Cheri Paris Edwards is the author of four novels, including Plenty Good Room, which was praised by Booklist and Publisher’s Weekly. Edwards earned a Master’s in Composition and Rhetoric from Texas Woman’s University in 2014, and is a Doctoral Candidate in American Literature at the University of North Texas. She hopes to complete her dissertation, Your Blues Ain’t Like Mine: Voices from the Other Side of the Color Line, in early spring 2019.
She is an Associate Professor at Tarrant County College-Trinity River in Fort Worth, Texas. Edwards is the mother of two adult sons, and lives with her toy poodle Mocha in the Best Southwest area of Dallas County.
BPM: It is such a pleasure to have you join us to discuss, “Telling Stories.” Describe yourself in three words.
“Passionate, creative, and funny.”
BPM: What drove you to publish your first book or create your first series? How long have you been writing?
I have been writing since I was a teen when I wrote poetry. I wrote my first novel after literary agent Denise Stinson called me after I’d submitted a non-fiction effort and asked had I ever considered fiction. That novel didn’t ever get published but my next effort, “Plenty Good Room” was published by Denise when she was also an editor for Walk Worthy at Warner books.
BPM: Describe what you do outside of writing to expand your business or brand.
Well, I am an Associate Professor at Tarrant County College which is a huge college with almost 40,000 students on five campuses. I work at the Trinity River Campus in downtown Fort Worth. The head of our Tahita Fulkerson library is Dr. Susan Smith and she’s a great person in my view. Like me, she comes to TCC from the University of North Texas. Anyway, she read a proof of “Telling Stories,” and wrote that she REALLY liked it. Consequently, she ordered copies for the library and I spoke at an event on November 1st.
On the other hand, it’s been a bit hard, to talk about my writing in some academic settings. I am a Lit major, and yet I definitely do NOT write literary fiction and many academics do not take romance lit or Christian fiction seriously. They have a specific writing style and expectations for content that they believe is valuable, particularly when it comes to literature written by African-Americans.
I am self-taught as a fiction writer and most promote a programmatic approach to writing fiction that’s gained by going through an MFA program. This is particularly true, because I’ve had to learn to understand the expectations of genre better, and had to readjust my writing to create the kind of pacing that is different from academic or some non-fiction writing. And, I am also self-published. So, I’ve definitely had to find my own confidence. However, I am blessed to have a few great friends who served as beta readers and gave me valuable feedback and others who are just wonderfully supportive of my efforts. I also feel I’ll get nice support from some at the Community College level.
I just purchased home in what is called the Great Southwest area in Dallas County and plan to visit libraries to get the book on library shelves in the towns of Lancaster, DeSoto and Cedar Hill. These small cities are predominantly African-American and Lancaster and DeSoto still shelve copies of “Plenty Good Room” It’s also a way of getting my name on local invites to other events where I can sell my book. Unfortunately, I missed the Fort Worth library author’s program this year, but will try to make it next time.
BPM: What was one of the most surprising things you learned in creating your body of work/books?
Well, the first time out I was quite surprised at how difficult it was for black writers to get a publishing deal. I don’t know why I didn’t know. After studying African-American history and realizing that this has been an historical challenge for blacks, I understand the constraints of the publishing landscape better. I mean blacks in the not too distant past (like Harlem Renaissance year) really were writing a great deal of the time for a white audience because that’s primarily who had the leisure time, and the ability to read. And, even when weren’t writing for them, they were quite aware their “gaze” was on the work, and that likely influenced how it was written (and what was written) as well.
It’s still difficult today to find publishers for stories about blacks just living their lives, which is situation that Zora Neale Hurston lamented many years ago in a 1950 essay entitled, “What White Publishers Won’t Print.” Well, “Telling Stories” is about black folks just living their lives and they’re older folks (as am I) which makes both me and novel even less interesting to traditional publishers. So, after a few queries, and rejections and looking at “wish lists from diverse writers” that was just ridiculous in my opinion, I decided since I know how to do graphics and can content edit reasonably well, that I would just again publish myself.
One of my TWU colleagues, Erin Marissa Russell, is a fantastic copy-editor and she took the job on pro-bono and I’m very grateful for her help. However, I do feel books should be read across racial lines, because they often identify what connects us as humans.
BPM: How did you choose the genre you write in? Have you considered writing in another genre?
I am writing in another genre! And, this is also the first novel written in first-person narrative voice. I began my published career in Christian fiction but it wasn’t purposeful. I wrote a non-fiction book with Christian elements and was told when I submitted it on the open market, I should query Christian publishers and agents. And, because I included those elements in my fiction, after talking with Denise Stinson, I followed the same path in other writings. I really never felt it was a great fit, because my first story didn’t have the arc that most Christian fiction writings do. I don’t think readers knew how to handle the story because of that.
I decided this time out to write a story that was more ME. In hindsight I also think including Christian elements in my fiction and my topics were subconsciously influenced by some internal obligations I felt I had to meet. Now, I just feel freed from those and allowed this story to flow without the feeling that I had to take on any issue or problems or curtail much about how I wanted to tell the story. For example, I curse, so there’s cursing. *LOL* And, I am a person who laughs a lot and who often relies on humor to help deal with life’s struggles, so writing a humorous book is also a natural.
BPM: Tell us about your most recent work.
It is entitled, “Telling Stories” and is available right now only at Amazon, in print and e-book.
Navigating middle-age is a challenge for 45-year old Genelle “Gigi” Golden. First the death of her mother, then her long time live-in boyfriend abruptly trades her in for a new model. Determined to restart her life Gigi packs her bags and heads to the Southwest. When things don’t go as planned, Gigi finds herself caught between the proverbial ‘rock and a hard place’; and an impulsive decision turns her life in an unexpected direction.
Then ex-military man Desmond Wright enters her life. Although physically changed by a skin disease it hasn’t dampened Desmond’s confidence or lessened his appeal to the opposite sex. But, Desmond’s life is complicated by an spoiled adult daughter, who treats his home like it has a revolving door, and a mother who won’t let him forget that he’s yet to find the love of his life.
When things falls apart, Gigi discovers that true friends reveal themselves in the toughest times and that grace comes when you least expect it.
BPM: Introduce us to the people in the book! Give us some insight into your main characters or the speakers.
There’s quite a few characters in the book. The story is narrated in the alternating voices of Genelle Golden (or Gigi as she’s called once she moves to Texas) and Desmond Wright. Both are middle-aged and both face challenges in their lives. Gigi has relocated to Texas and when a living situation doesn’t work out, has to take shelter in her car. In other words, she’s homeless. Some of the people she meets along the way help her through the situation, even when they don’t know all that’s going on in her life. We also meet Butterfly who owns the hair salon where Gigi gets a job, Juan and Imogene who work there and all of the others who stop through or are there for hair appointments. And there’s James, the waitress who helps Gigi and Gigi’s sister Neecie, who’s a bit of a snob.
Desmond comes with his own family and baggage. Mama, is a petite, well-coiffed churchgoer, who will curse you out in “a voice sweet as Karo syrup.” Desmond is a Mama’s boy, and Mama thinks Desmond should hurry up and find a wife! He’s a bit of a commitment-phobe though and though he’s dated quite a bit, none of the women have been quite right. Desmond also has an adult daughter.
Malaika is spoiled (by Desmond, of course!) and he can’t keep her out of his pocket or his house, since she’s always underwhelmed by the efforts of her husband Ray. He also has a grandson Clint, who is a whirling dervish one moment, and wise beyond his years the next. And, Desmond has the skin disease vitiligo, although he brags its not dampened his swagger.
BPM: What’s so unique about their story-line or voice in the story? What makes each one so special?
Gigi and Desmond have their own distinct voices, challenges, and their lives are quite different, but they are similar in that they both are middle-age and without partners and somehow they come together. Each of them also have backstory that contributes to the emotional baggage they must wade through to really connect which is revealed in brief reminiscences about past events and both working through grief about their parents who have passed away.
BPM: Share one specific point in your book that resonated with your present situation or journey.
Like Gigi, I moved to Texas after a series of losses. I lost my mother, and my sons were grown and had moved out. Also like Gigi, I was chronically underemployed while living in Illinois and wasn’t working at all when I decided to leave. Additionally a second contract with a publisher was on the verge of falling apart.
Once I decided to relocate, I literally packed my three bedroom townhouse on my own, and with help of a nephew, my brother-in law and a friend, packed all I had into storage and the rest in my car within a few weeks time. Leaving behind below 32 degree temps, ice and snow, my toy poodle Mocha and I took a long rainy ride to Texas. It was a challenging start.
About a year later I returned to school though. I earned my Master’s in English in 2014 and then was accepted into the Literature program at The University of North Texas. I also was able to teach many wonderful students teaching at both colleges before taking the position here last year. I didn’t even have furniture here for a year and a half. I couldn’t move my bed though and slept on an inflatable mattress and kept my clothes in open suitcases until two years ago!
BPM: Are there certain characters you would like to go back to or is there a theme or idea you’d love to work with?
Oh, I don’t know. I loved these characters. I haven’t thought seriously about writing more about any of them, but I’m sure I could since much was left unfinished.
BPM: Is there one subject you would never write about as an author?
I would not write about a pathological subject having to do with blacks or about passing, simply because I’ve read too many books in the canon about that kind of thing.
BPM: Have you ever received a rejection from an agent or a publisher?
Yes, about 3 on this novel from agents before I gave up on querying about a year and a half ago. I didn’t get many with “Plenty Good Room,” and the “The Other Sister” was going to originally be published by the same publisher under a different imprint. However, it was taking so long to get to my manuscript that I went with another offer which ended up not working out.
BPM: Do you ever have days when writing is a struggle? Have you ever had to deal with rejection?
It’s a struggle of lot of the time. I just forge through.
BPM: Have you written any other books that are not published?
Yes, I’ve written some that I took off the market as well.
BPM: What projects are you working on at the present?
Right now I’m working on getting through my dissertation. I’ve been writing throughout this year. Since January, “Telling Stories” had been getting copy-edited. Erin was doing it between paying jobs, and then I did a last couple edits on it this summer, but nothing major. I am finishing chapter three of my dissertation and I have one more to finish. I am expanding a research paper I’ve already written, so I’m hopeful I may still finish by the first of the year. I teach five sections this semester and six next semester, and I grade a lot because I offer a workshop setting where students are always submitting exercises, and that takes time too. I have about 100 students this semester. Also, now I commute a couple hours a day since I live in Dallas County.
BPM: How do you stay connected with others in publishing and your readers?
On social media of course, although I had deactivated my Facebook for quite a long time. I wanted to get back in touch with the real world, and I did. Even though it’s reactivated, I’m not sure I’ll be involved as I was before.
BPM: What legacy do you hope to leave future generations of readers and new writers with your writing?
That it’s not too late, nor are you confined to “traditional” publishers. Just write the best book you can, and have a “day job.”
BPM: What is your preferred method to have readers get in touch with or follow you?
They can follow at @write12b on Twitter and I also have a Facebook Author and Personal page. I haven’t been all that active this year because of all of my obligations, but I will be picking up steam in the next few weeks.
BPM: How can readers discover more about you and your work?
Author FB page: https://www.facebook.com/purelyparispublishing