Sunday, January 11, 2009

TAKE TEN: Author Roishina Clay Henderson

After dreaming about being an author since she was nine years old, Mississippi native Roishina Clay Henderson is now living that dream to the fullest. Her first novel Make Me Whole debuted in December 2008 and is already getting rave reviews. A former journalist with The Clarion-Ledger, she now lives in Atlanta, Ga., with her husband and son. Henderson talked with Conversations Book Club President Cyrus A. Webb about her book, the experience of being published and her advice for others who wish to do the same.

Roishina, it is so good to talk with you. It's hard to believe that we first met some nine years ago when you were interviewing me about my involvement in the Arts. At that time you were working for the State of Mississippi's largest daily newspaper. Did you have any idea at that time that you would be eventually on the other side promoting your own work?
First, let me say ‘thank you’ for the opportunity to talk about my debut novel, Make Me Whole! To answer your question: I did know that I would eventually be on the other side promoting my own. I just didn’t know when it would happen. I’ve dreamed of being an author since I was nine years old.

Your book Make Me Whole is an enjoyable story that I believe both men and women will be drawn to. What brought about the three main characters and were you surprised yourself as their personalities began to come forth to you?
The three main characters are Jacky, Neicy and Cee-Cee. For those who haven’t read the book yet, Jacky is the financially-challenged, care-free spirit. Neicy is the married woman who still likes attention from other men. And Cee-Cee is the homemaker who mistreats her loving and devoted husband. Now, Jacky was conceived about two years ago, and Neicy and Cee-Cee came when I finally got focused on writing the story— which was November 2007. I’m a little surprised at how their personalities unfolded before me. I wrote what I felt God gave me to write, and their personalities just came to life as I was writing.

This is your first book, and I hear authors say all the time that they like to bring themselves into their work at times. Make Me Whole has many slivers of your own life in it. Was this intentional or just the way it unfolded?
I can relate to each of the characters, but their lives are not based on my life. The story just unfolded on its own as I prayed to God and meditated on how the story should pan out. God gave me the story three chapters at a time.

One thing that struck me was that you had three voices coming forth in the book, letting the reader into their individual personalities. I have to ask as you were writing the book which one of the ladies were you more drawn to because of shared experiences?
I would say there’s really two, and that’s Jacky and Cee-Cee. Jacky is a newspaper journalist who was ready for a career change. I’m a former journalist who can relate to that. And Cee-Cee is independent, strong-willed and won’t be fully satisfied until she gets what she wants. Cee-Cee was once career-minded before getting married and having a family. I think my shared experiences with these characters are simply womanhood and just dealing with everyday life issues.

To me one of the most profound statements in the book came not from one of the main characters, but Bishop Solomon. He said "You don't have to go back home the way you came because God has heard your cries and your pleas for help. Many of you are going to leave here with...situations worked out and a renewed faith to go a little bit further because you understand that God is carrying you through today and forever more! (p.193)" That is deep. It proved to be true for your characters. How have you seen it to be true in your own life?
I’ve been at that place where I was at my lowest low and struck with depression. I didn’t think God heard me, and sometimes I didn’t feel I was worthy of God’s love. And quite frankly, I was upset with God about some things on how I felt what direction my life should’ve gone in. But I thank God that He didn’t take His hands off me. So in time, I was encouraged to press a little further. And when I looked back, those valleys of life had only drawn me closer to God and renewed an awesome faith in Him. Now, I’m at a permanent place in my life where nobody or nothing can take me away from God or from knowing that God is my rock, my source of peace, protection, blessings and joy.

Roishina, this year I had the pleasure of interviewing bestselling authors Reshonda Tate Billingsley and Victoria Christopher Murray: both are powerful wordsmiths with great support. Both told me that although their work carries an inspiring message, they don't like to call what they write Christian Fiction. I noticed, however, that on your website you embrace that as your genre. Can you tell us why, and if there was any hesitation knowing that some who might benefit from your book won't pick it up because of the label and stereotype that is sometimes associated with those titles as being preachy and condemning?
I don’t feel I picked Christian Fiction. I wrote what God gave me, and I think it fits into the Christian Fiction genre. I pray that it won’t prevent someone from picking up my book, because I want people to be encouraged. And I really believe people will be blessed from reading about these characters. They’re not perfect and have human flaws.

Let's turn for a moment to the business element of writing. With hundreds of books literally being released every week, how did you prepare to have your book stand out from the rest?
I worked with an amazing designer who produced my book cover. I adore the cover, and it’s something that would make me stop to read if I saw something like it in a bookstore. As far as the story that I’ve written, I was a willing vessel for God to pour in. You can never go wrong when you allow Him to use you. Also, I haven’t read any fiction books that tell about the Church of God in Christ (COGIC) convocation experience that actually takes place every November in Memphis, Tennessee. The book is fiction, but many of the details, events and places are real. So, I’m hoping that church experience will make the book stand out a little more.

Now that the book has been out a few weeks at this point, can you tell us what it is like to be doing interviewing such as this and promoting something that you birthed into the world and now others have a chance to appreciate?
This feels so wonderful!!! I’m looking forward to more opportunities like these to let people know that my work is out there. I truly feel blessed, and I’m really proud of my first novel. I want to share it with the world.

I can't let you go without giving advice to those reading your interview who might have a book in them but fear the work that goes into making it successful. What would you tell them, and then as a twist, what would Jacky, Denise and Prescilla tell them?
I would say to don’t let another day go by without making your dreams become a reality! If you only write 50-100 words a day or even a week, start somewhere. Just start and watch how your motivation will pick up! Drop that fear off in 2008 and pick up boldness and determination in 2009!

As for my characters and their advice:
· I can see Jacky saying: Don’t be like me—the queen of procrastination! I spent six years in and out of college; I may not be the right one to talk to! But hey! Put your imagination down on paper!
· Neicy would say: Is he cute??? Wait a minute. You asked about writing a book? Write until your heart is content and kick down that door that leads to success!
· Cee-Cee would say: A book, huh? You know I have a career background in marketing! Get started with writing TODAY, and I’ll be your marketing coach! I need something to do besides sitting comfortably in my 6,000 square feet home!

Thanks again, Roishina for a great book and an even greater conversation. If my readers want to find out more about you online, how can they do so?
Please visit my Web site at Order my book and send me an email! I would like to hear from readers! And book clubs?! I’m available to meet with you! Thanks for this opportunity, Cyrus! I enjoyed this!

1 comment:

Rhonda McKnight said...

Nice interview, Roi. Looking forward to reading the book!