Shannon Hale's 'The Storybook of Legends' is a twist on traditional fairy tales

Published: Saturday, Oct. 12 2013 3:00 p.m. MDT

It was a project so secret that Utah author Shannon Hale couldn’t mention it by name to anyone, including her agent or editors, whether via email, phone or otherwise referencing it.

They had a codename for it: Project Lightning.

“It was really cloak and dagger,” Hale said in a telephone interview.

Even when “Ever After High: The Storybook of Legends” (Little, Brown and Company, $14.99, ages 8-12) featuring the children of well-known fairy tale characters, was announced at BookExpo America earlier this year along with the dolls and other products from Mattel, and they could call it by its correct name, it was difficult to not refer to it by its codename.

When the publisher approached her about the project, Hale and her agent had to sign a non-disclosure agreement before hearing what the project was about.

At the time, Hale had just finished “Dangerous,” a young adult book due out next spring with Bloomsbury, and for the first time in about a decade she didn’t have a book under contract. The wife and mother of four, including a set of 3-year-old twins who are resisting potty training, was planning to take a break from full-time writing.

Her agent told her that there was a publisher that wanted to talk to her about a project, but she would have to sign a non-disclosure agreement first.

“I was too curious,” Hale said, but figured it was going to be retelling of a fairy tale or princess story, as that’s what she is known for. “I thought, ‘I’m not going to be interested.’ ”

Ever After High is a boarding school where children of fairy tale characters go to school, and on Legacy Day they must commit to continuing their role in their story or, according to Headmaster Grimm, they and their story will be forgotten and vanish.

It’s great for those like Apple White, the daughter of Snow White, who has an already determined happily ever after.

Apple is destined to marry Prince Daring Charming, oldest son of King Charming, and their fairy tale also includes Hunter Huntsman, whose father was the huntsman who saved Snow White and Red Riding Hood.

But it’s not as easy of a decision for Raven Queen, the daughter of the Evil Queen, who really doesn’t want to be evil but is still enrolled in classes like General Villainy, Home Evilnomics, Poison Fruit Theory, History of Evil Spells and Kingdom Mismanagement and has to fight to get into Muse-ic Class.

“But before I turn my whole life over to evil and terror and despair, can I just be absolutely certain there’s no other choice?” Raven Queen tells Apple White.

Apple White is concerned that Raven Queen won’t make the appropriate declaration on Legacy Day, so she arranges for them to be roommates.

“That’s so deliciously awkward,” Hale said of the two future enemies being roommates. “I could see that there is room for stories and there was a lot of room for humor, especially. I was very intrigued by the lightness of it and the cleverness of it and playfulness of it.”

She flew out to Mattel headquarters to meet with its officials and she still figured she wasn’t going to do the project.

“On the plane ride out, I started writing and I couldn’t stop myself,” Hale said of the ideas that came. By the time the plane landed, she had 15 pages written.

She had a 200-page bible from them for the Ever After High world. She helped create certain aspects within that framework and they also took her suggestions on some aspects.

“It turned out to be a lot of fun,” Hale said.

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