Two years ago, I decided I was finally going to write a story I’ve been avoiding for most of my life, because I thought it would be too hard to tell. But it’s turned out to be one of the most rewarding experiences of my writing career.

This story is based on the life of my great-grandmother, Aniela, who immigrated from Poland to Buffalo, NY in 1908.

The Kaiser Wilhelm II, by Alfred Stieglitz.  My great-grandmother and her mother and sisters took this ship to Ellis Island in 1908.
The Kaiser Wilhelm II is shown in this photo called “The Steerage”, by Alfred Stieglitz. My great-grandmother and her mother and sisters took this ship to Ellis Island in 1908.

Poles had been coming to Buffalo for decades already by the time Aniela arrived, and an entire Polish subculture had sprung up–a culture that is still largely intact, judging by all the Polish names on street and business signs in that area.

The process of writing this book has been a journey unto itself. After considerable research, I located Aniela’s home village–a place that had almost faded from our family’s memory–on Google Street View. It’s just a flyspeck on the map, a tiny collection of houses and a few farm buildings in the midst of a vast expanse of wheat fields. I found her entry in the Ellis Island logs, describing her and her mother and sister, who made the trip with her. I found the wedding certificate of her marriage to Jan, a man described as a Ruthenian by Ellis Island officials, and who came from the Austrian-controlled part of Poland.

Aniela and Jan were married in Black Rock, a Polish neighborhood in Buffalo, in 1915.

Aniela and Jan on their wedding day, June 6, 1915
Aniela and Jan on their wedding day, June 6, 1915

Less than five years later, Jan died of an aneurysm, at Christmastime, in their little rented house. They had a four-year-old daughter, Florence, who would eventually become my grandmother. Aniela was pregnant with her second child.

This dire situation became family legend over time. I have always been fascinated by the people I come from: their desire to succeed and survive, their willingness to endure practically anything, the sacrifices they made for generations of children they would never even meet.

But I was able to know Aniela, who lived to be nearly one hundred years old. I always felt privileged to have this connection to my family’s past. She was a kind, sweet lady, and she would probably be mortified that I was writing a book about her. Well, really, it’s not just about her–and the novel is based on her early life, but not a chronicle of it. But she is one of the main characters. How could she not be? She was one of the main characters of my early life, and of my father’s as well. My mother also had a great relationship with Aniela, and they respected each other deeply.

So, being a writer, I finally did what writers do about the most important themes in their lives.

I’m fed up with the traditional publishing industry for now. It’s getting harder and harder to get a book published, even for an established author such as myself. I don’t think I could handle the heartbreak of being told by a publisher that my great-grandmother’s story wasn’t a viable sales prospect. I don’t want to subject her to that kind of indignity.

So, I’ve launched a Kickstarter campaign to do a proper job of self-publishing this book. In exchange for their support, backers can receive e-books or signed print copies. The money raised will be used to pay for an editor (every writer needs an editor), a beautiful cover (because people really do judge a book by its cover), copyediting, proofreading, and advertising. These are all the things a book needs in order to be a real success.

So far, the campaign is going well. After less than a week, it’s 30% funded. But unless the project is 100% funded, I receive no funds at all. All pledges will be returned, and my hope of publishing this book my way is gone.

So, if this story of a humble Polish woman’s bravery and courage interests you, please visit my Kickstarter page and contribute. Even a small amount is very helpful, and brings its own rewards. You’ll have your name listed as one of my supporters if you choose, and there are plenty of other rewards to pick from.

In case you missed the link above, here it is: