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.
I wanted to record these interviews, then transcribe them into written format. It allowed people to share things more freely, because they knew I’d give them a last look before posting the blog. If they changed their mind and felt they didn’t want to share some really personal detail, I would delete it immediately. But often, people would first wonder if they wanted to share, read it themselves, and then decide it was okay to post. There’s something about a shared experience that’s very, very powerful.
You’ve obviously read my story, so you know I’ve been through a lot. I just kept thinking, everyone has a story. Yet so many people feel alone. If I’m brave enough to ask the questions, and other authors are brave enough to answer them, then maybe their true stories would help other people on that same journey. Being a writer is so very hard. The field is fiercely competitive and subjective. Those of us who do it, do it as a labor of love. That labor of love feels a lot easier when we know it’s shared.
On your website, I read, “For over twelve years, I worked as a financial consultant for physicians. It paid the bills, but it did not feed my soul.” Like you, I quit the insurance industry just somehow knowing there was something else waiting for me to fulfill. After giving notice, I enrolled in classes. Through my education in Deaf Studies, I learned Deaf children and sign language were not represented in children's books, which is why I founded ASL Picture Books and wrote My Monster Truck Goes Everywhere with Me - Illustrated in American Sign Language.
I’d love to hear more about your journey. Can you speak about what sparked your decision to quit and how quitting the corporate position and doing the things you love and always wanted to do has changed your life?
I love that you founded ASL Picture Books…and congratulations on the success of your book! It’s won so many awards and done so well. You should be proud!
As for my career…I think I often made a number of career choices for my father. He was a difficult, militant man, but he was my dad. I wanted to make him proud…so I kept doing things that I knew he wanted me to do. Grad school. Med school. Businesswoman.
Until I quit and began to honor my true self through writing, I think there was always a bitter core within me. I’m actually thinking of going back to a part-time corporate position, because the truth is that I was very proud of what I accomplished in that world.
I left when it became unhealthy for me. But I’m learning that time can heal wounds, and I may be able to do both. As long as I’m not sacrificing my time with my family, time with my writing and author visits, or my integrity, I’m always willing to see where life takes me!
My inspiration for My Monster Truck Goes Everywhere with Me came from my three-year-old grandson and his love for monster trucks. Was it your children who inspired you to begin writing children’s books?
Yes, yes, yes!!! I am one of those rare writer-types who did NOT grow up as a bookworm. I actually hated reading, probably because so much of what I read was academic. But when I had children, I discovered (and fell in love with) picture books. We devoured them together. I was constantly amazed that a 32-page story could make me feel so much.
Because I wrote lyrics in my younger adult years, though, I had experience with storytelling via a sparse word count. Songs and picture books have one important quality in common: every word matters. I love the process of revision. And I love lyrical manuscripts, like LISTEN, every bit as much as I love those written in verse. I think I’d have a very difficult time writing a story without musicality. It’s such an important part of who I am.
But in response to your question—yes, it was my children who inspired me to start reading. Once I started reading, I felt a strong draw to create stories that I felt were missing from libraries and bookstores. So, I think it’s fair to say that it was also my children who inspired me to start writing.
How has family life changed since your career changed? What do Greg and your children Cassidy and Tye have to say about their mom being an author and speaker?
First of all, thank you for spelling my son’s name right! You’re a sweetheart. My husband and children are unbelievably supportive and proud. My parents have passed away, but my siblings and in-laws are also equally wonderful to me. My mother-in-law is often the first person I call when I’ve finished a new manuscript. She says all the right things, no matter what!
My children are constantly asking when I’m going to come to their school for a presentation or workshop. I love it! They’re in middle school and they’re both still willing to be seen with me. I joke, but I’m also serious about that—my son still holds my hand in the school parking lot, and my daughter will still yell, “I love you,” even when her friends are around.
They’ll both carry my picture book around and show it off to friends, many of whom wouldn’t be caught dead in the little kids’ section of a library or bookstore. I’m so incredibly proud of them, in so many ways…and I’m grateful that the feeling appears to be mutual.
You offer school visits and presentations for every age. Conferences and workshops also. Can you share more about how our audience can connect with you to order your books or schedule an event?
I’d be delighted to! Anyone who’s interested in an author visit can email me at firstname.lastname@example.org, or they could contact me through my website at www.shannonstocker.com. I also have a social media presence on Facebook (Shannon Otto Stocker, and Shannon Stocker Author), Instagram (@ShannonStocker_), and Twitter (@_ShannonStocker).
What is your current work in progress? What exciting news do you have?
The most exciting news that I can discuss is my next picture book, WARRIOR, that I mentioned earlier. I am SOOOOO excited for kids with cancer to see themselves reflected on these pages. They are heroes, as are those who care for them. Doctors, nurses, child life workers, Ronald McDonald House staff members, radiology technicians—the number of people who help care for sick children is mindboggling. I will never have sufficient words to thank them…but maybe WARRIOR is a start. As for other things in the works, I will say that there are some exciting things happening for LISTEN. It’s going to be printed in Mandarin, and it’s up for a reprint already here in the States! But, there are also some super cool things in the works that I can’t really discuss yet. So keep up with me on social media and we can all celebrate together when the announcements are made!
Shannon, thank you for sharing your story, your family, and your life with us. Your work is beautiful and reaches people of every age with no boundaries on accomplishing the dreams that make your heart sing.
I cannot thank you enough for the thoughtful questions and for helping me spread the word about this book of my heart. It’s been an honor!
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