As an author she has published two award-winning poetry collections (Collapsed and Divine Nepotism) and is the author of three additional books, including the celebrated Christian fiction "Gospel" series. Her last novel, Interruption: The Gospel According to Crystal Justine, is a dynamic and compelling exploration of the role of generational curses in one young woman's pursuit of love and destiny. In the Fall of 2011, Tracey's first non-fiction project will be published by Beacon Hill Press and is titled, The Integrated Church: Strategies for Multicultural Ministry.
Lewis’ writing has also been published in local, regional, and national publications such as Philadelphia Weekly, Legacy Magazine, African American Career World, and Workplace Diversity. This Louisville, KY native and Philadelphia resident is a regular blogger and also co-penned the critically acclaimed stage play, KHEPERA, which ran off-Broadway in 2002.
You can learn more about Lewis and her works by visiting her on Facebook and by checking out her official website.
Interruption: The Gospel According to Crystal Justine by Tracey Michae'l Lewis-Giggetts is the long awaited sequel to 2004's The Gospel According to Sasha Renee. It is the second book in the Gospel trilogy. Each book examines the deeply rooted issues that have plagued three generations of women in one family.
The story is a fascinating journey through the life of Crystal Justine (CJ), a young woman who has, for most of her life, been erroneously compared to her mother, Sasha Renee. Even as she struggles to escape the image and legacy of this enigma of a woman, she finds herself unconsciously acting out her mother's (and grandmother's) past mistakes. Her relationships with men, although few and far between, is tainted by the thing she cannot say; and her faith is weakened by the emotional and spiritual blows she endures. This dynamic story of deliverance keeps readers, page by page, on the edge of their proverbial seats, wondering if CJ will simply succumb to the darkness that has chased her soul for as long as she could remember or if she will be the one to finally put an end to the generational curse that has tried to consume her family.
In your opinion, what are the ingredients to making a great character?
As a teacher of writing, I've always been a proponent of detailed, character development. That is also, I hope, reflected in my writing. I love to play inside a character’s head. I want to know them deeply and intimately. It's important to me that characters in a story are not only identifiable but layered. In other words, protagonists who are all good and antagonists that are all bad make one very boring story...no matter how good the premise or plot happens to be. Think about it. Inherent to conflict is the tension created between right and wrong; the ambiguity between the right choice or the wrong choice for a character. If a protagonist always make the right choice…or at least, the obvious, predictable one…then what kind of tension will that create in the reader? What will keep them turning the page?
Even extreme heroes and bad guys have layers. The good girl with a mean streak. The bad boy with a big heart. These are simplified examples but the point is, these unexpected aspects to their personality make them interesting and real; reveals their true nature and keeps the reader unsuspecting of their next move. A good writer can expose these layers via the situations they place their character in or by slowly unveiling a character’s past experiences; peeling back each layer like an onion until the reader reaches the core. An excellent writer will do this under the radar. This is when the reader finds themselves drawn to a bad character or conflicted by a good character “for some reason” they can’t put their finger on.
Who is your favorite character from someone else's work and why?
Gosh, I don’t think I could ever name just one favorite out of all the books I’ve read in my life. There are so many to choose from. Recently, however, I’ve fallen in love with Easter Bartlett from Bernice McFadden’s “Glorious”, Chloe from Lyah Beth LeFlore’s “Wildflowers”, Ariadne from Tayari Jones’ “The Untelling”, and Lizzie from Ntozake Shange and Ifa Bayeza’s “Some Sing, Some Cry.” That’s quite I few, I know. But I think the common thread in all of these characters is the fact that they are multi-dimensional. The writers were able to develop the personalities of each character fully and completely while remaining true to the story. Each layer of their personalities, while influenced by their circumstances, gave me insight into who they were authentically and why they make the choices they do in the story. These writers created a balance between what was presented early on to me (as the reader) about the characters and what I would discover about them as the book progressed. That way, I never felt like I could predict a character’s every move or response but at the same time they weren’t disjointed and ultimately, confusing.
Who is your favorite character from one of your works and why?
My current favorite is a character named Chad O’Donahue in the book I’m currently working on. He was the ultimate challenge for me—which probably speaks to why I like him so much. Chad is a 40-something, White, Southern-born, Midwest-bred, Harvard-educated, racist, right-wing, conservative political pundit. Yep. He tested me, for sure. LOL! But he is my favorite character because he challenged me to do exactly what I noted in the first question: Create layers. He couldn’t be some cut and dry, one-dimensional, Rush Limbaugh-esque character or most of my audience would hate him. I had to give the reader a peek into his history; an honest and somewhat emotionally driven view of his contradictions. If I can turn him from the character that every reader “loves to hate” to the one they “hate to love,” then I’ve done my job. We’ll see. :)
From Interruption: The Gospel According to Crystal Justine...
Although he was a minister no one could deny the swagger and charm that seemed to be innate to Rev. Noah Alexander. His walk was confident. His talk was profound if not prophetic and his eyes smoldered with a kind of deep understanding that kept those who followed his ministry captivated by his every word. So many people found themselves saying, “There is something about him!” and even more found their lives changed forever by some great word that flowed almost effortlessly from his mouth.
On the flipside, there were those who called him arrogant and believed that the over the top bravado that sometimes seeped out when he dealt with his staff was a sign that his so-called “anointing” was just a false spirit that covered great insufficiencies and even greater insecurities. Traits that otherwise would be laid bare if wasn’t for his even greater ability to address the basic needs of his audience. But these naysayers were in the minority. Most folks regarded Rev. Noah very simply as a charismatic preacher with a whole lot to say about the way the world treated the “least of these.” This was certainly not a bad thing in and of itself. In any case, he was admired by people near and far for his mission work in South America and after a week of being in Bahia, C.J. couldn’t help but hear mention of the name of this man and his ministry from every local she’d met.
“God is doing great things for His people!”
A combination of Portuguese Sim’s, Spanish Si’s, and English Amen’s filled the air giving new meaning to speaking in tongues.
“The only thing that He requires of you is that you believe. Your faith is what makes you whole.”
Another rousing praise goes up.
“Remember the woman with an issue of blood?”
“She had an issue!”
“We all have issues right?”
“But what did she do? She presses her way through the crowd. How many of you have had to press your way through.”
“She pressed her way through and believed that if she could just touch the hem of Jesus’ garment she’d be healed.”
“How many of you have that kind of faith? That outrageous, right now kind of faith!”
“So do I.”
“Well stand up and give God some praise. Praise Him like you believe Him. Praise Him like all you need is the hem of his garment.”
The tent service was held in Liberdade in what locals called lower city, one of the more impoverished areas of the state. Two groups were in attendance at the service. The first were former Spiritists who’d held on to the religion of their ancestors and had worshipped the Orisha gods of West Africa. They were driven to the service by the energy of the worship that was so reminiscent of their own services and yet were held there by the foreign idea of there being only one God. The other group were life-long Catholics that were skeptical of this charismatic form of Christianity and yet were also drawn to the powerful preaching and singing of the services. To C.J., it looked like Rev. Noah had them all on the verge of conversion.
The crowd stood up immediately; clapping their hands, stomping their feet, and dancing in the aisle. Some of the regulars laid prostrate at in the makeshift altar that had been built at the front of the tent. Energy filled the air as the worship reached a fever pitch.
C.J was definitely attracted to the service; at least the spectacle of it. She found herself fascinated by how people could have such a blind faith in an unseen God. Sure, it was familiar to her. She could possible forget about those times when she was a child and shared her own child-like trust in Him. Yet, in that moment she didn’t feel privy to the secret that they all seemed to share. The secret that fed their belief. All she knew was that the people in that tent prayed earnestly. They were seeking something and this man, this preacher, seemed to have the answer.
It pricked something in her as she watched the mothers and fathers with their children stand in line waiting to be prayed over by the “man of God.” It reminded her of her Aunt Kara and the bottle of olive oil that she kept in her purse. Anointing Oil she called it.
“So much it did for her,” C.J. whispered to herself.
As she stared at the bodies that had fallen in slow motion to the ground after being only briefly touched by the hands of the preacher, she couldn’t deny that her spirit was being pulled. In what direction, though, she was not certain.
With her heart beating in sync with the frenetic rhythms of the drummer who provided the soundtrack to the service, CJ desperately wanted to escape the emotions that were building up inside of her and so she did what she did best. She wrote. Slowly at first then faster and faster, C.J. dumped everything that she thought and felt onto the pages of the leather bound journal that she always carried with her. After releasing her own madness, she turned the attention of her pen to the service. She wrote about the young, Portuguese-speaking mother with rich, brown skin and large, walnut shaped eyes, who sat two rows ahead of her earlier and who was now spread out face down on the ground. Two elderly women, whose faces were lined like maps, stood on either side of the woman, waving fans over her head and consoling her children who obviously had not seen Mommy slain before and didn’t like it too much. C.J. also wrote about the last man standing in the prayer line whose eyes spoke of hunger even before one ever noticed the frailty of his frame.
The preacher continued his loud praying, speaking with a vibrato that seemed to resonate throughout the crowd and calling out for more to come to the altar. C.J. matched the urgency of his call by writing so feverishly that her pen broke through the pages on multiple occasions.
Three hours later, the service came to a formal end despite the fact that many people were still standing around praying and talking with each other. C.J. closed her journal and stood up. She headed to the back of the tent somewhat relieved that the experience was over and yet feeling like she couldn’t leave. The reporter in her wanted to interview every single person there in order to get a sense of what it was that moved them so powerfully as if the sweat on her own brow and the ink on her hands weren’t answers enough.
As she followed a group of people who were walking along the same small road that led back to the open air taxi that would take her back to her guesthouse, C.J. saw two men with ruddy complexions and dressed in black suits approaching her. Her first thought was that they were brothers.
C.J. never stopped walking. She clearly remembered the instructions of the program coordinator to never go anywhere alone; to always take a partner. In this moment, she wished that she had listened.
Surprised that she didn’t stop when they called out to her, the two men turned around and caught up with C.J., each walking alongside her. She gripped her journal and keys tighter, nervous about their sudden close proximity.
She felt the hand graze her elbow and her body went cold. She jumped.
“M’am. I’m sorry. I didn’t mean to scare you,” said one red-brown brother.
“You were just moving so fast,” said the other.
C.J. stopped and considered her options. No one walking by them seemed to notice anything wrong. Maybe it was nothing. The taller brother broke her train of thought.
“Rev. Noah would like to speak with you.”