Marianne Sciucco is not a nurse who writes but a writer who happens to be a nurse, using her skills and experience to create stories that bear witness to the humanity in all of us. She writes contemporary, women’s and young adult fiction. With more than 20-years’ experience as a staff nurse and case manager, she’s worked with countless families dealing with issues related to aging, elder care, Alzheimer’s, and nursing home placement.
In 2002, she put the two together and began writing about the intricate lives of people struggling with health and family issues. She published her debut novel, Blue Hydrangeas: An Alzheimer’s Love Story, in 2013 to glowing reviews. This book led her to become a co-founder and director of AlzAuthors, the global community of authors writing about Alzheimer’s and dementia from personal experience to light the way for others. She is the podcast producer and host of Untangling Alzheimer’s and Dementia, an AlzAuthors podcast.
Can you give us a brief overview of Blue Hydrangeas?
In Blue Hydrangeas, a pair of retired Cape Cod innkeepers struggle with Alzheimer’s disease. A care facility is everyone’s solution for what to do about Sara, but her husband, Jack, can’t bear to live without her. He is committed to saving his marriage, his wife, and their life together from the devastation of Alzheimer’s disease. He and Sara retired years ago to the house of their dreams and operated it as a Cape Cod bed and breakfast named Blue Hydrangeas. Jack has made an impossible promise: he and Sara will stay together in their beautiful home no matter what the disease brings.
However, after nine years of selfless caregiving, complicated by her progressing Alzheimer’s and his own failing heart, Jack finally admits he can no longer care for Sara at home. With reluctance, he arranges to admit her to an assisted living facility. But, on the morning of admission, Sara is having one of her few good days, and he is unable to follow through. Instead, he takes them on an impulsive journey to confront their past and reclaim their future. In the end, he realizes that staying together at any cost is what truly matters.
What motivated you to write it?
I’m a registered nurse and worked with dementia patients for many years. One day, while seeing patients in a rehab unit, I met a charming couple. She was the patient, had Alzheimer’s, and had fractured her pelvis. Her husband was an affable man, though a bit frail and somewhat confused.
The interesting thing about them was they had driven from Florida to New York on their own without incident, until a few days after they arrived home and she fell. My role was to assist them in the process of moving her to a long-term care facility for further rehab. Their son was present and asked if he could drive his mother to the facility the next day, rather than use medical transportation. I said of course.
Later that evening I couldn’t stop thinking about them, wondering what would happen if they left the hospital without their son. Where would they go? What would they do? The seeds for Blue Hydrangeas were planted.
Blue Hydrangeas became the catalyst for me to reach out to other authors of books on dementia to form a partnership to help promote each other’s books. Alzheimer’s and dementia are niche topics and marketing such books is very difficult. That first partnership is now a global non-profit called AlzAuthors.com, and 300+ authors strong.
Blue Hydrangeas is the name of Jack and Sara’s home. What lies behind the choice of this particular flower?
The story is set on Cape Cod, where blue hydrangeas are in abundance during the summer. They make me happy. When Jack and Sara built their home, they planted blue hydrangea bushes all along their driveway and they were magnificent. Thus, the inn’s name. Also, Sara, an artist, painted scenes featuring the fluffy blue flowers for her work with publishing and greeting card companies and was well known in the Cape Cod art world for her watercolors.
The book can be appreciated by anyone but will have particular resonance for anyone who has had a loved one suffer from Alzheimer’s. What do you hope people will take away from reading Blue Hydrangeas?
I hope readers learn that although Alzheimer’s is a terminal illness, it has a slow trajectory, and there are many good years before the person with dementia succumbs. I also want readers to realize that it’s important to reach for help when caring for a loved one with Alzheimer’s and dementia. It is not a job one can do alone. Support is needed, as well as knowledge and understanding.
How has your background influenced your writing? To what extent does your own life influence your writing?
Much of my experience as a nurse has influenced my work. My stories tend to revolve around some medical condition: dementia (Blue Hydrangeas), aging (Ino’s Love and Blue Hydrangeas), elder care (Blue Hydrangeas), PTSD and drug addiction (Swim Season). My short stories are based on my childhood experiences (Collection and Birthday Party).
Can you take us through the process of writing a book? What do you do first?
First, an idea has to take hold of my imagination and not let go. When I feel I know enough about the characters and storyline I’ll start my first draft. It can take me months to years to complete a project. I’m a very slow writer because not only do I juggle many roles and responsibilities I also struggle with chronic pain, which impacts my ability to keyboard.
Once I complete the first draft, I let it sit a bit, then I tackle the editing process using a tool called Auto Crit. I may read through the manuscript as many as ten times making sure there are no plot holes, typos, misspelled words, or grammar problems, and ensuring the story makes sense and is factual. Once I’m satisfied, I send it out to my Beta readers. When my readers get back to me with criticism and corrections, I make any required adjustments. Once I’m convinced the book is done, I publish it through Draft2Digital and Kindle Direct Publishing.
What is the most challenging part of writing a book?
Finding space and time to write uninterrupted by people, other projects, and pain.
What other books and authors have inspired you?
My two favorite all-time authors are Anne Tyler and Elizabeth Berg. I love the way they write their characters, who are down home, “normal” people with all kinds of quirks and unique takes on life.
Which of your books are you most proud of?
I am most proud of my YA novel Swim Season, although it is not nearly as popular as Blue Hydrangeas and did not launch a global nonprofit. I wrote Swim Season for my daughter, who swam competitively for 11 years, to honor her and the young women she swam with for their grit and determination. So many good things came out of her swimming years, and I wanted to share that with others. It is my longest book at 593 pages.