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Thursday 30 April 2020

A Novel Conversation with Mary Sharnick and Orla

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To be a little different from the usual 
'meet the author' 
let's meet 

woman in black tank top standing on green grass field during sunset

Q: Hello, I’m Helen, host of Novel Conversations, please do make yourself comfortable. Would you like a drink? Tea, coffee, wine – something stronger? You’ll find a box of chocolates and a bowl of fruit on the table next to you, please do help yourself. I believe you are a character in Mary Sharnick’s novel Painting Mercy. Would you like to introduce yourself? Are you a lead character or a supporting role?  
A: Thank you, Helen.  Yes, I am the narrator protagonist of Painting Mercy, the sequel to Orla’s Canvas.  Painting Mercy is the second novel in the anticipated Orla Paints Quartet.  And I would very much enjoy a Negroni. I never tire of the cocktail’s combination of bitter and sweet.  It reminds me of life and how I paint it on my canvases. 

Q: What genre is the novel and what is it about?
APainting Mercy is realistic fiction set in 1975 New Orleans, Louisiana, where the fallout from the Vietnam war catalyses a life-changing development in my relationship with Mercy Hoyt, a presumed orphan airlifted out of Saigon, and an unexpected epiphany about the sexuality of my lifelong confidant, Tad Charbonneau, alters the presumed trajectory of my personal life.

Q: No spoilers, but are you a ‘goodie’ or a ‘baddie’? (Or maybe you are both?)
A: Most certainly both.  Like all other artists, my ego and my insecurity clash regularly. I am alternately generous and selfish, relaxed and demanding.  I’ve been especially horrible to a former lover, the sculptor Diego Godoy.  But to Mercy, so far nothing but helpful.

Q: Tell me about another character in the novel – maybe your best friend, lover or partner … or maybe your arch enemy!
A: Tad is the person who knows me best and loves me unconditionally.  We spent virtually all of our childhood together. When you read about us, you’ll see that we can’t give one another up, no matter the now-messy circumstances we find ourselves in. As I say in the narrative Mary is drafting now, “…we were and are each other’s lodestar, harbor, flag.  Emergency room friends.  Each other’s true confessor.  The one you want to pull the plug and deliver your eulogy when it’s time.”

Q: Is this the only novel you have appeared in, or are there others in a series?
A: I’ve also narrated Orla’s Canvas, and am continuing my role in The Contessa’s Easel and En Plein Air.

Q: What is one of your least favourite scenes you appear in?
A:  A scene in Chapter 31 of Painting Mercy, where my deep selfishness and disregard for Diego is revealed at one of my art exhibits.

Q: And your favourite scene?
A: Although it is a gruesome one, my favorite scene in Painting Mercy occurs in Chapter 5, where the reader learns the terrible self-hatred and suffering of Denny Cowles, childhood friend and Vietnam veteran whose psychological war wounds destroy his capacity for a normal life.

Q: Tell me a little about your author. Has she/he written any other books?
A: Mary has published four books thus far. Thirst, a historical novel of 17th-century Venice, and Plagued, a fictionalized account of 15th-century Michael of Rhodes, were released by Fireship Press in 2012 and 2014, respectively. Thirst is now being translated for the operatic stage by composer Gerard Chiusano and librettists Bob Cutrofello and Mary Chiusano.   

Q: Is your author working on anything else at the moment?
A:  In addition to the last two novels of the Orla Paints Quartet, Mary’s other works-in-progress include a short story collection—Here If You Want to Find Me--and a memoir about her paternal aunt—Wife, Mother, Virgin, Whore?  No, Zia!

Q: How do you think authors can be helped or supported by readers or groups? What does your author think is the most useful for him/her personally?
A:  Readers can post reviews, share author news on social media, invite authors to book clubs (in person and via technology), and, of course, buy our books.  For me personally, on-line conversation about books and the writing process are particularly helpful. 

Q: If your author was to host a dinner party what guests would he/she invite and why? Maximum nine guests – real, imaginary, alive or dead.

Dante Alighieri—His ability to imagine and create an extensive, cohesive universe in exquisite language is unparalleled.  He’s also most opinionated.  I wonder what he’d say about today’s cultural icons after a few bottles of wine.
head-and-chest side portrait of Dante in red and white coat and cowl

Emily Dickinson—I’m guessing she would decline the invitation, however.

Photograph of Emily Dickinson, seated, at the age of 16

Virginia Woolf—I’d be sure to serve a meal like the one Virginia describes at the men’s college, not the women’s!

Photograph of Virginia Woolf in 1902; photograph by George Charles Beresford

William Trevor—Perhaps he will tell the rest of us how he sustains the elegiac quality so prevalent in his stories.


Edna O’Brien—She will add pizzazz, color, and drama to the conversation.  I hope she wears a long red cape and enumerates her lovers.
Edna O'Brien at the 2016 Hay Festival

Flannery O’Connor—It will be a struggle to understand her Georgia-accented words, although she no doubt has important, provocative theses to offer about the Roman Catholic faith. There is potential for feisty debate with the others.

Flannery-O'Connor 1947.jpg

Georgia O’Keefe—Ah, simply Ah!


Artemisia Gentileschi—Teach me, Artemisia, how to endure as a woman artist!

WinstonChurchill—So we’re all reminded to “never give up”  and ensured of an aficionado of “spiritual sustenance” best served and toasted in glasses.

Thank you, Orla, it was a pleasure talking to you. Would your author like to add a short excerpt? Meanwhile, would you like a refill of that drink…? I’ll join you I think-- Salute! Here’s to writing a best seller!

CONNECT WITH Mary Sharnick

Follow Mary on Twitter @marysharnick


Maria Callas’ voice as Violetta dove and soared as I dipped my brush. Its timbre helped me feel the depth of character I was after. How I was attempting to show sustained and blatant suffering on the forehead of a six-year old girl whose wrinkled visage was not in the least softened by the glint of sun that lit it in the photograph.
When the baritone joined Callas/Violetta to forge an antiphony of contrasting voices, I turned my brush to the Negro soldier, his machine gun aimed downward rather than at the children. But so close, so dangerously close to the children. His slumped shoulders showed passion gone from him, if he’d ever owned it. Was it someone’s freedom he was supposed to be guarding? Fighting for, killing for? Had he been ordered to keep his machine gun in hand? Perhaps the children would become a threat. Children, for God’s sake! If he was afraid or righteous, his expression didn’t tell. Maybe he was just stoned. Or tired. There he stood, body tilted like a human Pisa, left knee forward, hands by his sides, helmet covering his forehead and eyebrows. He might have been a model for hurry-up-and-wait. And why, anyway, is Mercy in the forefront of the picture? What are her eyes fixed on? Is she witnessing something she is seeing for the first time? Or has she observed the something, or something like it, four, forty, one hundred-forty times? Where is her mother? Off with a client, a Translator Hoyt from Cleveland? Or is she making an honest living in a hospital while she lives with a man she cares for, a Translator Hoyt from Cleveland vanished. Neither the soldier nor the children act. They watch and wait. Their stilled gestures tell me they are not in charge. The soldier’s gun ignores its function. The children’s dirty clothes and smudged faces, their anxious expressions, tell me they are without immediate access to what we Americans call the basic necessities of life. Food, clothing, shelter, love.
Oh, Mercy! I cry and paint. Lord have mercy.


  1. Glorious writing, Mary, and the excerpt is a topic none should ever forget. Shared on twitter & Fb.

  2. Dear Mary/Orla:
    I adore you and everything you write! I love your sweet happy voice too! An audio book read by you would be awesome �� Love Jeanne

  3. I can imagine, Mary, you teared up writing this; I surely did reading it. But then, I saw your guest list; to hold one's own with these illustrious characters, you must have a great deal of literary stamina and a good dose of confidence. Love your writing style.


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