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Sunday, February 04, 2018

Interview with First Place Essay Contest Winner, Shannon Stocker

Shannon Stocker was looking forward to a career in pediatrics when, during her last year of medical school, she became sick with Reflex Sympathetic Dystrophy—an illness that nearly took her life. After seven years of fighting, Shannon and her husband left the country to take place in an experimental treatment that would forever change their lives. Now a full-time mother and writer, Shannon is thrilled to have experienced some exciting literary successes in 2017. Last September, her story, “Marcela’s Vision,” was published in Chicken Soup for the Soul: Dreams and the Unexplainable. She sold her first picture book (Can U Save the Day), to be published by Sleeping Bear Press in 2019. Her picture book manuscript, Bella the Small, won an SCBWI Honorable Mention distinction, as well as two CBA Golden Ticket Awards. She was also honored to have been featured in two podcasts (Five Things and Painopolis). Shannon is looking forward to being interviewed by Amy Newmark for the Chicken Soup for the Soul podcast on January 9th, and she’s optimistic that she will soon finish her memoir. Shannon can be followed by subscribing to her website/blog at, and she can be found tweeting positive affirmations at @iwriteforkidz on Twitter.

Interview by Marcia Peterson

WOW: Congratulations on winning first place in our 2017 essay competition! What prompted you to enter the contest?

Shannon: Thank you so much! I’m incredibly honored. I’ve been watching and reading flash fiction on WOW! for a couple of years now. I have tremendous respect for the people who have mastered that particular art form – I, most certainly, have not. My strengths tend to be more in the form of non-fiction essays and children’s literature… so when the opportunity to enter a non-fiction piece popped up, I jumped at the chance.

WOW: Your essay, “This, Too, Shall Pass” touches on the temporary nature of everything—good and bad. What inspired you to write this particular story?

Shannon: Almost everything I write is inspired by my children, Cassidy and Tye. This particular essay was inspired by my son. I remember the morning well: I was running late to get the children to school, which meant I would be late for work. I was panicked and impatient. My husband was grumpy. And my son was clingy. As I rushed around the kitchen, Tye repeatedly positioned himself on the floor between me and the fridge – between me and the sink – between me and the stove. Over and over, he wrapped his little body around my feet, slowing me down. Eventually, my tone sharpened. My volume increased. Before I knew it, I was yelling... and he was crying. That’s when it hit me. I would soon forget my boss’s anger and my husband’s grumpiness. But I didn’t want to forget the moments my son couldn’t bear to be separated from me. As I realized that those memories, too, will fade, I dropped to the floor and held him. At that moment, I vowed to write this essay.

WOW: You mention that you’re almost finished with your memoir. What has your memoir writing journey been like?

Shannon: Wow… that’s a tough question. It’s been very difficult, emotionally, but it’s also been incredibly rewarding. I’ve been through so much in my life. I was abused as a child by two separate trusted adults, then drugged in a bar as an adult. I spent eleven years in college, grad school, and med school, only to have to abandon it all when I became sick for seven years. I left the country to go through an experimental treatment (I was induced into a coma) in an effort to save my life. And this is all just the tip of the proverbial iceberg. In recreating my story, I expected to relive some painful memories. I did not, however, expect to relive many of them through my husband’s eyes. I’ve read dozens of notes that he wrote over the years - to me, to physicians on my behalf, to himself. To see my life through his eyes has been an entirely different, and unexpected, kind of pain. But it’s been healing, and bonding, and beautiful, too. I married an angel. Writing my memoir has been a master class in gratitude for me. I want to be a fountain of hope for people who are hurting.

WOW: You're an inspiration! Is there a particular memoir you think everyone needs to read?

Shannon: Another great question for me! I love memoirs and have read them voraciously since I decided to write my own. BRAIN ON FIRE and WHEN BREATH BECOMES AIR are two of my favorite medical memoirs, but there are so many good ones: RUNNING WITH SCISSORS, THE REAL DOCTOR WILL SEE YOU SHORTLY, BEYOND BELIEF, 1,000 NAKED STRANGERS. But if I could choose only one, I think I’d have to go with THE GLASS CASTLE, by Jeannette Walls. It’s poignant, heartbreaking, funny, and thought-provoking. Although her life was unbelievably chaotic, Ms. Walls is still, somehow, relatable. If I can connect with readers with half her grace and brutal honesty, I will have done my job.

WOW: Besides memoir and essay writing, you’re also a children’s author and blogger. How do you juggle the different types of writing that you do? Anything you can share about the process?

Shannon: I’ve actually found this to be the most difficult aspect of my work. Like so many other female writers, I’m a wife and mother first. When my family needs me, everything else pauses. This can make scheduling impossible to predict. Because the voices I use are so different, I’ve had a difficult time writing my memoir and my picture books on the same day. Most of the time, I’ve needed a weekend to separate the genres. In fact, last year I worked on my memoir for a few weeks, and then I switched to children’s literature for a few weeks. As to blogging, I’m not religious about it - I’ve used it more as a personal journal than a way to build followers. I blog only when I have something to say or work through. I know there’s probably a better way to navigate all the waters, but I haven’t found it yet. I wind up spending a week re-reading my memoir and catching up on research before I can write productively when it’s been so long since my last memoir writing session, so one of my goals for this year is to find a way to work on it every week, regardless of my other projects. I believe it can be done, but I have to be better about the mantra in which I so strongly believe - BUTT IN CHAIR.

WOW: Thanks so much for chatting with us today, Shannon! Before you go, do you have any tips for our readers who may be thinking about entering writing contests?

Shannon: Not to sound to much like a Nike commercial, but just do it! Particularly with WOW!, each submission can be valuable because you have the opportunity to get priceless feedback, regardless of whether or not you receive an award. By the time I sold my picture book, I had re-written it more than 50 times based on feedback from my incredible critique partners and agents/editors who had rejected me. I never expected to win this contest - but I most certainly would not have, had I not entered. I guess, however, that my bottom-line checklist for every contest looks a bit like this:
* Read other entries so you understand what’s expected.
* Follow submission/formatting guidelines.
* Know your audience (research the judges).
* Revise revise revise, based on peer feedback, prior to submission.
* Write about the things you know and love. If you’re passionate when you write, your readers will feel it!


For more information about our quarterly Flash Fiction and Creative Nonfiction Essay contests, visit our contest page here.


  1. Fantastic interview, ladies!

    Shannon, you are such an inspiration, and I'm SO thrilled to hear you're writing your memoir. You, my dear, have an amazing story that needs to get out there in the world. I'm a memoir junkie as well, and am in the very beginning stages of crafting a a graphic memoir but I'm starting with essays. Your essays are masterful, and your winning essay is so beautifully reflective, heartfelt, and reminds us of our mortality and to appreciate every moment. Thank you for the kind words about the WOW contests as well. :)


  2. Thank you so much, Angela! And thank you for founding WOW! What a great opportunity for women to get feedback on their writing. :-)


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