What is the setting of “Nana?”
The book begins with a prologue, in 1993 in a rest home in Dorchester, Massachusetts. The purpose of the prologue is to introduce Nana and myself, and the nature of our relationship.
As the main story begins, we are in Glendale, a small farming village in Inverness County, Cape Breton Nova Scotia, in the late 1890s. This is a village of Scottish folk who are hard working friendly people with a deep sense of community and Gaelic history. This is where Nana was born and raised.
We remain in Glendale until 1919, and then rest of the story takes place in Dorchester, Massachusetts, near historic Boston.
Most of the story takes place at number 10 Trull Street, Nana’s home in Dorchester for over 50 years. The house was a beautiful 12 room mansion. From 1940-1965, the house is also Nana’s business, the Uphams Corner Rest Home. From 1965-1992, Nana lives there and opens the upper rooms to tenants.
In 1992, Nana moves to Saint Joseph Rest Home in Dorchester: A loving, caring environment where Nana lived out her final years in dignity and peace.
After Nana dies in 1993, I make many visits back to 10 Trull Street.
Finally, as the story ends, I am selling the house, and I speak a lot about Glendale — in many ways bringing the story full circle.
Who are the main characters, what are their relationships, and why are they important to the story?
Robert Gillis Jr. — me. I visited Nana since I was five years old, ever day. What began as a stop to drop off the newspaper blossomed into a very special responsibility. I helped shop for her, took care of household repairs as I got older, watched out for her, and just spent time listening to her talk about her life. Over the years I developed a very special love for Nana, and a great respect and affection for the elderly. Nana and I were very close — closer than any other grandson/grandmother I ever met. Our bond was unique, and although I didn’t know it at the time, she was my best friend.
Nana’s Glendale family: Her parents, siblings, pastor, her dear friends. They establish the large community Nana came from, the bonds they shared over the years, and how many of their journeys paralleled Nana’s, and how Nana was affected as they passed away
Robert Gillis senior, my father. Nana’s only child, their relationship was very complex. There are also many aspects of my conversations with my father that foreshadow the “passing of the torch” from Dad taking care of Nana, to me taking care of Nana.
Marguerite Gillis, my mother: She also visited Nana several times a week and took care of Nana for over thirty years, and did the shopping, the bills, took care of problems with Medicaid, and just kept Nana company. She was Nana’s closest friend and confidant.
Theresa Gillis, my sister, and throughout my life, one of my very closest friends.
Sister Andrea MacVarish: Maggie Belle MacVarish grew up on the farm next to Nana in Glendale and the two remained lifelong friends. Sister Andrea appears occasionally in this book and her visits seem perfectly timed to help Nana. She died at the age of 103 and was a remarkable woman.
Nana’s tenants: Nana had good — and very bad — tenants over a twenty year period, and their inclusion demonstrates how difficult it could be for Nana to be a landlord. Without exception, all of Nana’s tenants are referred to only by first name, and in some cases, those names have been changed to protect their privacy.
Why do you think that this book will appeal to readers?
“Nana” is not just a story about Nana’s life but it’s also a story of my life with her, and growing to understand the elderly. It’s the most personal thing I have ever written, and at the same time, I think it touches common ground with anyone who’s ever loved an elderly person. I think many of the stories in the book will bring a smile to people’s faces.
Anyone who has ever loved an elderly person — an aunt, a grandmother, grandfather, uncle, elderly friend, will see so many parallels between their story and mine.
Growing older is a universal condition. To watch people we love — people once so vital and strong — grow older — is hard, but being with them as they do so lightens their burden. And the elderly have so much to tell us. The history they have witnessed, the wisdom they have accumulated, it’s all there for the asking, but so many young people never bother to ask.
Growing older is the same for all of us — and people do not become useless as they do so — indeed, they can be a great source of knowledge and friendship, and all they ask is a little of your time.
Who is your target audience?
Anyone who has ever loved an elderly person will love this book. People who enjoyed “Tuesdays with Morrie,” “The Christmas Box,” “A cup of Christmas Tea,” will love this story. Although the story ends a few years after Nana has passed away, I think it is still inspiration because I understood the lessons she taught.
People with elderly parents, people who care for the elderly, will love this book.
Anyone who is interested in a story of a woman who faced adversity and succeeded anyway will find something familiar here and be inspired by Nana’s journey.
People 40 and over will like the many references to “simpler” times.
Also, anyone from Dorchester, Boston, or Cape Breton, will love the story.
What life lessons are presented in “Nana?”
Nana was a member of a generation with a very strong work ethic. The value and joy of work was very important to Nana and her family. If you wanted something, you had to work for it.
An immigrant, Nana came to the United States at the age of 17. She expected no handouts or special treatment. She worked, she worked and she worked to achieve everything she wanted.
She started with nothing and worked and struggled. She became an American citizen. She started a successful business. She raised a child.
Nana was a single mother who raised her child in very unforgiving times. Nana and her son’s relationship was complex and didn’t really have a happy ending, but people reading the story may sse the lessons and truths and it may make their relationships better.
Nana was not a cookie baking typical grandmother and could be difficult to get along with. Loving her was not always easy. People reading the book will see that the relationship she and Bobby Jr. shared was very special.
A reader will be moved by the deep sense of family and family love present throughout the book.
Nana’s story is universal: Everyone grows older. It’s how they live that makes the difference. Everyone knows an elderly person. Many of the stories in the book are typical of events everyone faces or will face.
Perhaps the most important lesson presented in the book is how Bobby grieves for Nana — by falling apart, by all the phases of death, and finally, he writes a book about her — and in the process discovers some truths about himself. Nana is a book about healing. If I were publishing the book today I would change the title to “Nana and Bobby” or perhaps, “What Nana taught me,” because after she died I realized she had been taking care of me, not the other way around.
How long did it take for you to write “Nana?”
The book took about four years to write, and then sat on my hard drive for another five years, with occasional tweaks. I was always busy doing something else and the idea of publishing the book was placed on the back burner. My wife Sue and my family often encouraged me to publish, and Sue even bought books for me to learn to publish.
What was the impetus to publish now?
My wife, mother and sister have always been very encouraging, and my wife even bought me Arielle Ford’s “Step by Step guide for Authors — It’s everything you should know.”
But the main kick in the pants came one summer night in 2005 when I had been talking to Jack Authelet, former editor of the Foxboro Reporter, our Town Historian, and one of the wisest men I know. He was telling me he’d been interviewing veterans of World War II for a book he was writing. Many of the veterans had never shared their stories, the events they witnessed, the historical accounts. Jack noted that so many WWII vets were dying, their stories untold. He made it his mission to get as many of the stories as possible collected into a book for posterity. For many of these men, their interview with Jack was the first time they’d fully related their experiences. Jack told me that many tears were shed.
I thought about what a precious gift Jack’s book would be — a very important historical account that would otherwise have been lost forever. Stories that must be told. Stores that must be shared.
I realized that I too had an untold story that needed to be shared. Certainly not as grand in scope as a war veteran’s experience, but a personal story of everyday life that I believed many people could identify with. Nana’s story. The most personal thing I’d ever written.
After a long hibernation, my need to share the “Nana” book was almost electric.
What was the first step toward publishing?
Proofreading, again and again. I read the book repeatedly and made many notes and corrections. Not only did I feel closer to Nana, I realized that so much time had passed since I wrote the book that I was reading it almost objectively — in other words, I was reading it like any other book I might buy at a store and read on the train. At the end, I thought that my book was a really moving, heartwarming story. In the same genre as “Tuesdays with Morrie,” or “The Christmas Box, “Nana” was a book that many people would enjoy reading. At least I hoped so.
Next, I learned about how to copyright your work with the US government, ISBN numbers, self-publishing, what sells, what doesn’t, and so much more.
Did you try self-publishing first?
Yes. I self-published 50 copies of the book, and sold about 25 of them, but it wasn’t enough. I wanted to publish for real, I wanted the book in stores and on Amazon.com and everywhere else. I also realized after I had the 50 copies printed that the book was too large (11×9) and I wanted something smaller and softcover.
What is AuthorHouse?
AuthorHouse is the leading self-publishing company in the world, with 27,000 books in print.
In August 2005, I signed with Author House to print, publish and promote “Nana.” Author House partners with Ingram, the leading book distributor in the country, making their books available to over 25,000 booksellers around the country. Their books are also be listed on Amazon.com, Barnesandnoble.com, Borders.com and on the Author House website.
I signed off on the final version of the book in 2006, made one final change to the cover, and the presses started rolling in January 2006.
Anything else you would like to add?
To hold the work in my hands — a real, honest to God BOOK — a book I wrote — is overwhelming and gives me a feeling of tremendous personal achievement. I think Nana would be proud.
The personal satisfaction to express myself so creatively has been exhilarating. Not only that, I know that the work is important because it’s often all I think about. Although I’m a little scared (OK, terrified) about the prospect and work ahead in promoting my book, I know that I really have taken a big step by actually publishing.
I hope people will discover my work and enjoy it. I hope the story will inspire and entertain them, and maybe even encourage them to tell their own tales as well.
As for me, I have a busy schedule ahead of me, and I am a little scared, but I am so happy I made the leap — and I can’t wait to see what happens next.