Sheila Grinell built her career on creating science museums across the country; most notably she was the founding CEO of the Arizona Science Center. Now retired from that profession, she has set off on a new successful career as a novelist. With years of formal education under her belt, she came back to Phoenix College almost a decade ago and enrolled in writing classes for fun. Now she credits Phoenix College faculty with helping her gain the skills to embark on this new adventure. You can purchase Sheila's first novel, "Appetite" here.
Sheila, what inspired you to write the fiction novel, “Appetite” after a forty-year career in building science museums and why did you choose to go to Phoenix College?
I spent an entire career working in the math, science, and humanities fields. I helped build science centers across the country and now I needed a change. I was caring for my mother at the time and I realized that I wanted to write her story. She was a catalyst but I was really ready for a change in careers. I realized I wanted to do more. I started off by taking Class Voice at Scottsdale Community College and had a great time. I then heard that Phoenix College had a great creative writing program so I decided to try it and took my first class in 2007.
I was used to always moving vertically – forging straight ahead. Writing is horizontal. It moves every which way. It is still very structured, but in a creative way. Having a successful career helped me because I have not suffered from writer’s block. As my last career was successful, I have no doubts that this new career will be as well. Confidence is very important.
One of my classes was with Jim Sallis [honored as #1 in 2014 Phoenix New Times “100 Creatives” in the Valley]. It was in his class that I started a short story and realized the story was too big and wouldn’t fit into a short-story format. So my classmate said “make it a novel.” That’s just what I did. I’m currently working on my second novel which is going much easier than the first. I now know how much time it takes and have better expectations for all the steps in the process going forward.
Tell me about your favorite professor or a special memory of your time on campus?
I really enjoyed Jim’s class but I also took classes with Carol and Lisa Miller, who was personally very helpful to me. I also took a poetry class. My special memories are just of the time I spent in the classroom listening to my classmates’ stories and poems and sharing my creativity with them. It is important to get feedback when writing and so the class work was great for this and fun.
What advice do you have for PC alumni and students interesting in writing as a profession?
Get a day job first and then take classes. Write! Write! Write! Utilize lots of online resources. Make sure you go to class because the interaction in class is more important than just reading. Find a way to interact with people with your manuscript whether that is in classes, writer’s group, etc. Always give and take constructive feedback and be open and willing to learn.
What is the single most important networking tip you can share with graduating PC students and job-seeking alumni?
Keep an e-mail list and back it up. Make sure you reach out to your contacts regularly. I’m currently on a book tour and I made sure to contact everyone on my list. You can’t just rely on social media. Your direct contacts are extremely valuable. Keep those relationships healthy with regular contact.