Shines Light on a Universal Truth Through Her Debut Novel
Micki Berthelot Morency possesses the gift of connection, not only in person, but through her authentically human fictional characters. Her debut novel, The Island Sisters, is being released at 7 pm on June 20 at St. Petersburg’s Tombolo Books. She’ll be interviewed by Tampa Bay author Sheree L. Greer of The Kitchen Table Literary Arts Center.
“When I came here to this country it was so very hard to assimilate. In Haiti, we have one season, it is summer. I landed in Boston in winter in a sun dress and white strappy sandals.” An audible smile emphasizes her memory. “People were staring at me on the plane and I thought it must be because I’m so cute.”
There was snow on the ground when they landed. She and her family had a lot to get used to.
“Haiti is a Black country. All my teachers were Black. The government is Black. I never saw white people, but for a few tourists. You come here and you really are a minority. You try to find your bearings. I said, let’s do one thing at a time.”
Morency and her six siblings went to school to learn English. “My teacher took us to the Boston Public Library.”
There she was met by a large selection of French books and her teacher gave her a special bag to carry her choices.
“As I was leaving the library, I thought, someone is going to stop me.”
Boston wasn’t an easy place for immigrants.
“When I share my story with people who are struggling with whatever it is, I share my story. A struggle is a struggle. A journey is a journey. Doesn’t matter how high the obstacle. It is still an obstacle. “
Morency and her family experienced the ugliness of racism. “I had tunnel vision,” she says. “People were throwing words at me I didn’t even understand. I remember the first time I heard the n-word. I looked at the person’s face and knew it wasn’t a nice word. I just kept going. That is what I share with people. You have to have goals and be determined.”
Her novel is based on real life patterns.
“I have never been abused,” Morency says. “I grew up in a family that didn’t have a lot of money but we had a lot of love. I am married to a fabulous guy — for many decades.
“Honestly, The Island Sisters came from my experience having worked as a case manager with women in a transitional housing set-up. Housing for women and children escaping hardship, from poverty, abuse – so the theme of my book is shining a light on different ways a woman can be abused.”
Domestic abuse is universal.
“I remember “women in my neighborhood running from their home with their clothes torn up. Domestic abuse doesn’t only happen to a certain group of women. I knew at a very early age I never wanted to see myself in a situation like that.”
There is such beauty and history in Haitian society, and children are treasured by their families and communities – but as with every culture, time after time Morency noticed mothers, sisters, friends, living in the shadows of abusive relationships.
“I kept seeing it. One day a friend called me and I knew she was in a toxic marriage. I have always journaled and when I am stressed, I write. I started writing her story. My husband said, you should write a book about this.”
Morency graduated from Northeastern University with a degree in finance and established a professional career in banking. It’s the work she did in transitional housing that nudged her to do something with what she had come to know as all too common. She knew she had to tell the stories of the women she had helped.
“It’s not that easy to leave. I have heard so many reasons why women stay. Abuse is not just physical. I have learned how difficult it is to just pack and say, ‘I’m leaving.’
“I have always asked why are you still there?” Morency says. “They would give all sorts of reasons – he makes more money; I have my son; I am ashamed to go back home. I had women who came in with nothing.
“My job as a case manager was to help them get on their feet. I had women go from homeless to home ownership. I have women who are now nurses.”
What came next is a testament to how strong women can be.
“But of course, my book is fiction. I was lucky enough to have the opportunity to live in Guam and St. Thomas. I used those settings. Four women, three islands, one sisterhood.
“The story is about the strength of women’s friendship. The four women came from three different islands but forged a beautiful friendship at college.”
While her book’s release is truly a dream come true, Morency will continue working to help others. She writes policies and procedures for diversity for the Women’s Fiction Writers Association international group. She and her husband also belong to a local St. Pete group, Partners With Haiti.
“We have people on the ground on an isolated, remote island within Haiti, La Gonâve. We built a clinic and have sent local girls to nursing schools.”
She also helped to build a library there.
Morency’s passion in helping the Haitian community keeps her focused on goals, which obviously includes empowering women.
“They are not just random people, they are our daughters, our cousins, our neighbors, our acquaintances. Many can’t talk about it for different reasons. A lot of times they feel it is their fault. It is not always physical, not always sexual. Sometimes it is stripping you of your self-confidence.
“My goal is that if one woman reads my book and sees herself and says I need to get out . . . my job would have been done.”
Micki Berthelot Morency will visit the West Community St Petersburg Library on June 22 beginning at 6:30 pm for a meet and greet and book signing. On July 29, she will be at the Tyrone Barnes and Noble from 2 to 5 pm. You can visit the events page on her website for more opportunities to meet her and get your copy of The Island Sisters.