Shannon Hale is the author of The Books of Bayern series (Bloomsbury), whichincludes The Goose Girl (2005), Enna Burning (2006), River Secrets (2008) and the fourth and most recent, Forest Born. Her other novels include the Newbery Honor BookPrincess Academy and Book of a Thousand Days. Hale lives in Utah with her husband and two children.
What made you decide to write Forest Born?
I really just go where the story takes me. It’s funny—with every one of the Bayern books, I thought each one was a stand-alone. The character of Enna was so different from Ani in Goose Girl, and after writing about Ani who was so quiet, the idea of writing about a character so fiery, so outspoken and dangerous and therefore so different from Ani as Enna is, was what attracted me to Enna Burning. And then Razo in River Secrets was just the most vivid character, such a joy to write, his dialogue was so natural and fun that I couldn’t help but write his story.
And then I thought I really was done with the series. But then, after a while, it felt incomplete. In the back of my mind it felt as thought there was still something I hadn’t yet dealt with—powers I hadn’t yet explored that I wanted to explore. And then along came this character Rin, who was both challenging and delightful to me, and who inspired me to write Forest Born. I am always attracted to a character who has something in them, some power or story that I haven’t explored before.
Forest Born brings together three heroines from earlier books in the series—Isi (who is Ani from Goose Girl), Enna and Dasha (from River Secrets).
Without giving too much away, can you talk about what makes each girl unique?
I never know how much to say regarding spoilers! The magic system in the Books of Bayern explores the idea that everything has a language. Every animal, every plant, every element of nature can communicate with its own kind, but then there are certain people who can learn those languages and can communicate with these different elements. For example, The Goose Girl is about a girl who learns the language of birds. Enna Burning is about Enna learning the language of fire, a power that’s so dangerous it can potentially kill, and so her character must endure a battle of wills as she struggles to master it. A character in River Secrets, Dasha, speaks the language of water, which is also a language of great power, one that can be very destructive, too. The powers explored in Forest Born intrigued me because they are so quiet. With the earlier books the powers are flashy, they erupt in the middle of battle. Yet in Forest Born, Rin’s powers are so internal, and we can also see how even these quiet powers—in the wrong hands—can be destructive of an entire kingdom and in the right hands they can be so wonderful. Throughout Forest Born, Rin is standing on the brink of what she will do and where she will go with these powers.
Can you say a little more about your new heroine, Rin?
Well, Rin is Razo’s little sister—I often say if I have to pick one character to be friends with it would be Razo, he’s such a darling to me and so funny—but Rin is the youngest of seven children, with six older brothers. She lives in this huge, chaotic, crazy, loving family. And between her personality and these powers growing inside her that she doesn’t understand, Rin begins to feel like she doesn’t fit in this family anymore, or that she could ever belong again. And so her story and her adventure begins.
Rin is actually the most challenging character I’ve ever written. She was so tricky—figuring her out and figuring out how to express her story about killed me! It took me three years. I also cut more out of this book than any other. There were times when I thought, I can’t look at this anymore. The fact that this book somehow came out feels almost a miracle and now it is just what I wanted it to be!
Of all the Bayern books, which feature strong, powerful girls, Forest Born seems to be the most girl-power centered of all—and it’s the only one without a romance. Were you trying to say or show anything in particular to your readers about what girls are capable of—and without the help of the boys and men in their lives?
Originally I had a character, a boy who was a significant part of the plot and Rin’s love interest. But as I was writing I realized that Rin was in no shape for a romance. She was more lost than any character I’d written before, so it wouldn’t have made sense for her to have a romance. So I decided not to include him in the end. I also realized I wanted to send my girls on an adventure together. I didn’t intend to make a statement about girl power, but I also wanted to see what they’d go off and do together. The guys really would’ve gotten in the way and the girls would have had to worry about them getting taken hostage and all that. So then this became a book about friendship between girls, too—it’s sort of a fantasy road trip book.
After PrincessAcademy won a Newbery Honor, did your writing life change?
I feel very fortunate that when I got the news about the award for Princess Academy, which was my third book, River Secrets, my fourth, was already completed and so I didn’t feel that spectacular pressure. When I got the call, I was working on Rapunzel’s Revenge (Bloomsbury, 2008), which is a graphic novel, and because it was so different than PrincessAcademy, again I didn’t feel this overwhelming pressure.
What’s so strange and wonderful is that, if I thought any of my books would win, I imagined it would be Book of a Thousand Days, and that the least likely of all my books to win would be Princes Academy—and then it won! What this showed me is that I have no control. And it’s a wonderful thing to write for myself and let the crazy world worry about those other decisions.
Is this the very last Book of Bayern, or can fans expect another?
I don’t know! I’m afraid to ever say. It’s kind of like how I’ve had two babies in my life and I feel that the moment I give away my baby things, the high chair, etc., I’m going to get pregnant again. I love Bayern books and I love the world in which they are set, but I just don’t know.
The biggest request I get from fans, though, after a PrincessAcademy2, is a Finn book. If I had a story about Finn that I couldn’t resist, then I’d write it. Until then, I’ll wait for that story to strike me over the head.
Stephenie Meyer endorsed your new book (she said that your stories are “magic”), and you’ve endorsed hers as well. How and why did you two start supporting each other’s writing?
We’re good friends. I adore her—she’s one of the most fabulous people ever. Her name is just decorating so many of my books now—bless her heart! We are big fans of each other’s books and our books are different enough that it’s really fun to share each other’s work.
What can your fans expect next?
I’m working on a book called Daisy Danger Brown. I plucked a character originally out of Rin’s story and decided to put him in modern day. His name is Wilder, and then her name is Daisy. I don’t know what to say about them and this story. It might be one book or three. I’ve written an outline for the entire thing—something I never do. It’s a big ol’ epic book, and it’s a crazy adventure. I want to say it’s science fiction—but that apparently has a negative connotation, so I’ll say it’s cool science fiction. It’s a girl power book, too—definitely a book about a girl with powers! And it’s a kick butt adventure. It has a lot of humor, too. It’s very hard to be funny in a period fantasy because the scope is so limited. But in contemporary writing, there is so much opportunity for humor and I love to be funny!
Will you be going on tour any time soon?
Yes. I am touring in the northeast in September and again in November. I am starting in Washington, D.C. at the National Book Festival and then going up to Vermont, Connecticut and Boston. Then I am coming back for Philadelphia, D.C. again and Virginia. I am traveling with my two-year-old—we’ll see how it goes! I just can’t bear to leave her home for nine days so I’m taking her with me.
Forest Born by Shannon Hale. Bloomsbury, $17.99 Sept. ISBN 978-1-59990-167-1