New York Times best-selling author Shannon Hale (and SCBWI member) has published more than 20 children’s books. Her third Princess in Black book was released earlier this month; this middle-grade chapter book is part of Hale’s latest series.
CHRISTINE VAN ZANDT: Welcome! How long have you been writing books?
SHANNON HALE: Inspired by my fourth grade teacher, I started writing my first novels at age 10. I didn’t complete one until age 24. I wrote about 100 short stories, too, adhering to the wisdom that if you want to be good at something, you throw away your first hundred tries.
CVZ: As the mother of four young children, has parenthood changed your writing?
SH: I published The Goose Girl, my first novel, a few months before my first child was due, and I delivered the final manuscript on my second novel a week before I went into labor. People always ask me, “How do you keep writing with four kids?” but the more kids I have, the more I need to write. Certainly, kids change everything. One example: at this very moment my oldest is reading a draft of my and my husband’s Squirrel Girl novel and writing margin notes. Love having in-house beta readers!
CVZ: You and your husband, Dean, co-write. How did that come about and how does it work?
SH: I’ve been writing for 32 years, honing my skills and bleeding over the craft, and it’s literally my only talent. Dean is one of those ridiculous people who is just naturally good at everything. For example, I’ve never sold a picture book manuscript; he sold his first while also working some super-smart technical job. He was always my partner behind the scenes—a sounding board, a beta reader, and, most of all, emotional support. When I wanted to write my first graphic novel, it just made sense to collaborate with him as he’s a lifelong comics reader. We had a great time doing it so we’ve continued to look for more projects that would be good combos of our combined skills. When we co-write we do a lot more detailed outlines than we do when writing alone. Then we divvy up chapters, write alone, combine it all together, and take turns doing revisions, talking stuff through all the while.
CVZ: When you write a book, such as the Princess in Black, at what point do you know it feels like a series versus a stand-alone?
SH: With The Princess in Black (PIB), we always saw it as a series. We wrote the first four books and outlined several more before we showed it to anyone, including our agent. Rapunzel’s Revenge and Calamity Jack are big, epic stories. The storytelling we wanted for PIB was more episodic. Partly that was an age-group consideration. With every book I write, I consider it a stand-alone, but any book has potential for a series. There’s always going to be, “What happens next?”
CVZ: You also write adult fiction. How do you decide which kind of book to write next?
SH: I get ideas for books daily. I jot most of them down. Some I think of as magnet ideas—ideas that attract other ideas. Those are the ones I want to write into stories. They’re alive and sparkling. I’ve never considered it from a business standpoint, never like “it’d be better for my career if I did an adult book next, bookended by two middle grades” or whatever. I wish I was a smarter strategist. I just follow whichever idea seems the shiniest.
CVZ: I heard you speak at last year’s SCBWI Summer Conference and appreciate what you had to say about the problem with children’s books being geared toward specific genders. Can you elaborate on that topic?
SH: I could elaborate for literally HOURS! Here are a couple of the blog posts I did that went viral:
In essence, I want to point out the unconscious bias we have toward female authors. We sometimes don’t realize how we honor the male voice and men’s stories and denigrate what is female. Men, we assume, speak to the universal human experience while what women write is only valid for girls. Girls grow up being expected to identify with and understand boys. 80% of animated movie characters are male; 90% have male main characters. Boys on the other hand are protected from empathizing with girls. We don’t take them to the girl-led movies. We don’t give them books about girls written by women. This is a huge disservice to boys and leaves them unprepared to function in a world that is 51% female.
SH: Dean and I are writing a Squirrel Girl novel for Marvel Press. She’s a superhero with a huge fluffy tail and has the proportional strength and agility of a squirrel. My 12-year-old just finished reading the draft and wants you to know that “it’s the funniest book I ever read.” I want that blurb on the cover!
More about SHANNON HALE:
Shannon Hale is the New York Times best-selling author of over twenty books, including Newbery Honor recipient Princess Academy. She co-writes The Princess in Black series with husband Dean Hale. They live with their four small children near Salt Lake City, Utah.
Article by Christine Van Zandt, Managing Co-Editor of SCBWI’s Kite Tales
Owner of Write for Success Editing Services; Christine@Write-for-Success.com
Twitter: @ChristineVZ, @WFS editing