Shannon Hale has been one of my favorite authors for years. Almost since she first started publishing (I liked the story, but I didn’t like her author blurb). I swear she can do no wrong when it comes to her books — more right and less right, yes, but no wrong — and so when I got an email asking if I’d like to do an interview with her (again! Since I had the pleasure of interviewing her a couple years ago.) of course I jumped at the chance.
Before I give you the interview, I need to explain the picture… Since she didn’t include one with her questions, I felt I had the liberty of choosing one. Back in October, when Shannon was doing a signing tour for Forest Born, she went through Boston. And me, being the squee-y fangirl that I am, begged and pleaded my lovely sister (she’s on the left) to go and get a book signed for me. My sister (and my dear sister-in-law) loves me SO much, that, she did. And she took a picture and sent it to me… which isn’t exactly the same thing as meeting Shannon myself, but almost. Someday, I’ll actually meet Shannon Hale in person. But until then, I’m happy to just do interviews.
MF: I think I’m going to focus most on Forest Born, since that’s your most recent book…. I liked Rin’s quiet strength in the book. How did you come up with the idea for her?
SH: Thanks, Melissa. Rin was really tough, the toughest character I’ve ever written. Hard to discover, hard to figure out why she was the way she was. I knew her through Razo’s eyes before I wrote Forest Born, but it turned out she was so different inside, I had to wrestle with the story to shake her free. A big breakthrough was when I realized I needed to go back and to understand her early history. The first chapter was a late addition, but it saved the story for me.
MF: If I remember reading it right, Goose Girl was supposed to be a stand alone book. How did it become a four-book series?
SH: How indeed! I wish someone would tell me. I’m looking around, going, what a minute, I did not authorize all these books, pesky little critters. It’s all about the characters. Enna pushed her way forward and insisted on her own story, then Razo did and got River Secrets. Rin isn’t pushy and didn’t insist. Rather it was all the other characters who were loud and insistent that the story wasn’t complete yet and I was forgetting about…[SPOILERS DELETED BY AUTHOR] But I knew I wanted to tell that story from the perspective of someone very different from my other MCs. Rin was right. Tricky, but right.
MF: And do you think you’ll write more Bayern books? (Or is this really, really the last one?)
SH: Ha! Who knows? I’m not writing one right now, and I like the way Goose Girl and Forest Born bookend the series. But I’m always tensed for another character to get mouthy with me and demand a book. I know that might sound loony, like I really believe these characters are real people who can control me, which of course I don’t because if I did I’d be crazy, right? I mean, no way I’m crazy. And besides, if they controlled me, why don’t they get their stupid stories right the first time instead of making me do all those rewrites?! The truth is, I love to tell stories, but I am in some degree a slave to which story inside me shouts the loudest.
MF: Do you have a favorite character or scene in Forest Born?
SH: Ooh, I haven’t thought about this one yet. Let me think…I just asked my husband and he said “that zen walk/fight scene.” Maybe that’s cryptic enough not to be a spoiler. I like that too. I like how Rin quietly becomes the most powerful person in the room. But I also like the conversations between Rin and Razo. Those were a relief to write. In the middle of a very sticky book, Razo and his relationship with his little sister was an oasis for me, as it was for Rin too.
MF: Your books span the ages and the genres (a bit anyway) — from middle grade graphic novels to adult romances. Do you have a favorite to write in or for?
SH: If favorite means “easiest,” then contemporary romantic comedy wins. Not that Austenland or The Actor and the Housewife were sweat- and blood-free, but they’re SO much easier to write than period fantasy. In a contemporary setting, my lexicon is enormous. But worlds like Miri’s and Rin’s are so small, I have so many fewer words at my disposal, so many fewer similes I can call upon. If favorite means “most fun,” then Rapunzel’s Revenge wins because I got to collaborate with my awesome husband and awesome illustrator Nathan Hale (no relation). But if favorite means “best,” then behind all the other books’ backs, I furtively nod toward Book of a Thousand Days.
MF: I know this is kind of asking you to pick a favorite child, but which of your books is your favorite, or means the most to you?
SH: The Actor and the Housewife. No, wait, Goose Girl because she was the first. But Book of a Thousand Days I just claimed is my best…I’m coming up with really good arguments for all of them. Except Princess Academy. It’s been by far my most successful and so feels the least like mine. I can’t claim it anymore.
MF: Again, this might be an unfair question… but how do you think your writing (or, if it’s any easier, your approach to writing) has changed over the years? We could make it easier, how about since you were first published…
SH: I remember one of the biggest notes my editor gave me on Goose Girl was to get more inside the character’s head. I think I used to be a little more distant, and now I try to get so inside the character that the reader feels like she’s living the story rather than observing it.
MF: Who or what inspires your writing?
SH: Words. Words make me want to write. I’m not inspired by music, like so many authors. I wish I was. I’m rarely inspired by real life events. But words do it for me.
MF: Do you have five books you think everyone should read?
SH: No. I’m not very prescriptive. But I’m going to give it a shot and write down the first five that pop into my head: I Capture the Castle (even though the ending broke my heart), Megan Whalen Turner’s Gen books, A Long Way from Chicago, Westing Game, Mrs. Frisby and the Rats of NIMH. (wow, I haven’t read that last one in years! Don’t know where it came from)
MF: I know you’ve got Calamity Jack coming out in January, I’m excited to read that! What’s next for you after that?
SH: I’ve had two years with two books coming out, and I’m ready for a little breather. Maybe (maybe) my YA sci-fi kick butt girl series Daisy Danger Brown will be ready in 2011. Maybe.
MF: Thank you for your time!!
SH: Thank you, Melissa. You add so much to the book world with your passion and thoughtfulness.