JoeyPinkney.com Exclusive Interview
5 Minutes, 5 Questions With…
Dedra Muhammad, author of Making Mary
(Rising South Literacy School)
Making Mary provides keen observation of the human condition. The story, based in actual fact and masterfully told, has two major settings: 1920s Escambia County, Florida, and Pontiac, Michigan.
It is both a romance novel and a chronicle of the social conditions of a “dead” people, told from the point of view of an omniscient narrator who is steeped in understanding of human and social cycles, especially as they relate to familial struggles.
Joey Pinkney: Where did you get the inspiration to write Making Mary?
Dedra Muhammad: I never aspired to be a writer. Still today, my mother continues to caution me that I should be sure to read more than I write and listen more than I talk.
Back in the 80’s, I learned some interesting facts about my great grandparents. I became inspired to learn more. When I did, I wanted the story told. I realized the story would benefit people worldwide, yet it would never be told unless I learned how to write it myself.
Some of the history revealed may be considered shameful to many. Therefore, this history had purposely been swept under the rug. Even I struggled with how I could tell the story and leave my family out of it. This delayed the publication of Making Mary for years.
JP: What sets Making Mary apart from any other love story regardless of time, race and gender?
DM: Making Mary is outwardly guised as a breathtaking love story. The love triad serves to navigate the sensibilities of the reader. The reader is compelled to fall in love with the characters. In fact, the passion readers possess for the extraordinarily well-developed characters gives the other themes unimaginable strength.
Making Mary can be called the greatest love story ever because readers have probably never experienced the character depth in other stories. How can one fall in love with someone they don’t truly know?
How Stella got her Groove Back, though entertaining, pales in comparison to the ardor and profundity present in Making Mary. This is not to subtract from the former. It is to suggest that readers are more privy to the whys in Making Mary. Readers are hence propelled to find solutions to their own every day struggles since they can identify with the seemingly most vicious villains in Making Mary or that part of self we tend to hide from others.
The Best Man can be considered a love story. Making Mary is more than a love story. A story of love is told, and that story happens to be the most heart wrenching story I’ve ever read in my life. Yet to describe it as a love story alone would be misleading. Making Mary is like The Secret in the sense that there is a crystal clear connect when a reader is engaged in the story. I know right away if one has thumbed through it versus reading it. Some book club representatives have thumbed through it and went so far as to write reviews based on skimming.
To make it plain, I sometimes describe Making Mary as a love story to capture the attention of readers who are accustomed to a particular genre. Making Mary is thus quite palatable to those who like Zane, Eric Jerome Dickey, and Terri McMillan. Nonetheless, she can sit on any book shelf next to the likes of the great Richard Wright, Zora Neal Hurston, Charlotte Bronte’s Jane Eyre, and Langston Hughes, and all would be in good company.
Jane Eyre is a riveting love story, if you will. Nonetheless the history and themes are so powerful that it is considered required reading in plenty of honors literature courses. Though entertaining, Waiting to Exhale is not the type of literature I would expect my English professor would have the class discuss as a group. Terri McMillan obviously did not mean it for that purpose.
Some critics have stated that Making Mary should be considered required reading in an array of fields. They have not made this claim because it is considered merely the most compelling love story of all times. What is noteworthy by God’s Grace is that Making Mary appeals to a wide audience. This “love story” has captured the hearts of incarcerated males, females with doctorates, single mothers with a high school education, guys who typically read urban fiction, Harvard English graduates, male Caucasian teachers, working class Caucasian women, and many more.
JP: As an author, what are the keys to your success that led to Making Mary getting out to the public?
DM: I cannot say I have been satisfactorily successful in getting Making Mary out to the public. When Making Mary was published in 2005, one newspaper editor refused to consider it for review. He said, “To be honest with you (based on the cover), this looks like another story about a man beating up on his wife or girlfriend.” With that being said, I drifted into a fearful shell and marketing ceased. Eventually, there was a spattering of book signings and speaking engagements which equaled rekindled enthusiasm.
During a tour in Detroit, after an October domestic violence awareness month campaign, I faced that one guy (or girl) beating up on his/her lover is one too many, and victims are so because they are silent. Here again, Making Mary isn’t a story about violence, but that is one of the themes. Since violence is one of the issues that was swept under my family’s rug, it has been easy to sweep away the marketing efforts. Today, since Making Mary has been described as a masterpiece, it is incumbent upon me to now learn how to do a better job marketing.
There are challenges I face. The fact that my last name is Muhammad and my book has a spiritual title, many reviewers may turn away. Therefore, I have decided to use a grass root technique. I plan to do my best to put the book in the hands of the common people and let word of mouth be a major marketing tool for me.
JP: As an author, what is your writing process? How long did it take you to start and finish Making Mary?
DM: It took quite some time to write Making Mary due to the fact that in the midst of writing, I went on a sabbatical. As I developed emotionally and spiritually, I had to reevaluate my words and even stop for months at a time to pray about if I was going in the right direction. In essay writing and in general, I find it important to always start with the end in mind.
JP: What’s next for Dedra Muhammad?
DM: I have a few surprises. I am trying to establish my self-discipline to ensure that some things I see in my mind’s eye can come into fruition. And even though I eventually want to do another novel, if it pleases God, it is very important that I stay focused on the marketing of my current “critically acclaimed” masterpiece.