Southern Writer Spotlight: Sharon Marchisello
Author tackles Alzheimer's in a new mystery.
Name: Sharon Marchisello
"Going Home" (Sunbury Press, 2014)
"Secrets of the Galapagos" (Milford House Press – Sunbury Press imprint, 2019)
Hometown: I’ve been living in Peachtree City, Ga., since 1994, but I grew up in Tyler, Texas.
Gives us a brief description of your book(s).
“Going Home” is a whodunnit inspired by my mother’s battle with Alzheimer’s disease, which prompted me to wonder what it would be like to interview a witness or suspect with memory issues. It opens when the baby-boomer protagonist finds her elderly mother standing over the bludgeoned body of her caregiver. She’s alone in the house and thus becomes a suspect. The heroine is forced to stay in her hometown (facing people from her past she thought she’d never have to see again), care for her ailing mother, and try to prove her innocence.
“Secrets of the Galapagos” involves mayhem aboard a Galapagos cruise and a secret surrounding a famous giant tortoise.
What brought you to write these stories? For instance, was it a personal experience that inspired you, your “day job” or perhaps an overactive imagination?
As I mentioned, dealing with my mother’s Alzheimer’s inspired me to write “Going Home.” Fortunately, I never had to unravel a murder mystery, but many of the interactions between mother and daughter are lifted from reality.
My husband and I took a bucket-list Galapagos cruise in 2014, and at the time, I never dreamed I’d set a book there. About six months later, I was driving back from a conference in Alabama with another author, and I started telling her about an experience we’d had—which eventually became my opening scene. Normally, the guides kept close watch on the guests during excursions, especially when in the water. But one day, my husband and I switched activities and joined a snorkeling excursion in the middle. We were swimming along, marveling at the vast underwater life, when I looked up to see the Zodiac boats heading back to the ship—without us! I can still feel the panic of being left alone in the middle of the ocean, treading water off the coast of a deserted island.
I waved and screamed; fortunately, someone spotted me, and one of the boats turned around to pick me up. I didn’t see my husband right away, but I told the guide he was still out there. In a moment, he’d swum up and climbed aboard. All was well.
But what if...What if the protagonist’s companion didn’t get picked up? And what if the person was left behind on purpose?
While trying to determine a motive, I recalled a conversation I’d had with one of our guides during a visit to the Charles Darwin Research Station in Puerto Ayora, the largest town on Santa Cruz Island. “I know a secret about Lonesome George,” he said. “But if I tell you, I’ll have to kill you.”
Lonesome George was a Galapagos giant tortoise made famous for being the sole survivor of the Pinta Island species. Unfortunately, efforts to breed George were unsuccessful, and the ancient tortoise passed away in 2012, ending his lineage.
But what if someone discovered another giant tortoise from a different subspecies also thought to be extinct? And then a tortoise researcher unearthed some information about the animal that the tourist industry didn’t want released? Now, I had a possible motive, and the beginnings of a story.
Where do you get your information or ideas for your books?
Life experiences, people I meet, plus a little research. One can find a lot on Google, although it’s easy to go down a rabbit hole researching when I’m supposed to be writing.
Where does the story(stories) take place?
“Going Home” takes place in a fictitious East Texas town in October 2001. Two Wells bears a striking resemblance to Tyler, the East Texas town where I grew up.
“Secrets of the Galapagos” takes place on a cruise around the Galapagos islands, a remote archipelago located in the Pacific Ocean 600 miles off the coast of Ecuador. Approximately 97 percent of the UNESCO site is a national park, and humans inhabit only four of its 21 volcanic islands.
How does setting play in the telling of the story?
I think setting can be very important; in some stories, it can become a character. I like to weave the unique features of the location into the plot so the story could not take place anywhere else.
What do you think makes a good story/book?
Suspense. Even if you’re not writing a mystery, there should be enough conflict and suspense to make the reader want to find out what happens next.
When did you first realize you wanted to be a writer?
I’ve always wanted to be a writer. Even before I learned my alphabet, I’d tell myself stories when I couldn’t go to sleep after my parents made me go to bed too early.
When did you write your first book? And how was that experience?
Although I wrote a lot of short stories, essays, and a few poems, I didn’t complete a novel until I was in my early 20s. It tried to be a coming-of-age story, but it was sort of an autobiographical rant. After I was accepted into the Master’s in Professional Writing program at the University of Southern California, I showed it to one of my professors. He said he couldn’t find the plot and suggested I begin a new project.
“Going Home” is actually the fourth novel I completed, but the first that found a publisher.
Is writing your primary job or do you have another career?
I am retired from a 27-year career with Delta Air Lines. Writing is my primary occupation, although I also do a lot of volunteer work. I don’t earn enough to make a living from my writing; fortunately, I have investments, and my husband still flies for Delta.
What does your family think of your writing?
They think it’s a nice hobby.
What was the most surprising thing you learned writing your stories?
It takes a lot more than skill with the English language to be successful in this business.
Did writing your book(s) lead you to other things?
After I wrote “Going Home,” I became involved with the annual Alzheimer’s Walk. Our team holds several fundraisers in advance of the Walk, and I offer signed copies of “Going Home” in exchange for a $20 donation to the Alzheimer’s Association.
What suggestions do you have for aspiring writers?
1. Write. Don’t give up, but recognize that a lot of what you write will be bad. Give yourself permission to write badly.
2. Rewrite. Don’t expect your first draft (or even second or third) to be publishable, and don’t be afraid to cut what isn’t working.
3. Learn and share. Attend workshops, conferences, read books about craft, join critique groups, find beta readers or writing partners and listen to their feedback. But the best way to learn how to write is to read, and read a lot in the genre you want to write.
How can readers find and purchase your books? (Please list all outlets and links.)
Weird, Wacky & Wild South is written by travel journalist Cheré Dastugue Coen, who also writes novels under the pen name of Cherie Claire. You can learn more about her Southern-based mysteries and romance at CherieClaire.net.