Shannon Hale thought she was taking a break after turning in the first draft of "Dangerous," her forthcoming young-adult fantasy novel. "For the first time in 10 years, I didn't have a book under contract," the popular Utah-based author, whose books include the Newbery Honor-winning "Princess Academy," wrote on her blog. She looked forward with glee to the prospect of more time with her husband and their four young children.
Then Mattel made her an offer she couldn't refuse.
The toy company was coming out with a new line of dolls based on popular fairy tales. But there was a twist that intrigued Hale, who had penned a number of fairy-tales-with-a-twist herself: These characters would be the children of legendary fairy-tale characters, destined to relive their parents' stories. And Mattel wanted Hale to kick off the series.
"Ever After High: The Storybook of Legends" explores what might happen if one of those princesses rejected the story line that had been prescribed for her. It's a whimsical yarn that is aimed at a tween audience, but with a droll and breezy style that will engage parents and older siblings as well. In addition, Hale has penned a handful of short stories featuring characters from "Ever After High," available in digital format.
Hale took some time out of her book tour which includes a stop in Provo on Tuesday, Oct. 15 to answer email questions from The Tribune.
Which character in "Storybook of Legends" did you most enjoy writing?
Maddie the daughter of the Mad Hatter. She's just so delightful and mad and sweet. She can hear the narrator, which made for some fun metafictional conversations.
This series appears to be marketed specifically toward girls in a way your other books haven't been. What are your thoughts on that?
I have zero marketing and publicity savvy, so it's great for me to just write the best book I can and let others decide how to market it. But in my experience, boys are fully capable of engaging with and enjoying books that are said to be for girls. My son read "Ever After High" and loved it. I have lots of boy readers of "Princess Academy," though their moms and teachers tell me they read it in secret. It's a shame if anyone shames a boy for reading a book with a pink jacket. If boys only read books by and about boys, they're missing out on some great stories, not to mention the opportunity to better understand the mysterious species that is the human girl. I'm OK with books having pink jackets and girls' faces. I think that's something to celebrate.
You've been speaking out for a while now about the reading gender gap. Tell us about some of the feedback you've received.
Adults often only give boy readers books by and about boys, but girls get to read anything. Girls are learning to empathize with both boys and girls, while boys are being subtly taught that it's beneath them to empathize with girls. As a consequence, some boys are growing up unable to understand or respect half of the human race. What amazes me is when I talk about this to teacher, parent and other adult groups, how often many of them have never thought about it before. It's just the way it is. Boys read boy books but girls read anything. It's encouraging to me how many adults are beginning to reject that illogical ideology. Just being aware helps.
Did you have any misgivings about teaming up with the company that manufactures Barbie?
My sisters and I loved playing with Barbie dolls growing up. Toys that facilitate storytelling were my favorite. One of the things that most appealed to me about this project was that there would be merchandise like dolls supporting the book. We talk a lot about reluctant reader boys, but I also meet a lot of reluctant reader girls. Some kids just need that extra hook to get them into a book. So if their friends are watching "Ever After High" videos online and playing with "Ever After High" dolls, they're more likely to be interested in reading that "Ever After High" book. I didn't have any part in making the merchandise. But it was my job to write a really great story, so that when the dolls lead kids to read the book, they might be captivated enough by it to want to read another book, and another, until a nonreader turns into a reader.
You mentioned to The Tribune's Sean Means that Jerusha Hess [who directed the recent film adaptation of Hale's grown-up novel "Austenland"] originally was interested in making a "Princess Academy" film. Might that yet happen?
Oh I don't know. We're both so busy with other projects. Maybe someday. I think it'd be a lot of fun. We've talked about how we could shoot it all in Utah, which would be so convenient! Any excuse to work with Jerusha again, I'm on board.
Please catch us up on all the projects you have in the works currently, and where you are in the process with each one.
I'm currently in rewrites for three different books: a second "Ever After High" novel, a "Spirit Animals" book and the third "Princess Academy." It's a strange but invigorating juggle! When one book is with an editor, I'm working on another.
Meet Shannon Hale
Shannon Hale will talk about her latest book, "Ever After High: The Storybook of Legends."
Where • Provo City Library, 550 N. University Ave.
When • Tuesday, Oct. 15, 7 p.m.
Tickets • They're free, but there is a limit of four per person. Get them at the Provo library's reference desk.