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.
That’s evident in the 304-page story as it’s delightfully told and has nice twist to the traditional fairy tales and princess stories and includes a wide variety in the cast of characters. It plays off many of the clichés and stereotypes in the stories without becoming one itself, too.
“The Storybook of Legend” also presents how expectations and choices can affect others.
Hale said she identified with Raven, who didn’t particularly want to walk in a predetermined path that everyone expected her to.
“I wouldn’t want someone to force me to become something I didn’t want to become,” Hale said.
If Raven decides not to take her spot in the story, she puts all of the characters in her fairy tale at risk for going “Poof!”
“One of the things that I like about this world is that it’s not black and white,” Hale said. “There are two sides to the situation, the Royals and the Rebels. And you let readers decide for themselves what they would do.”
Her 9-year-old son read “The Storybook of Legends,” and she was encouraged by his opinion about the ending.
“I like this kind of story, where you don’t have to be one thing or other,” Hale said. “You can listen to both sides and make the best choice and not make one side evil.”
She's written a half-dozen other e-books that are short introductions to several of the characters, including Briar Beauty, daughter of Sleeping Beauty, Ashlynn Ella, daughter of Cinderella, Madeline Hatter, daughter of the Mad Hatter, and Hunter Huntsman, along with the "Tale of the Two Sisters."
Hale will be collaborating with her husband, Dean, on the next two books in the series, and the second one is due out in March 2014.
They also have the four-book Princess in Black graphic novel series through Candlewick Press that is currently being illustrated. A third book in Hale’s Princess Academy series is also in the works, and she’s also writing one of the books in Scholastic’s Spirit Animals series.
One of her books for adults, “Austenland,” was recently made into a movie and was released earlier this summer in theaters.
And she has ideas for several other books, including a couple in the Austenland world and a sequel to “Dangerous.”
That is, if she finds time to write them and the twins eventually get potty trained.
If you go ...
What: Shannon Hale book signing
When: Tuesday, Oct. 15, 7 p.m.
Where: Provo City Library, 550 N. University Ave., Provo
Note: Tickets are free but required; they are available at the reference desk and limited to four per person.
The world of Ever After High
Email: email@example.com Twitter: CTRappleye