A dream realized

Posted Oct. 17, 2010, at 6:40 p.m.

Icelandic sheep graze her 120 acres of farmland. At the corner store — the only convenience store in Chesterville — she buys fiddleheads and beef stew. And while her daughters are in school, she sits in her quiet farmhouse shuffling through historical documents. Her dreams finally have been realized.

“If you want something bad enough, you’ll find a way to have it,” said 40-year-old Sharon Desruisseaux. “If you want to do it, you’ll do it.”

After 20 years of struggling for a good, simple life and trying to publish her novels, everything is falling into place. Her first novel, “Cleopatra Selene: Legacy of the Sun & Moon,” was released Oct. 6, and she’s already lined up to publish a second novel.

Desruisseaux grew up in the suburbs in southeastern Massachusetts, reading the work of J.R.R. Tolkien, H.P Lovecraft and Stephen King.

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Her three daughters kept her strong through two unsuccessful marriages and domestic abuse. On Sept. 11, 2001, she stood in Quincy, Mass., watching jets passing overhead. That was the day she started to re-examine her life.

Every time she traveled through Maine to Quebec, she saw the farmhouses in the hills, and it became her dream to live in the country. In 2003, she sold her property in Massachusetts before the housing market crashed and was able to buy her Maine farm outright. Once a “yuppie soccer mom,” she now loads hay into her minivan.

“They keep the old folk tradition alive,” she said about Maine residents. “I love the rich culture and history. It’s alive here in Chesterville.”

Her Maine neighbors taught her how to muck out stalls, care for her livestock and load up her wood stove.

“I was determined to live off the land,” she said. “I was always meant to live up here.”

Her daughters — Alexandra, 20, Jacky, 16, and Tiffany, 11 — joined her in her new life. Two of her daughters are autistic and she works hard to get them the education they need, expecting all three of them to earn a four-year college degree.

History books and documents line her farmhouse shelves and a colorful pencil portrait of Cleopatra VII hangs in her main hall. While living in Massachusetts, the dean of Brown University gave her the curriculum reading lists up to the doctorate level. The “history fanatic” didn’t have time to attend school, but she read all the books.

“When the kids were in bed, I was reading and deciphering hieroglyphs,” she said.

Though she works at an insurance office three days a week, she now finds the time to write the stories she had researched and mapped out years before.

Her first novel is the story of a princess: a fictional account of the life of Cleopatra Selene II, the daughter of the last pharaoh of Egypt, Cleopatra VII, and Roman triumvir Marcus Antonius.

“Historical women fascinate me. In most points in history, they are inferior and must act against incredible odds,” she said. Marion Zimmer Bradley, who tells Arthurian legends through the eyes of Celtic women in “The Mists of Avalon,” is her inspiration.

Cleopatra Selene was raised in a Roman palace after her mother committed suicide or was assassinated — historians disagree. She entered into a political marriage at the age of 13 to the African King Juba II. Through all the chaos, the royal woman is constantly making decisions to alter her path.

“You’re going to change — whether for the better or the worse,” she said.

The idea for the novel came to Desruisseaux when she was in her 20s. In 1996, she visited Egypt while Cleopatra’s palace was being uncovered in Alexandria. She climbed on the Pyramids and touched the artifacts in a Roman amphitheater even though it was strictly forbidden.

“I love ancient Egypt. It has all these incredible characters,” she said. “When I was looking at the Pyramids and standing by the harbor in Alexandria, I tried to picture in my mind what it would look for [Cleopatra Selene] to stand in the same places. I wanted to write the novel and didn’t have the confidence — but it reached me as I stood by the harbor. I said, ‘Now, I have to finish it.’”

With a chronology of historical events beside her on her desk, she allows her characters to come alive on the computer screen as they weave through the factual framework. To an author of historical fiction, many relationships, conversations and personal events are unknown and open to the imagination.

Though none of the characters are strictly based on people she knows, they often possess mannerisms of the author’s daughters and friends.

“People change with the culture, time and place — but people are people,” she said.

Conflicting or unclear historical pictorial records of people grant Desruisseaux the liberty of dreaming up their faces. Fair-haired Cleopatra Selene, depicted only on a bust and a coin, came to Desruisseaux in a dream. From that image, she sat down to draw Cleopatra Selene’s portrait for the book cover.

In an attempt to transform history into story that can be understood by people today, she combines old customs and unfamiliar scenery with themes that transcend time. Her experience spinning and knitting the wool of her Icelandic sheep appears in the ancient tale.

“The mom lessons, I really think they’re immortal. Deep down, they are inherited and morph to the times,” she said. Both Desruisseaux and Cleopatra explain to their children about the natural cycle of life.

Wanting her daughters to be able to read her books, she writes stories appropriate for young readers. She takes the “Alfred Hitchcock approach,” setting the stage and then closing the curtains.

In her soon-to-be-released second novel “Au Set, the Woman,” Desruisseaux looks at mythology as a “game of telephone,” in which the mythological story is distorted as it is passed from mouth to ear for thousands of years. She imagines truth behind myth, transforming gods and goddesses into mortals.

For her third novel, which she is now completing, Desruisseaux taught herself medieval French to trace her family tree. While Desruisseaux fought the freezing winters while living on the farm, she felt a connection to her ancestors Marie Rollet and Louis Hebert, who traveled with Samuel de Champlain to live in Port Royal, Quebec in the 1600s.

“This taught me extremes and how strong nature is,” she said. “It never affected me before.”

The first three books are the beginning of three separate series, and she already has plans for sequels for each. Her next dream is to be able to write full-time.

“I don’t see myself ever stepping back from it,” she said. “It’s kind of validating. For me, it’s like, I did it. For a while, I was just surviving. It was a battle to get every chapter written. And now I have confidence, I’m like: Bring it on.”

“Cleopatra Selene: Legacy of the Sun and Moon,” is available in paperback for $14.95 at www.publishamerica.com, www.amazon.com and www.barnesandnoble.com. The book also is linked to her author website at sharond-authorsite.weebly.com/. A video for her book is at http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Q8FEqcua9YM.

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