About the Book
Polish immigrants meet, marry, start a family and build a rooming house in the 1880s. Over the years, a true cast of characters live there. This book of historical fiction consists of six diaries and other correspondence written by the DNA family, and some roomers who became non-DNA family. It is filled with the ebb and flow of American and Chicago history in the Back of the Yards neighborhood. It has family and diversity all through it. Immigration, Polish, Germans, Jews, Blacks, Latinos, Gays, Chicago dialect, street cars, the depression, world wars, Viet Nam and the YMCA. Everyday people struggling and succeeding through the ups and downs of 135 years of life in one neighborhood. It’s rich, earthy, heart-warming, funny, sad and inspiring—just like life itself.
Where else will you meet a French love child from WWI who shows up and says you’re my dad? Or encounter a single, pregnant teen who has her baby in the rooming house owners bedroom and both mother and daughter end up living in the rooming house for 15 years? Then there’s the woman who really isn’t who she said she was, and the male street worker from Tijuana who ends up inheriting the place. All of them loved, welcomed and adopted into the family by the Polish immigrants and their generations of children.
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Read a Review Excerpt
From Kirkus Review: …The way that he portrays family dynamics is insightful and raw; the characters’ flaws and virtues are complex and make the cast compellingly realistic. The prose also has a wry touch of humor that offsets the turbulent and often tragic events. It’s a lengthy story but well worth the time and effort.
A story of secrecy, suffering, fortitude, and compassion that demonstrates an exceptional understanding of the human psyche.
A Brief Interview with the Author
Tell us your inspiration and motivation behind this book.
I ended up with a lot of back story left over from my first novel, Face Your Fears, much of it taking place in a rooming house. Author Jerry Peterson, the leader, and other fellow members of the Stateline Night Writers at Beloit Public Library suggested I center a second novel around the rooming house. Bingo. I was off and running. Being a preacher’s kid exposed me to many dynamics in family and human life. My careers working with people from diverse backgrounds intrigued me. All of that somehow plays into what I write.
What do you hope readers will tell others?
That people are people. Regardless of our skin color, abilities, disabilities, gender, who we love, and backgrounds, we all suffer, triumph, and muddle along through this great thing called life. How we live in the here and now is what counts.
Which of the characters was the most difficult to portray?
Possibly Arnaud, the French teen conceived the last night an American soldier and French woman spent together after World War I ended. Arnaud shows up in Chicago 14 years later and says, “Hi, I’m your son you didn’t know you had.” I had the concept for him, but wasn’t sure what to do with him or how to handle it. Lots of question to think through. I’m excited over how the character fit into the book and added another dimension to the story.
What's your next project?
My third novel, a stand-alone companion to The Rooming House Diaries, is under contract to be published by Rogue Phoenix Press in June 2020. Titled, The Rooming House Gallery – Connecting the Dots, it deals with the couple who inherited the old rooming house, their decisions and efforts to turn it into a community art center amidst their own growth as a couple and their conflicts in deciding to begin a family. Their decision continues the tradition of the rooming house in building non-DNA families.
I am currently working on a different kind of book. Tentatively titled, Revenge is Necessary, it’s about a farm family and is a psychological mystery and crime story. Why did a stoic father and husband suddenly try to kill his wife and son? What would make him act so out of context? The answers lead to discovering the husband of 35 years and father of 6 has lead a double life and, up until now, only one living person knew of the second life. It’s my first attempt at writing crime and mystery. So far, it’s been fun, but I definitely have more research to do.
About the Author
Bill Mathis was raised in a large family in a Michigan farm village jammed full of other big families. He enjoyed growing up in a large family surrounded by kids mostly from other large families—in fact, he wondered what was wrong with couples who only had one or two kids; even three were suspect. His careers were spent in YMCA camping and foster care in the Chicago area. He began writing after retiring and moving to Beloit, Wisconsin. His books reflect families, children, diversity, and human nature, warts and all. He enjoys writing, reading, volunteering, and traveling with his partner.
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