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Interview with Shannon Hale - On Balancing Writing and Life

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SH: It took me a long time to admit that I was a writer. I wouldn‘t give myself permission to take the time—or to take it seriously—for a long, long time. But you started off in a different way. You already had three kids. 

SM: I did not call myself an author without making some kind of snide comment for at least two years after the book was sold.

SH: Two years?

SM: I had this really strong sense of paranoia—like it wasn‘t real, that the whole deal was a practical joke—for a very long time. Because the contract negotiation took a good nine months, so for all of that time someone could have been stringing me along. It wasn‘t until the check came—and didn‘t bounce—that I really started to believe it.

SH: Have people changed toward you—family, friends, and acquaintances?

SM: You know, because when I started writing I had a bunch of little babies, we‘ve moved a couple times. And you lose track of people, anyway, so I haven‘t held on to many of my friends from before I started writing, just because of location.

It‘s the same way with my college roommates. We‘re lucky if we get a phone call in once a year anymore. Then I‘ve gotten enormously busy—I‘ve changed—I don‘t have as much time for social things. And I do think that I probably lost some friends just out of sheer neglect. Because I wasn‘t going to neglect my kids.

And that summer with Twilight, I couldn‘t do anything social. Why would I spend my time away from Forks when I could be there?

SH: Yeah.

SM: And that summer with Twilight, I couldn‘t do anything social. Why would I spend my time away from Forks when I could be there? I‘m getting better at balancing it, and I have some really great friends now, which is nice. I have a lot of extended family, too, and they‘ve all been very cool and supportive. But because there are so many of them, we haven‘t been able to spend a lot of time together. I have seventy-five first cousins on one side of my family, so it‘s not like we can get together and party very often. Most of us have several kids. My dad had a stepmom with five kids; his dad had seven.... It‘s just a really big family. [Laughs] A big warm family, and nobody‘s been uncool about it. It‘s all been very nice.

SH: I think family is good.... They knew you as an obnoxious young person. [Laughs] SM: Very obnoxious. Yeah, I‘m just Stephenie to them. SH: I don‘t think any success I‘ve had has gotten to my head, because I can‘t really take

it seriously, or absorb it, anyway. But if I ever got close, I think my family would be there to tear me back down. [SM laughs] Which is what family‘s for.

SM: Yeah, my husband‘s really good at keeping me humble, you know? Because he‘s such a math person. If something‘s not quantifiable—if it doesn‘t fit into an equation—it can‘t possibly be important. And so, to him, books are like: Oh, you know... isn‟t that nice? Little fairy stories. To me, books are the whole world, and it‘s such a different viewpoint. So that helps. And then, like you, I don‘t trust this to last for a second.

SH: Yeah.SM: And when negative things happen with my career, I kind of expect them—more than I expect the positive. It‘s almost like: Yes, this is what I thought was going to happen! I saw this one coming! Because I am a pessimist—raised in a long tradition of fine pessimists [SH laughs] who have never expected anything good for decades. So I come by it naturally. [Laughs] So with every book that comes out, I think: Oh, this is it. This is the last time anybody‟s going to want to publish me. And maybe it‘s healthier than thinking: I am the best! I‟m so amazing! I don‘t think that‘s a healthy way to be. It‘d probably be nice to be somewhere in the middle, but... [Laughs]

SH: In some ways, I would love to have that armor—the wonderful author‘s ego—that I am right, and I know what I‘m doing, and I‘m brilliant.

SM: Yeah, that might be nice. I think it‘s really good for my kids to see that I have my own life outside of them—that

I‘m a real person. SH: So, we‘re both mothers. And I think that mothers are famously guilt-ridden creatures.

[SM laughs] I mean, we never succeed—we‘re always failing at something. So have you had to deal with guilt of, you know, taking the time—allowing yourself to take the time to be a writer, and to pursue this?

SM: Occasionally. It doesn‘t bother me that often. I think it‘s because my kids are really, really great. They‘re good and they‘re happy. I‘ve seen kids who are treated like the center of the universe, and I don‘t think that‘s entirely healthy. I think it‘s really good for my kids to see that I have my own life outside of them—that I‘m a real person. I think that‘s going to help them when they grow up and have children—to realize that they‘re still who they are.

And then I am pretty careful about when I write. Now it‘s mostly when they‘re in school. When they were little, though, I never shut myself away in an office—I‘d always written in the middle of their madness—so I‘d be there, and I could get whatever they needed. They know I‘m listening. And they‘re also pretty good about saying: ―Okay, Mommy‘s writing right now. Unless I‘m bleeding, I‘m not going to bug her.‖

And I also write at night. When they come home from school, we do homework and I hear about their day and I make them snacks. The nice thing about writing is, you can do it on your own schedule. But you do lose sleep. You know, I feel like I haven‘t slept eight hours in ten years.

If you start getting a little bit of dialogue in your head, you‘re doomed—you‘ll never get to sleep.

SH: It‘s like having a newborn, writing a book, isn‘t it?

SM: It is. Well, because you lie there in bed—and, oh, heaven help you if you start thinking about plotline. If you start getting a little bit of dialogue in your head, you‘re doomed— you‘ll never get to sleep.

SH: It is so true. I can sleep pretty well at the beginning of the night. If, for whatever reason, I wake up—or my son comes in and wakes me up anytime between the hours of two and five—and if my mind, for one second, goes back to the book I‘m writing right now, I‘m done for the rest of the night. I can‘t go back to sleep, because my mind starts working over and over it. I‘ve had to train my brain to do that, on purpose, so that I‘m always writing, even when I‘m not.

SM: You at least put things in the back of your head, so that you‘re solving the problems.

SH: Exactly—so when I sit down to write it‘s more productive, because I‘ve been working over it in my brain. But, like you say, when you do that in the middle of the night, you‘re doomed.

SM: Well, one of my problems right now is that I have not committed to a project at this point in time, and I‘m waiting to be done with the publicity. And that‘s never really going to happen, so I need to just commit to one. I have about fourteen different books, and every night it‘s a new one. And I‘m coming up with solutions for this one point that really bothered me in one story. I thought maybe I couldn‘t write it because of this one point. But then I‘ll wake up at four o‘clock in the morning with a perfect solution, and then I can‘t go back to sleep.

SH: I have found if I just write it down, then my mind can stop working over it. SM: Exactly.

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