A mothers catharsis &mdash Murdered daughters activism inspires 75-year-old Oakland womans first

Merilyn Weiss once heard the writer Anne Lamott say, “Don’t wait until you’re 75 to publish your first novel.”

“Well, here I am,” said the Danville resident, who just made it: She’s exactly 75.

“Jody: A Woman’s Journey,” Weiss’ novel about a young Jewish woman — idealistic and full of fire to change the world — was recently “semi-self-published” with 1st Books Library under her pen name, Merrily Weir.

She’s been writing for as long as she can remember. As a child, she used to lock herself in the bathroom in an effort to find a quiet place to write, away from her siblings.

In junior high school, she won a first prize for her writing, and she continued to write in high school and college. But she dropped out to get married and have children.

When she returned to college after her children were grown — earning a master’s degree in special education — some of her poetry was published in national magazines. And she began dabbling in a novel.

Then in 1977, her 22-year-old daughter, Joellyn Weiss, was murdered. Writing offered a refuge.

“I started writing poetry to get me through it. It was catharsis,” said Weiss, who goes by Mickey. “And then a friend of mine picked up my poetry book and said, ‘You’ve got to write a story.'”

Weiss again returned to writing as a form of catharsis when her husband died. This time, the novel she began in the ’70s beckoned.

While at first the plot was very close to her daughter’s life, it soon became a work of fiction. “I wanted to distance myself from it, to make it a really good read and not a memoir,” said Weiss, who grew up in Oakland and is a longtime member of Temple Sinai.

Her daughter’s killer has never been found.

Like Jody, the novel’s young heroine, Weiss’ daughter Joellyn was involved in a prisoners’ rights organization. Weiss discovered that the prisoners’ rights group was involved in illegal activities, and her daughter probably knew too much about them.

“When she found out what they were doing, she wanted out,” said Weiss, who made her discovery when she obtained her daughter’s FBI file through the Freedom of Information Act.

“She kept it to herself, but she was quite upset toward the end,” said Weiss, who disapproved of her daughter’s involvement with the group. “I tried to get her away from it — I didn’t want her to be in it in the first place — but she wanted to prove a point.”

So does the novel’s Jody, who treats her parents somewhat contemptuously. They don’t understand her need to fight for the oppressed, and she considers them racist and old-fashioned.

The same fate does not await Jody as did her daughter. Yet there are certain parallels to the two girls’ lives: Weiss’ fictional heroine fights for the rights of the oppressed in a black liberation organization, as well as speaks out for prisoners and Holocaust survivors. Jody becomes involved with one of the group’s leaders, only to be set up and raped by another leader who resents her attempts to improve women’s standing in the organization.

“I wanted to examine a life, the life of this young woman who was my daughter, but wanted to see if I could figure out why,” said Weiss. “It’s not a whodunit, it’s a whydunit.”

Jody: A Woman’s Journey” by Merrily Weir (244 pages, 1st Books Library, $14.50).

Alix Wall
Alix Wall

Alix Wall is a contributing editor to J. She is also the founder of the Illuminoshi: The Not-So-Secret Society of Bay Area Jewish Food Professionals and is writer/producer of a documentary-in-progress called "The Lonely Child."