Saturday, December 14, 2013

Holiday Shopping - Judging A Book By Its Cover

On a recent trip to New York City, I ducked into the Scholastic Store. I was looking for a Christmas gift for my niece who's in first grade. Ella Brett loves shoes and this book caught my eye:

Of course I had to buy it. I fell in love with the cover!

I also went shopping at Inkwood Books in Tampa for my friend Cynthia Chapman Willis. Cindy is a middle grade author who adores animals. This is the gorgeous cover that caught my eye: 

Of course I had to buy it. I fell in love with the cover art. 

And finally, I bought myself a book at Barnes and Noble. I bought COUNTING BY 7s because it comes highly recommended and is getting great buzz in the children's book community. But I would never have picked up COUNTING BY 7s if I hadn't already heard about it. The cover wouldn't have caught my eye:

Do you judge a book by its cover? What have been your book buying experiences this holiday season?

Monday, December 2, 2013

My ALAN Conference Experience #alan13

Several months ago, Professor Joan Kaywell from the University of South Florida posed a question to me: "What are you going to do to promote your book?" I rambled on about blog posts and library signings, but Joan didn't think that was good enough. She dreamed up a panel for the ALAN Conference called Past and Present: Southern Voices of YA Literature, and away I went to Boston.

The view outside my hotel room window.

Joan moderated a panel that included Alan Gratz, The League of Seven, Tor/Starscape, Myra McEntire, Hourglass (series), Egmont, Beth Revis, Shades of Earth: An Across the Universe Novel, Penguin Young Readers Group, and me, with my book, The Ballad of Jessie Pearl, namelos.

Each panel member was asked, "What makes your book Southern?" Of course the obvious answer is setting, but our answers were as diverse as our books. Alan Gratz's book is set in an alternate 1870's America that is predominantly Native American. Alan explained how that allowed him to include diverse characters without having to deal with the shame of slavery. Myra McEntire set a contemporary scifi story in a small Southern town. The setting was important to Myra because she spent years being ashamed of being from Appalachia, but she's learned to be proud of where she's from. Beth Revis used the sense of isolation she observed in her students in Cleveland County, NC, to write her scifi story that takes place on a spaceship. And for me, The Ballad of Jessie Pearl represents everything I love about the South: the food, traditions, dialect, and a sense of being an integral part of an extended family. Our presentation highlights just how all-encompassing Southern literature has become. 

My first ALAN Conference was a wonderful experience. All of the educators I spoke with are passionate about Young Adult literature. I even had a rockstar moment, when English teacher Beth Scanlon told me The Ballad of Jessie Pearl made her cry. Nothing could be more gratifying for an author than that.

Saturday, November 23, 2013

B&N Discovery Night Photo

Barnes and Noble kicked off the holiday shopping season with Discovery Night on November 22nd. I had the opportunity to speak and sign books along with Rob Sanders, (COWBOY CHRISTMAS), Augusta Scattergood, (GLORY BE), and Nancy Cavanaugh, (THIS JOURNAL BELONGS TO RATCHET).

That's me in red, talking about my book, (THE BALLAD OF JESSIE PEARL).

Thursday, November 14, 2013

Discovery Night at Barnes & Noble

On November 22nd, I will be on an authors' panel with Augusta Scattergood, Nancy Cavanaugh, and Rob Sanders. Hope you can join us!

You’re invited
The Children’s Authors Panel
Discovery Night

Barnes & Noble
213 North Dale Mabry
Tampa, Florida

Friday, November 22
7:00-9:00 p.m.

Augusta Scattergood
Shannon Hitchcock
Nancy Cavanaugh
Rob Sanders

s Hear from the authors s
s Learn about writing for children s
s Get answers to your questions s
s And get your hands on some great books s

Sunday, November 3, 2013

Lorin Oberweger Talks About Voice

Yesterday I had the pleasure of attending a workshop taught by Lorin Oberweger. Lorin says that a Writer's Voice equals Emotion + Viewpoint + Style. She challenged us to think about the dominant emotion we are trying to convey on the first page of our manuscripts. Then Lorin gave us an assignment to describe either a Thanksgiving dinner or an old barn as if we were journalists.

For the record, writing descriptive passages is not one of my strengths. I tend to write fast-paced and with lots of dialogue. Anyway, I chose to describe a Thanksgiving meal. The tone I had in mind was somber, the Thanksgiving after the death of my sister. Here's what I jotted down:

The table for six is covered with a white tablecloth. The centerpiece of leaves and fall flowers is low so as not to impede conversation. Candles glow, casting the room in shadows. The smells of turkey, stuffing, and sweet potatoes waft from the sideboard, though in truth the family members have no appetite, picking at their food. They are dressed for the occasion, showered, coiffed, and squeezed into formal attire. Only one chair is empty.

Next Lorin gave each of us an index card. She asked us to write the emotion that we were trying to convey on the card and pass it to our neighbor on the right. Then we were asked to rewrite the scene using the emotion from our neighbor's card. The card I was passed said HUMOROUS. Here is the passage I wrote by changing the emotion to humorous:

A white tablecloth, candles, and multiple forks. Seriously, who needs more than one fork? What is up with that? When Bryce said his family was wealthy, I had no idea just how wealthy. I took out my nose ring and changed into clean bluejeans, but from the look on his sister's face, she doesn't appreciate my efforts. Most people in my situation would be worried, but not me. I mean, I love Bryce, and he loves me. He even had my name tattooed on his forearm to prove it. When his mom sees that, she's bound to realize we're serious and welcome me into the fold. Maybe even set off some fireworks after dinner to celebrate our engagement. Boom! Boom! I smile and make my way over to the empty chair.

What I really took away from the exercise is to be more conscious of mood and emotion when I write.

We also read excerpts from THE KNIFE OF NEVER LETTING GO by Patrick Ness, CODE NAME VERITY by Elizabeth Wein, and ROOM by Emily Donoghe. We talked about how each of these writers makes great use of voice. I am intrigued enough to add all three to my to-be-read list and study the authors' techniques.

I think an author's voice is much like listening to a favorite band. Each song is different, but the band has a distinct sound. When I hear the horns, I know it's Chicago.

How do you define voice? What novels have you read recently that make good use of it?

Friday, October 25, 2013

Tara Lazar's Picture Book Idea Month!

I thought maybe this would be the year I would participate in National Novel Writing Month, NaNoWriMo, but one look at my travel schedule said otherwise. Then I saw this emblem on Facebook. I hopped over to Tara Lazar's blog and read about Picture Book Idea Month. The whole gist is that each participant will dream up 30 picture book ideas during the month of November. That seems doable and fun. Tara has lined up a stellar group of guest bloggers to guide us on our journey.

But to be honest, the biggest draw for me is that PiBoIDMo will be something totally different. It should be good for my creativity to shake things up! Have you ever participated in either PiBoIdMo or NaNoWriMo? If not, how do you get your creative juices flowing?

Wednesday, October 23, 2013

On The Wings of Angels

As a writer I often struggle for just the right word, just the right way to paint a scene, or express the proper emotion. My Aunt Abigail died unexpectedly on October 17th from a cerebral aneurysm. Shock, disbelief, anguish. I feel all of those things, but the words seem so, so inadequate.

They played Sissy's Song by Alan Jackson at Abby's funeral. It was as close to perfect as it's possible to come without a quartet of heavenly angels.

Abby was a gentle soul who was happiest in a flower garden. I don't understand why she had to go, but like the song says, I hope she flew up to heaven on the wings of angels. If anybody ever deserved to be there, she does.

Abby's obituary

Friday, October 11, 2013


I loved Grover's story. He's a likable character and so is his sister, Sudie. Their mom was recently struck and killed by a car. The kids are struggling to deal with their mom's death and with how it has affected their father. He's grown distant, prone to anger, and neglectful.

To cope with his guilt about the accident, Grover spends every spare minute in the bamboo forest weaving tapestries out of bamboo, leaves, and branches. He spends so much time weaving that he neglects his best friend, Sam, and lets his grades slide.

There are so many wonderful things about this novel. The setting is one of my favorite places, Asheville, North Carolina. The book has a cozy feel to it as Grover's family builds roaring fires, prepares a Thanksgiving meal, and hunkers down during a snow storm. I marked several passages on my Kindle because of the sacred truths they reveal. My favorite scene takes place between Grover and Matthew, the college student whose car struck Grover's mom. The book's title even comes from this scene. "What I came to tell you is this," Matthew said. "Sometimes things just happen." That's a simple, but profound truth. "When terrible things happen we want to blame somebody, even if that somebody is us. But what if nobody is to blame?"

My favorite line in WHAT I CAME TO TELL YOU is the last one. Sudie acknowledges that their father has been distant, she calls it away. "But it's all right," she said, taking Grover's hand. "my brother's been here the whole time." We could all use a brother like Grover.

To read an excerpt from this book and for more information, go to Tommy Hays's website.

Friday, October 4, 2013

THE LAURA LINE by Crystal Allen

I first picked up this book because of its cover. When I saw the family tree, I was pretty sure the book would have an historical fiction slant. I was not disappointed.

Then I flipped to the Acknowledgments because children's publishing is a small, small world. When I saw Donna Gephart mentioned, I gave the book a more serious look. As I kept reading, I discovered that Crystal Allen was the same author who wrote, HOW LAMAR'S BAD PRANK WON A BUBBA-SIZED TROPHY.

And since I loved Lamar, that sealed the deal, and THE LAURA LINE came home with me.

What I enjoyed about both of Crystal Allen's books are the sassy voices and that her protagonists are not what you would expect. Lamar has asthma, and such a bad case of it, that bowling is his sport of choice. On the other hand, Laura, in THE LAURA LINE, is so overweight that the other kids call her Fat Larda.

I thoroughly enjoyed both books, and if you haven't discovered author, Crystal Allen, hurry to a bookstore and buy yourself a treat.

Thursday, September 26, 2013

Past & Present Southern Voices of YA Literature

In November, I will be on a panel at the ALAN Conference called, "Past and Present Southern Voices of YA Literature." Other panel members are Alan Gratz, Beth Revis, and Myra McEntire. The panel will be moderated by Professor Joan Kaywell from the University of South Florida.

Dr. Kaywell says that the first Southern author of YA Literature is Sue Ellen Bridgers. As part of my conference prep, I just read Sue Ellen's book ALL TOGETHER NOW, published by Knopf in 1979. I enjoyed this book very much. Its many honors include: The Christopher Award, Boston Globe-Horn Book Honor Book, National Book Award Finalist, ALA Best Books for Young Adults, and an ALA Notable Book.

Reading ALL TOGETHER NOW caused me to reflect on how YA Literature has changed. The book is written in third person, and the grownups don't take a backseat. Twelve-year-old Casey Flanagan goes to stay with her grandparents for the summer because her dad is a pilot in the Korean War. There is a subplot that deals with the romance and wedding of a fifty-year-old couple. Ms. Bridgers even writes a chapter devoted to their ill-fated honeymoon with nary a teenager in sight.

I really came to care about all of the characters in the book, the grownups, as well as Casey herself. My one conundrum is classifying this novel as YA. I can't think of a recently published YA book in which the grownups play more than a nominal part. After reading ALL TOGETHER NOW, I'm not sure that's a good thing. Maybe we're underestimating teens by not providing a more realistic portrayal of family life. What do you think?

Friday, September 20, 2013

REAL REVISION by Kate Messner

I won a copy of REAL REVISION at a writing workshop. The timing couldn't have been better since I'm in the middle of revising a novel, tentatively titled, FAR FROM PERFECT.

Kate Messner writes, "When I'm revising one of my novels for young readers, I ask myself one question over and over again: What is this piece really about?"I read that sentence at exactly the right time in my revision. I was struggling with a subplot, asking myself whether it should stay or go.

Kate continues, "Asking that question repeatedly--What is this piece really about?--always helps me through the revision process because I can decide what to work on, what to keep or delete, and what to develop more thoroughly."

My subplot had to go and the manuscript is more cohesive because of it.

I highly recommend Kate Messner's book for teachers looking for ways to teach revision in the classroom, but it's also useful for writers in need of practical revision tips.

Thursday, September 5, 2013


My agent, Deborah Warren at East/West Literary will be presenting at SCBWI Alaska's Midnight Sun Conference on September 6th and 7th. As part of her presentation, I was asked for a quote, something that I learned along the way, but wish I had known at the start of my writing journey. Here's the advice I provided:

Not every critique is created equal. Listen to feedback with an open mind. Take notes. Give yourself a couple of days to digest what was offered, but in the end, it's your story. Only make changes that feel right to you.

Deborah will also be using THE BALLAD OF JESSIE PEARL in a workshop as an example of strong first page voice. I am honored that she's showcasing my book.

In other news, I will be traveling to Boston on November 25th and 26th for the ALAN Conference. I will be part of a panel called, Past and Present Southern Voices of YA Literature.

From Alaska to Boston that Jessie Pearl is a travelin' girl!

Monday, August 26, 2013

TOUCH BLUE by Cynthia Lord

I'm enjoying a vacation in Hendersonville, North Carolina. A good book, a glass of wine, and a mountain breeze equals heaven.

Wednesday, August 14, 2013

Marketing Through Goodreads

Writing a novel is one thing and learning to promote it is another kettle of fish entirely. When THE BALLAD OF JESSIE PEARL was first released, there was a flurry of activity. I mailed bookmarks to everyone on my Christmas Card list, I was featured on several blogs, professional reviews rolled in, but around mid-July the summer doldrums hit. I decided to spice things up a little with a giveaway through Goodreads.

The giveaway was extremely easy to do. I picked start and stop dates, entered a description of my book, the ISBN number, and I was good to go. Goodreads advertised my book based on tags. I used Young Adult, rural North Carolina, historical fiction, tuberculosis, and romance. Over a three week period, 942 people requested my book, and 491 people added it to their "to read" shelves. 

Goodreads selected ten winners and sent me an email with their names and addresses. I mailed away books from as close to me as Florida to as faraway from me as Wisconsin. It will be interesting to see if any of the 491 people actually read the book, and if the number of Goodreads reviews increases dramatically. I'm new at this marketing thing and hopefully I'll be more savvy next time around. 

Tuesday, August 6, 2013


Thanks to Tampa Preparatory School for featuring me and my debut novel, THE BALLAD OF JESSIE PEARL, in this month's Tempo Magazine.

Thursday, July 25, 2013

Thank You, Mr. Falker and Mrs. Pauline Porter

I read Guideposts magazine every month. It's my antidote to all the negativity on the evening news. There's an article in the July issue called, "Lauren's Moment." What really caught my attention was the photo of Lauren reading Patricia Polacco's picture book, THANK YOU, MR. FALKER.

Lauren is dyslexic, and THANK YOU, MR. FALKER is her favorite book. When Lauren's mom read it to her second grade class, Lauren interrupted and said, "I have what she has. I have dyslexia. I am just like Patricia Polacco." She went on to say, "but I am very smart and I am going to grow up to be a writer."

Though I am not dyslexic, I did have trouble learning to read, and a special teacher helped me. Like Patricia Polacco, I went to see my teacher as an adult to tell her how much she had meant to me. This is a picture of my teacher, Mrs. Pauline Porter:

A great teacher can change your life forever, and great books like THANK YOU, MR. FALKER, can too.

Friday, July 19, 2013


I keep a copy of the FLIP DICTIONARY on my desk. Let's say I'm writing a dance scene. If I look up "dance" in the FLIP DICTIONARY, it gives me nearly a half page of dance terms. To narrow it down further, let's say my characters are country folk. Within dance terms, I come across "folk dance: belly, fling, hoedown, hornpipe, hula, jig, morris, reel, square, streathspey, sword." The FLIP DICTIONARY can't be beat for finding just the write word for an article or story.  

The other book I keep on my desk is THE EMOTION THESAURUS by Angela Ackerman and Becca Puglisi. The table of contents starts with adoration, ends with worry, and has nearly every emotion you can think of in between. For every emotion listed there are a couple of pages dealing with that emotion. It works like this: let's say my character is agitated. THE EMOTION THESAURUS gives me nearly a page of physical symptoms for agitation: a reddening of the face, a sheen of sweat on the cheeks, chin, and forehead, rubbing the back of the neck, a wavering voice, avoiding eye contact, and on and on. 

Both THE FLIP DICTIONARY and THE EMOTION THESAURUS make my writing more varied. They keep me from overusing certain words and gestures and help me find just the right way to get my point across.

I own lots of books on craft, but I use these two books nearly every time I sit down to write. Have you used either of these books? If so, do you agree they're indispensable? Or do you have other books on writing to recommend?

Thursday, July 11, 2013


It all starts with the question: What's your book about? I used to say THE BALLAD OF JESSIE PEARL was about tuberculosis, that's it's based on a family story, and about a young girl's first love. While all of that is true, it took me several rounds of revision to discover the theme, and when I discovered it, I rewrote the beginning.

Sometimes when the kerosene lamp casts shadows, I think I see Ma's ghost. If she were still alive, she'd say, Jessie Pearl, you keep on studying. Not everybody is cut out to be a farm wife. We'll find a way to pay for teachers' college. Leave your pa to me.

The theme for THE BALLAD OF JESSIE PEARL is "follow your dreams." Life throws lots of obstacles in Jessie's way, but she doesn't give up on her dream.

The novel I'm working on now is tentatively titled CAROLINA GIRLS. An editor recently posed the dreaded question to me: What's your book about? I said that it's about an accident, that it takes place in 1969, and has a subplot that deals with school integration. But as I've continued to revise, the theme has gelled. This book is about "courage." My protagonist, Sarah, sums it up very nicely:

Courage is doing hard things when you're most afraid, like saying you're sorry, or being friends with a colored girl.

In its essence, Sarah is on a journey to become a brave girl.

Discovering a book's theme is finding its heart. What's the heart of a book you're writing or currently reading? It's a question worth exploring.

Friday, June 21, 2013

My Critique Group

My monthly critique group meeting was on Wednesday. Here we are at International Mall. Eileen and Joni have big news about their collaboration, and I can't wait until we can share it!

Nancy Stewart took this picture of me holding Yadkin Valley Living Magazine. They wrote a stellar review of my book, THE BALLAD OF JESSIE PEARL.

I'm deep in revisions on my second novel. Thank goodness I have the help of such a talented group!

Friday, June 14, 2013

Pinterest and Writing Prompts

(One of the images from my Pinterest board. My grandmother embroidered these horses on a pillowcase for my sister. When the pillowcase had worn out, Robin had them framed.)

I tried to resist Pinterest. The last thing I needed was one more social media site to contend with, but when I read that Kate Messner had created a Pinterest board for each of her books, I decided that was an idea worth copying.

I have set up a Pinterest Board for CAROLINA GIRLS, the novel I'm currently revising. Instead of being a time suck, I'm finding it helps me think visually about my novel. Pinterest is also a great place to conduct quick, fun visual research. You can check out my latest board here:

Have you tried Pinterest? Even if you're not a writer, there are wonderful recipes, decorating ideas, and beautiful photographs. It's definitely worth a look!

Saturday, June 8, 2013

What P.S. BE ELEVEN & An Obituary Taught Me About Voice

I recently finished reading P.S. BE ELEVEN by Rita Williams-Garcia. What makes this book unique is that it's infused with voice. Big Ma is one of the most memorable adult characters since Richard Peck's Grandma Dowdel. And I giggled every time Fern said, "surely did," or Delphine called her sisters Heckle and Jeckle.

While I was in the midst of reading this novel, my father-in-law, Walter Hitchcock died. Walt had asked me a couple of years ago to write his obituary, but it didn't go so well. In retrospect, I think he was afraid to give me feedback, (afraid he'd hurt my feelings), and I was uncomfortable writing an obit for a man who was still alive and whom I didn't want to lose. A little frustrated, I asked Walt to look through the local papers and send me examples of obits he liked. To which he replied, "I don't like any of them. None of them sounds like me."

In the end, Walt left some notes about what he'd like in his obituary and his wife and kids edited them after his death. He himself wrote some of my favorite parts. Like these lines:

By his own admission, and from what his sons and friends told him, his golf game left a lot to be desired. However, he enjoyed it and could boast of a hole-in-one at Lake Hickory, hole #6. Sometimes, he would say, "It is better to be lucky than to be good." 

These lines make me chuckle. They sound like Walt for a very good reason. He wrote them and his voice shines through. 

You can't fake voice. It's unique to each writer. For excellent examples read P.S. BE ELEVEN or my father-in-law's obit.  Both are infused with voice, and both make me smile. 

Wednesday, May 29, 2013


Quinn Norris chose THE BALLAD OF JESSIE PEARL as the favorite book she read this past school year. She designed a JESSIE bookmark for her English class and made an A! Congratulations, Quinn and thanks for sharing your bookmark with me.

Friday, May 24, 2013

An Impromptu Book Tour in Tucson!

Recently, I had the chance to visit one of my oldest friends in Tucson, Arizona. Just look at that sky and the mountains in the background! This trip was in no way related to THE BALLAD OF JESSIE PEARL, but I used the opportunity to talk about JESSIE to the people I met there. I like to think of it as "killing two birds with one stone."

Every week I check my sales numbers on Author Central. I went from having no sales in Arizona to eleven copies sold. Those sales are directly attributable to a trip I took for pleasure. Marketing opportunities are all around me. I simply have to keep my eyes open and squash the urge to be pushy and overanxious. Most people resist a hard sell.

If you're a writer, what impromptu marketing opportunities have fallen into your lap? Combining vacation and marketing can be fun!

Friday, May 17, 2013

A Book Signing, A Book Review, And Why I'm A Rock Star!

Recently I traveled to my hometown, East Bend, North Carolina, for a book signing at the East Bend Public Library.

This is a picture from that event. I'm with Brad Matthews, an old friend from Fall Creek Elementary School, that I hadn't seen in many years.

To coincide with my appearance at the library, Yadkin Valley Living Magazine wrote a review of THE BALLAD OF JESSIE PEARL. You can read it on their website, (page 54), or pick up a copy at local libraries and businesses throughout the Yadkin Valley.

A good friend asked how my signing went and I told her, "It's as close as I'll ever come to being a rock star!" The audience was full of family and old friends, (some of these friends I hadn't seen since our school days). My writing has brought me many special days, but none more special than this one. 

Friday, May 10, 2013

Writing from Personal Experience

In 1969, my sister was hit by a car. She was only five-years-old when it happened. I was playing in the sandbox and witnessed the accident, but my memories of it are foggy. What I remember most is seeing a body hit the passenger side door. At first, I thought someone was falling out of the car. My mind didn't connect the dots. I had no idea it was Robin.

Somehow I ran to the scene of the accident, but I don't remember doing so, only that I was there. Recently I asked my mom what she remembered. Her memories are cloudy too, but she told me that Robin took a couple of steps afterward and then collapsed. I experienced the accident emotionally and not logically. It was too horrific for my mind to process the details. All I'm left with is feelings.

The overwhelming emotion that I remember from that time in my life is guilt. Robin had a collapsed lung, a concussion, and a broken femur bone. She spent weeks in the hospital and then came home in a body cast. I felt guilty because I could run and jump and play, while Robin had to lay flat on her back and use a bedpan. She was as helpless as a newborn baby.

I decided to write a middle grade novel about the accident. Though I was actually eight at the time it happened, I made my protagonist twelve. I decided to really give her something to be guilty about. In the fictionalized account, Sarah is supposed to be babysitting and is reading when the accident happens.

Much of the story is true: the injuries, the details about living with someone in a body cast, the fact that my dad actually bought a pony and brought it home in the back of a car, but as with my first novel, most of the plot is made up. What's true are the emotions.

Have you ever tried writing fiction based on a personal experience? If so, what challenges did you encounter?

Friday, May 3, 2013

And the Winner Is: Rosi Hollinbeck!

The winner of the drawing for a copy of BELLA SAVES THE BEACH is Rosi Hollinbeck. Rosi blogs over at THE WRITE STUFF. Congratulations to Rosi and a big thank you to everyone who participated!

Wednesday, April 24, 2013

BELLA SAVES THE BEACH Review and Book Giveaway!

BELLA SAVES THE BEACH is the third book in the Bella and Britt Beach Series by Nancy Stewart. This lovely picture book is aimed at readers ages 6-9.

Though Bella loves the beach, she is concerned with all the trash she finds there. She enlists her younger sisters to help clean up, but they're too little and would rather play in the sand. Next Bella makes posters asking the public to help, but a storm ruins them. Only when Bella, and her best friend Britt, call on their classmates to pick up trash do they see results. 

Illustrator Samantha Bell uses a clever device of writing environmental messages in the sand like, "Trash is terrible," and "Keep our sand clean." 

After the story concludes, Stewart adds lots of interesting facts about pelicans, sea gulls, crabs, sandpipers, and plovers. For instance, did you know that sea turtles sometimes eat plastic bags because they look like jellyfish? Or that a plover, (bird), acts like a crocodile dentist and picks decaying meat from a croc's teeth?  This book would make a nice addition to classrooms studying the environment and how to keep it clean. 

Nancy will  give away a copy of BELLA SAVES THE BEACH to a lucky reader. To enter the drawing, leave a question for Nancy in the comments section.  I'll get us started: Nancy, did you always conceive of Bella and Britt as a series, or did you write the first book and your publisher suggest it?

Wednesday, April 17, 2013

Getting Students Involved in Authenticating Historical Fiction

The Reading Teacher article, "Getting Students Involved in Authenticating Historical Fiction," details the advantages and potential problems with using historical fiction in the classroom. Historical fiction makes history come alive for students, but sometimes authors make mistakes and can convey inaccurate information. By involving students in checking the author's research, that can alleviate the problem and teach valuable research skills in the process.

If a classroom were using my novel, THE BALLAD OF JESSIE PEARL, one of the first things to authenticate would be whether I did my homework about tuberculosis. An excellent resource to do that is Jim Murphy's, INVINCIBLE MICROBE TUBERCULOSIS AND THE NEVER-ENDING SEARCH FOR A CURE.

The hardest chapter to write in THE BALLAD OF JESSIE PEARL was Chapter 26, "The Model T and Me." Students could visit The Henry Ford Museum website and also watch numerous YouTube videos about how to drive a Model T.

Lots of details in THE BALLAD OF JESSIE PEARL required research. A good source for clothing of the 1920's is EVERYDAY FASHIONS 1909-1920.

The most fun part of my research involved interviewing older family members. It was fascinating to hear firsthand about outhouses, bathing weekly in a tin tub, winding water from the well, and life before electronic gadgets.

THE BALLAD OF JESSIE PEARL could be used during Women's History Month to discuss the role of women in society. Jessie's choices were very limited in 1922. Was she portrayed accurately for the book's setting? I'll let my readers be the judge.

Monday, April 8, 2013

My Pinterest Experiment (Part II)

As part of a recent Highlights Foundation Workshop I attended, Alison Myers offered to do a "social media critique" for each participant. Because I was already blogging, tweeting, and Facebooking, Alison suggested I try Pinterest.

Initially I set up Pinterest boards that focused solely on my book. Most of the material I put on the  boards came from either my website or my blog. Alison writes, "That is a time savvy move." But then she says, "Remember Pinterest is a SOCIAL networking site so you need to reach your tentacles out into other boards that will draw folks to your boards. Meaning you visit similar author's boards and 'repin' their work." Aha! It works much like Twitter and Facebook. I need to make friends.

I was surprised by all of the historical pictures on Pinterest. It's an excellent resource for visual research. Because my book deals with tuberculosis, I typed that word into the search function. Lots and lots of pictures popped up of sanatoriums, advertisements, medicines, x-rays. In the future, I will be adding Pinterest to my research arsenal.

Alison says you can use an aggregator to automatically notify your Twitter and Facebook accounts when you pin something new. I haven't looked into that function yet, but I plan to.

As a teacher, Alison says she uses Pinterest for "inspirational ideas and visual content" to share with her students. She recommends that I focus my Pinterest strategy on becoming a resource for teachers. Alison writes, "Imagine that you are a teacher getting ready to teach a unit on the spread of tuberculosis in the 1920's. You visit Pinterest and find a board with photos and facts. The board is found on Shannon Hitchcock's page, which also happens to have a book...that you can purchase...and an author who will give a Skype visit about her research! Now that is something to sink your teeth into." Indeed it is. I have my work cut out for me.

You can visit my Pinterest boards here:

If you have experience using Pinterest, I'd love to hear your thoughts. Leave a comment and let's discuss.

Thursday, March 21, 2013

My Pinterest Experiment

Last week I attended Peter Jacobi's, "Life in the Spotlight," workshop through the Highlights Foundation.

Alison Myers spoke with us about using social media. She advises using Twitter and Pinterest to connect with teachers and librarians.

I have been blogging, using Facebook, and Twitter for a while now, but Pinterest is new to me. Yesterday, I set up a couple of Pinterest boards for my book, The Ballad of Jessie Pearl.

You can view my boards here:

While I had fun making the boards, I'm still unsure how teachers and librarians will find them or exactly how to connect with these educators using Pinterest. I'm hoping by blogging and tweeting about my dilemma some knowledgeable writers will enlighten me.

Do you use Pinterest for networking with teachers and librarians? If so, how does it work for you?

Saturday, March 16, 2013

School Library Journal Reviews THE BALLAD OF JESSIE PEARL!

Recent Reviews

With the poetry of plain speaking, Shannon Hitchcock recreates the daily drama of a vanished world.


This fast-paced historical novel is filled with enough factual detail, recognizable emotions, and personal drama to keep readers turning pages, eager to learn the final verse in the ballad of Jessie’s life. An author’s note about the story’s origins in actual events could inspire students to seek out family stories of their own.


Told in a believable first person, present-tense voice that emphasizes the immediacy of Jessie’s problems and her sometimes-raw emotions, Hitchcock’s debut also neatly captures a full flavor of the setting [a North Carolina tobacco farm] and period [1920s]. The aspects of many characters are also effectively revealed, mostly through authentic-sounding dialogue. ...A satisfying tale for readers who don’t require a fully happy ending.

Hitchcock’s debut novel introduces 14-year-old Jessie Pearl, who endures more than her fair share of hardships, beginning with the death of her mother. Opening in 1922, the story follows the daily activities on the family’s North Carolina tobacco farm. ...Hitchcock’s story is gently and lovingly written, with elements drawn from her own family history. Its detailed honesty about the particular struggles of the period, especially for strong women (Maude, a no-nonsense midwife, is particularly memorable), is significant.

This is a beautifully written book based on the author's family history and gives teen readers an interesting glimpse at a time in our history when medical interventions were not as sophisticated as they are now and the impact of these limitations on families.


Hitchcock’s seemingly gentle tale ultimately reveals a powerful tension between Jessie’s love for her baby nephew and her deceased sister, and that of the equally strong pull for independence. .... First love, the risk and thrill of the unknown, a beautiful family that shores her up when she feels weak—all these forces tumble about in a believable manner as Jessie figures out her future one day at a time. You can almost hear the gentle fiddle tune playing in the background as she does so.


Rooted in Hitchcock's own family history, the story of Jessie Pearl has a sincere tone to it that many readers will appreciate. Jessie's character is particularly believable, and readers will be able to relate to her difficult choices. ....
[T]his could be a good choice for a classroom novel study.


In time for Women’s History Month, this book offers a realistic and heart-wrenching story of the choices, or lack of choices, women of earlier eras faced. Throughout the book readers will be eagerly awaiting the choice that Jessie makes to determine her future.


Wednesday, March 6, 2013

The Launch Party for The Ballad of Jessie Pearl!

My friend, Regine Gordon, hosted a reading and book signing in my honor yesterday. We were thrilled to welcome writers from all over the Tampa Bay Region. This picture is from the event. 

Twenty-five percent of the night's proceeds will be donated to Metropolitan Ministries

Tuesday, March 5, 2013

Fan Mail!

My scanner doesn't do it justice, but this is a card from Nate, a fourth grader who just read 
The Ballad of Jessie Pearl!

Monday, February 25, 2013

Featured in My Hometown Paper

The Ballad of Jessie Pearl is receiving a warm welcome in my hometown, East Bend, North Carolina! My book recently made the front page of The Yadkin Ripple. You can read the article here. Plus I have a book review coming up in Yadkin Valley Living Magazine, and a book signing scheduled for May 13th at the East Bend Library!

Wednesday, February 13, 2013

An Interview With Linda Leopold Strauss Author of THE ELIJAH DOOR, A PASSOVER TALE

Linda Leopold Strauss is the author of THE ELIJAH DOOR, A PASSOVER TALE, which has been named a Sydney Taylor Award Honor Book. Congratulations, Linda!

Here’s a brief Synopsis: For years the Galinskys and the Lippas have shared Seder, the special Passover dinner, together. But no more! Mama Lippa shuts her windows tight against Galinsky voices. Papa Galinsky cuts a new side door into the house to avoid seeing any Lippas. But David Lippa and Rachel Galinsky love each other; and fortunately they have a trick up their sleeves.

This charming folktale, stunningly illustrated with hand-painted woodcuts, celebrates the joys of love, freedom, and family.

1.     Linda, what inspired you to write THE ELIJAH DOOR?

     It’s always difficult to piece together the origins of a book, but I did find some journal notes on this one.  Evidently I was taking a walk just before Passover in a year when it was our family’s turn to host our seder.  And it was to be a big seder, lots of family and friends.  So as I was walking, I was thinking, “Where am I going to put all these people?”  Our dining room table wasn’t big enough; card tables would help, but would all the tables needed even fit into the dining room?  And then I passed a house high on a hill which had its front door open, and I thought, “What if a family seder needed so many tables that the tables ran completely through the house and out the front door?”  And then I imagined two side-by-side houses with seders spilling out the two front doors and meeting in the middle.  And I loved that image.  So that was the beginning of the story…

2.     My favorite thing about your book is the mood it creates, starting with the very first sentence, “Many Passovers past, in side-by-side houses in a small village that was sometimes Poland and sometimes Russia, the Lippas and the Galinskys raised their children, pulled their beets, and shared their holidays almost as one family.” What put you in the storytelling mood when writing this book? Did you look at old photographs, travel to Europe, listen to music, or something else?

     The Passovers of my childhood were always spent at the home of my paternal grandparents, so when I think of Passover and seders, I always think of them as well.  My grandparents were from Eastern Europe, from a place that was always described to me as being “sometimes Russia and sometimes Poland.”  Because my grandparents (whose last name, by the way, was originally Lippa) spoke mainly Yiddish, I wasn’t able to talk with them much about their lives there, though I do remember my grandmother’s once saying that the thing she missed most about the old country was her cow.  But I was certainly aware of that Eastern European heritage, and of course as I grew up, I learned more about Eastern European shtetl culture in general.  It was probably because of my association of Passover with my grandparents that I decided to set my story in a town like the one I imagined my grandparents’ town to be.  I also researched pre-World War II shtetl culture, using mostly a remarkable book called THERE ONCE WAS A WORLD, by Yaffa Eliach.  And I think the minute I wrote that first sentence (“Many Passovers past, in side-by-side houses in a small village that was sometimes Poland and sometimes Russia…”) the folktale voice for the story was set. 
     In addition, as I was writing the story, I kept hearing the cadence of my grandparents’ Yiddish-speaking voices in my head.  The repetition of phrases, the rhythms, the word combinations.  And I think their voices also very much informed the way I wrote the story.

3.     I love the unique way your book is illustrated with hand-painted woodcuts. Have you met your illustrator? Are the two of you involved in any cross-promotions?

     I haven’t yet met Alexi Natchev, nor did I even speak with him until the book was published.  That’s not unusual, as picture book editors often serve as go-betweens between author and illustrator.  But after THE ELIJAH DOOR came out, Alexi and I talked several times on the phone, and we will meet in Cincinnati when he comes for the closing event of a major exhibit of his original ELIJAH DOOR artwork at Hebrew Union College’s Skirball Art Museum (February 3 to March 31).  In my opinion, Holiday House made the perfect match-up of art and text in this book, and I’m thrilled that Alexi’s artwork will be getting the recognition it deserves.  A personal note:  Soon after the book came out, I purchased the original woodcut of the seder scene from the book as a gift for our younger daughter and her family, and it now has pride of place in their home in Los Angeles.  

4.     I read on your website that THE ELIJAH DOOR has been selected for the PJ Library. Can you tell us more about that for readers who may not be familiar with it?
     PJ Library is essentially a free book club, underwritten by foundations – parents and grandparents sign up their young children to receive monthly selections of books and music on Jewish themes chosen by the PJ Library Committee.  I was delighted to get an email about PJ Library’s selection, since it means that thousands of seven-year-old children will receive THE ELIJAH DOOR free of charge in March, just in time for their Passover celebrations.  And that includes our granddaughter in California, already a member of the PJ Library, who will be receiving a copy of my book as her March 2013 selection!    

     For more information on PJ Library, blog readers can go to

5.     A final note:  As I was completing my ELIJAH DOOR story, I began to write “And to this day they [the villagers] still welcome Elijah the Prophet to their Seder through the famous Elijah door.”  And then it struck me that I couldn’t use those words, because after World War II, Eastern European shtetl communities like that of the Galinskys and the Lippas no longer exist. 
     So I had to change the way I ended the manuscript.  Like the Eastern European shtetl culture, this, too, would have to be a story of the past.