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Shannon Hale's blog, author of "Princess
Academy" (Newbery honor last year), and "Goose Girl".
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Number of Readers that added this blog to their MyJacketFlap: 18
I've talked before about how reviews aren't for writers but for readers, and I mostly don't read them, but when a new book comes out, I allow myself to break my own rules and read some reviews. A book has been cooking for years often and hearing what people think is just too tempting! This morning I tiptoed to amazon and read this review by SallyBWT. When I read it to my husband, I started crying and then just sobbing. It does mean so much when your book finds a home.
We borrowed this from the library for my Kindergartner. She loved it so much we read it straight through, then read it again, and then that night when I went in to check on her one last time I found her holding it close in her sleep. I should also note that we are just now entering the super-hero stage in our family with my 3 year old son, so my little girl has gone from watching Disney movies over and over (Rapunzel is the favorite) to Spider-Man and Captain America. "Why are there no girl Super-Heroes?" she asked. I introduced her to Wonder Woman, White Tiger, Batgirl, Supergirl, etc., and she shrugged. She can't really connect to those super-sexy, all-grown-up, major-attitude types.
I recalled reading about Shannon Hale's new book for younger readers. I liked what she'd done with Princess Academy, so I thought I would give it a go for my girl. I did not anticipate the amount of love this book would receive - she cried when she had to give it back to the library (the request list is still long here). She decorated her pumpkin for a school contest to look just like the Princess in Black.
I surprised my daughter with her own copy this last week, and her eyes just lit up. The book currently lives under her pink pillow. My girl LOVES pink, and princesses, and superheroes. This book is NOT about rejecting princesses, or even rejecting the pinkness of girls. This book is about being a hero and saving the day.
This is Zorro for little girls. Princess Magnolia - pink clad perfection in her castle - The Princess in Black when danger lurks in the kingdom!
Give it a chance. My three year old boy loves this book and we look forward to another, especially if it features the Goat Avenger. :-) And more monsters to fight! My two year old daughter has been running around saying the Princess in Black's signature move: Twinkle, Twinkle, Little* SMASH! It's a book our whole family loves.
*I (Shannon) added the "little." The reviewer forgot it. It's my favorite line in the book (Dean wrote it) and I just had to have it right.
By: Shannon Hale,
Blog: squeetus blog
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I dug out my childhood journal this week to read for research. I showed my 10yo and 7yo entries from when I was their age. And then I left it out while I went to put my younger kids to bed.
When I came back, my older kids had read on and found a post from when I was 14, depressed, and talking about killing myself. My initial reaction was shame and regret. I didn't want my kids to see in me that weakness. I was afraid of the mere topic of suicide. But I took a breath and said a prayer and we sat down to talk.
It turned out to be an amazing conversation. They wanted to know why I'd felt that way. THey were concerned about me. My first job was to assure them I was fine. We talked about my younger years, why I felt that way, and why sometimes there's no reason other than just plain sadness. We talked about how at the time for various reasons I didn't feel like I had anyone to talk to about it, and how my job as their mom was to always be someone they could talk to. And about suicide in general--what it is, and how if anyone ever tells them they want to hurt or kill themselves, they should tell me. That is a secret we never keep.
I think sometimes our instinct as parents is to hide our vulnerabilities. But it can be powerful for kids to understand that we went through hard stuff and came out okay. That can be a sturdy hope to cling to when they go through their own stuff. If we try to put up a veneer of perfection out of a misguided attempt to seem trustworthy and stable, we miss the opportunity to show empathy. My kids maybe now are more likely to admit to me their own worries and weaknesses because they know I'll understand.
By: Shannon Hale,
Blog: squeetus blog
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I don't have time to blog today but really want to stick with my goal of blogging every Monday. Doing some research for a presentation on graphic novels Dean and I are giving to teachers this week and I found this old bit Nathan Hale did from our launch of Calamity Jack nearly 5 years ago. Go see his cover reveal for his new Hazardous Tale graphic novel!
Also on tour last week, Nate, Dean and I were in the basement of the Texas state capitol, standing in the hallway talking for 5 minutes. The entire time Mike Farrell (BJ from MASH) was standing three feet away from us and neither of them noticed. I played it so cool. But BJ! From MASH! (I've seen every episode. Nate was too young, Dean too occupied with science ficiton)
#WeNeedDiverseBooks is raising funds now on IndieGoGo to keep this movement going. Please consider donating.
I would love to know if this movement has already affected you in some way. Please comment below and feel free to do so anonymously if you like.
Writers, have you included diverse (POC, LGBTQ, disabled, religious, etc.) characters in your works-in-progress when you hadn't originally considered it?
Agents, editors, have you specifically looked for diverse writers because of raised awareness following this campaign? Have you suggested or supported writers to include diverse characters in a book when in the past you might not have addressed it?
Librarians and booksellers, have you been more aware of diverse books--recommending them to patrons/clients, creating displays, turning them out, etc.--than you were before?
Readers, have you been more inclined to read, buy, check-out books by diverse writers or about diverse characters?
Bloggers/reviewers, have you been more likely to review diverse books? More likely to be vocal about them, recommend them than before?
People who identify as being disabled, LGBTQ, of color, religious, do you feel more welcome, more seen, in the book community than before?
Whether the campaign has affected you or not, I'd be curious to hear your experience.
By: Shannon Hale,
Blog: squeetus blog
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In June, Tasha Robinson wrote an interesting piece "We're Losing All Our Strong Female Characters to Trinity Syndrome." In it she points out something that has bothered many of us for years, how a movie will often introduce an amazing, interesting, capable female character (often the only one in the story) only to do nothing with her. After her amazing introduction, she becomes a prop, just to aid the guy along his protagonisty quest and/or be his reward at the end.
Examples she gives:
the eponymous Trinity (the Matrix)
Valka (How to Train Your Dragon 2) - ugh, this one DROVE ME CRAZY. The way the script treated her was appalling. Honestly I'm so surprised in the years it takes to produce an animated movie, no one spoke up and said, isn't this bothering anyone else?
WyldStyle (Lego Movie) - drove me nutso. She was so cool at first! And once again reduced to ineffectual character who exists solely to be a protagonist reward
Tauriel (The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug)
Other examples that have stood out to me include Thandie Newton's character in Mission Impossible 2 (a textbook example really), Zoe Saldana in the new Star Treks, Mako Mori in Pacific Rim, Fiona in Shrek, all the females in The Lion King...really there are a ton of examples, and you'd be hard pressed to find a single movie where the reverse was true with a male character.
(to contrast, the Thor and Captain America movies have been great with female characters. Though Pixar is quite bad with their female:male character rations and almost always fail the Bechdel test, Elasticgirl is an example of a female character who doesn't succumb to Trinity Syndrome.)
I bring this up now because I was listening to Script Notes, a podcast about screenwrting by John August and Craig Mazin. I adore these guys and this podcast. They are terrific. They did a segment a couple of months ago talking about this report, and while they agreed largely with Tasha Robinson, they took issue with her interpretation of Wyldstyle from The Lego Movie. I wish I had a transcript to quote from, but in essence, they said criticism of Wyldstyle falling into Trinity syndrome wasn't fair because that was the whole point of the story. The movie was parodying The Matrix. It was done with a wink and a nod and so was fair game.
The Matrix starts off with Trinity, whose action wowed audiences in a way we hadn't experienced for many a year. She blew our minds, she was so fabulous and deadly. And yet as the story progresses, we learn the real hero will be "The One," and amazing and talented and experienced as she is, Trinity, for some reason, isn't "The One." Instead it's this white guy nerd. Why? We don't know. That's just how this world (our world too) works.
Wyldstyle's character vocalizes her reaction to this. Why isn't she The Special? Why this nerdy average guy and not her, who has been preparing and training and working hard for years? We don't know. That's just how it goes. And eventually she just accepts it, stops doing amazing things, and goes along with the story. (note: I otherwise enjoyed The Lego Movie, but disappointment in Wyldstyle's character kept me from fully loving it)
Tigress in Kung Fu Panda is essentially the same character as Wyldstyle (though serious instead of comedic): the most capable, most prepared, most talented, but for some reason not "chosen" and instead is present to support the seemingly infantile, ridiculous, unprepared but wide-eyed optimistic guy achieve his greatness.
What I wish August and Mazin had pointed out, though, was: isn't that a shame? Isn't it a shame that this awesome female character didn't get a chance to be the hero or even be significant to the second half of the movie? The filmmakers chose to parody a movie that surely none of the young audience would get instead of just letting Wyldstyle be her awesome self. They had a chance to make a character be different, to let a female character in an action movie be significant, powerful, as well as funny, and instead parroted the same kind of thing we've been seeing for decades. For me, the parody fell flat. I would rather have seen and rather my kids had seen Wyldstyle be to the Special what The Winter Soldier's Black Widow was to Captain America. I'd rather she had the chance to fully be her awesome self than fall back on a parody the target audience won't get anyway.
And by extension, I'd rather all girls got to be their awesome selves than be told by movies, again and again and again and again, that they should hold back, be lesser, tone down, hide their skills, step out of the spotlight, don't intimidate the guy, let him be the hero.
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.
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!
By: Shannon Hale,
Blog: squeetus blog
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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?
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?
"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?
By: Shannon Hale,
Blog: squeetus blog
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[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.
By: Shannon Hale,
Blog: squeetus blog
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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.
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."
By: Shannon Hale,
Blog: squeetus blog
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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!
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.
Original ending: Enna gives up her powers entirely. That was what I was writing toward in the first draft, but I eventually discovered it wasn't the best story. I also considered ending it in her death.
Found this note I apparently never incorporated in the story: "Mimicbeetles introduced, mimic sounds of men or Finn coming."
The ceremony: I was always curious about these verses from Isaiah in the Old Testament (which is generally poetic and full of strange and interesting images):
6 Then flew one of the seraphims unto me, having a live coal in his hand, which he had taken with the tongs from off the altar;
7 And he laid it upon my mouth, and said, Lo, this hath touched thy lips; and thine iniquity is taken away, and thy sin purged.
This ceremony seemed like something the fire worshippers might believe in.
Wind and fire: In an early draft, my editor was not on board with the wind/fire solution. She thought I should change it to rain/fire. I thought it was working until her comment, which made me look closer and work harder. I decided not to take her exact advice but it was still helpful because she pushed me to make work what I wanted to have happen. I deleted most of it and rewrote the whole thing. And then again. And again. I overwrote and then deleted liberally. And then wove strings throughout the entire book that helped lead up to the moment when Isi and Enna teach each other their languages. And now it's 10x stronger. Reminds me of what others have said, "If someone says something's not working in your manuscript, they're always right. If they tell you how to fix it, they're always wrong." I don't like "always" but mostly I think that advice is true.
Nicole asks, "I was wondering what your favorite book is, outside of those which you've written?" I don't have a favorite book. I don't have a favorite anything. I like choices! But the first book that popped into my mind when you asked that is I Capture the Castle, which is a book I completely adored until the last page, and then I was so upset by the abrupt, unclosed ending that I couldn't deal. That book taught me a lot about what I love as a reader and what I don't. Highly recommend it for both reasons.
Eliza asks, "Sorry to hijack the Enna discussion, but I have another EAH question. Are Apple and Daring siblings?" No, that would be weird! Apple inherits her mother's story, but her father (the previous Prince Charming) doesn't have a son to inherit his. I explain more in a short story about Dexter that's coming out this fall in the Once Upon a Time collection, but the Charming family is huge, lots of branches, and there are plenty of prince charmings to take up those roles so there's no incest!
"silly songs about swimming rabbits and no-tailed squirrels": it occurs to me I should have had my husband write this song! He wrote the "bodiless piglet" song Tegus sings in Book of a Thousand Days. He also expanded the rap I wrote for Humphry in The Storybook of Legends and then wrote new raps for him in The Unfairest of Them All and A Wonderlandiful World. He's my go-to song writer! I should have made him write all those songs in the Princess Academy books. (I think he wrote part of one or two in the upcoming third book, actually.)
The journey south: I mentioned my love of fever dreams. Other things I love: journeys through wilderness. Love it. I feel very disappointed by high fantasy books that don't move, stay in one place. They feel stagnant to me. I want to wander, feel the landscape beneath me and around me, changing and threatening. Writing Book of a Thousand Days felt so risky to me because I knew I wanted to start the book inside the tower and stay there for some time.
"Over there!" After this book, Dean and I used to shout that to each other sometimes. I'd forgotten about that till I read this scene.
Yasid: Looking over my notes, I had so much more info about Yasid than I could use in the story. That's generally the case, I think. You use about 5% of your research. You need to rifle through the other 95% just to discover the 5% that you need. Here are some notes I took:
"The Magi were the priests of the Persians, kept fire and ash upon an altar and without them no sacrifice could be made. Believed that sun, fire, and light were emblems of Ormuzd and sources of all light and purity. Worshiped fire not as separate being but symbol, embodiment. Worshipped on mountaintops, not in temples. Magi connected with astrology and enchantment. Ancient Zoroastrians forced to give up their religion, some refused and fled to the deserts of Kerman and to Hindustan. Arabs call them Guebers from Arabic word meaning unbelievers. Fire is still adored as the symbol of divinity. “Lalla Rookh” = “Fire Worshippers”.
Audrey asks, "Shannon what is your favorite Bayern book-inspired fan creation? (example: clothing/ cosplay, objects, art)" There are so many wonderful things! Sometimes people will email me photos, Halloween costumes, art. I love the watercolor paintings some have done.
Nicole asks, "I was just thinking that, since my favorite book is Enna Burning, what is your favorite book?" I couldn't choose. They really do feel like my children.
Eliza asks, "In The Storybook of Legends, the Narrator makes a passing reference to "the goose girl's daughter" attending Ever After High a year ahead of Raven. Does this mean...sister for Tusken? At least in your head? Or is it just a nod to your Bayern fans?" Yes! You're the first person to ask me about that. It's really just a nod. The Goose Girl and Ever After High take place in totally different worlds, so I don't think she'd literally be Ani's daughter.
Just two more chapters!
"So she laughed." I remember a moment in Hero & the Crown where Aerin is so distracted by a rash on her neck from plant sap that her wizard uncle can't quite make her afraid or enchanted with his words. That real detail stuck with me. A physical thing. A mundane thing in the midst of magic and drama. Those are good story choices. I can't remember now if I was thinking of that when I wrote this scene, but perhaps. Here what keeps Enna grounded is a laugh. A realization of the absurd. That works for me in real life too.
"Enna-girl": This is the nickname Razo calls her. In this scene, I think it's interesting that she gets strength by thinking of herself the way that Razo sees her, not the way Sileph sees her. Or even Isi or Finn. The laugh. The ridiculous. The absurd. And...I think I just broke a rule about not trying to interpret my own story for you. Hopefully you'll forgive me this once. As much as I don't want to place myself as the Voice of Authority, it might be interesting to know that writers like me think very, very carefully about word choices, connotations, layers. That stuff English teachers make us analyze.
Sileph: I wouldn't mind if some readers fell in love with him a little bit. Some don't like him from the beginning (my husband always thought he was a douchebag) but some, like Enna did, might fall for him. I don't think Sileph is pure evil. I do think he loved Enna in his way. I think it's tough to have people-speaking. I can understand and feel for him, but I also wouldn't want him anywhere near me or my daughters. I hope some readers did fall for him and when they got to this point, were able to take a step back with Enna, and say, that was an abusive relationship. That is not the kind of person I want in my life.
"Then there was wind." Gives me chills. I know I wrote it, but if my own writing doesn't affect me emotionally then it fails. I work at it till it does.
The other day we were outside. The weather was uncanny, dark and crackling. The wind was blowing. My hair beat around my head and rose up. I turned to my husband and said, "This is what I am, Sileph! This is what I am!" (teehee) But I honestly love dramatic moments. If I could paint, this is the scene I would paint, Enna in this moment.
Finn!: as I recall, this wasn't in the original draft. I believe it was my husband's suggestion. He thought Sileph was a douchebag. And he always identified with Finn. I think he wanted to vicariously punch Sileph in the face.
Rebecca says, "I feel like this chapter specifically juxtaposes Isi's trip from Kildenree to Bayern. The betrayal she experienced on the first trip versus the bonding and growth of their friendship in the second." Yeah that's a nice thought. I wrote Forest Born in contrast with The Goose Girl too. I hope any of my books can be read alone, but I think FB means so much more if paired with GG.
Nicole asks, "I read that you weren't going to write another book of Bayern, but if or hopefully when you do, do you think you would write it about a character we already know or introduce someone new, like Rin?" I currently have no plans to write another book of Bayern. If I came back to this land one day, perhaps it would be in the future and tell the story of Tusken when he's grown.
Anna asks, "I've always wondered how you pronounced Anidori." However you like! Most say "Ah-ni-dorry" or "Annie-dorry"
Research: Like most writers I suspect, I always do more research than I actually need. Looking through my notes, I researched fire in myth and folklore from dragons (firedrakes) to Jinn (offspring of fire), as well as the science of fire and how it works in order to come up with fire-speaking. I also have notes on Zoroastrianism as well as life in earlier centuries and things like food. Here are some food notes I took from somewhere:
ballock broth, brawn, roast squirrel, capon-neck pudding, tripe, buttered worts, apple mousse, sheep’s milk cheese, bread & butter pudding flavored with marigold, pears stewed in honey & vinegar, plates of hard bread, hot griddle bread
Revision notes from some earlier draft for part 2: "We don’t have enough sense of internal change, from the first tent --> gallows, we should see how her self control diminishes, both growing and letting go (surrender)
"See her scared and weak moments. The burning is manic—have foil scenes where she’s frightened, not everything on such a grand (war) scale, but also personal, losing her friend, Keep her human, inhuman with fire, see human, vulnerable
"Look at sections where she’s gone back on a promise, make sure she’s progressively worse each time, max. 3-4 breaks before capture, punctuate them, get the sense after telling Razo that she’s broken 2, accumulating broken promises, be aware, reflect, wonder am I slipping? Need to justify them, reader should detect that the justification is getting weaker as she goes along (gallows, justify before going)
"Mourn losing Isi, decide that it’s too late to go back, she has to give up everything to see this through, something the augury did not warn her, she has to be the sacrifice
"May even realize at the end that she’s lost it, must be close to where Leifer was when he burned her, or when he burned himself, but also the weight of the augury and her mission compels her to continue"
What strikes me most about reading those notes and reading this chapter is how different a book is from an idea. The notes are full of ideas, but they're not a story. I think sometimes people think the idea is what matters most, but most important is how you tell it. One reason why it's torurous for writers to write a plot synposis. The story isn't the sum of events, it's the words used to tell them.
Eliza asks, "What are some other weird reader theories you've heard for any of your books?" I've heard lots. I never mind when people bring their own interpretations to the book, but I do mind when people insist I had some particular agenda that I didn't. Ah, how many worry that I am out to corrupt the youths!
Viola asks, "do you have to approve all of the cover art or does your publisher handle that?" In the US, I am consulted on cover art, though it's up to the publisher. Outside the US I am not consulted and just see it after it's published (if even then).
Leilani says, "Also, I think had (have) a teensy crush on Finn... (So much butterflies!)" Me too :) I have to fall in love with all my characters in order to feel enough to write. In this book, I fell in love with Enna, Isi, Geric, Finn, Razo, and Sileph.
Chapter 12 was so intense for me, I'm almost shy to read chapter 13. Ay, what authors do to their poor characters...
The king's-tongue: Ugh, what a nightmare. I don't enjoy anything that alters my mind or body chemically. I don't drink alcohol and have had very bad experiences any time I've taken prescription pain killers or valium after surgery. One time I took half an Ambien and felt wretched (also I hallucinated--yuck). I despise feeling out of control of my own body. This would be horrible for me, as I know it is for Enna too.
Ingridan: When I wrote this description, I didn't yet know we'd be going there in the next book. I didn't yet know there would be a next book.
Razo and Finn!: No! I'm so sorry, boys, I don't want you to be prisoners too. It's uncomfortable for me to stop reading here. I want to keep going and going until I'm sure they'll be safe. I hope they'll be safe!
Rebecca asks, "Did you get any backlash from the scene with the soldier? What was Sileph's reason for coming back to her tent?" I'm sure I did. I get lots of upset emails for all my books. Such a scene does (and should) illicit strong reactions from people. But I felt like the story wouldn't be honest if Enna didn't feel herself in such danger in her current situation. I hesitate to say why I think Sileph did what he did. I know, but if it's not in the text I'd rather people decide for themselves.
Laurie says, "This makes me want to re-read Enna Burning. I haven't felt that way in years because it was an agonizingly beautiful book that hurt me a bit to read. So much pain. So much loss. So much danger and complication." I'm sorry. It is all those things for me too. But I am grateful I was able to write it and I am glad it exists. "How long before we get a summer book club on Maisie Danger Brown?" Not any time soon, but I'm so glad you want one! I love that girl.
Nicole asks, "if Enna and Ani were both real people (even though you said they are real to you) which you would get along with better- hard-headed Enna or strong Ani/Isi?" Honestly I think I'd love them both. I've always enjoyed having different kinds of friends. I'm a middle child, a balancer, and tend to get along with different personalities. Diversity of all sorts is wonderful to me.
By: Shannon Hale,
Blog: squeetus blog
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Part 3: Prisoner: Whew! Okay, let's do this. I think this part can be uncomfortable and intense for some, so feel free to hold hands if you need to.
Enna's dream: I love weird, fever dreams (if they don't go on too long). I had more fever dreams in Goose Girl early draft with young Ani sick but later cut it. But I think the image of the birds flying and breaking a mirror sky I stole from those cuts. "Cornstalks sprouted ears of fire, and the fields caught it and burned green." I love that.
The imperfect heroine: I think it's a lot easier for readers to root for Ani in Goose Girl than Enna. I think especially with female characters we're more comfortable with the good girl who stuff happens to, who shows courage in the face of terrific obstacles that aren't her fault, than we are with the girl who makes big mistakes. I think both kinds of heroines are valid.
Sileph: Man, this chapter...I don't even know what to say about this chapter except it does what I hoped it would do. Reading it now, I feel what I think Enna is feeling. She is complicated. He is complicated. Life is complicated.
Looking at rewrite notes for one draft, I have a full page of notes on parts 1,2,&4, but only two lines for part 3: "Need to see the progression continue here, the yearning becomes much stronger, due to the king’s-tongue and then the long times when she is forced to keep it in against her will" I wonder if this section was easier for me to write for some reason, or at least her arc and sequence of events made sense from an earlier draft, so I didn't have as much revision.
Writing the first draft, it was around this point, Enna a prisoner in a tent, I had to put the book on hold for some time. My husband and I had both lost our jobs in the recession. I was revising The Goose Girl (which I’d sold but the amount was very small, not enough to live on even for a couple of months) while we were both job hunting. I found work first and so went off to work again as an Instructional Designer. Working full time and editing Goose Girl nights, I had little time for Enna Burning. Eventually GG was done and I got back to Enna, finally rescuing her from that tent!
Melissa asks, "I love listening to audio books especially the Books of Bayern and of course Austenland. As an author do you have any say in the cast or the sound of each book?" No I don't. Full Cast Audio has always been so kind and will consult me on pronunciations of names or my opinion about a male or a female narrator, but I'm not directly involved. Which is fine.
Sileph: It's hard to talk about this book without giving spoilers for those who haven't finished it yet! But...Sileph, man. Sileph.
Looking over one draft's notes (I don't know which draft except that it was in November 2002), I marked to make clearer that Sileph was a foil for Finn. He's an interesting character to me. I genuinely loved writing him, even if I was so uncomfortable putting Enna in his power.
Other draft notes:
What is going on in this section? Must use it to move forward 3 plot lines:
1. grows farther away from Bayern and Isi
2. learns to consciously love S and contrast with F
3. relationship with fire—must learn more about it, learn to control or give into it
Whew. These chapters are all so intense for me! I've said before, I don't think I could have written this book when I had children. I'm so much more sensitive now, I couldn't have lived inside this story for so long.
Viola asks, "Is it possible for you to pick a favorite book out of the Bayern books? ;D" Nope! Like picking a favorite child. The mood of this one is quite different from the others. But I'm fond of them all. They were all extremely hard books to write. I poured my everything into each one, hoping they would stand up to many rereads.
Anna asks, "I ADORE this UK cover for Enna Burning. I'm partial to the older painted ones as well, but I've had trouble finding them. Would any stores still carry those older covers, or is my best bet to scour the internet some more?" I love the Alison Jay covers too! The US hardcovers are still in print and have these covers. I know my local store The King's English keeps them in stock. Or any bookstore can special order them if they don't have them on the shelves. Forest Born has a special edition cover with the Alison Jay artwork.
Eliza asks, "You've made a few references to your sisters in recent posts. How many do you have?" Enna Burning is dedicated to my three sisters Melissa, Katie, and Jessica.
(ps. I have a book announcement on my tumblr page)
Sileph and Enna: some are upset by this relationship, but it occurs to me how important stories are, how a distanced reader can see and understand things that a character can't. And in turn, that helps us take a step back from ourselves and see and understand ourselves better. How many people have been in a relationship like Enna's with Sileph but couldn't see it for what it was?
"You lying son of a goat." Feel free to use this at need. You have my permission.
Someone close to me had a hard time with this book, and it occurred to me that she had never made any big mistakes. Maybe it's uncomfortable for those who have lived a quiet kind of life to try to empathize with a character like Enna.
A note to myself in an earlier draft: "What are Sileph's motivations? Does he really love her?" I came to my own conclusion in later drafts but since the text doesn't specifically say I'll let you decide for yourself.
Rebecca asks, "Would you rather have this series adapted into movies or a TV show ...or neither if you had the choice?" Ooh, wouldn't a Game of Thrones style miniseries be wonderful? If done well. But I highly doubt any of the Bayern books will ever be made into a movie. The Goose Girl was optioned years ago. And I remember (about 7 years ago?) someone shopping it around as a potential vehicle for a young actress. Obviously nothing happened. It's very rare that any book is optioned for a potential movie, and of those that are, maybe 10% actually are made into one. The only power a writer has in the matter is to wait, and if someone asks, to say yes or no. That's it.
Viola says, "Haha, they definitely have stood up to many rereads--with me, at the least. They're my go-to books for when I've got nothing else to read. I've lost count of how many times I've read each one. Each time, they feel like old friends and new adventures all at once. I'll never grow out of them." Thank you! Someone who read a draft of the last book in the Princess Academy trilogy (not out yet - next spring) said that reading it felt like coming home. I feel that way too when I write these characters.
No one can relate to Enna's actual position at the beginning of this chapter, but I believe we've experienced times when there seemed to be no options. When we were trapped by the choices we'd made and the circumstances we were in. Inside those moments, all can seem impossible. As I hope it seems so now in the story. Impossible. She is truly trapped.
The catalyst for change: Isi. Always Isi. She changes nothing except perspective. I think sometimes that's all we need. Not for someone to take away all our problems but just help us turn a bit, see a slightly different way out. Isi was raised on stories, and so that's what she can offer. A story. I feel the same. I can't reach back to every reader who reaches out to me with letters and requests and needs for friendship or mentorship. I can't find every person who is lonely or afraid or trapped by people who don't have their best interests at heart or stuck in their own mistakes or sad or desperate or yearning. But I can offer a story. That's what this book is for me. A story like the one Isi tells Enna. And hopefully it will reach the right people in the right way. Hopefully the right reader can take what they need from it and turn just a little bit, see the path they hadn't seen before.
But--oh! After weeks in that tent, as horrible as this chapter is, I'm so relieved when she starts escaping in the camp.Run, Enna, run!
Stories are characters. Characters are their relationships. With others as well as with themselves. Everything in this story matters because of Enna's friendships with Isi, Razo, and Finn. Can you imagine this story without them? If you're story is stuck, look closely at the relationships. Which need to be strengthened? More important? Can you add a friendship/sibling/parent-child relationship that will matter to the story?
Anna asks, "If the Goose Girl was a movie, who would you want to play Ani and Enna?" I truly have no idea. Who would you pick?
Lizza asks, "Are any of the characters in Enna Burning LGBTQ+?" The text doesn't specifiy but surely there must be. 5-10% of the population in the US identify as LGBTQ, so it's reasonable to assume that at least 5% of a book's population as well. I've had readers email me that they read Enna's fire-speaking as a metaphor for their own homosexuality, which I hadn't intended but I love how fantasy can create metaphors to speak to everyone's own experiences. Telling the story of characters who are LGBTQ is not something I've done yet (there are so, so many stories I haven't done yet!) but if you're looking for recommendations, I love authors like Holly Black, Malinda Lo, Libba Bray, A.S. King, Maureen Johnson, and David Levithan. A couple recent books I've loved featuring LGBTQ characters are Smile by Raina Telgemeier and Afterworlds by Scott Westerfeld. The Stonewall Book Awards also provide an excellent list.
I'm off to Comic-con and won't be able to blog again until Monday. Thank you, readers!
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I'm back from a wonderful time at San Diego Comic-con and ready to get back to work!
Part 4: Friend: Here's where the structure of this story gets really unusual, I think. There is still a quarter of the book left, but Enna ending the war would have been a traditional climax. Some readers might expect no more than a denouement here. Our brains are trailed to expect that story structure, which I totally appreciate. But I wanted to tell a slightly different story. So we head into the final quarter.
Fever dreams: I mentioned my love for fever dreams?
These two lines always stay with me:
"It was war."
"I was me."
Yasid: For words in their language, I borrowed from Guarani, a language indigenous to Paraguay. "Tata" means "fire" (accent on the second vowel). As well, the tea Isi drinks that smells like "seeped hay" is my feeling about mate, a drink I often had in Paraguay. I prefer mate dulce (with milk and sugar) or terere (yerba mate with cold water and ice and often mint or other herbs) to traditional mate. With apologies to mate purists. :)
AH! Sileph again! What will that man do next?
Catherine says, "This has nothing to do with the book club, but I thought you would like to know. I visited Jane Austen's home today (which was absolutely amazing) today and I overheard the cashier in the gift shop giving a raving review of Austenland, the movie. Congratulations! You've made it back to the motherland!" Ha! That's awesome.
Nicole asks, "Are Isi and Enna based off people you know or did they just spring to life in your wonderful mind?" Thank you! I rarely base characters off real people. They develop as I write the story. A character is what they say, do, think, and until I write I can't see that. I thought I knew Enna when I wrote The Goose Girl, but not till this book did I realize I'd only scratched her surface. You may notice she seems slightly different in all the Books of Bayern, because we're seeing her through other characters' points-of-view.
Lynn asks, "Do you think of a character and then name them or do you start with a name? I don't know why but I pronounce Enna's name as Eena or Ina." I say "Eh-na" but I don't mind if anyone says it differently. I met a baby named Enna once (after my character I believe) and recently someone named a baby Isilee (which is a name I made up, as far as I know).
Eliza says, "Last time I read this book, it was about struggling with a problem no one else could see and conquering your inner demons. And now it's about friendship! Haha, you tricky book, changing on me like that." Yay! I love that about books, how they change with you.