Interview: WEDNESDAY, JULY 9, 2014
Earl Middleton earned a BBA in accounting from Adelphi University and an M.Div. from Princeton Theological Seminary, then went on to preach more than 2,000 sermons, create over 400 YouTube teaching videos, and write 10 books under the anointing of the Holy Spirit.
A former pastor of congregations in NY, NJ, CT, and CA, he loves preaching and teaching the Word of God across multiple platforms despite his retirement from the pastorate after 22 years of service. He is a past member of the Professional Comedians’ Association, and the creator of the Internet’s first Christian dramedic series, Fine Church Girls.
Author Earl MiddletonA longtime member of Mensa, Earl lives in Los Angeles with his family and throws up a whole buncha shots a day at his local YMCA. He’s currently at work navigating new, hilarious plot twists with Pastor Tony Hook and the rest of the zany characters of the First Baptist Church of Belton, NJ. He is available for revivals, preaching engagements, family healing seminars, writing workshops, and basketball jumpshot coaching.
(1) Christian and Urban Fiction are bestsellers in African American literature. It appears that you have combined elements of both in your character Pastor Tony Hooks in My Pastor Didn’t Do It. What makes him stand out?
Tony Hook is a unique character in African American literature primarily because he’s both an urbane and urban black Christian who happens to be the pastor of a traditional black church. His anointing definitely doesn’t match his ministry, and the many molehills that surround his life keep erupting into mountains too difficult for him to scale by himself. He’s the rare example in African American literature of a pastor who is lovable, believes that a merry heart does good like a medicine, and yet lives the kind of clean life that necessarily draws trouble like a magnet. As Paul said, “I find then a law that when I would do good evil is present with me.” With the plethora of shady, hypocritical, and acutely flawed pastoral characters currently flooding the urban Christian fiction landscape, Tony Hook is my response from the other side of the altar. I’ve pastored churches like First Baptist and lived in communities like Belton, so I bring a layer of realism to the character while having a ball inventing new ways for him to get stuck at Baal-Zephon, between a rock and a hard place…or the Red Sea. I believe there’s both room and need in African American literature for a fictional pastor cast as an edgy good guy to restore the audience’s faith in the black pulpit.
(2)What elements, such as setting, character, and plot, drive your story? Are there any personal inspirations in your story?
There’s a strong sense of place in my fiction writing, and I’ve been told that my stories are very descriptive and many of the characters are memorable. But because I’m writing a classic whodunit mystery to introduce Tony Hook and the My Pastor series, I’ve leaned heavily on plot to drive the story. I want readers to wonder what’s going to happen next, and have a difficult time figuring out who did it (obviously, from the title, it wasn’t the pastor…or was it? LOL). The central idea for this story actually comes from a real life cold case murder that took place at one the congregations I pastored…after I left, of course! I wondered what it would have been like if the murder happened while I was still the pastor of that congregation, and before I knew it I had a full length novel on my hands.
(3) There are so many characters in your story. What’s next for them? Do you have any favorites that are going to have their own stories?
Although I write fiction (and non-fiction) I’m really a prophet at heart, and believe that every person’s story is the most important event in their world. As a result I really think there are no minor characters in life, and I bring that conviction to my fiction writing. I wish I had the time to tell all of my characters’ stories in full, and perhaps one day I’ll have enough time to do that. Until then I’ll have to settle on my plans to spin off both Mother Freddy, the gun-toting, sombrero wearing matron of First Baptist Belton, and Cornel Brown, the white pastor with the sweetest whoop in Newark who claims to be a descendent of John Brown, the Harper’s Ferry dude.
(4)What is on your bookshelf or nightstand? Do you have any favorite authors?
Right now on my nightstand there’s an iPad with the Kindle app. I’m totally hooked on digital media. I’ve gotten over paper a long time ago. When it comes to fiction I like a hip, urgent, urbane voice, so I’m drawn to people like John Ridley, Paul Beatty, and Adam Mansbach. I love mysteries and still enjoy rereading Walter Mosley, Janet Evanovich (she’s hilarious), and even Valerie Wilson Wesley. I don’t read a lot of Christian fiction, urban nor prairie, but I respect what Brenda Barrett is doing. That woman’s a machine! When it comes to non-fiction I’m drawn to anything that looks at left brain stuff from a right brain perspective. I’ve been reading a lot of Daniel Pink lately, and of course Seth Godin is required reading for anyone who wants to build or create something salient. And, believe it or not, I do read the Bible. A lot. Still. 😉
Pastor Tony Hook is everybody’s favorite preacher in the quiet Newark suburb of Belton, NJ. Well, almost everybody’s. Conflicts, tensions, and resolutions grace every turn of this clean and humorous black church caper. And it’s all from the witty mind and converted heart of a real seminary trained preacher with 22 years of pastoral experience.
When the sexy Anemone Allon’s body turns up in her basement naked, sporting a hole through the head, the only evidence recovered from the scene is Hook’s DNA, and all he can offer for an alibi is that he was alone in his study, praying for Anemone’s soul. And his own. Of course, golden-eyed detective Sgt. Chris Sears sets her sights on him as her prime suspect, jeopardizing his future at any church, and Pastor Hook launches his own investigation into the murder. With an anonymous rival who will stop at nothing to get him out of the way, and a crusty trustee who will try almost anything to get rid of him also breathing down his neck, only heaven can help Hook out of this mess, but God has chosen this time to go silent on him. Pursued by good and hounded by evil, poisoned by deadly wildlife and stricken with writer’s block, Pastor Hook must overcome Jobian loss and ugly suits, resist witchcraft, brave fire, dodge bullets, survive explosions, and tame ravenous beasts to track down the killer.
As the body count rises, and in spite of “help” from his iconoclastic best buddy, Rev. Cornel Brown, and his nutty adopted mother, Freddie Pearl, Hook unravels the mystery, exposing the killer in a final confrontation before the entire Belton community. In the end almost no one is who they appeared to be in this clerical romp, and Hook realizes that even for pastors some clichés are built on truth: home is where the heart is, and the grass isn’t always greener on the other side.