Shannon Stocker Shares a Very Personal Story - Discovering Evelyn Glennie's work and so much more!
Updated: Oct 12, 2022
by Kathleen Marcath
Shannon Stocker has authored several children’s books, including LISTEN: HOW EVELYN GLENNIE, A DEAF GIRL, CHANGED PERCUSSION (Dial/Random House, 2022), CAN U SAVE THE DAY (Sleeping Bear Press, 2019), and WARRIOR (Sleeping Bear Press, 2023).
She is also a frequent contributor to the Chicken Soup for the Soul series. Shannon currently serves as SCBWI social co-director for Louisville and is a 12x12 ninja. In her spare time, Shannon advocates for children with disabilities (her daughter is a cancer warrior) and, as a Reflex Sympathetic Dystrophy patient and medical school graduate herself, she sits on the board for the RSD Foundation.
Cool facts: Shannon survived a coma, and once performed two songs, including one original, as part of an opening act for Blake Shelton. The self-proclaimed word nerd lives in Louisville, KY, with her husband, two children, and a stash of hidden dark chocolate. Shannon is rep’d by Allison Remcheck of Stimola Literary Studio.
Shannon, I am so delighted to meet you! I discovered your new book Listen: How Evelyn Glennie, A Deaf Girl, Changed Percussion on Amazon, and it immediately caught my attention. I was researching Evelyn Glennie, Christine Sun Kim, and other Deaf authors' descriptions and perceptions of sound, which the hearing world takes for granted. I was drawn in, curious and fascinated by their thoughts on sound.
Tell me about your musical background. I’d love to hear how the idea of this book came about. How did you discover Evelyn and her work, and what spoke to you about her story?
Thank you so much for having me, Kathleen! I’m so grateful you found me.
As the daughter of a classical pianist/organist, and a coloratura soprano, I grew up with music everywhere. I began my own training in classical piano and voice when I was about six years old, then fell in love with musical theater during middle school. In high school and college (Northwestern University), I got to perform in amazing shows like Annie Get Your Gun (Annie), Bye Bye Birdie (Kim McAfee), and Nine (Carla), among others. But during this time, I also started falling in love with words and writing. I wrote poetry and lyrics, both of which allowed me a totally different type of creative expression from my instrumental compositions. After college, I taught myself guitar and played in acoustic duos and bands to help pay my way through graduate and medical schools. But in my last year of medical school, I fell ill. Eventually, a tumor was found and I was diagnosed with Reflex Sympathetic Dystrophy (RSD).
I actually first learned of Evelyn when researching musicians with disabilities online. I’d been interested in trying my hand at nonfiction manuscripts, but I really wanted to write about something…personal. Something layered, with depth. I’m a musician who spent two years in a wheelchair, so I first began researching other musicians in wheelchairs. But when I read Evelyn’s story, I couldn’t shake it. So much of it resonated with my own, even though I’m neither deaf nor Deaf. Her determination entranced me, of course, but it was more than that. Her journey felt so familiar. Being told she couldn’t do something and doing it anyway…better than everyone else, mind you. That is the song of my soul! I started listening to her music constantly, reading every interview or article I could find, and watching every video. Not in a “fan girl” kind of way, although I am a fan of her work—but more in an I-feel-this-woman’s-grit kind of way. I admire her musicianship, but I also respect her heart. She’s really an amazing woman.
Did you have a connection with the Deaf and Hard of Hearing community before you wrote the book?
Both my parents wore hearing aids, but I really had no other connection with the Deaf/deaf community before writing this book. For me, I think the connection with Evelyn’s story was more about understanding what it feels like to be looked at as “less than.” When I required a wheelchair, people often would avoid eye contact with me. When I was at my sickest, I was told I’d never have children. I’d need to have my arm amputated. I had two years to live. And yet here I am, alive and well, fifteen years later—and with two miraculous children, no less! I know what it’s like to be told I “will never,” and then I know what it’s like to overcome. Evelyn’s story is not just for the Deaf or Hard-of-Hearing communities. It is for anyone who’s ever been told they can’t.
Have you had the pleasure of meeting Evelyn Glennie in person to interview her? I love all the research references you provide in Listen. Tell us more about how you did the research and worked with Random House on this book.
Oh, yes! Thank you for asking this question. I think it’s so important that people know how involved Evelyn was in the making of this book. I interviewed her on Skype a couple of times, and we’ve exchanged countless emails. She was so gracious with her time (and continues to be), and as a result, LISTEN truly represents her story. I could not have gotten all the little details right—all the emotions she felt—without her input.
My illustrator, Devon Holzwarth, even got to meet her when she performed near Devon’s hometown! I think that’s one of the reasons Devon’s illustrations come to life the way they do. Evelyn let us both in and, as a result, we were able to share a little part of her truth. I feel like I’m a better person for knowing her.
Devon Holzwarth with Evelyn Glennie
after her performance in Aachen.
Evelyn’s tagline is “I want to teach the world to LISTEN!” Your book does a delightful job with illustrations and sharing how Evelyn as a young girl, learned to listen and fought for her dream to play music. On a spread in the book, we learn her parents were very supportive of her achieving her goals. Her father tells the doctor, “Hearing or not. She will do what she wants to do.” Not all children get this support when a hearing loss or other disability is diagnosed. What is the bigger message in teaching the world to Listen?
Your questions bring chills! I love that you noticed this spread. When Evelyn first told me of her father’s quote, I felt tears. There are too many children in this world who are not raised with that kind of support. Of course, this book is about shattering glass ceilings and following your heart, but it’s also about advocacy. Standing up for what you believe in. Standing up for what our children think and feel. If we, as adults, can break down walls and advocate for others, then our children will hopefully learn to do the same. Her parents, her percussion teacher (Ron Forbes), the judge who advocated for her to have a second audition…they all used their voices and their positions to support Evelyn. Since then, Evelyn has used her own voice and platform to advocate for thousands, changing both admission and audition rules for disabled students. It’s such a heartwarming example of full-circle giving back, and how advocacy can empower our children to better the world.
This, together with Evelyn’s persistence, changed the world in so many ways that you share magically in Listen. How did this speak to you personally? What was your driving force in sharing her story rather than telling one of yours?
I have never been shy about sharing my story. I’ve written my memoir, but it’s 125,000 words…so I need to shorten it. My next picture book, WARRIOR (coming out next fall from Sleeping Bear Press), is about my daughter’s battle with cancer. I also have a contemporary fiction middle grade novel currently on submission with characters who parallel both my children in many ways. As writers, I think we often venture into worlds with characters that feel familiar to us, or about which we are passionate. Unlike Evelyn, I did not come from a supportive background—but I have always fought hard for the things in which I believe, and I have always marched to my own beat (for better or for worse!). So, in many ways, I guess I felt like Evelyn’s story was my story. She was told no, but she fought to overcome. Isn’t that the same story shared by so many of us?
Before writing Listen, you wrote Can U Save the Day?, along with a song. What was the inspiration for this book?
That book makes me smile! The concept actually came to me as I was falling asleep one night. I tried to get back to sleep, but then the first stanza popped in my head (it’s written in verse), and then the second. Finally, I gave up and trudged to the computer, where I wrote until about 3:00 am. I finished the first of fifty-two drafts that day and just knew it was special. I love wordplay, but I wanted the manuscript to be more layered than that—so it’s also about bullying. Obviously, advocacy is important to me! As for the song, I really wanted to have something I could play during school author visits. Something catchy and fun that children could echo, in the same vein as Emily Arrow. Once the song was written, it felt like it just begged for a music video. Thankfully, I had several friends who were willing to let me borrow their adorable children. I lived in Nashville for a few years where I met Scott Sanford (a songwriter), who co-wrote the song with me. Thank you, Scott!
Shannon, when I read about your seven-year experience with Reflex Sympathetic Dystrophy, I was brought to tears. Wow! You are a living miracle. Given another chance at life, you dove into writing a blog InHERview, where you share your story on every level. Can you tell us how InHERview came about and how it's grown?
Sigh. I loved this blog, but I’ve been terrible about its upkeep since the pandemic began (my daughter was also diagnosed with brain cancer in 2020, so I suppose I do have a good excuse for taking the break—but still). I started it because there was nothing else like it online. There are Q&A interviews and podcasts, but inHERview was designed to combine the two. I wanted to do a deep dive into the PEOPLE behind the manuscripts, rather than the stories behind the stories.