1.After reading on your blog, I have learned how ignorant I am about the disparity of race among and within the Christian Fiction market. Your books carry a powerful spiritual message, so can you tell us a bit about your journey to publication?
Kim, thanks so much for reading my books and my blog too. Though I'd been a scribbler all my life, becoming a writer was never something I considered seriously. (Mostly because everyone I'd ever talked to about it had laughed at me!) Several years ago, however, I had a false heart attack and thought I was dying. Along with my family and friends, the characters to all my secret stories marched beneath my eyelids in my Fred Sanford "Elizabeth" moment. Not only where they there, but they were disappointed. Angry even. I had refused to let them live and now, it seemed, I was dying. I was stunned and told God that if He'd let me get up from there that I would stop asking people's permission to write and just write. The nurse then said there must have been a mistake and there was no cardiac damage and took the EKG off me. I think I asked someone for a pen...
I'd been writing for several years already then, but never bringing anything to completion. I started writing nonfiction to get publishing credits while studying fiction. With each thing I learned, I went back and rewrote my novel. It was a crazy way to do it, but I learned a lot that way. Finally, I finished it and realized that I had to write more stories to learn more. Since the CBA had so few black fiction writers (there was only Sharon Ewell Foster then). I submitted to a black Christian editor who didn't require an agent and was rejected...twice. (I'd sent the wrong file the first time). In the meantime, some agents had responded and I was signed. He thought the book would sell quickly. It didn't. I think I was rejected by everyone on earth. Revell took it to committee two or three times, I think. It was too edgy, too much for a first-time author. Me, a homeschool mom, edgy? Who knew? And then there the black thing... Eventually, I had to let go of the book and start working on something else. That summer, two ideas came to me: one about a three single friends and the other about four multicultural women at a fashion design firm. Though both differ greatly from their original forms, the rest is history.
2. Now, with several successful books published, is race still an issue as you deal with the marketing and placement of your books?
Race is still very much an issue in America and in the church. With me, the problem usually is not quite fitting into a certain category in a nice tidy manner. People want to read books with people who look like them on the cover. It's human nature. I don't always write about people who look like me or act like me, so sometimes that gets a little tricky. With the marketing of each book, we learn something new, both about ourselves and about humanity.
3. What has your own experience been regarding worship on Sunday? Have you been able to find a church home that is blended, or do you still feel things are segregated in that area?
For several years, we attended a more blended church, almost half and half. For the past twelve or thirteen years, however, we have been in a mostly all white congregation. For many years, we have been the only black family with several singles. It is the place where we were called. I joke that we are inverse missionaries of sorts. My church family is wonderful. They read all my books and carry them -- all of them -- in the church bookstore. We are always learning from one another, learning about God together.
4. Living in the South, I've been able to observe some pretty disturbing attitudes within the church regarding race. When my husband would invite an African American to our church, he would get the comment, "You're not from around here are you?" We were both shocked. Why do you feel those attitudes still exist at the foot of the cross?
I have to laugh at this because I had similar experiences. People are sometimes comfortable here being separate, both black and white. Sometimes, I can even understand why. It seems easier and in truth, it probably is. Coming together with people who are different from us is messy sometimes. It stretches us. We get hurt by words and actions that don't seem hurtful to others. As for why these attitudes still exist, it is because America has so much history we are unwilling to deal with. I tell people that we are all living on the red man's land in a country that was built on the black man's back. Black or white, we are all racist in some way by virtue of being born in America. The trick is in admitting it and talking about it.
5. What has been your most memorable reader response?
Oh, there are so many. I love reader mail and save every one. I love when people's marriages are touched by the books. I've already received some mail like that with Happily Even After and there was a lot of it with Tangerine. The responses from young people thrill me too. They always want a movie and give me a whole cast list of who should play each part. That cracks me up.
6. What is your next project?
Remember that book I mentioned first, the one that nobody knew what to do with? It's called Rhythms of Grace and comes out this fall from Revell. It was my true first novel and explores a lot of issues, race among them.
7. Would you like to leave any words of advice to your readers as they explore their own views about race as they read your books? Or as they write their own stories?
I have no advice except to follow God. He has such a great sense of humor and guides us to the places we least expect. I didn't think there was a place in CBA for me (maybe there isn't, I might be deluding myself) but God knows. Be yourself, be as honest as you can be without hurting others and use your gifts to show both the diversity and unity we all have. As for writers, open your eyes and your heart to the unexpected. Stretch yourself with new experience and new people.
Thanks again for having me, Kim.