Friday, May 8, 2020

Elise Schiller Interview - Watermark

Photo Credit: Jermaine Parker

Elise Schiller has been writing fiction and actively participating in writing groups since adolescence. After a thirty-year career in education and family services in Philadelphia, she retired to write full time. She is currently working on a fiction series about Philadelphia; SparkPress will be publishing the first book in the series.

Schiller sits on the advisory board of the Philadelphia Department of Behavioral Health and Intellectual disAbility Services (DBHIDS), and she has served on the Philadelphia Mayor’s Task Force on the Opioid Epidemic. When not writing, reading, or volunteering, she enjoys visiting museums and historical sites, often with one of her seven grandchildren or various nieces and nephews in tow.


What inspired you to pen your first novel?
This novel’s been floating around with me for years. I retired in 2015 from a career in children and youth services in order to write. After I wrote a memoir, it was Watermark’s time. I’m a lifelong resident of Philadelphia, and I love my city. I spent 30 years working in Philly’s most distressed neighborhoods as an educator. I’m also an avid reader, and over time I’ve realized that there are certain people and types of neighborhoods that aren’t often featured in literary fiction, YA or adult. Thus I decided to write a series of books set in Philadelphia, The Broken Bell Series, telling stories that usually have some basis in truth, about people who are often overlooked.

Tell us your latest news.
The pandemic is everyone’s latest news, right? I’ve been blogging about it on my website in a series of posts called The Corona Diaries. While this is not the easiest environment in which to market a book, I am so fortunate. I get to sit at my computer and do what I like to do every day and everyone in my family is well. So many people are suffering.

Who or what has influenced your writing, and in what way?

I would say my writing group. Watermark is dedicated to them. We’ve been working together and critiquing each other’s work for about 25 years. In addition to their spectacular insight, I’ve learned how to give and take constructive criticism. We actually have a ZOOM meeting tomorrow. The new normal.

Tell us your most rewarding experience since being published.
The first book reading I did for my memoir was a fundraiser for an organization in Philly that is on the front lines of homelessness and addiction services. We charged $60. I thought no one would come, but eighty people arrived. I was so grateful.

What do you hope for readers to be thinking when they read your novel?
I want them to think about how vulnerable some of our kids are, and about how it takes a village. I want them to think about women’s fiction, and the wide range of themes it can include.

In your new book; WATERMARK: A NOVEL, can you tell my Book Nerd community a little about it
Watermark is the first book in the Broken Bell Series, all books set in Philly. The story centers on three girls; Angel, a high school senior from a troubled family who is a star competitive swimmer; Angel’s younger sister Jeannine, a socially awkward, intellectually precocious girl who is one of the narrators; and Alex, Angel’s teammate, who is the other narrator. The book is set in Philly’s poorest neighborhoods. The girls swim in an old rec center for a wonderful coach. Early in the book Angel disappears; the rest of the book is about figuring out what happened.

What part of Angel did you enjoy writing the most?
I love my character, Angel, the emotional center of the novel. She’s tough, assertive, sometimes difficult, but loving and compassionate. A giver. As a writer, Angel was certainly a challenge because the book is told by two first person narrators, and Angel is not one of them, so we only know about Angel through their narrative and through dialogue. I loved writing her dialogue—she’s so sassy.

If you could introduce one of your characters to any character from another book, who would it be and why?
I’d like to introduce Jeannine to Brianna from the Outlander series. They’re both smart and creative. Both are dealing with fractured families, sexual violence, and a lot of secrets. I think they could learn a lot from each other.

What’s the most ridiculous fact you know?
Oh my goodness, I’m such a nerd it’s hard to choose. Last night I couldn’t sleep so at 1 AM I was sitting in bed looking at a war atlas about the Napoleonic Wars.

What did you do for your last birthday?
I was in Rocky Mountain National Park with one of my daughters and her family. We hiked as much as you can with a two and four year old, skipped stones in ponds and steams, and watched elk herds. It was a great way to spend a birthday.

Best date you've ever had?
Ooh, punting on the Thames, mild English summer afternoon, champagne afterwards.

If you could go back in time to one point in your life, where would you go?
I would love to time travel back to when my children were small, and do all that over again.

If you wrote a journal entry today, what would it say?
It would say that I sat at my desk almost all day, writing, except for when I put on my corona mask and went across the street to gather up some lilacs that my neighbor pruned and left outside for me. I’d say that I spent an hour on the phone coaching a single grandfather friend on how to understand the “new math” so he could help the child he’s raising with the pandemic home schooling. I’d say people are getting really tired of this s***!

What event in your life would make a good movie?
How about the several years I spent in Haight Ashbury after I left home at 15? Or maybe the several years after that when I worked against the war in Vietnam full time?

What was the best memory you ever had as a writer?
That would be the day I envisioned Watermark as the first book in a series. I didn’t want to leave all those characters behind and now I don’t have to.

Angel talking to her uncle, overheard by her sister, Jeannine:
“Uncle Jimmy sighed. ‘No, they’d never accept it.’ ”

“Angel’s voice grew calmer. ‘Yes they would, Jim. People can get used to anything, until it seems normal.’ ”

This is from the first scene at the recreation center where the characters swim, narrated by Alex:
“ The windows in the building were high above, where the walls met the ceiling, and covered with rusted grating to protect against stray basketballs from the inside and stray projectiles from the outside.”

Alex, talking about the coach:
“CJ talked about his mother all the time, especially when he was mad at us. ‘My mother could swim that set faster than you,’ he’d say if we disappointed him.”

Alex, on her way to school early on a winter morning:
“I huddled up under the blanket my mom always kept in the car and watched the icy patterns on the window melt away.”

In Jeannine and Angel’s bedroom:
“She got up and lowered our window halfway. The night was loud with summer sounds, kids still out playing, the bass boom of car stereos, sirens.”

A flashback to when Jeannine and Angel were younger, waiting overnight for their mother, who hadn’t come home.
“While Angel slept, I lay on the couch studying the headlights from passing cars that skimmed the ceiling, made a right angle at one corner, and disappeared.”

Alex, after Angel went missing, trying to find her way to the laundromat where Angel worked part-time:
I drove the way I thought I should go to get to the laundromat, and sure enough, there it was on the corner. It looked like about the friendliest place in the neighborhood: brightly lit, no graffiti, big soda and junk-food vending machines visible through the door.

Jeannine, talking about school.
“In eighth grade I was absent over seventy days, almost half the year. It really wasn’t such a big deal; in my school, a third of the kids were out every day.”

Jeannine watching a fight between Angel and their stepfather:
“For a split second I saw her smile and I saw his eyes widen in disbelief. Then he let go with the back of his hand across her face, knocking her down.”

Jeannine cuddled up with her sister during a blizzard.
“Kathleen was asleep again. Snow was falling, thick and heavy, white against grey.”

The oldest child in a troubled Philadelphia family, Angel Ferente struggles to care for her three sisters while pursuing her goal of attending college on a swimming scholarship. She has a problematic relationship with her mother, Pic, who uses alcohol and drugs to self-medicate and at one point lost custody for a year, and an outright hostile relationship with her stepfather, the only father figure in her life. Angel is the center of stability in the household―making sure the younger girls get to school, ensuring that holidays are observed, doing the family’s laundry at her part-time job at a Laundromat, and even taking care of Pic when she is sick or depressed. It’s 1993, the midst of the crack epidemic, and Angel and her sisters are witness to the everyday events of life in a community beset by poverty and drugs: dealers on the corner, shoot-outs that kill bystanders, prostitutes on the job, and more.

Then Angel goes to a team party on New Year’s Eve―and doesn’t come home afterward. In the wake of her disappearance, her teammates, her coach’s church, and her family search the city for her. The result changes their lives forever.

Praise for WATERMARK

“A measured, affecting look at a struggling and burdened teenager . . . tight, unembellished prose makes for an easy read and even adds a hint of mystery.” 
Kirkus Reviews

“Watermark is a shrewd and unflinching mystery set in some of the less charming parts of Philadelphia. Great characters, broken hearts, and lots of twists make this compelling reading. Elise Schiller makes her mark with this book.” ―Jonathan Maberry, New York Times best-selling author of V-Wars and Rage

“I found this book to be fascinating and insightful . . . incredibly compelling and a wonderful read. I can highly recommend this story and look forward to the next iteration of the Broken Bell series.” ―Reader’s Favorite (5-star review)
You can purchase Watermark (The Broken Bell Series, #1) at the following Retailers:

And now, The Giveaways.
Thank you ELISE SCHILLER for making this giveaway possible.
1 Winner will receive a Copy of Watermark (The Broken Bell Series, #1) by Elise Schiller.


  1. Best date was dinner at the Space Needle.

  2. My best date was the date I got engaged.

  3. Went to drag racing and drank ice cold beer. A memorable night.

  4. A good date was spending the lovely day in Seattle and having dinner before taking the ferry back to the peninsula.

  5. My husband taking me to a Packer's game! We had so much fun.