Sunday 7 April 2024

An Interview with Micki Berthelot Morency

April’s FTRS featured reader is Micki Berthelot Morency, author of the novel, The Island Sisters (BHC Press). Morency was born in Port-au-Prince, Haiti, and currently lives in Florida, and she draws inspiration from her experience in her debut novel, which follows the varied life paths for four friends. Stacy Hawkins Adams says Morency’s writing “leaves you rooting for her characters as if they're your kin. Her vivid prose paints an unforgettable portrait of Haitian culture and customs, while imparting wisdom and gripping your heart.” 

The Final Thursday Reading Series takes place on April 25 at the Hearst Center for the Arts in Cedar Falls, Iowa. There will be an open mic at 7:00 p.m. (bring your best five minutes of original creative writing). Micki Berthelot Morency takes the stage at 7:30. The featured reading will also be simulcast on Zoom. Click HERE to register for a link. 

Interview conducted by Olivia Brunsting. 

OLIVIA BRUNSTING: While reading The Island Sisters I was touched by the friendship between the four main characters. Even though they bickered sometimes, they were always there to support each other. Did you always know you wanted four main characters?
MICKI BERTHELOT MORENCY: Yes. I did. Because the four characters are based on real women I knew as clients, friends, family members and people in my community. In fact, I had to be careful to disguise them physically and in other ways to avoid recognition from the real women. Writing a four POV book was challenging, but that’s the way I wanted to tell the story. So far, the praises from other writers are how distinguishable the women are from each other. 

OB: Why did you pick Haiti, Guam and St Thomas as settings in the book?
I was born in Haiti, so it’s my culture, and I wanted to portray the roles of women in that particular period in the country’s history in the book. I had the privilege of living on the islands of Guam and St. Thomas for some months, and I loved the people and the topography of both islands. I wanted to share some of it with the reader. 

OB: What inspired you to write The Island Sisters? What kind of feelings or thoughts did you want the readers to be left with?
I was inspired by the strength of the women who raised me: my centenarian grandmother, my mother, my aunties and all the Haitian women I grew up watching as they struggled to overcome a culture that condemned them when they came out of the womb a female. I wrote the book to give voice to all the women who told me, “No one cares.” I wanted to show them that some of us see and hear them, that we do care. I want the takeaway for readers to be that life is messy, that we do the best we can with what we have, and that our culture influences everything we do, so we all need an open mind to understand “others.” 

OB: You mention on your website that your own immigration experience has provided you with a lot of material to write about. How did that influence The Island Sisters? Did your work in transitional housing for abused women also influence the book?
Like the characters in The Island Sisters, I knew that higher education was going to allow me to be self-sufficient, thus having control over my life. It was hard to assimilate. I’ve encountered many obstacles, but I persevered because I didn’t allow myself the option to quit. Most immigrants like me leave their home countries with concrete goals, so they work hard to make them happen. After college I worked in the banking industry, but I found my calling in the social service sector. I’m an advocate for women and children. My work at the shelter was the most rewarding for me because I could see how I’d impacted lives with measurable results. I wrote the book for those women as well. 

OB: Without giving too much away, self-love is an important part of the book. What advice would you give to people who are struggling with self-love?
That self-love is not selfish. Once I learned to love myself, I experienced an abundance of love that I was able to share freely with others. People love their children, their romantic partner, their siblings…women seem to be wired to love everyone, and they leave themselves for las,t and by then the well is empty. Fatigue, stress, unmet needs, and expectations turn to self-loathing, and they buy into the belief that they don’t deserve love. My advice is start with yourself. Love all of you, and you will have plenty left for everyone else.