Authors Shannon and Dean Hale ready an all-ages presentation at the library
Event is part of Utah Book Festival
Award-winning author Shannon Hale is known for “AustenLand” and her “Princess Academy” children’s book series.
She collaborates with her husband Dean on other projects such as “Calamity Jack,” “Rapunzel’s Revenge,” Marvel’s “The Unbeatable Squirrel Girl: Squirrel Meets World,” and “The Princess in Black” series.
The couple took time out of their busy schedule for a joint interview with The Park Record about their careers and the upcoming free presentation they will give at 2 p.m. on Saturday, Sept. 30, at the Park City Library’s Jim Santy Auditorium as part of the Utah Humanities Book Festival.
“We will talk about our books and our career,” Shannon said. “But I think it’s boring to hear people talk about their own books.”
Since the Hales write books for different age groups, the challenge is to engage the different demographics in the audience.
“If there are kids, then the presentation will be quicker and funner [sic],” Dean promised.
“We’re going to find ways to be engaging and, hopefully, interesting to everyone,” Shannon said.
One of the books the Hales will discuss is “The Princess in Black and the Mysterious Play Date” that was released on Sept. 6. The book is the latest installment of a series that follows the adventures of Princess Magnolia, a royal vigilante.
“The series has an origin story,” Dean said.
“It’s true,” said Shannon. “Sometimes I just get little ideas that grow, but they are usually too boring to talk about. But we can pinpoint Princess in Black.”
The Hales have four children, and when their oldest daughter was 4 years old, she started pointing at the different colors of a butterfly skirt that she was wearing.
“She said, ‘pink is a girl color, and purple is a girl color, but not black,’” Shannon said. “I stopped her told her that girls could wear black, and she said, ‘Momma, princesses don’t wear black.’”
That took Shannon aback.
“It was like a lightning bolt, because I couldn’t think of a single princess who wore black,” she said.
As Shannon tossed the idea around in her head, she came up with the idea of a princess superhero who wore black.
“So when Dean got home from work, I basically vomited on him the idea of a princess-who-wore-black superhero that I had been thinking about,” she said.
“Like a sick dog, I lapped it all up,” Dean said.
“This is the best metaphor ever,” Shannon said after a laugh. “Anyway, I knew that Dean and I had to write the book together.”
“I had to represent my people — the monsters the princess would fight,” Dean said.
Throughout the years, the Hales have found a way to work together in a respectful way.
“We have a cage in the basement,” Shannon said. “We both enter and then shout out ideas at each other and then we fight.”
“Then one of us leaves,” Dean said.
“And whoever leaves is the one whose ideas get put into the books,” Shannon said. “It’s a simple method that has been around for centuries.”
In reality, the two aren’t that methodical when it comes to their collaborations.
“I started writing books before Dean and I go married, but I had gotten used to using him as a soundboard,” Shannon said. “He has always been an in-house editor, and I would talk with him through stuff.”
Shannon relies on Dean’s insights.
“He’s very smart with stories, and I blame all the comic books he read throughout the years,” she said. “I don’t mean that derisively, because I really think that’s what made him the writer he is.”
“There will be times when she’ll tell me something, and I’ll tell her that the Fantastic Four did the same thing in this or that issue.”
Even when Shannon writes her solo books, she considers Dean a creative partner.
“He’s my emotional support,” she said.
“But,” said Dean, “When we write together, whenever there’s a conflict, she’s the deciding vote.”
“Exactly,” Shannon said with a chuckle. “That makes it simple.”
Shannon said they do many more outlines together than she does when she writes alone.
“You have to do that because you have to solve the story problems ahead of time so we can split up the chapters and such,” she said. “We also go on long walks and talk through stuff, because, you know, we’re adorable when we hold hands.”
The walks feel like retirement community commercials, Dean said.
“Except we’re talking about how to effectively kill people and create horrific villains,” Shannon laughed.
The Hales found their way into writing on two different paths.
“When I was a kid we never met writers,” Shannon said. “I never went to a book store, but I read a lot of library books. So every book I read influenced me.”
She pointed to a couple of teachers who helped nurture her love of writing.
“One started me on writing in elementary school, and then when I was in high school a teacher gave the class an assignment to write a scene from story from the viewpoint of a one of its minor characters. And that was so exciting.”
While Dean loved stories and writing, he never believed he could become a professional author.
“Frankly I was so stubborn with that idea that it wasn’t until I met Shannon, who had been doing this for years, that I finally said, ‘Oh. This is something people can do.’”
While the couple have won writing awards and have given presentations all over the country, the biggest rewards have come from readers.
“One of the biggest is to hear readers tell us that they have never pictured themselves in a book until they have read one of ours,” Shannon said “I think that alone is one really important call for diversity in books, especially books written by people from real communities — people with disabilities, people of color. We need more characters that are specific, because it’s so important for kids or anybody for that matter, to be seen and feel legitimate.”
The Utah Humanities Book Festival will present authors Shannon and Dean Hale at 2 p.m. on Saturday, Sept. 30, at the Park City Library’s Jim Santy Auditorium. The presentation is free and open to the public. The Hales, whose new book, “The Princess in Black and the Mysterious Play Date,” is the latest installment of the “The Princess in Black” series designed for young readers. For information, visit parkcitylibrary.org.
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