Thursday, March 27, 2014

North Carolina Reading Association Conference 2014

On March 18th, I led a workshop at NCRA called, "A Writer's Toolbox and How to Apply It In the Classroom." Here's the official description:

See inside author Shannon Hitchcock's Writer's Toolbox. Learn how to use an idea folder, writing prompts, and even an egg timer to engage your students. Shannon will touch on all parts of the writing process: idea generation, first drafts, revision, fact checking, proofreading, and how to be a successful critique partner. She will share how professional writers approach these tasks and how those strategies can be adapted for the classroom.

I also used NCRA as a learning and networking opportunity. I attended a workshop taught by Tammy Powell, an educational/historical consultant, titled "Brown Bagging History: Not Your Typical Lunch." Tammy gave each participant a brown lunch bag. Inside were items linked to NC history: a picture of the Shackleford wild horses, carrots, representing Carrot Island, seashells etc. Tammy shared how these brown bags pique students curiosity and get them interested in researching and writing about history. I have since corresponded with Tammy and sent her a copy of The Ballad of Jessie Pearl. Maybe there is some synergy between my historical fiction set in North Carolina and Tammy's work. Only time will tell.

Another favorite workshop was "Exploring Untold Stories of WWII through Text Sets," taught by grad student, Emily Roderique and Dr. Jeanne Swafford both from UNC Wilmington. A text set is a collection of resources, (articles, photographs, brochures, websites etc), focused on a common topic, theme, or anchor text. Emily says text sets have some great advantages:
  1. They give reluctant readers access to a variety of interesting texts and texts of varying levels of difficulty.
  2. Text sets foster collaboration among teachers, (cross-disciplinary projects).
Emily has developed text sets using Between Shades of Gray and Bomb as anchor texts. I introduced myself to Emily afterward and she agreed to help me develop a text set for The Ballad of Jessie Pearl. That should be a great learning experience for me and hopefully a marketing tool to use with teachers as well.

I had a wonderful time at NCRA: presenting, learning, and networking. An author can glean lots of useful information hanging out with teachers and librarians. I hope to participate again next year. 

Thursday, March 6, 2014

RIP Cynthia Chapman Willis

My dear friend and critique partner, Cynthia Chapman Willis died on March 3rd. I am heartbroken. For those of you who didn't know Cindy, it's not too late to get to know her. She left behind two wonderful novels, Dog Gone and Buck Fever. Both showcase Cindy's love of animals and her big heart. The following video shows Cindy during happier days, just after the release of her first novel:

Cindy worked with me every step of the way on my debut novel, The Ballad of Jessie Pearl. That novel is about a young woman wasting away from tuberculosis. She grows weak and has difficulty breathing. It's ironic that lung cancer caused many of those same symptoms in Cindy herself.

The morning after Cindy died, I went to the gym. I was pushing myself hard, but all I could think about was that Cindy would never move again. It was much like this passage from The Ballad of Jessie Pearl:

I grab an old coat that Tom outgrew and let myself out the back door. The wind makes a moaning sound like it's grieving too. I whistle for Patches and race down the dirt road. Carrie will never move again, and knowing that pushes me to run for both of us.

I have corresponded with Cindy almost daily for the past ten years. I keep expecting an email to pop up in my inbox. It doesn't seem real that she's gone. Jessie Pearl experienced those same emotions when her sister died:

I've seen Carrie every day of my life, but after tomorrow I'll never see her again. Poof--she'll be gone. I can't even conceive of it.

And like Jessie I'm struggling to believe Cindy is in a better place.When Jessie's other sister tells her that she'll see Carrie again some day in heaven, Jessie expresses her doubts:

I wish there was a guarantee of that. Do you really believe it?

Here's how Anna answers her:

I think everybody lives with doubt, Jessie, but I'm trying hard to believe. Faith brings me comfort.

In the end, faith is all we're left with. Rest in peace, dear friend. I hope we'll meet again.