New York Times bestselling author Shannon Hale won a Newbery Honor for THE PRINCESS ACADEMY; she's written novels for adults (one of which was adapted for the big screen); and with her husband, has written graphic novels. In all, she's written 20 books.
She does everything, and does it well, and we are incredibly lucky to have her on the faculty of the SCBWI summer conference in Los Angeles, where she is giving a keynote and leading an intensive on world building in fantasy.
In addition to all of her exceptional books, Shannon has been at the forefront of discussion on gender equity when it comes to authors. She has a way of bringing up these issues that is clear, passionate, and perspective-broadening.
On behalf of Team Blog, I asked her a few questions to get us excited for her presence at the conference.
Did you ever expect to become a spokeswoman for feminist issues in reading? Why do you feel called to do this?
I've always thought about gender issues. I have memories from kindergarten, noticing that boys got different treatment, that girls were considered lesser. In junior high, with my allowance money I bought a sign that said, "God created man before woman. You always make a rough draft before the final masterpiece."
I hung it in my locker at school. Boys made fun of me for it. I was trying to declare something with that sign, but I didn't know what.
The idea that girls were lesser haunted me. I felt certain it wasn't true at times, and other times not so certain at all. I noticed and cataloged the portrayal of girls vs boys in books, movies, the assumptions teachers and parents and peers made about people based on their gender. I think I assumed everyone else in the world was also interested in gender issues.
I started blogging in 2002. Gender issues naturally came up on my blog, because it's something I think about so often. I did a yearly count of female:male speaking roles in animated movies. Spoke up about "boys will be boys" mentalities. Wrote about being marginalized as a woman writer. Overhearing my neighbor tell her daughter that when boys hit and pushed her, "that just means they like you." Lack of representation. The number of times interviewers have asked me, "Why do you write strong female characters?" and how I've never been asked, "Why do you write strong male characters?" Stuff like that.
And I was surprised by how many of my blog readers commented, "I've never thought about these things before. I've never noticed." I don't think I'm a spokesperson for anything. But I have started making an effort to point out gender bias when I see it, because I do see it, and I know now that not everyone does.
And it's so important. So important. If I make one change in the world, I hope it's getting more people to question why boys are shamed for/kept away from reading books about girls. The more we question the idea that it's normal and natural and fine, the more we'll realize it's not and things will slowly start to change.
You're offering an intensive on world building. What's your favorite bit of world building from your books?
I loved creating the world in BOOK OF A THOUSAND DAYS. I did fascinating research on Mongolia and the era of Genghis Khan and then got to build a world from the ground up: history, language, geography, culture, religion. Every detail in the world of that book was essential for the story I told, and that was very satisfying.
What the heck does Squeetus (the title of her website) mean?
My husband made it up. It's the formal version of one of his many nicknames for me. Squeeter Pig is a more informal version; also Piggie. Mostly it's just fun to say.