by Robert Gillis
Published in the Foxboro Reporter 8/2005 (revised for this web site, 2/2006)
Nana and I shared a special bond and I visited her daily since I was about five years old. I adored her. I loved helping take care of her, I loved listening to her stories. Her death was very difficult for me.
After Nana died, I started jotting memories about her–things I wanted to remember, stories she told, family facts and trivia, and little anecdotes. It was therapy for me. I’d never intended to write a book, but the memories just flooded into me and I kept writing.
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.
But the impetus for publishing really sprung from my creative energy on another project. I’ve always loved photography and had purchased a digital camera a few years back. An author purchased two shots I’d taken of the Founders Day parade for a forthcoming book about parades across America, and I realized that I had a lot of pictures I wanted to share with people and possibly sell. As I browsed through my collection, I decided that I had many interesting images, and my scans across the web revealed there is a huge market for I learned were called “stock images” or “royalty free photography.”
In January 2005, I created a new website, www.gillisphotos.com, which occupied much (read: all) of my free time that year. Although I have created many other web sites, this was the first I’d created for myself, to market my work, and there were many new considerations I’d never faced before to create a commercial web site — pricing, competition, style, layout, advertising, and so much more.
I learned so much, and have come to really enjoy presenting my work for viewing and sale. I think the pictures on the site are some of my best and judging by initial response, there are some folks out there who agree — at least enough to buy some pictures. Lately I’ve been taking more and more pictures, updating the site, and finding new ways to promote it. The experience has been very rewarding and has created a great sense of accomplishment.
That feeling of accomplishment reminded me that I had another creation that I wanted to share — my book about Nana. Around the same time, 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.
I printed it, read it on the train over the following weeks, 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.
“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.
So while I worked on my photo web site non-stop, I also started proofing and cleaning up the Nana copy. 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.
Jack was kind enough to read my (almost) final draft, and he wrote such a touching review that I received his permission to include it in the book’s forward.
I self-published 50 copies of the book, but it wasn’t enough. I wanted to publish for real. To the world (or at least my corner of it).
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.
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.