Author of tragic memoir reflects on pandemic's effects

by Len Lear
Posted 4/16/21

Schiller has written another book set in Philly, “Watermark,” the first book in a series called the Broken Bell Series.

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Author of tragic memoir reflects on pandemic's effects

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In 2019 Germantown author Elise Schiller's heartbreaking memoir, “Even If Your Heart Would Listen: Losing My Daughter to Heroin,” was published by the hybrid indie imprint, SparkPress. In January 2014, her daughter, Giana, an MVP award winner from Penn Charter High School for her swimming prowess and winner of countless medals, trophies and ribbons; graduate of the University of Vermont with a degree in English and veterinary nurse, died of a heroin overdose at the age of 33. Parade magazine listed the memoir among “The 10 most-inspiring books written by women in 2019.”

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the nation’s leading national public health institute, more than 70,000 Americans died from drug overdoses in 2019, making it the leading cause of injury-related death in the country. Of those deaths, almost 68% involved a prescription or illicit opioid.

In an interview last week, Schiller, 69, who has lived in Germantown for the last 22 years and in Mt. Airy for the previous 20 years, said, “Unfortunately, there were more overdoses in 2020 than in any previous year. While we do not have final figures yet, nationally the number will be approximately 82,000. Philadelphia’s numbers will also be high.

“The major factors in this increase are the isolation caused by the pandemic and the contamination of many types of street drugs — not just opioids but also cocaine and methamphetamine — with fentanyl.  Partly as a result of this, Black and brown people are now the majority dying from overdose. Since my daughter's death in 2014, I believe there has been a lessening of stigma. More people are talking openly about addiction and mental health issues.”

“Even If Your Heart Would Listen” continues to sell well and has created a platform for Schiller to speak and write on opioid addiction. Before the pandemic, she usually had several in-person events each month and is still involved in virtual events. For example, on March 24 she did a virtual event to benefit Prevention Point Philadelphia specifically for families struggling with addiction or who have experienced a loss due to overdose. And on March 31, 7 p.m., she did a Facebook Live event for the group Moms for All Paths to Recovery from Addiction @ Heart of a Warrior Woman.

“While I miss doing in-person events,” she said, “I have to say that the pandemic has been good for my writing. I’ve completed about 50% of my new novel during this year. I also read 43 books in 2020 which are detailed and rated on Goodreads. There are a few more detailed reviews on my website. One interesting aspect of the pandemic has been that through online events and groups I have met people from all over the world.”

Schiller graduated in 1978 from Temple University with a degree in early childhood and elementary education. She received an M.A. in English in 1985 and completed everything in her doctoral pursuit but her dissertation. She went on to have a series of jobs in education and family services, including AmeriCorps and VISTA service.

Schiller has written another book set in Philly, “Watermark,” the first book in a series called the Broken Bell Series. This is a take-off on the Liberty Bell, but these stories “are far from the lofty image of the Liberty Bell but rather the stories of ordinary Philadelphians who encounter extraordinary circumstances.” (The book is available in print and ebook from Amazon, Bookshop and Barnes and Noble or through Schiller's website.)

In “Watermark” the primary plot is loosely based on true stories, and the same is true in the new book, “The Preparation Room.” “The competitive swimming backdrop in 'Watermark' is very familiar to me,” said Schiller, “having had children who swam and having been a volunteer swimming official myself. I think all writers draw from their emotional experiences … possibly in circumstances that are different from how the writer may have experienced them.”

“Watermark” is shortlisted for the Sarton Award in contemporary fiction, given by Story Circle Network in honor of the writer May Sarton. Other awards for both books are listed on the website.

Schiller is available to speak free of charge to book clubs about either book. She can be contacted at eliseschiller.com. Len Lear can be reached at lenlear@chestnuthilllocal.com

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