Interview with Shannon Hale – On Reading and Writing for Young Adults

SM: Oh, I love mainstream fiction,

Especially if it’s squeaky clean and makes me look smart!

But, for me, the fantasy ones are for writing. There‘s an extra amount of happiness, that extra oomph, in getting to make your own world at the same time that you‘re writing it. I like that part…. Megalomania… You know, having control over an entire world? [Laughs]

… so, the joy of exercising your imagination, creating a world with greater scope and possibilities than ours doesn’t appeal to you. It’s just the joy of being able to control everybody and everything. While also pissing on people who were mean to you in high school.

SH: … when you‘re a writer there‘s so much that can happen to ego, both good and bad and everything in between.

“You could end up turning into Laurell K. Hamilton…. oooh, okay, wait…”

But young-adult authors tend to be pretty down-to-earth, don‘t you think?

FUCK NO. They’re just as likely to go off the deep end as others – as we’ve seen.

And don’t forget that Smeyer herself has exerted massive ego through her brother (or possibly a sockpuppet) in the past when people dared to question her deathless art.

SM: Well, I think writing YA keeps you humble. Because everybody says to you: ―Oh… you write for children. Isn‘t that nice?‖ It can be so patronizing sometimes, and, absolutely, it keeps you humble. It makes it so you can‘t possibly become the ―I am an author‖ author. There‘s no way to do that when you write for children. [Laughs]
And one of the little ―icing things‖ of this career is to have these kids come up to tell me that this is the first book they‘ve ever read for pleasure.
SH: I think there‘s also an element of: It isn‟t all just about me. We‘ve both written adult books. I think, when you‘re in the adult market, it‘s all about how many books you sell and what awards you get. But when you‘re writing in the children‘s market, it‘s about the children, too. And you‘re part of this team—with librarians and booksellers and parents and teachers—and you‘re promoting literacy and some good stuff beyond just: I‟m writing a book, and now pay me for it. So I think people tend to be more even-tempered and more balanced in the children‘s world.
SM: Because I didn‘t set out to write for children, I would never have thought that my books would promote literacy. Someone would have to be a real reader to ever pick one of these up, just because they‘ve run out of everything else. [Laughs]
And one of the little ―icing things‖ of this career is to have these kids come up to tell me that this is the first book they‘ve ever read for pleasure, and that they‘ve moved on. Now they‘ve read this other one, and they‘ve read that one, and now they‘re so excited about some other book they‘ve found. And to have written the first book that got them excited to be a reader—oh, that‘s an amazing gift.
I wish I could give everybody that gift—to find the book that does it for you. SH: It is. The best compliment that I ever get is not that my books are their favorite, but
that mine was the first that made them fall in love with reading. SM: And now they‘ve gone on. You know, I had a great childhood, and one thing that
made my childhood so special was that because I loved to read, I lived a thousand adventures— and I was a thousand heroines, and I fell in love a thousand times. And now, to open up those worlds for somebody else… I know how great it is, and I wish I could give everybody that gift— to find the book that does it for you.
I did an interview for The Host once, and the camera guy who was setting everything upsaid: ―So this book is about aliens?‖ I said: ―Yeah, kind of.‖ And he said, ―Well, you know, I think I‘ve read three books in my life. I hate reading, ever since school—it was such a torture.‖ And I just thought: How sad! There‟s some book out there that‟s perfectly tailored for him, and he doesn‟t know.
SH: Right.
SM: But he‘s not going to pick it up, because he had a bad experience. I really feel like one of the important things you can do for kids in school is not just give them the classics that teach them about excellent form and really great writing style, but also throw in a couple of fun things that teach them that reading can be this amazing adventure. Let them love some story, so at least they know not all books are ―hard‖ or ―difficult,‖ but that they can just be fun.
SH: I agree so passionately about that. And I think some of the key is to have a lot of variety. Because not every genre, or every storytelling style, is going to be right for everyone.
SM: Some people are going to latch on to Shakespeare, and they‘re going to be like: [gasps] ―The insights!‖ And then some people are going to need an action story with car chases and gunfights—they‘re going to need that to get them started.
SH: Every student should have a chance to find at least one book they fall in love with. Then they‘ll be more likely to go on and keep reading for life.
SM: Exactly. When I was in school I had some really great teachers. And lucky for me, I had already discovered books that I really liked. The classics came easily to me—I read them early, and so it was familiar ground: Oh, good. I‟m doing Jane Austen again. Whoo! But a lot of kids come into it and they‘re hit in the face with a great big difficult-to-understand text—if they don‘t have the background to appreciate the experience, it just sours them on the whole thing. And it‘s sad.
SH: I meet so many adults who stopped reading for years. And they tell me that a friend pressed them to read a book, and more often than not it was Twilight… and then they find that they do like to read, after all, and they go on to read other books.
So, Stephenie Meyer, thank you. For changing the world—making it a better place—and reminding so many people that we love to read.
SM: I do what I can. [Both laugh]

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