Cerece Rennie Murphy fell in love with science fiction at the age of seven, watching “Empire Strikes Back” at the Uptown Theater in Washington, D.C., with her sister and mom. It’s a love affair that has grown ever since. As an ardent fan of John Donne, Alice Walker, Kurt Vonnegut and Alexander Pope from an early age, Cerece began exploring her own creative writing through poetry.
She earned her master’s degrees in social work and international relations at Boston College and Johns Hopkins School for Advance International Studies, respectively, and built a rewarding 15-year career in program development, management and fundraising in the community and international development arenas – all while appreciating the stories of human connection told in science fiction through works like Octavia Butler’s “Wild Seed,” Frank Herbert’s “Dune” and “The X-Files.”
In 2011, Cerece experienced her own supernatural event – a vision of her first science fiction story. Shortly after, she began developing and writing what would become the best selling “Order of the Seers” trilogy. Cerece lives in her hometown of Washington, D.C., with her husband, two children and the family dog, Yoda.
BPM: As a full time writer, how did you get to be where you are in your life today? Who or what motivated you?
Wow, we’re starting right in with the deep stuff! OK. You know, I really think that God has led me to where I am in my life today. As a young girl, I never expected to be happily married with two beautiful children. I never expected to be a writer, much less a published author. Honestly, I expected my life to be rewarding career wise and lonely in every other sense. I’d worked hard to get a good education, so I expected to be financially independent. I also knew I wanted children, so I planned to be a mother, but I expected to be on that journey alone. If I got married, I expected to get divorced and have to raise my children alone. I know that sounds pretty bleak, but it’s the truth of how I saw my life right up until my early 30s. When I look at my life now, it is very clear that this is God’s vision for my life, not mine, and I’m so grateful that God had bigger dreams for me than I ever could have imagined for myself.
But through everything, I always knew that God was with me and I got that knowledge from my mother, who is THE MOST spiritually connected person that I know. She prays without ceasing with a prayer book that was handed down to her from my grandmother who was a PRAYER WARRIOR. Grandma Mary was NO joke! No weapon against her had any hope of prospering! Though she passed more than a decade ago, I know I live in the benefit of her prayers today. These two women, my mother and my Grandmother, are women of incredible faith and courage. I stand on their legacy and it has always motivated me to do and be my best.
BPM: Was there ever a time in your life you let FEAR block your path? If so, how did you overcome it?
Me and fear are well acquainted. Though I don’t know if I’ve ever let fear block my path, it sure has slowed my progress quite a bit. The fear and doubt around writing and publishing the Order of the Seers trilogy was brutal at times. With the second book especially, it was like doing battle every day, just to get a page written. I would cry and shake, convinced that no one would like what I’d written, that I had no talent or no right to do what I was doing.
But the thing about me is that, on some very visceral level, I hate being afraid. I hate letting fear control me. There are many good reasons not to pursue something, fear is rarely one of them. I have been an avid reader since I was 5 years old. I know what a story can do. I know that each story you are given is a blessing from God – a calling. That’s why I feel so honored to be a writer, to be given a story to tell. So if I let the fear win, what I’m saying to God is, “You gave me this blessing, but I’m too afraid to share it. I know you would not have given me this blessing if I wasn’t equipped to share it, but hey, it doesn’t matter. I think my fear is more important than your purpose.”
BPM: As the author of novels for adults, who does your body of literary work speak to?
I think my work speaks to people who are seeking thought-provoking literature that many not be conventional – readers who want to be spiritually-inspired and entertained. Although Order of the Seers is adult science fiction and Ellis and The Magic Mirror is a children’s fantasy adventure, they are essentially about the same thing – people discovering their true calling and power and using that gift to change the world for the better.
Watching the news these days can be a soul crushing experience. It’s so easy to be overwhelmed by all the horrible things that are happening. But I believe that ordinary people can save the world. I believe this because I know there is no such thing as an ordinary person. We are all superheroes, but most of us have no idea how powerful we are and so we act like ants when we’re actually giants – giants who can see the future because we create the future with our thoughts, our words and our actions. We can do these things because we are children of God and God has given us these abilities.
My writing is all about finding that awareness in myself and helping my readers discover the same truth for themselves because I believe, once we understand our true power, nothing can stop us from healing this world. If you like your spirituality wrapped in an action packed adventure, you’ll probably enjoy my books.
BPM: Could you tell us something about your most recent novel for young readers?
Sure. I’m so excited that my first children’s book titled, Ellis and The Magic Mirror! This is a very special book to me because my son asked me to write it for him and we worked on the story together – from story concept to illustration and cover approval. Ellis and The Magic Mirror is about a very curious boy named Ellis who finds a magic mirror and discovers that there is a secret society of trolls at his school who are trying to stop children from learning. Ellis, his little sister, Freddye, and his best friend, Toro go on an adventure in the forest to uncover the mystery of the trolls and stop whatever they have planned. It’s an early reader chapter book with lots of action. The book is targeted towards readers age 6-10 who are transitioning from story book to chapter book. The feedback that I’ve been getting from educators and kids is really exciting. I can’t wait to share it!
Our son, Aryeh, picked up a copy of my sci-fi trilogy Order of the Seers and asked me if he could read it. I told him that my books were for adults and that he would have to wait until he was older.
To this, he frowned and said, “Well, will you write me a book that I can read?” I was so surprised and honored that he asked me that I HAD to say YES!
Since then Aryeh and I have worked together to bring “Ellis and The Magic Mirror” to life. Aryeh gave me the “must haves” in the story he wanted which included, a skateboard, an “awesome” fight scene and an appearance by his favorite stuffed animal “Chirpy”. I pitched the story concept. He approved or revised as needed. Every chapter I wrote, he read and changed according to his preferences. Every character sketch, Aryeh approved, until we had a story he liked. Along the way, my husband and our daughter made their contributions to the story as well. Seeing our son and daughter in their beds, reading their own book has been one of the best moments of my life. We had a great time creating this story. We hope you have almost as much fun reading it.
Greg and I meet at a comic convention in Chicago in 2014. As soon as I saw the incredible energy in his drawings, I knew I wanted to work with him. In fact, Greg is the only illustrator I considered for this project. Luckily, he had the time, interest and incredible generosity to take us on. Through late night meetings on Google Hangout, Greg listened patiently to comments and ideas from *every* member of our family. He’s the best.
BPM: What inspired you to publish it for the world and not just for your family?
The fact that my son asked me to write him a book was really all the inspiration I needed. I don’t think it would have occurred to me to write a children’s book without him asking me, but it was such an honor that I couldn’t refuse. But besides that, I noticed that there was a real need for chapter books that helped with the transition from storybook to chapter book. Last year, before my son first asked me to write a book for him, I knew his teacher was struggling to find reading material that held his interest. To make matters worse, his teachers and I couldn’t get him to try chapter books, even though he was more than capable of reading them. When I asked him why, he said to me that “There were too many words and no pictures.” So when he asked me to write him a book, I knew it was my chance to address a need that I was seeing in our home, hearing from his teachers and other parents who were experiencing the same thing I was. I set out to develop a story that combined full color illustrations with a complex narrative and as much action as I could get away with in a children’s book.
My husband and I also noticed that it was getting harder and harder to find more advanced books that featured children of color – even more rare, was a child of color in a fantasy adventure. Most parents don’t have the knowledge on how to produce a children’s book, even if they want to, but when my son asked me, I thought, “I actually know how to do this.” I’m proud to be a part of the #weneeddiversebooks movement.
BPM: What did you enjoy most about writing this book, Ellis and The Magic Mirror?
I loved working with our son on this book and seeing him see himself in the story. He owned every part of the creative process. He told me what he wanted in the story. I wrote the words and he edited them, telling me what made sense, what didn’t, and what he thought would be “even cooler”. His confidence in participating (and expecting to participate) in the development of this book made me so proud. He’s actually really good at giving constructive criticism in a very thoughtful way! I also loved being able to show him how much I love him by writing and publishing a story just for him.
BPM: Why should our readers and educators add Ellis and The Magic Mirror to their collection?
As a mother of a 8 year old boy and a 5 year girl, I know that there are a lot of great books out there for kids. My husband and I are avid readers and have been committed to encouraging literacy in our kids since before they were born. But as our son’s reading level matured, we noticed that the books available to him seemed to hold less of his interest. The early reader chapter books that we found often lacked the action and adventure he craved. And when they did have action, they had little or no pictures (and rarely in color) to accompany the story line. This often left him too intimidated to give them a try (“There are too many words, Mommy!”)even though he had the ability to read them. We also noticed that protagonists who looked like him were getting harder and harder to find. I heard the same struggle echoed by parents and teachers of kids around our son’s age. We were all looking to fill the gap between the Fly Guy series and the next Rick Riordan book.
And that’s how I came up with the concept for The Ellis Series.
With full color illustrations integrated throughout the five-chapter story, Ellis and The Magic Mirror was written and designed to facilitate an easier transition from storybook to chapter book for young readers (ages 6-10 years old). By combining the vibrant images that storybook readers are accustomed to with a more challenging narrative, Ellis and the Magic Mirror strives to encourage early readers to dive into more complex stories, without sacrificing beautiful imagery.
Ellis and The Magic Mirror can contribute to your collection in 3 main ways:
* It is unique in the world of early reader chapter books that typically leave vibrant illustrations at the front cover,
* It fills a growing need among parents and teachers for books that capture the attention of reluctant readers, (especially boys) while still moving their reading abilities forward, and
* It offers a diverse group of main characters who are doing cool things in a world that is modern and full of possibilities.
In addition, the story of Ellis and The Magic Mirror is laced with themes that emphasize character building, the unique qualities that reside within every child and the value of learning, family and friendship. These messages could be used in any school, library, home school or church setting to enhance and enrich a range of character building and educational activities. (It also makes a great bedtime story!)