How Arizona Science Center's Founding CEO Sheila Grinell Found Fiction at 63

When the founding CEO of the Arizona Science Center Sheila Grinell found fiction, there was no turning back. 

Grinell, who retired from the Center in 2004, has turned her crosshairs on fiction writing with the debut of her first novel, Appetite – out via She Writes Press on May 17.

She found her passion for writing fiction at 63 when her mother had a heart attack, then a stroke, leading Grinell to recount her mother’s life story during an 11-month decline in health. “I did not publish my mother’s story, although I did share it with friends whose personal circumstances were similar,” says Grinell in an e-mail interview with New Times. “That was enough.”

Still, detailing her mother’s story led her to realize she wanted to write more than the analytical stuff, which brings us to Appetite.

A family story, Appetite visits a New York married couple whose only daughter returns from a year-long stint in India with a new beau in tow, “a young guru from Bangalore whom she intends to marry.” The book follows mother and father as they worry their child is being conned, taking readers through their process of re-evaluation, intense career situations, and marriage struggles – and they still have to try to stop their daughter’s wedding.

Appetite comes after years of leading interactive science museums, including the New York Hall of Science in Queens in New York City, the Exploratorium in San Francisco, and the Arizona Science Center in Heritage Square. Grinell landed that last gig in 1993, and has been a Valley resident with her husband and dog ever since. Grinell also studied at the Bronx High School of Science, Harvard University, and the University of California, Berkeley – and was born in a Manhattan taxi.

Though this is Grinell’s debut novel, she is no stranger to the written word. She’s released "A Place for Learning Science" in 1992 – a type of operations guide for running science museums that earned a second edition in 2003. She’s also issued a four-piece collection of early-elementary children’s stories in 2014 called Mike's Storybook – inspired by her daughter-in-law’s pregnancy.

“Fiction is a different animal than the professional writing,” says Grinell. “At first, it was like pulling teeth. But I got better. I had the advantage of not worrying about failure – I already had had success – so I didn’t suffer from ‘writer’s block.’ But it still took time to develop craft. It required lots of reading and writing, both of which I love to do.”

A book tour will follow the Appetite release, starting at Changing Hands in Phoenix and touching down in places such as Chicago, New York, and San Francisco.

Grinell says she is excited for the Changing Hands event. “People from so many different parts of my life have said they’ll come: yoga friends, business friends, neighbors, other writers, dog people,” she says. “Reaching this community, and talking to readers face to face, is most important to me.”

Sheila Grinell will be reading from
Appetite at Changing Hands in Phoenix on Thursday, May 19, at 7 p.m. A paperback copy will be available for $16.95 before tax. Keep up with Grinell on her Facebook author page, or subscribe to her newsletter.
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Lauren Cusimano is Phoenix New Times' food and drink editor. She is a journalist and food waste writer based in Tempe. Joys include eating wings, riding bikes, knowing everyone at the bar, talking too much about The Simpsons, and falling asleep while reading.
Contact: Lauren Cusimano