Sarrocco tells funny, scary, inconvenient truths

Nicole Sarrocco in her Raleigh backyard with a feathered friend

Update: Chatwin Books published Sarrocco’s second novel, Ill-Mannered Ghosts: An Occasionally True Account of One Girl’s Dust-Ups with Ghosts, Electricity, and Granny’s Ashes, in October 2016. Sarrocco gave a reading from her new novel at the Regulator Bookshop in Durham. To celebrate the references to New Orleans and jazz in the book, NCSSM’s student Blast Band (our smaller version of a high school marching band, directed by Instructor Phillip Riggs) paraded down 9th Street with Sarocco to the reading (Elizabeth Goodman photo).    Sarrocco goes to reading

Don’t worry if Humanities Instructor Nicole Sarrocco seems a little distracted in these next few weeks. November is National Novel Writing Month, NaNoWriMo, when writers challenge themselves to complete a novel by writing 1,600 words each day for a month. Between classes, grading, and her two kids at home, Sarrocco is doing her best to participate by snagging 5 minutes of writing time here, 15 minutes there each day.

And then there are the events around her brand new book. A published poet and celebrated playwright and screenwriter, Sarrocco has become a novelist with the release of Lit by Lightning: An Occasionally True Account of One Girl’s Dust-ups with Ghosts, Electricity, and Granny’s Ashes (Chatwin Books, November 2015).

Lit by Lightning is the product of NaNoWriMo in 2013. After five years of teaching at NCSSM, Sarrocco left in 2010 so that she and her husband, Jason, could help her mother run the family business. While handling accounts payable and human resources, Sarrocco needed a creative outlet, so she took on the NaNoWriMo challenge. That first day she sat down and decided to build on recent Facebook posts she’d written about her strange experiences at the grocery store. “I was getting 50 ‘likes’ from those posts,” she remembers. “If it makes people feel better or laugh, that’s great. There’s not much more I can want from writing.”

“I just sat down, I didn’t plan anything, and I wrote what was on my mind that day,” she says. At the end of the month, she sent the manuscript off to her editor friend Phil Bevis at Chatwin Books. He liked it. The publisher describes the novel as “an intensely personal and strangely universal tale of finding grace in chaos, creating meaning from nonsense, and for heaven’s sake not making too much of a spectacle of yourself. A witty, hilarious, transcendent, and disturbing tale of ghosts, manners, and the family we choose and the ones who choose us.”  

“There’s a single character, she’s the main voice, but she has the experience of hearing other people’s stories, almost like movie clips or ghosts,” Sarrocco says. “She’s managing her day-to-day life but meanwhile their stories keep interrupting her — and they’re funny, scary, sometimes inconvenient.”

Bevis told Sarrocco that he saw the book as the first in a series, because she left unresolved threads of stories. So Lit by Lightning will be followed in the Occasionally True series by Ill-Mannered Ghosts, to be published in early 2016. And writing Hauntingly Familiar, the third in the trilogy, is Sarrocco’s NaNoWriMo project this month.

“Phil came up with the ‘Occasionally True’ label,” she says. “It’s really all true but we don’t want to tell people that, we’d terrify them. In the second book, things get a little more dramatic, looking at things that haunt place, especially in the South with our history of plantations.”

As for her day job, Sarrocco says there’s really no other school where she’d want to teach. She loves the variety of classes she can teach and she loves the students’ aptitude. American Studies is her favorite class to teach because “it’s such a big part of the culture here, it shapes our students’ experience here, they all have it in common, and it’s about the American experience. We can talk about the students’ identities and where they fit in the world, where they position themselves in the bigger narrative.”

Read a News & Observer story about Sarrocco’s new book