Beginning With Cannonballs

Beginning with Cannonballs: A Novel by [Jill McCroskey Coupe]This week’s other featured books, “The Miracle on 98th Street,” by Natasha Nesic, “Happy Like This,” by Ashley Wurzbacher and “The Hidden Machinery,” by Margot Livesey, can be found by scrolling down below this post, or by clicking the author’s name on our Authors page.
THE BOOK: Beginning with Cannonballs: A Novel.
THE AUTHOR: Jill McCroskey Coupe.
THE EDITOR: Annie Tucker.
THE PUBLISHER: She Writes Press.

SUMMARY: In the 1940s, in segregated Knoxville, Tennessee, Gail (white) and Hanna (black) shared a crib in Gail’s house, where Hanna’s mother, Sophie, was the live-in maid. When the girls were four, Sophie taught them to swim, and soon they were gleefully doing cannonballs off the diving board, playing a game they’d invented based on their favorite Billie Holiday song.

By the time they are both in college, however, the two friends have lost touch with each other. A reunion in Washington, DC, sought by Gail but resented by Hanna, sets the tone for their relationship from then on. Marriage, children, and a tragic death further strain the increasingly fragile bond. How much longer can the friendship last?

THE BACK STORY: My MFA thesis, decades ago, was a novella about an interracial friendship. It wasn’t very good. I put it aside but never completely gave up on the idea. About eight years ago, I decided to try again. Beginning with Cannonballs is a completely different story, with brand new characters. The scene in the empty swimming pool, though, had its origins in my thesis from long ago.

Jill McCroskey CoupeWHY THIS TITLE?: The novel begins with Hanna and Gail cannonballing into a swimming pool. One afternoon, I was brainstorming titles by email with my son. Immediately after I hit send to suggest Starting with Cannonballs, I emailed him to say forget that one, it’s a terrible idea. No, Mom, I really like it, was his reply. So I made the title a bit more alliterative, and here we are!

WHY WOULD SOMEONE WANT TO READ IT? Most books about interracial friendship have been written for children. This one is for an older audience.


Coupe employs short sentences that pack a punch . . . in the tradition of Southern writers like Flannery O’Connor and Harper Lee . . . She lays bare each character’s truths, allowing the reader to piece them together. . . The novel is a testament to the importance of connection and empathy, and feels both timely and timeless in today’s fraught social climate.” —Jessica Crandall, in Necessary Fiction.

This lyric novel is a gorgeous mosaic, fragmented in a way that lets the reader into the gaps in order to complete the meaning, to connect the narrative dots. Beginning with Cannonballs reminds me of an Alice Munro story, one that looks at people’s lives over decades, like catching them in snapshots . . .Jill McCroskey Coupe is one savvy, irresistible, and fearless writer.” — John Dufresne, author of “I Don’t like Where This Is Going.”

Beginning with Cannonballs spans fifty years in a poignant yet difficult friendship. Through each episode, each explosive cannonball, the novel takes an unstinting and courageous look at how societal forces can seek to destroy the truth that lies beneath the surface of our skin: that we are all sisters and brothers at heart. —J.E. Irvin, author of The Dark End of the Rainbow and The Strange Disappearance of Rose Stone.

Jill McCroskey Coupe’s compelling story of an unlikely friendship in the segregated South is unforgettable. Hanna and Gail’s struggle to defy the odds of racism and social status is truly one of hope. Such lovely and deft writing from a masterful storyteller. A must read.” – Kim Bradley, short story writer and Assistant Professor of English, Flagler College.

AUTHOR PROFILE: Like my characters, Gail and Hanna, I grew up in Knoxville, Tennessee, in the foothills of the Great Smoky Mountains. A former librarian at Johns Hopkins University, I have an MFA in Fiction from Warren Wilson College, in the heart of the Blue Ridge. The Southern Appalachians will always feel like home to me, but so does Baltimore, where I’ve lived for more than thirty years. My first novel, True Stories at the Smoky View, won a gold medal in Regional Fiction (South) from the Independent Publisher Book Awards. And yes, I’m working on another novel. Please stay tuned.
AUTHOR COMMENTS: As I was writing Beginning with Cannonballs, I received feedback from several different fiction workshops. Race was a sensitive issue back when I wrote my MFA thesis, and it still is. There is a debate about whether or not a white person should attempt to write from a black person’s perspective. My novel includes chapters from four points of view: those of the two friends, as well as those of their mothers. I decided to risk this approach because it seemed to me the best way to tell this rather complicated story.
SAMPLE CHAPTER: To read a sample chapter on Amazon, please click here:
The novel is also available on, which benefits independent bookstores.
LOCAL OUTLETS: The Ivy Bookshop in Baltimore, MD,
PRICE: $16.95.
CONTACT THE AUTHOR: There’s a wealth of information on my website Please do stop by for a visit.

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Recently retired after 35 years with the News & Advance newspaper in Lynchburg, VA, now re-inventing myself as a novelist/nonfiction writer and writing coach in Lake George, NY.

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