Sandi Kahn Shelton has been writing fiction since she was six years old and figured out that she could make money selling stories to the neighbors so she could get money for the ice cream man. After she made her first sale–twenty cents for a story about a king who slept through his coronation–she bought banana popsicles and vowed that making up stories was going to bring her plenty of frozen goodies until the end of time. Unfortunately, life doesn’t always give you what seems promised–and first she had to put herself through college by working at Taco Bell and Howard Johnson’s, then she became a medical assistant and learned to give shots and say, “The doctor is busy just now, may I take a message?” while she waited for her degree in English to come through for her.
While she waited, she got married and had a couple of kids, and for a while the only creative writing she did was permission slips for field trips. And then she got a divorce and she got a job writing news for a local weekly newspaper–which would have been so much more fun, she thought, if she didn’t have to tell the precise truth about everything. But people are quirky about their news: they want it to really have happened, not be the way a person would have thought it could have happened if life was more interesting. And so, bored out of her mind with Planning and Zoning meetings, she started writing a weekly column about her life as a single working mom, just to keep her mind of town politics and to keep herself from going insane. (Plus sending these little bulletins made her mother stop nagging her for letters.) She put the typewriter on the kitchen table (this was back in the days of typewriters) and started writing down all the things that happened in her family: the hamster loose in the living room, the last-minute elephant costumes being put together at 3 a.m., the lost car keys turning up in the garbage disposal, the bubble gum in the hair, the doll named Fixie that she had re-sewed the arms on 4,586 times…etc., etc.
People started calling it a “humor column,” although that wasn’t the way any of it struck her at the time. She planned to write it for exactly five weeks, or until she ran out of material, whichever came first–and somehow that led her through the next ten years, including into a new marriage, another baby, the older kids growing into teenagers and heading off to college. Working Mother magazine started printing some of these columns, and then a publisher ran across one of them, and offered to put them in a book, which was called “You Might As Well Laugh: Surviving the Joys of Parenthood,” which was released in 1997.
Then, because once these things start happening, they tend to keep on happening, she started writing a book about babies and how fascinating life can be when you haven’t had any sleep for five straight months. St. Martin’s published it in 1999, and called it “Sleeping through the Night…and Other Lies,” and it had the honor of being the only book about parenthood that offered virtually no advice whatsoever that could ever help a new parent, unless you count the sentence that says, “Just try to muddle through as best you can, and don’t feel bad about crying in public.” On a roll now, she started free-lancing for magazines (she’s an expert in 77 Ways to Tell Your Husband You Love Him Without Spending More than $10) and she went on to write “Preschool Confidential,” which came out in 2001, and again, merely commiserated with people who might have toddlers at home scribbling on their couches and walls. For a while it looked as though she might be stuck in a rut of writing about each and every age a child might eventually turn, all the way up to “Dealing with Your Thirty Year Old,” but luckily fate intervened and she realized that what she’d really always wanted since she was six was to make up lies about fictitious people and put them in books and buy banana popsicles.
And as it happened she had been pursuing this little dream for nearly the whole time she’d been writing the other books. Whenever there wasn’t a carpool to run, or a load of laundry to throw in, or some disgusting dog-substance to wipe up, or a magazine or newspaper column to do–she could be found tapping away on her laptop and muttering aloud about this woman Maz who was raised by Madame Lucille, a crazy fortune-teller who thought nothing of seducing Maz’s boyfriends, and in 2005, a mere seventeen years from the date she’d started it–she got a phone call from her agent saying those words she’d always longed to hear: “They’re buying your novel!”
“What Comes After Crazy” was published by Shaye Areheart, a division of Crown, which is a division of Random House, in 2005–with one little surprising line added there in the contract: another book of fiction was due just ten months later. This was great (though scary) news for her but bad news for the piles of laundry and the carpools, because now she actually had a reason to learn to say NO and to sit down and mutter nearly full-time at the laptop. She finished “A Piece of Normal”–the story of two mismatched sisters who have to learn to get along– with minutes to spare for her deadline, and it came out in June 2006 in hardcover, and in March 2007 in paperback.
These days she’s again muttering happily aloud at the laptop: she’s at work on a new novel whose deadline is ticking ever closer, and a fourth novel is just beginning to nudge itself into her consciousness. Luckily the children have pretty much grown up and don’t need her to made their peanut butter sandwiches anymore, and instead of writing her family life column for the newspaper, she now writes a blog.