"I made up plays, poems, anything I could recite on the front porch. It was my stage, and the audience were my parents, brothers and sisters," Bernice Rayford, 44, told me in her soft Southern accent. "I was the youngest of 10; I always got a standing ovation." Now she's the author of three short novels.
One time while visiting a bookstore, she found a self-published book in the Mississippi writers' section. "I looked it up on the Internet, and the next thing I knew, I was published." Her first book, "Collard Greens and Ham," came out in 2005, followed by "Chill Bumps" and "Second Helping of Collard Greens and Ham" in 2006. Rayford writes on the computer she found at a garage sale for under $50, or at area libraries.
Rayford recently took part in the Eudora Welty library's noon-time series, "Applause! Mississippi Writing at Its Best." "People asked where do we come up with ideas. When I sit down to type, I have no idea. My characters just come to me as I type. I don't know the end or whatever. I like that," Rayford explained, going on, "I was stunned, thrilled, whatever the right word might be, to be around others who like to do what I do. I felt honored and just about numb."
Even with a 40-hour-a-week job, Rayford stays busy with her writing career. Right now she's got several pieces in the works, although she doesn't like to call it work because it's something she loves to do. One is biographical—Rayford just might call it "95% Pet Milk, 5% Black Coffee."
Rayford also spends time promoting her books. Her first book signing was at Oxford's Square Books back in 2005.
"Before I could go in and sit down, I had four books sold. It's an honor to have the opportunity," she said, smiling at the memory.
Since then, she's given book talks around the metro and signed her short novels in area bookstores. She's appeared on television and in print as well, telling others about her books. Rayfords' books are for sale on the Internet at several bookseller sites; she thinks self-publishing is the way to go, with the benefit of her books being printed on demand. "Their shelf life is forever," she explained.
Rayford's modern approach to publishing makes for solid advice for potential writers: "Go ahead and do it. If you love to write, don't be afraid to let others read what you've written. Take that first step. Then go ahead and write; write and write and write."
I remember seeing her on Midday Mississippi. What I liked about the way she markets her brand is that she seems so excited about what she does. Writing seems like an extension of her life, like a second heartbeat. As long as she keeps her passion, I think it will be beating for a long time.
- c a webb