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.
WHY 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.