Writing Historical Fiction Based On A Family Story

1. Research Comes First. Because I new little about tuberculosis or life on a farm in the 1920’s, I began reading novels set in that time period, North Carolina history books, memoirs written from sanatoriums, and doctors’ accounts of the disease. I consulted experts at the North Carolina Museum of History and the Swannanoa Valley Museum. It took about six months of dedicated research before I was ready to write. GIVEAWAY: Shannon is excited to give away a free copy of her novel to a random commenter. Comment within 2 weeks; winners must live in Canada/US to receive the book by mail. You can win a blog contest even if you’ve won before. (Update: madeline40 won.)
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Every family has its stories, stories of military service, lost love, and those who died young. My grandmother’s sister died from tuberculosis when she was only twenty years old. She left behind a ten-month-old baby, and a letter planning her own funeral. Here’s what I learned when turning that snippet of my family’s history into a YA novel, THE BALLAD OF JESSIE PEARL.

GIVEAWAY: Shannon is excited to give away a free copy of her novel to a random commenter. Comment within 2 weeks; winners must live in Canada/US to receive the book by mail. You can win a blog contest even if you’ve won before. (Update: madeline40 won.)

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Guest column by Shannon Hitchcock, author of the 2013 YA novel,
THE BALLAD OF JESSIE PEARL (Namelos), the story of 14-year-old
Jessie Pearl who has big plans for her future before tuberculosis strikes.
Shannon was born in North Carolina on a 100-acre farm. She now lives
in Tampa, Florida with her husband and teenaged son. Shannon’s writing
has been published in Highlights for Children, Cricket, Children’s Writer,
and other magazines. THE BALLAD OF JESSIE PEARL is her debut
novel. Find Shannon on Twitter.

1. Research Comes First. Because I new little about tuberculosis or life on a farm in the 1920’s, I began reading novels set in that time period, North Carolina history books, memoirs written from sanatoriums, and doctors’ accounts of the disease. I consulted experts at the North Carolina Museum of History and the Swannanoa Valley Museum. It took about six months of dedicated research before I was ready to write.

2. Journals and memoirs can be your best friends. A retired schoolteacher from my hometown self-published a book about growing up at the turn of the twentieth century. From Miss Irma’s book, I borrowed folk remedies, a Christmas Eve service, and details about getting a body ready for burial.

(See a list of agents who accept memoir submissions.)

3. Forget what really happened. Since I was not writing a memoir, I was free to change names, make up characters, and alter events. In other words, don’t let the truth stand in the way of a good story.

4. Be prepared to explain what’s real and what’s made up. I’ve received letters and e-mails from people that want to know the facts behind the fiction. Finally I posted an explanation on my blog: http://shannonhitchcockwriter.blogspot.com/2013/01/whats-real-whats-made-up-from-ballad-of.html

(Never open your novel with a dream -- here's why.)

5. Don’t discount small publishers. When my agent was shopping my manuscript, lots of the feedback we received went something like this: “My real concern is that YA historical fiction is a tough sell in the marketplace right now.” While that may be true, THE BALLAD OF JESSIE PEARL found the perfect home at Namelos.

GIVEAWAY: Shannon is excited to give away a free copy of her novel to a random commenter. Comment within 2 weeks; winners must live in Canada/US to receive the book by mail. You can win a blog contest even if you’ve won before. (Update: madeline40 won.)

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