This week, EVER AFTER HIGH: The Unfairest of Them All (the 2nd EAH novel) publishes into the world. I have had such a blast with these books. The second book follows the aftermath of what happened in the first, again following Apple and Raven (though Maddie, as always, plays a big part, and Cerise fans will be happy to read more of her story...)
Arizona: see me Tuesday, March 24, 7pm, at Changing Hands
Utah: see me Saturday, March 29, 2pm, at The King's English
I'm not doing a full book tour for this book because I just finished a tour on Friday for Dangerous. And I couldn't do two book tours in the same month. Because, yes, I had two books publish in the same month. FYI: this is insane. How is it even possible?
Dangerous I began writing long ago and far away. It could have published in 2013, but for various business reasons ended up in 2014. And then I took on the EAH challenge, writing three EAH books in a little over one year (the 2nd and 3rd with help from my ridiculously talented husband Dean). So these two books ended up coming into the world the same month. It has been a whirlwind. Exciting and exhausting too, as I also have other book writing deadlines this month as well as those four children who have Wants and Needs. But I feel so grateful to have this problem.
A lot of writers experience Too Good To Be True Anxiety. This is our dream job and we love it, but we also live in mild anxiety (and sometimes cranking that up to dreadful fear) that it will all go away. Any day, this thing we dreamed about and worked toward for decades will stop. Dry up. No one will want to read us anymore. So while this month has been objectively pretty hard on me and my family, we have two books! Two books I love and am proud of! Two books I get to share! Life in abundance. I'm in awe, and the dream continues for at least a little longer.
The Dangerous tour continues. I'm in the mid-West this week. And Utahns, don't forget the annual Writing for Charity one-day writing conference for beginning, intermediate, and advanced writers. In addition to traveling I'm on deadline, so instead of writing a new blog post I'm lazily pasting in some blurbs and reviews. Is that tacky? That's probably tacky, isn't it? But...but did you know Dangerous is a Spring 2014 Kids' Indie Next book? Also tacky to mention? Nevermind, I have this horn here and I'm going to toot it. (teehee, I said toot)
"Fast paced and action packed, bubbling over with ideas and full of heart, Dangerous is a dangerously addictive read."
--Scott Westerfeld, NY Times bestselling author of the Leviathan and Uglies series
"One of the best books I've ever read. Ever. It's chock full of intrigue, suspense, and clever, authentic, wonderful humor. I'm in love with this book."
--James Dashner, NY Times bestselling author of The Maze Runner
"Master storyteller Hale takes readers to dizzying new heights. Layered with gritty action and heartfelt characters, DANGEROUS is a can't-miss adventure."
--Kiersten White, NY Times bestselling author of Paranormalcy
"Hale mashes up her science and her superheroes, then stirs in just the right amount of wonder and delight. I loved this book."
--Megan Whalen Turner, NY Times bestselling author of The Thief
"DANGEROUS is exactly that--you will not be able to put this book down, nor will you be able to get its fantastic heroine, Maisie Brown, out of your head."
--Ally Condie, NY bestselling author of Matched
"This fast-paced science fiction novel with echoes of the "Fantastic Four" comics doesn't let up for a moment. Maisie is a strong, smart heroine with a wry sense of humor, and readers will be rooting for her to save the world. A must-read for fans of superhero adventures."
School Library Journal
"Hello, Book Love! This is one crazy awesome, fun book...A fast-paced hybrid of science-fiction, action thriller, superheroes, and romance, Dangerous smartly combines witty and flirty repartee with pulse-pounding action that rarely slows down to breathe...Oh, sweet awesomeness, I loved this book!"
USA Today's Happily Ever After blog
"Dangerous is a thrilling, dark, sci-fi adventure and is somewhat of a departure from Shannon Hale's usual work for children...What has not changed in this new work is Hale's ability to craft a captivating plot while creating memorable characters that are rich in complexity and intrigue. While Dangerous is a save-the-world novel, it is also much more. Hale successfully combines adventure and science fiction fantasy together with real issues of family, first love, disability, multi-culturalism, relationships, and the process of growing up while making very difficult and real moral choices."
IRA Journal of Adolescent and Adult Literacy
"Hale delivers an action-packed SF thriller with plenty of surprises and an intriguing premise."
"Hale's fans may be surprised at this new direction in her writing, but they certainly will not be disappointed...This adventure, sci-fi, romance novel will keep readers engrossed."
Library Media Connection
"This novel is a whirlwind of excitement."
RT Book Review
"It's thrilling to find a satisfying page-turner of this kind at all, let alone one that risks giving a heroic voice to someone who doesn't look like any other hero you're likely to find."
Thanks for all your great comments on the last post! I'm very interested in your thoughts in this matter, and please keep talking. Here are a few more thoughts.
The default character is male. I first realized this was true for me when I had my first child. I found myself identifying all of his toys and stuffed animals as "he." In books, too, animals and characters that didn't have obvious girlie eyelashes or wear skirts were all "he." The characters that made up my son's world were 95% male. I began to question that in myself and supply "it" instead or assign "she" to several stuffed animals, in a perhaps ridiculous attempt to help him grow up surrounded by a more diverse cast of characters. Parents, have you noticed this male-first tendency too?
When I do school visits, often I'll bring up 4-5 students to make up a story on the fly. The first question I ask them, one by one going down the line, is "What is the name of your main character?" I try to put the girls on the end and start with them. Boys always choose a male MC, and if the girls go after the boys, they also always choose a male MC (this data is based on doing this exercise perhaps 100 times). But if the girl goes first, sometimes she'll choose a female (though 75% of the time she chooses a male too). This is a strong indication to me that we are used to main characters being male, even in the younger generation when the world is filled with book choices that feature girls. Are movies to blame, which rarely feature female MCs? Are these kids not getting the books that have female MCs? Or do girls not feel like the MC in their own lives? Do boys have the imagination to consider girls potential MCs? Is it possible that some boys do not think girls really matter as much as boys, aren't worthy of their own stories, aren't, perhaps, even as real as boys are?
The default character is white. As a writer who is white, I definitely fall into this trap. If a character isn't white, I often describe that, but if they are white, I don't describe because it's assumed. For the first time writing this book, from the POV of a character who isn't white (she's half white, half Latina), I found myself realizing I had that habit. In Dangerous, when we first meet two important characters, Dragon and Howell, I had Maisie describe Dragon as a "black man" and Howell as a "white woman." Interestingly, the copy editor noted that and asked if the "white woman" signifier was necessary. Because "white" is default, assumed, even if you don't specify. But I thought Maisie would specify so I left it.
I want to challenge myself and all of you to become more observant of this. To toss out the "male and white are default" ideology that's so deeply written into our brains. Change comes after awareness.
I remember when I first told my husband that some suggested that teens wouldn't be able to identify with Maisie because she was too unique in too many ways. That teens like to read about a character most like themselves. And Maisie just had too many points of difference: she was half Latina/half white, she had one arm, she was home schooled, she was a science geek, she was obsessed with space.
He said, "When I was a teenager, I couldn't relate to growing blades out of my knuckles or having super powered healing, or being chased by the Canadian government or having no memory of my past. But I could relate to feeling like a freak, to being an outsider." (he's talking about Wolverine)
I really believe it's not the details of a character's appearance or particular circumstances that most draw in a reader but the shared human the emotions. Books are a great place to realize that, where the visual is in our head and we are inside the character's head. I think we just need to read more books about characters who don't look like us, whatever we may look like, and eventually any misgivings that may still linger about Specific characters being unrelatable will become meaningless.
Thanks to everyone who is talking about this book. You really make writing a book like this possible. Thanks to everyone who came out to my events in Massachusetts and New Hampshire last week! It's great to be home. I'm back to touring next week and I have lots more events this spring so check out my event page.
When I was in the rewrite stage of Dangerous several years ago, a Smart Person read the first 50 pages and immediately let me know her concerns. She said, "Your main character is unrelatable. You made her a home schooled, science geeky, one-armed, half-Paraguayan." Until this person said all that I had never thought it. I mean, of course I knew knew those things about her, but I'd never strung together all those adjectives in my mind, maybe because the decisions about her character came about piece-by-piece while writing the story, not all at once.
Always with any book, writers ask themselves, what choices will make this story more interesting? What will help raise the stakes? What kind of book would I want to read? What will help make this book unlike any book I've ever read before? These character choices just made sense to me.
But the Smart Person told me, "Teens will not relate to someone so unlike them. Maybe with middle grade you could get away with this, but not in YA."
I was shocked. I'd been writing this book off-and-on for years already and never considered this. And then I got a little mad. People exist who are half-Paraguayan or half-anything, or one-handed, or home schooled, or science geeky, or girls, or all of the above. Why can't someone like Maisie be worthy of a story too?
I've encountered similar opinions over the years and began to come to an uncomfortable understanding, one that others before me have also discovered.
In stories (all stories, be they novels, movies, television commercials...) we (in the US) easily accept a certain kind of character as Neutral. Neutral is white, male, able-bodied, straight, not too young (in children's) and not too old (in adult), and not especially extraordinary in any way. For example, Maisie is called "half-Latina" (rather than "half-white," which is also true) because the "white" part is Neutral, assumed, and the "Latina" part is Specific. Traditionally all readers/viewers who are not Neutral have learned to relate to Neutral. E.g.:
But often, apparently, the reverse is not true. Not boys to girls, not whole-bodied to disabled, not young to old, not straight to gay, etc. One result of this is that parts of our population are developing empathy for people different from them but others aren't.
In stories, you can fairly smoothly take one step away from Neutral, maybe two, but more than this is risking turning off a wide audience. This theory was confirmed for me with one of my novels for adults, The Actor & the Housewife. I learned that there's a reason most female main characters in fiction for adults are in their 20s. Many people don't want to read about a woman much older than 30 or (heaven forbid!) in her 40s or 50s. In addition to being older, I made her a mother and a Mormon. I was 3 steps away from Neutral and it was too far for many readers to travel.
Now, with Dangerous, I went even further, taking at least 4 steps away from Neutral. She's not "normal" enough. Too much defines her. Maisie is way too Specific.
Or this is the fear. I really, really hope they're wrong. I really hope that despite not being Neutral, readers find other ways to relate to Maisie. I do think that this is partly what literature is for. If the main character is a lot like us, we learn more about ourselves, which is awesome, but when the main character is different than us, we gain more empathy for the Other, which is also awesome.
I wasn't going to talk about this. I wanted the focus to be on the story and not on a list of adjectives about the main character. Talking about it might make it an Issue and I really don't think this is an issue book. Besides, despite the Smart Person and others, I just didn't think Maisie's 4-steps-from-Neutral would be a big issue for most people. But then the reviews started to come in and I realized that those adjectives would be an issue, no matter what I do.
Here's the beginning of one review: "Maisie Danger Brown (really), smart, home-schooled, one-handed half-Paraguayan daughter of scientists, has always dreamed of being an astronaut." This reads to me like a list of what makes Maisie different from Neutral. My hope is that after reading the entire book a reader will find plenty of ways to relate to Maisie, regardless of her being such a Specific character: she's interesting IMHO, loves her parents, gets excited and scared and overwhelmed, falls in love, is curious, is funny, makes big choices, makes mistakes, has a best friend. I don't mind that reviews mention her one-handedness and girlness and geekiness and Latina-ness. They're not secrets, after all, as we learn those things about her in the very first chapter. But in listing them like that all together at the top of a review, I feel like they put focus on her differences, spelling her out as unrelatable, freaky, perhaps not worth your time.
Maisie was worth my time. I really hope she ends up being worth your time too.
I'd love to hear your thoughts about Neutral and Specific characters in the comments. Who do you relate to? Are there characters or kinds of characters so different from you that you can't immerse yourself in the book? Has that changed at all with your age? Does reading about Specific characters make reading more challenging? A different experience? Or a non-issue for you? Teens, was the Smart Person right about you? Feel free to share anonymously, I really want to know your thoughts. Now that I've listed all those adjectives about Maisie, how does that affect your feelings about this book and your inclination to read it?
Dangerous is on bookshelves Tuesday, March 4. Come see me on tour!