Her InterviewBPM: What drove you to sit down and actually start writing this book?
When I was sixteen years old, I had chicken pox. Now, I’m not sure if you know, but the older you are when you get chicken pox, the worse you look. I defined UGLY. I wouldn’t even let my best friend see me. But, I was bored. A shoot-me-now,-’cause-this-ain’t-getting-any-better-type of boredom. Every day my friend would phone and tell me what happened at school, and I would share what happened on the soaps. After two days of watching that paint dry, we decided to write our own soap opera—only nobody was singing. I mean nobody . . . but it opened the door to a dream.
From then on, I knew that someday I would write a book. I started writing The Devil Made Me Do It when I saw a writer’s contest on the Internet. You needed one hundred pages of a story. I wrote the pages to see if I could do it, and I was super amped to find out I was one of the winners of the contest. It encouraged me to continue writing and to finish the book.
The story of The Devil Made Me Do It resounded in my spirit because I always wondered what would happen if the heavens (or hell) rolled back and we could see what was happening in the supernatural. There birthed my trilogy, the Heaven over Hell series.
BPM: Does your upbringing or life experiences inspire your writing?
Absolutely. I’m this down-home chick with a Southern twang from the hood of southwest Detroit. I was raised in a two-parent household with four siblings. My parents were all about reading versus television consumption. I think we were the last household in the neighborhood to purchase a color television. What we did have were books, magazines, and newspapers. I was still in elementary school when I walked to the River Rouge Library (a good mile away) to borrow books. Many times I walked alone. But at that age, reading was my passion, and it still is.
For me, a good book is like good gossip—you just have to share it. In sharing, I began to want to tell my own story, my own way. As a result, I have always loved to tell a good story—I promise there weren’t any lies—sometimes making it up as I went.
Growing up in Detroit, I found myself in some tight spots, just by the nature of being in the vicinity of something “going down.” It’s a wonder I never woke up dead. When that happened, I would call on my praying mother, begging her to pray just one more prayer. Eventually, those times taught me how much God must love my hardheaded, tryna-get-it-right foolish self. Now, there are always two sides to every coin. And some of the spots I was graced (Mama was praying hard!) to wiggle out of were pretty tight—persuading me fully that the devil must hate me. I know I really hate him and his modus operandi. Hence, my story, The Devil Made Me Do It, and how I decided to tell it.
BPM: Where do your book ideas come from?
My book ideas evolve from my conversations with others. My friends and I tend to have these deep conversations that result in my getting this animated light-bulb over my head. Its bright glow and halo effect asks the question: “What if?” My stories answer those questions.
BPM: Are your books plot-driven or character-driven? Why?
Wow . . . I think a little of both. I start out with the light shining over my head, and I take that idea and begin writing without thought, and then a plot unfolds and the characters in the plot begin to take shape and demand to tell their story. I let them have their way. And, there are times when even I’m surprised at the choices they make. In The Devil Made Me Do It, Briggs’s and Esther’s journey totally amazed me. Even though each book in the Heaven over Hell trilogy stands alone, the next two books will continue their saga.
BPM: Introduce us to your current work. What genre do you consider your book?
I consider the book Christian fiction with an edge. I say that because, yes, my characters are Christian (well, most of them), but they aren’t perfect, and they don’t part the Red Sea or walk on water (although I do believe that miracles and wonders still occur). My characters sometimes make poor choices, and they have to face the consequences of those choices.
I wanted to explore what happens when the devil comes for your sense of self at a young age, and he didn’t just stumble on to you; he’s on assignment. The scripture pertaining to the devil wanting to kill, steal, and destroy you is not only speaking of a physical act, but it is also mental and emotional in origin.
The book’s glimpse into the supernatural provides a twist that is “cover-your-eyes scary,” and in the next chapter “slap the table, fun and humorous.” Esther Wiley is one of three childhood friends who are joined at the hip from kindergarten to college. In college, Esther meets Briggs Stokes, and they fall in love. But, life throws all the friends a shocking curve ball that causes a ripple effect that lasts for years.
BPM: Give us some insight into your main characters. What makes each one so special?
Esther dares to believe, even from a young age, that she is special. As African Americans, we are so conditioned not to speak well of ourselves less we be called prideful. Sometimes we become so conditioned to not think ourselves wonderful that we end up with self-esteem issues. Esther dared to believe and to act on that belief.
Briggs is a son of privilege, but it’s that same privilege that makes him come to believe that in his truest self he is invisible. It’s not just about his inherited money, but about who he really is. He struggles with the question: How do you grow up around God’s anointed superstar and still be seen for yourself?
The devil uses both of these issues to destroy the destiny God has for each of them. When they allow the spirit of lack to decide their futures, both lose. Identity theft was committed long before the computer age. My pastor has always taught that if you fail to know the purpose of a thing, you are destined to abuse it.
This first book in the trilogy shows the hidden agenda of those who should be for you and how making the right decision when you come to spiritual forks in your road will decide your destiny. And, for the record, it doesn’t end on a cliff-hanger. LOL.
BPM: Can you outline some areas where your characters dealt with issues that are in current affairs?
Yes, they deal with suicide—a taboo subject in most communities. They also deal with lust and adultery. And . . . the question: Is it adultery if you don’t consummate it? The Bible states if you sin in your heart . . . But, what does man say? And when adultery is committed, how and can you forgive? All of America is hooked on a television show built around adultery with one of the most powerful men in the country. It’s entertaining; it’s riveting . . . but is it biblical?
There’s an intimacy to sharing yourself with another person that I wanted to explore. You don’t just cheat physically, but you cheat in every area of your life. You have to lie . . . to create a separate life—so you become spiritually schizophrenic—one way with one person, another with someone else.
Also, I deal with fraud on the job, a phenomenon that is occurring more and more. I deal with abuse—verbal and physical. And I deal with obsession. We see more and more stalkers today.
BPM: What topics are primarily discussed? Did you learn anything personal from writing your book?
I discuss all of the above. I also discuss how choices affect our lives. I ask and answer the question: Can one childhood incident shape the rest of your life?
There’s an area in the book where I discuss the male African American youths of today, and what they need. It was eye-opening. I did learn . . . Some of the pearls of wisdom that came out while writing also ministered to me. It’s something to reread your own work and know that the Holy Ghost was your ghost writer.
BPM: What would you like for readers to take away from your writing?
I want them to be entertained. I want them to have Aha! moments that set them on the road to self-discovery. I want them to draw closer to a God who loves them unconditionally.
BPM: How do you go about reaching new readers?
Three avenues: First, tell a good story. The best compliment I received was from someone stating that their friends who were not Christians would read The Devil Made Me Do It because it was so entertaining.
Second, in an excerpt reading with men (who were coerced to come by their wives), their feedback was that it wasn’t the normal chick-flick literature they thought it was going to be, and they all asked me to keep reading. Tell a good story that others can relate to.
And, third, hopefully, people who read this interview will be inspired to run out and buy The Devil Made Me Do It, and then tell others to buy it too. Tell a good story and it promotes itself! (See how I keep mentioning the name of the book? Subconsciously, you’re hearing—buy the book, buy the book . . . LOL.)
BPM: Were there any challenges in bringing this story to life?
There were a lot of challenges. It took keeping hope alive to believe that one day this book would be read by people beyond my social circle. It took faith to bring this to fruition. I am still challenged to hone my skills; writing is a craft. I’ve learned more about this art after I submitted my book and had it accepted by my publishing company than I ever knew before. Thank God! I might have given up if I had any idea how much I didn’t know!
BPM: What are your expectations for this book? What would you like to accomplish after the book is released?
Best Seller, baby! I would love to have created my second career . . . and that twenty years later, I’ll still be writing, sitting in my rocking chair in a sunny place, sipping on my mango lemonade. So, you, your cousin, brother-in-law, and your hairdresser run out and buy the book or download the book. Just . . . Get the book!
BPM: What are your goals as a writer? Do you set out to educate or inspire? Entertain?
I set out to inspire and entertain. I think that the way to do that so that it is lasting is to educate. When we learn something, it changes our thinking on a given subject; therefore, we carry it in our spirits. Anything that is part of your spirit is part of you. Entertaining allows the education and inspiration to be like medicine going down with a spoonful of sugar. I am always trying to illuminate the goodness of God. This message continues to provide light in dark places.
BPM: Finish this sentence: “My writing offers the following legacy to future readers . . .”
“My writing offers the following legacy to future readers and authors who dare to be different. To go down the path less traveled. Trust your imagination and the story that you want to tell. Others DO want to hear it.”
BPM: Is there anything else you would like to add that I haven’t included? How can readers discover more about you and your work?
My goal is to continue writing beyond my trilogy. I have a “small ideas notebook” where I write down dynamic characters and interesting plots. So I plan to be around.
I have a website called Write-spirit that can be read by going to www.ColetteHarrell.com. I will provide my calendar of events, book excerpts, and current works on the website . My blog will also be accessed through the web site. I have developed a fictional character by the name of Mother Maku Sweat, and her husband is Bishop Mo Sweat. She’s a feisty evangelist full of the wisdom of the ages. I plan to have Mother Sweat’s video advice column on my website as well.
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Publisher: Urban Books (June 24, 2014)
Paperback: 288 pages
Shipping Weight: 0.2 ounces
Danyelle Scroggins author of Not Until You're Ready presents: In The Living Room with Pastor Danyelle the place where you'll fine the testimonies of God's Daughters.