past Saturday the downtown library held its Literary Luminaries
event, working with SLC Film Center, Night Flight Comics, The English
Garden and the Community Writing Center to name a few, bringing in both
local and national writers to talk to the
fans about their work. Guests for the event included Leslie Brimhall,
Adams, Robyn Buttars, Steve Nilles, Laurel Hart, Bill Galvan and
Also included on the bill was Shannon Hale, local award winning author of titles such as The Goose Girl, Princess Academy, Emma Burning, Book Of A Thousand Days, and most recently Rapunzel's Revenge. I got a chance to chat with her about her career, the books, thoughts on writing today and a few other topics. I also got to listen to her Q&A session with her husband (and recent co-author) Dean, taking <pictures of their time there on Saturday while she donned the red pigtails of her character.
Shannon Hale (with husband Dean)
Hello Shannon! First off, tell us a little bit about yourself.
Shannon: I'm a Utah native, stay-at-home mom with two small children. My husband Dean and I met while attending West High in Salt Lake City, getting married 11 years later. I started writing books at age 10 and eventually published my first, The Goose Girl, at age 29. I've published 5 young adult fantasy novels, a book for adults (Austenland) and a graphic novel for young readers (Rapunzel's Revenge).
Gavin: What first got you interested in writing, and what were some of your early influences?
Shannon: I think I've always been a storyteller, before I could read books or write them I would make up stories and act them out. My fourth grade teacher (Mrs. Spackman at Wasatch Elementary) started us writing our own stories, and I got hooked.
Gavin: You went to the U and eventually got your MFA. What was the program like up there, and how difficult was it for you to get your degree?
Shannon: I did my undergraduate work at the U but got my MFA from the University of Montana. The program at the U of M, like most MFA programs, focused on writing literary fiction short stories. It was wonderful to have two years where I had to write. I don't think anyone can teach someone how to write, but having the time is great. I didn't find the curriculum particularly challenging--I think that you make what you get out of it. My second year there I was the only MFA candidate that didn't have a teaching assistantship, and when I asked about it, the director of the department told me that TAs were awarded based on the quality of a person's writing. So I was informed I was the worst writer in the program. That hurt a lot. But I believe that I'm now the only career writer and only New York Times best seller. Being stubborn helps.
Gavin: Were there any practice titles you worked on before the novels you're known for now? And if so, what was that process like?
Shannon: I wrote about 100 short stories that have never been published and a middle grade novel that was soundly rejected. I firmly believe that most of us need to write a lot and throw away a lot before dreaming of publishing anything. I have a lot of rejection letters, including nine for The Goose Girl.
Gavin: Where did the inspiration come from for The Goose Girl?
Shannon: I was in a reading funk--I was 25 and couldn't remember the last time I had read a book that I couldn't bear to put down. When reading had been total pleasure, ages 10-16, my favorite writer was Robin McKinley. She based her first novel on a fairy tale, so I decided to try and do the same, to write a book that would please my adult self with my literary fiction sensibilities but still be the kind of page turner that I would have loved as a young person.
Gavin: What was the initial public reaction to its release, and how did you feel about it?
Shannon: The Goose Girl was well received, I thought. It was a first book from a small and unknown (in the US) publisher, so there wasn't heaps of attention or a bestseller list or anything. But it received the Josette Frank Award and was voted by teens as one of their ten favorite books of the year, which was a huge compliment to a novice novelist. It remains my most popular book among fans. Like all my books, once it leaves my hands , it no longer feels like my story. I think I remember writing it eons ago, but now it belongs to the readers.
Gavin: How does it feel having picked up a Newbery Award for the Princess Academy?
Shannon: I thought I realized at the time what a big deal it was to receive a Newbery Honor, but I only glimpsed it. I feel as if the Lady of the Wood kissed my forehead and left a mark that allows me passage into magical realms. (Yeah...I'm a fantasy writer...) The award has affected more than just Princess Academy--it's given more prestige and attention to everything I write. It's truly magical and I don't think I'll ever feel nonchalant about it.
Gavin: The most recent release was Rapunzel's Revenge. Where did the idea come from for this book, and what's been the reaction to it?
Shannon: I wanted to collaborate with my husband, who is a brilliant writer in his own right. We decided to combine our first two loves--mine is fairy tales and his is superhero comic books. We decided Rapunzel would make an awesome comic book superhero, with her braids as natural weapons! The reaction has been phenomenal. All the national reviews have been glowing, Al Roker chose the book for his “Book Club For Kids”, and Dean and I made an appearance on “The Today Show”. And perhaps most importantly, every day I hear from parents who say their avid reader kids love it and their reluctant reader kids read it over and over again.
Gavin: A little state-wide, what's your take on the local literary scene and the writers coming out of it?
Shannon: There are tremendous writers in Utah in every genre, but our strength seems to be in children's and young adult. We have dozens of nationally published, acclaimed, and best-selling children's and YA writers.
Gavin: Is there anything you think could be done to make it more prominent?
Shannon: As a culture, we put more importance on sports and movies than literature. That's understandable, since books are a personal and intimate experience, where sports and movies are so hugely visual and can be experienced in groups. But it's a shame, too, since being literate is so important to a person's success in any field (besides that reading is just plain fun). There are oodles of free literary events every month in Utah--at book stores, libraries, and book festivals. For children especially, meeting and hearing an author speak can change their perspective on reading and get them excited about books and learning. As parents we can be better about taking our children to these events. It's also nice when the media places importance on books and our home state talent (as you're doing here--thank you!). I was only the second Utah writer in history to be on a Newbery list and the first in over 50 years, and the Newbery committee members told me to expect a lot of local attention. There was some, but most Utah news organizations did not report on it. Another Utah writer, Sara Zarr, was a National Book Award finalist (which is a huge deal) and she had the same experience.
Gavin: Do you have any advice for other local writers about their work and getting published?
Shannon: It doesn't matter to editors where you're from. They're all looking for a really great story. An editor is dying to fall in love with your manuscript. My advice is to keep writing. Make that book the very best it can be, even if it takes ten years and dozens of rewrites. And after you finish it and send it out there, you move on to the next story, because it might be your fifth or your tenth book that finally gets noticed. And cherish every day of your life--live and observe and love people in all our imperfections.
Gavin: If you had to make a list, who are some of your favorite local authors?
Shannon: You'd have to put a gun to my head to get me to make that list. So many are my friends and I'm terrified of leaving anyone out. People can visit www.ucwi.org to read about many of our talented local children's writers.
Gavin: What are your thoughts on the local book stores and how they're holing up against bigger chains?
Shannon: They are awesome! They are warriors! We are so fortunate in the Salt Lake City area especially to have several independent bookstores who valiantly serve their individual communities, bring in countless national authors every year, and constantly give back. Thank goodness they're surviving, and they will continue as long as we support them.
Gavin: Do you feel like books are in decline with some being published online, or do you believe there will always be an audience there for a hand-held copy?
Shannon: I don't think the book business is damaged by online publishing. That's the chosen reading method for some, but most people prefer a hand-held book that never runs out of battery and can be taken anywhere. Someday that may change, but for now books are still king.
Gavin: What can we expect from you in 2009?
Shannon: I have two books coming out. In June, I have a new book for adults called The Actor & The Housewife. The main character is an LDS Utah mother of four who meets and becomes friends with her favorite actor. This book is published by Bloomsbury in New York for a national audience, and my editor loved reading about Utah and Mormons. I think it's rare to have an LDS character in a national market book, so I'm eager to see how it will be received, both in state and out. And in September I have Forest Born, the fourth in the “Books Of Bayern”, my young adult fantasy series.
Gavin: Is there anything you'd like to plug or promote?
Shannon: Aren't you sweet? I'm the most excited about Rapunzel's Revenge. Nathan Hale, a Utah artist, did the fabulous illustrations. A graphic novel (meaning a novel with graphics) is such a powerful medium for certain readers. For those transitioning from picture books to chapter books, or older kids who are visual learners and are intimidated by thick, wordy novels, graphic novels can be a lifeline to reading.