Michele Rodriguez Interview: “I see fiction writing as a soul cleansing process that can give voices to the previously voiceless”

In today’s interview I’m speaking to Michele Rodriguez, author of the CPS crime fiction series.

Tell me about how you came to define your writing style.

My writing style is much like any of my writings in that it is a work in progress.  My focus on developing a crime series came out of a direct desire to share the perspectives and stories of child protective services (CPS).  When working as a caseworker for my state’s CPS, I often felt that it was awe inspiring how little the public knew about the process or the atrocities.  I wanted to investigate both the families’ perspectives and the CPS workers’ perspectives in order to garner understanding, support and reform for CPS.  These are lofty goals but most of my writing originates from a push to understand, explore and share.

What is your background and how did you get in to writing professionally? How do you draw on your past when writing fiction?

My background is in non-profits, social work and teaching.  I began and ran my own non-profit to promote empathy and compassion through action—youth volunteerism.  I then worked at a child advocacy non-profit for children in foster care, followed by work at a women’s homeless shelter and then as a caseworker for child protective services. Most recently, I joined Teach for America and taught English Language Arts at a middle school in Camden, NJ.  A motley background. 

These career choices unknowingly pushed me forward to writing professionally as the number of intense stories I was collecting in my mind’s database was too much to bear.  I felt compelled to write.  I draw on my personal experiences through my work to influence everything in my writing including character traits and behaviours, settings, and recurring themes.  I see fiction writing as a soul cleansing process that can give voices to the previously voiceless.

How do you draw on your work as a social worker to create your series?

My work as a CPS social worker is directly correlated to my creation of the CPS series, obviously.  I enjoy intertwining the reality of the processes that take place from a CPS caseworker perspective in the series.  This includes both the good and the bad as there is an overwhelming amount of both in practice.  This is also an unexplored area in literature which has made the writing of the series important to me.

Talk to me about your books. What do you think draws readers to them?

My books within the CPS series are equal parts crime and thriller/horror.  A reader knows upon picking one up that they will be reading about an actual atrocity that happened to a child.  Every book in the series is a fictional account of an actual child protective services’ case that has ended in tragedy and press headlines.  I think readers are drawn to this format because, like me, they want to understand how it could happen. 

There are overarching questions that I address—why couldn’t society protect our most vulnerable children from such horrific crimes?  Who is at fault?  Are there things that can be done that would change future outcomes?  Are there actually heroes and villains?

Where do you find your inspiration? Are there any particular places or incidents you draw on when you find yourself with writer’s block?

The CPS series is easy to write.  Well, that may be an unfair assessment as easy is not the best descriptor.  I’d say, the basis for the story has already been hashed out in the press, so it is easier to write than my works of literary fiction that were inspired from within.  I can write character descriptions, motives and actions quickly, allowing me more time with the plot and setting.  As such, I have not had any writer’s block as I’ve fully researched all available media on the incident prior.  I pull it back up often during the process to reflect, but that’s about it.  In this way, inspiration is overflowing and relentless which comes with its own set of issues.

If you could collaborate with anyone, living or dead, on a writing project, who would it be and why?

This is an interesting question.  I would like to work with John Steinbeck on a second novel that picks up where Grapes of Wrath left off.  When reading this book with my son, I found that much of what was written applies currently.  I was struck with this desire to ask Mr. Steinbeck what he thinks about the condition of the world today.  His book ends with a homeless mother breastfeeding a dying man during the dust bowl in the United States.  There is no happy ending, only lessons to be learned.  I worry that we have yet to learn these lessons and think this needs new exploration through writing.

Do you have any projects coming up that you are particularly excited about?

The CPS series is my focus right now and I continue to be excited about it.  I hope to release the first book, CPS: Headless, officially in March of 2021.  Until then, I continue to refine and work, refine and work. 

I was told that I must establish an online presence and am new to the online writing world entirely.  Navigating this is also exciting and overwhelming.  With that in mind here’s some of my details if you wish to follow me: Twitter @CPS_Author, website @ michelerodriguez.net, Facebook @ AuthorMicheleRodriguez, Patreon @MicheleRodriguez.

Are there any new books or writers that you are looking forward to coming up?

Since the pandemic in March led to school closing in New Jersey where I live, I have been reading books with my fourteen-year-old son.  This has been a brilliant and bonding experience for us.  Over the summer we completed Grapes of Wrath by John Steinbeck, Brave New World by Aldous Huxley, Every Falling Star by Sungju Lee, Night by Elie Wiesel, Catcher in the Rye by J.D. Salinger, and Fahrenheit 451 by Ray Bradbury.  We are currently muddling through J.R. Tolkien’s The Hobbit.  As such, I have put off reading or anticipating new books or modern writers.  The silver lining here is that I have a lot of good reading to anticipate in the future!

Is there anything you’d like to add?

Thank you very much for this opportunity. 

Massive thanks to Michele for answering my questions; it’s been awesome to learn more about your amazing work. 

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