Shannon Hitchcock is a freelance writer specializing in stories for children. Her work has been published in Highlights for Children, Cricket, Ask, and other magazines. Her debut novel, The Ballad of Jessie Pearl, was published in 2013.
What typically comes first for you: a character? An era? A story idea? How do you proceed from there?
I usually start with a story idea. I then spend several months researching, dreaming, and taking notes before I begin writing.
How do you conduct your research?
I start with Google, and as I browse various websites, I make a list of questions. For example: what might my heroine have worn in the 1920’s? What was life like on a farm before automation? How do you drive a Model T? Once I have my questions, I search Amazon for books that might help answer them. I purchase lots of books from used booksellers so that I can mark them up and have them handy to refer back to.
You do have a specific system for collecting data?
I buy a new notebook at the start of every project and record all of my research notes in it.
What kinds of sources do you use?
A chat with a good reference librarian is invaluable to get started. Often they have the inside scoop on resources the average person doesn’t even know about. I also use magazine articles, books, websites, historical societies, Pinterest, and interviews.
How long do you typically research before beginning to draft?
About six months. I have to fill the well before there’s anything inside to come pouring out.
At what point do you feel comfortable beginning to draft? How does your research continue once you begin writing?
When I’ve read and taken notes on all of the material I’ve identified as useful, then I start to write. I usually have a good grasp of the material at that point, but often refer back to my notes to double check facts.
What is your favorite thing about research?
My favorite thing is stumbling upon some cool fact or anecdote that will enhance the plot.
What’s your least favorite thing about research?
Sometimes it feels like the research will never end so that the writing can begin. I get impatient with it.
What’s your favorite thing about writing historical fiction?
Becoming immersed in another place and time.
What are some obstacles writing historical fiction brings?
Historical fiction is a harder sell. When my agent was shopping THE BALLAD OF JESSIE PEARL, lots of the feedback went like this, “My main concern is that this is straight historical fiction, which is a really tough sale in the marketplace these days.”
Why is historical fiction important?
Historical fiction makes history come alive. Readers can get lost in a story and learn lots of wonderful information in the process. It’s like Mary Poppins says, “a spoonful of sugar helps the medicine go down!”
Sheila Kelly Welch says
Thanks for the interview with Shannon. Her book gives readers a detailed sense of the setting, so it was interesting to learn about her process of writing historical fiction. I recommend this story to kids and teachers. It would make an excellent read-aloud for fifth through eighth grade classes.
I’ve enjoyed putting this historical fiction series together so much. Every author has a different approach. It’s both interesting and freeing to learn about.
Kimberley Griffiths Little says
Thanks for this post, Shannon, and thank you Caroline for doing this series! I can spend months or years researching, but I love to find those unknown little nuggets that can be so fascinating.
Kim, I’d love to interview you for this series sometime.