Thursday, November 03, 2016

Posted by Laurel Garver on Thursday, November 03, 2016 27 comments
By guest author Marianne Sciucco

Image credit: https://morguefile.com/creative/rikahi
My daughter had been swimming for five years when I came up with the idea to write a novel about girls’ varsity swimming that would become my latest book Swim Season. Sitting on those cold, hard bleachers season after season gave me more than a sore you-know-what. It sparked my imagination, creating a story line and cast of characters that would show in written form what high school swimming is like for these girls. As I wrote the story, they were always at the heart of it. I wrote it for them. And I wanted it to be as accurate and realistic as possible.

Observation

In many ways, writing Swim Season was natural and easy. Through many autumns, I’d watched my daughter and her team swim their hearts out, beside parents rooting for their own swimmers. In the beginning, I knew next to nothing about the sport, about swim meets. But as the years went on, I learned.

I learned simple things, like the order of events. Try finding your kid on a pool deck swarming with dozens of young swimmers in caps and goggles when you’re not sure which event it is, or whether your child is swimming in it or not. Impossible.

Immersion

My involvement with swim culture soon expanded beyond sitting in the bleachers. I also chaperoned the waiting rooms where dozens of youngsters waited for their next event. Try to keep all that adrenaline in check.

I volunteered to time the races, and stood at the blocks, race after race, helping to make things run smoothly, making sure the right kid was in the right lane.

I helped out at the concession stand, serving up bagels and cream cheese. I was involved with the fundraising activities, Picture Day, and put together the program for Senior Night for a number of years. I went to 99 percent of the meets with my husband (we missed one when it was an hour away from our home on a week night.)

Conversations and interviews 

Most of my daughters’ friends were swimmers, so I got to know several of them up close and personal. They were an intelligent, ambitious, fantastic set of young women. When my book was criticized by a critique partner because the characters seemed “too smart,” I responded with, “Well, those are the girls I know.” The team had the highest GPA of all athletic teams at the high school year after year. Yes, swimmers are smart.

I took advantage of coaches I knew personally (and some I didn’t) to pick their brains, try out the story’s premise for believability, and tweak the details. Many thanks go to the following New York State coaches: Frank Woodward, Middletown High School; Justin Wright, Monroe-Woodbury High School; Jeremy Cuebas, Minisink Valley High School; and Danielle Lindner, former coach for Mount Saint Mary College, in Newburgh.

Social media

Early in the process, I sent out a tweet on Twitter, asking swimmers to complete a questionnaire for a new book about varsity swimming. Almost a dozen young swimmers – girls and boys – responded, and we started dialogues that provided great background for my story. Some of them went on to become beta readers. All of them were thrilled at the idea of a book about them, about their sport.

Books

As a reader, when the answers weren’t so simple I resorted to books. Michael Phelps’s biography No Limits: The Will to Succeed, with Alan Abrahamson, was more than worth its cost. Likewise, Amanda Beard’s memoir In the Water They Can't See You Cry gave me insight into how to build an Olympic silver medalist. Instruction books, such as Terry Laughlin’s Total Immersion, with John Delves, and Tracey McFarlane’s Mirande’s Championship Swimming with Kathlene Bissell, taught me the fine-tuning of technique. The Champion’s Mind: How Great Athletes Think, Train, and Thrive, by Jim Afremow, PhD, was instrumental in creating Aerin’s mental game. For inspiration I turned to Swimmers: Courage and Triumph by Larry Thomson.

Parallel experience

Then there was the time when I decided to swim the race at the heart of my story. For a while I was taking Aquasize classes at my local YMCA. One day I got the idea to try to swim 500 yards. I wanted to see if I could do it, how long it would take, and how I would feel during and afterwards. I have never swum competitively, although I have always loved to swim and am capable of doing the freestyle. My first 500 clocked in at 30 minutes. I stopped after every length to catch my breath and chat with the other ladies in the Aquasize class. I kept at it, though, and after a few weeks managed to complete the 500 in 16 minutes, which was phenomenal for me. Of course, the time to beat in Swim Season is 4:52.50, which, for me, was in never never land. But, as a middle-aged woman with below-average fitness, I was proud of my achievement. In the end, unfortunately, it exacerbated my repetitive strain injuries and I had to give it up.

Writing Swim Season was an endeavor born of many resources, personal and professional. It’s recommended that we write what we know. I knew a lot about competitive swimming as a Swim Mom, but that was not enough to compose this story. I needed to reach out to many others – swimmers, coaches, parents, Olympians, and a psychologist – to nail the details. All of this, I believe, leads to a more credible, believable story with depth.

About the Author

During swim season, you can find Marianne Sciucco, a dedicated Swim Mom for ten years, at one of many Skyline Conference swim meets, cheering for her daughter Allison and the Mount Saint Mary College Knights.

Sciucco is not a nurse who writes but a writer who happens to be a nurse. A lover of words and books, she dreamed of becoming an author when she grew up but became a nurse to avoid poverty. She later brought her two passions together and writes about the intricate lives of people struggling with health and family issues.

Her debut novel Blue Hydrangeas, an Alzheimer’s love story, is a Kindle bestseller; IndieReader Approved; a BookWorks featured book; and a Library Journal Self-e Selection. She also has two short stories available on Kindle, Ino's Love and Collection.

A native Bostonian, Marianne lives in New York’s Hudson Valley, and when not writing works as a campus nurse at a community college.

Connect with Marianne: Website / Facebook / Twitter

About the book

Swim Season
Genre: young adult

Sometimes winning is everything.

Champion swimmer Aerin Keane is ready to give up her dreams of college swimming and a shot at the Olympics. As she starts senior year in her third high school, Aerin's determined to leave her family troubles behind and be like all the other girls at Two Rivers. She's got a new image and a new attitude. She doesn’t want to win anymore. She's swimming for fun, no longer the freak who wins every race, every title, only to find herself alone.

But when her desire to be just one of the girls collides with her desire to be the best Two Rivers has ever seen, will Aerin sacrifice her new friendships to break a longstanding school record that comes with a $50,000 scholarship?

Swim Season is available in paperback and Kindle on Amazon.

What are your favorite research methods? Which of Marianne's research methods would you like to try?

27 comments:

  1. What an interesting book and personal endeavor as well. Congratulations on your book — and on swimming 500 yards in 16 minutes. I'm not surprised the swimmers are so smart. Physical exercise is supposed to be beneficial to the brain, so swimming competitions would be super beneficial.

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    1. The discipline of training also seems like it would be a transferable skill that would help someone excel academically. Thanks for coming by!

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    2. Thanks Elizabeth. Swimming requires a strong mental game, the ability to manage several priorities at the same time, and listening to your coaches.

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  2. I love that the girls were all really that smart. People don't realize sometimes that physical exertion results in brain stimulus, which in turn can produce pure awesomeness. Great to meet you, Marianne!

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    1. My husband says the female athletes are his best students (college level); but not so much with the male athletes. I've always wondered why that is. Exertion seems to account for only part of the academic bump perhaps.

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    3. Yes, Crystal, this is demonstrated year after year. Thanks for reading and responding to this post.

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  3. I loved reading about the research you did for your novel. (Especially as a mom who sat through countless Little League games and later fencing matches. :)

    Congratulations on the novel!!

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    1. So, when will we get to read your novel about the fencing world? :-)

      It is cool how supporting our kids can spark story ideas.

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    2. Thanks Connie. I tried to get as close as I could to my characters, even when it hurt lol. Did Little League ever inspire you to write a story?

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  4. I always think it makes a book so interesting when the author has such first-hand involvement in the topic. I think this would be a great book for young people in search of a sport.

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    1. For sure, first hand knowledge makes for such a rich story world. I imagine fans of Olympic swimming would like Marianne's book too.

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  5. Great post! I agree that being on the fringes is an awesome way to get an introduction to something, but digging in with a variety of resources makes the experiences so much stronger! Good for you for doing that 500! That's awesome!

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    1. Having a parallel experience really is a cool way to feel what characters feel. Impressive indeed.

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    2. That 500 was an incredible challenge. It gave me a new appreciation for the swimmers who do it. Did you know they swim a 1000 and a mile (1650)?

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  6. Awesome. Everyone's experience with any event is unique. Its great that you recognized you needed a variety of perspectives to create the cultural environment. I think its great you attempted to swim the same course as the others. I had to laugh at phrases like "stop to catch my breath" and "chat with the others." Like, the kids are able to do that, lol.

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    1. So many useful takeaways here, aren't there? Marianne's methods are really inspiring.

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    2. Lol, you're right: they're not. I was self- motivated, although my daughter, the swimmer and lifeguard, was on deck to keep me going. I fully immersed myself into the challenges of going deep into this story. I also did a lot of research into women in the military and military nurses for the subplot around Aerin's mom. I am a nurse, so that helped too.

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    3. Laurel, thank you for inviting me to speak to your readers and for supporting Swim Season. Free download codes are available to those readers who'd like to review the book. Just send an email to mariannesciucco@gmail.com.

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    4. My pleasure! Thanks for this meaty, inspiring post!

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  7. Wow, your thorough research is inspiring. I might've thought living it first-hand (through your daughter and her friends) would've been enough!! Congrats on the book and your own swimming accomplishment! Christy

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    1. Thanks Christy. It's doing well and I'm encouraged.

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  8. Congrats on your book, Marianne! Appreciate you sharing your insight and experience.

    Laurel, thanks for hosting. It's always encouraging to hear about other writer's processes and stories.

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    1. Thanks Karen. I love to help other authors and curious readers who want to know more about the story.

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  9. Kodos to you on your research. Good job. And I must agree with Christy (the above comment) that the story was inspiring. Thank you, Laurel for posting it and thank you, Marianne for sharing with us.

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    1. You're welcome Andrew. Thanks for reading and responding. Now I have to come up with unique ways to research my next book, which is about childhood leukemia. Fortunately, I recently met some women from an agency that supports bone marrow research. They can't wait to help.

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