Charliese Brown Lewis, a native of Versailles, Kentucky, is an educator, writer, editor, and speaker. She attended Kentucky State University as an undergraduate Secondary Education major. Her junior year, she was crowned as the 1996 Kentucky Derby Festival Queen. She attended graduate school at The Ohio State University and was trained as an investigative journalist. She later attended the University of Kentucky to pursue a graduate degree in Educational Policy Studies and Evaluation. She has served as an adjunct professor of English, Journalism, College Reading, Professional Business Writing, Speech Communication, and Freshman Seminar. She is the editor and co-author of The ‘After Church’ Experience blog and president of Robert and Charliese Lewis Ministries Inc., which she co-founded with her husband. She holds degrees in English Education, Journalism, and Higher Education. She is listed in the Notable Kentucky African Americans Database.
1) First, I want to thank you for taking the time to do this interview with me! When did you know that writing is what you were called to do? What is it about being a writer that you love the most? What about being a writer frustrates you the most?
I knew writing was what I was called to do during my college days when I sat down and penned a Letter to the Editor addressing racism within a local high school. The Senior Class Sponsor did not want a young African-American girl singing The National Anthem for fear that it would be an ethnic rendition. I knew I could not stay quiet, but I needed to address it in a professional manner. I was able to use language and imagery in a way that really spoke to the issue without being negative, but still being truthful and calling out injustice and bias that would have otherwise been overlooked. I did not realize the impact my letter had until my husband came home from playing Pickleball recently and one of my high school teachers talked about how this letter made such an impression on her that she will always remember it. That was 25 years ago. I had forgotten all about it. And, ironically, the young lady I was defending is a world-renowned opera singer who is performing with the Metropolitan Opera, San Diego Opera, and the San Francisco Symphony! She also sang at our wedding before she blew up. I was able to use my writing gift to speak truth to power. I believe I am meant to help others tell their stories and even give voice to those who feel like they don’t have a voice. Everyone has a voice. Everyone has a story.
Of course, there is nothing more frustrating than writer’s block other than not really having the time to write. As an editor and writing/book coach, I think many times my own “pen” doesn’t get to flow like I want it to because I spend a lot of time helping others bring out their best work. I love writing, but I love helping others write just as much.
2) Can you tell us a little about your book(s) and where our readers can find out more about them and you?
From the Test to the Testimony: An Anthology of Faith Stories was published by our company Robert and Charliese Lewis Ministries, Inc. It is a collection of stories from seven women who have experienced grief and loss, suicidal thoughts, infertility, drug addiction, self-esteem issues, body shaming, and even chronic illness. It is available on Amazon. We also have a blog that has about 450 entries called The ‘After Church’ Experience, which we recently turned into a radio program of the same name on EnVision-Radio.com. I also write for EnVision Magazine. Additionally, we co-produce a podcast, It’s About Time: Conversations with Charliese and Youlonda where we discuss many of the topics that are addressed in the book, but also issues that impact our community like education, social justice, academia, mental health, and self-care. My writing shows up in many forms.
3) Where do you draw your inspiration from for the stories that you manage to weave together and the characters that you create?
Fiction is a new lane for me. I am working on a series of novellas right now. I created the characters from the personalities of the people I have encountered through life. I grew up as a church musician since the age of 13 and retired after 30 years of that commitment. I also grew up on an HBCU campus. My mother retired after more than 40 years of service at the institution. That was my entire lifespan. You can imagine the combination of characters that I have created between those two entities. To be honest, some of the characters are created from my personal experiences and much of my own personality. Non-fiction, more specifically spirituality and self-help, are more my lanes. So, this is really exciting.
4) Do you have a schedule for when you write? Do you outline your novels? How long does it generally take you to finish a novel? What projects are you currently working on?
I am the worse at creating a schedule for writing. But what I realized is that I write the best and the most during the summer months when I can go outside on my balcony with the open sky. It feels so free to me. I outline everything. Other than my novella series, I have two non-fiction projects on my desktop. One is centered around the biblical story of Joseph and the other is about workplace woes as an African-American professional woman. I started working on all three of them last year. The biggest challenge is determining which one to focus the most on to get to completion. The non-fiction work will always win over the fiction for me because I really have to dig in. It requires a room with a whiteboard! It takes a lot to be a great storyteller and to tie together the loose strands.
5) What’s the first book you ever read that really moved you emotionally? Who is your favorite author to read? What book are you currently reading?
To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee was one of the first books that truly moved me emotionally. We were required to read it during my Junior year of high school. If you’ve ever read it, then you know why it was such an emotional journey to get through, especially being one of two black students in the class at the time. Whew, I was on edge.
My favorite authors are Mary Monroe, Pearl Cleage, and Terry McMillan. I could never choose just one because they speak to me differently based on where I am in life.
I am currently reading Tabitha Brown’s Feeding the Soul and T.D. Jakes’ When Women Pray.
6) What has been your most significant achievement as a writer thus far? Where do you see yourself within your career in the next five years?
Honestly, my whole journey as a writer is a significant achievement. I had to get out of my own way of thinking that writing could only be done in the traditional way. It just had to be a long, fiction novel. Once I realized that writing took on many shapes and forms from blogging to essays to short stories even to audio and video production, I was able to produce more work. Then, when I let go of thinking writing had to be on printed paper, I really got free. But being able to bring together those seven stories from seven women who shared their faith journeys to the world has been my greatest place of inspiration and achievement as a writer.
I have had a 25-year career in education with emphasis in college and career readiness – making sure that students have a plan for life after high school. I just recently committed as a co-host to a radio show called “The Coach’, which is derived from my official title of College and Career Coach. I think it so important for students and families to understand the transition from high school to college or career. That’s my day job. I also lead a non-profit organization based in Louisville, Kentucky. Everything else is part of what I call “the more,” which is leading to a new season in my professional career. It’s a shift really. I hope to be a full-time writer, editor, and consultant in five years. And I believe I am on that path. I have a steady clientele for my consultant work in editing and self-publishing assistance. And, of course, ministry and outreach will always take priority. God will always be at the forefront of every aspect of my life. One thing this pandemic taught me is that I don’t have to be either/or. I can be and/both or this and that…all the things God purposed me to be. I have been able to bring together all three of my degrees in English, Journalism, and Education to do everything I am doing right now in this season. But those are the goals. It feels good to be in this place.
7) How have you dealt with rejection within your writing career? What is your advice for other writers to better be able to cope or navigate their way through the publishing process, be it traditional or self-publishing?
Rejection is the reason I turned to self-publishing in the first place. Just because someone else doesn’t want to tell my stories doesn’t mean that my stories don’t deserve to be told. And no one can tell my stories better than I can. I have helped several authors in the last two years to embrace that concept and to become self-published authors. There’s a time and a place for everything including traditional publishing and self-publishing. I think it also matters if someone wants to make writing a career, a springboard for a business, or as a means of additional income. All these factors matter in how to approach the journey of becoming a writer.
8) Do you find it hard to juggle the creative side of being a writer against the business side of being a writer, in terms of marketing and promotion and things of that nature? How hard has it been (or easy) for you to build up your author platform?
I think turning the blogs into the radio show and podcast was a great move. It is the equivalent in so many ways to turning a paperback into an audio book. People don’t always have time to read, but they have time to listen while they are driving, cooking, working, or cleaning the house. It also expanded to a more global audience. I am probably more on the business side right now because of assisting other writers to become published and by virtue of my administrative position as the Executive Director of Louisville Literary Arts (LLA).
Social media really is the best way to build up any platform. It takes time, commitment, and skill to market and promote your work the right way. Unless you are super gifted in that area, sometimes you have to invest on the front end and hire the right people to get the desired results on the back end. Honestly, it also helps that I am married to a media production expert and two of my mentees are graphic designers. We can do a lot of work in house. But I do know when something is not my bailiwick. There is no shame in admitting you are not an expert in a specific area and then asking for the help you need to accomplish the goal.
9) So many writers say that they hate reading their own work. Do you ever enjoy reading your own work back to yourself after it’s out there for the rest of the world?
No! I am the worse critic of my own writing. It also makes me feel vulnerable in many ways. It takes courage to write, especially when you are writing about your own life, your own story. It takes even more courage to admit the ugly parts of your story and to read it back to yourself. But there is so much beauty in being transparent and genuine in your storytelling. It often inspires others to do the same.
10) Do you believe that there is ever a point in life where it’s too late for an aspiring writer to become successful in this industry? Do you feel a late start would hinder their chances?
There is no such thing as a late start to anything. As the Executive Director of LLA, our organization encourages both aspiring and seasoned writers of all ages. Right now, there are grants that are specifically designed for older writers. I just inquired about one called the Creative Aging and Lifelong Learning grant. Also, there are both traditional and non-traditional ways to become a writer and to be published. Opportunities are everywhere on social media, television, and the internet in general. People just must be committed and willing to do the necessary research to find the ‘best fit’ for themselves.
11) I feel like writing is a remarkable tool to help people not only express themselves, but also to cope emotionally and mentally. I know for me I write to be and feel more authentic. What unique quality is there about you, about your art, that you feel represents your authenticity? How does writing help you to be more empowered in your purpose?
I think people forget that writing is so influential. Your words have power. I write a lot about my faith, so I intentionally try to write about things that give people hope. I also write about real life experiences. People can read my stories and realize that they are not alone. Someone else has fought and conquered a similar challenge. I have written many times about my struggle with infertility. So many women are living through this challenge every day. To some it truly is a nightmare. And I know the honesty and transparency of my story has blessed and encouraged some women in their journey to motherhood. My latest blog “Healed” just posted on http://www.selfcareaintselfish.com. Truthfully, writing has been a part of my process to healing. Journaling has been my therapy on many occasions. I would encourage anyone who is writing to keep writing. Anyone who wants to be a writer, pick up the pen or strike the keys and just write. You never know where it will take you and whose life your story will touch.
Thank you so much for allowing me to share my gifts as a writer, educator, podcaster, and editor on your platform. I am grateful for the opportunity to share.