A native of St. Louis, Michele Andrea Bowen began writing stories as a child, and her experiences growing up gave her insight concerning all of the possibilities for telling great stories about regular folk who go to church and love the Lord.
Michele was educated in the St. Louis Public School system in segregated schools. she then went on to earn her Bachelor and two Master’s degrees from Washington University in St. Louis. And she also furthered her education by earning graduate degrees in United States History and Public Health from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. she has worked as a social worker in mental health and child abuse, a program coordinator in health care, and instructor at the undergraduate level. she also worked at Barnes and Noble Books, a job that offered considerable experience with the retail side of the book world.
Michele currently lives in Durham, North Carolina with her daughters. they are members of St. Joseph’s AME Church.
I was on my way to becoming a history professor when the writing bug really hit me and I started writing what was the rough draft of my first novel, Church Folk. I originally titled this book the Missionary Ladies but quickly came up with Church Folk after my good friend, Dr. Valerie Kaalund, a professor at UNC-Chapel Hill, took one look at that title, frowned and said, NO. NO
I became a writer and subsequently an author, when Church Folk became the third book in an African American Christian Fiction line of books under a new Warner Books Imprint called Walk Worthy Press in June 2001. I was blessed beyond belief with the response to this outrageously funny book about black peepes who went to chutch. And since that time, I have published two other books with Warner, second Sunday (June 2003) and Holy Ghost Corner (September 2006).
I am currently writing a fourth book that continues with my tales of African American religious life and culture. Writing is a ministry for me. I love the Lord and I love writing about God and church life. it has been a tremendous blessing to reach so many people with my stories. I praise God for this. I can’t imagine writing in any other way.
From her website: she writes black Christian Fiction because that is what the Lord called her to write. And each novel is a venture into black church life and culture that she hopes will entertain, make you laugh out loud, inform, inspire, and hopefully encourage each reader to seriously think about what a wondrous thing it is to serve the Lord.
The following is an interview with Michele by Eric Brasley of Books of Soul conducted in November 2008.
- with each of your novels appearing on the Essence bestseller list, do you have any expectations for your next novel, Up at the College? do you expect any controversy that came with your first, Church Folk?
My prayer partners and I prayed over Up at the College. I asked God to bless this book, as I have for each of my books. My expectation is that the Lord was listening and answered our prayers.
As for any controversy.haven’t thought about it at all.
- Like most genres, Christian fiction can’t be lumped into a simple bag. are you stretching those boundaries? Or, are you writing something secular with a church setting? how would you classify your work?
I write Christian Fiction. I don’t write something secular with a church setting. I write as a ministry and I’m thankful that my stories crosses the lines, so that folks who read secular fiction will reach out and pick up a copy of one of my books. And I write what is placed in my heart, what appears to be a good project to pursue, and something that makes me crack up with laughter whenever I think about it.
- how have readers reacted to your success?
The readers have been a blessing and very encouraging and supportive. I am thankful for them. Many of them keep me lifted in prayer, some have prayed for me when I meet them, some have met me and just started laughing and said that I was funny and those books were something else.
When I was in Dallas, Texas at Cedar Valley Community College, a reader came up to me, hugged me and blessed me while we hugged. she prayed over me. That is not the first time this has happened. on another occasion, back in 2004, I was at the AME General Conference in Indianapolis, Indiana. A woman who worked in the maintenance department came over to us on her break and asked about my books, she was very interested but didn’t have the money at the time. We gave her a copy because there was something kind, honest, and warm about this lady. she thanked me, and then turned back and gave a blessing that floored us. I will never forget that experience. I could feel what she shared.
These are just two examples but this happens on a regular basis. And I get the laughter from readers all the time. they give testimonials about the people at their church. they also will tell folks that they need to read one of my books because they are very funny.
- from where do you find the inspiration for your stories? for your characters?
I find inspiration in events happening around me. I find inspiration in what folks share. I find inspiration in my own experiences.and I am inspired when I read the bible (lot of good stuff in the bible). as for the characters.I see so much in everyday life and find a lot of inspiration in some of the most unlikely places like the mall, grocery store, a church event.
If I see something that tickles me to no end, I use it to create a character. also, if someone has come through a serious storm and is still standing, I use that story or experience to create a character. the person who inspired me to create Baby Doll Henderson was actually a man, who used to be homeless. he lived under a bridge, has battled with crack/cocaine for years, and got saved, joined our church, and walks a hard road each and every day.
- do you have a favorite character?
I have a few favorite characters. Precious Powers and Rev. James (Church Folk); Sheba Cochran Wilson, George Wilson, and mr. Louis Loomis (Second Sunday); Baby Doll Henderson Lacy (Holy Ghost Corner).
These characters are my favorites because they are funny, sweet at times, very different with regard to their outlook on life, bold, unconventional, and have good hearts. My characters are true-to-life, only because they represent something that needs ‘reppin’ well. And I haven’t created anybody who I personally thought was too outlandish, even if some of them are very colorful at times
- how do you write? do you work in developing dialogue, characters, or scenes? are there any special challenges to writing your novels?
I write on the computer or laptop. I like to type. also, I prepare a synopsis and now, write a very detailed outline that provides comprehensive overview of entire book from start to finish, including characters.
- African American fiction and Christian fiction have experienced booming sales over the last few years. Publishers have certainly responded. do you have to do anything different than other authors to promote your novels because of the content?
Yes, I have to be aggressive about where to go and how to market the book. I look for those hidden markets that publishers may overlook because it’s outside of the main stream. I use the model of gospel artists. they go to the churches and places where they know their audience is in abundance, and trust that they will support them and their work–which they do. there is a very vibrant market of readers out there.you just have to know where to look, and have your heart right when you go to those places and to those potential readers because they don’t like mess and foolishness.
- do you have any tips for your fellow writers? Anything that has worked for you in writing, finding a publisher & agent, in promoting your book?
I think I’ll have to tailor this answer for budding writers of Christian Fiction. Be right with the Lord. Study God’s Word. Pray without ceasing. Be in church and fellowship with other Christians. Read, read, read, and write your story as you are led by the Lord to write it. Trust God in every phase of this endeavor, strive for excellence in your actual craft of writing, pray for direction, and ask questions of those who have come before you.