Local artist Dori Scarano delves deep in her first novel, a tale of loss that draws parallels to her own experience with losing her mother.
By Cassandra Reinhart
Laguna Beach author Dori Scarano didn’t have to look further than her five sister’s faces for the inspiration for her debut novel, “Millie’s Butterflies.”
“I see a lot of mom in all of us,” Scarano says. “My sisters are the looking glass to mom’s fine and beautiful self. When we’re together, I see her everywhere.”
After weathering a storm alongside her family and losing her mother to lung cancer, Scarano based the book on her personal experience with loss. The novel mirrors Scarano’s life as it follows main character Carly Summer and her three grown sisters as they struggle with the pending loss of their mother to stage IV cancer.
We met up with Scarano to talk about her novel—available at Laguna Beach Books—and its themes of strength, sisterhood and change.
“Millie’s Butterflies” is based on your own experience losing your mother to cancer. Was it difficult to write about something so personal?
Dori Scarano: Initially it was but, once I started writing, the story spilled onto the pages. Even though my novel was based on a true story, it gave me a license to endow each character with whatever traits I liked and that was … a ton of fun. Carly Summer is somewhat of an alter ego of mine. My persona seemed to spill into her as I wrote the book, so many of the mysteries of me, and my life growing up, can be found there.
What is it about “Millie’s Butterflies” that is resonating so powerfully with readers?
It’s not candy-coated. I’ve been told my writing is “raw” and it seems people relate well to that. It’s hard to find anyone who hasn’t experienced loss, but loss affects everyone a little differently. I lost my … beautiful mother to cancer and the journey through her illness was filled with so many emotions—fear of never seeing her again [was] right there at the top. She was a believer that she would leave this world and go straight to Heaven where she’d live in a mansion for eternity. I, being the skeptic, asked her to send me a sign. She didn’t disappoint, but I don’t want to give too much away. It’s a story of love, loss, life in a dysfunctional family and learning to let go in peace, with trust in the universe. Something that’s not always easy in this day and age.
What message do you want people to take with them after reading your book?
That people … understand they can, and most likely will, come away from their own painful real life experiences a little frayed but stronger … for having gone through it.
As a first-time author, what was it like participating in the Los Angeles Times Festival of Books last spring?
It was a weekend I will never forget. I cannot even begin to share the many wonderful people from all walks of life that I met—people that came to my booth and shared their own personal experiences with me. Whether it’s sudden or something we anticipate, loss is a given, an experience we will all go through at some point in our lives. I’m grateful for the invaluable new and genuine relationships I’ve since formed with people I’d otherwise never [have] met.
In addition to authoring your first book, you’re also a busy mom to a teenage boy and a partner in a small, boutique information technology firm in Irvine. How do you stay balanced and find time to write?
Balancing is more than an appropriate term and, for me, an enjoyable yet always challenging one. That age-old image of the woman with the briefcase in one hand, the toddler in the other and a phone to her ear while she spreads peanut butter on bread is not a fallacy—it’s real life in the new millennium. Writing used to be last on my list; however, it has become a priority. It’s not unusual for me to store an idea … in my phone while cheering my son on in a baseball or basketball game. Lately, I’ve been known to pull over while driving just to make sure I capture a thought or idea before it dissolves.
“Millie’s Butterflies” is your first novel, published in 2016, but I understand it’s not your last. What are you currently working on?
It’s still in the early stages, but I have recently begun a second novel. It’s about that all-too-familiar story of love and betrayal. There are millions [of these stories] out there so it is how the story is told that makes it intriguing. In “Millie’s Butterflies,” the threat was the ugly, frightening sword of cancer, but the real story was in the magnitude of its effect on those left behind. In my new novel, the enemy lies in a case of narcissism and betrayal, but once again, it’s the survivors it leaves in its wake that prove to be the real focus.