I was an only child for almost 10 years, when my sister was born. The age difference doesn't seem so big now. She's one of my best friends, and we love talking about what we're reading.
Family time in the mountains!
Growing up in Ames, Iowa, home to Iowa State University, I was a pasty bookworm who might have never seen the sun if my mom hadn't forced me outside to play. Along with reading, I loved writing.
But at the tender age of 7, I decided I couldn't be a novelist when I grew up.
I'd gotten the idea that fiction writers didn't earn enough to pay their bills. This probably came from my practical parents, a college professor and high school teacher, who thought writing for a living made as much sense as joining the circus.
At 12, I made a thrilling discovery: Newspaper reporters were paid to write! I joined the junior high newspaper staff and never looked back.
As it turned out, I earned enough as a daily newspaper reporter to cover most of my bills. (Much gratitude to my parents, who helped in the early years.) I did that job for fourteen wonderful, stressful years. I quit to work as a full-time, self-employed freelance writer and editor for national magazines and companies.
But, so many years later, that dream of writing novels still whispered to me.
Being my own boss went so well the first year, I sent myself to the Society of Children's Book Writers and Illustrators' conference in Los Angeles in 2000. There, I met a woman studying writing for children and young adults at Vermont College. The program sounded amazing. No way could I do it, though. I didn't have the time. I sure didn't have the money.
A few years later, as a 41-year-old working mom, I took out student loans and did it.
With my MFA from Vermont College of Fine Arts, I taught writing at two Iowa universities and worked in library youth services. I also continued freelancing, but took fewer assignments. The whole time I was writing novels for young people.
In late 2014, shortly after our son graduated from high school, and as I was recovering from a devastating illness, my husband received a surprise job offer in Colorado. After 26 years in Iowa as an adult, I'd assumed I'd die happy there.
I knew virtually nothing about Denver or Colorado. I was sad and scared to leave my family and friends.
But I try to follow Elizabeth Gilbert 's advice: Fear can come along for the ride, but it doesn't get to drive—or touch the radio. This move was the shake up I didn't know I needed.
Shantell Martin: Words and Lines celebrates two of my favorite things: Words and visual art, at the Denver Art Museum, 2019.