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Shannon Hale's blog, author of "Princess Academy" (Newbery honor last year), and "Goose Girl".
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1. Advice to a new novelist: be hardcore

Good morning! I got an email from a friend asking for advice on behalf of his niece, who has written a novel but can't find an agent. As I get these sorts of questions a lot I thought I'd answer here and get my Monday post done! Two birds! One stone!

The niece has sent her ms to various agents and heard the same reply: they admire the writing but the market is saturated with dystopian literature so they pass.

First, niece my friend, this happens ALL THE TIME. Perhaps that's a comfort to you? To hear that you're not alone? Example: Harry Potter came out, was a huge success, all the publishers were like, wait a minute, we need more middle grade fantasy series! They published a bunch of them. Most of them weren't hits. Publishers lost money.

Meanwhile, lots of people read Harry Potter and the subsequent fantasy series that were coming out and were inspired to write their own. Only they'd missed the swell. Publishers just weren't looking for them anymore. My own book THE GOOSE GIRL missed the swell. I'd been working on it for years, had no idea about any market and such, but by the time it was done and we were submitting it, the publishers were weary of all the fantasy series they were getting and all the major publishers rejected it.

This happened again with TWILIGHT. It hit big. Publishers began to gobble up vampire stories and then just all paranormal romance. Agents who happened to have YA paranormal romance at the time found it easy to sell them. An entire section of Barnes & Noble was renamed Paranormal Romance. Nathan Hale joked B&N was renaming themselves "Paranormal Romance 'N Things." And then, the inevitable happened. Readers grew weary of paranormal romance. Publishers lost money. They were no longer looking for it. All those writers who had been reading paranormal romance and were inspired to write it found they couldn't sell their manuscripts.

And then, again. HUNGER GAMES. DIVERGENT. MAZE RUNNER. etc. There's a bubble, the bubble pops.

When that bubble pops, it's not the end of the world. I've heard from agents and editors that they will take up any book that really, really sings to them, even if in the current marketplace it's far from a sure thing. THE GOOSE GIRL eventually found a home, for example. The key, the challenge, is finding just the right person who falls in love with your writing, even if dystopian is past its prime.

A few things you can do to help that happen:

1. make sure your book is amazing. No problem there, right? Easy peasy.

2. keep submitting until you find that one agent who just can't resist your voice, your characters, your style, what you've done to make sure your book is unique among all the others. Which means not giving up, querying everybody, attending conferences where you can meet an agent in person and hope that you click somehow with this one. To just keep trying.

3. write a new book

Because chances are, your first book will never sell. Even if it isn't dystopian. Most first books don't sell. Ask most published writers and you'll hear war stories of all the books we wrote that will never see the light of day.

Your goal as a writer isn't to get a book published. It's to make yourself a writer. Sometimes writers must write a lot of books as practice before our brains are good enough to write something new, original, exciting, interesting, unputtdownable. Sometimes you have to chalk this one up to a rehearsal and get moving on the next thing.

THIS IS NOT AN EASY BUSINESS. THERE IS NO SHORTCUT. TO WRITE NOVELS FOR A LIVING YOU MUST BE HARDCORE.

The second question the niece had was, should I just self-publish it?

My answer: maybe. I don't know. I've never self-published anything so I'm far from an expert. Indie publishing is a great resource for books that don't find a home in traditional publishing. I guess it depends on what your goal is here. To share your work? To make a living? I'd recommend seeking out blogs and sites about self-publishing for more answers. Note that self-publishing is not as simple as uploading your manuscript to Amazon. In order to have success, you'll have to educate yourself on the business, put in time and money. I've read that most first novels that are self-published never get into the black--at least the ones who hire professional editors, cover designers, etc., in order to do it all professionally. In other words, in order to self-publish, you must be hardcore. So it really depends on your skill set, personality, and desire. Do you want to learn about this business? Invest your resources in it? Put in the time?

So, niece, what kind of hardcore are you?

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2. The myth of the innocent victim

There's an old story I've heard retold many times. The Christmas oranges. Does everyone know it? An orphanage, Christmas, unjust mistress. Every Christmas the poor orphans get one precious orange. It's what they look forward to most, and spend all Christmas day smelling it, holding it, savoring and anticipating sometimes for days before peeling and at last eating it. One Christmas, an orphan is denied his orange as punishment for a mild infraction (in some tellings, he sneaks out of bed at night to peek at the Christmas tree). Christmas morning, since he didn't get an orange, the other orphans peel their orange early instead of savoring it and each give him one slice of their orange. It's a sweet story of mercy, kindness, and empathy.

Only it often falls a little flat for me because of the mild infraction part. What if the orphan had done something bolder? Worse? The story would be even more powerful for me if the other children still had empathy. Mercy.

If even in stories we don't allow characters to really mess up and yet love them anyway, are we capable in life?

I've always rankled at the term "Innocent victim." What does it actually mean? As if the only victims that count are those who are innocent of any wrong doing. Which would include babies and just about no one else, I think. I've heard this term a lot lately. And what I hear disturbs me.

When a police officer shot Michael Brown, focus was put on his shoplifting. The New York Times wrote that he was "no angel." When Eric Garner was choked to death, focus was put on his previous crime of selling untaxed cigarettes. When Tamir Rice was shot (a 12 year old boy, alone at a park with a toy gun, no one in immediate danger if the gun had been real, the police shooting and killing him within 2 seconds of arriving), the local media seemed to flail a bit. Aren't all children innocent? So instead they reported on the past crimes of his parents, as if that had anything to do with why police shot him that day in the park.

Rape victims still are blamed for what they wore, if they'd been drinking, if they'd gone with someone they didn't know well, if they'd gone with someone they did know and so should have known better, if they were in the "wrong" side of town, if they were sex workers, if they lied about any part of it to the police, if they were overly flirtatious, examining their decisions, finding fault, finding reasons to prove that they aren't "innocent" victims.

If the law only protects those who are innocent, we are all doomed.

We want to believe that when horrible things happen to people, that they somehow deserved it. They weren't completely innocent, so it's okay in a way. That makes us feel safer. We can believe that we are innocent, so those things can't happen to us.

But there are no innocent victims. We all of us make mistakes. And in this country, we don't believe in death as punishment for selling loose cigarettes. We don't believe in rape as punishment for getting drunk.

I know there is so much to debate in the things I'm bringing up. I do not want to get into here the vast problems in our legal system. And this is not a general condemnation of our police force. Remember who ran into the burning buildings on 9/11. The purpose of this post is to focus on this one simple idea. There are no innocent victims. I hope we stop trying to make anyone live up to that impossible standard. I hope we value all human life, even those who have made mistakes.

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3. Boys and the Princess in Black

Pib1-smTwinkle Twinkle Little SMASH! The Princess in Black is off to an amazing start. It's currently on the New York Times best seller list and was named a Kirkus Reviews Best Book of the Year (see me and Dean in a short video interview) and an Amazon Best Book. We've been overwhelmed by parents reporting that it's become a favorite book at their house, with some precious children sleeping with it hugged to their chest. Yes, that sound you hear is me choking up.

I recently signed about 60 copies of the book for people in my neighborhood, which was a lovely experience. However, I noticed that the parents all asked me to sign the book for their daughters. I know these families so I knew that almost all of them also had sons in the book's age range. It reminded me again that adults are the ones who tell kids what they should and shouldn't be reading. I've met loads of 3-4 year old boys who don't think twice about wanting to read The Princess in Black. By age 5-7, however, they've been shamed for liking something about a girl, often subtly. If we don't give our boys books about girls (princesses even!) then we're quietly saying, these books aren't for you.

I have seen several times, right in front of me, dads shoo their sons away from my books.

"Are you sure you want to read something called Princess Academy?"

"Those are for girls."

Moms aren't usually so obvious. It's more subtle, like getting a book about a girl signed for "The Anderson girls" or "Mama's princesses" while a son lingers nearby.

About three years ago I got a bookcase for my son's room, and as I went through all our middle grade books, I found myself picking out the ones about boys for his shelves and setting aside the ones about girls for my daughter's, until finally I was like, wait, what am I doing?? It's so easy to fall into this trap. Parents are all trying our best. I know we don't mean any harm. But I hope that if I keep talking about this, we'll all become more aware. I believe reading books is one of the best ways to gain real empathy for people different from ourselves, and helping boys develop empathy for girls is a cause worth fighting for.

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4. Do authors put in symbols and stuff?

Mette Ivie Harrison's tumblr post:

My teenage niece asked me about her high school English teacher who had been teaching her students to find symbols in novels and poetry. Since I am an author, she wanted to know if I really put that stuff in there on purpose or if her teacher (as she suspected) was making it up. It seemed hard to believe that it was real.

I told her that

1. It doesn’t matter if the author puts that stuff in on purpose. It can still be there. The work of the author is often to let the unconscious speak, and the author does not always control how the unconscious forms thoughts. Therefore, the author is often speaking for the culture rather than for one person.

2. Don’t ask the author what the book means. The author doesn’t know what the book means. That’s not the job of the author. The job of the author is to create. If an author says that a book means this or means that, do we take that as guaranteed? Of course not. If the author of a book insisted that there was no racism in it, but there is clearly racism in it, does the intention erase it? No.

3. The job of the critic is just as creative as the job of the author, and it is to find meaning where no one had seen it before. I talked a bit about Dadaism and how the point there was that anyone can be an artist, using ordinary kinds of text and image, and that the creativity was in bringing the same kind of vision to ordinary life as to that deemed “high art.”

4. Be kind to teachers of literature and writing. It’s a hard job and it’s an important one. I believe that art of every kind is important. As important as food. As important as shelter. I know not everyone agrees with me, but the ability to make life make sense matters a lot. Also, the way that we can change the world by first imagining the change in art is the way humans work. Why do you think that we landed on the moon after we imagined we did?

----------------------------

I agree with all that Mette says here. I will also add that like many writers, I am very thoughtful about the words I use and how I tell the story. I’ve had quoted to me ad nauseam the (apocryphal?) Robert Frost story about the woman who praised his poetry and told him all the deep meanings, allusions, and metaphors she found there, and he said that he didn’t put any of those things in on purpose. Many tell me this with the assumption that Frost just put down words and readers accidentally found meaning. But of course Frost was a thoughtful, careful poet. The fact that someone might make connections in his poetry that he didn’t intend doesn’t negate all the other thoughts he explored with purpose.

Readers can and should find their own meanings and truth in art, irrelevant to what authors intended. But that’s more likely to occur when authors take care, time, hones their skills, and reads widely.

1. Like Mette says, I don’t think that for readers, it should matter what the author’s intent was. Read and find what you need there. Study and learn what you can there.

2. For authors, I’d say write carefully, rewrite constantly, read and craft and learn and think and discover layer upon layer that you didn’t know would be there when you started out.

3. And thank you, English teachers! Careful analysis of texts taught me how to think, question, and find my own voice.

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5. Four white women talk about race

About thirteen years ago, I was on a work trip with several colleagues when we heard the news of police shooting an unarmed Black man (one of many such incidents in this country's history). The four of us (all white women) talked about this. Three of us felt sick by it and confused too, which I think is a sign of our privilege. Feeling confused and surprised by evidence of racism is the luxury of those who don't have to deal with it every day. The fourth woman, who I liked and admired generally, said something I haven't been able to forget: "Well, maybe the police had learned through experience that men who look like him usually have guns."

We all stopped walking and looked at her. She couldn't be saying what we thought she was saying, could she?

She went to clarify. She didn't hold the police officers at fault. After all, if in their experience Black men carried guns, then naturally they would assume this one had a gun, and so shooting him was in self defense.

"But he didn't have a gun," I said, in case she'd missed that part somehow. "He was afraid and running away from police, afraid they would shoot him, which they did. Even though he didn't have a gun."

"But he might have," she insisted. "They didn't know. Plus he shouldn't have been running. He should have just surrendered."

By her own logic, I wanted to add, perhaps then he had reason to be afraid the police would shoot an unarmed Black man, even if he surrendered. Perhaps his experience had taught him that that was likely.

We tried to point out to her that this is what the problem is with stereotypes. Even in the extremely unlikely scenario that every single Black man these white police officers had ever met had been carrying a gun and intended to use it to kill cops, this one wasn't. He should have been treated as an individual, as a human being, not by what others who looked like him had done in the past. He was killed for the color of his skin, not for his actions. That is the danger of stereotypes. That's what racism is.

She could not understand. She couldn't grasp what we were trying to explain. She could only see the situation from a single point-of-view. I don't want to paint the other three of us as heroes. I'm sure we are all spectacularly ignorant about a great number of things. But in this one instance, for whatever reason, we could see something that this other woman simply could not.

I wonder about this woman. I wonder if she only ever had friends who looked like her. I wonder if she'd ever read a book with a Black protagonist and learned to identify with him or her. I wonder if learning to recognize the pervasive racism in this country would have so upset the way she understood the world that she just couldn't manage it. If it was scary for her. If ignorance was a security blanket that she, as a white person, could afford to cling to.

I'm reminded of her a lot this week. People are reacting to the news from Ferguson in vastly different ways. One of those ways is, "It's not about race. Why do people have to make everything about race?" If someone were to say, "It's obvious that racism is a real and huge issue, but in this case, carefully examining the evidence, I don't think it applies here," I could respect that. I'd disagree with you, but I'd respect that. But to claim "there is no racism" is alarmingly blind and willfully ignorant.

Until we all choose to see and try to understand the racism around us and in us, nothing is going to change. And we so desperately need change. So desperately the need aches. It stings. And for some, it kills.

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6. Reviews to cry for

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.

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7. When my kids read my teenage journal

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.

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8. Good Monday to you

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!

10jackLAUNCH

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)

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9. Has #WeNeedDiverseBooks changed you?

#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.

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10. Trinity syndrome and failed parody in The Lego Movie

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.

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11. Like every superhero, every book has an origin story...

Pib1-smShe 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.

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12. This princess wears black

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.

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This book is my 18th.

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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!

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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!

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13. The rage of age ranges

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?

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14. Cover reveal: the Princess Academy series

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!

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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?

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15. The problem with the neutral love interest

 

"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?

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16. Let's talk about [bleep]

[trigger warning]

[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.

Someone's Wife:

I want to respond to Lizzie's comment that there are women who wouldn't want to have sex EVER if they had to give their consent enthusiastically before they did it.

My big question is, why don't those women want to have sex? Is it because women innately don't like sex and men innately do like it? I don't think so, because in other cultures, trends are different. In some cultures, and I'm especially thinking of some things I learned about from the Renaissance, women are seen as the sexual predators and men as the sex that has to protect themselves from the other sex's advances.

Here's my story. When I first got married, I gave my consent willingly AND enthusiastically in the beginning. But over time, my husband started to pressure me to do it when I didn't want to, to the point that I actually felt like I was being raped at times, but I told myself I was being crazy or too sensitive because I never really told him NO, so it couldn't be rape, right?

But over time, as that happened more and more, my enthusiasm for the whole thing really waned. Now, I only do it when I'm feeling really guilty because it's been a long time, but I'm never enthusiastic about it.

I can't say for sure what would have happened if my husband had accepted that I didn't want to do it /all the time/ and not pressured me back in the beginning, but I suspect that we never would have gotten to this point if he had done what the boy in Mary's story did - if he had cared as much about my feelings as he did his own and not pressured me.

I think he was afraid that if he didn't pressure me, I'd never want to do it. But that couldn't be further from the truth. I wanted to do it, I just wanted to feel like I mattered when we were doing it.

But the culture we're in right now shaped the way my husband and I related to each other from the beginning. It says that if you don't have sex whenever your husband wants it, he's going to find it somewhere else. A counselor even told my husband that if I didn't have sex with him whenever he wanted it, or at least twice a week, he would be a lot more susceptible to having an affair or looking at pornography. What kind of counselor does that? One who thinks that men have to have sex a certain number of times a week or else they just won't be able to help acting out those desires with someone else.

How much of that is true biology, and how much is shaped by our culture? I certainly don't know the conclusive answer to that, but I think a lot more of it is culture than we generally think it is.

Someone's Spouse:

The reality is that there are many reasons for differences in drive, and hopeful asking by one partner is pressure to the partner who struggles with sex for one reason or another. I am approve of the contents of these posts, but my advice is different. If you have problems with sexual differences, get professional help as soon as possible! We all get embarrassed talking to doctors and counselors about something so intimate as sex between two committed individuals, but the alternatives are worse. If you experience pain during sex and repeatedly engage in unenthusiastic sex, if you don't discuss it with your partner and seek professional aid, you will years down the road be "someone's spouse," and to your horror both people are scared and scarred. Resentment will build. Neither will understand why others have sex at least a few times a month, but they struggle with managing it once every six months, and when they do it is not fulfilling. So, you avoid the whole issue and are just great roommates who love each other, but somewhere deep in your hearts have some mistrust, hatred, and wounds. It all comes to a head when one person feels that they have foregone romantic love long enough (they never cheated) and decides that leaving wouldn't be that bad. It's unfair to both to be unable to have romantic love. And she does love him, she asks him to stay. The wounds are so deep, and they begin seeing a counselor. They can get to romantic love again, but they still feel deeply confused at times. They occasionally still avoid it, but they do so because it really isn't that important anymore. If it happens, great. If not, that's okay too because their focus has changed. Each is forgetting themselves and simply loving the other.

People, please go to counselors and doctors at the first signs of trouble. If it's a doctor issue and the doctor doesn't understand our help, change doctors. Don't live with it. Brushing it under the rug has far reaching consequences. Same with the counselors.

Another Wife:

Someone's Wife, that is unfortunately my story too. I was about to type it up after reading Shannon's post, but you have done it for me. Thank you Shannon, for opening my eyes to something that on one hand I have been someone naive about (what goes on in the world, and how important it is that I must work to educate my children about it), and on the other hand something that I have dealt with for over a decade, and not really understood just how to express my feelings about.

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17. Hug your librarian today

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.

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18. Are the Books of Bayern appropriate for elementary-aged kids?

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."

Thank you!

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19. Squeetus summer book club: Enna Burning, chapter 16

Enna-newpbNo 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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20. Squeetus summer book club: Enna Burning, chapter 17

Enna-spanishI'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.

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21. Squeetus summer book club: Enna Burning, chapter 18

Enna_Burning"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"

 

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22. Squeetus summer book club: Enna Burning, chapter 19

Enna-newpb"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!

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23. Squeetus summer book club: Enna Burning, chapter 20

UKPBEBOriginal 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!

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24. Squeetus summer book club: Enna Burning, chapter 21

Enna_BurningLast chapter!

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.

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25. Glorious, unproductive summer

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!

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