Melissa Marshall has always felt the call of books. “I used to dream of being an author and artist when I was a young child. Libraries were always so special to me growing up, and I loved reading books as well.” She recalls fondly the impact books had on her childhood. It was not until recently, however, that this Plainedge resident of 24 years finally dipped her toe into the world of authorship.
Over the years, Marshall has held jobs helping both adults and children. Her recent employment allowed her to bring her joy of reading to Long Island children. “For the last 8 years I have worked as a bus monitor helping to keep preschool children safe while riding the bus. I take out library books often to read to the children to make them happy, and have the ride be more fun.” Everyone loved these book-reading sessions, and Marshall even drew pictures for the children.
It seemed a natural transition from lover of reading to lover of writing. Marshall was also able to bring her son William on board. “I wrote two stories and illustrated books of my own by hand when I went back to work after the Covid shutdown. My college graduate son did the digital art backgrounds and computer technical support to help make my dream of being a published author come true.”
Finding a publisher seemed difficult, Marshall said, she then self-published the books via Amazon Kindle direct publishing. The books are still currently sold on Amazon, but Marshall hopes one day to see her books being sold with Scholastic. “Scholastic book fairs always seemed exciting and ethereal, sort of like the Mt. Everest I hope to climb in my book writing and illustrating journey.” Libraries are starting to carry the books as well, which has been very exciting for the author, who has been grateful for all of the local support.
Marshall currently has two books. She was inspired to write her first book, Sharing is Caring with the Pigeon Family, from seeing birds on her bus ride with her young readers. “I would ask questions like, ‘Is that the Momma bird, and maybe that is the baby,’ etc. My imagination immediately saw a bird family that had adventures, and this family I created I wanted to share, include and help others, and spread kindness!”
Her second book, Thank you Pigeon Family, is about a group of birds that had met the Pigeon family a while back (in book 1) and remembered their kindness. These birds want to find a way to show how much the Pigeon Family’s compassion meant to them when they really needed help. “In my experience, I feel that everyone has had a time in their life when they felt left out or that they did not have enough of something that they wanted or even worse, ‘needed’,” Marshall explained. “These books promote empathy and kindness.”
The response to her books has been very positive. Community members have written to Marshall, her coworkers have been super supportive, and she has been asked to visit some libraries and schools to speak about the books to young children. “I am starting to get questions from readers, and I love hearing from people,” she said. Marshall encourages people to reach out to her on Facebook on the account ‘Reading with Melissa Marshall’.
Melissa does not have a set writing process, but observed her books seem to take about 6 months from start to finish, once she has the idea and a clear direction. “It really depends on how much time I can set aside to work on the book at the time. I write the stories out, then draw the characters and some background illustrations by hand to go with the story.” She then hands the story prototype to William, who takes her hand-drawn characters and integrates them with digital background art. William is a Plainedge School graduate and is a graduate of Nassau BOCES GC tech for computer animation. He is also a SUNY Oneonta alumnus, where he graduated from with a major in digital studio art and a minor in theater.
When asked about her inspiration, Marshall has a few thoughts. “Some young readers ask me how I get my book ideas, and what do I do when I am stuck and don’t know what to say?” She recommends taking a break and having fun, taking a walk or doing something relaxing. “When I am not trying so hard, great ideas come to me on their own.” Marshall believes that great stories are usually about things that have come from our life experiences. “Like maybe we have taken a trip someplace special that we want to write about, or even a birthday party we had, the possibilities are endless!” By considering these experiences, we might unearth a great story hidden just below the surface.
Marshall’s newest project is about a young girl that loved writing and art very much. This new book is scheduled to be published and available sometime this Spring.
–Thank you to Melissa Marshall for her interview responses and additional information.