The year is 1950. The place is Hillside State Mental Hospital, a dark brooding place, located outside of Chicago. At the time, the treatment of the mentally ill is archaic, consisting of hydrotherapy, electroshock and Insulin coma therapies, and, in the extreme, pre-frontal lobotomy. Tranquilizers and anti-psychotic drugs have not yet appeared.
In this atmosphere of hopelessness and despair come student nurses from nearby hospitals for their three-month psychiatric rotation. Mary Lou Hammond and Kate Stephens are two of these young girls.
Mary Lou is extremely sensitive. She begins dreaming about a woman in the early part of the century. The dreams tell a continuing story. Soon Mary Lou finds messages in mirror image writing from Margaret Montague, the woman in her dreams. She claims to have died at Hillside in 1911. If this entity does exist, what does she want from Mary Lou?
As the students go from one terrifying experience to another in the institution, Mary Lou’s dreams intensify, and so do the messages. Kate fears that her friend is losing contact with reality.
Mary Lou becomes obsessed with finding proof that the woman did exist as the story escalates to its life-threatening climax.
Helen Macie Osterman talks about her Notes in a Mirror:
Little did I know as a student nurse doing my psychiatric rotation at a state mental hospital in 1950 that, over half a century later, I would be writing a book about it.
Actually, I wrote the outline of the book twenty years ago and tucked it safely in a drawer. Every few years it would call to me, as words do. I would take it out and read it, enlarge on it, then put it back.
Two years ago I tackled it with renewed energy. I made it into a paranormal/historical, added a bit of mystery a tad of romance, then presented it to my writers group, The Southland Scribes.
A few suggestions by the group and another revision and I was ready to seek a publisher. A big hurdle!
After a number of rejections, I met Sue Durkin of Weaving Dreams Publishing. She loved the story and agreed to publish it.
Then the hard part started—marketing. That is a full time job. I belong to a number of women’s groups and they all buy my books. So far I have mailed 200 post cards, spoken at a number of libraries and bookstores. And we’ve only started.
After the holidays I plan to contact nursing schools and ask for a few minutes to talk to the students about how the profession has changed. There was no technology in 1950: no computers, no critical care, no CPR, and no monitoring devices. And the care of the mentally ill was archaic.
I tried to bring this out in Notes in a Mirror as I wove my story of Mary Lou Hammond, a shy impressive young girl, suddenly finding herself in a madhouse.
Even though the experience happened over fifty years ago, I remember it as if it were yesterday.
She received a Bachelor of Nursing degree from Mercy Hospital-St. Xavier College. During her training, she spent three months at Chicago State Mental Hospital for her psychiatric rotation. Years later, she earned a Master’s Degree from Northern Illinois University.
Throughout her forty-five year nursing career, she wrote articles for both nursing and medical journals, including Geriatric Nursing, Nursing Management, Orthopaedic Nursing and Nursing Spectrum. She wrote a section for Clinics in Podiatric Medicine and Surgery in 1997.
In 1997 and 1998, she published two short novels about a nurse, The Web and Things Hidden, by
Vista Publishing, a nurse owned publishing company.
She is also the author of the Emma Winberry Mystery series. The Accidental Sleuth, 2007 and The Stranger in the Opera House, 2009.
Helen is a member of The American Association of University Women and The Mystery Writers of America.