From reporter to minister to mystery writer: Deb Richardson-Moore begins third career as storyteller
Deb Richardson-Moore has wanted to be a mystery writer since the age of 12, when she read every Agatha Christie novel and Nancy Drew book in print.
Now, after two careers spanning more than four decades, the reporter-turned-minister begins another chapter where crime may, in fact, pay.
Richardson-Moore retired from Triune Mercy Center at the end of July after a 15-year stint as pastor of the place known as Greenville’s homeless church. Triune was a second career, preceded by a 27-year stay at the Greenville News as a reporter. Now, she begins a new chapter as a mystery writer, in earnest, with the release of her latest book, Murder, Forgotten, in September.
She describes her passage into the pulpit as “serendipitous.”
“I took on the religion beat for the Greenville News; and a lot of times when I took on a new beat, I would go back to school,” Richardson-Moore said. “I was thinking of a master’s degree in comparative religion, but Clemson didn’t have that, and Furman didn’t have it. So quite by accident, I ended up at Erskine Theological Seminary down in Due West.”
Richardson-Moore’s first class at Erskine was a survey of the New Testament and how those books of the Bible came to be.
“It struck me that the four gospel writers were reporters,” she said. “They were reporting the story of Jesus, and I was just mesmerized.”
A preaching course should also have been among her first classes, but Richardson-Moore delayed it until her last semester of seminary.
“I thought, ‘that’s ridiculous, I’m not going to preach,’” she said. “I thought (preaching) was theater, an acting kind of thing, but when I got into the preaching course, I realized it was writing. That’s where your sermon comes from. About 5 or 10 percent is delivery. That was a game changer.”
During her 15 years at Triune, Richardson-Moore wrote weekly sermons and a lot more. Her first book, The Weight of Mercy, published in 2012, is a memoir that includes a vivid account of the novice pastor’s rocky start in the ministry.
But it also details the progress made after a shift in focus from relief work, where food and clothes were distributed on a daily—sometimes hourly—basis, to social work that addresses issues such as addiction and mental illness that lead to homelessness.
A large measure of that progress is the more than 1,700 men and women who entered drug or alcohol rehab during Richardson-Moore’s tenure. Programs like The Art Room and Triune Circles also helped create a place where all are welcome, worthy and appreciated.
“We wanted to build dignity and companionship and camaraderie and friendships,” Richardson-Moore said. “As I always say, I wanted the people who lived under the bridges to sit next to the engineer who designed the bridge in worship. I honestly believe that it is only when you get to know each other, are we going to care enough about our homeless brothers and sisters to solve the problem.”
Another impactful way Richardson-Moore sought to build dignity and self-esteem was to display a work from Triune’s art room during Sunday’s worship service.
“I ask the artist to stand and everyone applauds,” she said. “What I always pictured in my head was there is this man living in a tent in the woods, but now he’s being recognized by 250 people as an artist, and that’s empowering. We’re trying to empower. We’re trying to remind somebody who they used to be and encourage them that they can get back there if they so desire.”
The man living in a tent in the woods plays a starring role in three more books authored by Richardson-Moore during her time at Triune—the Branigan Powers Mystery Book Series. The novels feature: Branigan, a reporter; Malachi, a homeless man; and Branigan’s friend Liam, who runs a shelter for the homeless.
“I had never written a book before I got the stories at Triune to create The Weight of Mercy, and the Branigan Powers books certainly have a lot of Triune stories in them, too,” Richardson-Moore said. “As a minister, I was no longer writing every single day on deadline, and that allowed me the freedom to create books in a way that I never could as a journalist.”
They say writers never take a vacation. They may never retire, either.
On September 18, Richardson-Moore’s fifth book will be released—a murder mystery entitled Murder, Forgotten.
The setup is a best-selling mystery novelist who is losing her memory, and with it, the powerful gift for storytelling that propelled her to fame. She lives in an old beach house on Sullivan’s Island with her husband. When her husband is murdered, she worries that she may have killed him without realizing it.
“This is my favorite book so far,” Richardson-Moore said. “I’m not sure it has any social value, but it’s fun. All my other books were work, but this one was fun. I couldn’t wait to get to my desk every day to see what was going to happen, because I honestly didn’t know what was going to happen.”
Asked if she’s planning a move to Sullivan’s Island for a third career in storytelling, she replies, “If people buy that book, I will.”
To preorder Murder, Forgotten, go here.
To register for a virtual event on Thursday, September 17, hosted by Fiction Addiction and featuring a live online book talk with Deb Richardson-Moore, go here.