
- home schooled - the story would be more interesting if she began it sheltered in some way and then released into a wider world. This idea always intrigues me (girl from a mountain village, girl locked in tower, etc) and homeschooling was one way to introduce this idea in a contemporary setting. Besides, I hadn't read a lot of books with home schooled main characters, and it's something that's becoming more and more common. Seemed like an interesting idea.
- One-armed - Whenever I have babies, I spend a lot of time trying to do things with one hand (while holding a baby with the other) and that always gets me thinking about what it'd be like to have one hand permanently. I had a teacher once with one hand and my sister's father-in-law has a lame arm. It's something I think about and I thought it was worth exploring, especially in a superhero action genre. Again, I'd never read a book where the main character had one hand, and it seemed interesting.
- half-Paraguayan - I lived in Paraguay for a year and a half. I love Paraguay and Paraguayans. In the outline stage, there was reason to go to a foreign country and spend time there, and I'd always wanted to include Paraguay in some way in a book (I did, but ended up cutting those chapters). There were also story reasons for the character to be bilingual, and the story takes place in present day US (or just a few years into the future), so a US parent + Paraguayan parent made sense. And again, I thought this choice would make the story more interesting.
Always with any book, writers ask themselves, what choices will make this story more interesting? What will help raise the stakes? What kind of book would I want to read? What will help make this book unlike any book I've ever read before? These character choices just made sense to me.
But the Smart Person told me, "Teens will not relate to someone so unlike them. Maybe with middle grade you could get away with this, but not in YA."
I was shocked. I'd been writing this book off-and-on for years already and never considered this. And then I got a little mad. People exist who are half-Paraguayan or half-anything, or one-handed, or home schooled, or science geeky, or girls, or all of the above. Why can't someone like Maisie be worthy of a story too?
I've encountered similar opinions over the years and began to come to an uncomfortable understanding, one that others before me have also discovered.
In stories (all stories, be they novels, movies, television commercials...) we (in the US) easily accept a certain kind of character as Neutral. Neutral is white, male, able-bodied, straight, not too young (in children's) and not too old (in adult), and not especially extraordinary in any way. For example, Maisie is called "half-Latina" (rather than "half-white," which is also true) because the "white" part is Neutral, assumed, and the "Latina" part is Specific. Traditionally all readers/viewers who are not Neutral have learned to relate to Neutral. E.g.:
- Adults have learned to relate to younger characters (after all they were young one once) but not much older than themselves
- Teens have learned to read up in age--but not too far
- Girls have learned to relate to boys.
- People who have disabilities have learned to relate to people who don't
- People of color have learned to relate to white characters
But often, apparently, the reverse is not true. Not boys to girls, not whole-bodied to disabled, not young to old, not straight to gay, etc. One result of this is that parts of our population are developing empathy for people different from them but others aren't.
In stories, you can fairly smoothly take one step away from Neutral, maybe two, but more than this is risking turning off a wide audience. This theory was confirmed for me with one of my novels for adults, The Actor & the Housewife. I learned that there's a reason most female main characters in fiction for adults are in their 20s. Many people don't want to read about a woman much older than 30 or (heaven forbid!) in her 40s or 50s. In addition to being older, I made her a mother and a Mormon. I was 3 steps away from Neutral and it was too far for many readers to travel.
Now, with Dangerous, I went even further, taking at least 4 steps away from Neutral. She's not "normal" enough. Too much defines her. Maisie is way too Specific.
Or this is the fear. I really, really hope they're wrong. I really hope that despite not being Neutral, readers find other ways to relate to Maisie. I do think that this is partly what literature is for. If the main character is a lot like us, we learn more about ourselves, which is awesome, but when the main character is different than us, we gain more empathy for the Other, which is also awesome.
I wasn't going to talk about this. I wanted the focus to be on the story and not on a list of adjectives about the main character. Talking about it might make it an Issue and I really don't think this is an issue book. Besides, despite the Smart Person and others, I just didn't think Maisie's 4-steps-from-Neutral would be a big issue for most people. But then the reviews started to come in and I realized that those adjectives would be an issue, no matter what I do.
Here's the beginning of one review: "Maisie Danger Brown (really), smart, home-schooled, one-handed half-Paraguayan daughter of scientists, has always dreamed of being an astronaut." This reads to me like a list of what makes Maisie different from Neutral. My hope is that after reading the entire book a reader will find plenty of ways to relate to Maisie, regardless of her being such a Specific character: she's interesting IMHO, loves her parents, gets excited and scared and overwhelmed, falls in love, is curious, is funny, makes big choices, makes mistakes, has a best friend. I don't mind that reviews mention her one-handedness and girlness and geekiness and Latina-ness. They're not secrets, after all, as we learn those things about her in the very first chapter. But in listing them like that all together at the top of a review, I feel like they put focus on her differences, spelling her out as unrelatable, freaky, perhaps not worth your time.
Maisie was worth my time. I really hope she ends up being worth your time too.
I'd love to hear your thoughts about Neutral and Specific characters in the comments. Who do you relate to? Are there characters or kinds of characters so different from you that you can't immerse yourself in the book? Has that changed at all with your age? Does reading about Specific characters make reading more challenging? A different experience? Or a non-issue for you? Teens, was the Smart Person right about you? Feel free to share anonymously, I really want to know your thoughts. Now that I've listed all those adjectives about Maisie, how does that affect your feelings about this book and your inclination to read it?
Dangerous is on bookshelves Tuesday, March 4. Come see me on tour!
By: Shannon Hale,
Blog: squeetus blog
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I love superheroes.
I grew up watching Wonder Woman, my sister and I spinning around in the family room in our Underoos and pretending to fight bad guys. I watched Super Friends, Spider-Man and His Amazing Friends, He-Man, Jem and the Holograms, and later Batman and Superman. The Spider-Man segments on Electric Company were my favorite part. Our family loved the Superman movies (all but 4, of course) and yes, even the Supergirl movie. I didn't know it was terrible. It was Supergirl!
And I was a voracious reader. But I never came across a superhero book.
My husband grew up reading superhero comic books. I didn't have access to comic books growing up. They were a "boy thing." But I'm certain I would have loved them. I began to read them as an adult--Wonder Woman, X-Men, Justice League, Invincible, Runaways. Dean and I saw all the superhero movies in the theater and walked away feeling as though we could vanquish all the bad guys ourselves!
I was still a voracious reader, but still never came across a superhero book. Why are superhero stories so fundamental to movies, cartoons, and comics but mostly skip novels altogether?
I wanted to write that book. The one that I would have loved when I was younger. The one I would gobble up now.
The superhero genre is a subset of science fiction. Growing up, our library coded books by genre with a sticker on the spine. The fantasy books had a unicorn, the scifi had a Saturn. I went straight for the unicorns. The Saturns, I understood, were for the boys, not for me. Not until adulthood did I question this. Why is science fiction only for boys? And science too, for that matter?
So, yeah, I definitely wanted to write science fiction. As a girl. Starring a girl. Superhero YA scifi, something I hadn't seen before but to my mind so logically needed to exist.
As a writer, what excites me is crossing genres. A western-fairytale-graphic-novel. A literary-princess-story. An Austen-romantic-comedy-murder-mystery. With this book, I wanted to take the realism and depth allowed in novels + superhero adventure story + young adult. Could I pull it off? And would people accept a popcorn movie/Saturday morning cartoon type story in a realistic medium?
Smart People told me that it wouldn't work, and for many reasons.
1. The only kinds of science fiction you can do in young adult books are dystopian and steam punk. You can't do YA scifi in a contemporary setting (which is what the superhero genre typically is).
2. Girls don't read science fiction, and boys won't read about girls, so there's no audience for this book.
3. Superhero stories are the domain of Saturday morning cartoons (targeted at boys) and Hollywood action movies (targeted at men). You can't do it for a teen audience, and certainly not a female teen audience.
4. The superhero story has passed over into the overdone realm. In novel form, you can only parody it, not take it seriously.
But I have this problem. When people tell me I can't do something, I want to do it all the more. It took me time to get it right, no question. The book creation spanned a decade.
2003 I knew I wanted to write a YA scifi superhero story and began to invent it.
2004 I first named a character Daisy Danger Brown (changed her name to Maisie several years later).
2005 I sold a synopsis and outline of the book to my publisher, Bloomsbury.
2009 I finished a first draft.
2013 I finished a final draft.
Maybe in 2003 we weren't reading for a superhero-female-MC-contemporary-scifi-YA-novel. Hopefully by 2014 we are. At least, I am ready for Maisie Danger Brown. If I had Maisie Brown Underoos, I'd put them on right now and spin around in the living room.
Dangerous comes out in a week! Remember to preorder by tomorrow and email your receipt in to get the prize pack. And check my events page to see if I'm coming near you on book tour.
Thanks to everyone who helped kick off the Austenland DVD/Blu-Ray release! And for all the happy notes expressing love for the movie.
I went to three Sundance screenings last year, and afterward people would come up to me to gush about the movie. The women all seemed pretty certain that they were going to love it, and unsurprised when that turned out to be the case. But the men were astounded. I had at least 20 conversations like this.
MAN: I loved that movie.
Me: Thank you!
MAN: No, you don't understand. I loved that movie. Like I laughed through the entire thing.
ME: That's awesome, thanks so much!
MAN: No, you DON'T UNDERSTAND. I LOVED THAT MOVIE. I don't laugh like that ever. And it was supposed to be a chick movie. And I laughed so hard I was crying. Like it was actually honestly one of the funniest movies I've ever seen in my entire life!
And he stares at me, eyes wide, willing me to understand that this is a shocking outcome that I really really need to understand.
And still months later I kept meeting people who saw Austenland at Sundance, and what they want to tell me is. 1. they loved it, and 2. their husband loved it so so much and can't stop talking about how unbelievably funny it was.
I think part of the shock comes from the costumes. Some of these men were not fans of the period dramas they'd been dragged to in the past and they're expecting that again, and when it turns out they laugh and thoroughly enjoy the movie, their minds are so blown they can't quite recover.
Jerusha and I from the beginning thought the movie would work on two levels: as a love letter to Austen fans like ourselves and a love letter to those who think Austen fans are funny.
And thanks to all who are buying the movie or checking it out from the library and not pirating it. I found this exchange on tumblr recently, and I really appreciate the person who runs this tumblr site for their thoughtful, kind response.
"Do you have a link to watch Austenland online??" Asked by Anonymous
Austenland Movie Fans tumblr: "You guys realize that watching movies online is stealing right? Believe me I understand the desire to watch things now, I live in America and love a lot of British shows. But rather than going and finding them online illegally I wait. Why because I want more shows like those. I want to say, yes I like this can we please get more. Don’t steal from what you love guys in the end you really end up robbing yourself."
Anonymous: "You realize how elitist and rude it is to tell people not to watch things online? Some people can't afford to go see a movie in theatres, some people will never have access to this movie at all."
Austenland Movie Fans tumblr: "I completely understand not everyone can afford to go see movies in the theater. But they can wait to rent the movie or borrow it from the library. It is not just rich actors you are stealing from, what about the make up artists, caterers, camera guys, and accountants. Stealing is stealing no matter how you try and justify it."
When I was in high school/college I knew people who worked parttime jobs just to earn money to buy music CDs. Now I hear of high school/college-age people who have never purchased an album (or even a single) in their lives. Why buy it when you can download it (illegally) for free? I wonder if those people have noticed how many groups produced one or two albums and nothing after. Because they didn't make enough money making music. Because people stole the music.
I find the argument interesting: "some people can't afford to see a movie." Some people. This person? I've had people argue with me that they pirate ebooks all they want because "what about poor children who can't afford to buy books and don't have access to a library?" Sure, if you're a poor child with no access to a library (but somehow access to a computer, internet, ereader, digital music player) then you get a free pass.
But for the rest of us, please don't be a user. Please support the arts. We do not have the right to have everything we want when we want it for free. We can be a part of art creation by supporting the stuff we like with our purchase money or library patronage. All the cool kids are doing it.
Tomorrow Austenland releases on DVD & Blu-Ray! And it's already available for digital download from iTunes and Amazon. To celebrate, on Friday authors and bloggers and book fiends across the country held Jane's Night In parties. Here are a few photos from my party and others, and check my twitter feed for posts.
My friend put framed
#Austenland photos out. She found one with me in the background!
Ally Carter and Jennifery Lynn Barnes served high tea for their party. Check out the spread!
Tea service ready! My friend did this. I swear I don't decorate with my own books.
Becca Fitzpatrick's party was comfy cozy pajama style. These ladies are ready to watch the flick.
We had a special guest at our party. (not me)
Decor musts: Jane Austen, JJ Feild, and taxidermy birds.
Keeping our pinkies up.
Thats-normal.com is ready for their movie party.
libba bray 2nd time watching
#AUSTENLAND & I laughed just as much as the 1st time. DVD comes out 2/11, people. Tallyho!
Ally Carter Can honestly say that
@AustenlandMovie is even better the 2nd time! Laughing so hard
Several bloggers held a google hangout with Stephenie Meyer about the movie. Tiff from Thats-normal.com took a selfie with her.
Britten Amber Harmon Stephenie Meyer says one of her favorite memories filming
#Austenland was the play until 4 or 5am laughing their guys out.
Director Jerusha Hess with Erica Elmer at their fancy dress-up party!
And they had gentlemen callers
At Margaret Stohl's and Melissa de la Cruz's party in LA.
#austenland bingo with Sweethearts! I think I'm winning!
(check out the Austenland pinterest page to download these cute Austenland bingo cards plus other party ideas)
Mundie Moms LOVE this movie! You guys have to pick it up on Tuesday! It's HILARIOUS!
Becca Fitzpatrick party wrapping up. Had so much fun. Everyone agreed -
#Austenland is best viewed in a group. The more laughter, the merrier.
Margaret Stohl So fun! Hate to wrap up
#janesnightin #austenlandmovie - so proud of you @haleshannon - DVD out on Monday!!!
Ally Carter Once again, I ADORED
@AustenlandMovie! So proud of @haleshannon & the team who made it!
Jennifer Lynn BarnesJust got a call from my brother. He is watching
@AustenlandMovie. Sis-in-law loved it so much she went home after girls' night & bought it!
Thank you so much to everyone who hosted and attended the parties and everyone who is helping get the word out about the video release. Check my twitter feed for chanced to win a DVD this week, and enjoy the movie. Tallyho!
Austenland releases on DVD/Blu-Ray/VOD on February 11!
To help get the word out, several people active in social media, including myself, have been asked to host a pre-viewing party of the video on Friday, February 7 and live tweet the event. Follow me on twitter or check back here next Monday for a post about the event.
Here are some YA authors who are hosting their own Jane's Night In parties all over the US:
Jerusha Hess - Austenland director, tweeting from the official movie account
Margaret Stohl - author of Icons and co-author of Beautiful Creatures
Melissa de la Cruz - author of Witches of East End, Frozen, Blue Bloods
Becca Fitzpatrick - author of the Hush, Hush saga
Ally Carter - author of the Gallager Girls and Heist Society series
Jennifer Lynn Barnes - author of The Naturals and Raised by Wolves
Libba Bray - author of The Diviners, A Great and Terrible Beauty, Going Bovine
Barry Goldblatt - my illustrious agent
Check out these fabulous bloggers, readers, and movie watchers who will be hosting and tweeting:
A Day in Motherhood
Page to Premiere
Reel Life With Jane
Friday evening, check twitter for #JanesNightIn or #Austenland and join us for some laughs, photos, and vicarious festivity!
And a special plea: please don't pirate this movie. If you can't afford to buy or rent it, please request it from your library, thereby supporting the filmmakers and your local library. Hollywood measures success by $ made, and if movies like this don't make money, it makes it harder for other movies like this or other movies by women to get made.
By: Shannon Hale,
Blog: squeetus blog
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Coming March 4, 2014...
Get ready for a side of Shannon Hale you've never seen before...
Shannon Hale is...
Since this book was "a whole new side of Shannon Hale" my publisher asked me if I'd take a new dangerous-looking author photo. But naturally there was no way for me to attempt such a thing without embracing total silliness. My family and I cracked ourselves up doing it, even if these photos are totally unusable for official publicity.
Behind the scenes! Here's what you see when we zoomed out a little:
If you missed it, check out the awesome prizes Bloomsbury is giving to everyone who preorders Dangerous!
By: Shannon Hale,
Blog: squeetus blog
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I'm so excited Bloomsbury is offering such cool incentives for preorders! If you plan to buy a book anyway, preorders help an author so much. Preorders show a bookstore that there is interest in a title and encourage them to order more copies. And copies on a bookstore shelf attract buyers that might not have known about it otherwise. Like the opening weekend of a movie, early sales of a book can make or break its success.
So snap a photo of your receipt and email it to Bloomsbury or forward them your electronic receipt. Include your mailing address to claim the prizes!
Preorder a hardcover or ebook anywhere books are sold, including:
The King's English (this is my local bookstore. I will sign and personalize all preorders purchased here and they can ship to you)
In the US, locate your indie bookstore here
Any bookstore in person or from online retailers, such as:
Dangerous is also publishing in the UK and Canada but this offer is for US addresses only (sorry!).
And here's the book trailer:
So much love for Harriet the Spy! And I agree, a marvelous book. The correct answer is:
THE BOOK OF THREE, first book in the Chronicles of Prydain by Lloyd Alexander. 2014 marks its 50th anniversary, and this fall the anniversary edition will publish with an introduction written by yours truly. This book and all Lloyd Alexander had a huge influence in my younger reading self and who I am as an author today. I'm beyond honored.
And the randomly selected winner who also guessed correctly: JEAN! (who wrote: "It's probably Harriet The Spy but I would hold out for Chitty-Chitty-Bang-Bang: The Magical Car by Fleming or The Book of Three by Alexander. Whatever the book, congratulations!")
Jean, please email your mailing address to squeetus (at) gmail (dot) com to get an ARC of Dangerous.
More giveaways to come. I'll announce here, but my twitter and facebook are the best places to get breaking news.
I turn 40 this week. Come back Wednesday for another announcement, February for lots of Austenland DVD giveaways, and 40th bday celebration stuff all year. Because I will celebrate and refuse to be anything but thrilled by this acheivement of four decades.
And I'll end with an exciting cover reveal:
The Unfairest of Them All will be in bookstores March 25 and (I think this is official) I'll be kicking off the publication with an event at Changing Hands in Phoenix!
Last year, a publisher contacted me. In 2014, one of the most beloved books from my childhood is celebrating a significant anniversary. The publisher is releasing an anniversary edition. And they wanted me to write an introduction for the new edition.
Whoa. This little girl just about died from surprise and delight.
A book little Shannon cherished so much will now have an introduction written by big Shannon! That's just magical.
But what book is it?
Let's make it a contest, as I have an ARC of Dangerous to give away! In the comments, make your guesses. Next Monday I'll use a random number generator to pick a comment until I get one that guessed correctly. May the odds ever be in your favor.
Since such magical things happen, maybe when I'm old or dead, Bloomsbury will release an anniversary edition of The Goose Girl with an introduction written by one of you.
Ps. Austenland releases in the US February 11 and I get to give away some DVDs! Check back here or follow me on twitter for the most up to date info. (pps. I don't have any DVDs in my possession. People keep emailing me requests.)
From some people in the YA field (usually adults), I hear ongoing criticism of certain tropes in YA books. Enough love triangles. Enough falling in love with one person and then another. Enough characters falling in love instantly. Enough characters who can’t figure out what they want. Enough characters who discover they (or their crush) are changing, turning/can turn into a creature both more incredible and horrible than they ever imagined. Enough protagonist complaining/whining about his/her life (though let’s be honest, this criticism is usually directed at the “her” only). Enough conveniently absent parents so the protagonist can be free to have an adventure. Enough what we’ve already seen a hundred times.
But what I’m actually hearing is, enough teenagers.
These tropes in YA are tropes to begin with because they deal so directly and profoundly and metaphorically with the teenage experience. Which is what YA fiction is actually about. And when I hear them criticized so harshly and absolutely, I start to wonder if those critics are just tired of teenagers in general.
I’m not a parent of a teenager yet, so talk to me again in a few years, but I believe that teenagers need those years to get messy, to make mistakes, to fall in love all the time instantly and slowly with him/her, then him/her, to complain, to fight, to struggle for independence but then still need comfort and safety, to live an entire lifetime condensed into a few volatile, fascinating, difficult, beautiful years. That’s how their brains develop. That’s how they figure out who they will be. As adults, I think we need to respect the teenage years and help them live through the experience with as little permanent damage as possible, while still allowing them the experiences themselves. And as readers, I think we need to respect the stories that express those years. Sometimes demanding books that rid themselves of all teenage angst and tropes is like demanding that teens just grow up already and be adults.
To be clear, I think everyone has a right to not like any book for any reason. Reading is personal. And I think criticism is important and done right and received well, the voices can help challenge writers to write new and better things. So I’m not asking for the criticism to stop. I just think it’s worth adding these thoughts to the conversation.
The great thing about rules in writing is they can always be broken. What stopped working, what became hackneyed and overdone, can become fresh and exciting in the right story with the right author and the right reader. So let’s not close any doors on writers. And let’s not send the message to teens that the books they love and the stories that resonate with them have no value or worth. They get that enough from some adults about their very beings.
(reposted from my tumblr)
2014 is going to be a crazy year for me. Some highlights.
January - I turn 40. Bring it.
February 11 - Austenland releases on DVD/Blu-ray.
March 4 - Dangerous publishes. This is the book I first sold with a synopsis in 2005. It was a complicated book, and I spent a lot of time and a lot of drafts on it, also letting the Austenland screenplay, Midnight in Austenland, and Palace of Stone come first while I untangled and rewrote. I'm so excited and so happy with this book. I've heard people call it "Hunger Games meets The Avengers," which is very complimentary IMO but I think does give a pretty good idea of what kind of story to expect. I hope you guys love this one. I'm incredibly fond of it. Always a risk to genre-hop but I'm so happy I did.
March 25 - EVER AFTER HIGH: The Unfairest of Them All publishes. This is the second EVER AFTER HIGH novel, cover reveal to come. FYI I don't have any part in the merchandise, i.e. dolls, clothes, etc., or the games and webisodes (I'm not that cool!). But I've really enjoyed writing the novels to help tell the story of the clever and playful world Mattel created. Here's a lovely article in Kirkus Reviews about the first book.
June 24 - SPIRIT ANIMALS 4 publishes. This is the series that started with Brandon Mull's Wild Born, and a different author is writing each book in the 7-book series. TItle and cover announcements to come!
July 15 - EVER AFTER HIGH 3 publishes. TItle and cover announcements to come! This one is going to be so fun. Dean has been helping me with Ever AFter High 2&3 (it'd be too much too fast for me to do alone) and we're having a blast with this one.
October 14 (I think) - The Princess in Black! The first book in my and Dean's early chapter book series, illustrated by the phenomenal LeUyen Pham (pronounced Lay-win Fam). I've seen the final art (full color illustrations each page, 80 pages long) and I'm trying not to FREAK OUT with excitement. Oh heck, I'll just go ahead and freak out. OHMYGOSHOHMYGOSHOHMYGOSHYOUGUYS!!!
So...yeah, five books in one year. I did work on Dangerous for years, completing it over a year ago, and Princess in Black is short. But still. I never, ever, ever after imagined I'd see 5 books in one year. I'll be on the road a lot in 2014, doing two book tours as well as conferences, festivals, etc., so I'll see many of you! Tours TBA.
ps. Princess Academy 3 (title and cover TBA) will probably pub March '15.
pps. I've got lots of TBAs so check back here. My new year's resolution: blog post each Monday. What's yours?
Merry Christmas and happy holidays, y'all! Lots of stuff going down in 2014. As a last look at 2013, here's some tweets (and some slightly-longer-than-tweets) I wrote about our family over the past year. May your own year be as abundant in toddler toots.
THE HUSBAND AND ME
Setting up a nativity set.
Me: I can't find baby Jesus.
The Husband: Have you looked in your heart?
Friend: There is no "i" in team.
The Husband: But there is a great deal of meat.
Me (sick): My body's telling me that I really need to rest.
The Husband: My body's telling me that I need to go see a movie.
The Husband just walked in with a metal bar across his shoulders, swings attached to each end, and a child swinging from each swing. (not the toddlers, the older kids)
On realizing two of our friends are textbook hipsters:
Me: I wonder what we are.
The Husband: probably Affable Weirdos.
Me: I'm going to see the Little, Brown people when I'm in New York.
Husband: Yes, it is a diverse city.
I'm so lucky to have the kind of husband who I can email "what would an evil character name a pet rat?" and get 10 excellent names in return.
The Husband's name ideas for an evil rat: Scapula, Scrapple, First Lieutenant Skittery Boo, Holland Oats, Third Try, Bubonick, Marrow, and Steve
Tonight The Husband and I slow-danced, a 2yo on each of our shoulders. Appropriately, the song: "Don't Get Around Much Anymore"
Each evening I make plans to do X,Y, and Z after the kids go to bed. But by the time everyone's down, all I can manage is Zzz...
Me: It is hard, you know, when you love something and work so hard and yet some people hate it.
My dad: Tell 'em to shove it.
Just wrote about my villain, "She had such beautiful, beautiful pans." I meant "plans," but now want to have her obsessed with pans.
One of the most alarming things about being a parent is realizing our parents must have been faking it too.
One of my favorite things about young children: when we're walking, if I put my hand out, they'll hold it.
No, Mama won't stop cleaning the kitchen to hold you while you're eating a lollipop you stole from your sister's room. That would defeat the reason I pretended not to notice.
My 2yo was just sitting with her butt in the air 6 inches from my face and tooted epically loud. #preciousmoments #childrenareourfuture
9yo yells at 6yo: "Just because I fell asleep for a second means you have to put your foot in my mouth?"
9yo to toddler: "No thanks, I'm not going to eat this chewed up meat you just spit into my hand."
There was a bowed swoop of clouds in the sky. My 9yo said, "look, it's an albino rainbow."
6yo was supposed to be getting into bed. Missing. Finally found her in the dryer. Opened the door. She said "meow"
All the toilet paper rolls in the house mysteriously disappeared. I discovered them stacked in my 6yo's room, used for bowling pins.
My 6yo: I almost didn't recognize you because you look fat in that shirt.
Me: do you mean majestic?
My 6yo making colored glue paintings: "The ones that are mistakes are beautifuler than the real ones!"
My 6yo just gave her plush cat a haircut so the cat would have a hairball to cough up
In my room writing. Kids out there with sitter. Little 6yo hand just pushed a ziploc bag full of water under my door. There are three dandelions inside. I think she's giving me an under-the-door version of a vase of flowers.
My 6yo screams from the other room: "Everybody in the whole wide world knows how to draw a werewolf except me!"
Today my 6-year-old held up a square of rubber and asked, “What is this?”
“A hot pad,” I said.
She scowled at it and then dropped it on the floor. She stood on it and jumped, and scowled again, unsatisfied. She held it up and inspected it, confused.
“You can put the hot pad in the kitchen,” I said, thinking she was wondering what to do with it.
“Oh,” she said, “I thought you said hop-pad.”
My toddlers are a heartwarming example of cooperation. Together, they can pull the freezer drawer open and then toss out all the contents.
2yo holds up knife and fork and slowly advances toward her dad: "Don't be scared, Papa. Don't be scared your face. I saw you soft."
Me: ok we should go
2yo: no we should didn't
My toddlers use screaming like an octopus uses ink.
Toddler friend has arrived to play with my 2yos. They're greeting her with repeated "Hi little poopy head." I'm so proud.
Me: Come here, love.
2yo: I'm not a love!
Me: I call you that because I love you.
2yo *considers*: Ok, I'm a love.
My toddler has turned flailing into a martial art.
2yo, stomping, with hands in fists: "I'm a MAD princess!"
My 2yos have begun giving each other permission to do as they please. "You don't wanna go night-night? It's okay, you don't have to."
On a walk, my 2yo: "Aw, the trees love me."
Me: Don't kick your sister.
2yo: I didn't kick her! I petted her with my feet.
Early this morning, Dinah climbed onto my bed, stuck an adhesive eyeball to my cheek, and said, "Surprise! You are going to school."
Kids invented surreal.
My 3yo started to cry.
Me: What's the matter?
3yo: I toot and it smells really stinky.
My toddler twins, standing in front of the mirror:
"That one's you and that one's me."
"No that one's me and that one's you."
This morning as I got my 3yo out of bed, she declared, "Mama, today I am going to grow bigger."
3yo: "I'm going to turn into a princess now."
Clenches fists, whole body trembles, screams as if in metamorphic pain.
3yo just announced, "Somebody peed in my pants."
Sure enough, they were wet. Who would do such a thing?!
Toddler girls in ballet costumes. Spinning, lurching, stomping. Never have they looked more like little ogres.
Leaving the room, my 3yo said, "I gotta bounce," and then she literally bounced away.
Sony Pictures Classics announced Austenland DVD and Blu-Ray release in the USA on February 11, 2014. I know many of you are disappointed and were hoping it would come out in time for Christmas. But hey, pre-orders make great presents too! (sort of? Not quite as cool as a DVD in hand but almost?) The good news why it isn't coming out earlier is because it's still in some theaters. Thank you for coming out to see our flick.
You can pre-order the video now and plan on the best Valentine's Day ever. I know I will.
In the meantime, those of you who have seen it, would you mind giving a one sentence blurb of what you thought about it in the comments? I'll use some of your blurbs in a post about the DVD release in February.
So, people are complex. You just never know how they will respond. When I published Austenland in 2007, I was caught totally off guard by the first "you should be ashamed of this smut" email I received. I honestly didn't consider Austenland a trashy book. But many did. Here's my favorite of the angry emails:
I just read Austenland and was so disappointed. I loved your other books and had come to trust you to keep things clean. I bought Austenland on Amazon for my teenaged daughter for Christmas because she is a huge Pride & Prejudice fan. I'm glad I decided to read it first, because it would have totally traumatized her. I buried it [in] my kitchen trash can under a pile of wilted celery, where it should feel right at home.
I don't want to mock the writer of that email. Everyone has the right to their own reaction (though I do wonder sometimes what motivates the need to email the author your negative reaction). Still, I didn't see this coming.
The most surprising response I received for Austenland (and really any of my books) was:
"The way she mocks Austen fans is just insulting."
Not just one such response but many. I never anticipated that fellow Austen fans would think that I was insulting them. After all, I am one. It's one thing to love Austen's novels (which I do) but at the point I became obsessed with the DVDs of Pride & Prejudice, I thought, this is getting funny. Isn't it okay to laugh at this? At my weird obsession? And how I have the tendency to fall in love with fictional characters? Can we still be amused by a thing and love it at the same time?
Once the movie came out, that reaction only magnified. Many people thought we were mocking Jane Austen readers in an ugly and mean-spirited way. I felt like I'd had the wind knocked out of me.
Of course not everyone responded that way, and it was lovely and reassuring that many people (Austen fans and non-readers) let us know how much they loved what we did. I read one simply gorgeous review of the movie from a major online magazine, and was so relieved that at least someone got it! After the writer and I corresponded a bit. She wrote:
"I'm so grateful for writers who are doing work that's full of love and warmth and isn't cynical. I get enough of that."
Yay! Not everyone misunderstood! I forwarded the note on to the director, Jerusha Hess, and she responded, "Yes! It was full of love."
If we made it in love, full of warmth and fondness and well-intentioned humor, how did it come across to many as just the opposite?
I don't know, but I've observed some things about the Hesses' movies. Some people who saw Napoleon Dynamite thought that the movie was mocking a rural west culture, and yet I've never met anyone from Utah or Idaho that felt mocked by the movie. I read reviews of Nacho Libre (reviews written by white US guys) who thought the movie was mocking Mexicans, and yet the movie did great in Mexico and was largely received with love and laughter. I have no doubt that there was a loving and celebratory spirit in the Hesses making of these movies.
In those cases, it was outsiders who feared the mockery, while those supposedly being mocked got the humor and laughed with the movie. Yet with Austenland, many of the insiders--the Janeites--felt unkindly mocked. I don't know why this happened.
Christopher Guest movies also come to mind. I don't know if certain musicians felt mocked by Spinal Tap. I heard that some dog showers did by Best In Show, which surprised me, because as an outsider it seemed clear to me that the movie wasn't trying to make fun of all dog owners and dog shows, nor to definitively define what such people must all be like. I grew up doing community theater, and everyone I know in theater absolutely loves Waiting for Guffman. We didn't feel mocked by it. We felt lovingly tributed and enjoyed the inside jokes only we would get, laughing at the absurdities we saw in ourselves and in our theater world as well as laughing at the parts the movie exaggerated for humor. I came away from it not thinking, "Yeah, community theater is lame," but "That was hysterical! I love theater!"
And I guess that's how I assumed my fellow Jane Austen lovers would react too. If anyone might misunderstand and think we were mocking Janeites, it would be the outsiders, certainly not the insiders, certainly not those who loved Austen--her humor, her snark, her insight.
I do know we were walking that fine and wonderful line: to be the thing and make light of the thing at the same time. That's the only way to do a loving comedy. And there is a chance it can be misunderstood. I just didn't think it would, not by my own peeps.
Some people couldn't go there with us, and that's okay. Art is personal. But the accusations of mean-spiritedness or malicious intent are totally, completely wrong. Every actor, every producer and writer and all involved had a fondness for the characters and the story and wanted to make something that made us laugh, made us swoon, made us smile, in the very best spirit possible.
I don't know why it failed some people, but it is a potent reminder that nothing is more perilous than comedy.
As I am still treading deadline water, I'm reposting a blog post from several years ago. This is one of my favorites, an interview with M.T. Anderson. Tobin is simply one of the best writers and best people I've ever had the honor to know. Enjoy!
SH: You've written picture book biographies (Strange Mr. Satie), perhaps the best dystopian novel of all time (Feed), a complex and brilliant historical novel (The Astonishing Life of Octavian Nothing, Parts 1 and 2), rollicking fun middle reader pulp novels (the Whales on Stilts! books), and some other books I haven't read yet so they don't really count but I have on good authority they are equally amazing, though I can't confirm or deny that at present. You jump from genre to genre like a flea at a dog show (you can borrow that simile sometime if you want, no charge, just make sure you mention me in the acknowledgements) and yet you do each one brilliantly, convincingly, perfect. So, what's the deal, Tobin? You got something to prove? Were you bullied as a kid by some smart-mouthed pre-teen genius who threw a ball at your head and said, "I bet you can't go down that slide head-first and survive OR write a dozen different books in different genres and be brilliant at all of them, so there, poo-poo head!" and you've been trying to prove that kid wrong ever since, especially since after you went down the slide head first you did survive but suffered a severe concussion and to this day still see shiny lights in your periphery and occasionally hear Bob Barker whisper in your ear, "Spin the wheel, Tobin. Spin it!" Is that it?
MTA: Can we just forget the slide? Who told you about the slide? I bet it was that jerk, Milt Barrega.
*drops to his knees and cries to the gathering clouds*
MILT BARREGA! CURSE YOU! ... HOW MANY SWISHIES, SWIRLIES, MONKEY BITES, AND CHARLIE HORSES DID I ENDURE AT YOUR HANDS? HOW MANY WEDGIES, SKUNKERS, KNUCKLE SCRUMS, AND MAR-BELLIES? HOW MANY WALLS OF MY HOUSE DID YOU KNOCK DOWN WITH YOUR CATAPULT, YOUR TREBUCHET?
I thought I had moved on. After all, that was some thirty years ago. He was just a snot-nosed kid. And wiped it on me. I thought I could let bygones be bygones. And then I discover that he tells stories like this to you; that is my bank manager, that he eats at my favorite restaurant, that he sends weird cakes to my wife.
MILT BARREGA! I SHALL SEEK YOU OUT TO THE ENDS OF THE EARTH... AND WHEN I CATCH UP TO YOU, AND I SEND YOU HEAD-FIRST SLITHERING DOWN A SLIDE, YOU'LL FIND THE LANDING AIN'T SO SOFT WHERE YOU'RE GOING ... AND THAT IT'S REALLY HOT THERE! At the bottom of the slide! Which I'm sending you down!
And there are devils there. And brimstone and criminals.
I mean, what I'm trying to say is the slide goes down to the Bad Place. Like, that's the joke.
Sorry. Sorry, Milt. I didn't mean it.
Whales on Stilts! is a middle reader book, a parody of (or homage to) the old pulp novels, a great pick for reluctant readers, and uproariously funny. It moves fast and easy, but doesn't skimp on the quality writing. Just listen to this passage: "She, Lily, and Jasper pulled away from all the people who wanted to hear their story, and they stepped over to the railing to watch the sun set over the sea. Around them the potted ferns waved and the seagulls cried. The clouds turned a rich, rumbling kind of red as the sun disappeared. The sky stretched peach above their heads. The wind blew at them." Simple, elegant, evocative. Any writer would gladly offer up various body parts to write like that. So my question is, if I had a potluck BBQ, what dish would you bring?
I only know one recipe. Cereal.
Normally, the recipe for cereal is:
1. Pour cereal into bowl
2. Pour milk over cereal (to taste)
But I'm lactose intolerant. So my recipe for cereal is a special one for lactose intolerant people.
1. Eat cereal.
I'm the life of the party!
Follow up question: Are you free on Saturday?
For you, Shannon, I'm free any time. Wouldn't that be fun, if we could all get together for a BBQ?
PS. Do you prefer Quisp or Count Chocula?
Which Jasper Dash, Boy Technonaut, invention would you most like to own and use at will?
Definitely the flying restaurant. I love it there. I would get them to put waffle fries on the menu, and fried zucchini with Russian dressing, and boneless Buffalo fingers. And then they could have a robotic cheesecake dessert cart, with specialty cheese cakes.
But WAIT A SECOND, I'm lactose intolerant. So I'd be reduced to just staring at the robotic dessert cart longingly.
Even in my own daydreams, I'm frustrated.
You were recently photographed about town:
Clearly this is an original picture and your head was not cut out and put on someone else's body by my husband with mad PhotoShop skills. Ahem. Now besides the fact that you seemed to have gained fifty or sixty pounds since I saw in you June, I'm curious about the shirt. I guess it speaks for itself, but care to elaborate? (Also, is that a gold bracelet you're wearing?)
Wow, that's some photo. By "greatness," I apparently mean, "my great love of baked goods."
Because you're sweet, like them!
Stop it, I'm blushing! So you see why I vote M.T. Anderson for our favorite literary guy. Don't you want to take him home with you to smile and say witty things and explain string theory and Ulysses? Easy, ladies, he's taken..
Pumpkin sorceress Laura has done it again! I'm so honored to have been part of her yearly carving extravaganza.
Ooh, a lovely homage to Ever After High. So happy that The Storybook of Legends has been a New York Times bestseller for four weeks now! (Just to clarify, Mattel invented the world, made the dolls, and asked me to write a book, not the other way around. Gotta give credit to the great creative team at Mattel for the concept.)
In celebration of the Austenland movie! Some three months later, it's still in some theaters and moving into the discount theaters. I imagine the DVD will be released in early 2014. It looks to me like it did really well for an indie movie.
Look at this gorgeous symbol from the cover of Dangerous! The date's been moved up, so it releases the first week of March. I'm so excited to share this book with you all.
Thank you for the pumpkins, Laura! And thank you to all the readers who allow me to keep writing and publishing books so that Laura can carve them into pumpkins.
So this August, about five times in the same week, people in my neighborhood asked me, "So how's it going" as if asking about something specific. I answered, "It's tough with twins! I've cleaned up so much pee this week, but I think they're kind of getting it. Sort of."
I began to notice a slightly bewildered expression in response and it occurred to me that maybe "how's it going?" wasn't in reference to potty training my twins. The fifth time, the woman said, "No I meant the movie." You know, that movie that was made from my book that was currently in theaters. I know that should have been such a big deal that it was constantly in the forefront of my mind, but honestly, the potty training was so much huger in my life than the movie I was barely thinking about the latter.
Maybe that's disappointing. Maybe people would be happier if the truth was that my life was transformed and all was glamour and riches and excitement now. At a Q&A after one screening of Austenland, someone asked me, "How has having a movie made from your book changed your life?" And I couldn't think of any ways.
It's a legitimate question, and it reminded me that before all this, I would have assumed that such a thing would be life changing.
Things having a movie made from my book has not done:
Not made me rich
Not changed my career
Not changed my daily life
Not changed how the people in my life see or relate to me
Not changed how I write
Not opened doors to me that were previously closed
What has it changed? Well, it was an experience. I had a fantastic experience. And life is all about experiences. Living, seeing things, meeting people. That's cool. In the way that a great time at summer camp is cool. I got to co-write a script with Jerusha Hess, who has become a friend, and meet other cool people who are now friends, and friendship is something precious to me. I got to be on set and watch a movie get made. I got to attend screenings and hear people laugh and sigh at lines I wrote and characters I created. That was really, really amazing and something I will always treasure. But it hasn't changed my daily life. I'm still stressed about a writing deadline, I never seem to have enough time to clean my house and it gets dirty and cluttered again 10 minutes after I do clean it, my kids have struggles that I ache to see them go through, I don't workout enough/cook enough/clean enough, etc., it seems like someone in the family is always upset, and I'm constantly trying to find that writer/mother balance and do my best and not feel like I'm failing in everything. Normal life.
Please know I'm not complaining. I LOVE my life. As crazy and chaotic and unchanged as it is.
I say all this because a decade ago I read an article that changed my perspective. One writer was lamenting always being a mid-lister. Her friend writer hit the New York Times best seller list, and she told her something like, "My mom's still disappointed in me, I haven't lost any weight, my rent is still going up, I don't have a boyfriend. Don't waste your life pining for bestsellerdom. It doesn't change anything real." I read that and went--Oh! 'Cause I'd had this weird, magical idea that becoming a best selling writer would somehow change everything.
Having a movie made from my book hasn't transformed me fundamentally as a person or changed my life. I'm a mom and a wife and a sister and a daughter and a friend and I write books. And I saw a movie based on one of those books. That was very cool, but nothing really important has changed.
It makes me realize that this is life--what I have right now. Not wishing for something huge and marvelous and magical that might or might not happen in the future. Now. Scraping together spaghetti for dinner, cleaning more pee off the floor, snuggling in a chair and reading to my kids, almost managing to clean off the kitchen counter before I collapse into bed. This is it. This is the magic.
Thank you all for supporting the movie. 11 weeks later it's still in some theaters! I believe it's done really well for a small, indie movie, and I know that's due to so many of you making an effort to go see it. It doesn't matter that it's not life changing. I'm so proud of what we made and had a lot of cool experiences doing it, and hopefully as it continues to do better than expected, maybe the Hollywood number crunchers will give another female filmmaker a break in the future. Now if they could just do something about all this peeing...
I got a present in the mail! I got a present in the mail!
One great thing about having toddler twins is you have two sets of hands to help you unwrap gifts. No more grueling un-twining of ribbon, endless ripping of novelty paper. Invest in your own set of toddler twins and enjoy their unwrapping services free of charge!
Look at those cute little hands. Aw...
"It's a book!" Chances are, when a package comes to our house, it's gonna be a book.
YAY! It's a real book! Hardcover (paper over board), $14.99, 304 pages, target age 8-12, publishes in the US Oct. 8 and elsewhere in the world same day or soon thereafter. Let's look inside.
Ooh, the pretty.
Rich color borders on every page!
The details are so fun. I love this book.
Book tour for EVER AFTER HIGH: The Storybook of Legends. Come see me!
Tuesday, October 8
2526 East Colfax Avenue
Wednesday, October 9
St. Louis County Library
1640 S. Lindbergh Blvd
St. Louis, MO
Booksales by Barnes & Noble
Thursday, October 10
Mrs. Nelson's Toys & Books
1030 Bonita Ave
La Verne, CA
Saturday, October 12
Children's Book World
17 Haverford Station Rd
Sunday, October 13
New York Comic Con Panel
The Magic of Storytelling panel with Lemony Snicket (When Did You See Her Last?), David Lubar (Weenies series), Matthew Cody (Will in Scarlet), Shannon Hale (Ever After High: The Storybook of Legends), George O'Connor (Olympians), and Scott Campell (If Dogs Run Free)
New York Comic Con Authographing: 12PM - Table 21
Tuesday, October 15
Provo City Library
550 North University Ave.
Provo, UT 84601
Booksales by Kings English
October 17, 2013
Talk and signing with Lisi Harrison, Megan McCafferty, and Diana Lopez
October 19, 2013
Tween Reads Book Fest
November 9, 2013
Check with the stores for further information. Remember, it costs stores money to advertise and staff an author event. If you want to get books signed at bookstore-hosted events, please support their continued existence by purchasing a book from them (doesn't have to be one of mine--but hey, that'd be nice!).
It’s the late 1990s, and everyone I know is obsessed with the Pride & Prejudice miniseries starring Colin Firth. I don’t use that word lightly. Obsessed. We hum the songs from the ball. The words creep into our everyday dialogue—we say things like, “Make haste!” and, “Now that’s a fair prospect!” We have daydreams about a fictional character and sigh out loud.
We are completely and utterly ridiculous. But it’s so much fun.
I just wish that there were a way to actually step into Austen’s story, try it on and see how it would fit. Would living in the Regency era, being loved by Mr. Darcy, really be as ideal as it seems? I start to write a book about a character like me and my friends, who goes on vacation to an English resort where tourists can put on the corset and empire-waist gowns, live in a manor house, and interact with actors playing gentlemen who woo them in their own custom storylines.
(By the way, no such place actually exists—but it should, shouldn’t it?)
I spend seven years, off and on, composing Austenland, trying out different characters, writing and rewriting different endings, before I come to the story of Jane Hayes and her jaunt in an immersive Austen resort. It is completely and utterly ridiculous, and also so much fun.
Jumping ahead a few years, I meet screenwriter Jerusha Hess, who co-wrote Napoleon Dynamite and Nacho Libre. She reads Austenland and wants me to collaborate with her on the screenplay. Jerusha responds not just to the Austen obsession but more generally to Jane Hayes’ geekiness. Everyone has their own geekdom—Star Wars, Twilight, superheroes, science, Dr. Who, classic Greek literature—whatever it might be. She’s sure most anyone could relate to Jane’s trip down the rabbit hole, even the un-Austen-ed.
We spend a year and a half on the screenplay (and laughing, usually while eating milk shakes). Jump ahead again.
I’m in England, sitting on one of those camp chairs with members of the film crew. It’s our first day
filming on the grounds of the English estate that will be our Austenland. And across the lawn walks the actor JJ Feild in full costume. Boots. Breeches. Cravat. Riding jacket. Top hat. I’m amazed at how much he looks like the character of my imagination. The resemblance is uncanny.
But then the most extraordinary thing happens. This figment, this character I dreamed up in my brain, turns, sees me, looks right at me, and smiles.
I no longer feel the camping chair beneath me. I seem to be falling into my own story. I watch the scene play out on camera—Keri Russell, Jennifer Coolidge, James Callis, speaking lines I wrote, just the way I’d imagined and yet adding so much more. It is almost real. Surreal.
Later, I find out the costume coat and hat JJ Feild is wearing are the same ones Colin Firth wore in Pride & Prejudice. Somehow, I’ve managed to enter Austenland. It’s ridiculous. And it’s so much fun.
The photo is of me and Jane Seymour on set, dressed for the ball scene. The film is in limited release now in US, UK, and Canada. The book is available online and from fine booksellers everywhere.
Once upon a time I, Shannon Hale, your faithful narrator, was free. I'd just turned in the final draft of Dangerous,
and for the first time in ten years I didn't have a book under
contract. With four small children at home, I'd decided not to go under
contract for any new books for the time being. "Maybe I'll take a break
for a bit," I told my husband. "Until things calm down."
Famous last words.
Three days later, I got a call. Little, Brown (fabulous book publisher) had an offer
for me. Hm, I really didn't think I'd be interested, because of taking a break and all, but I was curious.
"They won't tell me what it is," my agent told me. "First we have to
sign a non-disclosure agreement." Wow, now I was really curious. I
signed the document and got on a call with Andrew, Connie, and Erin at
They told me about a project codename "Lightning." Yes, it was so super
secret it even had a code name! And so I first heard about Ever After
High, a boarding school for the children of famous fairy tales. For a
few moments, I decided wasn't interested. I'm known for
retelling fairy tales, and I love fairy tales, but I didn't think I'd
want to write in someone else's fairy tale land. I'd rather do my own
But this was more than just retold fairy tales. The idea is that
children of fairy tale characters grow up to relive the stories their
parents made famous. Our main characters are Raven Queen, daughter of
the Evil Queen, and Apple White, daughter of Snow White. And they're
roommates. That struck me as so delightfully awkward. We talked more.
They sent me a 200 page story bible detailing a couple dozen characters
and world details. It was all so fun. But I couldn't make myself commit.
I was free! I was going to take a break!
Mattel flew me out to their headquarters in California. I got to see the
workshops where designers created new Barbie dolls and superhero action
and Matchbox cars. I got a sneak peak of the first eight Ever After High
dolls (kept in windowless rooms under shrouds--so secret!). I saw the
first animated short and heard more good stuff about
the world. I saw their absolute commitment to story and how excited they
were to have a novel to kick off the storytelling of this huge new
property. And I couldn't resist. In fact, even though I'd been telling
myself I might not do it, I'd already written 15 pages of the novel
because scenes between these characters just flew into my brain.
So I slapped the conference table and said, "That's it. I'm in."
Then the whirlwind began. I read everything Mattel had already written
in this world--scripts for upcoming animated shorts and stories that
would come included with each doll--over and over again and educated myself on the world and
characters. I couldn't contradict anything already established, but
besides that, they gave me free reign to make up my own story. And since
I was coming in at the beginning, I helped create this
world and form the characters. The Mattel creative team was wonderful
and totally open to my input. The few times I found established elements I
thought world work better a different way, they changed them. It was
collaborative, supportive, and a lot of fun.
I wrote a mini-outline. I got notes from my editors and wrote a robust
outline. I got notes from my editors and the Mattel team. I wrote a
first draft. I got more notes and revised several times. And then we had
a book. A book I'm really proud of.
It was so fun, we decided to do it again. And again. I've signed up to
write books 2 & 3 in Ever After. Because of other time commitments,
my husband Dean Hale is co-writing books 2 & 3 with me, even more
collaboration and support and fun.
I'm not sure when I'm going to take that theoretical break. But I'm glad I didn't. Yet.
Ever After High: The Storybook of Legends is in bookstores today. Come see me on tour!
Just heard the news...EVER AFTER HIGH: The Storybook of Legends is a New York Times Best Seller! Callooh Callay!
A smattering of visuals from the first leg of my book tour. First, a video of me and Daniel Handler (aka Lemony Snicket) before our NY Comic Con panel.
At the Provo Library last night, look at this amazing wall sticker:
They do such lovely window displays at the Provo Library!
Details from the window display. Raven and Apple emerging from a 3D book. Really pretty.
Posing with my fabulous apple purse in front of a HUGE cover of my new book at NYCC:
Mr. Daniel Handler (Lemony Snicket) reacts to my dignified, mature observation that my book cover poster is larger than his:
They told me this was the author green room:
First sighted in public: the new, smaller trim size of Calamity Jack! (Rapunzel's Revenge has also been downsized.) I was impressed with how good these look. The text size is still very readable, and now these can fit on regular sized book shelves. These books have been hugely popular in libraries but hard to find in bookstores because they were hard to stock on shelves. Hopefully bookstores will carry them more broadly now!
A dessert I ate at a NYC restaurant. It was called "Chocolate Cube." Yes, thank you.
Filet mignon and mushroom wellington. Pretty much how I eat at home too.
So, I have five books coming out in 2014 (two Ever After High books, Dangerous, Spirit Animals book 4, and the first Princess in Black). And I'm busy. Writing. Most of those are already written, but it's still busy! (I'm also working on the third Princess Academy, which should be out in 2015.) I usually try to blog here at least each Monday but I've been failing lately. Am recommitting now! And in the meantime, here's a three-year-old post that generated some discussion at the time:
From Sara Zarr's blog:
"Richard Rodriguez says that the reader re-creates the book when he
reads it." I completely agree, and you long time readers of my blog know
my opinions about How to Be a Reader.
No story is static. A book has no meaning on its own. Meaning is
created for each reader as they read. I've been thinking about this
lately as I've been hearing people's responses to the last book in a
I think that whether you are a reader, writer, or both (if you're a
writer you'd better be both), reading books is far more useful when we
shed the need to be a literary critic and focus instead on the internal.
It's been interesting to hear over and over again what readers imagined
the author failed to do. And I keep thinking, that's such a useless
response. Unless you're getting a phd in literacy criticism and doing
your thesis on that author, that's not helpful to you. Speculation about
what the author was trying to do, or whether or not she was "tired" of
writing, etc., is pointless. We don't know. Instead, it's so much more
beneficial to focus on understanding our own internal reader, and
therefore ourselves. Where did the story fail you? Where did it work for
you? So, what does that say about you? What were you hoping for? What
did you need from the story? If you're a writer, what does that tell you
about what kind of a story you want to write? For me, this kind of
responding is just about how I think about the book. Instead of
thinking, "The author really dropped the ball on the ending," I try
thinking, "What did I want out of the ending instead of what I got? Why
did I want that?"
I've become more and more conscious of this way
of reading over the past several years. It stems from hearing really
weird responses to my own books and hearing readers speculate about
ludicrous reasons I did this or that and assert false motivations for my
story choices. Realizing how often readers do that about my works made
me realize how often I thought that way about other people's books.
Sometimes the speculation is right, most of the time it's not, but
regardless, I realized I was throwing away my reading experience. I've
now become a much more selfish reader, perhaps. When a story bugs me,
I'm not thinking about the author but myself. Why am I bugged? What do I
want? I think I come away from books now with a better understanding of
myself as well as a better awareness of story that I can utilize in my
Reading as a writer changed me completely as a reader. I find I can
still appreciate books I dislike because I am learning through them how
to write stories I do like. I don't mean everything I've said here to be
a blueprint for reading and the only proper way to read a book. THere
are lots of ways to read a book. But I hope to call into question the
sometimes assumed idea that we read books to label them as either good
or bad. To me that's as silly as getting to know people just so we can
categorize them as either good or bad. It's not for me to judge and
label people. And if my only experience with books is a judgement call, a
rating of stars, then I would soon tire of reading. For me, reading is
an exploration, a partnership, me and the author via her words off on an
adventure. For my personal reading experience, some authors are better
companions than others, but it's always an adventure.
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In August, I wrote a post, asking you to see Austenland in the theater, if possible, in order to show Hollywood that women-made-and-led movies can be profitable. At the time, squeetuser Melanie Nichols made a comment I thought was worth discussing, though I thought I'd wait a bit first so the focus could be less on any particular movie and more general. From Melanie:
"I have to say that I love Austenland and I'm dying to see it (I'm hoping it'll make it's way up to Alaska!), but without wanting to sound rude, I don't agree with this post. I don't mean this as a criticism. I read this post and really wanted to take a moment to look at it from a different angle.
"In essence, you're saying that Hollywood ignores or downgrades movies that are female centric, yet you're pleading with us to see it because of that reason. It seems a bit hypocritical. If the issue is sexism, the answer isn't to do the same in reverse.
"You ask us to go see your movie and City of Bones, not because they have compelling plots, they're entertaining, or well made. You ask us to go because they're about women and written by women...
"I don't want this to sound overly critical, but as a woman I dislike the "girl power!" attitude. It shouldn't matter the gender of the actors, characters, writers, directors, etc. I am a woman. It's a huge part of who I am and I love being one, but it rankles to be compartmentalized by my gender for good or bad. I'm publishing my first novel in the next few months and I don't want people buying it because they want to read something from a female author. I want readers who enjoy the product."
Thanks for this, Melanie, and for your kind words too! *smooch* I think you bring up very valid points. (The term "girl power" also makes me shudder--no offense to those who love it. Power on!) I totally get what you’re saying about the hypocrisy. And in a fair world, I’d agree 100%. But we don’t live in a fair world. I believe that we need to talk about this and create awareness of the deep gap between women and men in the film industry. And since Hollywood runs on money, I believe we actually need to make an effort to monetarily support films made by women so that more can get made until eventually we don’t have to talk about it anymore.
I think there’s a lot of room for debate on this. For example, I’ve heard people make the case that affirmative action is unnecessary or even counter-productive. I’ve also heard others make the case in favor of all the good affirmative action has done. These are good discussions. And I think this is a good discussion too.
The loudest question I heard from your comment was, is my request that you go see Austenland because it’s made by women inherently sexist?
I don’t think that’s the only reason to go see it--I also think it has a compelling plot, is entertaining and well made, but I took for granted that was understood. So if I haven't gushed enough about the film's merits on its own, I'm always happy to do so more: It's hysterical! It's sweet and charming and swoony! The performances are awe-inspiring, the cinematography and art production took my breath! And I mean that sincerely.
I don’t think that because the movie was made largely by women that means all women will automatically like it, just as all men don’t automatically like every one of the 90% of films that were largely made by men. But with that post I did hope to educate some who don’t know how Hollywood often works so that they might understand just how much voting-by-money matters in movies. We often talk about how sad it is that there aren’t more women’s voices heard in media, but many don’t realize just how important buying tickets to the female-created and/or female-led movies matters. Even if viewers don’t notice the gender of the filmmakers or stars, Hollywood does, and they do make decisions based on how much money female-created and female-led films make. If Austenland succeeds, another female filmmaker that no investor wanted to take a chance on before will have a better shot. I wish that wasn't how it works, but I'm afraid it does.
Celluloid Ceiling released a recent study of filmmaking in the US:
“In 2012, women comprised 18% of all directors, executive producers, producers, writers, cinematographers, and editors working on the top 250 domestic grossing films. This represents
no change from 2011 and an increase of 1 percentage point from 1998.”
And it’s not getting better. “A historical comparison of women’s employment on the top 250 films in 2012 and 1998 reveals that the percentages of women directors and editors have not changed. The percentages of women writers and producers have increased slightly. The percentages of women executive producers and cinematographers have declined.” And while those numbers haven’t improved in the past 15 years, the percentage of female characters in films has even declined.
Those are the numbers representing scattered female involvement, but what percentage of films were written, directed, produced by and starred women? Hollywood has noticed Austenland’s female-heavy creation, and it will note how it performs. (For one example of Hollywood noticing a film's performance when women are involved, read this Deadline Hollywood article. It would be interesting to look at the films produced by that studio in the past five years since the article and see how many, if any, had female leads.)
I want to emphasize: I do not think that everyone in Hollywood is inherently sexist. I do think they make decisions based on the data at hand. And with so few female-made movies to look at, one underperforming movie has a huge ripple effect. Here's another article, this one about why a Wonder Woman animated feature can't use her name in the title. Interesting to note that the DVD they mention sold relatively well--but not well enough. Female-led titles have to be outstandingly successful in order to prove the old order wrong. It's not fair. It's hypocritical. It's how it works. (and note that although the DVD All-Star Superman underperformed, no one said, "That's it, no more Superman movies," or even more ludicrous, "That's it, no more male-led movies." When a movie with a female lead underperforms, the gender of the lead is blamed, while the reverse is not true for male-led movies.)
I personally wish change came organically because we’re all just looking for a great story and it doesn’t matter who made it. When buying books, I don’t care if the writer is a man or a woman, because of books published, the spread between men and women writers is pretty even (although review coverage and awards greatly favor male writers, especially with grown up titles). But when deciding which movies to support with my money, I do make a conscious effort to look for films with some female actors and a female writer or director, because I want to support them. And filmmakers of color too. There are voices not being heard, not because they don’t have great stories to tell, but because money talks, and so far in the movie industry, money favors one kind of person over another. Because so far, by the numbers, that’s the least risky investment.
Again, I am not suggesting that just because women made a movie that means all women must love it (or by extension all men must hate it). But yes, I am suggesting, the next time you're trying to decide between two movies to see in the theater, and one has a female director or writer or lead, and the other doesn't, choosing the former does matter, not just to that film but to future films. Box office sales numbers matter so much in Hollywood. Your ticket matters. I hope you'll ponder this for the future. If you're ever vacillating between going to see a female-made movie in the theater or waiting, your trip to the theater means something. Or buying a DVD too, for that matter. Your purchase means more than simply watching a really great movie. With a compelling plot. And memorable characters. And honest laughter. And really great writing. The number crunchers in Hollywood will read the money you spent as a vote. And I'm boldly asking you to vote for variety.
So, what do you think?