Shannon Wiersbitzky is a middle-grade author, a hopeless optimist, and a lover of the outdoors. The Summer of Hammers and Angels, nominated for the William Allen White award, was her first novel.
Born in North Dakota, Shannon has called West Virginia, Florida, Minnesota, North Carolina, and Michigan “home” at some point in her life.She currently lives in Pennsylvania with her husband, two sons, one rather dull fish and her always entertaining dog Benson.
I interviewed Shannon about her new book WHAT FLOWERS REMEMBER, and asked her if she would do a give-a-way of the book for anyone who leaves a comment. If you tweet or post something about the book on facebook or your blog, you will receive an extra entry to increase your chances to win.
Book Notes: What Flowers Remember
Most folks probably think gardens only get tended when they’re blooming. But most folks would be wrong. According to the almanac, a proper gardener does something every single month. Old Red Clancy was definitely a proper gardener. That’s why I enrolled myself in the Clancy School of Gardening. If I was going to learn about flowers, I wanted to learn from the best.
Delia and Old Red Clancy make quite a pair. He has the know-how and she has the get-up-and-go. When they dream up a seed- and flower-selling business, well, look out, Tucker’s Ferry, because here they come.
But something is happening to Old Red. And the doctors say he can’t be cured. He’s forgetting places and names and getting cranky for no reason. As his condition worsens, Delia takes it upon herself to save as many memories as she can. Her mission is to gather Old Red’s stories so that no one will forget, and she corrals everybody in town to help her.
What Flowers Remember is a story of love and loss, of a young girl coming to understand that even when people die, they live on in our minds, our hearts, and our stories.
*Note: A portion of the proceeds from the sale of this book are donated to the Alzheimer’s Association.
In addition to win and read a good book, I think you will find Shannon’s answers to my interview questions below interesting.
I see you have published two middle grade books with namelos. Did you sign a two book deal when you sold THE SUMMER OF HAMMERS AND ANGELS?
No. My initial contract with Namelos only included my first book. I didn’t even know there would be a sequel!
Can you tell us the story behind how you sold your first book and the journey you took to get there?
Writing IS a journey isn’t it! I’ll say that it was a ten year path of discovering my voice and what kind of narrative suits me best. When I began writing books for children, I focused first on picture books. Then I began to dabble in novels. I met my editor, Stephen Roxburgh, at a picture book workshop at Highlights in 2009. He had just started Namelos earlier that year. We hit it off and after the workshop I sent him the manuscript for THE SUMMER OF HAMMERS AND ANGELS. We’ve been working together ever since.
Was that your debut book?
Yes. While I’ve had a variety of picture books garner significant interest over the years, HAMMERS was the first book I had published. It was a real thrill to see it in print. I’ve got a copy hanging on the wall in my writing studio. My husband had it framed.
How well did the book sell?
The book has sold well. I don’t know an exact number of copies. It always helps when a novel gets noticed by organizations and award committees, and THE SUMMER OF HAMMERS AND ANGELS did. It was nominated for the William Allen White award, and was a recommended title by the Kansas NEA Reading Circle. Scholastic bought copies for its book club too. Anytime a story is recognized, it’s an honor.
Has the publishing of WHAT FLOWERS REMEMBER, increased the sales of THE SUMMER OF HAMMERS AND ANGELS?
Yes, I think the benefit of having multiple books out is that people naturally see or seek out your other titles. At least they do if they like what they read!
Had you written WHAT FLOWERS REMEMBER when you sold the first book?
No, I hadn’t. In fact, after HAMMERS came out, when asked if there might be a sequel, I confidently said that Delia’s story was finished. Ha! That just shows you that characters are really in charge, not the writers.
How did the idea of the book come to you?
In terms of the actual time and place when I realized Delia had another story to tell, I was literally on a flight from PA to CA. I’d written a novel dealing with Alzheimer’s several years earlier (it was terrible and I never tried to publish it) and all of a sudden, I realized that I’d given the story to the wrong character. It was Delia’s story to tell. I plotted out the entire novel on the back of a single sheet of paper and about six months later I started writing it.
The inspiration to write about Alzheimer’s came from my own life. My grandfather had the disease and ultimately he forgot me. He and I were very close and it broke my heart to realize I had been erased. I wanted to capture the truth of that in a story.
Sadly, dementia is so common, and we have a real lack of stories that deal with it in an honest way. For some reason, we don’t talk about Alzheimer’s as openly as we do other diseases. Kids (and adults) need to be able to have everyday conversations about what they might be experiencing with their own grandparents or others in their life. My hope is that books like FLOWERS can help.
Do you have an agent? If so, who? If not, would you like to find one?
I don’t have an agent. I’ve worked directly with Stephen and his Namelos team for both books. I would like to find an agent, but it hasn’t been my focus lately. It’s so difficult to find someone that exactly fits your personality and writing style!
I have some picture book and early reader manuscripts I’d love to see published, and down the road, there may be other novels that aren’t right for Namelos, but are right for another publisher. Reviewers have compared my writing to Chicken Soup for the Soul and Patricia MacLachlan. If you know of any agents that might lean that way, let me know!
What type of things have you been doing to promote your books?
I have a full-time job that is fairly demanding, so I try to pick and choose things I can tackle in odd hours or that don’t require a full day. I regularly do web interviews with bloggers or write guest posts. I’ve visited local schools and done Skype visits with classrooms. There have been radio interviews. I’ve done a few book signings too.
Did namelos help market your book and get reviews?
Absolutely! They work the official reviewers and send copies out to various awards committees and all that usual stuff that publishers do. Stephen Roxburgh is highly regarded in the industry, so books he publishes typically do get picked up for review by folks like Kirkus. That’s a big plus.
What are you working on now?
Right now I’m working on a few things. I’m editing a new novel which is totally different from my first two. High action, high comedy, high levels of exaggeration. I think I needed a break from the realistic fiction. I’m working on a few picture books as well. I’d love for them to find a good home. And I’m jotting notes for a novel that I haven’t started yet, but that I’ve been thinking about for two years. As soon as I can get the action manuscript out the door, this one is next in line. I like to have a host of projects in the hopper. My brain seems to work best that way.
“There are echoes of Patricia MacLachlan in the book’s period flavor (the story seems to be set thirty years or so in the past), the tenderness, and the deft writing that keeps a heart-tugging plot lovely as well as brimming with sentiment. Delia’s move from grief for what she’s losing to a deeper understanding of her old friend is smoothly depicted…. The story will bring new perspective for readers struggling with their own beloved elders, and the liquid joy of a serious tearjerker to anybody who likes a poignant human drama.”
–The Bulletin of the Center for Children’s Books, Recommended
“Wiersbitzky organizes the book gracefully by naming the chapters after months of the year. …The ebb and flow of life is shown, grief is addressed, and the power of what one person can do is celebrated. Teachers may wish to consider this book for reading lists in middle school.”
“What do flowers remember? The stories of the people who cared for them, of course, as Wiersbitzky’s sensitive novel compassionately conveys.” – Kirkus Reviews
“Fans of wholesome, uplifting stories similar to Canfield’s Chicken Soup for the Soul collections, will best enjoy this gentle reminder of the goodness of life and people.” — Voice of Youth Advocates
Shannon Wiersbitzky Links:
Shannon thank you for sharing your journey with us and introducing us to your book.