Sunday, December 16, 2012

Are Book Trailers Worth the Expense?

When I announced my intention to have a book trailer made, my critique group had a mini-debate. Another author declared, "Most people think they aren't worth the money." The truth is no one really knows what marketing tools pay off, but I decided to gamble on a book trailer. I'm very glad I did.  Here's how the process worked:

I found a trailer I loved. When I watched the video for Joyce Hostetter's BLUE, the music and images hooked me. I knew the person who designed that trailer could deliver the mood I was going for. It turns out the trailer was designed by Joyce's daughter, Wendy. I knew her prices were reasonable by consulting with several authors about what they had paid. I didn't look any further.

To get started, I sent Wendy a PDF file of my book. She read it and asked some questions. A couple of months later, Wendy sent me three different versions to see what I liked/disliked about them. At first we were going to start with the book's opening paragraph, but one scene Wendy recorded completely changed my mind. It begins, "Jessie, what do you think heaven's like?" I asked Wendy if we could lose the opening monologue and build the trailer around that scene. She agreed.

The music was the last piece of the trailer to be finalized. We tried a couple of different selections, but then Wendy's dad suggested dulcimer music. That was a brilliant idea! Wendy scrapped the previous versions and found the perfect music. It has a haunting quality that blends with Jessie's answers about heaven. You can watch the trailer for THE BALLAD OF JESSIE PEARL here:

Wendy uploaded the video to YouTube, TeacherTube, and Vimeo. I have since linked it to my GoodReads author's page and my website.

Another way I've used the video is as a teaser. I've sent lots of emails announcing my book to various friends and acquaintances. I almost always lead with the trailer. It summarizes the book in a visual way and leaves a more lasting impression than an ordinary email.

I would be interested in hearing your thoughts and experiences with book trailers. Do you have a favorite? Do you think they're a worthwhile marketing tool? Why or why not?

Thursday, December 6, 2012

What Makes A Great Debut Author Website?

I decided to overhaul my website to celebrate the release of my debut novel, THE BALLAD OF JESSIE PEARL. I spent lots of time looking at the websites of debut authors and the three that influenced me the most were the websites of Barbara Elizabeth Walsh, Caroline Starr Rose, and Augusta Scattergood. I decided to combine the things I love most from each of these sites and worked with Linda Kaufman of Kaufman Web Consulting to design my own.

What I like best about Barbara Elizabeth Walsh's website is the vivid use of color. Linda and I played around with a red much like that used in The Poppy Lady, but ultimately decided green suited the feel of my website better.

What I love about Caroline Starr Rose's website is a page called "For Teachers." She has a free May B. study guide available on her site. Since my book is also historical fiction, I thought this was a stellar marketing tool. I worked with curriculum designer, Debbie Gonzales and she crafted a curriculum guide for THE BALLAD OF JESSIE PEARL that is linked to the Common Core State Standards. You can view my guide here.

From Augusta Scattergood I borrowed the idea of a page called "For The Press." I like the idea of having a book cover and author picture easily accessible for bloggers, bookstore owners, and others who want to help promote our books.

I also took a look at more established author websites to make sure Linda and I have a plan to easily adapt my site when I have other books to promote. By reducing the size of the book cover on the home page, we can easily add more books, and there's room inside the curtain to add several more book trailers.

Do you have a favorite author website? Leave a link in the comments so I can take a look at it. And I hope you'll check out my new site

Friday, November 30, 2012

Augusta Scattergood's Interview With Me And A Recipe for Chocolate Pound Cake

This picture is of Augusta Scattergood at the launch party for GLORY BE at Inkwood Books.

 I am feeling a bit like a rock star because Augusta has posted an interview with me on her blog. She thinks THE BALLAD OF JESSIE PEARL  would make a good selection for a mother/daughter book club. One of the questions she asked is what kind of food should be served at such a gathering.

In honor of Augusta's interview, I'm going to post my granny's recipe for Chocolate Pound Cake! 

Ingredients: 2 sticks butter (room temperature), 1/2 cup Crisco, 3 cups sugar, 5 eggs, 3 cups cake flour, 1/2 tsp. baking powder, 1/4 tsp. salt, 1/2 cup cocoa, 1 cup milk, 1 tablespoon vanilla

 Preheat oven to 325. Cream together butter and Crisco. Add sugar gradually until well blended. (I use a hand mixer). Add eggs, one at a time until blended. Sift together flour, baking powder, salt and cocoa. Add to the batter, alternating with milk. Stir in vanilla. Grease and flour bundt pan and pour in the batter. Bake for 1 hour and 15 minutes. Cool for 20 minutes in pan before flipping onto a cake plate.

 Chocolate Frosting 1 box powdered sugar, 1/4 cup cocoa, 1/2 cup Crisco, 1 tsp. vanilla, water (less than 1/4 cup)

 Stir together sugar and cocoa. Put in Crisco. Beat it with a little water and vanilla until desired consistency.

I would be honored to send signed bookmarks and do a free SKYPE visit with any book club that reads THE BALLAD OF JESSIE PEARL!

Thursday, November 8, 2012

The Amazing Timothy Decker

THE BALLAD OF JESSIE PEARL not only has beautiful cover art, but an image that I adore on the title page and on the pages that separate the years. The book takes place from 1922 to 1924. A friend of mine says the illustrations remind her of The Little House books. Timothy Decker drew the images and you can see more of his art here.

Sunday, November 4, 2012

My Blog and Website Overhaul

Please excuse the appearance of my blog for a couple of days. To celebrate my forthcoming novel, I'm treating my blog and website to a facelift.

I can't wait to share the new site which will have a book trailer, updated content, a curriculum guide for teachers, and a brand new look!

Wednesday, October 3, 2012

How My Son's School Project Inspired My Book

In 2007, my son's eighth grade history teacher gave the kids an assignment. They were each to collect ten family stories. Each story had to take place during a different decade. For each decade chosen, the students prepared a panel like the one above. The first column shares the family story. The second column tells what was happening in the United States during that decade. The last column tells what was going on in the rest of the world.

My mother told Alex the story of his great-grandmother, Lena, and her sisters, Crawley and Anna. Crawley died when she was only twenty years old. She left behind a ten-month-old baby and a letter planning her own funeral. My mom often read the letter when she was growing up, and it always made her sad. It appears Crawley died from tuberculosis. The family worried that her baby would get sick too, but he never did. Some years later, Anna also developed tuberculosis. Unlike Crawley, who died at home, Anna went away to a sanatorium. My grandmother, Lena, was the youngest of the three girls. She cared for Crawley's baby as if he were her own until his father later remarried. My grandmother always maintained a special relationship with Junior and considered him her "first" baby. She went on to have seven more of her own.

By the time Alex was working on his school project, everyone involved in these events was long dead. We were left with snippets of a family story and an old photograph of Anna and Crawley. These became my inspiration. I filled in the blanks through research and imagination. The story is made up, but the emotions are true.

Do you have a favorite family story? Or how about a favorite family photo or memento? They make great writing prompts, and you never know where they will lead you.

Friday, September 21, 2012

Writing Flap Copy

When my editor asked if I'd like to take a stab at writing flap copy, I took a deep breath and pulled two of my favorite historical novels from my bookshelf. First I looked at BLUE by Joyce Moyer Hostetter.

What I love about BLUE's flap copy is that it uses passages from the book so that the reader immediately hears Ann Fay's voice.

Wisteria is the only thing me and Daddy ever argue about. I say the flower is purple and he says it's blue. I tell him I don't see how anyone can hate a flower that's so beautiful and smells so sweet. Daddy says he don't understand how anyone could love a vine that wraps itself around every limb on a tree like it wants to choke the life out of it.

Can't you just hear the cadence of Ann Fay's voice?

Next I took a look at HATTIE BIG SKY by Kirby Larson.

What I love about HATTIE's flap copy is the last paragraph:

Lovingly stitched together from Kirby Larson's own family history and the sights, sounds, and scents of homesteading life, this young pioneer's story celebrates the true spirit of independence.

I decided to start my flap copy with a quote from my book the same way Joyce did with BLUE. Then I wrote a paragraph that briefly sums up the plot, and then borrowing from HATTIE, I included that my book is also inspired by a family story.

Though I'm sure my editor and copyeditor will revise it, my attempt at flap copy is below:

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.

And tonight, Ma would notice how my hands are trembling. I can almost hear her voice. Jessie, fourteen is too young to help birth a baby. Why don’t you go and study in the kitchen? But Ma is just a memory.

It’s 1922, and Jessie has big plans for her future, but that’s before tuberculosis strikes.  Though she has no talent, for cooking, cleaning, or nursing, Jessie puts her dreams on hold to help her family.  She falls in love for the first time ever, and suddenly what she wants is not so simple any more.

Inspired by Shannon Hitchcock’s family history, THE BALLAD OF JESSIE PEARL wraps you like an old quilt in the traditions, tastes, and dialect of rural North Carolina.

So what do you think? Did I pull off writing flap copy? It's not as easy as it looks! 

Saturday, September 15, 2012

My Cover Art Reveal!

I have been waiting anxiously for cover art and here it is! The image is by Timothy Decker, and the type design is by Helen Robinson.

ARC's should be available in mid-October, with an official publication date of February or March.

JESSIE'S journey continues!

Friday, September 14, 2012

Typesetting & Design

THE BALLAD OF JESSIE PEARL after typesetting:

I just completed a stage of the publishing process called "page proofs." After my manuscript went through the typesetting process, it was sent back to my copyeditor. She and I both read the manuscript multiple times looking for mistakes, tweaking words, and searching for lines that were either too tight or too loose. Tight lines run together like this: Weareclosertogetherthantwopeasinapod. L o o s e  l  i n e s  a r e  m  o r e   l i k e  t h i s.

My copyeditor used a couple of terms I was unfamiliar with: widows and orphans. It turns out there are rules to typography that make print more visually appealing to readers. An orphan is a very short line at the end of a paragraph, and a widow is a very short line at the top of a page. Both leave a lot of white space and interrupt reading flow. I found a good article that explains rags, widows, and orphans here:

After much back and forth between myself and the copyeditor, she compiled one master list of changes for the typesetter. It's starting to look like a real book.

I can't wait to see what comes next on my path to publication!

Monday, September 3, 2012

College and Copyedits

Two big events have been happening simultaneously in my life: first my only son went away to college, and secondly my debut novel, THE BALLAD OF JESSIE PEARL, will launch this fall.

I finished my content edits in March of this year. I had no clue when to expect copyedits, but since I'm a big believer in Murphy's Law, I figured it wouldn't be at a convenient time. Sure enough copyedits arrived when I was knee deep in college preparations, exactly one week before we were set to depart for American University.

I pushed all boxes, suitcases, and piles of stuff to the side, lived in my pajamas for two full days, and turned those copyedits around. Then I spent the weekend reading my manuscript aloud to be sure I was happy with the changes.

Afterward, my novel was turned over to Helen Robinson for typesetting and design. I can't wait to see the cover. Check back because I'll reveal it first on this blog.

As for Alex, he seems to be adjusting well to life at AU. My novel is dedicated to him, but that will be the subject of another post.

For those of you who haven't been through the copyediting phase, leave a question and I'll try to answer it. For readers who have already been published, I hope you'll share your copyediting experiences below.

Tuesday, August 14, 2012

How to Define Success

Consider Significance Over Success from Chip MacGregor's Blog.

I've been thinking about success a lot lately because my novel debuts this fall. I have many writer friends with varying degrees of success. They range from Alex Flinn, whose novel BEASTLY was turned into a movie, to critique mates still trying to land that first contract. Truthfully, lots of my friends are somewhere in between these two extremes, and finding it just as hard to place that second or third book as it was to sell the first one.

My novel, THE BALLAD OF JESSIE PEARL, just moved from the copyediting phase to typesetting and design. When I read the copyedited version over the weekend, I started to cry. I almost couldn't believe that I had written something this beautiful, (albeit with lots of help from a brilliant editor and a talented copyeditor). In that moment, the enormity that my manuscript was going to become a published book was simply overwhelming, but soon mine won't be the only opinion that matters. Professional reviewers will likely write about my book and to some of them it may not pass muster. Readers may write about my book on Goodreads and it may be a book that some of them don't particularly enjoy. I'm trying to grow a thick skin now and know this is simply part of being a writer.

So what would success look like for THE BALLAD OF JESSIE PEARL?

  1. I want my family to like it. This novel is based on a family story and I hope my relatives will feel pride in our heritage when they read it.
  2. I would love to do an author visit to Forbush High School, my alma mater. 
  3. I hope some young girl, wherever she may be, sees a little of herself in Jessie and writes to tell me so.
  4. I have my fingers crossed that reviewers will like my book so that it'll be used by history teachers.
  5. But mostly, I need for JESSIE to sell enough copies that I'm not a "one hit wonder!"
Soon I'll start marketing THE BALLAD OF JESSIE PEARL. If you have any marketing tips, leave a comment and help me make JESSIE a success!

Sunday, July 29, 2012

People Who Have Helped Me

I was reading an article by Robin Roberts in Guideposts magazine called, "My Mom, My Inspiration." In the article, Robin talks about giving a commencement speech she thought had gone quite well. When her mom didn't offer compliments, Robin asked what was wrong. Here's what she said:

You forgot to mention all the people who have helped you. We never do it just on our own. There are all those people behind us, our teachers, coaches, pastors, mentors.

That gave me pause because so many people have helped me along my writing journey. So many people over so many years that it would be nearly impossible to name them all.

I learned how to write by taking correspondence courses through the Institute for Children's Literature. After graduating from ICL, I continued to make progress due to The Society of Children's Book Writers and Illustrators and to Highlights Foundation Workshops. I owe special thanks to former NJ Regional Advisor, Kathy Temean, to Florida Regional Advisor, Linda Bernfield, and to editor Carolyn Yoder.

Without a doubt, the person who has helped me the most is fellow author Cynthia Chapman Willis. When I first decided to try writing a novel, Cindy read the novel chapter-by-chapter and gently pointed out my beginner's mistakes.

When I finally had a first draft, teacher and mentor Joyce Sweeney helped me refine it.

Over the years, I've belonged to three critique groups. Each member of those groups strengthened my writing and provided needed encouragement. Jeannine Norris became more than a critique group leader...she turned into a dear friend.

Many authors further along in the process have shared their knowledge with me. Richard Peck critiqued the first chapter of my novel at an SCBWI conference. He then generously gave me his address and asked to read the completed manuscript. Though he didn't think it was quite ready for publication, he offered advice and encouragement. So I kept revising it. Augusta Scattergood, Barbara Krasner and Joyce Moyer Hostetter have all shared marketing tips with me.

If not for my husband's financial support, this journey would have been nearly impossible. And my son has shown patience and humor when I'm lost in a story.

After my agent resigned, her partner Deborah Warren stepped up to represent me.

But in the end, I owe the biggest debt of gratitude to Stephen Roxburgh. I still remember what he said to me. "This novel really is delicious and exactly the kind of thing I'm looking to publish." To which I now respond, Hallelujah!

Tuesday, July 17, 2012


BETWEEN SHADES OF GRAY is a haunting book about a little known piece of history, the attempted genocide of the peoples of Lithuania, Latvia, and Estonia. Under Stalin's rule of terror, these countries were wiped off the map, their male inhabitants thrown into prison, while the women and children were sent to Siberian work camps. That anyone survived such extreme conditions is nothing short of miraculous. 

Author, Ruta Sepetys is the child of a Lithuanian refugee. To recreate this story, she traveled to Lithuania, interviewed survivors, visited a Soviet prison, and spent time in one of the train cars used to transport prisoners. The authenticity of her research makes this novel an exceptional work of historical fiction.

The book begins, "They took me in my nightgown." Fifteen-year-old Lina, her mother, and younger brother, Jonas, are rounded up along with many of their neighbors and thrown into cattle cars. Thus begins their journey.

It's a journey of starvation, scurvy, dysentery, backbreaking work, and bitter cold. But it's also a journey of kindness, forgiveness, and first love. 

I can't do this story justice, but the author has recorded a book trailer that does. Listen to it here and I'll bet you'll be inspired to read this book.

Sunday, June 24, 2012

Two Books Set In Israel

I recently read two novels set in Israel. The first, THE VOICE OF THUNDER, is a middle grade novel. It tells the story of the 1967 Arab-Israeli War from the viewpoint of ten-year-old Mira Levy. The novel doesn't offer any easy answers, but shows the harsh realities of war. One image that has stayed with me was of Mira's uncle, an Israeli soldier, who looted an Arab home and took a young girl's doll.

The second novel, NEXT YEAR IN ISRAEL, is a Young Adult book with a timely theme. Sixteen-year-old Rebecca Levine has attempted suicide because of being bullied at school. After she survives the attempt, Rebecca decides to start her life over at an Israeli boarding school. I enjoyed the uniqueness of the setting, particularly that the students had to attend bootcamp and learn to fire a rifle. It's a totally different take on the typical boarding school novel.

Both books provided a "Calgon Moment." They took me away from my everyday life here in Florida. What books have taken you to a different time or place this summer? Leave a comment and let me know.

Wednesday, June 13, 2012

RAPE GIRL by Alina Klein

Author Alina Klein was raped as a teenager, but rather than bury that experience and pretend it never happened, she wrote a novel full of emotional truth.

I highlighted several passages on my Kindle that spoke to me. The first says, "They say that rape is the only crime in which the victim has to prove her innocence."

When our protagonist, Valerie, is attending a group counseling session, she can't help but compare her rape to that of another young woman who was burned with a cigarette. Valerie says, "I just felt less raped than you, and I think I might have ruined my life, (by telling), for nothing."

Another rape victim says to Valerie, "We wonder why it happened and how it happened, and blame ourselves just like you do, because all of us probably could have done something different."

Valerie's rape affected not only her, but her younger sister, older brother, and her mother. The author skillfully shows how each member of Valerie's family blames themselves for what happened.

I found myself wanting to slap the clueless school principal who treated Valerie as the guilty party. I shook my head in sympathy when Mimi, Valerie's best friend, abandoned her. But this book is not without hope. Valerie is a survivor, and by the end, I felt she could make a happy life for herself despite what happened.

I called my best friend after reading this book because I wanted to pose a question to her. It was, "If every woman we knew were completely honest, do you think each one would admit to being forced into sex, though sometimes subtly, as a child or teenager?" Sue's answer was "Absolutely." That's why this book is so important for teen readers. No means no.  

Friday, June 1, 2012

How To Promote Your Children's Book by Katie Davis

As a soon to be debut author, I am passionately interested in how to promote my forthcoming book. Fortunately for me, Katie Davis has already been down this path and recorded lots of tips in an easy to read style.

I highlighted text on my Kindle, but also took copious notes. Here is just a sampling of some of Katie's wisdom:

  1. Buy the domain for your book title, then forward it to your main website. That way anyone who googles your book title, will be sent to your site.
  2. Katie recommends working with a website designer separate from your website programmer. I'm intrigued by this notion, but need to research it further.
  3. The book is chocked full of helpful links. One I found especially good is Darcy Pattison's "Tips for Skype Author Visits: Be Prepared."
  4. Katie advises posting your book trailer on both YouTube and TeacherTube. I had never even heard of TeacherTube before, but Katie says she got more hits to her book trailer from TeacherTube than YouTube.
  5. When being interviewed, know in advance the top three points you want to make and make them early.
I've read other books on marketing, but this is by far the best of the bunch. I'm collecting promotion tips so I hope you'll share yours in the comments section. 

Sunday, May 20, 2012

Books With Heart

I recently finished a book that was not my cup of tea, but I resisted the impulse to write a bad review. Now that I know firsthand how much work goes into writing and finding a publisher, I feel a kinship with anyone who has embarked on the journey. After all, it's only my opinion. This novel may be exactly what another reader is looking for.

 While plodding through the pages, I wished for some cream and sugar to add to the plot. With a a little more umph, this book could have been great. Here's where it fell short:

 1. The heroine has lost her mother, but I never really felt her pain. I'd be willing to bet the author has never lost her own mother, or conducted in-depth research about that kind of devastating loss.

 2. The plot was predictable. I knew very early on that the teenager would grow to love the father she never knew, and get the attention of the cute boy in the end. Because the stakes were never high enough, or a happy ending really in question, there was no compelling reason to keep reading.

 I think writing a book full of heart is painful. You have to open up a vein and bleed all over the page, but those are the kinds of books that a reader will never forget.

 My favorite book with heart is THE SKY IS EVERYWHERE by Jandy Nelson. What's yours?

Friday, May 4, 2012

My Bio And Headshot

When my publisher asked for a bio and a headshot, I had my husband snap some pictures. I wasn't so pleased with the results and decided to splurge on a professional photographer. Here's the result of my "Christie Brinkley" session.

I'm sure my publisher will edit my bio, but here's what I've written so far: Shannon Hitchcock grew up in rural North Carolina on a 100-acre farm. Her extended family and love of the south are integral to her stories. Shannon’s picture book biography, Overgrown Jack was nominated for the Sue Alexander Most Promising New Work Award. Her writing has been published in Highlights for Children, Cricket, Children’s Writer, and other magazines. Shannon currently lives in Tampa, Florida with her husband and teenaged son. Her first novel, The Ballad of Jessie Pearl, was inspired by a family story. For more information, visit Shannon on the web.

 Having a novel with my name on the cover is a dream come true for me. I plan to revel in every step of the process!

Monday, April 23, 2012

The Ted Hipple Young Adult Literature Collection

On Sunday, I went on a field trip, practically in my own backyard, to the University of South Florida. The fearless leader of our expedition was Dr. Joan Kaywell, founder of The Ted Hipple Young Adult Literature Collection.

Dr. Kaywell started the collection in memory of her mentor, Dr. Ted Hipple. The collection houses autographed first editions of YA literature in addition to manuscripts and ARCS. My favorite part of the tour was looking at the papers donated by YA author, Greg Neri. Greg is also a talented illustrator and his drawings are more interesting than a typed manuscript.

 I was like a kid in a candy store, surrounded by the works of S.E. Hinton, Richard Peck, Alex Flinn, Jacqueline Woodson, and many, many more. When my debut novel, THE BALLAD OF JESSIE PEARL, is published in the winter of 2013, I plan to donate my working papers, editor's notes, manuscript, and a signed copy to the library.

If more middle grade and YA novelists were aware of this collection, it would grow even faster. So spread the word, spread the love of YA literature! To find out more about the Ted Hipple Young Adult Literature Collection, watch this video on YouTube.

Sunday, April 15, 2012

WAITING TO FORGET by Sheila Kelly Welch

I always read the Author's Note of a book first because I want to know why an author chose this particular story. The note at the end of WAITING TO FORGET says, "She, (Ms. Welch), and her husband live in Illinois, where they raised five sons and two daughters. Four of the children were adopted when they were of school age." That kind of emotional truth resonates in the story of two children, Angela and T.J. who suffer because their mother is too immature to take care of them.

The mother's primary sin is neglect. She can't be bothered to make sure her children are clean, fed, and safe. But neglect turns to emotional and physical abuse at the hands of their mother's boyfriend.

The turning point in this novel happens when T.J. and Angela are left alone for the weekend. Their only link to their mother is a cell phone that she never bothers to answer.

The story is told in alternating sections between "Then" and "Now." Now takes place in the hospital waiting room where T.J. is waiting for news of Angela. Then tells the story of the abuse and neglect that culminated in her accident. The reader doesn't find out what happened to Angela until near the end of the book. I couldn't put it down until I knew.

WAITING TO FORGET packs an emotional punch. It will leave you thinking long after you finish it.

Saturday, April 7, 2012


ONE FOR THE MURPHYS grabbed my heart and never let go! When we first meet twelve-year-old Carley Connors, she's in a social worker's car on her way to foster care. We quickly learn that Carley and her mother have been beaten by her stepfather. Carley has just been released from the hospital and her mother is still unconscious.

The first shocker of this book happens in a flashback. Carly remembers how the beating started. Her mother caught her by the foot and yelled at her stepfather. "Honey, I got her! I got her by the foot!" Carly was betrayed by her own mother.

Carley has a hard time trusting the Murphys, but Mrs. Murphy and her two youngest sons finally work their way into her heart. Just as she is hoping to be adopted by them, the social worker takes Carley to see her mother. What happens next is unexpected, but inevitable.

What sets this novel apart is it's not depressing. Carley is quick-witted, sarcastic, and kind. I found myself, rather than feeling sorry for her, rooting for her to overcome her circumstances.

Kirkus just gave ONE FOR THE MURPHYS a starred review, and for good reason. If you like books that will make you cry, make you laugh, and ultimately make you cheer, then this book is for you.

Thursday, March 15, 2012

My Debut Novel!

Set off the fireworks! My debut novel, THE BALLAD OF JESSIE PEARL, will be edited by Stephen Roxburgh and published by namelos!

THE BALLAD OF JESSIE PEARL had a long and winding road from initial idea to contract. It started when my son's eighth grade history teacher at Tampa Prep gave the class an assignment. Mr. Fowler asked the kids to interview family members and record ten family stories. Each story had to take place during a different decade, and the kids had to research what was happening in the U.S. during that time period, and also in the larger world.

One of the stories my son collected called to me. It was the story of Crawley Hennings Wooten, my grandmother's sister. Crawley died when she was 20 years old from tuberculosis. She left behind a ten-month-old baby and a letter planning her own funeral. My grandmother, who was 14 at the time, stepped up and became the baby's mother until his father later remarried. Since my son was 14 at the time of the history assignment, I couldn't help but think about the level of responsibility that had been thrust upon my grandmother as a young girl.

Because nobody is still alive that remembers exactly what happened, I let my imagination run free. I read NC history books, novels set in the 1920's, and memoirs from sanatoriums. I made up characters and asked a lot of "what if" questions. In the final analysis, I used some actual place names like Flint Hill Road, Stony Knoll Church, and Frank Meyers's store, but the rest took place only in my mind.

After writing about 100 pages of JESSIE, I submitted the first chapter for critique at the Florida SCBWI Miami Conference. I was lucky enough to be critiqued by Newbery-winning author, Richard Peck. Mr. Peck asked me to walk him through the rest of the plot. His eyes twinkled and he said in that droll way of his, "You have too many characters auditioning for a part in your novel." I killed some of them off and that made writing the rest of the book much easier.

Author, Joyce Sweeney encouraged me, offered advice, and served as my mentor. My critique partners cheered me on.

Once the novel was complete, I signed with a literary agent. She subbed my manuscript to a small group of editors with no success. Here's a sample of the comments she received:

Henry Holt: "We have a novel forthcoming that has similar themes, in which a girl is rehabilitating at a TB sanatorium (Breathing Room by Marsha Hayles), so the timing isn't right on our end."

Dial BFYR: "My concern is that this is straightforward historical fiction which is just a really tough sell in the market right now."

I became convinced that the novel was good, but not quite good enough. So I signed up for Stephen Roxburgh's Whole Novel Workshop through the Highlights Foundation. Stephen, an experienced editor with more than 30 years in publishing, read my novel in its entirety. In addition, I had three one-on-one sessions with him to discuss it.

Stephen kept working with me in the months that followed. I revised twice more per his comments. In February of 2012, he finally made an offer. I yelled...I screamed...I danced around my kitchen and ran like a crazy woman from room to room!

For every unpublished novelist, there has to be somebody who will open the publishing door and let us in. I will be forever grateful to Stephen for taking that chance on me.

Thursday, February 23, 2012

My Cardiac Ablation

I never expected to have a heart problem. I am not overweight, don't smoke, have excellent cholesterol numbers, and hit the gym most days. I'm even one of those annoying people who has given up caffeine for herbal tea. Yet on February 15th, I passed out on my kitchen floor. I've decided to share what happened in case someone else out there may need to see a cardiologist.

It all started in December during a routine gynecological exam. The doctor pressed the stethoscope to my chest, got a puzzled look on her face, and suggested I see my internist for an EKG. "Okay, sure," I mumbled. I figured it was nothing and decided to wait until after the holidays. A couple of weeks later, I woke up in the middle of the night with heart palpitations. I chalked it up to my thyroid medication. After all I never expected to have a heart condition.

About a week went by, and I got into a routine argument with my teenaged son. It was silly, about nothing really, but for the first time I experienced chest pains. I sat down and took a couple of deep breaths. That finally got my attention, and I scheduled an EKG for two days later.

My EKG was abnormal. It showed that my heart was taking an extra beat. Alarmed, my internist sent me to see a cardiologist...that very same day. I had an echo cardiogram which was normal, then blood work which showed no problem. The cardiologist suggested a stress test and from those results made his diagnosis. I had an idiopathic right ventricular outflow tract tachycardia. I'd never even heard of it and asked him to write it down for me. Dr. Syad told me we don't know for sure what causes this condition, but it's more prevalent in women than men, and often presents itself during a woman's 40's or 50's. I fit both of those criteria.

Dr. Syad prescribed a beta blocker called Metoprolol and said we had about a 60% chance that my heartbeat could be regulated with medication. I tried the drug for two weeks and returned for an EKG. Unfortunately, it hadn't helped at all. Dr. Syad decided to change my medication to Flecainide and increase the dosage. If that didn't help then I would be scheduled for an ablation.

Forty-five minutes after taking Flecainide, I felt dizzy. My son hadn't left for school yet and I screamed for him. With his music blaring, I was afraid he hadn't heard me. So I stood up...big mistake. I don't remember exactly what happened next, but when I opened my eyes, my son was standing over me and I was lying on the kitchen floor.

Somehow Alex scooped me up, got me into his car, and drove me to the emergency room at Tampa General.

When the hospital contacted Dr. Syad, he called in a specialist called an electrophysiologist. Enter someone better than any fake doctor on Grey's Anatomy: Dr. Christian Perzanowski. I liked him immediately, but even better, I had confidence that he could help me. Though Dr. Perzanowski calls himself "a lowly electrician for the heart," he specializes in ablations and has performed over 800 of them.

Dr. Perzanowski told me he often sees my condition in women who have had infertility problems. I shared with him that though I hadn't experienced infertility, one of my babies had died from sudden infant death syndrome. It seems this condition is associated with a broken heart.

Dr. Perzanowski performed a cardiac ablation on me. During the procedure, a long, thin flexible tube was put into a blood vessel in my groin, then guided into my heart through the blood vessel. Dr. Perzanowski found two small broken places very close together. He "zapped" the spots with an electrical current.

When Dr. Perzanowski uttered the words "two spots, very close together," tears flooded my eyes. What I hadn't told him was that my heart had been broken twice. Once when my son died, and again when my only sister was killed in an automobile accident. Of course my heart had two broken places. It made perfect sense.

I'm now back home and learning to trust my heart again. Any twinge in my chest is cause for alarm. It will take me a while to relax and move past this episode. I'm nervous, but that seems perfectly natural.

Friday, February 10, 2012

MARCEL MARCEAU MASTER OF MIME - An Interview with Gloria Spielman

Gloria Spielman is a children’s author whose latest book Marcel Marceau Master of Mime was a National Jewish Book Award Finalist, a Moonbeam Children’s Book Award Silver Medalist, and a Sydney Taylor Book Awards, Notable Book.

Gloria, congratulations on the success of Marcel Marceau!

Thank you Shannon and thank you for inviting me to talk to you.

Shannon: I think one of the hardest parts about writing a picture book biography is determining a focus. How did you decide which parts of Marcel’s life to include in your book?

Gloria: A picture book biography can be either a birth to death story, which is what we usually think of as a biography. But it doesn’t have to be. It can also capture a period in the subject’s life like or even an event, like Mordicai Gerstein’s, book The Man who walked between the Towers about Phillipe Petit’s 1974 high-wire walk between the World Trade Center towers. Master of Mime followed Marcel from childhood till the end of his life.

But you’re right, determining a focus is a tricky thing. How do you capture a life in 1,500 words and 32 pages? Every word counts and every incident has to propel the story forward and capture its essence. The right opening determines the focus so getting that right is important. I look out for a seminal event which can be a springboard to follow the person through his life. I tend to think in pictures so if an event creates a picture in my head, it gets shortlisted. This is, after all, a picture book. So, the book opens with Marcel dressing up as his childhood hero and the man he called his creative father, silent movie star, Charlie Chaplin.

What’s the most interesting story about Marcel Marceau that didn’t make the cut?

Gloria: There were two. I’m not sure which was more interesting. One incident that didn’t make the cut happened in 1967. Marcel finally met his artistic hero, Charlie Chaplin by chance at the airport in Paris. Marcel began to imitate Chaplin and Chaplin, joined in, right there in the middle of the airport. It connected beautifully to the book’s opening, and would have made a lovely illustration but I couldn’t get it to fit into the flow of the story, so out it went.

I came across another anecdote in an article by James Kirkup in the British newspaper, The Independent. He writes about Marcel being stopped by the police, during the war, who asked to see his papers. Marcel was on the wanted list and his papers were perfect fakes. Kirkup writes, “The narks kept examining his papers and looking at his face, while he stared back at them without batting an eyelid, showing no trace of fear. The men were baffled, and let him go. It was an early demonstration of the powers of mime.” Since this was the only place I’d found this incident mentioned, I couldn’t really include it.

This is your second picture book biography. What attracts you to the genre? Who’s your next subject?

Gloria: I do enjoy writing picture book biographies but it wasn’t a case of ‘I’d love to write a picture book biography. Who shall I write about? After, Janusz Korczak’s Children came out people started asking ‘So, who are you going to write about next?’ I realized I’d got the taste for picture book biographies and began to think of writing another one. I’m getting the same question again. I would love to write about an unsung hero next time. I have an idea or two that I’m looking into. People are fascinating and I love writing about their lives.

Shannon: How can teachers use your book in the classroom?

Gloria: I’m actually working on a guide for teachers and also developing presentations for schools. I will have both up on my site as soon as they are ready.

Shannon: Many writers say they have no trouble coming up with ideas, yet this is one of the most common questions they get asked. Why do you think people are so fascinated about where writers get their ideas?

Gloria: The whole process does seem rather mysterious and quite unfathomable to people who don’t have ideas constantly distracting them and demanding attention. I’ve written tons of educational material for learners of English as a Foreign Language, and the question I’m asked the most is definitely ‘How do you know what to write about?’ The gut-reaction answer is, “I don’t know. I just do.” Ideas are everywhere. You just have to open your eyes and mind to see them and ask “What if …?” ‘What if Columbus had never discovered America?” “What if we lived in a society where everyone was perfect?” The ‘what if’ question is the germ of many if not most ideas. But the idea is just the seed. But no one asks the really important question. How do you turn an idea into a book? That’s the hard part. Ideas are dandy, but it’s the hard work that follows that turns it into a story.

What do you enjoy most about writing? What do you find most challenging?

Gloria: Very many things. Here’s one. I’m never bored and there’s no such thing as nothing to do. Not ever. An overly long line at the post office? You never know what snippet of overheard conversation will spark an idea. A long train journey? Uninterrupted time with my laptop. Waiting for a bus? An opportunity to daydream and hopefully let the subconscious figure out what should happen next in your story.

The challenges? Again, there are many. Here are two: First, to force myself to stop and take care of important things like washing-up, folding the laundry or the shopping. Then once, started on the important thing, to then force myself to stay there until it’s finished because without fail, a ‘brilliant’ idea pops into the head and disappears forever if you wait until the dishes are done to jot it down. Two, it’s the conundrum, where and how to find time and peace and quiet.

What are you working on now?

Gloria: Many things and I’m excited about them all. I’ll mention the two I have a soft spot for. There’s an adult novel, set in the old London Library of my childhood and deals with getting your voice heard while living on the margins of your society. Another is a humorous YA with a teenage boy on a quest for a father, new families, his genetic inheritance and worries about his unusually small feet. I am also looking for a home for three unpublished picture books.

For more information check the Association of Jewish Libraries Blog.

Or The Sydney Taylor website.

Thursday, January 26, 2012

The Sydney Taylor Award Blog Tour Is Coming Up!

The blog tour starts on February 5th and the schedule is below. I'll be hosting Gloria Spielman, author of MARCEL MARCEAU MASTER OF MIME on February 10th!

The Sydney Taylor Book Award will be celebrating and showcasing its 2012 gold and silver medalists and a few selected Notables with a Blog Tour, February 5-10, 2012! Interviews with winning authors and illustrators will appear on a wide variety of Jewish and kidlit blogs. For those of you who have not yet experienced a Blog Tour, it's basically a virtual book tour. Instead of going to a library or bookstore to see an author or illustrator speak, you go to a website on or after the advertised date to read an author’s or illustrator's interview.

Later this spring, we'll follow up with an episode of Katie Davis's Brain Burps About Books devoted to the Sydney Taylor Book Award!

Below is the schedule for the 2012 Sydney Taylor Book Award Blog Tour. Please follow the links to visit the hosting blogs on or after their tour dates, and be sure to leave them plenty of comments!



Susan Campbell Bartoletti, author of Naamah and the Ark at Night
Sydney Taylor Honor Award winner in the Younger Readers Category
at Ima On & Off the Bima

Holly Meade, illustrator of Naamah and the Ark at Night
Sydney Taylor Honor Award winner in the Younger Readers Category
at Into the Wardrobe

Shelley Sommer, author of Hammerin' Hank Greenberg, Baseball Pioneer
Sydney Taylor Honor Award winner in the Older Readers Category
at Great Kid Books


Marcia Vaughan, author of Irena's Jar of Secrets
Sydney Taylor Honor Award winner in the Older Readers Category
at Shelf-Employed

Ron Mazellan, illustrator of Irena's Jar of Secrets
Sydney Taylor Honor Award winner in the Older Readers Category
at The Children's War


Trina Robbins, author of Lily Renee, Escape Artist: From Holocaust Survivor to Comic Book Pioneer
Sydney Taylor Honor Award winner in the Older Readers Category
at Bildungsroman

Anne Timmons (and possibly Mo Oh), illustrators of of Lily Renee, Escape Artist: From Holocaust Survivor to Comic Book Pioneer
Sydney Taylor Honor Award winner in the Older Readers Category
at Gathering Books

Morris Gleitzman, author of Then
Sydney Taylor Honor Award winner in the Teen Readers Category
at The 3 R's


Michael Rosen, author of Chanukah Lights
Sydney Taylor Book Award winner in the Younger Readers Category
at A Chair, a Fireplace, and a Tea Cozy

Robert Sabuda, illustrator/paper engineer of Chanukah Lights
Sydney Taylor Book Award winner in the Younger Readers Category
at Practically Paradise

Susan Goldman Rubin, author of Music Was It: Young Leonard Bernstein
Sydney Taylor Book Award winner in the Older Readers Category
at Cynsations

Robert Sharenow, author of The Berlin Boxing Club
Sydney Taylor Book Award winner in the Teen Readers Category
at Jewish Books for Children


Durga Yael Bernhard, author & illustrator of Around the World in One Shabbat
Sydney Taylor Honor Award winner in the Younger Readers Category
at Frume Sarah's World

Shirley Vernick, author of The Blood Lie
Sydney Taylor Honor Award winner in the Teen Readers Category
at The Fourth Musketeer


Eric Kimmel, author of The Golem's Latkes
Sydney Taylor Notable Book, and winner of the National Jewish Book Award
at Ann Koffsky's Blog

Gloria Spielman, author of Marcel Marceau, Master of Mime
Sydney Taylor Notable Book, and finalist for the National Jewish Book Award
at Shannon and the Sunshine Band

Richard Michelson, author of Lipman Pike: America's First Home Run King
Sydney Taylor Notable Book, and finalist for the National Jewish Book Award
at Blue Thread

Sydney Taylor Award Winners – Wrap-Up
All winners, all categories
at The Whole Megillah

Friday, January 20, 2012

Friendship in Picture Books -- A Workshop with Tamar Brazis

At the Miami SCBWI Conference, I had the opportunity to attend a workshop taught by Tamar Brazis, Editorial Director at Abrams. The theme of the workshop was the art of friendship in picture books.

Ms. Brazis started the workshop by saying her favorite kind of picture books are about friendship. She used four books as examples: CITY DOG AND COUNTRY FROG by Mo Willems, MAKING A FRIEND by Allison McGhee, THE GIFT OF NOTHING by Patrick McDonnell, and DAYS WITH FROG AND TOAD by Arnold Lobel. We read each of these books aloud to see what made them special. All of them used simple, yet beautiful language. The thing they had in common was "feeling." Reading each of them left me with a comfy, cozy feeling, like being hugged by a good friend.

I think everybody in the world could use a few more hugs. As Ms. Brazis said, "Everything is better with a friend."

Do you have a favorite picture book or novel about friendship? What makes that book stand out in your mind?

Tuesday, January 10, 2012

GLORY BE An Interview With Augusta Scattergood

Augusta is one of my writer friends living here in the Tampa Bay Area. I was delighted to attend her book launch party at Inkwood Books earlier this month, and to hear her interviewed on NPR.

Recently, I had the chance to chat with Augusta about her debut novel, GLORY BE, which was edited by Andrea Pinkney and published by Scholastic.

GLORY BE takes place in 1964 during Freedom Summer. What was your initial inspiration for this story?

I actually started writing the book in 2001, after hearing Ruby Bridges speak at Kent Place School in Summit, NJ, where I worked for ten years. Soon after that, I joined a critique group and mostly wrote book reviews and personal essays. Actually GLORY BE started life as “Junk Poker,” an essay/ short story about a game my sister and I played as children. That remained the working title of the novel for quite a while, through several premature submissions. Till I realized neither junk nor poker was a particularly appropriate title for a middle-grade novel.

But I need to go back a bit to tell you that this story really started in 1964 when I worked for my state’s Library Commission as a summer college intern. Sunflower County, Mississippi (And no, I didn’t make up that county’s name) was in the heart of the Mississippi Delta. It was Freedom Summer, 1964. A lot was going on, to say the very least on that subject. History unfolded while I shelved books and ran story hours.

As a library intern, I worked with an amazing director. She stood up to a very vocal library trustee who wanted us to close down the library, or at least remove all the chairs, rather than allow it to be integrated. By the end of that summer, Story Hour had turned into a remedial reading class attended by children who’d never been inside a library. That same summer, I briefly met a young, white civil rights worker from Ohio. In town to register voters and teach in the new Freedom School, she spent her off hours hanging out in the library. It’s not a reach to say I learned a lot that college summer.

And now, both my library director and that civil rights worker have ended up in my book.

I read a Willa Cather quote on your blog that said: “Let your fiction grow from the land beneath your feet.” Tell us how growing up in the Mississippi Delta influences your writing.

I see setting as almost another character in my writing. GLORY BE takes place during two short weeks in July. I always loved summers growing up. As I wrote this novel, I pictured mimosa blossoms from the tree outside my childhood home, and I heard crickets — that almost deafening sound that happened every early evening. When Glory and her friends gather to play kick-the-can or baseball, the pecan tree that shaded my backyard is home base.

Another quote I love is from Eudora Welty, as reported in One Writer’s Beginnings. She shared this advice from a literary critic: “Always be sure you get your moon in the right part of the sky.” I tried very hard to get the details of the Mississippi Delta right.

Give us a brief plot synopsis for your novel.

All Gloriana June Hemphill wants this summer is for her pool to stay open and her big sister to stay her best friend. But things are beginning to change in Hanging Moss, Mississippi, whether she likes it or not. The town is divided by the closing of the community pool and the civil rights workers who’ve come to town. Her sister has a boyfriend, the new football hero who’s mysteriously turned up in town.

Glory begins to make sense of these changes when she befriends the daughter of one of these “outside agitators.” Her maid, Emma, also helps her understand what’s changing in her life, and more importantly, why things shouldn’t stay the same.

GLORY BE is historical fiction. What research tips do you have for other authors?

Having spent most of my career as a librarian, the research part was fun. I think when writing for kids about such an important time in history, writers need to make sure young readers understand what it was like living in another century, in a different place or in someone else’s shoes. Quite honestly, even though I was there during this crucial time in our history, as a child I was shielded from a lot of what was happening in the South. So I’ve always been interested in learning more about Freedom Summer. For this book, I tried to read oral histories and also to interview my contemporaries about the actual events. Then I had fun remembering early 1960s music, the hairstyles, the food.

So many debut authors complain about the lack of marketing support for their novels. That has certainly not been your experience. Share with us the wonderful journey you’ve been on pre-publication.

A whirlwind. That’s about the only way I can describe it! My editor loved the book from the very start. We worked together for several months, then she started sharing it with everybody at Scholastic. For me, that’s when the excitement truly began.

Along with four other debut novelists, I was invited to speak at the spring sales meeting. Having been a school librarian for so long, I went prepared. I took my Junk Poker/ Buster Brown shoebox filled with treasures, and did a Show and Tell. After that, I was asked to read from the book for an audio recording Scholastic made to share with potential bookstore purchasers, then a video recording for their Librarians Preview. I could go on and on. I have no complaints! I adore Scholastic!

What has been the most exciting thing that has happened to you in the past year?

Wow. So many things. Re-connecting with old friends (mostly via my blog and Facebook) who have their own memories of the summer of 1964. Hearing grown-up readers tell me they want to share the book with their children and grandchildren and students to help them understand Freedom Summer. Lunch with my editor and tea with my agent when I returned to New Jersey for the summer. All the amazing events at Scholastic. I pinch myself on an almost daily basis. Even before the book is officially in print!

What are you working on now?

Aha. The hard part! I’m working on a second middle-grade novel, set in Florida, started at a Highlights Founders Workshop with Carolyn Coman at least three years ago. I try not to think about how long it takes me to write, from idea to fruition. I’m working hard to speed up that process. GLORY BE took almost ten years from the time I put pen to paper until the book hit the stores.

This “new” novel was critiqued by an amazing agent, Linda Pratt, at an SCBWI regional event. That’s how we met and totally connected, but she didn’t take me on until I revised and submitted GLORY BE a year later.

I have another tiny kernel of a potential master plan for something new, also middle-grade, set in the South of course. Always be prepared. Just in case.