The Cross & the Pen: Author Michael Morris
- Friday, October 08, 2004
Welcome to “The Cross & the Pen,” Crosswalk.com’s author-to-author interview column!
Months ago I received a press kit and book titled "A Place Called Wiregrass," by Michael Morris along with an invitation to meet Michael and chat a bit at CBA’s (Christian Booksellers Association) International Convention. Well, I have to be honest with you. I just couldn’t read the book in time; I could get through the press kit, sure, but just simply couldn’t read the book.
But, I was intrigued enough to set up an interview because, well, both Michael and I are Southerners and there’s just nothing better to one Southerner than to chat with another. So, I arranged a meeting and began by apologizing for not being able to read the book beforehand. Michael, with gracious charm, said he completely understood.
Then, I read the book … and let me tell ya! This is one good novel! So, Michael Morris, this is for you, my friend. Excellent work! Excellent!
Eva Marie: Michael, your book is about a subject I still have some trouble reading about. Battered wives. Most people don’t know this, but I was once a battered wife (by my first husband, not my present husband) so …
Michael: Oh … yeah.
Eva Marie: I can’t imagine writing about it, really. You say that as a child you watched your mother being abused.
Michael: Mmm hmm.
Eva Marie: How do you reach past the agony and the heartache … the hurt and pain … to be able to write something on this subject matter?
Michael: For me it was therapeutic. My mom and I were in a domestic abuse situation with my biological father. We left when I was almost six and lived next door to my grandparents in the same small town. They protected us when he was still trying to stalk us and continued to batter me, but she ended up gaining full custody. She then married the man I consider to be my dad because he raised me and gave me love. We moved forward and never really talked about the past.
It wasn’t until I was in my early 30s that I realized I had a desire to write and should do something with that. I also don’t believe that God brings us through the rough times just to sit up on the mountains and wipe our brow. It was then that I came up with the character Erma Lee Jacobs (and the other characters like Miss Claudia and Cher), who don’t have the family support like my mama and I had.
After I wrote the novel, I let my mama read it. She was a little nervous at first because I think she thought it was gonna be her. Her first reaction was, “This is good …” and her second was, “Well, this isn’t me at all!” I said, “No, Mama. I told you it wasn’t you. It is fiction. Erma Lee is based on women I knew growing up in the rural south.” Then she said, “You know, to your father we were nothing more than property.” This sent a chill down my spine because I had so often thought the same thing. As you know, at the center of abuse, is the issue of control.
Eva Marie: Absolutely. My first novel also takes place in the South. One of the things I found was — because I was raised as a Southerner and within a strong Southern family — the things that are natural to me aren’t natural to everyone else. I literally had to “go home” and attempt to look at everything as a stranger in order to see life in the South through different eyes. How did you capture the essences of the South?
Michael: Trying to capture the vernacular was important to me because I think … the way my grandfather who is 94 will sling a phrase is still so different from the way I speak. It’s just a different generation. I see a lot of that dying out. Satellite TV and things like that, younger people from the South feel like they have to speak that way in order to be accepted. In the end, I think we whitewash who we are.
Eva Marie: And there is that misconception that we’re stupid.
Eva Marie: And we’re not stupid at all.
Michael: No we’re not.
Eva Marie: But how do you write the vernacular and the feel of … there’s a much slower feel. You know, I now live in the city of Orlando and people say, ‘Well you still live in the South.’ And I say, ‘No, you have to go north to get south of here!’
Michael: That’s right!
Eva Marie: How did you capture that without making us appear to be mentally slow? Because, Michael, we’re not! The women in the South are very strong women.
Michael: They are very strong. I think I show that through their determination. I grew up with strong women. My mother, obviously very strong, my grandmother, my aunt. I drew from them to form my characters. Because it’s almost like the three of them were one person. They had a unique bond.
Eva Marie: Your first book is about domestic violence. What about your second book?
Michael: "The Slow Way Home" is about a little boy named Brandon Willard who is eight years old. It takes place in the early '70s. Brandon goes to live with his grandparents on a farm north of Raleigh, North Carolina when his mother abandons him. He’s on this farm for two and a half years. It’s very stable. Has this extended family of cousins. Then his mother shows up and wants him back. The grandparents refuse and end up fleeing with him to a fishing town on the panhandle of Florida where an African-American pastor named Sister Delores has a lasting impression on him.
Eva Marie: How did you research that?
Michael: I worked with a family court judge in North Carolina and a social worker. She gave me some real knowledge of how a child might feel in a situation like that. Both of my novels are similar in that they show how community steps in and helps. They both end in hope. I don’t like to read depressing novels and I can promise you I don’t intend to write any.
Eva Marie: Did you pull from any real life stories within this book?
Michael: Sure. When I was little my grandmother used to have me name all the people who loved me before I would take a nap. I didn’t realize what she was doing at the time, but now I think “What a wise, wise woman.” So, in "The Slow Way Home," Brandon’s grandmother does the same thing, reminding him that he is loved.
Eva Marie: And for children, no matter what their position in life; feeling love is so very important.
For more information about Michael Morris and his work, you can go to www.michaelmorrisbooks.com
Eva Marie Everson is the very busy author of fiction works like "Shadow of Dreams", "Summon the Shadows", and "Shadows of Light" and nonfiction works like "Intimate Encounters with God" and "Intimate Moments with God." To find out more about having Eva Marie come to speak to your group, please visit www.evamarieeverson.com. Eva Marie and husband Dennis have been happily married for over 25 years.
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