An Interview with Best-Selling Author and Past Alum, Shannon Hale


Credit: Shannon Hale

Agatha Hunnicutt

I had the amazing opportunity to interview New York Times Best-Selling author, Shannon Hale. I really loved her series, The Unbeatable Squirrel Girl, which she co-wrote with her husband, Dean Hale. So when I learned that Hale went to West High as a teenager, I knew she would be a fantastic person to talk with. She had some really interesting answers and some great advice for aspiring writers.


Q: Can you introduce yourself for the paper?


A: “Hi, I’m Shannon Hale. I grew up in Salt Lake, attending Wasatch Elementary, Bryant Intermediate, and from 1988-1992, West High (my maiden name was Shannon Bryner). I’m a professional writer and have published 30+ books for young readers and teens, including The Princess in Black series, Rapunzel’s Revenge, Princess Academy, Ever After High, Dangerous, [and] The Goose Girl. One of my books for adults, Austenland, was made into a movie. Many of my books have been best-sellers and won awards like the Newbery Honor. My newest, Friends Forever, a graphic novel memoir about my eighth grade year at Bryant, is currently on the New York Times bestseller list.”


Q: What is it like to be an author? What is your workday like?


A: “Right now it’s 10am and I’m still in my pajamas lying in bed as I answer this interview. So the biggest pro: pajamas! My four kids are at school, so I will work on a revision of a graphic novel script until they come home, taking breaks for tea, lunch, [and] stretches. After school we’ll do all the after school stuff of a mom (running kids around to appointments, cleaning up, making dinner, etc). When they’re in bed, I may try to get another hour of writing in before I’m too tired, or I’ll read a book.”


Q: Do you ever have writers’ block or lack inspiration? If so, how do you deal with that?


A: “Writer’s block is the fear of not writing perfectly. If I were to ask you to write 1000 words in an hour and it didn’t matter what they were, you’d have no trouble at all. But if you had to somehow guess the “perfect” words, you’d probably freeze! So I give myself permission to write badly. First drafts are always terrible. I am a storyteller through revisions.”


Q: Are there certain things or people that make you more inspired?


A: “I read, watch movies, watch great TV, talk with people, [or] go outside. Anything can be inspiring depending on what we need at the moment.”


Q: Is there a certain genre of book you prefer to write (graphic novels, kids’, young adult, adult, etc.)?


A: “I’m one of those oddball writers who don’t like to be squished into any category. I’ve written for every age group and just about every genre. I haven’t done a horror story yet…so I’m working on that.”


Q: Do you have a favorite book you’ve written?


A: “That would feel like choosing a favorite child! Some readers say Book of a Thousand Days might be my best. And they might be right.”


Q: Do you work from home or from an office? Has that changed at all with the pandemic?


A: “I’ve never had an office. The pandemic meant trying to write while homeschooling four kids. That was less-effective. But we had some fun movie nights with lots of popcorn.”


Q: Has the pandemic affected your job in other ways?


A: “A lot of authors make most of their income not from book sales but from traveling and doing presentations at schools and book festivals. That ended [during] the pandemic. Because of my kids, I never traveled as much as some, so I wasn’t as affected. But I really missed going on book tours for the books [I] released in the past year and a half.”


Q: I know you’ve worked with your husband on a few projects, what is it like to work with a family member?


A: “I met my husband, Dean Hale, at West in 1989. He was student body Vice President—back when he had hair! We didn’t date in high school but were close friends and eventually [got] married eleven years later. I love working with him. I’m a collaborator by nature, and writing is a lonely business, so for me having writing or illustrating partners makes it more fun. And Dean and I just work so well together. I certainly couldn’t co-write a novel with just anyone. It has to be the perfect fit.”


Q: What was your experience at West High like?


A: “It’s hard to sum up four years! Some highlights: I was in charge of our Spirit Week hallway decoration junior and senior years (do you still do those?) and we won both years! I loved drama and was in some plays, but no musicals because I can’t carry a tune. I was always broke and often didn’t get lunch—or would walk down to the Subway on the corner and buy a piece of sandwich bread for thirty cents. I ran for and won sophomore class Vice President. I ran as a senior and lost. I was on the literary magazine staff and TV West. And mostly, I just liked hanging out with friends.”


Q: Were there any classes/teachers/programs/experiences that inspired you to become an author or sparked your interest in writing?


A: “I’ve wanted to be an author since I was 10 and started writing books in fourth grade. At West, in Drama, we did playwriting and other scene writing, and I kind of lived for that. I loved any creative writing assignments we got to do in Lit classes, and I took a Creative Writing elective one year. Mr. Whiting, Ms. Hunt, Ms. Hargraves, Ms. Barnes, Ms. Fowler, Ms. Romney–thank you!”


Q: How does what you learned at West (or college) help you with your job now?


A: “It’s all cumulative. I went on to get a Bachelor’s in English with a Creative Writing emphasis from the U and an MFA in Creative Writing from the University of Montana, and eventually published my first novel after I’d been writing for 19 years (and receiving a ton of rejections). To be a novelist, you don’t need any particular degree, but the experience of writing and rewriting in classes was invaluable to me. Writing is like playing a sport or an instrument—it takes a lot of just doing it to develop skills.”


Q: Do you have any suggestions or tips for students wanting to pursue writing?


A: “Write. Read. And have fun with it! Don’t worry about publication for as long as you can. It’s a crazy, unstable business. So just focus on the fun of storytelling.”


Q: Did you consider other professions? What made you decide to become an author?


A: “Being an author was the only option for me. I would write books whether or not anyone read them. I HAVE to write. I have worked in other fields to pay the bills. Our family wasn’t able to live on our book income till I had been publishing for 10+ years. So it’s always good to have back-up plans! But writing is a flexible skill. When I wasn’t making money from writing books, I could still make money working for companies who needed good writers.”


Q: What projects are you working on right now?


A: “More graphic novels. Novels. Screenplays. Picture books. I’m always working on too much. But I have a hard time turning away great story ideas in my head, so I try to tackle them all.”


That concluded my interview with Shannon Hale. I found it really interesting to hear about her life and journey in becoming an author; it’s crazy to think a part of that journey was spent here at West! If you’re interested in learning more about her work, you can visit her website at