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 – you definitely have some variety in your life, but let’s 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-so’s 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 – 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 Essie’s Roses. Besides the memories of armfuls of books from the bookmobile, reading with my mom, baking Christmas cookies with her, and listening to my dad’s 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 mom’s 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 Essie’s Roses. I couldn’t fathom sewing. I’m in awe of this talent—I don’t have.
FQ: I did discover that besides being a writer, you’re 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 time… still is…every aspect of it. All I ever wanted was to make a living at what I loved and studied, and I did. It’s an insane profession, as 90% of the time you hear ‘no’. 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 children’s television series I have developed. So it’s not over…maybe someday. For now, I’m concentrating on my writing, but if the right opportunity arises of course I’m in.
FQ: Moving on to the writing side of things – when did you first begin? What caused you to choose this as a career?
MURIEL: I’ve been writing stories, songs, and poetry since I was a kid. I’ve 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 Missouri…it 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) Essie’s Roses – would you share how the idea for this book came to you?
MURIEL: Thank you! I’m so pleased you and so many others are enjoying this story. I developed the story of Essie’s Roses first as a screenplay. Essie’s 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 Monster’s Ball initially inspired me. During the interview, I heard this statement, “It took seventy-four years for an African-American to win an Oscar for Best Actress.” This statement really affected me.
A few minutes later, the first scene for Essie’s Roses popped into my head. I was working on other projects at the time, so I said aloud, “I’m not paying attention to you.” The way I am and how I work, I knew if I did, it would be dedicated hours of getting it out on the page…and I had never written a novel!
Next, I heard the first line, “This be the day Evie set me free.” 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 Essie’s Roses, what was your end goal for the story? Did it turn out the way you planned/expected?
MURIEL: It’s funny, when I develop a story I have a basic premise, usually hear dialogue, a few characters’ names and traits come. I hear their voices and start to develop relationships. And I always get the first line and the ending. It’s very strange. It happened with this next novel I’m writing. But it’s 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 book’s ending down and hide it until I’m ready to look at it again so it doesn’t influence me and the story can flow where it wishes. I’m 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 Essie’s Roses – one that would maybe focus on the children of these two women?
MURIEL: Many readers have asked about a sequel to Essie’s Roses. I think it’s 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 Essie’s 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. I’m 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 I’m hopeful it will find the right opportunity at the right time.
FQ: Lastly, is there anything else that you’d like your fan base to know about you and/or your writing?
MURIEL: I’m thankful for my readers. They have welcomed me with grace and I’m thrilled people are enjoying Essie’s Roses. I would love readers to visit my website or Facebook page and say hello. The book trailer and paperback for Essie’s Roses will be out soon. It is no small thing when a reader and reviewer (thank you!) share how much they enjoyed Essie’s 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, I’m compelled to write stories that encourage others. It won’t always be pretty, but I have always believed and experienced stories have a powerful way of reaching into people’s souls. We all want to feel something when we invest our time in reading a book. Sometimes it’s 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 us—that is the magic and privilege of writing.
Charline, thank you for your wonderful questions!
To learn more about Essie's Roses please read the review at: Feathered Quill Book Reviews.