The past few weeks, I’ve been discovering author Shannon Hale. Yes, I know I’m a little slow. She’s been a popular YA author for a long time, but I just learned about her. From the first book, I was hooked.
First, a little about Shannon. Then I’ll tell you one of the things I find really impressive about her.
Shannon Hale is a Mormon who lives in Salt Lake City, Utah. She was the middle child in a family of five children and she always loved making up stories. At first, she’d act them out with her sisters, but in fourth grade, she learned how to write her stories on paper for others to read and that’s when she decided to become a writer. She was pretty sensitive, so she found the social part of grade school hard and ended up crying at home a lot. Things got better, though. In junior high school she was on the staff for the school literary magazine and met her first professional author, Dean Hughes. She was also in drama class, even though she never got chosen for the school plays.
She enjoyed high school a lot more. She felt her school was pretty diverse, which was interesting to her, and unlike most schools, it was not filled with cliques. Here’s something interesting she said about high school: “In movies and books, a teen’s life often involves drinking, sex, or drugs. It sure didn’t in mine. While I think it’s important to have stories about all kinds of people, I think it’s also important to acknowledge the other side. I did not drink alcohol or take drugs or have sex with boyfriends because I chose not to. I did have a lot of fun, though.” (See The Official Site of Shannon Hale.)
In high school, still writing and acting (but getting small parts now) she met her husband. She had a big crush on him, but he didn’t have a big crush on her. She went to school right near home, because she’d been sick for a long time during her senior year, and Dean went off to Washington State.
Shannon started out majoring in both drama and English. Even though she loved acting, she eventually decided she would rather be a writer, because you can’t act unless someone hires you, but you can always write. She loved books, and decided to become a writer. However, she hadn’t finished anything she started and she wasn’t sure what kinds of books she wanted to write. But she at least had a goal now.
She took a year and a half off to be a Mormon missionary. This is something she chose to do, not something she had to do. You pay your own way and you don’t choose where you will go, so opening the envelope is pretty exciting. She was sent to Paraguay and had to learn Spanish. She was assigned native companions (partners you share your apartment with and work with) and was determined to live like a native while she was there, so she could really learn the culture. She learned to focus on other people, not herself.
While she was on her mission, Dean wrote to her regularly. When she returned home, he was living in Utah again and they started dating seriously, but they broke up after about a year. She decided to go to graduate school out of state.
Here’s another interesting thing: The best writers got chosen to be teaching assistants and they got free tuition. She wasn’t chosen and in fact, she was the only person who never did get chosen, meaning they thought she was the worst writer in the whole program. Despite that, she is the only writer in that group with a lot of best sellers and big awards. So, if you don’t seem like the best in your field yet, don’t give up. School isn’t the final decision maker in whether or not you can make it in what you want to do.
Even though the school didn’t think she was very good at writing, she loved her time there. She got back together with Dean and ended up marrying him. She started the book that would become The Goose Girl. It took her two years to get it written, starting over a few times and doing a lot of editing. Eventually, she got an agent and the book got sent to publishers, who didn’t like it. It was rejected nine times, but in the end, the same company that first published Harry Potter bought her book. And I’ll bet the other publishers are sorry they turned it down! It’s her most popular book.
I find Shannon Hale’s writing to be very elegant. I’d love to be able to write that way. But even beyond her amazing writing, what I really admire about her is that she has high standards and sticks to them, even in her writing. At the back of The Goose Girl there is an interview with Shannon. She said she sees a lot more racy books for teens and that her book was turned down because that stuff wasn’t in her books. She says she does not like writing about sex, so her books are sometimes seen as better for younger audiences, but she does have a few adult books as well. Sometimes people think they need to compromise to make it in the “real world.” Teens think they can’t be popular unless they lower their standards. One of my daughters came home from church one week telling me her eighteen-year-old teacher, who had been homecoming queen and head cheerleader, told them she never compromised. She didn’t feel she needed to compromise her standards to be popular, so she never did. I admire that in a person. It seems like Shannon Hale is that kind of person, so she is someone I admire, not just as a writer, but as a person.
Do you have a favorite celebrity who doesn’t compromise his or her standards?