Shannon Hale Interview, plus links to author biography, book summaries, excerpts and reviews

Shannon Hale

Shannon Hale

Shannon Hale: shan-non hale (rhymes with rail)

An interview with Shannon Hale

This is a transcription from TheAuthorHour radio show. For additional questions not asked during the live show, visit TheAuthorHour

Matthew: My guest today is Shannon Hale, New York Times bestselling author of Princess Academy, which received the Newbery Honor. She's also written the Bayern series, starting with The Goose Girl, which received the Josette Frank Award and made the American Library Association Top Ten Books for Young Adults list. Thanks for being on the show today, Shannon.

Shannon: Well, thank you.

Matthew: Let's first talk about Princess Academy. Congratulations on getting the Newbery Honor award, by the way.

Shannon: Thanks, that just never gets old. No matter who I explain it too. It's the gift that keeps on giving, that's for sure.

Matthew: I know! I'm sure it's just one of those things you are just ecstatic about.

Shannon: Yeah, it still doesn't feel real, honestly, three and a half years later.

Matthew: Well, tell us a little bit about Princess Academy.

Shannon: Princess Academy is a story about a girl who lives in a very small village on top of a mountain. It's a fantasy book, so it's a sort of a long ago, far away, type of setting. They get word that one of the girls from the village will be the bride to the next prince, and he'll choose one of them, but first they all have to attend a school to learn what they need to know in case they're chosen. They're very resistant to this idea, but they attend this academy to learn those things. So, the suspense, of course is who's going to be chosen and do they actually, any of them, will they want to be chosen and leave their home and all that that implies.

Matthew: 'Cause they don't even really know the person that they'd be marrying, do they?

Shannon: That's right, in part, I think my fascination with that story was reading fairy tales as a child, it was always a good thing to become a princess and marry a prince and you know, go off to the castle.

Matthew: Yeah.

Shannon: But the reality of it, you know, would you really want to? Would that always be the best thing? What if you didn't like the prince? What if he wasn't a great guy? What if you'd rather stay with your family? So, these girls have very many conflicting feelings about it and questions, as they're attending this school and learning these things. Of course, there's a fantasy element and danger and romance mixed into it all because those are things that I love.

Matthew: Yeah. And the age group for that book is middle grade?

Shannon: Yeah, they said 10 and up. I've had 8 year old readers and well, I've had 80 year old readers, so anywhere in between there.

Matthew: Well, that's good. You have another series that you've written. Actually The Goose Girl, was the first one in this series, the Bayern series, back in 2003, that was your first book wasn't it?

Shannon: It was my first book, yeah. It was my first baby.

Matthew: Your baby. And it did really well. It received the Josette Frank Award and made the ALA Top Ten list for teens.

Shannon: You know, that was a long ride. I started to write when I was ten. So, it felt like a long time to me. It took twenty years to get published. I have many, many dozens of rejections on my stories and on my books before The Goose Girl was selected to be published. And it's interesting, I actually just posted on my blog about this. The Goose Girl was rejected by the Who's Who of Publishers, before it was published by Bloomsberry. And of course it's gone on to be one of my most successful books and hundreds of thousands of books in print and readers and, you know, 15 languages.

Matthew: Yeah.

Shannon: And such, so I think, for me, it's an example of how rejection isn't always a bad thing. It isn't a condemnation of you or your book. It's just saying you haven't found the right home yet, and keep trying until you find the right place.

Matthew: Yeah. I totally agree with you. Rejection ... I mean it happens, you're going to get it and a lot of people don't realize how much rejection authors, the typical author, gets. Even well established authors can sometimes get rejected and not get their next book out, or another series.

Shannon: I was talking to several New York Times best-selling, award winning authors, recently. And they were talking about how they didn't feel like they'd made it yet. And they're still waiting to feel like they've "made it." And it sort of dawned on me that you don't ever really feel secure. It's such a crazy business. And I think from the outside, people sometimes think that we must be like sudo-celebrities, or wealthy or totally secure in what we do. Of course, we're not, we're just working people, writing each story, the best story that we can and just trying to stay afloat in this crazy economy.

Matthew: Yeah, well one of the best things is to get a book published, but then after the book is published, "your baby", you know, of course, there's the reviews. And I've learned, 'cause I have a book out, I've learned that you really kind of take the reviews with a grain of salt because you know, you might get a hundred great ones, and it's just that one bad review, that just ... for me at least, it sticks with me. And I'm like, "Wow, that person really hated my book!"

Shannon: It is incredible how, and I think we do it in life, just generally as well. You can hear, you know, ten wonderful things and one negative thing, and it's the negative thing that you mull over and over and over again. And reviews are hard, you know, it's hard in this age because of the Internet. Everybody can review. It's so easy to stumble across those reviews. It's so easy for people to say, you know, what they think and how much they hate you and your book and your hair style and everything about you.

Matthew: [laughs]

Shannon: And it doesn't feel personal, they don't think they're actually saying it to me. But reading it feels like they're saying it to my face.

Matthew: Yeah, exactly. I know ... exactly. It seems like it's like an invitation to be a little meaner than you normally would be.

Shannon: It's something that's sort of shocking to me and it's something that I talk to young people about. I think we need to retrain ourselves. I think the progression of the internet happened too fast and we haven't had time to evolve to it. But kindness always ... there's no reason to be rude and unkind, to only ever say in print what you would say to a person's face. And always question what you're willing to say to a person's face.

Matthew: Yeah. Don't just have an ax to grind, too. Yeah, have a good reason for what you say. I totally agree with you. But The Goose Girl has gotten some awards and the next one was Enna Burning, River Secrets. Tell us just a little bit about the series, and then we'll talk about the newest one that just came out, Forest Born.

Shannon: The Goose Girl was based on a fairy tale. And the magic system in these books is that everything has a language, animals, plants, people, and also the elements of nature, like fire, wind, and water, have languages and there are certain people born with the ability to speak those languages, to understand them. And as they progress in that knowledge, they actually come to the point where they control them. So, each of my books of Bayern deals with a person learning one of these powers and the adventures and the challenges that come with that. So, Goose Girl's the story of a princess who is sent off, again the theme is a little different than Princess Academy, but a similar theme. She's sent off to marry a prince that she's never met and her lady in waiting, who wants to take her place is jealous of her and tries to kill her, and there's a massacre in the forest before she escapes, she manages to escape, but she has to hide as a goose girl or a girl who takes care of geese, while she tries to re-claim her throne and her name. And then Enna Burning and River Secrets followed because I'd found these characters in The Goose Girl, who I just loved so much, I wanted to hear their own stories. And the fourth book in the series, Forest Born is another new character. I think my favorite thing about these books is, it's silly to say, but they've become like friends of mine, you know.

Matthew: [laughs]

Shannon: I love hearing what they say, and returning to that land and seeing where they are now and what new adventures they can have.

Matthew: Forest Born, that's the one that just came out. Tell us a little bit more about that one.

Shannon: Forest Born, the main character is Rin. And she is a Forest Born, she was born in the forest, rather than in the city. So, her folk are scavengers basically, they live off of the land. She's from a very large family, she's got six big brothers and then there's her. She feels lost in this family, she feels like she doesn't quite belong. And she has this dark secret that's inside, she feels wrong and bad, like she needs to get away from them. And she doesn't completely understand this at the beginning of the book, what's causing these feelings, and is she really inherently just a bad person because of some bad things that she'd done? And she leaves the forest, to go to the city and meets the queen and becomes one of her waiting women. And through this, when there's a threat to the kingdom and she comes along to help with the queen, she begins to learn about what it is that she has inside her, what these powers mean. And the choice whether she can use them for good reasons or whether she will go completely corrupt.

It's a little bit darker, I think, than some of my other books have been, than Goose Girl. But I think that there's also a lot more danger and adventure to it than some of them as well. They're all a little bit different. You can read them all alone, or you can read them in a series, starting with Goose Girl. But it's so fun. It was a three year project, Forest Born, and it's so magical to see it on the shelves and people reading it and the response so far has just been amazing.

Matthew: Do you plan on having more in the series?

Shannon: I never plan on having more. [laughs]

Matthew: [laughs] Goose Girl was it!

Shannon: I never think that way. I think of one book at a time. And so what just happens is there's a character that comes along in the story, is one that I can't resist, that I'm willing to spend however many years it's going to take to write it. If another one comes along that just begs to be written then, yeah, I will, but currently I'm not writing another one in that series. I'm working on a completely different book.

Matthew: You do have a couple books for adults. Your first one, Austenland, came out 2007, made the BookSense pick list, and your second one, The Actor and the Housewife just came out this year. Do you find it easier to write for adults than for children?

Shannon: Yes! I do actually. Most people assume the opposite, but you are wise. It is easier to write for adults than children. And I think that surprises some people. At least it is for me. And I think it's easier for me, partly because ... [they're set in a contemporary setting].

Matthew: You are an adult, for one.

Shannon: Right. You know, I really don't have a hard time channeling my younger self. I think that's one of the key aspects of any children's writer, is that we tend to be quite immature inside and have very good recollections of what it's like to be young.

Matthew: Well, one novel I didn't mention was the Book of a Thousand Days, which I understand is based on a classic fairy tale from the Brothers Grimm? You really like these fairy tales, and you have some graphic novels that are kind of a real twist on the fairy tales: Rapunzel's Revenge and Calamity Jack's coming out.

Shannon: I often get asked why I retell fairy tales. I mean I've done four. And I think part of it is just those were the stories of my childhood. And I think those stories of your childhood just resonate so powerfully.

Matthew: Well, last question. What are you working on now?

Shannon: I'm working on which might be a trilogy, I'm not sure yet. I'm writing it all in one piece because I'm not good about thinking about the future. I have to write the story that's in front of me. It's called Daisy Danger Brown. It's my first book for young readers. It's in a contemporary setting and it's also first person, which is also unusual for me. And it is so much fun. I'm just having a great ... it is just a kick-butt, crazy super hero-type of adventure.

Matthew: I'm so grateful to speak with you today. I've been speaking with Shannon Hale, New York Times bestselling author of award-winning Princess Academy and the Bayern series. Thank you for being on the show today, Shannon.

Shannon: Well, thank you so much. It's my pleasure.

For additional questions not asked during the live show, visit TheAuthorHour

This interview was originally aired on 10/22/2009

Unless otherwise stated, this interview was conducted at the time the book was first published, and is reproduced with permission of the publisher. This interview may not be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the copyright holder.

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