A Tribute to Roberta Gellis

A former Spanish teacher, Allison Brook writes mysteries, romantic suspense, and novels for young readers. She loves traveling, reading, knitting, doing Sudoku, and visiting with her grandchildren, Olivia and Jack, on FaceTime. She lives on Long Island with Sammy, her feisty red cat. This is her first Haunted Library mystery.

Allison Brook is a pseudonym for Marilyn Levinson and you can find her at the following links:

Website // Facebook // Twitter // Pinterest // Goodreads
  Marilyn’s Amazon page
Allison’s Amazon page

Writers who start out today have various ways to learn their craft. There are classes on line, at schools, through writing organizations. Online groups share information regarding the craft of writing. They form critique groups; they can find out what agents and publishers are looking for. We have Facebook and Twitter, websites and newsletters. For any writer starting out today, there’s camaraderie and help to be found in the writing community.

It wasn’t like that when I began writing fiction in the seventies. Certainly, courses were available at colleges. I took a course in writing poetry, and another one with a local writer who was a playwright and started writing short stories. I took private lessons with one woman who had attended what was then called the University of Iowa’s Writers Workshops. We analyzed a novel and I began to understand the components that go into novel writing. I wanted to write a novel, but she felt I wasn’t ready.

And then I had a dream when my family and I were renting a house at the shore. I was running along the beach. A man was chasing after me. When he caught me he told me my husband had lost a lot gambling and owed his boss a lot of money. Gambling? Owed money? All this was news to me. I told the man my husband was away. The man no longer seemed menacing. He simply told me again to have my husband contact his boss.

I knew I had the beginnings of a novel! Around that time, I’d read that Roberta Gellis was giving an adult ed writing course that I could take. Roberta was a well-known genre author. She wrote mainly historical novels, though over the years she also wrote mysteries and some romantic suspense, fantasy and science fiction. She said she was giving the course so she could get some feedback regarding her novels.

Roberta helped me write the novel I later called COME HOME TO DEATH. It turned out to be a romantic suspense, though I had no idea what that meant at the time. We discussed the characters and ended up changing the murderer. She helped me write scenes. Taught me to use short sentences when writing action. And helped me birth my first novel.

I was very proud of COME HOME TO DEATH. I still am proud of it, though, after many rewrites over the years, I’ve yet to hear if one of my publishers is going to turn it into an ebook. I went on to write my next novel called MOSTLY MIRANDA. This book was never published, but it convinced Roberta that I had a knack for writing books for kids. The ghosts of two children were characters in the book, an indication that I’d be including ghosts in some of my novels: GIVING UP THE GHOST, GETTING BACK TO NORMAL and DEATH OVERDUE.

Next, I wrote AND DON’T BRING JEREMY. Bingo! With this book I acquired an agent and eventually a publisher. It’s the story of two brothers, the oldest of whom has learning disabilities. It was based on a short story I’d written which was loosely based on my two sons. The book won accolades: six nominees for state awards. It went out of print but is now available through my ebook publisher, Untreed Reads.

Roberta and I became close friends. With each book, I managed to wean myself away from her assistance, though I always felt free to ask her questions as they arose. I was constantly amazed at her vast store of knowledge about so many subjects. And when she didn’t know something, she simply told me, “I don’t know, Marilyn.”

Roberta taught me how to use the computer. How many times did I call to say I’d lost an entire chapter, only to be told that wasn’t the case? She welcomed me whenever I wanted to visit. We went out for lunch. We went food shopping. I began to regard her as a relative as well as a friend.

She and her husband were some years older than I. Roberta reached the point when she felt she needed to live close to a relative. And so she and Charles moved to Lafayette, Indiana, to be closer to her sister. I was heartbroken when they left Long Island. Roberta and I spoke on the phone, but it wasn’t the same as in-person visits.

There were fallow years when I didn’t sell any manuscripts. Roberta, a person who always spoke her mind, was always surprised that I wasn’t selling because she thought I wrote well and told good stories. She visited Long Island a few times. One year she asked if she and Charlie could stay with us. I said, sure. As usual, we went clothes shopping and out East to meet Bertrice Small for lunch. Bertrice and Roberta had been good friends for years, and Bertrice and I had become good friends as well. The three of us had lunch at the Cooperage Inn. Months later, when I was out visiting Bertrice, she asked if I’d noticed that she hugged Roberta for an especially long time. “It’s because I knew I’d never see her again.”

It was true. Roberta moved to Michigan to be closer to her son Mark and his family. She began to fail. Charlie died. Bertrice died. In May of 2016, Roberta died.

Roberta lives on in my mind. My latest book, DEATH OVERDUE, has received some wonderful accolades. I wish I could tell Roberta because she would be happy for me. But somehow I think she knows.

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9 thoughts on “A Tribute to Roberta Gellis

  1. Pingback: A Tribute to Roberta Gellis | Long Island Sisters in Crime

  2. Lelia, Allison sounds like a wonderful person and writer. I am indeed ‘taken’ by her lovely tribute to Roberta Gellis. Ms. Brooks is the epitome of determination, and I needed to read this, today.

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    • Thank you, Allison, for the story of your writing journey and Roberta Gellis’s role in it. She was such a fine writer and lovely, supportive person. I was not aware of her death. She asked me for a quote on one of her medieval mystery novels. They were so well-researched and written while casting insight on eternal human problems in our own times, which is what the best historical novels do. Thank you for giving me time to think and remember her. Though we never met, I’m not surprised she was the strong mentor you knew.

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      • I’m so glad you have fond memories of Roberta. She was a fine writer and published in many genres. She was known for her through research.

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  3. Thank you for sharing your experience with us, Marilyn. I had a similar mentor, although I never met her in person. She was Velda Johnston and she kindly sent me copies of her books, the ones I didn’t have, and offered me all kinds of encouragement. At the time I had only written one book which I ‘d had difficulty finding a publisher for and let languish on the shelf. I wish I could have told her that I’ve now published about 32 books. I still have her letters. I remember buying books by Robert Gellis in the seventies.

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    • Dorothy, I remember her! I’ve read novels by Velda Johnston. And you’ve read Roberta’s books, too! Thanks for sharing, my friend.

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  4. What a lovely tribute post to a great friend and author. Thank you for sharing this, Marilyn. I hope one of these days I can find a mentor and friend like Roberta was to you!

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    • Thank you, Erin. I know how lucky I was. But you might find a mentor through a writing group—in person or online. We’ve so many more of them these days.

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