Shannon Hale

Shorter stuff on twitter: @haleshannon.
Longer stuff on website:
Tumblring the stuff in between.

"If there’s a movie you’re gonna lose money on, make it Wonder Woman"

Q: How do you feel about being the first African-American superhero?

AM: It’s funny you should ask that. [LAUGHS] It’s cool. When I was a kid, I really didn’t have a person I could look at, other than my dad, and be like, “Hey, I want to be that guy and fly through the window.” You couldn’t be like 7 years old and say, “Who do you want to be for Halloween?” “Shaft!”

So [LAUGHS] you know, it’s really exciting. When I first got this role I just cried like a baby because I was like, “Wow, next Halloween, I’m gonna open the door and there’s gonna be a little kid dressed as the Falcon.” That’s the thing that always gets me. I feel like everybody deserves that. I feel like there should be a Latino superhero. Scarlett does great representation for all the other girls, but there should be a Wonder Woman movie. I don’t care if they make 20 bucks, if there’s a movie you’re gonna lose money on, make it Wonder Woman. You know what I mean, ’cause little girls deserve that. There’s so many of these little people out here doing awful things for money in the world of being famous. And little girls see that. They should have the opposite spectrum of that to look up to.

—Anthony Mackie, “Falcon” in Captain America: The Winter Soldier



Goinnnn to the bookstore 

and we’re

gonnnnna get maa-aa-aarired 



ransom and i got married several months ago in an intimate ceremony, but recently had a larger reception for more family and friends, and it was a blast! as we’re both writers, it seemed fitting to have the event at one of our favorite bookstores: the last bookstore in downtown LA. we’ve had a lot of requests for photos, so i thought i’d drop a few here. hope you enjoy them as much as we do! 

:::for the especially curious:::

my bouquet: was made from the pages of ransom’s novel (miss peregrine’s home for peculiar children).

our photographers: brandon + katrina of brandon wong photography.

venue: the last bookstore in downtown los angeles.

catering: the extremely fabulous heirloomla.

flowers: from floral art!

rentals: furniture from found rentals, dishes from dishwish!

the band: one of our favorite local indie bands, the gallery.

hugs and books!



I am not accessible

I just read through some accumulated emails that go to my public account, and quite a few said some variant of “I will no longer read your books if you don’t answer my email.” Some said it nicely (thank you, sweeties). Some were, frankly my darlings, quite rude. Like, shockingly rude and demanding.

A few years ago, I had a choice. I could 1. answer all my emails or 2. write more books. I chose books. I know that disappoints you and I’m sorry. I don’t like disappointing people. But it is not appropriate to threaten and bully people into getting what you want. I generally ignore negative emails. I rarely am able to respond to any emails, negative or otherwise. But there were enough of these type of emails I thought the issue warranted an explanation in a blog post.

I am not accessible. I cannot be your penpal. I cannot be your writing mentor. Email and twitter and blogs and Facebook and tumblr do not paint an accurate portrait of life. I am not sitting on my computer all day, available to communicate with you. I am cleaning the house and reading to my kids and physically pulling my twins apart so they don’t scratch out each other’s eyeballs and throwing something together for dinner and shoveling the clutter into the corners and paying bills and putting away the groceries and doing my taxes and helping my kids with their homework and running over to see a neighbor and cleaning up a spill and taking my kids to the doctor and sweeping up broken glass and washing the sheets and putting all the books my kids pulled off the shelves back on and tweezing out slivers and putting on bandaids and generally doing what a mother with four young children does. A few hours each weekday I get to write books. And a few times a day I can briefly check twitter, etc., and my email, though I always have far more than I can read right then let alone answer so they pile up. I am not wealthy. I do not have a personal assistant. I do not have a housekeeper or full time nanny or personal shopper or whatever rich people have. I am a working mother. I don’t expect my younger readers to understand completely what that means, but please believe me when I tell you part of what it means is that there are so so so many things I would like to do that I simply cannot, and answering your email is one of those. You are not the only one writing to me. I either have to answer everyone or no one. If answering the emails and editing the stories and responding personally to the questions of every one of my readers is the price of having readers then I give up. I can’t do it. I can only do two things. I choose: 1. be a mom/wife, and 2. write books. I can’t be everything else that you want me to be. All I can do is be the author of some books that you might like, and if reading those books isn’t enough for you, then I’m not your girl.

If you hear an edge to my voice, please believe it is not anger or offense. It is simply overwelmedness. I am overwhelmed. To be fair, I do state right there on my website above my email address that I won’t be able to respond. A simpler solution would be to shut down my public account permanently. But I keep it because sometimes I get the most delicious emails, like the ones I’ve been getting from parents of kids who read Ever After High and said, “They never read a book before but they read this one straight through!” What joy! I get to forward those on to my editors and others who share in that joy and know that our hard work is finding a home. So I don’t want to shut it down.

Maybe instead what I need to shut down is all this darn caring. I do care if I offend people. If I disappoint people. If they feel a connection to me through my books and feel personally betrayed by me that I can’t complete that connection. I wish I could not care what people think. But if I didn’t, maybe I wouldn’t have the sensitivity to be a writer? To channel characters and care, too, what they think and feel? I don’t know the answer.

Except this. I cannot change my email and fan interaction policy. And I cannot stop writing. So we are at an impasse, my darlings. I hope you have real people in your real lives who can hear your thoughts, be your friends, support and comfort you, read your marvelous words, and love you. Go to them. I’ll be over here, out of sight, pulling out splinters and shoveling legos, silently cheering you on.

Parenting and censorship

Parents of multiple children know that you can’t raise them all the same. What worked with the first invariably doesn’t work with the second. They all need different motivators, respond to different expressions of love, understand the world and their place in it differently. Much of parenting is seeking to understand our children and help them reach their potential in the way that works best for them.

So I am often surprised when it’s parents (often of multiple children) who are requesting a particular book be pulled from a library shelf. Parents need to be able to choose what books they believe will or won’t work for their own children. But censorship demands that a book that doesn’t work for one be forbidden to all. That kind of absolutism would make for bad parenting. I prefer a gentler, more patient approach. A seeking to understand. Giving permission to kids to be different for each other. Allowing the right book to reach the right reader and help them navigate whatever world they find themselves in.

On neutral characters and relating to the specific

Dangerous3DWhen I was in the rewrite stage of Dangerous several years ago, a Smart Person read the first 50 pages and immediately let me know her concerns. She said, “Your main character is unrelatable. You made her a home schooled, science geeky, one-armed, half-Paraguayan.” Until this person said all that I had never thought it. I mean, of course I knew knew those things about her, but I’d never strung together all those adjectives in my mind, maybe because the decisions about her character came about piece-by-piece while writing the story, not all at once.

  1. Science geek - I know science geeks. I was writing science fiction. Allowing her to be into science seemed a good way to include cool science stuff. Because if I was going to write science fiction, I wanted to write SCIENCE fiction, really have fun and celebrate that part of it.
  2. home schooled - the story would be more interesting if she began it sheltered in some way and then released into a wider world. This idea always intrigues me (girl from a mountain village, girl locked in tower, etc) and homeschooling was one way to introduce this idea in a contemporary setting. Besides, I hadn’t read a lot of books with home schooled main characters, and it’s something that’s becoming more and more common. Seemed like an interesting idea.
  3. One-armed - Whenever I have babies, I spend a lot of time trying to do things with one hand (while holding a baby with the other) and that always gets me thinking about what it’d be like to have one hand permanently. I had a teacher once with one hand and my sister’s father-in-law has a lame arm. It’s something I think about and I thought it was worth exploring, especially in a superhero action genre. Again, I’d never read a book where the main character had one hand, and it seemed interesting.
  4. half-Paraguayan - I lived in Paraguay for a year and a half. I love Paraguay and Paraguayans. In the outline stage, there was reason to go to a foreign country and spend time there, and I’d always wanted to include Paraguay in some way in a book (I did, but ended up cutting those chapters). There were also story reasons for the character to be bilingual, and the story takes place in present day US (or just a few years into the future), so a US parent + Paraguayan parent made sense. And again, I thought this choice would make the story more interesting.

Always with any book, writers ask themselves, what choices will make this story more interesting? What will help raise the stakes? What kind of book would I want to read? What will help make this book unlike any book I’ve ever read before? These character choices just made sense to me.

But the Smart Person told me, “Teens will not relate to someone so unlike them. Maybe with middle grade you could get away with this, but not in YA.”

I was shocked. I’d been writing this book off-and-on for years already and never considered this. And then I got a little mad. People exist who are half-Paraguayan or half-anything, or one-handed, or home schooled, or science geeky, or girls, or all of the above. Why can’t someone like Maisie be worthy of a story too?

I’ve encountered similar opinions over the years and began to come to an uncomfortable understanding, one that others before me have also discovered.

In stories (all stories, be they novels, movies, television commercials…) we (in the US) easily accept a certain kind of character as Neutral. Neutral is white, male, able-bodied, straight, not too young (in children’s) and not too old (in adult), and not especially extraordinary in any way. For example, Maisie is called “half-Latina” (rather than “half-white,” which is also true) because the “white” part is Neutral, assumed, and the “Latina” part is Specific. Traditionally all readers/viewers who are not Neutral have learned to relate to Neutral. E.g.:

  1. Adults have learned to relate to younger characters (after all they were young one once) but not much older than themselves
  2. Teens have learned to read up in age—but not too far
  3. Girls have learned to relate to boys.
  4. People who have disabilities have learned to relate to people who don’t
  5. People of color have learned to relate to white characters

But often, apparently, the reverse is not true. Not boys to girls, not whole-bodied to disabled, not young to old, not straight to gay, etc. One result of this is that parts of our population are developing empathy for people different from them but others aren’t.

In stories, you can fairly smoothly take one step away from Neutral, maybe two, but more than this is risking turning off a wide audience. This theory was confirmed for me with one of my novels for adults, The Actor & the Housewife. I learned that there’s a reason most female main characters in fiction for adults are in their 20s. Many people don’t want to read about a woman much older than 30 or (heaven forbid!) in her 40s or 50s. In addition to being older, I made her a mother and a Mormon. I was 3 steps away from Neutral and it was too far for many readers to travel.

Now, with Dangerous, I went even further, taking at least 4 steps away from Neutral. She’s not “normal” enough. Too much defines her. Maisie is way too Specific.

Or this is the fear. I really, really hope they’re wrong. I really hope that despite not being Neutral, readers find other ways to relate to Maisie. I do think that this is partly what literature is for. If the main character is a lot like us, we learn more about ourselves, which is awesome, but when the main character is different than us, we gain more empathy for the Other, which is also awesome.

I wasn’t going to talk about this. I wanted the focus to be on the story and not on a list of adjectives about the main character. Talking about it might make it an Issue and I really don’t think this is an issue book. Besides, despite the Smart Person and others, I just didn’t think Maisie’s 4-steps-from-Neutral would be a big issue for most people. But then the reviews started to come in and I realized that those adjectives would be an issue, no matter what I do.

Here’s the beginning of one review: “Maisie Danger Brown (really), smart, home-schooled, one-handed half-Paraguayan daughter of scientists, has always dreamed of being an astronaut.” This reads to me like a list of what makes Maisie different from Neutral. My hope is that after reading the entire book a reader will find plenty of ways to relate to Maisie, regardless of her being such a Specific character: she’s interesting IMHO, loves her parents, gets excited and scared and overwhelmed, falls in love, is curious, is funny, makes big choices, makes mistakes, has a best friend. I don’t mind that reviews mention her one-handedness and girlness and geekiness and Latina-ness. They’re not secrets, after all, as we learn those things about her in the very first chapter. But in listing them like that all together at the top of a review, I feel like they put focus on her differences, spelling her out as unrelatable, freaky, perhaps not worth your time.

Maisie was worth my time. I really hope she ends up being worth your time too.

I’d love to hear your thoughts about Neutral and Specific characters. You could add to my blog comments if easier. Who do you relate to? Are there characters or kinds of characters so different from you that you can’t immerse yourself in the book? Has that changed at all with your age? Does reading about Specific characters make reading more challenging? A different experience? Or a non-issue for you? Teens, was the Smart Person right about you? Feel free to share anonymously, I really want to know your thoughts. Now that I’ve listed all those adjectives about Maisie, how does that affect your feelings about this book and your inclination to read it?

Dangerous is on bookshelves Tuesday, March 4. Come see me on tour!

A Dangerous history

Dangerous3DI love superheroes.

I grew up watching Wonder Woman, my sister and I spinning around in the family room in our Underoos and pretending to fight bad guys. I watched Super Friends, Spider-Man and His Amazing Friends, He-Man, Jem and the Holograms, and later Batman and Superman. The Spider-Man segments on Electric Company were my favorite part. Our family loved the Superman movies (all but 4, of course) and yes, even the Supergirl movie. I didn’t know it was terrible. It was Supergirl!

And I was a voracious reader. But I never came across a superhero book.

My husband grew up reading superhero comic books. I didn’t have access to comic books growing up. They were a “boy thing.” But I’m certain I would have loved them. I began to read them as an adult—Wonder Woman, X-Men, Justice League, Invincible, Runaways. Dean and I saw all the superhero movies in the theater and walked away feeling as though we could vanquish all the bad guys ourselves!

I was still a voracious reader, but still never came across a superhero book. Why are superhero stories so fundamental to movies, cartoons, and comics but mostly skip novels altogether?

I wanted to write that book. The one that I would have loved when I was younger. The one I would gobble up now.

The superhero genre is a subset of science fiction. Growing up, our library coded books by genre with a sticker on the spine. The fantasy books had a unicorn, the scifi had a Saturn. I went straight for the unicorns. The Saturns, I understood, were for the boys, not for me. Not until adulthood did I question this. Why is science fiction only for boys? And science too, for that matter?

So, yeah, I definitely wanted to write science fiction. As a girl. Starring a girl. Superhero YA scifi, something I hadn’t seen before but to my mind so logically needed to exist.

As a writer, what excites me is crossing genres. A western-fairytale-graphic-novel. A literary-princess-story. An Austen-romantic-comedy-murder-mystery. With this book, I wanted to take the realism and depth allowed in novels + superhero adventure story + young adult. Could I pull it off? And would people accept a popcorn movie/Saturday morning cartoon type story in a realistic medium?

Smart People told me that it wouldn’t work, and for many reasons.
1. The only kinds of science fiction you can do in young adult books are dystopian and steam punk. You can’t do YA scifi in a contemporary setting (which is what the superhero genre typically is).
2. Girls don’t read science fiction, and boys won’t read about girls, so there’s no audience for this book.
3. Superhero stories are the domain of Saturday morning cartoons (targeted at boys) and Hollywood action movies (targeted at men). You can’t do it for a teen audience, and certainly not a female teen audience.
4. The superhero story has passed over into the overdone realm. In novel form, you can only parody it, not take it seriously.

But I have this problem. When people tell me I can’t do something, I want to do it all the more. It took me time to get it right, no question. The book creation spanned a decade.

2003 I knew I wanted to write a YA scifi superhero story and began to invent it.

2004 I first named a character Daisy Danger Brown (changed her name to Maisie several years later).

2005 I sold a synopsis and outline of the book to my publisher, Bloomsbury.

2009 I finished a first draft.

2013 I finished a final draft.

Maybe in 2003 we weren’t reading for a superhero-female-MC-contemporary-scifi-YA-novel. Hopefully by 2014 we are. At least, I am ready for Maisie Danger Brown. If I had Maisie Brown Underoos, I’d put them on right now and spin around in the living room.

Apparently this year, I am all about purple books.

(Dangerous - March 4, 2014, The Unfairest of Them All - March 25, 2014, Fire and Ice - July 2014)

Conversation between our 3-year-old and her father

Wren: I have a new friend at school.
Papa: Oh yeah? What’s your friend’s name?
Wren: Jewel-bat.
Papa: Jewel-bat?
Wren looks at Papa, puts a finger to her lips, and says, “Shh.”
She starts to walk away, turns back and whispers, “There is no Jewel-bat.”