A former Yadkin County resident has written her debut novel, “The Ballad of Jessie Pearl,” possibly the only novel to be set in East Bend.
Shannon Hitchcock was raised on Rockett Road in Yadkin County, attending Fall Creek Elementary and graduating from Forbush High School. After she married, she and her husband became travelers due to his career.
“He’s the chief financial officer for Syniverse Technologies, and we’ve lived all over the country during our marriage,” Hitchcock said.
They’ve settled in Tampa, Fla., and Hitchcock has taken up her passion: writing.
“I have always loved reading and writing,” Hitchcock said. “Much of the credit goes to two special elementary school teachers.”
Hitchcock said that her education began at a tumultuous time with the integration of Yadkin County Schools. The county’s first African-American teacher, Pauline Porter, was a life-changing influence on her.
“In 1967, the year I started school, children were divided into three reading circles,” Hitchcock said. “The blue birds were the most accomplished readers. The red birds were in the middle, and the yellow birds were the readers most in need of improvement. I was a yellow bird and ashamed of myself.”
Hitchcock said that her teacher didn’t let her reading status define her and encouraged her to look past the label and try her hardest.
“Mrs. Porter patiently taught me to read,” Hitchcock said. “She disliked labels and believed that every child has the potential to become a blue bird. I still remember her voice: it had rhythm, like a poem.”
Another Yadkin County teacher challenged Hitchcock to develop a passion for reading for enjoyment.
“The other teacher who most influenced me was Mrs. Barbara Hutchens,” Hitchcock said. “She held a contest to see which student could read the most books during the school year. I won the contest and became a lifelong reader.”
Since then Hitchcock has become a parent and through a history project assigned to her son she started to learn about history in her family that she never knew.
A story about her great-grandmother’s sister who died of tuberculosis leaving behind her ten-month-old baby and a letter planning her funeral caught Hitchcock’s attention and she became fascinated.
She was inspired to take her family’s past and turn it into a young adult novel to share her roots.
“I started [researching] by talking to my parents. Both grew up on North Carolina farms and have great memories,” Hitchcock said. “I also read novels set in the 1920s, North Carolina history books, memoirs written from sanatoriums, and doctors’ accounts of tuberculosis.
“A particularly fascinating memoir is called ‘Neighbors and Us’ by Yadkin County’s own Irma Matthews Robertson,” Hitchcock continued. “From Miss Irma’s book, I discovered what it was like to attend a Christmas service lit by oil lamps, folk remedies, and old time wheat threshing.”
The result of her research is “The Ballad of Jessie Pearl.” The novel is set in East Bend in 1922 and focuses on Jessie, a young girl who has to put her life plans on hold to help her family maintain their home and farm during a tuberculosis epidemic. All the while she finds love and reevaluates what she was so sure she wanted before.
Hitchcock said that she knew she wanted to write her novel in the young adult genre.
“When I became a mother, I rediscovered children’s literature,” Hitchcock said. “I read a library full of books to my son and dreamed of writing my own stories. I’m hard at work on another novel, but would like to try my hand at picture books.”
Hitchcock said that she has had stories featured in Highlights for Children, Cricket, Ask, Pockets Children’s Writer and other magazines.
She says that she has several books that she’s already written that are also set in Yadkin County but she is unsure which one will be released next.
“It just depends what gets picked up by publishers,” Hitchcock said.
Hitchcock said that “The Ballad of Jessie Pearl” can be purchased by going online at Amazon.com or Barnesandnoble.com. Yadkin residents can also contact Hitchcock’s mother, Carolyn Williams, at 336-961-3786 to purchase the book directly.
“Schools and libraries can order my book through Ingram’s catalogue and my website has a free curriculum guide for teachers that adheres to the new common core and essential standards,” Hitchcock said.
Hitchcock says that she does not currently have plans to return to Yadkin County to promote her book but she does have a place to contact her on her website for a free 20 minute Skype visit and Q&A session for classrooms and book clubs.
“I don’t have any plans to return to Yadkin to promote the book at this time but I’d love to be invited,” Hitchcock said.
Reach Lindsay Craven at 679-2341 or at firstname.lastname@example.org.