Former Sitkan and public radio reporter Bonnie-Sue Hitchcock has published her first novel.
The Smell of Other People’s Houses is a novel for young adults about growing up in Alaska, and the powerful stories we build around home and family.
Bonnie-Sue Hitchcock’s novel The Smell of Other People’s Houses is available in bookstores and online Tuesday February 23. She’ll be giving a reading in Sitka at 6 PM that evening at Old Harbor Books.
It wasn’t until Bonnie-Sue Hitchcock left Alaska that she began to feel like writing about it.
“I was really homesick. And that’s when I started tapping into those old, old memories. Not just my time in Sitka, which was more recent, but really going back into my childhood and my time spent with my family.”
Hitchcock grew up in Alaska, eventually moving to Sitka where she worked two stints as a reporter at KCAW, the last ending in 2009.
She was also host of the nationally-syndicated program Independent Native News.
Hitchcock says it took a while for her to shed her journalistic sensibilities, and look at the world through the lens of the novelist.
“It’s really fun to just play with this world and not constantly have to have attributions, and double-check, and make sure that this source was correct. It took me a while, too. I’d Google the 1970s — what was on the street in Fairbanks at that time. And then slowly, slowly I loosened up and I was able to create my own world.”
The Smell of Other People’s Houses began as a writing exercise, as Hitchcock was working towards her Masters of Fine Arts degree in children’s and young adult literature. She and a friend would sit down and prompt each other with ideas, then write for 20 minutes. One of those prompts is now the title of the novel.
The book is told through teenage narrators. Hitchcock says her publisher told her to balance some of the darker issues in the story with hope.
She discovered that fiction was a powerful tool for examining ideas that might have been hard to cover in reporting.
“The cool thing about writing fiction is that the issues are real, but the characters are fiction. But as a journalist I was constantly thinking about how these people’s lives are being represented in the press, and my hand in that. And that was a huge responsibility. And with a fictional character, it’s just a fictional character, and you can dig deeper into the subject matter. That was a pretty great realization: That I could almost be more truthful writing fiction.”
The Smell of Other People’s Houses was originally a series of short stories. Transforming it into a continuous narrative was one of Hitchcock’s biggest challenges, after she made the sale.
The first chapter was also a murder mystery. A lot has changed since then.
“In the end it became a much different story. And they wouldn’t let me kill anybody. Which was sad.”
Melissa Marconi Wentzel contributed to this report.