Books: rapunzel's revenge
  How it came to be

"Why after writing several novels did you turn to a graphic novel?"

The desire for this project spawned on two fronts. The first I discuss here. And the second: weighing in at 290 pounds, measuring six foot three and a half inches, the O'Malley from Rush Valley, Deeeeeean Haaaaaaale.

My husband, the infamous Dean Hale, has always been a part of my book writing. He's been the first reader of my books and reads each one at least three times during the rewrite process, giving wise feedback. He's also a disturbingly good writer himself (and I mean disturbing in every sense of the word). It was an irresistible (and disturbing) temptation to see what we could come up with if we collaborated on a book.

Deciding the format was easy--Dean's been a lifelong comic book addict/aficionado. He introduced me to comic books after we were married, and I fell in love. I love reading a good graphic novel between other books. It cleanses the palate, so to speak. It's a refreshing storytelling style, combining the visual momentum of cinema with the imagination and extended story possibilities of prose. I've always thought, as well, that comic books/graphic novels could be a wonderful gift to some reluctant readers and to children straddling the gap between picture books and chapter books. When Dean and I were first contemplating writing a graphic novel together, I'd found very few graphic novels for children, and most of them weren't the kind of book I would have fallen in love with as a kid. My internal reader (a combination of myself now and myself younger) is my primary audience for everything I write.

Our first thought was to pitch something to DC Comics, a major comic book publisher famous for Superman, Batman, Wonder Woman, etc., or Marvel (Spider-man, X-men, and other -men). It never occurred to me at that time that a children's book publisher like Bloomsbury would be interested. I had no idea that many of the major children's book publishers were starting to look into publishing graphic novels and never dreamed that a few years later this genre would explode into prominence. At the time, it seemed a very risky idea and one bound to failure. But we were passionate and gave it a go.

This was spring 2005. We scoured the DC universe for an interesting character or story that wasn't currently being written, one with a girl heroine that we could write for a younger audience. Finding one we liked, we wrote a 23-page first issue and outlined another 5 for a 6-issue mini-series proposal. We waited to hear back. Nada. Never did hear a thing. But in the meantime, we'd enjoyed working together on the other project and had an itch to do it again. This time, an original story.

We thought we'd combine our strengths, my love of fairy tales and Dean's love of superheroes. What fairy tale heroine could we adapt into a superheroine? Little Red Riding Hood, empowered with wolf-speech? Sleeping Beauty, able to put others to sleep? We explored many (and may return to some with subsequent books), but I kept coming back to Rapunzel. With those long braids, she could do some serious damage, become proficient in lasso and whip. I remember (I hate to say it, honey) that Dean wasn't really sure about the Rapunzel idea. We kept brainstorming, but I fell more and more in love with Rapunzel.

"It could be a western!" I said.

Eventually, he saw the light (I can be very persuasive), and soon fell in love with the idea too. We had no clue where to pitch it, though. DC and Marvel don't take unsolicited manuscripts. I truly didn't even think my own publisher would be interested. Then one day I was talking to my editor on the phone about something entirely different. I hadn't meant to pitch the Rapunzel graphic novel idea to her. But it was so much on my mind, so exciting to me, it just came out.

"Rapunzel in the Old West. She uses her braids as whip and lasso, becomes a vigilante hero. A graphic novel. What do you think?"

My editor was interested (really? Are you sure?), but she wanted to see something first. Fair enough. It was a loony idea, after all, and neither I nor Bloomsbury had ever done a graphic novel before. So Dean and I began work on the script. We liked to discuss it most whenever we were in motion--we'd take evening walks with Max in his stroller and talk Rapunzel. I remember a particularly significant day in the creation of the story was while we were in the UK on book tour, riding a train to York. We talked Rapunzel the whole way and had a decent plot structure hammered out by the end. It took a couple more months to iron out Part 1 of the script, then we were ready to send it and a book summary to my editor. (Nathan Hale became part of our pitch--for that story, see here.)

Dean and I were elated, ecstatic, and astounded that Bloomsbury bought the book. It was really going to happen now! Dean's such a pessimist, he thought they'd turn it down for sure. Ha! Proved him wrong. Next we set out to write the full script.

Some people believe that co-writing a book takes less time, but it's just the opposite. I've heard Jane Yolen talk about this as well--collaborating is harder and more time intensive than doing it yourself. Going back and forth, coming to compromises, finding the same vision for the story, it all takes time. Why do it? Because you end up with a story you wouldn't have found on your own. Dean added so much to this book--humor*, a sense of action, landscape, character voice, and an innate understanding of the comic book medium. It's fun to write a scene then pass it off to your co-writer, waiting for his reaction. And exciting to read what he wrote in turn.

I'm so pleased with the final result. Maybe because there were two other people responsible for this book (my co-writer and the artist) I feel a freedom to gush about it without bragging. I love this book. I love the characters, the landscape, the story the medium allowed us to tell. I hope Dean and I get the chance to do many more graphic novels together. And there will be at least one--the rapunzel sequel, calamity jack, is being illustrated even now. That will be out late 2009 or early 2010. And if I may be so permitted to suggest, it's as awesome or perhaps even more awesome than its predecessor. Yee-ha!

*Dean totally claims all the funny lines, even the ones that I wrote. At least half of them are mine, I swear! Which ones? We've both honestly forgot who wrote what. Maybe it's better that way.

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