INTERVIEW | Cheri Paris Edwards

Cheri, describe yourself for our visitors.

At age 51, I am in college, completing my Bachelor’s degree. I will graduate in the fall and have applied to grad school. It is my plan to earn a Master’s Degree in English with a concentration in Creative Writing. I’d like to teach part-time at the Community College level and to coordinate and facilitate writing workshops for ‘at-risk’ youth. And, of course I expect to continue to write fiction. I am also considering writing a non-fiction offering examining educational practices and theory that might best benefit ‘at-risk’ youth.

I enjoy working with youth and this year I tutored 15 or so hours per week at the Champaign area middle school and high school for a District-wide program called AVID. I enjoy gospel, jazz, oldies, and neo-soul music. I am the mother to two young men who I have parented mostly on my own. One is 17 and the other 27.

How do you find time to connect with God?

I attend church weekly (most of the time), study the Word and meditate twice daily or more depending on my time, need and stress level (lol). During this time I pray, practice deep breathing and just enjoy the silence. I also enjoy walking outside and often think about God, pray or just enjoy the glory of his creation in nature during these times.

However, it’s important for me to point out that my initial relationship with God did not happen in a church. I sought, found and experienced Him on my own, because for a long time I had difficulty finding connection in a church environment. The practice of spending personal time with God is now an ingrained habit.

Tell us about your journey to publication.

Though I’ve written all my life I had no aspirations to be a published writer. To tell the truth, once I became a parent, I spent a great deal of my life ‘trying to survive’ as folks say. I was raising my children with very little financial resources and that left no time to dream about ‘who’ or ‘what’ I wanted to be. One summer while working for the school district, there was a death in the usual off-season employment. I was laid off; frustrated and fearful because I didn’t know or how I would make ends meet. Luckily I qualified for unemployment and fueled by a sort of desperation driven by a determination to never be in that situation again, I put together a non-fiction book out of some writings I’d been piddling around with for a while. I sent it to a couple publishers I’d found online and they rejected me, but suggested that I find a publisher specializing in Christian themes.

I found and chose Denise Stinson from an online site, because she was African-American and lived the nearest to me. She too, rejected the work, but she did it in a phone call and asked if I’d ever attempted fiction writing. I had not, but hung up the phone and finished a novel in a couple months. It was rejected as well. I shelved it after realizing it was really just a thinly disguised bio and that fall wrote the core of “Plenty Good Room,” then titled “LoveWalkin’” After an unexpected health scare and surgery, I got back to the work in January, finished it in March and sent it to Denise. She rejected it again.

Frustrated, I was ready to quit, but gave the manuscript to a couple people to read and they liked it. So, I worked on my narrative, though at that time, I didn’t know that’s what it was called (lol). Finally, in the summer I submitted three chapters to the online Christian editing service called the “Writer’s Edge.” About two weeks later I got a call from Denise and she had seen the title in a newsletter sent out to Christian publishers by this agency. I told her she had rejected it before but that I’d worked on it since then and she asked that I resubmit it. About 8 weeks later she made an offer on the manuscript. In that call, she told me the day she saw my title was her first time ever looking at that newsletter. What a blessing, huh?

Finally, I believe the term “emerging writer” describes me well. I’d not taken any classes, nor was a part of any writing group before writing “Plenty Good Room.” Being in school has been a blessing since it’s allowed me to increase my writing vocabulary and become more efficient in using words in general. I am always seeking to grow as a writer, and my personal goals as a fiction writer are to become more distinct in my voice and to develop greater clarity in my narrative writing.

Tell us about your current book?

“Plenty Good Room” is a story of love, hope and faith. Protagonist Tamara Britton finds all three when she grudgingly takes in a challenging young woman while working as a Child Welfare Specialist at the Care for Kids Agency. Pressed out of her comfort zone, the girl serves as a catalyst to emotions Tamara had repressed. Needing support and guidance to handle the feisty young lady, Tamara is moved into closer relationships with co-workers, with foster parent Denise Jackson and with Sienna’s teacher Isaiah Perry. And, though badly behaved a good deal of the time, it is teen Sienna’s abiding Christian faith that introduces Tamara to a relationship with God. A touch of mystery adds intrigue and the elements combine to comprise a story fashioned to celebrate the power of love and illustrate that God is always orchestrating ‘behind the scenes’ in our lives.

“Plenty Good Room” was originally published in hardcover in 2005, and is in over 400 libraries nationwide in that edition. It is also available in over 100 libraries in the Recorded Books published CD and cassette form. A wonderful actress narrates the book and it was much easier for me to listen to than to read! Now, it is available in the more affordable Trade Paper edition, under new cover that celebrates the humor and friendship infused in the storyline.

How did you come up with ideas for your current release?

As a writer, I first desire to tell a story in an entertaining manner so that it might engage the reader. The core of “Plenty Good Room” is the manifestation of my inner wrestling about love. Young people I met in foster care while working as a Community Outreach Worker in a large middle school environment, inspired me to use the child care setting for the story. It seemed a great way to bring attention to the social issue while allowing me to explore through the story how abuse and rejection might impact an individual’s ability and/or desire to love. Additionally, as a Christian I wanted to create a story that would allow me to submit God as the ultimate coping strategy for life’s difficulties.

What’s next for you?

“In My Father’s House” is the tentative title of my next work. It is a contemporary family drama, infused with humor that explores themes of forgiveness, within the framework of a “Prodigal Daughter” storyline.

Where can visitors find you online?