Roby, author of the Rev. Curtis Black series, to appear at Decatur Book Festival

Kimberla Lawson Roby was in elementary school the first time a teacher noticed her gift for writing.

It was a compliment that followed her through junior high and college.

You really should consider a career in writing, they told her.

But instead of writing, Roby, 48, chose business administration and received her bachelor’s degree from Cardinal Stritch University in Milwaukee.

“It didn’t mean I didn’t enjoy writing,” Roby said. “It felt natural to me, but I didn’t think I could earn a decent living.”

Years later, however, she’d grown weary of corporate America, and although she ultimately took a position she loved as a financial analyst with the city government in Rockford, Ill., she still felt something was missing.

Roby remembered her teachers’ observations and sat down to write her first novel, “Behind Closed Doors.” When she couldn’t find a literary agent or publisher, she started her own publishing company, Lenox Press.

“That’s where my background in business made the difference,” Roby said.

But it was her writing that built her audience and eventually persuaded an agent and a publishing house to give her a contract.

In fact, “Behind Closed Doors,” which published in January 1997, did so well it made Essence magazine’s paperback fiction list.

Sixteen years and 19 books later, Roby regularly makes The New York Times’ best-selling author list and is a featured speaker at this year’s Atlanta Journal-Constitution Decatur Book Festival.

It was her third book, “Casting the First Stone,” that became her breakout book and the first installment in what has become known as the Rev. Curtis Black series.

“When I wrote my first two books, what I heard most from readers was that they could relate to the real-life issues that I was writing about,” Roby said. “Even if they hadn’t experienced those issues themselves, they had family and friends who had gone through similar situations. I decided I would continue my career writing about those issues — corruption within the church, domestic violence, infidelity, childhood sexual abuse, sibling rivalry, drug addiction — in a fictional format.”

Roby then created Black and built the story around him, his family and members of his congregation, Deliverance Outreach.

“A House Divided,” which hit bookshelves in May, is the 10th in the series.

Roby discussed her work during an interview from her home in Rockford, Ill.:

On one of her favorite characters:

“Matthew Black. Regardless of how awful his parents have been, he’s always tried to do the right thing no matter what.”

The most fun character:

“I think that Charlotte is probably the most fun to write about because she is the most opposite of who I am as a person. She loves the best of everything, and she doesn’t mind sleeping around. I have been faithful to my husband all 23 years. If you were to ask my closest friends, they’d probably say I’m living vicariously through Charlotte.”

On her message:

“It’s entertainment, but it’s always been about getting the message across that we can’t and shouldn’t worship another human being just because they stand in a pulpit. They fall short just as we do. I also hope people realize that it’s more about making sure your own personal relationship with God is intact and that you’re reading the Word for yourself.”

What’s next?

“I just submitted ‘The Prodigal Son’ two weeks ago, told in Matthew’s and Dillon’s voices. Expect it in bookstores May 13.”

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