"How I Became an Author"
by Sharon Marchisello
As long as I can remember, I knew I was a writer. Even before I learned my alphabet, I entertained myself with stories, long after my parents tucked me into bed. If my mother had read me a story earlier or I'd seen a movie recently, I'd join my favorite characters on their next adventure.
I loved creating a world where I was in control. My heroines were prettier and richer and cleverer than me. They succeeded where I failed, always firing off that zinger at exactly the right moment. Characters created in the likeness of people who had been mean to me ended up getting killed or having bad things happen to them.
I wrote short stories and essays all throughout school, and although teachers and peers praised my work, I got nothing but rejection letters when I submitted them to national publications.
My first completed novel was a plotless, semi-autobiographical mess. When I got accepted into the Master's in Professional Writing program at the University of Southern California, I showed my masterpiece to one of my professors, with the hope of polishing it for possible publication. He suggested I begin a new project.
This professor believed the best way to get published was to focus on a genre. Agents and publishers want to know what shelf your book belongs on in a bookstore. He was a mystery fan, and he encouraged his students to write one. I didn't read many mysteries as a child. I'd heard of Nancy Drew but never read one of the books. I didn't think I could write a mystery, so I decided to try my hand at romance.
My master's thesis started as a romance novel, but I couldn't follow the formula. I set the novel in France, where I spent a year as a Rotary scholar, and it's full of culture clashes and misunderstandings. Oh, and there's also romance. But in the end, the heroine doesn't choose either guy vying for her hand; instead, she rides off into the sunset with a girlfriend for a summer of travel and adventure. The book never got published.
Unable to find fame and fortune as a writer by the time I finished my master's degree, I got a real job working in the airline industry, which allowed me to indulge my passion for travel. I sold some travel articles about destinations I'd visited. Living in Hollywood, of course I wrote screenplays. I found an agent for one of my screenplays, which was terrifically exciting, but then no one bought it. One script I worked on did get produced, but the movie never got released. Probably a good thing, because it was terrible. My contract promised "deferred pay" from the profits; I never saw a dime.
One night, while working at the Los Angeles airport during a major construction phase, I walked through a long, deserted, temporary hallway to meet an incoming plane. The fog was rolling in, shadows loomed, and the ramp area where I waited was almost dark. Someone could get killed out here and no one would know, I thought. The idea for my first mystery, Murder at Gate 58A, was born.
I had a great time writing it, creating a cast of characters who all had motive and opportunity, and then trying to figure out whose motive was strong enough to commit murder. I was thrilled when I found an agent to represent me, but unfortunately, after almost two years of peddling my story around the publishing world, he gave up. Murder at Gate 58A is still on the shelf. Maybe someday…
My fourth completed manuscript, Going Home, also a murder mystery, became my first novel to get published. Going Home was inspired by my mother's battle with Alzheimer's disease, which prompted me to wonder what it would be like to interview a witness or a suspect who could not rely on her memory. It opens when the heroine visits her childhood home to check on her elderly mother, who has Alzheimer's, and finds her hovering over the bludgeoned body of her caregiver. Alone. And unable to explain what happened. The heroine is forced to remain in her hometown in a caregiving role, while trying to prove her mother's innocence. People from her past she thought she'd left behind pop back into her life and complicate her role as an amateur sleuth. Although I began writing Going Home in 2003, it took ten years and seven drafts before I received a publishing contract from Sunbury Press. In 2014, the book was released.