By REBECCA ISENHART
NISKAYUNA — When Shari Quinn discovered her best friend of 20 years had been secretly romancing her boyfriend when Quinn was out of town, she dealt with the emotional fallout by telling the narrative to friends.
They were sorry it had happened, of course, but they also had to say it was a pretty intriguing story.
“I happened to be telling somebody about it, and they said, ‘This could be a movie!’ ” Quinn said.
She found herself agreeing. An intricate deception, a dramatic revelation, Quinn’s pained realization that she had served the co-conspirators dinner in her own home many times: It was pretty juicy.
“I thought, this is something you can’t make up,” she said. “It didn’t seem real.”
But instead of a film, she was inspired to write a novel. Its title is “Disloyalty,” and the self-published saga has repeatedly sold out at Capital Region bookstores, with sales totaling nearly 2,000.
For the 41-year-old Niskayuna resident, the impetus to write a novel started with a journal. To help herself process the experience, she had been tracking the day-to-day moments after a mutual friend gently suggested Quinn should look closely at the relationship between her best friend and her boyfriend.
On paper, the signs were clear. There was the day Quinn noticed her boyfriend’s truck parked at her best friend’s house. There were all the times her best friend had been a little too interested in the details of Quinn’s schedule, especially when her job with Excelsior College would take her out of town. The journal, she realized, was already halfway to being a dramatic novel, a story of love, friendship and betrayal.
“The cover tells you it’s inspired by a true story, and it is,” Quinn said.
She’s added some colorful twists and turns, and an ambiguous ending that she says has made some of her readers beg for a sequel. But at the heart of the novel is the difficulty she faced after realizing her longtime friend had betrayed her — a revelation that was far more difficult to cope with than her boyfriend’s misdeeds.
“It talks about the sacredness of friendships,” Quinn said of “Disloyalty.” “It starts out really telling you the depth of the friendship.”
The spirit of the story has captured readers, not just locally, but all over the country. Thanks to distribution through Kindle and Amazon in addition to local distributors, people from Virginia, Tennessee, Nashville, Florida and Delaware, among others, have sent Quinn their praises. A friend even gave the book to a fellow traveler in Aruba while on vacation, who ended up reaching out to the author after returning home to the United States.
Quinn said her readers connected with her especially strongly through a “selfie challenge” she organized on social media. They sent photos imitating the dramatic cover image: a set of red lips with an index finger crossed over, indicating a secret.
When crafting the story, Quinn took some creative liberties to keep readers on edge and hoping for another installment. She spent hours researching in libraries and bookstores about the qualities that set great writers apart, and the techniques authors use to keep readers turning pages. She even took a month off from her dual roles at Excelsior, as both an adjunct professor of communications and liaison to community college partners, to work on the novel.
“Without research, you probably would have fallen asleep, just put the book down,” she said. She also had the help of an editor who fine-tuned her writing.
Quinn described her writing process as a sort of therapy that gradually turned into the realization that she was more skilled at writing than she had ever known.
“It was very painful when I first started writing,” Quinn said. “I was having to relive it. I was able to rechannel that energy once I realized the book was good.”
The best part, she said, was being able to change the narrative by crafting her own closure.
“I am the engineer of this book,” she said. “I get to tell how the story’s going to end.”
The story of Quinn’s newfound affinity for writing, though, is just beginning. After completing “Disloyalty” in under four months, Quinn wrote a second book based on all the research she conducted. It’s a how-to manual that teaches her method for writing a novel in 90 days, including outlining, editing, marketing and everything in between. Hard copies of the how-to book will be on sale locally early this year.
With the instructional guide completed, Quinn is now teaching herself to write dialogue. Though friends suggested a film, she has chosen to work on a script for a live play based on her first novel.
As for a sequel to “Disloyalty,” she said it’s not out of the question, but fans shouldn’t hold their breath. She’s been accepted to a Ph.D. program at Northeastern University in Boston, which she will study from her Hillside Avenue home, except for short visits to the school.
Quinn said she knows it won’t be easy to earn a doctorate in education while balancing her professional life and her family — she cares for her mother and her teenage son, Malik. But she’s riding on the momentum from her latest achievements, and she feels excited to take on yet another new challenge.
“I read somewhere that the greatest revenge is success,” she said.
But winning over a couple thousand readers with a fictionalized version of your own life story is a pretty good achievement, too.