As a child growing up in a Columbus congregation, Mari K. Bell could hardly imagine some of the devout senior church members as moonshiners, gamblers and womanizers in their youth.
But her mother and aunt told the stories with such fascinating detail that she filed it all away in her mind for future reference.
"I knew I wanted to write about it because I thought it was hilarious," said the 49-year-old who grew up as Marichele Scrutchins at Mount Pleasant Baptist Church in Columbus. "It just took years for me to do it."
Now Bell, a metro Atlanta resident, is the author of a self-published book titled "The Quarters," which tells the fictitious, humorous tale of two very close sisters, Honey and Louise, who migrate to Columbus in the 1930s. Honey is responsible for the secret accidental deaths of three young men in Preston, Ga., and wants to escape her past. After the third fatal incident, she settles in a quirky community where moonshiners, morticians and a cross-dresser reside. What brings them all together is the church where they gather on Sunday mornings.
Pearline, the little girl narrating the story, is based on Bell's mother, now a retired Shaw High School teacher who still lives in Columbus. Honey is a fictional version of her great aunt, and Louise is based on her grandmother.
Bell said the novel recreates a Columbus neighborhood formerly known as the "Bell Quarters," in an area off Sheffield Drive where Mount Pleasant Baptist Church once stood. St. Anne-Pacelli Catholic School is now located in that area.
She developed the murder-theme based on what she said was a true story about her mother witnessing a family murder while growing up in Columbus.
"We grew up with not a lot of sharp knives in the house. I just didn't know why," Bell said. "But I later learned that it was because she saw someone stabbed and so that's why she had a thing about knives.
"There's some truth in this book, but I wove it into fiction to make it more readable and enjoyable."
Bell, who works for a medical monitoring company, was born and raised in Columbus.
She's a 1985 graduate of Columbus High School and holds both bachelor's and master's degrees in community health education from Clark Atlanta University and Penn State University, respectively.
After releasing the book, she received a proclamation from Mayor Teresa Tomlinson. She has also made appearances on the "Dee Armstrong Show" and at book readings and book clubs.
Growing up, Bell didn't aspire to be an author, but she always liked writing.
"I was the go-to-person in my family to help with term papers and things of that nature, but never considered myself a writer," she said.
"My mother is an English teacher, so it may be through osmosis. It just kind of dripped on me."
She said the book project emerged from her desire to capture a colorful piece of history that had never been recorded.
Many of the people in the book are long gone, she said, but their stories still linger.
"The stories they were telling me were about people who when they were younger women they were doing all this crazy stuff," she said.
"Those were the same people saying, 'Don't run through this church. Sit down.' And you later learned, 'Yep, they got into the same mischief that everybody else does."
Bell printed the book through Amazon, and it can now be purchased at amazon.com.
The book also is available at her website, www.marikbell.com, along with a trailer and other marketing materials.
Bell said she's currently looking for a book agent and contemplating writing a play or film script for "The Quarters."
She said most of the elderly characters who inspired the book are long gone, but she has pleasant memories of them looking out for her and slipping her $10 bills when she came home from college.
"I grew up loving these people," she said. "It was just a community."
Alva James-Johnson, 706-571-8521. Reach her on Facebook at AlvaJamesJohnsonLedger.