|Vol. 17, No. 27||April 16, 1998|
Looking back, Mitchell recalled, "Five years ago, I got together with close college friends in Florida, and we picked up where we left off as if it had been days, not years, since we had seen each other. It was rare for us all to see each other, and it was great.
"I also had bought myself a new computer and was trying to get the hang of it, so after the reunion, I started writing a short story."
She showed the story to some of her friends who urged her to continue writing. "I took their advice," she said, "and 300 pages and a year later, I had written Nothing But the Rent."
It isn't easy for an unknown author to get a novel published, Mitchell said. "I went to the library and read about publishing and realized that I needed an agent. I tried several, and it was a helpful process because they were interested enough in the book to give me advice and feedback."
She persevered and, after some months, found an agent, and within weeks some companies were interested in publishing the novel, and she was working with an editor.
In the novel's acknowledgment, Mitchell thanks her "funny, crazy, inspirational and wise friends" who gave her the impetus to start the book. The book's main characters are four, single African-American women in their late twenties, and the plot revolves around how they face the challenges of their lives, loves, families and careers.
Counseling students has given Mitchell insights into the problems faced by women in changing roles and relationships. For example, she said, the parent/child relationship is an evolving process. Parents have to realize that their children are adults and deal with them as such. As parents grow older, sometimes roles are reversed and children become the caretakers of parents, Mitchell said.
Body image and eating disorders are other concerns common to women that she encounters in counseling, and she visits these problems in her novel.
"The book is about how women interrelate and the problems they face in wanting to be connected to someone, but at the same time wanting to maintain their independence and identity. Women's and multicultural issues, particularly those involving African-American women, are strong interests of mine and that is reflected in the book," Mitchell said.
The book is divided into four sections. "Always a Bridesmaid" describes the occasion when the four friends gather for a classmate's wedding that they really do not want to attend. From the beginning, the women's contrasting personalities emerge, and their back-and-forth dialog is convincing, funny and lively as they go through the rituals of the wedding from the funky bridesmaids dresses to the obnoxious mother of the bride, who resents their presence but has them running all over town on her errands.
"Running in Circles" describes the women's lives and jobs. In "Stop the Madness" another reunion takes place, and the four, with each other's support, are forced to confront themselves and where they're headed. "Shifting Gears" tells how they learn to gather the confidence and self-knowledge to make changes in their lives.
Early reviews have been positive. The Kirkus reviewer wrote, "Psychologist and first-time author Mitchell offers a highly entertaining and unusually illuminating study of female bonding" and says the novel has "heart and, even rarer, soul."
Mitchell is now writing another book, with a Delaware setting, about a single mother who is trying to complete her college education.
Mitchell who has a doctorate in counseling from Ohio State University, came to UD in 1994. In addition to counseling students, she teaches undergraduate and graduate courses in counseling.
-Sue Swyers Moncure
Sharon Mitchell will sign copies of Nothing But the Rent, at 7:30 p.m.,Tuesday, April 21, at Borders Books in Newark and at noon, Thursday, April 23, at the University Bookstore.