BERWYN – After 10 years of researching, writing and revising, Berwyn resident Geralyn Hesslau Magrady finally feels like “an authentic writer” after self-publishing her debut novel, “Lines–,” and then becoming one of three finalists in the statewide Soon to be Famous Illinois Author Project.
“It’s an affirmation,” said Hesslau Magrady, 48. “When you self-publish, there’s a certain stereotype that if you didn’t get an agent or a publisher, it might not be a legitimate book. But by making it to the finals of this competition, it recognizes me as a writer.”
The competition is open to any self-published author in Illinois. Authors need to have their local library sponsor them as part of the application process. Josephine Tucci, head of outreach services at the Berwyn Public Library, read the novel and loved it. Hesslau Magrady contacted Tucci in early January and asked her to sponsor the book.
“It’s very exciting to support someone in our community who’s fulfilling her lifelong dream of becoming a published author,” Tucci said. “I’m extremely proud of her. She’s a shining example of our mission as a library to promote literacy and lifelong learning. Writing is hard work, and this shows that it’s possible to accomplish a goal with dedication, hard work and passion.”
The historical fiction novel is set in 1871 in Chicago, during the time of the Great Fire. Hesslau Magrady said she was very interested in this time period because she had ancestors in Chicago during that time.
She began writing short vignettes about what they might have gone through, and those evolved into the novel over 10 years of writing and research. Hesslau Magrady found out her great-great-grandmother, Livia Haas, lived through the fire, and one of the main characters is named after her.
“I’ve always been a big Chicago history buff, but I wanted to find out more,” she said. “I knew about my great-great-grandma’s background and followed her from census records. I wanted to give her a story.”
The book was published Dec. 15, 2015, after going through at least four rounds of editing. Hesslau Magrady said she had friends, family and, for the last round, people who are in the publishing industry read and critique the novel. She said the editing process wasn’t always easy for her.
“I’m very proud of it now but wasn’t in the beginning,” she said. “It’s such a private experience when writing as an individual. It was unnerving when people read it. I wanted people to like the story, but it was more important to me to be viewed as a writer and for them to appreciate my writing style. But after that last round, I felt good and was ready to publish. It’s been a labor of love.”
Hesslau Magrady has been teaching English for 18 years, and she is now at Fenwick High School in Oak Park. She also taught at Proviso East High School in Maywood and St. Bernardine School in Forest Park. She grew up in Chicago and earned her bachelor’s degree from Dominican University and master’s degree from Northeastern Illinois University.
“I wanted to be a writer since I was a kid. I was always playing with words,” she said. “This was a major goal for me. Once I invested so much time and energy and I saw the story going somewhere, I wanted to teach my sons and students that you don’t give up on your dream.”
Hesslau Magrady said she first heard of the Soon to be Famous Illinois Author Project when she began following the Chicago Writers Association online in 2011, and entering it had always been in the back of her mind as she was working on the book.
She’ll attend an event April 14 at the Chicago Ridge Public Library, where the winner will be announced.
“I’m very excited,” Hesslau Magrady said. “Libraries and books mean something to me. This is a dream, just having gotten to this point. At age 48, I can do this. Never give up on your dreams.”
Check it out
"Lines–" is available for checkout at the Berwyn Public Library and for purchase at amazon.com.