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TIT

Cheri Paris Edwards  (Author - 'Plenty Good Room') Cheri Paris Edwards (Author - 'Plenty Good Room')

'Plenty Good Read!'

Cheri Paris Edwards' poignant and heartfelt 'PLENTY GOOD ROOM' (Warner Books/Walk Worthy Press; 0-446-57647-6; April 20, 2005; $23.95) personalizes the complexities of the foster care system. Tamara Britton has devoted the last seven years to working at the Care-for Kids Agency and is a specialist in its child protective unit, offering services for children and parents in "at-risk" families.

When fourteen-year-old runaway Sienna Larson enters Tamara's life, she begins a journey of self-discovery and unseats deep personal family issues that have tormented her under the surface for most of her life. The relationship between Tamara and Sienna is tumultuous at first but slowly develops as they both learn from each other and begin to recognize the presence of God in their everyday life.

Edwards' accessible style makes the characters in the novel extremely relatable. While Tamara and Sienna's struggle are uniquely their own, the issues of faith, family and overcoming obstacles are universal.

'PLENTY GOOD ROOM' is a novel that shows that the love of God is limitless and so is that of the human heart.

Chatting recently with the author herself, Cheri Paris Edwards, I first wondered exactly what research she had done for this Child Welfare Worker setting and story thereafter? "In the job I held for many years as a Community Outreach Worker I performed home visits, and interacted with many youth, foster care parents, caseworkers, and therapists. I then gained more personal experience with the child welfare system, when I became a treatment licensed foster parent which means I received additional training to work with young people who have more profound emotional issues. When I began to write “Plenty Good Room” I used all that I had gleaned from these experiences to lend authenticity to the child welfare worker setting."

Does the Care for Kids Agency actually exist in Illinois? "There is no “Care for Kids Agency” that actually exists that I know of. The story is from my imagination. I don’t think any computer database works like the one Tamara found information on! Well, maybe, but not one in the child-welfare agencies."

With the presence of God surrounding this book and its lessons therein, was there ever a point in your writing where you had found yourself writing too spiritually for the page? "I’ve always felt that the story was not just for others, but for myself as well. One of the reasons that I wrote it was because I’ve experienced so many hardships and difficulties in my own life. I identify closely with parts of many of my characters, as my own life seems parallel to theirs in some ways. But I used the vehicle of the child welfare system to tell this story, because I know these young people’s struggle is profound. And, I needed to remind myself that as difficult as my own life seemed, there was always others who were going through much more. But in a larger sense it is just a metaphor for whatever level of difficulty we may have encountered in our own life. Experiences that may have left us brittle and feeling lost and unloved."

"The spiritual words brought tears to my eyes as I wrote them, because I relate to them so. Like Tamara, I think many become afraid to love because of difficult past experiences, but I believe it is God’s love that can make us whole again. And, it is in Corinthians that Paul writes of God’s definition of love that we are given His expectation of us. So, I believed it to be spiritual, but not too much so, because love is God’s primary message for us. He loves us and I think we are here to let His love flow through us because that is when we best reflect His spirit within."

Have you yourself had a relationship such as the bond that is shared by Tamara and Sienna? "Yes. I have several young people that I am close with in and outside of the system. The first two I became close with however, probably shaped my relationships with others. One who was my own Sienna of sorts and has kept contact with me throughout the years when she was moved from my area. Like Tamara I was more afraid to love back, because I thought she would disappear I suppose or maybe I couldn’t figure out what she wanted from me. She was twelve when I met her and she is now twenty-one and a mother herself of two. We reunited in person when I had a signing in Chicago a few months ago."

"There was a second young lady I was also very close to. I’d tried to become her foster parent when I first met her at 11, but it never worked out. She was moved from home to home and we lost contact for several years until last summer and I’d told her about the book (which she couldn’t really fathom) and we promised to speak again soon. About six months later I heard on the news one morning that an anonymous body that had been found in the Lake of the town she lived in was hers. She’d been killed by a boyfriend. She was nineteen and leaves a two year old baby behind. She is the second sister of four to die a violent death. All spent a large part of their lives in the child welfare system. Her death is hard for me to understand."

"What I found in working with youth is they want to feel loved. Sometimes they have parents and just need to be reaffirmed. Others have missing role models in their lives and look to surrogate adults to stand in that gap. But, whatever the case. Most often love is what people young and old desire and it always makes a difference in folks’ lives."

With this book incorporating suspense, mystery, love, romance, and Spiritual awareness, how easy was it for you to concentrate on a sampling of each without actually laboring too hard to get the point across on them all? "I had a larger plan in mind as I wrote the book. My main goal was to create an entertaining story that would appeal to a broad-section of average readers. Well-aware of the time constraints many operate under, I tried to incorporate suspense to keep the pages turning. I added romantic moments, trying to use a more realistic method of incorporating male-female relationships within the time-frame that the story covered. As a new fiction writer I’m still figuring myself out. But, I think I’m character-driven since for me they move the story which makes it less difficult for me. Because once I create them I have an idea of where I’m going in my head and I just let the story flow through them."

With Ms. Bailey hoping that she may have a granddaughter that would love her, does this and many other elements lean towards a 'Part 2' book of sorts? "When I first thought of the book, I imagined there would be three parts. In Part Two I wanted to explore how Tamara would relate to Isaiah in a real relationship. How would her past influence that? I also wanted to flesh out Jayson and Lynnette a little more and have some life situations that they have to deal with and to deal with the overriding issue of Tamara learning to deal with all of her new-found relatives. And, how would Sienna respond to these new relations? In a third book, I thought of delving into Sienna’s foray into a singing career. I would like to explore how this feisty young lady responds to her own past experiences and I think the backdrop of the growing gospel music world would an interesting setting. I have a skeleton of a 2nd book (which I try to do when I have concrete ideas) already on my hard drive. I guess we’ll see what happens, though."

Finally, speaking of the future, what are your next book writing plans and when can we expect another joyful literary experience? "Actually I have finished another manuscript … well, almost. It is story that examines class, family relationships and reflects on how God allows loss because it draws us closer to him. The protagonist is not as sympathetic as Tamara, but she does grow as her walk with God becomes deeper. The secondary protagonist is an engaging young man who is living a difficult life, experiencing poverty and a high level of responsibility which drive him to a desperate decision. It is based on the scripture “Ye shall know the truth and the truth shall set you free”, and the working title is Secret Freedom. There is humor, an interesting supporting cast of characters and a few more romantic moments than “Plenty Good Room"."

Interviewed by Russell A. Trunk

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