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Shannon Hale shares lessons learned along the way to publishing third Princess Academy book

A novel titled “Princess Academy,” about a girl named Miri and what she learns through attending a school for prospective princesses, was released 10 years ago by Utah author Shannon Hale. The following year, it was named a Newbery Honor Book.

“It’s still the most significant thing that has happened in my career,” Hale said of the Newbery Honor. She is now the author or co-author of 20 books, several of which have been on the New York Times and other best-seller lists and have won awards. One, “Austenland,” has been made into a movie, and another is being optioned for a movie.

“It still thrills me and amazes me," Hale said. "It felt like it was this very loving gift that I was given. At the same time, it felt a huge responsibility to live up to that."

Although "Princess Academy" was intended as a stand-alone book, ideas sparked for sequels. “Palace of Stone” was published in 2012, and the third book, “The Forgotten Sisters” (Bloomsbury, $17.99, ages 10-14), was released on Tuesday, Feb. 24. In "The Forgotten Sisters," Miri becomes a tutor at a princess academy for three royal cousins.

“‘Princess Academy’ really started as a love letter to education,” Hale said. “It was exciting to me to bring that full circle. By the third book, Miri has become a teacher and loves to learn and loves to impart what she has learned to other people.”

It took several years for Hale to come back to the Princess Academy story, and she wrote “Palace of Stone” in secret. When it came to writing “The Forgotten Sisters,” the fear and pressure Hale felt after winning the Newbery Honor had lessened.

“It did have more of a flow to me because I had dealt with the fear in the second book and could move forward with the storytelling,” Hale said.

Princess Academy series

Hale said she "get(s) ideas for books daily.” The ideas that develop into books are the ones she calls “magnet ideas.”

“A book isn’t just one idea; it’s thousands of ideas," she said. "So you get an initial idea and it draws more and more ideas to it."

For “Princess Academy,” the initial idea was seeded from a phrase her husband used to describe another book — "tutor to the princesses."

From there, several questions and ideas starting forming.

“When you start with an idea, you always want to find a character … who has the most to lose and the most to gain through what the story would be,” Hale said. “That’s how Miri was born.”

In “Princess Academy,” it is tradition that when the prince is of age to marry, a princess academy is formed for prospective young ladies. Court priests divine where the future queen will be from.

The priests point to Mount Eskel, a far-away territory where the unique linder stone is quarried. During yearlong training, the girls are taught reading, writing, poise, math, commerce and diplomacy.

Miri is one of the girls sent to the academy while her sister, Marda, who is just a few months older than the prince, stays home.

“Miri is as tough as nails. She’s short and she’s not physically strong. She comes from a place where physical strength is not only prized but necessary,” Hale said. “I love that she can find a way to make a difference in her community and to find her place in the world using her wits and brains.”

It’s through her education at the princess academy that Miri finds ways to help her town.

“She has a very strong sense of justice and isn’t at peace until she sees justice around her,” Hale added. “She has a fire inside of her to make it happen.”

In “Palace of Stone,” Miri and others from Mount Eskel go to the capital, Ashland, for the royal wedding. It’s there that Miri learns about the politics of ruling and revolution, including who to trust and where her heart truly lies.

“Miri makes some bad calls,” Hale said. “She questions who she is and where she belongs.”

‘Forgotten Sisters’

In “Forgotten Sisters,” Miri is about to head back to Mount Eskel when she is summoned by the king and queen to go to the swamp of Lesser Alva to start a princess academy for three royal relatives — Astrid, Felissa and Sus. The king of a nearby kingdom has been promised a bride from Danland and is threatening war.

Being the tutor isn’t without its challenges. Miri finds the girls in a situation completely different from what anyone at the palace let on. The girls live on their own in a linder house bereft of furniture and have to hunt and fish to eat. And they are unaware of the politics influencing at least one of their futures.

As she learns about the sisters and those in the floating village along with their customs, she has to get creative to find ways to teach the girls. Young Sus is eager to learn and kind; Felissa is very sensitive to the emotions around her; and Astrid, who is older than Miri, is resistant to change.

Miri suspects there is more to the king and queen’s interest in the adventurous and close sisters than what they are letting on, and those in the neighboring kingdom aren’t being patient, leading the girls on an adventure where each one of them is needed to help thwart a war and hopefully get back home.

Miri also learns more about the properties of linder stone and how to best use it to help those around her.

On her way home after serving a mission for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in Paraguay, Hale and her parents visited Lake Titicaca on the border of Bolivia and Peru and saw the floating village of the Reed Islands, which the village in the fictional Lesser Alva is based on.

Writing and mistakes

Hale has published 17 books in the decade since "Princess Academy."

“I’ve learned to have less patience with my own mistakes,” Hale said. “That’s helped me be a faster writer.”

Instead of calling something “good enough,” she’ll revise it earlier than she previously did and do fewer drafts. “I face the mistakes more fearlessly and more quickly.”

She also learned more about what kind of books readers prefer.

“Readers are much more likely to get behind a character like Ani from ‘The Goose Girl,’ who's a good person that has bad things happen to her, than a character like Enna from ‘Enna Burning,’ who makes big mistakes,” she said. “People want to root for characters who have tragedy happen to them. They have a harder time with characters who make mistakes.”

As she goes to book events, she said, it’s gratifying to hear that one of her books, which range from graphic novels for middle grade readers to books for adults, has helped someone’s perspective on reading.

“That something I wrote became a gateway for anybody to fall in love or re-fall in love with reading is massive,” Hale said. She added that “it’s a lovely thing” to hear that a story helped someone through a rough time.

Hale is currently working on nine different projects, and several books in the Princess in Black series that she and her husband, Dean, co-authored, are scheduled to be released. The film rights to "The Princess in Black" have recently been optioned by Universal Pictures with Marc Platt and Adam Siegel as producers.

If you go …

What: Shannon Hale book signing

When: Thursday, Feb. 26, 6:30 p.m.

Where: The King's English, 1511 S. 1500 East, Salt Lake City


Note: Places in the signing line are reserved for those who purchase a copy of the featured book from The King's English.

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