June 2016 | Volume XXXIV. Issue 3 »

Soon to Be Famous: Still Going Strong!

June 8, 2016
Geralyn Hesslau Magrady

If there's a book you really want to read, but it hasn’t been written yet, then you must write it. — Toni Morrison

I didn’t know that I wanted to read this story, Lines—, until my genealogy obsession turned up an interesting fact: my great-great-grandmother, Livia Haas, was in Chicago prior to the Great Fire of 1871, and she was still here after it. That was the point when the vignettes I had written—imagining what life was like for my ancestors—turned into a new obsession with Chicago history. One little story led to another, and then I had questions about what my ancestors lost, where they sought shelter, what became of them, what role they could have had in the rebuilding process, for whom did they mourn, what daily struggles did they endure? Before I knew it, there was the book I really wanted to read.

Reading and writing have always been a personal love. I was the kid who actually enjoyed the SRA program, a chance to escape into a card of fiction or nonfiction, because those experiences took place in our minimalistic school library, and I’d have time to browse when I was done. I was the kid who read a children’s Bible and then rewrote the stories with dialogue and my own new details. I created my first fictional story, “The Bubble Gum House,” on pages of pink paper I received from a neighbor who worked for a printing company. What joy to have written a book!

Strawberry Girl, Trixie Belden, The Diary of Anne Frank: these were the stories that occupied my young mind and inspired me to put my own words on that page, and with age, more and more authors fed the fire of creative writing, but it wasn’t until I became an English teacher that my personal love for these past times became something I needed to share with others, my students. I wanted them to witness my reading and witness my writing. When I became a mother, the need for sharing these passions deepened.

The Berwyn Public Library became a place where my sons and I bonded, where I learned about their interests and what topics brought them joy. Books became a part of who they were. When I returned to teaching in 2008, a new purpose for reading and writing evolved. I created a Chicago history and literature curriculum, and I found that while teaching the subjects about which I was writing, I learned about my characters and setting and conflict more than ever. And then I started reading as a writer, looking to Charles Dickens’ use of parallelism to create rhythm and structure or Carlos Ruiz Zafon’s descriptive language to create mood. I started writing as a reader, revising my work with an eye for detail and authenticity.

Lines— became a labor of love during my summers. I kept the writing habit during the school year with poetry and essays and blog posts, but most of my research and story scenes for the novel came when school was on break, and after many years with this pattern, there were times I thought it would never come to a conclusion. I didn’t have closure, even though there were drafts that came to unsatisfactory ends. I remember spending June to August one year creating fifty pages of backstory and the following June to August scrapping those fifty pages. But that didn’t disappoint me because every step along the way of this writing journey brought me to something better.

I’m happy to have waited one more summer, over and over again, because the result is what has gotten me here today. I’m proud of Lines—. I’m proud to have gone the self-publishing route so that my connection to the story took on a personal layer of depth that would not have existed if I had taken the traditional path. I think my ancestors are proud of me, too. Even though the story is not theirs, the names and backgrounds are their names and their backgrounds, and their spiritual presence has always been with me. Once, at a funeral, the priest said something in his homily along the lines that one is never truly gone until their name is uttered for the very last time. In writing Lines—, I’ve allowed my ancestors to live on, and for that, I’m blessed.

I want to thank all those involved with the Soon to be Famous Illinois Author Project for their dedication to local writers. Through this experience, I have had more exposure and recognition in the past three months than I thought possible in a lifetime.

This was the third year of the Soon to Be Famous Illinois Author competition, and the winner was announced on April 14 at the Chicago Ridge Public Library. The three finalists included James Hosek for Give a Dog a Bone and Amanda Meredith for Irish Heart, in addition to winner Geralyn Hesslau Magrady for Lines—.

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