Sarah Rees Brennan has a new post up about her experiences (some of them heart-breaking) as a now-published author who used to write fanfiction. It’s well worth a read, especially for the way it highlights the role that gender may play in these issues.
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.
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.”
All writers and aspiring writers out there, put March 22, 2014 on your calendar! I have tried hard to really up the quality this year at WFC and I hope that our audience will respond. We have special guests Maryrose Wood of The Incorrigibles. Also Joe Monti, executive editor of Simon and…
Tomorrow (Feb 11) Austenland releases on DVD & Blu-Ray! And it’s already available for digital download from iTunes and Amazon. To celebrate, on Friday authors and bloggers and book fiends across the country held Jane’s Night In parties. Here are a few photos from my party and others, and check my twitter feed for posts.
My friend put framed #Austenland photos out. She found one with me in the background!
Ally Carter and Jennifery Lynn Barnes served high tea for their party. Check out the spread!
Tea service ready! My friend did this. I swear I don’t decorate with my own books.
Becca Fitzpatrick’s party was comfy cozy pajama style. These ladies are ready to watch the flick.
We had a special guest at our party. (not me)
Decor musts: Jane Austen, JJ Feild, and taxidermy birds.
Keeping our pinkies up.
Thats-normal.com is ready for their movie party.
libba bray 2nd time watching #AUSTENLAND & I laughed just as much as the 1st time. DVD comes out 2/11, people. Tallyho!
Thank you so much to everyone who hosted and attended the parties and everyone who is helping get the word out about the video release. Check my twitter feed for chanced to win a DVD this week, and enjoy the movie. Tallyho!
Austenland releases on DVD/Blu-Ray/VOD on February 11!
To help get the word out, several people active in social media, including myself, have been asked to host a pre-viewing party of the video on Friday, February 7 and live tweet the event. Follow me on twitter or check back here next Monday for a post about the event.
Here are some YA authors who are hosting their own Jane’s Night In parties all over the US:
Jerusha Hess - Austenland director, tweeting from the official movie account
Friday evening, check twitter for #JanesNightIn or #Austenland and join us for some laughs, photos, and vicarious festivity!
And a special plea: please don’t pirate this movie. If you can’t afford to buy or rent it, please request it from your library, thereby supporting the filmmakers and your local library. Hollywood measures success by $ made, and if movies like this don’t make money, it makes it harder for other movies like this or other movies by women to get made.
Get ready for a side of Shannon Hale you’ve never seen before…
Shannon Hale is…
Since this book was “a whole new side of Shannon Hale” my publisher asked me if I’d take a new dangerous-looking author photo. But naturally there was no way for me to attempt such a thing without embracing total silliness. My family and I cracked ourselves up doing it, even if these photos are totally unusable for official publicity.
Behind the scenes! Here’s what you see when we zoomed out a little:
The authors you think are so “big” that they have become celebrities— they’re real people. They have real lives and real pain, just like you do. Please remember this when you interact with authors either in real life or online.
When authors see a nasty review, they cry real tears. They remember…
Auntie MJ! My creative writing professor just deadpanned that there are no new ideas, no new plots, nothing that someone hasn't already said or written! Just retellings of the same old! Auntie MJ! (wavers exasperatedly) I am deeply disheartened borderline appalled, and don't understand. Auntie MJ, tell me, is this true? What are your feelings about this? Most sincerely, Nicki
Don’t panic. Your professor didn’t come up with that one. That’s a very common statement about story and nothing to fret about.
The basic idea is that when you boil a story down to its bones, you’ll get a skeletal structure that probably falls into one of a few categories of love story or tragedy or quest, etc. Many excellent books are written on the subject (such as The Seven Basic Plots and the classic The Hero with a Thousand Faces).
But stories are like people in this respect—while we might have a similar bone structure underneath, we are all quite different as the stuff that makes us US tends not to be bone, but the stuff ON the bone, and mostly the squishy grey stuff inside the skull. A story is only its plot up to a point. The story is really IN THE TELLING. Ideas, in and of themselves, are cheap. So when people say (and I hear this a lot), “I have an idea for a book! I just need to write it down!”…I giggle a bit. Because this is a little like saying, “I have an idea for a recipe, which is the same thing as dinner so let’s eat!” You don’t eat the conceptual recipe. You have to refine it, get the food, cook it. The proof, AS THEY SAY, is in the pudding. I never knew what that meant, but it makes sense in this context.
The story is not the idea. The story is the telling. Crafting a good plot is one skill. Telling the story is another. Both are necessary, but arguably the second takes much more time and is where the art is. You could give 20 authors the same exact story idea and you’d get 20 different books.
At some point, you’ll probably hear someone say that Shakespeare “just retold a bunch of old stories,” which is true, but he was SHAKESPEARE and reinvented the language and constructed entire worlds of ideas and cut new mental landscapes. So when someone says that to you, tell them to quit it with the “just.”
So yes, when you study literature, you will learn that many plots are connected. The more you read, the more you will see the familiar bone structures under the text—but this will never (or should never) diminish what you are reading. That would be like saying, “I met this guy? And he had a NOSE? And I am so over noses. I’ve seen a nose before.”
So don’t freak out. It’s fine. Look into this! There’s much good stuff written on the subject.
How did Utah accomplish this? Simple. Utah solved homelessness by giving people homes. In 2005, Utah figured out that the annual cost of E.R. visits and jail says for homeless people was about $16,670 per person, compared to $11,000 to provide each homeless person with an apartment and a social worker. So, the state began giving away apartments, with no strings attached. Each participant in Utah’s Housing First program also gets a caseworker to help them become self-sufficient, but the keep the apartment even if they fail. The program has been so successful that other states are hoping to achieve similar results with programs modeled on Utah’s.
This! Utah may be doing a lot of things wrong, but this is brilliant! I hope other states follow suit. The only remaining problem is with the homeless youth population, in part because of LGBTQ youth kicked out of Mormon homes (misunderstanding Mormon doctrine, IMHO). The homeless youth can’t take advantage of this program because they are technically “runaways” and people helping house them can be prosecuted under Utah law for helping runaways. Until new laws get rewritten, if you want to help, go here:
The thing that killed me about this setup was, okay, you put me in this bathing suit - but then I have to stop talking from here on? Strip me, and I’m silent! I am defiant with everyone else - Tarkin, Darth Vader - but this slug really shuts me up. Any defiance I had in the other movies, all gone.
I was so very happy to kill [Jabba]. It meant I could talk again. They asked me if I wanted a stunt double to kill Jabba and I said, ‘Really, really not. I really, really want to kill him myself.’
”—Carrie Fisher on being Slave Leia (via tederick)
From some people in the YA field (usually adults), I hear ongoing criticism of certain tropes in YA books. Enough love triangles. Enough falling in love with one person and then another. Enough characters falling in love instantly. Enough characters who can’t figure out what they want. Enough characters who discover they (or their crush) are changing, turning/can turn into a creature both more incredible and horrible than they ever imagined. Enough protagonist complaining/whining about his/her life (though let’s be honest, this criticism is usually directed at the “her” only). Enough conveniently absent parents so the protagonist can be free to have an adventure. Enough what we’ve already seen a hundred times.
But what I’m actually hearing is, enough teenagers.
These tropes in YA are tropes to begin with because they deal so directly and profoundly and metaphorically with the teenage experience. Which is what YA fiction is actually about. And when I hear them criticized so harshly and absolutely, I start to wonder if those critics are just tired of teenagers in general.
I’m not a parent of a teenager yet, so talk to me again in a few years, but I believe that teenagers need those years to get messy, to make mistakes, to fall in love all the time instantly and slowly with him/her, then him/her, to complain, to fight, to struggle for independence but then still need comfort and safety, to live an entire lifetime condensed into a few volatile, fascinating, difficult, beautiful years. That’s how their brains develop. That’s how they figure out who they will be. As adults, I think we need to respect the teenage years and help them live through the experience with as little permanent damage as possible, while still allowing them the experiences themselves. And as readers, I think we need to respect the stories that express those years. Sometimes demanding books that rid themselves of all teenage angst and tropes is like demanding that teens just grow up already and be adults.
To be clear, I think everyone has a right to not like any book for any reason. Reading is personal. And I think criticism is important and done right and received well, the voices can help challenge writers to write new and better things. So I’m not asking for the criticism to stop. I just think it’s worth adding these thoughts to the conversation.
The great thing about rules in writing is they can always be broken. What stopped working, what became hackneyed and overdone, can become fresh and exciting in the right story with the right author and the right reader. So let’s not close any doors on writers. And let’s not send the message to teens that the books they love and the stories that resonate with them have no value or worth. They get that enough from some adults about their very beings.
"The final sense (if the plot has been a fine one) will not be of clues or chains, but of something aesthetically compact, something which might have been shown by the novelist straight away, only if he had shown it straight away it would never have become beautiful."
So, people are complex. You just never know how they will respond. When I published Austenland in 2007, I was caught totally off guard by the first “you should be ashamed of this smut” email I received. I honestly didn’t consider Austenland a trashy book. But many did. Here’s my favorite of the angry emails:
I just read Austenland and was so disappointed. I loved your other books and had come to trust you to keep things clean. I bought Austenland on Amazon for my teenaged daughter for Christmas because she is a huge Pride & Prejudice fan. I’m glad I decided to read it first, because it would have totally traumatized her. I buried it [in] my kitchen trash can under a pile of wilted celery, where it should feel right at home.
I don’t want to mock the writer of that email. Everyone has the right to their own reaction (though I do wonder sometimes what motivates the need to email the author your negative reaction). Still, I didn’t see this coming.
The most surprising response I received for Austenland (and really any of my books) was:
"The way she mocks Austen fans is just insulting."
Not just one such response but many. I never anticipated that fellow Austen fans would think that I was insulting them. After all, I am one. It’s one thing to love Austen’s novels (which I do) but at the point I became obsessed with the DVDs of Pride & Prejudice, I thought, this is getting funny. Isn’t it okay to laugh at this? At my weird obsession? And how I have the tendency to fall in love with fictional characters? Can we still be amused by a thing and love it at the same time?
Once the movie came out, that reaction only magnified. Many people thought we were mocking Jane Austen readers in an ugly and mean-spirited way. I felt like I’d had the wind knocked out of me.
Of course not everyone responded that way, and it was lovely and reassuring that many people (Austen fans and non-readers) let us know how much they loved what we did. I read one simply gorgeous review of the movie from a major online magazine, and was so relieved that at least someone got it! After the writer and I corresponded a bit. She wrote:
"I’m so grateful for writers who are doing work that’s full of love and warmth and isn’t cynical. I get enough of that."
Yay! Not everyone misunderstood! I forwarded the note on to the director, Jerusha Hess, and she responded, “Yes! It was full of love.”
If we made it in love, full of warmth and fondness and well-intentioned humor, how did it come across to many as just the opposite?
I don’t know, but I’ve observed some things about the Hesses’ movies. Some people who saw Napoleon Dynamite thought that the movie was mocking a rural west culture, and yet I’ve never met anyone from Utah or Idaho that felt mocked by the movie. I read reviews of Nacho Libre (reviews written by white US guys) who thought the movie was mocking Mexicans, and yet the movie did great in Mexico and was largely received with love and laughter. I have no doubt that there was a loving and celebratory spirit in the Hesses making of these movies.
In those cases, it was outsiders who feared the mockery, while those supposedly being mocked got the humor and laughed with the movie. Yet with Austenland, many of the insiders—the Janeites—felt unkindly mocked. I don’t know why this happened.
Christopher Guest movies also come to mind. I don’t know if certain musicians felt mocked by Spinal Tap. I heard that some dog showers did by Best In Show, which surprised me, because as an outsider it seemed clear to me that the movie wasn’t trying to make fun of all dog owners and dog shows, nor to definitively define what such people must all be like. I grew up doing community theater, and everyone I know in theater absolutely loves Waiting for Guffman. We didn’t feel mocked by it. We felt lovingly tributed and enjoyed the inside jokes only we would get, laughing at the absurdities we saw in ourselves and in our theater world as well as laughing at the parts the movie exaggerated for humor. I came away from it not thinking, “Yeah, community theater is lame,” but “That was hysterical! I love theater!”
And I guess that’s how I assumed my fellow Jane Austen lovers would react too. If anyone might misunderstand and think we were mocking Janeites, it would be the outsiders, certainly not the insiders, certainly not those who loved Austen—her humor, her snark, her insight.
I do know we were walking that fine and wonderful line: to be the thing and make light of the thing at the same time. That’s the only way to do a loving comedy. And there is a chance it can be misunderstood. I just didn’t think it would, not by my own peeps.
Some people couldn’t go there with us, and that’s okay. Art is personal. But the accusations of mean-spiritedness or malicious intent are totally, completely wrong. Every actor, every producer and writer and all involved had a fondness for the characters and the story and wanted to make something that made us laugh, made us swoon, made us smile, in the very best spirit possible.
I don’t know why it failed some people, but it is a potent reminder that nothing is more perilous than comedy.
There’s going to be a panel at AASL (School Librarian conference) this weekend called “Boys Reading: A focus on fantasy.” There are six well-respected, very cool middle grade fantasy authors on this panel. And they are all men.
And I have to ask: Why? Why can’t female authors discuss their…
When The Husband was a young teen, my mother-in-law tells the story, he came home from school one day and asked, “Why do some girls pretend to be dumb when they’re not?”
His mother explained that some boys are intimidated by smart girls, and so some girls pretend to be dumber so as to make the boys more comfortable or to be more attractive to them.
"That’s the stupidest thing I’ve ever heard," he said.
And he grew up to marry me. BAM.
The very best people will like you even more when you’re just as smart (or athletic, or geeky, or spiritual, or talented, or quiet, or funny) as you actually are. You don’t have to be anything less than your own awesomeness.
"When you reach out to someone under stress, either to seek support or to help someone else, you release more of this hormone [oxytocin], your stress response becomes healthier, and you actually recover faster from stress. I find this amazing that your stress response has a built in mechanism for stress resistance, and that mechanism is human connection."
On results of a stress study: “For every major stressful life experience, like financial difficulties or family crisis, that increased the risk of dying by 30%; but…that wasn’t true for everyone. People who spent time caring for others showed absolutely no stress-related increase in dying. Caring created resilience.” Kelly McGonigal, TED talk, speaking about making stress your friend.
Seems incredible but true. When stressed, we heal better if we reach out and help others rather than just hunker down and tend to ourselves.
How a non-disclosure agreement and codename changed my year
Once upon a time I, Shannon Hale, your faithful narrator, was free. I’d just turned in the final draft of Dangerous, and for the first time in ten years I didn’t have a book under contract. With four small children at home, I’d decided not to go under contract for any new books for the time being. “Maybe I’ll take a break for a bit,” I told my husband. “Until things calm down.”
Famous last words.
Three days later, I got a call. Little, Brown (fabulous book publisher) had an offer for me. Hm, I really didn’t think I’d be interested, because of taking a break and all, but I was curious. “They won’t tell me what it is,” my agent told me. “First we have to sign a non-disclosure agreement.” Wow, now I was really curious. I signed the document and got on a call with Andrew, Connie, and Erin at Little, Brown.
They told me about a project codename “Lightning.” Yes, it was so super secret it even had a code name! And so I first heard about Ever After High, a boarding school for the children of famous fairy tales. For a few moments, I decided wasn’t interested. I’m known for retelling fairy tales, and I love fairy tales, but I didn’t think I’d want to write in someone else’s fairy tale land. I’d rather do my own stories.
But this was more than just retold fairy tales. The idea is that children of fairy tale characters grow up to relive the stories their parents made famous. Our main characters are Raven Queen, daughter of the Evil Queen, and Apple White, daughter of Snow White. And they’re roommates. That struck me as so delightfully awkward. We talked more. They sent me a 200 page story bible detailing a couple dozen characters and world details. It was all so fun. But I couldn’t make myself commit. I was free! I was going to take a break!
Mattel flew me out to their headquarters in California. I got to see the workshops where designers created new Barbie dolls and superhero action figures and Matchbox cars. I got a sneak peak of the first eight Ever After High dolls (kept in windowless rooms under shrouds—so secret!). I saw the first animated short and heard more good stuff about the world. I saw their absolute commitment to story and how excited they were to have a novel to kick off the storytelling of this huge new property. And I couldn’t resist. In fact, even though I’d been telling myself I might not do it, I’d already written 15 pages of the novel because scenes between these characters just flew into my brain.
So I slapped the conference table and said, “That’s it. I’m in.”
Then the whirlwind began. I read everything Mattel had already written in this world—scripts for upcoming animated shorts and stories that would come included with each doll—over and over again and educated myself on the world and characters. I couldn’t contradict anything already established, but besides that, they gave me free reign to make up my own story. And since I was coming in at the beginning, I helped create this world and form the characters. The Mattel creative team was wonderful and totally open to my input. The few times I found established elements I thought world work better a different way, they changed them. It was collaborative, supportive, and a lot of fun.
I wrote a mini-outline. I got notes from my editors and wrote a robust outline. I got notes from my editors and the Mattel team. I wrote a first draft. I got more notes and revised several times. And then we had a book. A book I’m really proud of.
It was so fun, we decided to do it again. And again. I’ve signed up to write books 2 & 3 in Ever After. Because of other time commitments, my husband Dean Hale is co-writing books 2 & 3 with me, even more collaboration and support and fun.
I’m not sure when I’m going to take that theoretical break. But I’m glad I didn’t. Yet.
It’s the late 1990s, and everyone I know is obsessed with the Pride & Prejudice miniseries starring Colin Firth. I don’t use that word lightly. Obsessed. We hum the songs from the ball. The words creep into our everyday dialogue—we say things like, “Make haste!” and, “Now that’s a fair prospect!” We have daydreams about a fictional character and sigh out loud.
We are completely and utterly ridiculous. But it’s so much fun.
I just wish that there were a way to actually step into Austen’s story, try it on and see how it would fit. Would living in the Regency era, being loved by Mr. Darcy, really be as ideal as it seems? I start to write a book about a character like me and my friends, who goes on vacation to an English resort where tourists can put on the corset and empire-waist gowns, live in a manor house, and interact with actors playing gentlemen who woo them in their own custom storylines.
(By the way, no such place actually exists—but it should, shouldn’t it?)
I spend seven years, off and on, composing Austenland, trying out different characters, writing and rewriting different endings, before I come to the story of Jane Hayes and her jaunt in an immersive Austen resort. It is completely and utterly ridiculous, and also so much fun.
Jumping ahead a few years, I meet screenwriter Jerusha Hess, who co-wrote Napoleon Dynamite and Nacho Libre. She reads Austenland and wants me to collaborate with her on the screenplay. Jerusha responds not just to the Austen obsession but more generally to Jane Hayes’ geekiness. Everyone has their own geekdom—Star Wars, Twilight, superheroes, science, Dr. Who, classic Greek literature—whatever it might be. She’s sure most anyone could relate to Jane’s trip down the rabbit hole, even the un-Austen-ed.
We spend a year and a half on the screenplay (and laughing, usually while eating milk shakes). Jump ahead again.
I’m in England, sitting on one of those camp chairs with members of the film crew. It’s our first day
filming on the grounds of the English estate that will be our Austenland. And across the lawn walks the actor JJ Feild in full costume. Boots. Breeches. Cravat. Riding jacket. Top hat. I’m amazed at how much he looks like the character of my imagination. The resemblance is uncanny.
But then the most extraordinary thing happens. This figment, this character I dreamed up in my brain, turns, sees me, looks right at me, and smiles.
I no longer feel the camping chair beneath me. I seem to be falling into my own story. I watch the scene play out on camera—Keri Russell, Jennifer Coolidge, James Callis, speaking lines I wrote, just the way I’d imagined and yet adding so much more. It is almost real. Surreal.
Later, I find out the costume coat and hat JJ Feild is wearing are the same ones Colin Firth wore in Pride & Prejudice. Somehow, I’ve managed to enter Austenland. It’s ridiculous. And it’s so much fun.
The photo is of me and Jane Seymour on set, dressed for the ball scene. The film is in limited release now in US, UK, and Canada. The book is available online and from fine booksellers everywhere.
Book tour for EVER AFTER HIGH: The Storybook of Legends. Come see me!
Tuesday, October 8 6 pm Tattered Cover 2526 East Colfax Avenue Denver, CO
Wednesday, October 9 7pm St. Louis County Library 1640 S. Lindbergh Blvd St. Louis, MO Booksales by Barnes & Noble
Thursday, October 10 5pm Mrs. Nelson’s Toys & Books 1030 Bonita Ave La Verne, CA
Saturday, October 12 1pm Children’s Book World 17 Haverford Station Rd Haverford, PA
Sunday, October 13 10:45am New York Comic Con Panel The Magic of Storytelling panel with Lemony Snicket (When Did You See Her Last?), David Lubar (Weenies series), Matthew Cody (Will in Scarlet), Shannon Hale (Ever After High: The Storybook of Legends), George O’Connor (Olympians), and Scott Campell (If Dogs Run Free)
New York Comic Con Authographing: 12PM - Table 21
Tuesday, October 15 7pm Provo City Library Library Ballroom 550 North University Ave. Provo, UT 84601 Booksales by Kings English
October 17, 2013 7pm Talk and signing with Lisi Harrison, Megan McCafferty, and Diana Lopez Book People Austin, TX
October 19, 2013 Tween Reads Book Fest Houston, TX
November 9, 2013 YALLFEST Charleston, SC
Check with the stores for further information. Remember, it costs stores money to advertise and staff an author event. If you want to get books signed at bookstore-hosted events, please support their continued existence by purchasing a book from them (doesn’t have to be one of mine—but hey, that’d be nice!).
When I was thirteen and in junior high, my friend and I went to the Festival of Trees. Our school glee class sang there and we got to hang around after, largely unsupervised. After all, it wasn’t a scary place. Just lots of decorated trees, all well lit and Christmassy. There was a Santa Claus. My friend and I thought it would be funny to wait in line and sit on his lap, as if we were still little kids. Which we weren’t anymore, just barely. I didn’t quite yet feel a teenager—that mystical age I had been looking up to my whole childhood. And I certainly wasn’t an adult. I was in-between and trying to figure out what that meant.
So we sat on Santa’s lap, laughing, one of us on each knee. And he played along and asked us silly questions, and we answered. When we stood up to leave he said, “Oh I forgot to ask you what you wanted for Christmas.”
And I said, “I want you, Santa.”
I didn’t know what that meant. I was trying to be funny. But I was thirteen, inexperienced, and naive without knowing it. Not only did I not fully comprehend what the phrase “I want you” could imply, but even if I had, I didn’t have the life experience to put it into a context. I didn’t have the brain maturity to anticipate a reaction. Certainly not the one that followed.
This man who was wearing a Santa beard and suit said, softly, “You don’t know how much I want you,” and he grabbed my butt.
There was an initial moment of shock, we ran off, and went into the bathroom and laughed and laughed. That was so weird! Some old dude in a Santa outfit said he wanted me and touched my bootie! It was a little alarming and a lot gross, but mostly funny.
I didn’t yet know the word “pedophile.” I didn’t understand what I had just uncovered. I wasn’t traumatized. It was this thing that happened with my friend, something we could bring up later and laugh about. I didn’t tell my parents. I didn’t tell anyone—not from shame or fear or anything but because it was just a joke thing that happened. Not till years later I looked back and though, whoa. That guy was having kids sit on his lap all day. I wish I’d understood. And told someone. And gotten him out of there and away from kids.
But that’s the key—I didn’t understand. I was a smart girl, but I didn’t have the years, the age, the perspective yet. There’s a reason why we label minors as minors and try to protect them. There’s a lot of stuff in this world that only with time and experience can we start to figure out.
Sometimes a girl is thirteen or fourteen or fifteen and she starts to look like a woman, and she starts to say things she hears other women say, and some adults assume she is a woman. But she’s a child. I was a child.
There are reasons we have statutory rape laws. A child cannot consent to sex with an adult. A child has not matured enough to understand. A child needs to be protected, even if they don’t think they do. Thankfully I never saw the Santa dude again, was in no position to be assaulted by him. But this BS in Montana is really frightening, not because of this single instance, but because this crap happens all the time. (notice in the judge’s “apology” he says his victim-blaming comments were “offensive to women” because, you know, rape is a women’s issue and is nothing that men should worry about or has to do with them whatsoever.) Just look at how many people in power and with strong adult voices have become rape apologists in the Steubenville case, blaming the girl, crying over the “innocent” rapists, declaring (contrary to actual laws as well as common sense) what is “real” rape and what isn’t. If judges, police officers, journalists, parents, communities don’t understand, then the rape culture thickens. Children aren’t safe.
There are men out there who put on a Santa Claus suits—of one kind or another—in order to meet, groom, and exploit children. It’s more than just weird or gross. It’s a crime. And it should be.
Is there a reason why you have not included same gender relationships in your novels? I really love your books but am disappointed that I am not able to find representation of myself in them.
Several years ago, someone asked JK Rowling about Dumbledore’s love life and she revealed that he was gay. I was with a group of teachers the next day who talked about it and they were confused why she would have made him gay, not reveal it in the book, and then do so later. But I totally got that. Writers always know more about the characters than they reveal. It’s all about what the story needs. In several books I’ve had characters who I knew were gay and initially intended to reveal that but ultimately the story didn’t need it. I hope as an artist I’m able to always follow the story first. Hopefully I have years more to write, many more books to discover, and I’ll see what those years and books bring.
It’s so important for readers to find representation of ourselves in art, and I’m glad that now more than ever there are so many varieties in books (far, far more so than in movies). We learn more about ourselves by seeing ourselves reflected back. But reading about those different from us also strengthens our ability to empathize with other human beings. I read books to find people like me, and I read to find people who aren’t like me. I think there’s tremendous value in both.
I hope this finds you well. Austenland is perhaps one of the best novels I have read, being an enormous Darcy fan myself (who isn't?). And while I'd rather have seen Goose Girl become a movie first, I'm ecstatic about this film. So I just wanted to ask you, why is it only in NY/LA? I cannot say confidently that it would do better in Georgia than those prime locations, but I know I would go see it three times at least.
Thank you! Austenland is an indie movie. Generally indie movies are given a limited release (in this case opening in LA and NY) and the hopefully moving up to a platform release, with new cities announced each weekend. How well the movie does in the initial cities determines how wide the release will be. Believe me, I would love it to go everywhere! It looks like it will be in Atlanta on Sept 6. Here’s the list of current and upcoming cities.
I loved Shannon Hale’s Austenland as a book. And I know, it seems weird for an author to say she liked the movie better, but there are a few cases where a movie that is done very, very well (and usually with a lot of involvement from the author—take note, Hollywood) that the movie does things that…
And like Jane Austen herself, “Austenland” scoffs at the hypocrites and celebrates the sweet social misfits. It says weirdos deserve romance too, and that Austenland isn’t so much a page in a book or a place on a map, but a corner of your heart.
Thanks for stopping by. You look great. How’s the family? Also, I really need you to go see Austenland.
I know that sounds self-interested, but it’s not as much as you might think. Yes I wrote the book (and co-wrote the screenplay) but no writer can claim ownership of any product. Even though I write every word of my books, there are still a team of people involved who have a rightly earned piece of its success: editor, copy editor, publisher, agent, publicist, distributor, bookseller, etc. A movie likewise is not an author’s but is a huge team effort, and in movies, the team is much, much larger. So many people are involved in making a movie. Austenland is not mine.
Did you know most writers are paid a flat fee for their book option or screenplay and won’t make more money regardless if the movie is a great success? But sure, I still have some interest in it. For one thing, if the movie does well, the book Austenland will probably sell more copies. Also it’ll be more likely that my other books might be made into movies.
Still there’s a larger question here that’s really important to me. Stay with me, I’m about to lay down a little Derrida.
French philosopher Jacques Derrida spoke about binary opposites (good & evil, up & down, light & dark) and whenever we have binary opposites, we tend to put them into a hierarchy, one dominating the other.
Between comedy and tragedy, tragedy is considered more important. Between romance and realism, realism is considered more important. (btw Romance in its truest form includes fantasy.) Between men and women, men are considered more important.
(If you’re skeptical about this, look at lists of awards for movies and books. Realistic, tragic movies and books that are by and about men will greatly outnumber everything else, except in children’s novels, where realistic/historical/drama will still dominate though there are more females involved.)
So we made a comedic, romantic movie by/about women. Three strikes against it. I anticipate: it will earn little respect; many reviewers will dismiss it; probably all awards will ignore it. Most who like it—even love it— will likely add a caveat, because our society mocks anyone who claims to be an intellectual and/or a feminist and still admits to enjoying an estrogen-drenched romantic comedic movie.
Additionally, this is a movie written, directed, produced by, and starring women. This is extremely rare in Hollywood. Like four-leaf-clover rare. Big Foot sighting rare. Prime rib rare. Me-in-a-bikini rare.
In general, Hollywood is reactionary. Hollywood follows the money. When deciding which movies to back, Hollywood looks at how like-movies have performed (or what it considers like-movies). Hollywood is built by investors who naturally want to put money behind what is least risky with the highest profit potential—and that means backing what has proven successful in the past. And Hollywood doesn’t have enough data on female-made-and-led movies. There just aren’t enough of them. There are some obvious blockbusters, but Hollywood is wary of those.
Twilight: a fluke (yes, after five films people are still saying this) Harry Potter: yeah it was written by a woman but it stars a boy so it doesn’t count Hunger Games: Katniss is a masculine girl and the story is action/violence driven so counts as a guy movie (yes, people really say this too)
There are so many movies written by and starring men that have succeeded that if a few flop, it doesn’t worry the Hollywood numbers. But there are so few movies written by and starring women that if even one underperforms, suddenly you will see all other female-written-and-featuring projects pulled before they get a chance to be filmed. (this has happened many times and is currently happening this year.)
Please, go see Austenland. Vote with your wallet. Please, go see The Mortal Instruments: City of Bones. Encourage those skeptics in Hollywood. Convince them that backing something with a few women in it and written by women isn’t such a huge risk. People do want variety. They do want to hear women’s voices. They do want to see actual real women on the screen doing things besides just getting saved in the end and kissing the male star.
Ladies, go have a girls’ night. Or take your men along. It’s good for them. Men, be not afraid of girl cooties. The more voices the better. When women get the chance to make movies too, more voices are heard. Hollywood hears money louder than any other voice. We need your ticket. New York and Los Angeles, if you go see a movie this weekend, please make it Austenland. Next week City of Bones opens nationally and Austenland opens in select cities. Sony Pictures Classics has released a preliminary schedule of theaters and dates, hopefully with more announced soon. So go, if you must, out of a sense of equality and charity and goodwill. But stay for an outrageously funny and sweet natured and heart-poundingly romantic flick.
We are a bunch of chicks. And we made a really fun movie.
Well my dear fellow Austenland fans, tonight I was lucky enough to be able to see an advanced screening of Austenland. I was pretty sure I would love it but there is always a chance especially when you build something up in your mind that you could be disappointed. This was not one of those…