Thursday, January 31, 2013


To celebrate my book's birthday, (it's tomorrow, February 1st), I'd like to share the SCBWI success story that I wrote for the Florida listserv:

Finding Success Through The Miami SCBWI Conference

I didn’t find either my agent or my editor through SCBWI, yet it was through the contacts I made at the Miami conference that I learned to craft a novel. My novel writing journey started in 2009 at the “First Books Panel.” I listened as Marjetta Geerling, Debbie Reed Fischer, and Danette Haworth shared their paths to publication. One thing each of them had in common was this phrase, “I’d like to thank Joyce Sweeney.” I jotted her name down in my notebook and made it my mission to find this fairy godmother.

I discovered that Joyce is a talented teacher and mentor who has helped many authors land their first publishing contract. Later that evening, I introduced myself to her, and Joyce agreed to critique my middle grade novel. While that manuscript is still in my file drawer, the lessons I learned while crafting it stood me in good stead while writing my second book, THE BALLAD OF JESSIE PEARL.

In 2010, I journeyed back to the Miami conference. By this time I had written about 50 pages of JESSIE, and the first chapter was slated for critique with Newbery award winning author, Richard Peck.

THE BALLAD OF JESSIE PEARL is set in the 1920s. Mr. Peck’s written critique says, “Moreover, your subject matter is my own favorite: rustic nostalgia (with an edge) to reveal a little history to a generation not learning any at school.”

Since Mr. Peck had read only the first ten pages, he asked me to walk him through the rest of the plot. At that time, my novel had both a midwife and a second older woman called Cousin Rachel. Mr. Peck told me those two characters sounded remarkably similar and asked if they could be combined. “Yes!” I said. “Yes, that is absolutely brilliant!” He answered, “You have too many characters auditioning for a part in your novel.”

I confessed that I wasn’t entirely sure how my novel would end and shared two possibilities. Mr. Peck shook his head. “There’s only one way this novel can end,” he said. “Your character has grown and changed during her journey. The ending must reflect that.”

Armed with plotting tips from Richard Peck, I went back home and finished my book. I then took the completed manuscript to a Highlights Foundation Whole Novel Workshop led by Stephen Roxburgh. When Stephen said, “This novel really is delicious and exactly the kind of thing I’m looking to publish,” I knew JESSIE had found a home!

Here’s a sneak peek of THE BALLAD OF JESSIE PEARL: 

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.

Sunday, January 27, 2013

Sydney Taylor Award Blog Tour Coming Up

I will be interviewing Linda Leopold Strauss, author of THE ELIJAH DOOR A PASSOVER TALE, published by Holiday House, on February 14th. Congratulations to all the Sydney Taylor Book Award winners!

The Sydney Taylor Book Award Winner for Younger Readers:
Hannah’s Way by Linda Glaser with illustrations by Adam Gustavson
 (Kar-Ben, an imprint of Lerner Publishing Group)
The Sydney Taylor Book Award Winner for Older Readers:
His Name Was Raoul Wallenberg by Louise Borden
(Houghton Mifflin Books for Children)
The Sydney Taylor Book Award Winner for Teen Readers:
Intentions by Deborah Heiligman
(Knopf Books for Young Readers, a division of Random House)
Sydney Taylor Honor Books for Younger Readers:
Zayde Comes to Live by Sheri Sinykin with illustrationsby Kristina Swarner
(Peachtree Publishers)
The Elijah Door: A Passover Tale by Linda Leopold Strauss with illustrations by Alexi Natchev
(Holiday House)
Sydney Taylor Honor Book for Older Readers:
The Wooden Sword: A Jewish Folktale from Afghanistan
 by Ann Redisch Stampler with illustrations by Carol Liddiment
(Albert Whitman & Company)
Sydney Taylor Honor Book for Teen Readers:
Beyond Courage: The Untold Story of Jewish Resistance During the Holocaust
by Doreen Rappaport
(Candlewick Press)
Notable Books for Younger Readers:
Sadie and the Big Mountain by Jamie Korngold with illustrations by Julie Fortenberry
(Kar-Ben, an imprint of Lerner Publishing Group)
The Schmutzy Family by Madelyn Rosenberg with illustrations by Paul Meisel
(Holiday House)
A Song for My Sister by Lesley Simpson with illustrations by Tatjana Mai-Wyss
(Random House Books for Young Readers)
Speak Up, Tommy! By Jacqueline Dembar Greene with illustrations by Deborah Melmon
(Kar-Ben, an imprint of Lerner Publishing Group)
A Sweet Passover by LeslĂ©a Newman with illustrations by David Slonim
(Abrams Books for Young Readers)
Notable Books for Older Readers:
Hereville: How Mirka Met a Meteorite by Barry Deutsch
(Amulet Books, an imprint of Abrams)
Looking for Me by Betsy R. Rosenthal
(Houghton Mifflin Books for Children)
Sami’s Sleepaway Summer by Jenny Meyerhoff
(Scholastic Paperbacks)
Small Medium at Large by Joanne Levy
(Bloomsbury USA Children)
Whole Story of Half a Girl by Veera Hiranandani
(Delacorte Books for Young Readers, a division of Random House)

Notable Books for Teens:
The Last Song by Eva Wiseman
(Tundra Books)
Now by Morris Gleitzman
(Henry Holt and Company)
Rachel’s Secret by Shelly Sanders
(Second Story Press)

Thursday, January 24, 2013


I love this review from Booklist...especially the last line!

Issue: February 15, 2013

The Ballad of Jessie Pearl.

Advanced Review – Uncorrected Proof
Hitchcock, Shannon (Author) Feb 2013. 131 p. Namelos, hardcover, $18.95. (9781608981410).
Jessie’s family no sooner has to deal with the loss of her mother when her older sister, Carrie, begins to battle tuberculosis just after the birth of her son. This is North Carolina in the early 1920s, and Jessie must leave school to help care for her hardworking farm family. When baby Ky is left motherless, Jessie wonders if she will ever have an opportunity to venture beyond home and pursue her dreams of higher education and becoming a teacher. 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. Jessie makes her decision carefully and with much soul searching. 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.
— Anne O'Malley

Wednesday, January 23, 2013

A Blog Hop, (I'm just a girl who can't say no!)

Do you remember that delightful song from the musical, OKLAHOMA, "I'm Just A Girl Who Can't Say No?" Well, that song describes me to a "T" when it comes to promoting my debut novel, and frankly I've been so busy that I've screwed up this blog hop thing!

I was tagged by the talented Nancy J. Cavanaugh whose debut novel, THIS JOURNAL BELONGS TO RATCHET will be published on April 1st. This morning I realized that my blog post is due today so here goes:

What's the title of your debut novel? THE BALLAD OF JESSIE PEARL

Give a brief synopsis.

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 anymore.

What have been the most amazing things that have happened to you since holding your debut novel in your hands?

First was getting a cover blurb from Richard Peck. He wrote, "With the poetry of plain speaking, Shannon Hitchcock recreates the daily drama of a vanished world." Mr. Peck's writing always blows me away and I'm honored that he provided a quote. Secondly, I got good reviews from Publishers Weekly, Kirkus, and Children's Literature. And thirdly, I had the chance to speak on a debut authors' panel at the Miami SCBWI conference.

What is the biggest challenge facing a debut author?

I think there are two: The first is marketing. I think all debut authors struggle with how to make our novels stand out in a crowded marketplace. I've been asking myself which promotional efforts are most effective. How do you get the most bang for the buck? The second biggest challenge is finding time to write a second book while promoting the first one.

I'm tagging YA author, Alina Klein, author of RAPE GIRL and picture book author, Alison Ashley Formento, author of THESE SEAS COUNT, to be the next stops on the blog hop. Look for their posts on January 30th!

Monday, January 21, 2013

What's Real & What's Made Up From The Ballad of Jessie Pearl?

I received an email from a high school friend who has recently read my book. She wanted to know which characters were based on real people and if any of the characters were simply made up. Since I believe lots of  readers from my hometown will want to know the answers, I'll paste my response to her below:

Hi Rynn,

Thank you for reading my book and writing to tell me how much you liked it.

Basically I took a snippet of a family story and then used research and my imagination because everyone associated with what really happened is long dead.

The story takes place in the house that you call Bobby Marler's house. When I was growing up that was my grandmother's house. My grandmother, Lena, is Jessie Pearl in the book. She was fourteen when her sister Crawley died from tuberculosis. Crawley was 20 when she died and left behind a ten-month-old baby, (Junior Wooten), and a letter planning her own funeral. I have never seen the actual letter. I believe that it is in a safe in Savannah, Georgia. 

When I asked my mom what she remembered about her mother and her sisters, she said that Anna, the oldest sister, liked to sew and used to cut her own patterns from the Sears & Roebuck catalogue. She also told me that when Anna contracted TB, she was determined to go away for treatment because her sister Crawley had died from it. All of those details made their way into the book. Anna's daughter was actually named Vivian, but I shortened it to Vivi in the book. 

My mom told me that Lena, (the youngest sister), would rather work outside than do housework. She wasn't much of a cook because her older sisters had always done most of it while she was at work in the tobacco field. Those details shaped the character of Jessie Pearl.

My mom didn't know much about Crawley, the middle sister, because she died so young, but she told me the letter she left behind was incredibly sad. Another relative said that Crawley loved to sing and so I made her musical in the book. I changed the name Crawley to Carrie because Crawley reminded me of "creepy crawley." It also has significance because the family had to "carry her" when she became ill.

Yes, Tom and Sophie are based on the Tom and Sophronia Hennings that you found in the Hennings family genealogy. I used to walk to see "Fronnie" with my grandmother. Tom and Fronnie actually lost two of their children to diphtheria. Fronnie told me the story of losing her children when I was just a little girl. Tell your daughter I changed Fronnie to Sophie because I thought it was a more beautiful name. I am pleased she doesn't mind that I borrowed it. (Rynn's daughter is actually named Sophia Hennings).

Viney Speer is probably the only person still alive who attended Crawley's funeral, but she was a little girl and doesn't remember too much about it. I changed the last name, but borrowed the name Viney for the book because I thought it suited the time period.

Maude is basically a made up character. There used to be a granny woman in the Flint Hill community whose last name was Patterson. I gave Maude that last name, but chose her first name because I thought it fit the character I had in mind. Two things influenced me when I was writing the character of Maude. The first is a self-published book by Miss Irma Matthews about life in early Yadkin County. In that memoir, Miss Irma writes about one of her relatives who would come for long visits and stay past her welcome. The rest of Maude is from my Grandmother Williams who used to watch over me, much like Maude watches over Jessie.

Liza Phillips is also a made up character. She's a combination of two characters I loved to hate when I was growing up: Nellie Olson from the Little House books and Liza Colby from the now defunct soap opera "All My Children."

My editor told me to let go of what really happened and just tell a good story. That's what I've tried to do. I wanted to tell a good story and at the same time capture this bit of Hennings family history so that it wouldn't be forgotten. 

Thanks again,


Sunday, January 13, 2013

The Ballad of Jessie Pearl Receives Another Good Review!

I am thrilled with THE BALLAD OF JESSIE PEARL'S reviews by Kirkus and Publisher's Weekly, and now I have more good news. A review by Children's Literature:

Children's Literature - Jean Boreen
Jessie Pearl wants to follow her heart's desire: go to college and become a teacher. But that is not the easiest goal to achieve for a girl growing up in rural North Caroline in the early 1920's. When her sister, Carrie, is diagnosed with tuberculosis (a death sentence for many in the early 20th century), Jessie must take over the family chores as well as nurse her sister. In doing so, Jessie essentially has to give up her studies and her friends because of concerns about contagion. When Carrie dies, Jessie has to deal not only with her loss but with Carrie's expectation that Jessie will help raise her son, Ky, until her husband remarries. Jessie's response to these various life changes as well as her eventual realization that she has fallen in love with her longtime friend, J.T., complicates the choices she must make for her future. 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. Reviewer: Jean Boreen, Ph.D.

I would give my eyeteeth for a review from School Library Journal so fingers crossed that it happens!

Tuesday, January 1, 2013

Professional Reviews Matter

All of us who hope to sell to the school and library market know that professional reviews matter. Though publishers send out Advanced Reader Copies, there is no guarantee that a book will actually make it into the review journals. And then there's the problem of negative reviews. Just as critics pan movies they don't like, the same happens with books. It often hurts sales -- a lot.

On Christmas Eve, I got a special gift. One that didn't come in a box or tied up with a bow. Publisher's Weekly reviewed my novel, THE BALLAD OF JESSIE PEARL. You can read the review here:

To make my holidays even brighter, JESSIE was also reviewed by Kirkus. That review will be published in their print edition on January 15th. For those who don't subscribe, I'll paste it below:

Jessie, 15 and living on a rural North Carolina tobacco farm in the early 1920s, dreams of graduating from high school and then attending teachers’ college.

All of that becomes very unlikely after one of her elder sisters falls ill with tuberculosis, forcing Jessie to leave school to nurse her dying sibling and later to become surrogate mother to her sister’s infant son. Jessie loves her nephew, but she’s torn between staying on the farm and cultivating her growing relationship with J.T., a neighbor three years her senior who would happily marry her when she gets a little older, or satisfying a deep-seated urge to make more of her life, if she gets the opportunity. 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 and period. 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. (Historical fiction. 11-18)

I'm hopeful that more reviews are forthcoming and that they'll be as positive as these two. Here's wishing you all a Happy New Year and great reviews!