Welcome everyone. We’re continuing our author interview series with Marianne Sciucco today. A wonderful lady from New York who makes the statement “I’m not a nurse who writes but a writer who happens to be a nurse.”
Marianne, why don’t you get us started with a little about your self and where you are from.
- A lover of words and books, I dreamed of becoming an author when I grew up but became a nurse to avoid poverty. I later brought my two passions together and write about the intricate lives of people struggling with health and family issues. My debut novel, Blue Hydrangeas, an Alzheimer’s love story, is a Kindle bestseller, IndieReader Approved, a BookWorks featured book, a Library Journal SELF-e Selection, and winner of IndieReCon’s Best Indie Novel Award, 2014. A native Bostonian, I live in New York’s Hudson Valley with my husband and daughter, and when not writing work part-time as a campus nurse at a community college. I love, books, beaches, and craft beer, and especially enjoy the three of them together.
Did you grow up with books in the house?
- My dad, a cabinetmaker, was a book lover and filled our home with books. We had a beautiful bookcase in our living room, built right into the wall, and he stocked it with all kinds of books, most of which I was too young to read. He made up for it by bringing me to the library every week and letting me check out as many books as they’d allow. This inspired me at an early age to someday write my own book.
Did seeing all those books help spark your interest in writing, or help you once you did start writing?
- It seems as though I’ve been writing ever since I could make letters. As a child, I fell in love with books and yearned to create my own, to one day see my name on its cover as author, to find it on a library shelf or in a bookstore, to catch someone reading it. In high school, I dreamed of becoming a reporter – a foreign correspondent, at that! And in college I worked as a reporter for my college newspaper at the University of Massachusetts at Boston, and as a stringer for several local dailies. I thought that with hard work, determination, skill, and talent I would see my dream come true. That did not happen. Fresh out of school with an English degree, I was unable to secure stable employment as a reporter. I struggled for a couple of years, but eventually grew desperate because I was broke and had to support myself and pay off student loans. I then took a job with a national non-profit health agency and freelanced as a reporter and as a production assistant for some smaller papers. These small jobs proved unsatisfying, and I drifted into other jobs and finally gave up writing and reporting for good. This happened in the early 90’s, and the country was in the midst of a nursing crisis. I’d never dreamed of becoming a nurse, in fact, I balked at the idea when my guidance counselor suggested it in high school. But as an adult, I realized nursing might be an opportunity for me to gain stable employment. After I’d worked as a hospital nurse for a few years, one of the nurse managers started a newsletter for the nursing department. I volunteered to help and soon I was running the whole thing! This project reignited my desire to write, and I started penning articles, one of which a nursing journal published. Encouraged, I embarked on my first novel. It took 11 years, but I self-published that book and am now working on another. I’ve also published three short stories. So, although I love being a nurse, and it has been a rewarding career for me on many levels, I am at heart a writer. This will always be how I define myself.
Do you have a particular incident you can point to and say, “There. That is what started my writing! That’s when I became a writer!”?
- [Yes} New York Times bestselling and multi-award winning author and fellow nurse Elizabeth Berg deserves all the credit. I had dreamed of writing a book all my life and had made several starts but never finished anything. I had a lot of ideas but lacked the discipline to complete a project. One day I was at the gym and wanted to read something while I worked on the treadmill. I picked up the latest copy of Good Housekeeping magazine. Inside I found an excerpt from the latest Elizabeth Berg novel, True To Form. I read the whole thing while my legs got a lengthy workout. The next day, I went to the library and checked out the book. After reading this and every other book she wrote, I knew hers was the type of book I wanted to write. This happened shortly after the terrorist attacks on September 11, 2001, and a near-drowning experience earlier that same summer. These events left me with an increasing sense that I had no guarantee of time. If I wanted to achieve my goal of writing a book I needed to get serious, sit down, and do it. My first effort, like most before, went nowhere. Then I met the couple who inspired the characters in Blue Hydrangeas, and 18 months later I had a complete manuscript. Is my work like Berg’s? Probably not. But she is an excellent role model.
- [I became a writer] the first time I picked up a newspaper and saw my byline. What a thrill! Someone thought my work was good enough for others to read. And they paid me!
Are you at a point in your current project you can share anything about it?
- My current WIP is Swim Season, the story of Aerin Keane, who is determined to leave her troubles behind as she starts twelfth grade in her third high school. Senior year is supposed to be fun, right? Friends. Parties. Boys. She wants to be like every other girl at Two Rivers. Except Aerin has two secrets: She is not an average varsity swimmer, and her mom is not a nurse serving in Afghanistan. Ready to give up her dreams of a college swimming scholarship and a shot at the Olympics, Aerin decides she doesn’t want to win anymore, she wants to swim for fun, it’s her “therapy.” But when her desire to be just one of the girls on the team collides with her desire to be the best this school has ever seen, will Aerin sacrifice her new friendships to challenge a long-standing school record attached to a $50,000 scholarship? I hope to publish later this year. Here’s a preview.
- Please visit my Pubslush campaign page to read an excerpt from Swim Season. (Note the crowdfunding campaign is over, and this is not a request for donations.)
Do you have any other exciting news you can share with us today, while we’re talking about future plans?
- As an indie author, at this point in my career I’m more interested in gaining readers than royalties. So when I recently learned that Library Journal’s curated SELF-e program had added Blue Hydrangeas to its collection of quality independently published books, I did a happy dance. Now my book will be available to readers all over the United States via 2,500 public libraries subscribed to BiblioBoard Library. This service brings quality self-published works to the attention of the librarians who stock digital libraries. Inclusion in SELF-e will enable me to gain readers in an area – public libraries – that has, until now, been closed to most indie authors. The first Library Journal SELF-e curated collection will be available to libraries in mid-2015. To learn more, please visit my blog.
You have such interesting titles. Do you have a favorite method to select them, or do they come from the work itself?
- What fun that was! My book is set on Cape Cod, where blue hydrangeas, my favorite flowers, are abundant and gorgeous. Cape Codders are known for giving their homes whimsical names, and I wanted my characters, Jack and Sara, to name their home. I tossed around several ideas, such as By the Sea, then had the epiphany to name it Blue Hydrangeas, with a long driveway leading to the house with hydrangea bushes on both sides. Then I started thinking: What kind of people name their home? Innkeepers! So, Jack and Sara became innkeepers, the name of their inn was Blue Hydrangeas, blue hydrangeas line the path to their front door, Sara is a commercial artist known for her paintings of blue hydrangeas, and blue hydrangeas are all over the Cape.
Sounds like you did have fun with that one.
I broke all the rules and designed the cover for Blue Hydrangeas myself. At the time, I didn’t know what I was doing. I just wanted to see my book published. I had no money and managed to throw this together. Since then, I considered hiring someone to make a new cover, but everyone tells me No, this cover is beautiful. Leave it alone. What’s the consensus? Should I or should I not change it? For my new novel, I won a cover design in a book contest, IndieRecon 2014, and cover artist Heather McCorkle designed the Swim Season cover.
From your childhood growing up, and later as you wrote your own book, do you have a writing style you call your own yet?
- I like easy reading. My goal is to write a book you can pick up on Friday night and finish on Sunday night, a nice weekend read. Many people have told me they’ve read Blue Hydrangeas in one sitting or over one or two days. The novel I am currently working on is a young adult, and right now sits at more than 97,000 words, so it looks like I have a lot of editing and revising to do in order to make it a weekend read. Honestly, that’s not the goal with this one. This book will be as long as it needs to be to tell the story, although I do hope it’s under 400 pages. I also write clean reads, meaning free of gratuitous sex, violence, and foul language. I think that much of popular media and entertainment today is saturated with these elements, and I choose not to use them.
I know many people who prefer the clean reads. I tend to be one of those myself.
Going back to your earlier comments, about being a nurse who happens to also be a writer, do you use your nursing career as inspiration for your work?
- The book is not based on any particular person or persons or set of circumstances, although it was inspired by an elderly couple I met in my work as a nurse and part of their story. However, many readers have written that the book is reflective of their own lives living with Alzheimer’s and reminds them of their own experiences. They say it is an accurate portrayal of life with someone with Alzheimer’s.
Now that you have learned a little more, if you had to start the journey over with what you know now, would you change anything?
- No. I did the best I could with the tools, knowledge, and skills I had at the time. To change anything would make it a different book.
Fair enough. While you were writing, did you hide a message in your book for readers to find?
- Yes. The book is about Alzheimer’s, caregiving, marriage, family, and love. My message is that even in the face of adversity and tragedy love can prevail.
From the perspective of where you are now on the publication journey, do you see writing as a second career?
- For me, writing is more of a hobby than a career. Long story, but I suffer from repetitive strain injuries which make writing full-time impossible. I try to do a little bit each day, but the rigors of being a full-time author are beyond me right now.
Yet you persevere, and push on. I definitely take my hat off to you. Did your injuries present you with challenges you had to over come? If so, what did you to to adapt your writing around them?
- My repetitive strain injuries make it very challenging and at times impossible for me to realize my goals. It has been almost ten years and continues to be a daily issue. For more about this please visit my blog MyTOSLife.
Were there any other challenges you had to learn from?
- The hardest part about writing Blue Hydrangeas was getting into the head of Sara, who has Alzheimer’s. I don’t think anyone can you imagine what that would be like. I utilized a number of resources, including my personal experience working with Alzheimer’s patients, and research materials such as how-to books, memoir, caregiver manuals, websites, blogs, and movies. The verdict seems to be that I got it right.
- I learned that writing a book is an arduous, grueling, laborious, painstaking task that requires diligence, dedication, time, tenacity, and talent.
Since you grew up with free access to books, I’m sure you’ve continued the habit of reading. Anything interesting holding the pride of place in your “To be read” or “am reading now” stacks?
- I’m an eclectic reader, and often in the midst of reading three or more books at a time. Right now on my Kindle I’m reading Best Friends…Forever? by Krysten Lindsay Hager, a middle-grade novel that’s taking me back to the trials and tribulations of the eighth grade, an unforgettable time in the lives of most women. I joined a book club at work, and we’re reading Blue Covenant, by Maude Barlow. I just finished reading The Other Wes Moore, by Wes Moore for a book group at my library. I am also reading two books on swimming as research for my novel in progress Swim Season: Championship Swimming by Tracey McFarlane-Mirande, and Total Immersion by Terry Laughlin. And I am listening to an audiobook called Torn Canvas by Donna K. Weaver.
How about new authors? Anyone you’ve found of particular interest?
- Some of the better books I’ve read recently are Jean L. Lee’s Alzheimer’s Daughter, One Night in Tehran by Luana Ehrlich, Kibble Talk by Cynthia Port, and Still Time by Maria Hoagland. I read a lot of books written by the authors in Clean Indie Reads, a membership of 2000+ authors writing flinch free fiction. Many of these books are well written enjoyable reads.
Definitely sounds like a group to investigate. Have any of them provided support, or do you have another network you can tap into when the going gets tough?
- Thrall Library in Middletown New York has supported me in so many ways. First of all, it’s a great research facility and has helped me not only research my stories but also learn how to write a book, publish it, and market it. I’ve attended educational programs there on many subjects, and they even allow me to teach there and hold book signings. I am currently in the midst of coordinating our second Local Authors and Illustrators Showcase, a project I proposed to them last year, and they let me run with it. We had 19 authors at our first event! This was a wonderful opportunity not only for the authors but the public. And there are a number of people at the library who have supported me over the years, in particular, reference librarian Mary Flannery Climes, whom I have known for two decades. Whenever I ran into her, she’d ask me how the book was going. People like Mary, who continually reminded me that I had a book to write, motivated me to complete it. Local libraries are truly jewels in the community. They should be at the top of the list for the community’s support.
I definitely have to agree with that. I don’t remember how many times libraries fed my mental appetite when the book shelves at home were a little too familiar.
One more question. It’s the big one that gets asked by almost everyone: Do you have any advice for your fellow beginning writers?
- Don’t give up. Understand that this is a difficult undertaking and may offer little to no reward at the end, other than the fact that you completed it.
Before we wrap up for today, do you have any last words?
- If you love my book, please write a review.
That is so true of any book or author.
Marianne, thank you for coming by. It has been fun having over, and I look forward to hearing about your success through the weeks to come.
If you wish me to host your author/character interview, please stop by my Offered Services Submission page, and send in a request. I’ll be glad to discuss details with you.
Next week, we have Karl Erickson stopping by, so be sure to mark your calendars. Until then, happy reading!