The Secrets ReShonda Tate Billinglsey Keeps
By Kathryn Whitbourne
Best-selling author ReShonda Tate Billingsley is back with her latest book The Secret She Kept (Gallery Books, July 2012). This story of a successful business executive who discovers his new attorney wife is mentally ill tackles a subject not often dealt with in inspirational fiction. ReShonda talked with HOPE about the inspiration for this story, her own favorite books and a recent comment that caused an outcry among fans.
HOPE: Where did the idea for the story come?
ReShonda: I wanted to tackle the serious topic of mental illness because so often especially in the black community, we sweep it under the rug; we talk about crazy cousin Joe and we laugh it off but I wanted to take a humorous look at a serious topic. Maybe it would help people to see that they are not alone in this journey, that it would help people realize that mental illness is in fact an illness.
HOPE: Did you have personal experience with this or did you have to research it?
ReShonda: I did do a lot of research but I do have mental illness in my family and we just swept it under the rug. We’d come home and my relative would have done something outlandish and we’d just close the door and lock her out until she came out of her spell. But no one ever got her help. That’s always been an issue for me but it’s like, “We have to keep family business private.” And it was that stigma I was hoping to break.
HOPE: What kind of reaction have you had from people as they’ve read the book?
ReShonda: Phenomenal. So many people have said that they now realize that mental illness is a serious disease and people are recognizing their loved ones in this book. One of the most profound was a woman who had no idea what was wrong with her sister until she saw the main character and her actions were verbatim [that of her sister], so that caused her to get her sister some help.
HOPE: Originally you were a journalist. How did you make that transition to being a writer?
ReShonda: I always wanted to be a writer; I like sticking to the facts by day and coming home and writing fiction by night. I just love doing both sides. Now I write [fiction] full time but I still do print journalism.
HOPE: I was looking at your Facebook page and someone had asked you why you hadn’t taken a stronger stance against gay marriage and you had posted that you don’t want to judge people, and you got a lot of flack for that. The next day you posted that you were going to stay away from politics and religion in the future. Were you surprised by the criticism that you got?
ReShonda: You know, I was. My friends said I should’ve known I was going to get it. I’m an open book on Facebook, so I just speak my mind. I was not speaking about my beliefs on gay marriage. I just said I did not want to judge. And that’s not going to change. It’s not my place to judge. I was shocked at the number of people who said, “Yes it is.” I have my own sins to atone for. I’m not going to worry about anyone else’s. Their whole thing was, “You have the platform; you have to speak out against it.” And I think, just because I’m not spreading God’s word the way you want me to, does not mean I am not spreading it.
HOPE: What are your favorite books?
ReShonda: I am an avid reader, and one of my favorite books ever is The Deal, the Dance and the Devil by Victoria Christopher Murray. I’ve never had a book change my mind so much. The book was about, would you allow your husband to sleep with someone for $5 million? Initially, I was like, “Of course I would. I would drive him over there!” But the book really really makes you think about it and by the end, I was like, “No way in the world.”
Another favorite is Child of God by Lolita Byles. It was like merging literary and contemporary fiction. It’s a powerful powerful story, dealing with generational curses
My third pick is Perfect Peace by Daniel Black. It’s about a woman who had six sons and wanted a daughter desperately. When she had her seventh child and it was a boy, she decided to raise him as a girl. Powerful book. What spoke to me was the desperation of this woman in her journey. It was the sadness of the boy being raise as a girl and at age 7 they decided they could no longer do it so they said, “Now you have to be a boy,” and the dynamics that went with that story.
HOPE: We understand filming has started on a movie of Let the Church Say Amen with Regina King.
ReShonda: Yes, I’m just excited about seeing my words come to life on the screen. It’s scheduled for released in the spring of 2013.