Rita Berry — Author Interview

 Marita Berry, affectionately nicknamed Rita, was born in St. Thomas, Virgin Islands. She and her family migrated to New York City in 1960 at the tender age of five years old. She is a self-published author who currently resides in New York City. She cherishes her family, exploring the meaning of life, chocolate, rainy days, salsa dancing, and meditation. 

Marita is most proud of raising two sons as a single parent into successful young men while continuing her education where she received a master’s degree in Social Work, and being a grandmother to two wonderful grandsons whom she says keeps her grounded. 

She loves to write in the genre of contemporary romance, coming-of-age stories and women literature. Her primary motive for writing is to share the stories she has encountered from listening to family and friends. She loves to entertain her readers with stories about strong, but flawed characters. 

Marita, thanks for taking the time to do this interview for my readers. I’d like to talk about your writing and your book RED SEPTEMBER, released in 2015.

KP. Red September is set on the island of Taino. The Taino were an Arawak people — the first to be encountered by Columbus on his 1492 voyage to the West Indies. Why did you choose this particular name for the island of Red September?

MB. I wanted to use a fictitious name and it seemed befitting that since the setting of my story takes place in the West Indies, Taino was sort of a homage to the indigenous people who lived there.

KP.  The cover of Red September is vibrant pastiche depicting a typical tropical idyllic scene — a woman in the foreground — she’s in a hammock hanging between coconut trees, a couple on the beach, a glorious sunset on the horizon. I didn’t see a credit for the cover. Could you tell us about its design, how much input you had, and did it reflect your vision of the story told in the novel?

MB. Well, actually, the cover is a combination of two photos. I chose them among several stocked pictures given to me from my publication company, IUniverse. It reflected my vision of the story perfectly!

KP. Was Red September written from a collective consciousness and memory recall, or did you have to research certain aspects of the book? What kind of research was needed and how much time did it take? What were your sources?

MB. Good question. Red September was inspired by my late mother – after listening to countless stories about her fascinating childhood experiences growing up on a small island in the West Indies. It was where she lived with no running water, nor electricity, and only the dirt roads on which she traveled. She was my muse, and her fearless life anecdotes sparked my interest to write this story about a dysfunctional family where the sorrows and afflictions experienced by the family are at the hands of the alcoholic, abusive, mother. Most of the research I did was through interviewing my mother, a couple of her childhood friends, and some family members. Other sources were the Internet where I googled islands in the West Indies to check out their moderate temperatures, foods, culture, lifestyles, etc. It took me five years to write this book.

KP.  Red September was self-published through iUniverse. Did you try traditional publishing houses before undertaking self-publishing? If so, what was your experience?

MB.  I chose to self-publish because I wanted to have full control over whatever I put pen to paper, and to create a book for the reader’s interest in a specific market, such as, local markets, my family and friends, book clubs, and social media. Of course, I would love to be signed by a traditional publishing house, but in the meantime, I want to establish a loyal fan base.

KP.  Can you tell us what the process was like to be published through iUniverse?

MB. The process was relatively easy. They work just like any other publishing franchise. Except you have to purchase a package deal, which can include anything from copyright registration, editorial evaluation, ISBN assignment, cover design, worldwide book distribution, and much more. The most important thing is that you get one-on-one-support throughout the entire process.

KP.  Red September is written in first person, which lends a powerful voice to the narrator. Is any of the book biographical? If so, please expand.

MB. Yes. I think as an author I tend to incorporate some real-life experiences in my stories. I also tend to observe other people in their everyday lives. I am not unlike any other author who understands that inside we’re no different – our humanities are the same. We all share feelings of sadness, loneliness, emptiness, grief, joy, pain, etc. I like to create a multi-dimensional image with my characters so that the reader can connect with, and perhaps see something in themselves. 

KP. Is there a central theme in Red September? Is there a particular message to the reader? What would you hope that your grandchildren can learn from the book?

MB. Yes. Red September is much more than a story of struggle and survival. It is also a love story with twists and turns of the heart. There are also other core themes throughout the book that I hope my readers can grasp: alcoholism, mental and physical abuse, betrayal, self-realization, hope and redemption. The message I want my grandchildren to take away from this book is the way one decision can alter the course of one’s life, and that sometimes you must embrace the things that you run from, even when it’s ugly, to avoid an even uglier outcome.

KP.  How long did it take you to write Red September and how long to get published? Has writing gotten any faster and easier for you since it was published?

MB. It took approximately five years to finish. Four years to write the book and about seven months to publish. I think my writing has become much easier, because I’ve just completed another novel, and I’m currently researching to write two more books simultaneously. 

KP. Was writing Red September cathartic in any way for you? If so, how and why?

MB. For me, writing started as a way of expressing the emotional experiences I encountered throughout my early twenties. I married young, was very naïve, and I was physically and emotionally abused by my husband. Like many victims, I became very angry when prompted to describe what may have caused my PTSD in the first place. So, I would journal my thoughts. The more I wrote, the better I felt. Despite the low points in my life, the overall objective was always onwards and upwards. PTSD affects people in different ways, but the fact that so many of my fans have had such enjoyment out of reading my book that came out of a bad experience in such an unexpected way has given me immense satisfaction.

KP.  Is there a favourite among all the chapters/ plot lines in Red September? Why is that?

MB. My favorite chapter is when the main character, Connie Brown meets Nathaniel Hart, who is visiting his family on the island from New York City. And the attraction between the two is immediate. I think young love is so beautiful and unadulterated. However, framing a love story as part of a bigger story was challenging. Although I wanted to focus primarily on the romance aspect of the two of them, I, also, needed to create a framework about human relationships that the readers could familiarize themselves with.

KP.  What was the hardest scene or chapter to write in Red September? Why was that?

MB. The hardest scene(s) to write were the emotional and physical abuse that happened to Connie. Once you have survived any kind of abuse, it will always be a part of you.

KP.  Red September is filled with language and terms that are common throughout the Caribbean (and Guyana, by the way). Like when Connie’s mother says: “Lawd, I don’t know where I get such a hard-headed child.” Or when Connie says: I sucked my teeth in disgustAre you aware of this commonality among the language of the people of the islands (and Guyana)? Was this a conscious effort on your part to capitalize on this?

MB. Yes. It was a conscious effort to capitalize on the Caribbean language because even though I was born, but not raised in the islands, my environment is filled with these slang words from family members.

KP.  Your second novel, Soulfully Yours was released in July, 2020.  Can you tell us the story behind this book and the publication of it?

MB. My second novel, Soulfully Yours, is about three single Black women who met in college, and together they established a public relations firm. The setting takes place in Atlanta, Georgia in the year, 2000. Due to their busy schedule, the reality of dating in the millennium isn’t what it used to be. Meeting a guy at a local bar has been replaced by encountering them on the Internet on a popular dating website named, “Soulfully Yours.” As the story unfolds, what these three women soon discover is a web of secrets and lies that envelops their world. Can they find a real connection to a special someone in hopes of making each one of them happy? 

Once again, I based this novel on stories I’ve heard from my close sister-friendships. It, too, was self-published by IUniverse.

KP.  You have a Masters in Social Work. How has this influenced your writing?

MB. As a social worker, I provide vital services to the underprivileged populations, and writing is a key part of the job. We have to write documents, reports, case notes, emails, letters, etc. I feel I’ve had numerous opportunities to practice and really achieved a grasp of honing my skills. Once I was able to marry those skills to my creative writing skills…then, wella…you have the beginnings of a writer.

KP.  You have lived in New York since 1960 at the age of five, away from the island of your birth. Red September was published in 2015, some 55 years later. Was it difficult to write about and capture the atmosphere of the Caribbean after so many years? Please tell us how you went about this…

MB. I wouldn’t necessarily say it was difficult to write about or capture the atmosphere of the Caribbean after 50 plus years. Fortunately, I’ve been able to visit and explore various islands while on vacation. Besides, my mother and some of my extended family members have been able to fill in the gap with their inspiring stories. Then when all else failed, I always had the Internet to google whatever questions I still needed to be answered. 

KP. I imagine, as a young girl you were heavily influenced by certain books. Can you tell us which and how they influenced you and how you gained access to these books?

MB. Well, I am a hopeless romantic-at-heart. I think there isn’t anything sexier than a man, who admits he wants a woman, and will do anything (romantically speaking) that he can, to get his woman. I have been influenced by reading romance novels from Danielle Steel, Nicholas Sparks and Donna Hill, to name a few. I draw from these authors for my writing style.

KP. What period of your life do you think has influenced your writing most of all — child, teenager, young adult, adult? Can you expand and tell us more?

MB. I think the period of my life that has influenced my writing most of all has been as an adult. Because I was a young mother, I didn’t have any passion in my life other than taking care of my little ones. Later on, after experiencing the real world, my family, my past, and my memories have helped to fulfill my dreams and aspirations for life, and it is what enables me to write my stories. 

KP. How do you arrive at the names for your characters? Is there a science behind this or are names chosen randomly? Is there a connection between names and characters and any relation to real-life people you’ve met or encountered?

MB. Funny you should ask because there was a science behind choosing the characters names. It was a combination of research and real-life people I encountered. The research was important because I wanted to make sure I chose names that matched that era. For example, Constance, Amelia, Nathaniel, Henry are all strong names from the past. I believe if you’re going to write anything that is going to be out there in the world you should do your research.

KP. What is the most difficult part of YOUR artistic process in completing the cycle for one of your books?

MB. I think the most difficult part of my artistic process in completing my books is quieting my inner critic, overcoming self-doubt, and just giving myself permission to write. I thought to become an author I would need to have an agent or publisher to validate my work. Then after I discovered self-publishing was another option, I went for it. I realize the challenges are out there, especially in promoting the book, but with the Internet and social media being so prevalent, I say if you want something bad enough, you will find a way to figure it out.

KP. Do you ever consider writing under a pseudonym? If so, why? If not, why not?

MB. I have been a part of a writing group now for about ten years. In the beginning, I did not want anyone to know my real name, so I registered using my nickname as my first name, and combined letters of my maiden name and married name as my last name.

Big mistake! Now, here it is ten years and two books later and the site manager said I could not change my name back to my given name, as I have tried to do several times. So, no, I personally don’t like writing under a pseudonym. I am proud of my birth name and what I have written, and I want to see it out there in the world.

KP. What do you think are the most important magazines/journals for aspiring writers to subscribe to?

MB. Well, to be perfect honest with you, the only magazine I have ever subscribed to is the Romance Writers of America, only because I write in that genre.

KP.  Have you ever read a book that made you cry? If so, which?

MB. OMG, two books that I remember distinctly that made me cry were: “The Notebook”, by Nicholas Sparks, and “The Bridges of Madison County”, by Robert James Waller. (I told you I was a hopeless romanticist).

KP. Your writing has featured strong female characters so far. Will you ever write about strong male characters? If so, what would be the most difficult stumbling block for you to achieve this?

MB. Once again, this is funny you should ask this question because one of the next books that I am currently researching to write is inspired by a true story. A very dear male friend of mine has led such a colorful life, that he told me he wished he could tell his story. So, I accepted the challenge and we are currently in the process of outlining some moments in the timelines to put this book together. A short synopsis: It is a fascinating story of one man’s journey from a life of substance abuse addiction and crime to find redemption through the power of God’s grace to heal.

KP.  Assuming you always think there’s room for improvement, what’s your approach to becoming a better writer?

MB. Because writing is a learned skill, I would like to develop my creativity even more to become a better writer. I would like to switch up things and do writing in other genres or categories I am not used to. For example, I would like to write non-fiction, short stories, poetry, and reviews. I want to engage different parts of my brain, and indulge my curiosity.

KP. If you were to pass on one particular piece of advice to an upcoming writer of Caribbean literature, what would it be?

MB. “What doesn’t kill you will make you stronger.” People often underestimate what they can handle in life. It could be worse. So, my advice is to keep on going, and while on your journey, always respect others. Be kind to people and their opinions. If people want to upset you and be ugly, do not fall to their level. Always, take the high road! 

KP. What is your preferred method to have my readers get in touch with or follow you (i.e., website, personal blog, Facebook page, Goodreads, etc.) and link(s)?

OTHER: The readers can connect with me through my author’s websitewww.maritaberryauthor.com. It’s also where they can link to my other icons: Facebook. Twitter. Goodreads. Email. Youtube.

Thanks again, Kenneth, for hosting me! It’s been a pleasure.

2 thoughts on “Rita Berry — Author Interview

  1. She sounds like a delightful person to know. And I hadn’t realized the pitfalls she encountered using a pen name. When I write romance (or similar) I have been tempted to use a name that, at least, is androgenous. Pause for second thought…

    An interesting interview with an obviously talented and hardworking author.

    Liked by 1 person

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