My name is Sharon Joss and I write fiction. I am the author of eight novels and dozens of short stories.
The Early Years
I was born in April 1955, in a small town in Central Oregon, the second-eldest of 4 girls (sisters are Sandy, Lisa, and Michele). Dad was a college professor and mom was a housewife (when we were small) before she opened her own tax & bookkeeping business.
When I was a year old, we moved to San Luis Obispo, California, where our dad had been offered a faculty position at what is now known as California Polytechnic State University (‘Cal Poly’). He taught biology and mammalogy classes there for nearly 40 years. He was also the president of the local Audubon Society and the all-round county ‘animal man’; the go-to guy whenever an injured bird or other animal was found or whenever a rattlesnake showed up in someone’s back yard. As kids, we grew up with all kinds of animals. Additionally, Cal Poly is an agricultural school with it’s own dairy; we’d visit often to pet the new calves or see the horses in the horse barns. Every year, we’d eagerly await the annual Rodeo season.
Our dad was a great ‘girl dad’ and we all grew up camping, hiking, fishing, and checking out beached whales and roadkill. I learned the art of falconry and trained a wild sparrow hawk “to the fist” before eventually releasing her back to the wild. I learned to ride a horse, catch bats in the Cal Poly sheep barns with my dad, and clean my own fish. For a tomboy like me, it was all adventure, and all fun. After dinner on special evenings, Dad would read aloud to us from his own battered childhood copy of Rudyard Kipling’s Just So Stories. These stories (and the illustrations) made a huge impression on me, and I grew up wanting to be either a veterinarian or an artist.
San Luis Obispo (shortened to San Luis or SLO by the locals) is a college town located a valley between two mountains (Mount San Luis and Mount Bishop), approximately half-way between San Francisco and Los Angeles. We lived on the edge of town and walked about a mile each way to and from our elementary school every day (no school bus in those days). I was a good reader, so elementary school wasn’t much a of a challenge for me.
I had a natural gift for art, which was identified at an early age and through the Mentally Gifted Minor program in our community. I began taking college art classes at Cal Poly beginning at age nine.
There were only two high schools in town; a private Catholic school and the public high school. Our family was not religious (Mom was a lapsed Catholic and my dad’s parents were Theosophists (vegetarians who believe that the purpose of human life is spiritual emancipation and that the human soul undergoes reincarnation upon bodily death according to a process of karma), so all us girls attended the local public high school and none of us went to church. While I absolutely respect those who cherish their religious beliefs, I’m more of a quantum electromechanical energies sort of person. I consider myself an atheist.
I was an indifferent student. I do not recall ever studying for a test, although my grades were mostly As and Bs. I was generally considered smart (and lazy, as my mother often told me) rather than disciplined or studious. I was privileged to have some really good teachers in science, history and creative writing and I excelled in those classes.
I had aced my SAT (Standard Aptitude Test, a requirement for college admissions), but didn’t want to go to college. There was no way I could have afforded veterinary school, and by the time I was ready to graduate, I was sick of school. I figured I could be an illustrator or artist, but my parents were against the idea, convinced that an artist could not make a decent living. Mom wanted me to be a typist or secretary. My dad (the college professor) suggested a year at the local community college. It only cost $10 per semester (in 1973). Some of my friends (and both of my housemates) were planning to go, and the classes would count if I decided to go on to get a degree at the university. A veritable pillar of logic and reason, my dad was.
After high school, I spent a year attending the local Community College, and it was fine. In that year, I discovered that Long Beach State (just 25 miles south of Los Angeles) offered a highly respected degree program in Illustration, and I had friend who was already there and said she liked it. On the basis of my SAT scores and my artist portfolio I was accepted and started attending classes in September of 1975. At the same time, I worked the graveyard shift (11pm to 7am) as a waitress to pay the bills. After a year and a half of trying to work AND attend school full-time, I dropped out of school.
I spent the next few years waitressing and bartending in and around Long Beach, before (on a whim) deciding to attend a technical school, Computer Learning Center in Los Angeles. Classes got out at noon, and you could earn a certificate and job placement assistance after only one year. I really enjoyed the classes; learning to code and debug logic problems was fun for me, and I did well. My first job, as an Operating Systems Programmer, had me writing and debugging code on the big IBM 360 mainframes. From that first job, I was recruited into the aerospace industry, working for Rockwell International on the real-time operating systems software for NASA’s Space Shuttle program. I received a medal from NASA for contributions to the program for writing and implementing (then innovative) self-diagnosing real-time operating systems software.
In 1988 I joined Xerox Corporation, where I worked my way up from a systems engineer working on commercial printer development to a Technical Program Manager working with new imaging technologies and international technology co-development with partners in Europe, Japan, China and South America. Along the way, I was transferred from California to Rochester, New York, where I also earned a Bachelor’s degree in Business and a Masters degree in Management of Technology (my parents were happy about that). I loved Xerox; the job was interesting, and I liked the people I worked with, but after a major restructuring and layoffs In 2001, I eventually accepted a position with Hewlett-Packard in Boise, Idaho. A year later, HP also restructured their business, and my entire division was eliminated. I bounced around in HP for a few more years, but the job wasn’t fun anymore. In 2009, when HP moved my position to Israel, I was given the choice to move to the Middle East or be laid off with a year of salary as severance. Both my parents had recently passed, leaving me with a small inheritance. I decided to use the time to write.
The plan I came up with was to take classes from big-name agents and best-selling authors and write full-time. I figured it would take me three years to become a New York Times best-selling author. It was a risk, but I felt that if I couldn’t make it in three years, I’d be a loser who couldn’t write and just go back to work.
Every morning I’d write from about eight until one or two in the afternoon, when the dogs would come in and entice me to practice and play with them (at the time, I was a nationally ranked competitor in obedience and agility with my dogs). On weekends, we’d drive all over the Pacific northwest for obedience/agility trials or I’d head off to attend a Science Fiction / Fantasy convention, or writing workshop. A happy, busy life with satisfying creative work, constant learning and lots of friends.
But that first plan didn’t work out quite like I envisioned. I’d started out attending classes with big-name agents, and the big-name agent that looked at my first novel told me it was crap (“I don’t buy the premise.”). I wrote another novel and went back to the same guy a year later and he said it was marginally better (“At least you’re trying to entertain me.”) but still crap. I realized I wasn’t ready for agents, I needed to learn from bestselling authors. I took every class I could find being taught by best-selling / professional writers and gradually learned what I needed to know and wrote and wrote and wrote. The pros all laughed at my 3-year plan. It’s a 10-year slog, they told me; at least ten thousand hours and a million words. With my plan in shambles, I was undeterred; I kept on writing.
I got better.
I sold the very first short story I ever wrote, Love in the Time of Dust and Venom, in a Lincoln City, Oregon writer’s workshop in 2013. Since then, that story has been re-published multiple times (and yes, I get a check each time it gets published). A year later, at a writer’s workshop in Utah, best-selling author David Farland (Dave Wolverton) told me I had the chops to be a “named” author, and not to give up. A year after that, I won the 2015 Writers of the Future Golden Pen award and some of my other short stories started selling. I was making finalist for other writing awards. I could almost feel the universe turning towards me. I got requests for partials and then second requests for full novels from good agents, but then never heard from them again. I couldn’t figure out what the problem was. Eventually, I self-published my back list of novels, and (to my surprise) they sold. They sold well enough that my earnings on Legacy Soul qualified me for full membership in Science Fiction & Fantasy Writers Association (SFWA), a worldwide organization for professional writers.
But after eight years of writing full-time, my earnings from writing were not enough to support me full-time. That initial three-year plan had been made in ignorance. I now believed I could do this writing thing, and I was closer to the goal, but not there. I sold my house in Idaho and just about everything I owned and moved back to Oregon. By 2017, I was out of money, looking at shrubbery as potential future living spaces. My creativity dried up. My parents’ warnings came back to haunt me: you can’t make a living through art. My confidence hit rock bottom. I would have to get a ‘real’ job again.
Today, the day job is with a local government agency, where I provide tech support for their real time operating systems. Meanwhile, the creativity has returned. I’m developing new projects that will not be announced until sometime in 2025.
I’m a big music fan, and eclectic in my tastes. I listen to jazz mostly, especially when I write. I like also like blues, rock and world music. Anouar Brahem, Bob Seger, Art Pepper, Loreena McKennit, and Pink Martini are always playing somewhere in my house. Favorite films and directors are Time Bandits, anything directed by Ridley Scott (Blade Runner, Gladiator, The Martian) or Guillermo del Toro (Pan’s Labyrinth, Shape of Water), and Peter Jackson’s Tolkien films. Next to dogs, I love pangolins best. I drive a Mini Cooper. My superpower is that I am a feather-finder.
The dream may be delayed, but I’ve got stamina and determination, and I believe that what’s meant to be will always find a way.