Denise Turney

Denise Turney

Interviewed by: Lauretta Pierce
August 24, 2003

Q. Who is Denise Turney?

A. I love story! I have been writing for more than 30 years -- reading even longer! When I was a kid I would catch the city bus downtown and spend hours in the library on Saturdays. From as far back as I can remember, I have been fascinated with people . . . the entire human landscape. No wonder I majored in Psychology in college! It is my fascination with the human condition that (I think) most compels me to write.

Q. What inspired you to write the novel SPIRAL?

A. Spiral was born many, many years ago. As I have worked with the book over the years it has taken on a new shape and form. Initially it was simply going to be a family saga. It emerged into a mystery, but the dynamic of "family" remains. I sincerely hope, through reading the book, that people will come to see the enormous power and reach of their choices and decisions. It is through our choices and decisions that we become either strong or weak and, unfortunately (fortunately for those who choose wisely!), our choices and decisions affect our children, grandchildren, great-grandchildren, etc. I can readily think of several widely-known families who today are deeply affected by choices and decisions a couple or person made decades ago. Due to these choices and decisions (made years ago!), these families make headlines even today!

Q. How did you come about the title?

A. What does anything spiral do? It goes around and around and around.

Q. Why was Carolyn and Janice having dreams about the dead girl?

A. Tammy Tilson, Janice's mother and Carolyn's grandmother, was the direct descendant of a seer or one of the Inyanga. This gift was passed on to Carolyn and Janice. Today we have people who have what many refer to as a "Sixth Sense". Carolyn and Janice had a powerful "Sixth Sense". Janice was unaware of the gift. She only knew she was having disturbing dreams -- dreams so disturbing she couldn't sleep on them. So, she begins to look for the missing girl.

Carolyn, on the other hand, KNOWS she is a seer. She KNOWS she can connect to the dead girl. She KNOWS she can use her God given gift to unravel the mystery of the dead girl -- a mystery that has haunted her family for years.

Q. Why was Richard drawing pictures about what happen to the dead girl?

A. The Tilson family is ordinary and yet the family is also extraordinary (as we all are). Richard is like Janice. He has the gift of a seer, but is unaware of it (and remains unaware his entire life). He works through what is revealed to him about the murders by drawing. Without forethought, the images come and he draws. He must draw these images because they are that clear and strong. He draws what his mind sees, then becomes embarrassed and ashamed at what he has created (or mimicked) and so he hides the pictures.

Q. Why didn't David reveal what he saw?

A. Here is the central point of the story! Have you ever done or witnessed something, examined your environment and convinced yourself you would be better served (i.e. safer, more respected) if you remained silent or limited your voice to no more than a whisper?

This is what David does. He seeks to protect himself. His family is hated by powers that be in the town, people who have the authority to destroy them. David knows this. He also knows that had he not been up on the tracks drinking, he never would have become a part of this twisted string of events. So, he's wrong for drinking -- and this in a town of strong religious views -- and he's become witness to something that in the 1940s could cost him his life. He'd be more than a "witness" to the crime. He'd be accused of committing the crime which would likely find him lynched. He felt he had no other choice.

Q. Since Carolyn knew what happen, why didn't she come forward to help Richard? Why didn't David come forward in Richard's defense?

A. Carolyn needed evidence. Remember this is the 1940s and 1960s. Recall the racial and social climates in America during those times. Shelby County also had its share of political corruption during the 1960s. Carolyn couldn't simply come forward. She had to have SOLID evidence. She watched people. She tried to pry answers out of her grandfather Ramsey. As a mere child, she went to the river bank with her aunts late at night. She prayed for guidance. She shared her insights with her brother Richard to lessen the blow of his sentence. She told him it would come before it did. She told him he was innocent and therein armed him with the comfort of knowing he was free of the guilt the very thing society and the legal system were certain to accuse him of were determined to bring. She never abandoned the events happened upon her family. She kept in touch with the dead girl's father (the lawyer) after Richard was imprisoned. And - at last - she did have a role in the murderer's death on that fateful day she walked by his house -- through spirit alone. She had the gift and she used it wisely.

David was a coward.

Q. Was Melinda and her family killed to keep the other family members quiet?

They were killed to gain silence. Melinda SAW the murderer. She had to die. Her family had to die because no chance could be taken that she'd revealed what she saw that night at the tracks to her husband.

Accusing the Tilsons of covering up the murder was easy. There was obvious motive (little Bobbie's murder had NEVER been properly investigated) -- so the town could readily accept that the Tilsons would cover up the second girl's murder as a way to pay the town back for not caring enough to find out what happened to Bobbie. The Tilsons were viewed as arrogant. At a time when Blacks were "supposed" to be passive and subservient, the Tilsons (especially Tammy) were brazen and proud. Yet, they were revered by Blacks in Shelby County and they had money, bringing them down had to be done very, very carefully. And yet - had David but made a different choice all those years ago none of this would have happened.

Q. Will there be a sequel to Spiral?

A. I was asked to do a sequel to my first book Portia. I don't do sequels. There will not be a sequel to Spiral.

Q. Are you currently working on another novel?

A. Yes! I am nearly completed with the first draft. It's about three sisters living in housing projects similar to what I grew up in. After their parents lives are cut short by a drunk driver while on their way home from work one day, the sisters (teenagers at the time of their parents' death) begin to feel impotent. Yet, they don't see their own demise. They simply cannot see it. It is each other they pity and work hard to rescue, not their individual self.

Something happens to one of the sisters that sparks off a chain of events that affect the entire world. I have A LOT more work to do on this story.

Q. What message would you like readers to receive from reading Spiral?

A. From the start, humans have shaped history by the choices and decisions we have made. What you decide or choose to do today, however seemingly meaningless it may appear to you, will affect someone else's life tomorrow.