If you mentioned the name Shannon Hale to a pre-teen girl (or someone like me who follows young adult fiction), they would probably know who you were talking about. After all, she's the author the massively popular Princess Academy, which received a Newbery Honor, as well as having created the fantasy world of Bayern, in which she set her series The Goose Girl, Enna Burning, and River Secrets. So now it's time for the rest of the adult world to figure out who she is. Her first grown-up fiction book, Austenland, a Jane Austen-fan-inspired work, was published on May 29th. I managed to catch her before book tour craziness started, and she graciously found time to answer my (kind of long) list of questions. Ladies and Gentlemen, presenting....Shannon Hale.
MF: I'm curious: did Colin Firth ever write back ?
SH: Not yet! But I won't give up hope.
MF: How did you come up with the idea for Austenland? You said on your blog that you never expected Austenland to be published. Why? How do you feel about it now that it is?
SH: I answer this question here: I'm terribly pleased with the book. I won't let any of my manuscripts out of my hands and into publication until they’re exactly what I want them to be. Now whether or not any readers will agree with me is another question…
MF: If I remember right, you never described what Jane looks like. Was that intentional? Why?
SH: I rarely physically describe main characters unless it’s important to the story. As a reader, I find it easier to slip into the role of main character if unencumbered by physical description. And it bothers me. Physical description, generally, is more important for minor characters than main characters. I like to give one or two keys, physical traits, and let the reader create the person in their own mind.
MF: There's no sex (though I felt that sex was implied in places), and very little swearing in Austenland. That's impressive, considering the market out there. Why keep the book so clean? Did it make it harder to sell to the publishers? How do you think it'll effect the book's sales?
SH: Bloomsbury was never concerned about lack of sex or gratuitous language. I don't know if other publishers would have been. I didn't think the story needed it. There’s no sex in Austen novels, and I wanted to feel transplanted. And it’s more of a challenge, more rewarding to make something sexy without sex. Besides, I find it belittling to readers. I think smart readers want a story, first and foremost. Swearing is often a cop-out, too. The challenge is finding a better word. In one scene, I originally had the main character spray paint the word “asshole” on the car of a guy who'd been a real jerk. In a later draft, I changed that to “she-male.” I think you'll agree, the latter was a much better choice.
MF: I wasn't expecting to laugh as much as I did. Why make it so funny?
SH: Thank you! Making someone laugh is harder to do than making someone cry. I'm often shocked that humor isn't venerated more in our culture. Why don't the funny books win the awards or get put on high school and college reading lists? Why don't the comedies garner Oscars? Why is tragedy considered deeper and more real than comedy? I think the only way to get through this life is laughing hard and constantly. Mostly at myself.
MF: What's your favorite Austen novel? Movie adaptation?
SH: Persuasion has become my new favorite of the novels, closely followed by Pride & Prejudice. I love the BBC adaptation of the latter (of course), and I adored the Mansfield Park adaptation even though it deviated from the book. Now you knowI’m not an Austen purist. But I just love that gal.
MF: All your books up to now have been geared toward the YA crowd. How was it writing a book for adults? Easier? Harder?
SH: I truly just write books for myself and let my agent figure out if they’re YA or adult. The contemporary setting for Austenland was tons easier to write than doing period fantasy. In general, I would say YA is more demanding than adult. Adults will put up with rambling; kids won't.
MF: Do you read a lot? What's your favorite book? How does that reading effect your work?
SH: I do read as much as I can. I love it! That’s why I'm in this biz, after all. I'm always reading 2-3 books. I find reading too many similar books in a row or books by the same author affects my writing, so I mix it up.
MF: You've got two books coming out this year; I'm impressed. Was it difficult getting two books ready for publication in one year? How are you going to manage (are you managing) the book tours for each of the books?
SH: Austenland has been a long time coming. I've been slowly writing it over the past seven years, so I didn't rush either book to completion. The dual-publicity is going to be a piece of work. I have a new baby and will be taking her everywhere I go this year (yay for nursing mamas!) and my toddler as well on most of the trips. Yikes. We'll see how it goes.
MF: Where do you get your inspiration for stories? Is story telling a natural thing to you or do you have to work at it?
SH: Inspiration comes from everywhere. There is an incredible amount of work for me in telling a story. I have to do the labor and sweat and bleed and cry to get it to a point where a reader will think it is natural.
MF: Do you have a writing routine? When is your best time to write? How do you manage to find time, with two small kids?
SH: It’s tough. I have daily writing goals. I used to write during my toddler's nap time, but that is no more. We’re still figuring this one out. (My baby is squirming on my lap at this moment and toddler is playing a computer game, so I'm rushing through this.)
MF: Do you work in longhand first, or do you do everything on the computer? Do you tend to complete drafts ahead of time, or work right up until the last minute?
SH: All computer. My editor and I have a wonderful relationship, and while I usually make deadlines, sometimes we adjust them if life and family just won't permit.
MF: Does anyone read your work before you send it to your publisher/editors?
SH: Indeed. My husband reads all my books at least three times during the writing process. I do many drafts before my editor sees it, and usually one or two others read my books and give feedback besides my husband and editor. I rewrite obsessively (except for interviews, which I rush through!).
MF: What are you working on right now?
SH: This interview! And a sequel to a graphic novel. The first will be out next year. My husband and I co-wrote it, and it’s going to rock. The illustrations by Nathan Hale (no relation) are incredible.
MF: What's your favorite part of the writing process? What's the most stressful?
SH: My favorite parts are the serendipitous moments where I find just the right word, right sentence, right scene, that makes all the work worth it. The most stressful is writing a first draft. Terrifies me every time.
MF: From my almost-11-year-old daughter (who loves both Goose Girl and Princess Academy): What's your favorite part of being an author?
SH: Hi cute girl! My favorite part is meeting sweet readers like you. I also love living in a story while I'm writing it, becoming so intimate with the characters, living in that place (writing a book is even better than reading one for pure carry-me-away-ness!) and the unbeatable satisfaction I feel when I finish a final draft.
MF: What advice would you give to an aspiring writer?
SH: Never stop reading what you love. And have fun with it! Don't stress about the publication part until you have to.
MF: What sort of feedback do you get from your readers? (Do you like getting feedback from your readers?) Is what you get from mostly teens or adults?
SH: My readers are so kind, so smart and genuine. Mostly I get requests for sequels or books about favorite characters (i.e. Finn). About half my readers are adults.
MF: When did you start blogging? What inspired you to do it?
SH: I started in 2002 because my husband made my website and told me I should blog. I didn't get what it was all about at the time. Now I blog to be helpful to aspiring writers and also to reach as many readers as I can, since I can't answer emails anymore or travel enough to meet everyone in person.
MF: What's your favorite joke?
SH: ”How do you find the time to write with a toddler and a baby?” That one always makes me laugh.
Thanks, Shannon! (And good luck with the book tour!)