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Bestselling Author Shannon Hale Talks About the True Heroes Project

BY HANNAH HANEY

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Some of the biggest names in middle-grade publishing have banded together to write a collection of modern-day fairytales based on the lives of real children: Children that have cancer and very big dreams.

True Heroes: A Treasury of Modern-Day Fairy Tales was written by bestselling authors Shannon Hale, Brandon Mull, Jonathan Diaz, and more as a way to give these children a chance to live out their fantasies and see their stories come to life. Each story is introduced with a brief bio of the child and photographs of the child digitally inserted into the role of their dreams: ballerina, sports star, superhero, baker, and more. Royalties from “True Heroes” are being donated to the Anything Can Be Project, a foundation started by Diaz.

These authors were able to help make dreams come true through the power of stories. Sick children suddenly become anything and everything they want to be when the grow-up. For a little while, they can forget medication and treatments and imagine life as a fairytale. After all, dragons are easier to fight than cancer and riding horses sounds better than setting through chemo.

We caught up with contributor Shannon Hale, author of the best-selling middle-grade series The Books of Bayern and Princess Academy, to see what it was like to help make a child’s dream come true. (Photo by Jenn Florence.)

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1) What was your initial reaction on being approached for this project?

I’d gotten a couple of emails about it asking me to participate, but I get so many emails I kind of scan them and often forget them. I’m a mess. Then someone sent me a link to the gorgeous photos and I was blown away. A picture really is worth a thousand emails. I thought, I want to be a part of that! I want to help people feel with words how I feel looking at these pictures—full of awe at the awesomeness and power and creativity of children.

2) What was it like to work with other authors toward this common goal of helping children?

This wasn’t a collaborative process among the writers at least. We all worked on our stories alone. I didn’t know who else was involved till I got the book proofs, and I was like, hey! Ally Condie and Brandon Mull are in this too! They are two of my best author friends. And so many of the other contributors are friends too. I know them all to be warm, compassionate people who genuinely care about children, so this book feels like such a loving project.

3) Tell us about your story in this collection.

My girl was Lilly, who survived abysmal odds to survive. I learned that she was strong, a real warrior, and loved horses and princesses. Say no more! A horse-riding warrior princess is so my thing. She was just a baby, and her mother had to do a lot of the fighting for her, so I wanted to make sure to include her mother, who had to be a warrior too.

4) Tell us about the experience of using stories to make these dreams come true?

My girl is still little so I’m not sure she’s read my story yet. Maybe it’ll be a cool thing for her to see when she gets older. But I bet she’s seen that gorgeous picture of her as a warrior on horseback. I think the pictures are the heart of this book and the stories are just bonus content.

5) As a bestselling author who is now able to use your notoriety for something good, what’s the best piece of advice you have for aspiring writers who would love to be in your shoes one day?

Writing novels is my dream job. I spent two decades yearning to be where I am now—and studying, preparing, working and reading of course. I feel so grateful to get to do what I love, I decided early in my career I wanted to always be actively giving back in some way. At times that has meant donating a percentage of royalties of certain books to relevant charities; raising awareness of social issues like the shaming of boys away from reading “girl books” and the lack of and need for diversity in literature; starting a writing conference with all proceeds going to charities; and other projects, like donating writing to a charity-driven anthology. I think we can all do good things, regardless of profession or any relative notoriety. I guess my advice for aspiring writers would be to not wait for publication but be the kind of person now who gives back and supports children, literacy, and the community. But also to be aware of your limitations, to know it’s okay to say no, to choose carefully where you put your time. We have to fight for our writing time. In addition to writing I’m the mother of four young children, and I can’t say yes to 99% of the requests I get. It took me years to get over that guilt and be consoled knowing that I’m trying my best.

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Brian A. Klems is the editor of this blog, online editor of Writer's Digest and author of the popular gift bookOh Boy, You're Having a Girl: A Dad's Survival Guide to Raising Daughters.

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