As a journalism and public communications major, Shannon L. Brown has been writing since well before graduation. She's focused on magazines since 2006, covering topics as varied as Daniel Boone, the opera, pineapples and the jewelry industry (a very familiar subject, as her parents opened and operated the former McGrane Jewelers on D Street in downtown Anchorage). All told, she's written more than 600 articles. "I stopped counting around then," she laughed.
Last year, Shannon reduced her everyday writing workload to focus on completing her first published book, a children's mystery called The Feather Chase. The story—written for an 8- to 12-year-old audience—follows Sophie and Jessica, two contrasting cousins who seem to only have their age in common, after they find a suspicious briefcase full of feathers in the forest outside the fictional mountain town of Pine Hill.
Shannon took the time to answer a few questions about her book, share insights on her writing and shed some light on the early days of UAA's journalism department.
Q1: How long has the story been building in your head?
The idea for the "The Feather Chase" came to me in late 2003. I started writing it on the side while I did other work. When writing articles took off for me in 2006, it demanded so much of my time that my fiction had to take a back seat. In order to have time to edit and publish it, I stepped back from most of my other writing last fall to focus on this book.
Q2: Tell us a little about your characters?
Sophie is from small town named Pine Hill and enjoys anything to do with the natural setting she lives in—hiking, camping, fishing. Jessica has lived all over the world due to her father's work. She has a more cosmopolitan take on life and loves makeup and clothes. As the story develops, the reader learns Jessica is also brilliant, but she has been hiding that fact so she can fit in.
Q3: You've lived in several states between your roots in Alaska and your current home in Tennessee. Is the fictional mountain town of Pine Hill inspired by anywhere in particular?
Pine Hill is completely from my imagination. I'm sure pieces of it came from my background. I spent many summer and winter days in Alaska beside lakes surrounded by pine trees. I also began writing The Feather Chase soon after I'd moved from the mountains and lakes of North Idaho to Dallas/Fort Worth. Part of the charm of the town is the many buildings made of brick; that comes both from hearing my mother speak fondly of the brick buildings from her California childhood and from living in Tennessee, where it seems every other building is made of brick.
Q4: Your time as a journalism student overlapped with a few exciting changes at UAA. Can you tell us about your involvements in the journalism department as a student?
I came into the Journalism/Public Communications department in, I believe, the first year it existed. Sylvia Brody held the reins and Cleve Matthews was the first Atwood Chair of Journalism [The Atwood Chair brings nationally recognized journalists to UAA as visiting professors each academic year—Cleve Matthews, the first Atwood Chair in 1980-1981, was previously an editor at The New York Times, the St. Louis Dispatch, and served as first news director at NPR, helping to launch the flagship program All Things Considered].
As for journalism, I can't imagine a better teacher than Cleve. He also helped us create a student newspaper from the ground up and we named it the UAA Voice. We began in what was really a closet and a handful of us put it out. [UAA Voice later became The Northern Light, the current campus newspaper].
Q5: Has your career writing for regional and trade publications affected your approach to long-form story telling?
It's actually the reverse. I wrote my first book in 1987 and kept writing fiction over the years. I just didn't publish it. That experience flows over into my nonfiction. I strive to give each article a unique tone, a character if you will. Even a technical article about how to create a piece of jewelry needs to reflect the individual character of the designer. I tell my interview subjects that I'm painting a picture and I need for them to supply the paint.
Q6: Can we expect future adventures out of Sophie and Jessica?
Sophie and Jessica are hard at work on their next mystery. They found a gift-wrapped box on Sophie's front porch with a surprise inside. They're hoping to have the whole mystery solved and be ready to share the tale by late 2014.
Check out more UAA Amazing stories on the university's Green and Gold News site here.
Compiled by J. Besl, UAA Office of University Advancement
Anchorage Daily News Bloggers
Alaska Dispatch Publishing