Arizona Science Center's Founding CEO Sheila Grinell on Publishing Her First Novel at 70

Sheila Grinell, founding CEO of the Arizona Science Center and Valley resident, turns to fiction writing at 63.EXPAND
Sheila Grinell, founding CEO of the Arizona Science Center and Valley resident, turns to fiction writing at 63.
Scott Foust, Image Industry

Every other year, New Times puts the spotlight on Phoenix's creative forces — painters, dancers, designers, and actors. Leading up to the release of Best of Phoenix, we're taking a closer look at 100 more. Welcome to the 2016 edition of 100 Creatives. Up today is 57. Sheila Grinell.

Today is Sheila Grinell's birthday. She is 71. And we would love nothing more than for her to write a how-to manual for living a stellar life. It sounds a little Oprah-y, we know, but stick with us here.

Grinell was born in a Manhattan taxi (something we would also read a book about) and grew up in the Bronx. She has had not one, but two successful creative careers. "My first, in the museum field, lasted 40 years," she says. "I wanted to make the joys of thinking scientifically accessible to everyone, and then I got deeply involved in one way for doing so, via hands-on science centers."

She's the founding CEO of Arizona Science Center, hands down one of Phoenix's best tourist attractions. She has since retired, but that's where the elusive second act comes in. 

"I began my second career, as a novelist, in 2009, because it was time to explore life differently," she says, adding, "and I love playing with language."

At the age of 70, Grinell published her first novel, Appetite. Taking this fresh direction has been great fun, she says, but it's been a lot of hard work, too. This novel isn't some one-off pet project. 

"I write contemporary fiction that focuses on the relationship between husband and wife against the background of a clash between cultures," she says. "In novel number one, two generations disagree; in novel number two, which I’m now writing, the conflict is international."

Despite this somewhat recent career change, her passion for the written word was sparked decades ago. She thinks back on the first time a piece of literature really affected her. "In terms of pure emotional impact, I’d have to say “Paul’s Case,” a short story by Willa Cather that I read as a teenager," she says. "Up until then, I didn’t know literature could set one’s core vibrating."

But, she says, "I’ve been a devoted reader all along."

I came to Phoenix in 1993 with my husband, son, and dog to develop the Arizona Science Center. I served as its founding CEO through 2004.

I am now writing novels because there’s no better way to share my particular take on life.

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I’m most productive in the morning, when it’s quiet and my body is content to sit still.

My inspiration wall contains lots of scraps of paper with memory joggers — an idea, a quotation, a name — that I hope to incorporate in my current piece. But as the work develops, I may not use them!

I’ve learned most about writing from a couple of creative writing teachers at Phoenix College. I’ve also had a writing partner for the past three years whose critique has been invaluable. We comment on each other’s latest chapter and shake each other up in the best way.

A good book should always snap into place when the reader reaches the very last line. She should say “aha!” because she realizes she has just experienced a slice of life in all its nuance, and it now belongs to her.

The Phoenix creative scene could use more ways for interested people to find each other. We could use a “Local First Arizona” for the arts.

The 2016 Creatives so far:

100. Nicole Olson
99. Andrew Pielage
98. Jessica Rowe
97. Danny Neumann
96. Beth Cato
95. Jessie Balli
94. Ron May
93. Leonor Aispuro
92. Sarah Waite
91. Christina "Xappa" Franco
90. Christian Adame
89. Tara Sharpe
88. Patricia Sannit
87. Brian Klein
86. Dennita Sewell
85. Garth Johnson
84. Charissa Lucille
83. Ryan Downey
82. Samantha Thompson
81. Cherie Buck-Hutchison
80. Freddie Paull
79. Jennifer Campbell
78. Dwayne Hartford
77. Shaliyah Ben
76. Kym Ventola
75. Matthew Watkins
74. Tom Budzak
73. Rachel Egboro
72. Rosemary Close
71. Ally Haynes-Hamblen
70. Alex Ozers
69. Fawn DeViney
68. Laura Dragon
67. Stephanie Neiheisel
66. Michael Lanier
65. Jessica Rajko
64. Velma Kee Craig
63. Oliver Hibert
62. Joya Scott
61. Raji Ganesan
60. Ashlee Molina
59. Myrlin Hepworth
58. Amy Ettinger

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