Deb Richardson-Moore, a 2005 graduate of Erskine Theological Seminary and the author of two published books—with a third coming out this summer—read selections from her work March 2 in the Hangar, a small gathering place on the lower level of the Erskine Building. She was also a guest speaker in Assistant Professor of English Dr. Christine Schott’s Fiction Writing class earlier that day.
“It was wonderful having her visit campus and spend time talking to my class,” Schott said. “In all academic areas, we like to show students what it means to pursue that field professionally, and here Deb was able to tell students about writing and publishing from the perspective of a professional author.”
Writing as outreach
For more than two decades a writer for The Greenville News, Richardson-Moore, who spoke at an Erskine convocation in 2013 about her work with the homeless, is the author of The Weight of Mercy, an account of that experience at Triune Mercy Center in Greenville, where she still serves as pastor. She has since written The Cantaloupe Thief, her first work of fiction. A second fiction book, The Cover Story, is slated for publication in June. Both are mysteries.
Richardson-Moore now has a staff of 11 at Triune Mercy Center, so she is no longer dealing as directly with the difficulties of the homeless as she was in her early years there. Triune Mercy Center still strives to “be the church that radically welcomes the marginalized, not as clients but as fellow parishioners,” she says. A key element of Triune’s ministry is to “invite people to participate, not just to be on the receiving end” of assistance.
When people who were not homeless—some of them doctors and lawyers—started showing up for services at Triune Mercy Center, Richardson-Moore inquired about why they would choose Triune, and one of the newcomers told her, “I think this is what the Kingdom of God looks like.”
The busy pastor said she has little time for writing—except for writing sermons—but has on occasion been given time off for working on her books. “The books help me get in front of people,” she says, and her books do the same for the work of Triune Mercy Center.
Her foray into fiction began with her own love of murder mysteries. Would-be authors are often advised to “write what you know,” so she used a rural Georgia setting familiar to her from childhood in The Cantaloupe Thief. She also thought about her work at Triune in conceiving the story. She asked herself what role ‘invisible’ people like the homeless, who are often “looked right through”(as she points out in The Weight of Mercy) might play in a murder mystery.
Real life and the art of fiction
Jordan Joseph, a senior from Forsyth, Ga., and a member of Schott’s writing class, gained inspiration and encouragement from Richardson-Moore’s visit. “For me, the most important element of the author coming to speak to us was the realization that a ‘normal person’ can write a book,” she said. “She strongly suggested that we write every day, no matter the circumstances. Since I have met with her, I’ve written three more chapters in my novel.”
Another class member, Sara Beth Johnson, a sophomore from Lynchburg, S.C., said she appreciated Richardson-Moore’s honesty. “She told the good, the bad, and the ugly. I think especially for individuals in college, it’s hard to imagine having the capacity to finish a book, let alone publish it. I think, for me at least, the most important thing that she said was that writing a book can be done.”
Sophomore Andrea O’Malley, from Elgin, S.C., is also in Schott’s writing class, and praised Richardson-Moore’s discussion of the publishing process, planning and writing a novel, and characterization. She also appreciated the author’s account of how helpful it has been to have her book chapters ‘workshopped’ by a group of writer friends. Schott’s writing class is “a wonderful resource for my writing,” O’Malley said, “and Deb Richardson-Moore’s experience shows that I can find that same help once I leave school.” Still, her favorite part of the author’s talk “was probably the assurance that it’s possible to have a full-time life while writing a full-length novel.”
Class member Brooke Johnson, a junior from Summerville, S.C., also liked the author’s advice about getting “feedback on your work, both fiction and non-fiction,” but stressed the value of Richardson-Moore’s life experience. “I think the most important quality [she] possessed was that she wasn’t a twenty-something,” Johnson said. “God had a variety of tasks and paths for her to take before she could write [her books], and I find that inspiring.”
Schott, who introduced Richardson-Moore when she gave her evening reading, also sees the value of the author’s roles as journalist, pastor, memoirist, and novelist.
“Her experiences show students that writing is something that you can pursue alongside any number of other careers, and in fact that other careers can make you a better writer,” the professor said.
“Perhaps most importantly, she reminds us that anything you pursue with genuine intentions can be part of a life of service to God and to neighbor.”