The best of both worlds

Teresa Howell is an EC teacher who loves education and helping students. But aside from her job here as an educator she also has a second life as an author.

At the age of 19, Howell was told by her teacher she should be a writer.

howell“No, I’m supposed to be a singer. – she told her. “I’m supposed to be Janet Jackson’s background singer. I’m not supposed to be writing books.”

The real reason why Howell begin writing was when her grandmother, whom she was really close to, had passed away. Her mother-in-law told her writing would be therapeutic.

It took her one year to write her first novel, That Church Life. It’s a story about a girl (Missy) who becomes a minister because it gets passed down through the generations of her family. Throughout the book, she struggles to navigate the duties she has to do for her family and also an abusive relationship with the church’s musician.

Once the book was published, her life changed fast.

“Within two months my novel became an Amazon bestseller,” she said. “It was in Barnes and Noble stores. I was on television. I traveled to more than 50 cities, [appeared on] 55 radio stations and broadcasts.”

That Church Life was named a top 50 book series of 2017 by  Conversation Magazine. Howell also received awards from Achi Magazine and local newspapers. Her favorite publicity was an article The Huffington Post published about her book because it’s such a widely-read publication.

That Church Life has given Howell a surreal and unexpected life experience.

“When you’re young you really don’t know what you want to do,” Howell said. “I would advise people to explore and enjoy everything and then figure out what’s best for you. Because for me, I would’ve just stopped at singing and playing piano or dancing or all the things that I was doing. I probably would’ve missed out on my gift because I didn’t know I had that gift. I thought singing was.”

She still doesn’t know how to handle the fame outside of school.

“People outside of Riverside they act like I’m this big celebrity in the book world. But I don’t see what they see,” she said. “When I go to places and someone stops me and they’re like ‘OMG, I wish I had your book so you could sign it!’ I’m like ‘do we know each other?’”

Howell  tries to keep her writing and teacher lifes separate.

“I don’t really talk about it at school and I don’t really let anybody know,” she said. I just come to school and be a normal person. It’s not a big deal to me like it is to others.”

“I hid all these things because you don’t want people to think because you’re doing all these things you’re not gonna do your job,” she said. “I still want to work. I have an option not to work but I still want to be busy.”

That Church Life is part one of a trilogy. All three stories will connect and every chapter has a cliffhanger with suspense. The books are based on Christian fiction with a hint of mystery and suspense.

‘I like the thriller and suspense because growing up I was a big Nancy Drew fan,” Howell said.“I always like to have a twist in the story.”

Most recently, she created a play based on a book. It was produced on-stage November 10, at the Hayti Heritage Center. And was attended by over 400 people.

“Because I had a fan base,  [readers] wanted to see That Church Life characters come to life,” she said, “so it wasn’t easy to produce the play.”

The play allowed some of Riverside’s staff to learn about Howell’s writing career.  Theater tech teacher William Holley created the set for the play. Theater teacher Monique Taylor painted  it. Assistant principal Chaundra Clay’s church bought the book. And principal Tonya Williams only knew because of the Achi award Howell won popped up  on her Twitter account

“She didn’t know anything about who she had hired,” Howell jokes.

“I was proud of her and I was excited,” Williams said. “I thought that it was cool that Ms.howell has a skill set that some of us don’t.

“I felt she might be able to help the theater program with plays, and not just the program itself but also regular students in the program as well,” Williams said.

Howell likes the balance in her life right now and plans to keep teaching and writing, but won’t rule out writing full-time someday.

“I can come here and be myself and then when I leave I can be a superstar. I’ll educate until Oprah finds me, once she finds me it’s a wrap.’

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