Cynthia Hamilton


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Cynthia Hamilton

The Story Behind the Story: Marianne Sciucco “Blue Hydrangeas”

I had read a few books dealing with Alzheimer’s before I started “Blue Hydrangeas” by Marianne Sciucco. The difference was they were true-life accounts of dealing with the disease, though Marianne’s tale is every bit as believable and moving. It’s a story that allows us readers to witness the heartbreak of the diagnosis along with the love, strength and determination of a couple still very much in love in their senior years.

There’s a reason this book is so captivating and believable. The author has seen more than her share of tender love stories and the pain of an Alzheimer’s diagnosis. What she shows us is that love can continue to thrive, even in the face of an uncertain future. Her story is faithful, evocative, enchanting, and ultimately hopeful. To live with love and courage no matter what is in store for us is a credo for our time.

It is my pleasure to give you Marianne Sciucco:

Perhaps it seems only natural that I’d write a book about Alzheimer’s. I had three beloved aunts succumb to the disease, and for years I’d worked with people living with Alzheimer’s and dementia. As a nurse, I had a lot of experience with these patients and their confused, distraught, heartbroken families, but the idea of writing a book about them never crossed my mind.

Then I met the lovely couple who inspired the characters Jack and Sara in my debut novel Blue Hydrangeas, an Alzheimer’s love story.

I was a case manager in a rehab unit at the time, and in the middle of trying to put together my first novel, which was going nowhere. I was making my rounds one afternoon and ended up with conversing with this sweet couple, who captivated me at “hello.”

She was 86, very pretty, with a friendly smile, deep dimples, and long white hair pulled back in a tidy chignon. She also had Alzheimer’s. Throughout our conversation she kept saying, “Oh, I’m so mixed up,” which became my heroine Sara’s line. Her husband was a frail, thin, elderly man with a bemused expression on his weathered face. How he adored her! He hung on her every word and told me they were fine, everything was all right.

The amazing thing about them was that they’d driven from Florida to New York by themselves without any incident. Unfortunately, once home she fell and broke her pelvis, and landed in the hospital. That’s where I came in, to assist with the discharge plan. She was supposed to go to a local nursing home for continued rehab and her son planned to drive her and his father there on discharge day. He asked me to make sure his parents, skeptical about this plan, did not leave the hospital without him. This was not unusual and I agreed.

I completed their plans and said goodbye, but couldn’t stop thinking about them, wondering what would happen if they somehow left the hospital without their son and did not go to the rehab. Where would they go? What would they do? My wild imagination took off, I abandoned my work-in-progress, and the seeds for the novel took root. Eighteen months later I had a complete manuscript.

My book is set on Cape Cod, where blue hydrangeas, my favorite flowers, are abundant and gorgeous. It’s one of my favorite places. I often call it “my home in my heart.” 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,” and “Sea Breeze,” then had the epiphany to name it “Blue Hydrangeas,” with a long driveway leading to the house with two dozen hydrangea bushes on both sides. You can’t get more Cape Cod than that! Then I started thinking: Who are the people most likely to name their home? Innkeepers! So, Jack and Sara became innkeepers, with a twelve-room house they built for their retirement, a replica of an 1860’s captain’s house.

On Cape Cod, there are 15 distinct, unique towns and I know many of them very well after living there for a few years back in the ’80’s, and vacationing in many of them almost annually for the last 25 years. Plus, my mother lives in Wareham, the “Gateway to Cape Cod,” and I’m there all the time. I could have chosen any one of these towns for the setting of this story. Instead, I created the village of Falmouthport, which I placed in the southernmost tip of the peninsula, and made a part of the town of Falmouth proper.

Creating my own special place was useful in many ways: I could make it the way I needed it to be for the purposes of the story, and I didn’t have to worry that I’d get some detail wrong and a knowledgeable Cape Codder would call me out on it. Accuracy is important to me in all my stories, and I wanted everything to be just right. So, I took the easy way out and created my own village. Now I want to go there, for real, as do many of my readers, and I can’t. What a dilemma. When I’m on the Cape, in every town I pass through, I look for a house that looks like the Blue Hydrangeas I conjured, or is named “Blue Hydrangeas”, but I haven’t found it yet. Still looking.

Early on I planned for Jack and Sara’s crisis to occur back in their hometown in upstate New York. Given the fact that the real Jack and Sara successfully made a 1,000-mile drive from Florida to upstate New York I thought it feasible for my characters to drive from Cape Cod to New York, a four-hour ride. But as I considered this I thought it was a bit extreme, so I decided they’d escape to Provincetown, the little town on the outermost tip of the Cape, instead. It was less than two hours away from their home.

It’s here that Jack revisits the horrible incident that happened one summer. Which meant I had to come up with a horrible incident and I conjured the worst: The drowning of their teenage daughter. On the way to Provincetown, Jack experiences a revelation that changes everything.

This is just a small amount of insight into my thought and creative processes surrounding the writing of this book. It took eleven years for me to see it published (another story), and two years after publication, I started living my story when my stepfather was diagnosed with three types of dementia. I became his Health Care Proxy, Power of Attorney, and advocate, navigating the healthcare system and social services on my own journey. He has since passed away and now I am my 90-year old mother’s advocate. Thankfully, she does not have dementia.

As I write this it’s late June, we’re having a heatwave, and I’m wrapped up in Christmas as I put the finishing touches to my soon-to-be-released novella Christmas at Blue Hydrangeas, a prequel to Blue Hydrangeas. So many readers were fascinated with the bed and breakfast, and wanted more stories about Jack and Sara, that I just had to write one with a Christmas theme (one of my favorites!), set in 1978, long before Sara’s Alzheimer’s. I plan to publish in July. Please join my mailing list to receive an email when it’s available or follow me on my Amazon page (see below.)

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