New York Times best-selling author Shannon Hale started writing books at age 10 and never stopped, eventually earning an MFA in creative writing. After 19 years of writing and dozens of rejections, she published "The Goose Girl" (2003), the first book in her award-winning series, followed by" Enna Burning "(2004) and "River Secrets" (2006). She also has two standalone books for young readers: "Book of a Thousand Days "(2007), a CYBILS award winner, and "Princess Academy" (2005), a Newbery Honor Book. With "Austenland" (2007)and "The Actor and the Housewife "(2009)she crossed over into books for adults. Her other 2009 book is "Forest Born," for young adults. Hale lives in Utah.
Previous National Book Festival Appearances
From the 2009 National Book Festival
What sparked your imagination newest young adult book - Forest Born?
I'd written three previous books in this world, starting with The Goose Girl, and I honestly thought I was done. But then there was a character and a story that intrigued me so much, I couldn't ignore them.
What inspired you to start writing when you were 10 years old? How did you feel when your first book - The Goose Girl - was published?
I think I was always a storyteller. I loved making up stories and acting them out with my little sister and brother. I was ten when I first realized a person could actually write a book, and I never looked back. The Goose Girl took four years to write and get published, and it felt like a miracle. I can't imagine any professional success ever matching the joy and satisfaction of getting to share that first book with readers.
What challenges do you face in your writing process? How do you overcome them?
The biggest challenge is just doing it--ferociously guarding my writing time and using it wisely. In the storytelling process, finding the character and understanding her arc is always the main priority. I overcome by doing a lot of rewrites. I never get it right the first time.
You have recently begun writing novels for adults. How does that differ from writing for young adults?
The only big difference for me is my main characters are adults instead of children and so face adult kind of problems. For me, storytelling is storytelling no matter the genre or age group.
What tips or advice can you share with young students who hope to start writing?
Read! Read books you love, read lots of kinds of books, use your school or public library and devour books. And write a little bit every day, even if it's just a few words or a journal entry. Don't worry about getting published for as long as you can.
Can you suggest a fun writing topic to get them started?
Sure! Our graphic novel, Rapunzel's Revenge, takes Rapunzel from the fairy tale and puts her in the Old West. Now instead of waiting in a tower, she uses her long braids to swing free and becomes a hero, whipping and lassoing bad guys and dangerous creatures. When you take a fairy tale and change the setting, you get a new story. First choose a tale: Sleeping Beauty, Little Red Riding Hood, Jack & the Beanstalk, etc. Next choose a new setting: the moon, under the sea, New York City, your school. Now write your new story!
What is your list of favorite children or teen books?
It's hard to make a definitive list because so many of the authors are my friends and I don't like to leave people out. My favorite book when I was 11-12 was The Blue Sword by Robin McKinley. Some young adult books I've read in the past few months that I really enjoyed were The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins, Lips Touch by Laini Taylor, The Chosen One by Carol Lynch Williams, and The Way He Lived by Emily Wing Smith. With our son, recently we've loved reading Captain Underpants, anything by Roald Dahl, Stuart's Cape by Sara Pennypacker, and the Tiny Titans comics.
How do you decide on themes for your books?
Themes come naturally through the writing process. I never think about themes before writing. I want the story to tell me which themes it can support. As I'm doing rewrites (I always do at least a dozen drafts) I start to notice themes that are popping to the surface, then I develop them, running them through the whole book. It's one of the most rewarding parts of writing for me.
How important is research in the development of your books? Can you explain the process as well?
Very important. Even when I write fantasy in an invented world, I need to base that world in reality. I research ancient cultures and places to inspire my created kingdoms, and then investigate other things as I go. For example, in Princess Academy, I needed to learn about quarrying stone, and in River Secrets, I had to understand the art of slinging. I even got a sling and practiced at home. (I stink at it.)
What is your advice to parents for passing the joys of reading on to their children?
Love books yourself! Studies show if your children see you reading books for pleasure, they're much more likely to become life long readers themselves. Other ideas: take your children to libraries, bookstores, and literary events; have plenty of age-appropriate books in the house (my sister kept board books in the toy box so her kids associated them with fun); read together 20 minutes a day; talk about books at dinner, like you might discuss a television show or movie.
Do you have a website where young people can learn more about you and your work?
Yes! shannonhale.com. I keep a blog and have lots of extras for all my books, like deleted scenes. Come visit anytime.