Shelly Sanders was born in Toronto, Ontario and moved to Rolling Meadows, Illinois when she was eight. From this point on, she never attended a school for more than two years, and turned to books to combat loneliness. Harper Lee’s To Kill a Mockingbird was a seminal book for Sanders, instilling within her a lifelong interest in human rights.
A move back to Canada led Sanders to an Honours Degree in English from the University of Waterloo, followed by a degree in journalism from Ryerson University. Broke from six years of university, Sanders was lured by the big salaries in public relations, and began her career writing promotional materials and planning media events. With the birth of her first child, she began working as a freelance journalist which allowed her to make money and write from home.
Writing for newspapers and magazines refined Sanders’ ability to meet tight deadlines and helped her develop a thick skin for editorial criticism, qualities, she says, that are “necessary if you want to be published.”
After fourteen years of writing for national publications in Canada, including Maclean’s, Reader’s Digest, the Toronto Star, and Canadian Living, Sanders decided to pursue her lifelong dream of becoming a novelist. Inspired by her grandmother’s experiences as a Russian Jew who escaped a pogrom and fled to Shanghai, she began work on Rachel’s Secret. Three years, four creative writing courses at the University of Toronto, and thirty drafts later, it was accepted by Second Story Press.
“I received the news from the publisher on my Blackberry while I was grocery shopping,” she explains. “I had to hold onto the cart for support because my legs started to wobble, and I was dizzy and faint. The moment was especially significant for me because I wrote Rachel’s Secret to honour my grandmother who died when I was twelve.”
Now, with Rachel’s Secret scheduled for release in the spring, 2012, a second novel, The Third Twin, being reviewed by publishers, and another in the works, Sanders continues to write every day, gratefully losing herself in the words and characters.
“Writing is a solitary occupation, with lots of time spent living in your head,” she says. “I’ve probably become more reclusive in the past couple of years, but nothing else I’ve ever done has felt so right.”
Sanders has been married for twenty years, has three busy children, two naughty dogs, and two vegetarian lizards. Her oldest child headed off to university this fall, an event dreaded by Sanders, who managed to let go without breaking down (in front of her daughter).