Today, Feathered Quill reviewer Charline Ratcliff is talking with Michelle Muriel, author of Essie's Roses
FQ: I always like to do a bit of research before I sit down and interview someone Ė you definitely have some variety in your life, but letís start with some of the basics firsts. Where did you live as a child? What was the area like? What did you do for fun?
MURIEL: I grew up in a suburb near St. Louis, Missouri. My parents were born and raised in New York City, so somehow in my head I thought I was too. It sounded much more glamorous. I loved growing up in my neighborhood. We were a band of creative kids. While our 1970s mommies had their orange juice (screwdrivers) and coffeecake together, they told us to go play on our own. In my neighborhood that meant everyone meets at so-and-soís driveway with every Fisher-Price Little People toy you had. We would create a village and play for hours. I had a huge imagination as a kid, always pretending, playacting, and singing. I played the piano and tennis. My best friend Shirley and I (when not obsessing over Rick Springfield) played tennis for hours, between roller-skating of course.
FQ: Looking back at your childhood Ė do you have a favorite memory/happening that you can share with us?
MURIEL: It is hard to pick one. I know my childhood friendships influenced Essieís Roses. Besides the memories of armfuls of books from the bookmobile, reading with my mom, baking Christmas cookies with her, and listening to my dadís jazz band practice (he was a drummer), some of my favorite memories are all of the games we played as children in my neighborhood. However, if I had to pick one it would be the memory of my momís kiss on my cheek goodnight. Her skin was so soft and always smelled of roses. Before her kiss she would make my mini Raggedy Ann and Andy dolls dance and tell a story using funny voices. A few years ago I unexpectedly lost my mom, and her kiss goodnight is a memory I still see clear as day.
FQ: What was school like for you? Fun and interesting, or boring and tedious?
MURIEL: I experienced the same issues all teens go through with bullies, cliques, and figuring out my place. I had the BEST teachers. My teachers let me fly. I was always doing something. I played on the tennis team, acted in plays, painted sets, and sang in the choir and jazz band. I was fortunate to have many opportunities in school to express myself, but I had to take that first step and participate. I went to a public school. It was a great atmosphere. I was definitely a tomboy, proud to say I was the only girl in my class (I think) to take shop! I was like Evie in Essieís Roses. I couldnít fathom sewing. Iím in awe of this talentóI donít have.
FQ: I did discover that besides being a writer, youíre also an actress. What prompted this? Do you enjoy acting, and is this something that you will continue to pursue?
MURIEL: Acting will always influence everything I do. I love having the experience I do in the arts. My parents were outlandish characters and extremely creative. My mom was an artist. My dad was a professional cameraman and musician. We always had something creative going on at my house. I cannot recall a day that we did not have band practice or music playing in our house. I loved it! I watched my dad earn a living in the arts, and simply thought of acting as the job for me. I was fortunate to know exactly what I wanted to do as a kid. I always had a goal. Acting was not anything I pursued to be famous or whatever. In fact, I turned down several opportunities, decisions to go to LA or NY to work, especially right before I met my husband.
My acting career was a career of almosts, life interruptions, and mostly consisted of theater, commercial work, and voice-overs. And that was fine with me! It was a marvelous passion for me for a very long timeÖ still isÖevery aspect of it. All I ever wanted was to make a living at what I loved and studied, and I did. Itís an insane profession, as 90% of the time you hear Ďnoí. But you learn about all of the wonderful playwrights, the stunning language of Shakespeare, how to research history, observe people, and recapture emotional experiences to create interesting, honest characters. You get this wonderful, odd opportunity to perform for audiences that come to see you on their day off, to present stories that entertain, and hopefully, make people think. Fascinating stuff! I have written and perform in an animated musical childrenís television series I have developed. So itís not overÖmaybe someday. For now, Iím concentrating on my writing, but if the right opportunity arises of course Iím in.
FQ: Moving on to the writing side of things Ė when did you first begin? What caused you to choose this as a career?
MURIEL: Iíve been writing stories, songs, and poetry since I was a kid. Iíve always loved writing, but acting came first. In college, I wrote poetry, original songs, and a few plays. I took creative writing courses, and though my major was acting, those courses ignited something in me. I planned to go to college in New York, but in a twist of fate I chose to go to a private college in a small town in the middle of MissouriÖit was in the middle of nowhere. I think I fell in love with writing in that small town. The countryside captivated me. I would jog through farmlands and near cornfields, stop, breathe, watch sunsets, and write. I had never been anywhere so serene.
I considered graduate school but decided to focus on my acting career. I met my husband, and five or so years after college, I was in a car accident and hurt my back. It took me away from acting for a long time. One day, I decided maybe telling stories was a way I could still use my acting experience. After all, instead of playing one character, I could play them all!
FQ: Having personally read (and loved) Essieís Roses Ė would you share how the idea for this book came to you?
MURIEL: Thank you! Iím so pleased you and so many others are enjoying this story. I developed the story of Essieís Roses first as a screenplay. Essieís Roses the novel has taken an usually long journey. An interview I saw with Halle Berry after she won an Oscar for Best Actress for her role in Monsterís Ball initially inspired me. During the interview, I heard this statement, ďIt took seventy-four years for an African-American to win an Oscar for Best Actress.Ē This statement really affected me.
A few minutes later, the first scene for Essieís Roses popped into my head. I was working on other projects at the time, so I said aloud, ďIím not paying attention to you.Ē The way I am and how I work, I knew if I did, it would be dedicated hours of getting it out on the pageÖand I had never written a novel!
Next, I heard the first line, ďThis be the day Evie set me free.Ē It was one of those strange moments where I had no idea where the line had come from. I saw a scene play in my head, hashed it out, and instantly decided to switch gears. The story I wanted to write focused on an intelligent, intriguing African-American woman as the lead set during a period in history where this point of view is often missed.
I put the screenplay in a drawer for several years while I worked on other projects until it was time to pick it up again. The novel was my desire to tell more of the story, introduce unique tidbits of the history of slavery to the reader, and provoke thought toward a different relationship present during such a horrific time: the family relationship between whites and slaves.
FQ: In the writing of Essieís Roses, what was your end goal for the story? Did it turn out the way you planned/expected?
MURIEL: Itís funny, when I develop a story I have a basic premise, usually hear dialogue, a few charactersí names and traits come. I hear their voices and start to develop relationships. And I always get the first line and the ending. Itís very strange. It happened with this next novel Iím writing. But itís interesting, when an actor rehearses a role for say the theater, the rule is you must perform true in the moment without playing the ending first. So I jot my bookís ending down and hide it until Iím ready to look at it again so it doesnít influence me and the story can flow where it wishes. Iím always open. Songwriting taught me that, especially when collaborating in a recording studio. You must be open to change, advice, and correction.
My goal was to write a story that was not only entertaining and insightful historically, but one that inspired the reader to want to learn more about this period in history, and perhaps look inside at some of the things that may be holding them back in relation to truly being free. Did it turn out the way I planned? Yes, I think so. What I love most about writing is what I loved about acting, the surprise of where a story can take you when you let go of the reigns.
FQ: As an author, what are your future plans? Any new books on the horizon; possibly a sequel to Essieís Roses Ė one that would maybe focus on the children of these two women?
MURIEL: Many readers have asked about a sequel to Essieís Roses. I think itís up to them. If the interest is there, I have a few more stories in mind. I think these women have more to say.
As a new author with a debut novel, I am hopeful Essieís Roses finds its audience. I have a young adult novel waiting in the wings. I am researching and working on my next book, an art-related historical novel. Iím very excited about it and think it will be another unique historical novel for my readers. I also finished writing a gift book series: Every Day Grateful, Every Day Joyful, and Every Day Peaceful which will be published soon. I wrote and developed a musical preschool television series that garnered attention from the producers of Bob the Builder and Angelina Ballerina, which has a music CD I sing on for the series I may release. The show needs a bit more development, but Iím hopeful it will find the right opportunity at the right time.
FQ: Lastly, is there anything else that youíd like your fan base to know about you and/or your writing?
MURIEL: Iím thankful for my readers. They have welcomed me with grace and Iím thrilled people are enjoying Essieís Roses. I would love readers to visit my website or Facebook page and say hello. The book trailer and paperback for Essieís Roses will be out soon. It is no small thing when a reader and reviewer (thank you!) share how much they enjoyed Essieís Roses. This is how new authors like myself grow their readership. You make the difference.
It was my heart to write a book that not only entertains, but inspires others to come out from the shadows and pursue their own dream. When I write, Iím compelled to write stories that encourage others. It wonít always be pretty, but I have always believed and experienced stories have a powerful way of reaching into peopleís souls. We all want to feel something when we invest our time in reading a book. Sometimes itís simply for an escape, other times, to experience a new genre. Along the way when we read something that touches us or makes us think differently about ourselves and the world around usóthat is the magic and privilege of writing.