Once upon a time I, Shannon Hale, your faithful narrator, was free. I'd just turned in the final draft of Dangerous,
and for the first time in ten years I didn't have a book under
contract. With four small children at home, I'd decided not to go under
contract for any new books for the time being. "Maybe I'll take a break
for a bit," I told my husband. "Until things calm down."
Famous last words.
Three days later, I got a call. Little, Brown (fabulous book publisher) had an offer for me. Hm, I really didn't think I'd be interested, because of taking a break and all, but I was curious. "They won't tell me what it is," my agent told me. "First we have to sign a non-disclosure agreement." Wow, now I was really curious. I signed the document and got on a call with Andrew, Connie, and Erin at Little, Brown.
They told me about a project codename "Lightning." Yes, it was so super secret it even had a code name! And so I first heard about Ever After High, a boarding school for the children of famous fairy tales. For a few moments, I decided wasn't interested. I'm known for retelling fairy tales, and I love fairy tales, but I didn't think I'd want to write in someone else's fairy tale land. I'd rather do my own stories.
But this was more than just retold fairy tales. The idea is that children of fairy tale characters grow up to relive the stories their parents made famous. Our main characters are Raven Queen, daughter of the Evil Queen, and Apple White, daughter of Snow White. And they're roommates. That struck me as so delightfully awkward. We talked more. They sent me a 200 page story bible detailing a couple dozen characters and world details. It was all so fun. But I couldn't make myself commit. I was free! I was going to take a break!
Mattel flew me out to their headquarters in California. I got to see the workshops where designers created new Barbie dolls and superhero action figures and Matchbox cars. I got a sneak peak of the first eight Ever After High dolls (kept in windowless rooms under shrouds--so secret!). I saw the first animated short and heard more good stuff about the world. I saw their absolute commitment to story and how excited they were to have a novel to kick off the storytelling of this huge new property. And I couldn't resist. In fact, even though I'd been telling myself I might not do it, I'd already written 15 pages of the novel because scenes between these characters just flew into my brain.
So I slapped the conference table and said, "That's it. I'm in."
Then the whirlwind began. I read everything Mattel had already written in this world--scripts for upcoming animated shorts and stories that would come included with each doll--over and over again and educated myself on the world and characters. I couldn't contradict anything already established, but besides that, they gave me free reign to make up my own story. And since I was coming in at the beginning, I helped create this world and form the characters. The Mattel creative team was wonderful and totally open to my input. The few times I found established elements I thought world work better a different way, they changed them. It was collaborative, supportive, and a lot of fun.
I wrote a mini-outline. I got notes from my editors and wrote a robust outline. I got notes from my editors and the Mattel team. I wrote a first draft. I got more notes and revised several times. And then we had a book. A book I'm really proud of.
It was so fun, we decided to do it again. And again. I've signed up to write books 2 & 3 in Ever After. Because of other time commitments, my husband Dean Hale is helping me write books 2 & 3, even more collaboration and support and fun.
I'm not sure when I'm going to take that theoretical break. But I'm glad I didn't. Yet.
Ever After High: The Storybook of Legends is in bookstores today. Come see me on tour!