Sunday, January 29, 2012

Remember The 844

In 2009, when my mother was moving into her assisted living apartment at Friendship Village in Schaumburg, IL, I saw a notice about another FV resident, Salvatore Pisano. It seems that Sal was an Eastland 'survivor' and was telling his story in the auditorium on the July anniversary of that disaster. At the time, I was doing my research for my as-yet-untitled novel about the Eastland, and couldn't believe my luck. Ninety-four years later, I was meeting a survivor!

I missed his lecture, but caught up with him the next day. Sal was nothing like I'd expected. He was spry and energetic, and quite capable of living independently in his one-bedroom apartment. After a brief explanation of my project, he enthusiastically agreed to be interviewed and wasted no time in bringing out all his own Eastland research and memorbilia. I sat spellbound as he relayed the story of his life.

Born in April of 1915, Sal was three months old when his young parents, Mary and Martin (a twenty-three-year-old stock keeper at Western Electric) bought their tickets for the Fifth Annual WE  Employee Picnic. The Pisano family got an early start that day, hoping to board the SS Eastland--the first of five steamships that had been leased to ferry picnickers from Chicago to Washington Park in Michigan City, IN. Martin boarded first, but Mary, carrying her infant son in her arms, became nervous when she started across the Eastland's wobbly gangplank. She told her husband that she wanted to stay behind and begged Martin to go without her. Mary returned to the dock to watch and wave farewell. But instead, Mary witnessed the capsizing of the Eastland and the death of her beloved husband.

Like so many others who had endured the horror of that tragic disaster, Mary suffered from shock and gried, and refused to ever again talk about what she had seen. As Sal grew, he became more and more curious about his father's death, but his mother would not--or could not--offer Sal any relief. So Salvatore spent his life on a quest, accumulating any and all information on the doomed steamship in the hopes of knowing his father. When Sal was about twenty-five (only a few years older than his father had been when he'd perished), he organzied a memorial for Martin and the other Eastland victims. But the peace Salvatore Pisano so anxiously sought, eluded him, his whole life.

One day last winter, I was walking with my mother through the main lobby of FV when something caught my eye. It was a picture of Sal--on the Death Notice bulletin board. Salvatore V. Pisano had past away on Februry 3, 2011, just a few months short of his 96th birthday. Tears flooded my eyes as I read his obituary and then suddenly, I brightened.

"What? What?" my mother kept asking as she tugged at my arm. "What's wrong?"

"Nothing," I answered truthfully. All was right with the world. Salvatore had finally met his father.

To honor my friend, Sal, I named a character in Merely Dee after him. I could not write about the Eastland boat disaster without getting to know the victims. In doing my research, I'd read stories about them, visited their gravesites, met their relatives. The 844 were real people to me. And so I say to you, dear readers, remember the 844. They'd lived, they'd died, and now, they should be acknowledged.


Merely Dee has been available for a few weeks now. Images of the cover are visible on all the major,, I've been asked by many people about the haunting image on the front of my book. Did I get a say in the design? Is that a stock photo or did someone take the picture just for my cover? Where did I find that image? Do I know that girl?

The picture is an actual photo taken by a staff photographer for the now-defunct Chicago Daily Newspaper. The image shows a young women who had been rescued from the Eastland, standing on the deck of some unnamed ship, staring into the murky Chicago River. A man's arm appears on the railing coming up from below deck. The picture was originally in black and white, but the talented Byron design team from iUniverse tinted the photo to that stunning blue. I had gasped when I'd first seen it.

The book jacket describes how my protagonist, Dee Pageau, is rescued by a mysterious stranger--and Poof!--like magic, that stranger has appeared on the cover. I couldn't believe it. I hadn't notice that arm in the black and white photo, but on the cover of Merely Dee, that mysterious arm is quite prominent. It was another goose-pimpley moment, like so many others I'd experienced during the writing of this book. Next time, I'll tell you the amazing story behind the drawing of the ship (shown below) and how it made its way into the pages of my book. I'll also be posting an interview with my friend and fellow debut author, Cherie Colyer, about the wonderful success of her paranormal romance YA, Embrace. So be sure to check back with Merely Me. Thanks!! I enjoyed our visit. 

Monday, January 16, 2012

Going Live

On Wednesday, January 11, I was in the lobby of my mother's building waiting for the elevator to open when my cell chirped. It was my perky marketing rep at iUniverse and she said congrats, Merely Dee had gone live! I was stunned for a moment but then regained my equilibrium and glanced around for someone with whom I could share this amazing news. But there was no one, only Molly, the massive golden retriever house dog. I told Molly my story, but she just rubbed her furry head on my thigh trying to get another scratch behind the ears. She was unimpressed, so I said good-bye and went upstairs.

Of course, I told my mother, and for that one moment, she was thrilled. But then she forgot and I didn't have the heart to repeat myself all day, so I let it drop. I'd make do with that one fleeting smile of recognition. Mom  had always been so supportive of my writing and I knew that if she'd been in her right mind, she would have probably spent the entire day on the phone telling all her friends. I bundled her up and headed out to the dentist for our semi-annual cleanings, but not before texting my entire family first.

The replies came fast and furious and my cell kept beeping so much the dentist kidded that maybe we should do this another day. I reassured him that I could get back to everybody later, and to please finish with my mother before she changed her mind and fled. The entire dental staff congratulated me, and I left with a minty-fresh smile on my face. 

My standard agreement with Mom is that if she cooperates with the dentist, we can go to her favorite place for her favorite lunch. And so we headed off for Burger King, home of the Whopper, my cell buzzing the whole drive. By this point in the day, I was fairly anxious for news of my massive on-line sales. How did the book look on Had President Obama bought one yet? After all, Merely Dee is a Chicago story. What about Oprah? Did my newly 'live' novel have a good set-up on the publisher's website? I knew that my sister, Sue, who is a whiz at Facebook and such, would have a report for me. Only one problem--I couldn't get to my phone! 

But I saw hope up ahead and turned into the parking lot. I leaped out, unfolded Mom's walker in one swift movement, and pulled her as efficiently as possible from the car. We shuffled painfully slow up a rather steep slope, through two sets of heavy glass doors, and into the restaurant. I looked up at the menu board and gasped. This wasn't the home of the Whopper! In all the excitement, I'd pulled into the wrong parking lot.

"Oh, I'm so sorry, Mom. This isn't Burger King. It's McDonald's."

She looked at me and said, "Well, do they sell hamburgers here?" The girl behind the counter giggled.

I nodded. "Why yes, yes they do."

"Well then, get me one." And Mom toddled off to find a seat.

What's the old saying? A nod is as good as a wink to a blind horse. A Quarter-Pounder was as good as a Whopper to someone with Alzheimer's. And so Mom and I celebrated my going 'live' with a pair of burgers and some ice tea. I told her my news again, and for that one sweet moment, she was thrilled.


Tuesday, January 3, 2012

The week before Christmas, I had to rush my mother to the ER. She was having trouble breathing and in obvious respiratory distress. The hospital staff worked quickly and efficiently to get her comfortable, and then the ER doc tested her cognitive abilities.

Dr. - "Angie, do you know when were you born?"
Mom - With an annoyed look, "Of course. May 24th, 1933."
The doctor looked at me. I nodded. We were off to a good start.

D - "Who's the president?"
M - She thought a moment and then, "Kennedy."
The doctor shot me a glance.

D - "What year is it?"
M - Another pause and then, "1967."
The doctor didn't even bother to turn his head. He asked a few more questions and then made some notes. I knew exactly what he was writing. Diagnosis: Alzheimer's Dementia. Prognosis for the coming years: Bleak.

After a four-day stay in the hospital, Mom recovered nicely, and I was able to take her back home. On my visit this past weekend, I wished her a Happy New Year. She just stared at me blankly and scuttled away with her walker. The turning of the calendar meant nothing to my mother, but it means alot to me. In 2012, I'm determined to re-focus my efforts on counting Weight Watchers points. I will unwrap that new X-Box Kinect fitness program with the personal trainer and get moving. I won't stop till I master all the complexities of the Kindle Touch that my nephew, Chris, gave me for Christmas. I'll Facebook more and better. I'll dust off my neglected manuscript-in-progress and set goals for future publication.

I still have the mental capacity to appreciate that a new year is fresh beginning. I have time with Mom and my family, and time for friends like you. What does 2012 mean to you? I'd love to hear.


Merely Dee is off to the printers tomorrow! I anticipate a debut date around the middle of this month. What a great way to start off this year! I'll keep you posted on the actual arrival date.

Many people have asked me about the title. A book about the Eastland boat disaster with a title like a children's picture book? What's up with that? I'll attempt to explain.

When I started writing the novel in the fall of 2009, I didn't have a title. Like Hemingway, I had a list of possibles, but nothing solid ...until I typed:

I edged past all the mourners pressing to get through the front door and sagged against the painted exterior of the house. Momma stood beside me, gently stroking my hair. She didn't say anything. She didn't need to. Her quiet presence was all I required. I closed my eyes and thought about Mae and Momma, two very different women. Yet, I loved them both. Momma was solid and strong, while Mae had been daring and passionate. I wasn't like either of them. So then, what was I?

Only what I could be, came the reply. Merely me. That would have to do for now.

The title hit me like a thunderclap. Merely me morphed into Merely Dee (after my protagonist Delia "Dee" Pageau) and my novel was born. A mere girl lives through a terrifying disaster and comes out the other end only to find that surviving is just the beginning. She discovers her true character in the challenges ahead and learns that she is not merely anyone. She is more. She is a survivor.