No One Talks About How Hard Faith Is

Image: John Crux Photography | Copyright: ©2017 John Crux

Nobody talks about how laborious faith is. How mentally challenging it is to wait for something that feels like it’s never going to come, and yet believe that it is still yours. To see without seeing. Seeing beyond sight. No one talks about the exhaustion that sometimes comes with seeing beauty where there is none. To begin again and not feel silly for surrendering to strength. To keep falling, and getting up again. Each time, being strong but feeling weak. Each time knowing that what is easy is not worth it and what is hard is worth everything. No one talks about what it’s like to hold onto hope, even as it’s slipping through your fingers. To faith-walk the staircase with no idea what’s at the top. To believe that you can see, even when you can’t. To believe you are not standing alone, even when you are. To foresight your way to the next step. To be future and present at the same time. To act according to what’s coming, and not just what is here. No one talks about the mental fortitude it takes to be patient and still and to see nothing and everything at the same time.

Movie Night Friday – REVIVAL with Harry Lennix


Movie Night Friday is back!

I come from a movie family. My aunt used to collect VHS tapes and then later, DVDs. I am sure if she was still alive, she would have every movie streaming app there is and collect Fire Sticks. We are a family who walks around quoting movie lines and seeing if people can guess what movie it’s from. It’s only right that I feature a series on this blog about movies. Movie Night Friday is nothing new. It is a segment I started on this blog years ago (2015) to feature my favorite movies and why I love them. My favorites are broken down into different categories though so Malcolm X could be number one in one category Lean on Me in the next, Boyz N Tha Hood in the next and The Great Debaters in the next.


Revival! features a star-studded, mostly black cast in the retelling of the book of John, featuring the resurrection, life, and ministry of the Messiah. Viewers will watch the bible play out through some of their favorite actors and musicians in a mixture of onstage performances, gospel songs, and spirituals so that Revival! becomes more than just a movie, but an experience. With Michelle Williams playing Mary Magdalen, Chaka Khan as Herodias, Wendy Raquel Robinson as the woman with the blood issue, Kenny Lattimore as Lazarus, Harry Lennix as Pontius Pilate and Mali Music as Jesus (who I will refer to by his name Yahoshua throughout this review), Revival! is a part short film, part musical, and part broadway play.

What attracted me to Revival?

When TriCoast Entertainment reached out to me for a review, my first impulse was to watch the trailer. As a spiritual person who believes in the bible, but who is not a Christian, I wanted to make sure this was the kind of film I can stand behind, support, and promote. When I watched the trailer, the first thing that piqued my interest immediately was the almost all-black cast and even more, the black Messiah.

Many African Americans do not see themselves in scripture and are thus convinced they are not there and have nothing to do with this powerful historical text. Further, few films reveal the true physical appearance of the people of the bible. Where are we? It is a question I hear often from black people when discussing scripture. Some of us don’t think we were there at all. But the truth is many of the nationalities of the people in the bible including the Israelites, Egyptians, Babylonians, and Assyrians were black-skinned people.

Best Scenes

I think the Pharisees did a wonderful job of being hypocrites (haha) and they were in some of my favorite scenes, but my most favorite part was the scenes where Yahoshua is fighting off the temptation of the devil. Taken from Matthew 4:1-11, the creativity of the temptations had a modern touch but did not take away the reality of the devil’s persistence in his attacks and how we must be just as persistent in our resistance to those attacks. In the movie, these attacks take various forms such as Satan as a man sitting at the beautiful dining spread to tempt Yahoshua to eat during his fast and command the stones to become bread (Matt. 4:1-4), a little boy, and a seducing woman trying to entice him with her body. The best of these scenes for me was when the devil transformed himself into that of a little boy on top of the Hollywood sign and there tempted Yahoshua to jump.

We live in a world where Hollywood is a place everyone strives to be apart of. It represents the epitome of success for some, and the place everyone wants to be. Here, celebrities are worshiped as gods and most people aren’t taken seriously or acknowledged for their art whether music, writing, or theater until they have become promoted on a mainstream level.  Therefore, inspired by the scripture where the devil takes the Messiah on a high mountain and tells him to throw himself down (Matt. 4:6), Mali and the little boy sitting on top of the Hollywood mountain was a brilliant idea. It was also a good idea to portray the devil as an innocent young boy since we know that he can transform himself into an angel of light (2 Co 11:14).

Least Favorite Scenes

I enjoyed some of the songs but the combination of several mediums was my least favorite part. I would have liked to see the film part as a consistent thread throughout (like a movie) without being jolted from the narrative for someone to sing for three minutes or to return to the stage. At times it did work but there were also times I was immersed in the story and then snatched out of it. I think the musical/stage play part could be a separate production of itself so that it doesn’t disturb the transition between scenes and distracts from the core story.

The lady with the flow of blood was also my least favorite scene because the scripture doesn’t mention anything about the woman’s flow of blood coming from bruises. Based on Lev. 15:25-33, it was my understanding this flow of blood was a literal flow of blood as in a menstrual cycle. Wendy Raquel Robinson’s acting was excellent though, as usual.

Mostly All Black Cast

I have to bring it back to the mostly all-black cast! This is hands down my favorite part of the film and I’d like to end this review with a bit more context to explain why I think this is so important for African Americans to see.

According to the book of Revelations chapter one, verses 14-15, the messiah is described by John as having hair like white wool and feet like burnished brass, as if refined in a furnace. So, when he shows up in this film dark-skinned with full lips and a full beard, it is refreshing. If Yahoshua was to walk the earth today, he would do so as a black man, so we are not only looking at ourselves, but we are looking at the truth. Originally, the descendants of both Shem and Ham were black people. Gerald Massey, English writer and author of the book, Egypt the Light of the World, wrote:

“The dignity is so ancient that the insignia of the Pharaoh evidently belonged to the time when Egyptians wore nothing but the girdle of the Negro.”

Sir Richard Francis Burton, a 19th-century English explorer, writer, and linguist in 1883 wrote to Gerald Massey:

“You are quite right about the ‘AFRICAN’ origin of the Egyptians. I have 100 human skulls to prove it.” 

Scientist, R. T. Pritchett, states in his book, The Natural History of Man:

“In their complex and many of the complexions and in physical peculiarities the Egyptians were an ‘AFRICAN’ race.”

And finally, the ancient Greek historian, Herodotus, who visited Egypt in the 5th century B.C.E., saw the Egyptians face to face and described them as black-skinned with woolly hair. Consider also that the word Ham in Hebrew is Khwam, and it means “hot, burnt, and black.”

If it is true that the Egyptians were black, and we know that they were, then it is also true that the Israelites were black. Not only did the Israelites become a nation in Egypt, the land of Ham, the sons of Jacob arriving 70 in number (Gen. 46:27, Ex. 1:5) because of the famine, but as Joseph ruled Egypt (Gen. 41) his brothers did not at first recognize their Israelite brother among the black Egyptians. (Gen. 42:8) Additionally, Moses passed as the grandson of the Egyptian Pharaoh for forty-years. (Acts 7:23) How could this have happened if he didn’t look like him?

“Moses had to be of the black race because he spent 40 years in Pharaoh’s place. He passed as the Pharaoh’s grandson, so he had to look just like him.”  – KRS One, “Why is That”

For this, Harry Lennix’s mostly black cast is important because while the world has come to accept, in part, that Ham’s descendants were black, the world has not come to fully embrace the black origin of the descendants of Shem, the original Hebrews.

Moses, Abraham, The Prophets, and even the Messiah, would have looked like African Americans had they walked the earth today. I believe that Lennix’s decision to make Yahoshua and most of his disciplines black is not just a form of creative expression but a powerful re-education of black biblical history.

I give Revival! four out of five stars.

I want to extend a thank you to TriCoast Entertainment for the opportunity to review the film REVIVAL starring Harry Lennix (The Blacklist, The Five Heartbeats, Love & Basketball, Ray), Wendy Raquel Robinson, Chaka Khan, Michelle Williams, Mali Music, and other musical legends.

*TriCoast Entertainment has released REVIVAL onto various digital & DVD platforms (Amazon, iTunes, FLIXFLING, Vimeo on Demand, Vudu, FANDANGO, Google Play), Walmart, Target and Best Buy.

**Direct Amazon link: https://amzn.to/3aRERRv

***For more information, please visit: https://revivalthemovie.com/

***Image Stills (including blog cover image featuring Harry Lennix) used with permission.


Can’t get enough of Black History? Don’t forget that book one of my novella series Stella: Between Slavery and Freedom is now available.

Get it here in ebook

Get a signed paperback copy here

Stella: Between Slavery and Freedom (Book One)

Book one in The Stella Trilogy is officially back on Amazon and my website and book two is on its way!

Stella is a work of Historical Fiction and is distinctive in its focus on one woman’s road to self-discovery, against the backdrop of the African American fight for justice, racial equality, and freedom. The three-part novella series focuses on the history of one family in their struggle for racial identity. We discover in this trilogy how three individuals living in separate periods strive to overcome the same struggle, carefully knit together by one blood.

In book one, Cynthia McNair and her boyfriend, Alex, express some racists’ feelings toward blacks. They visit Cynthia’s Grandmother Sidney McNair, who recounts the story of her ancestor, a slave named Stella Mae. Cynthia has no idea of her African ancestry or how deep this rabbit hole goes.

“Yecheilyah Ysrayl takes us on a colorful and thought-provoking journey through the eyes of a mulatto slave woman Stella. Generations later, Stella’s descendant Cynthia McNair has no idea of Stella’s life as a slave, nor the true identity of their bloodline. Since Cynthia is a racist she is in for a rude awakening. Stella is reminiscent of a wonderfully written slave narrative, a story of history and pain, it is a brilliant opener of the Stella series.” 

– Kathryn Reed

Order the Kindle Ebook for 99cents

Order a Signed Paperback from my Website 

Mark as Want to Read on Goodreads

(Already read Stella? Mark as read and leave a review)

#RRBC Bring on the Genres: Poetry

This weekend I had the pleasure of joining RRBC for its debut show on BlogTalkRadio  “Bring on the Genres” with host Jan Sikes, and authors Balroop Singh, and D.L. Finn. We discussed the process of creating poetry. Click on the link below to hear the show. Join us as we explore this genre.

>>Click Here to Join Us<<

Book Publishing in the Age of COVID-19

Kayana Szymczak (for STAT)

I know some of you are wondering about the effects of the Coronavirus on the book industry. Some of you have asked if you should still publish your books.

Yes, I do think you should proceed with publishing your books.

Based on the current climate, I also think it is wise for all businesses to expect some changes as a result of COVID-19, which is now a global pandemic, according to The World Health Organization. On Wednesday night, President Donald Trump also suspended travel from Europe to the US for thirty days, excluding the UK.

What we know for sure is there have been significant changes due to this virus. We have seen changes in the stock market, cruises, theme parks, tourism, sports, and travel. Factory closures in China (the world’s largest exporter, responsible for a third of global manufacturing. China accounts for more than 80% of imports of toys alone) led to a record low in the country’s Purchasing Manufacturing output. Italy, which has the world’s ninth-largest economy, is on lock-down, and the state department raised the worldwide travel advisory level to Level 3: Reconsider Travel. This advisory means there is an official warning against nonessential travel.

The entertainment industry has seen changes as well with Tom Hanks and his wife testing positive for the virus.  In the sports world, the NBA has suspended the season until further notice because of Utah Jazz center Rudy Gobert, testing positive. Yesterday morning, a second Utah player, Donovan Mitchell, also tested positive.

The NCAA men’s and women’s basketball tournaments have been canceled, the MLB suspended training, delaying opening day two weeks, the NHL suspended its season, and tons of other sports activities are being canceled.

Trillions of dollars have been wiped from the financial markets this week, and small businesses are already seeing signs of struggle as supply chains dry up. Yes, human suffering can be due to illness, but it can also be due to people not being able to pay their bills, subsequently losing their homes and going hungry.

Consider too the 24 states (more by the time this post is live) under a state of emergency.

What we are seeing is the potential unfolding of several crises, all happening at once. People are panicking and making up stuff, buying out the toilet paper for some strange reason, leaving their jobs; children are not going to school, and conferences, venues, and even sports games are being suspended until further notice.

Whether you want to believe this is media sensationalism or not, the reality is that things are different and there have been changes in the world that are affecting the lives of real people.

This post is about adjusting to these changes as a businessperson in publishing, the hope I see for authors in an age where the go-to form of entertainment (sports) is brought to its knees, and the good news in store for Self-Publishers.

Here are the changes I discovered so far in publishing. Please add on to them by commenting below on what you are hearing as well.

  • Book Fairs and Conferences (where large communities of people gather) are being canceled. This “social distancing,” as it is being called, includes The London Book Fair (The UK’s largest book fair event), the Bologna Children’s Book Fair, and the Leipzig Book Fair.

 

  • An employee at Amazon was diagnosed with COVID-19. The bookstores in NY have been holding up so far, I hear, but amazon workers from New York are working from home. “Sellers on Amazon’s marketplace are reportedly struggling to bring goods into the country.”

 

 

  • Not exactly sure if this is directly linked to the Coronavirus, but I am hearing it’s been a hard week for big publishers. Three of the big five are struggling, specifically MacMillan, Hachette, and Simon & Schuster.

 

  • Some individual authors have reported a decline in book sales since COVID-19, but some have seen an increase. There is no telling to my knowledge if there are any significant cases of falling book sales among Indies. I do know sales of apocalyptic type literature is on the rise.

 

 

  • Some Authors/Publishers are focusing on the online version of their book business to avoid contact with large groups of people. Examples include releasing digital products, blogging, and live streaming events and conferences. ALLi’s Self-Publishing Advice Conference will be online.

The good news for Indie Authors is that Self-Publishing has its strengths online. Making use of the internet by continuing to release books and digital products through author websites, blogs, live streams, and social media is a smart move in the age of COVID-19. Small book signings might be okay, but most states are now restricting larger gatherings.

My final thought is this:

If you are planning to publish a book in the next few days, few weeks, few months, my thought is to go ahead and keep to your schedule, but take the effect COVID-19 can have on small businesses seriously. Make preparations for working from home as much as possible just in case your city is the one on lockdown.

Update:

The US is officially under a National Emergency, so movement is even more limited, and there is talk of more travel bans.

Virtual Book Tours, Online Presentations and Conferences, Facebook and IG Live, Digital Products, Radio shows, Text Interviews, Online Services, Blogging, Guest Blogging, Blog Tours…are all things you can do as an author that doesn’t require face-to-face contact.


Preorder Stella: Between Slavery and Freedom today.

Don’t forget to pick up your copy of book one in The Stella Trilogy. Something tells me you’re gonna need something to read 😉

>>Get it Here<<

The One Thing Self-Publishers Overlook When Publishing Print Books

I am getting book one in The Stella Trilogy ready for its March 24th release. Preparing this book led me to notice the one thing about my books I had neglected and the one thing Self-Publishers overlook when publishing print books.

Not all Self-Published books look mediocre because of poor cover design and editing. Lots of Self-Published books have excellent covers and are packaged well on the outside.

But there is one thing that separates most Self-Published paperback books from Traditionally Published paperback books in terms of quality.

I am talking about typesetting.

“Typesetting is the process of setting text onto a page. In this stage, which occurs towards the end of book production, the typesetter arranges the book’s interior to create the best reading experience.” 

– Reedsy 

The key is to have a Self-Published book indistinguishable in quality from high quality Traditionally Published and Independently Published books. The way the author or book designer arranges the text on the page has a lot to do with this.

Here are some suggestions for improving typesetting (if you are not paying someone to do it):

  • Don’t space your words out so much. You don’t need to double-space to that extent. You will know you have too much space if the text looks light. But also, don’t squish them together too tightly either. You will know this if the text looks too dark. (Try maybe 1.5 spacing).

 

  • There’s no need to double-space after periods. This practice came from the typewriter when characters were the same width, but with modern computers, there’s no need to do this.

 

  • The first paragraph of a chapter should not be indented. Subsequent chapters in a fiction book can be indented. Nonfiction books use a block style instead of an indent, where there is no indentation on the next line.

 

  • Don’t forget to add page numbers.

 

  • In fiction writing, the dialogue starts on a new line every time a new person is speaking, should be enclosed with quotation marks, and with each new line indented.

Wrong:

“Oh my gosh, Nora, really?” Lisa rolled her eyes. “I’m just saying,” debated Nora, “that word gets you lynched where I come from.”

Correct:

“Oh my gosh, Nora, really?” Lisa rolled her eyes.

“I’m just saying,” debated Nora, “that word gets you lynched where I come from.”

 

  • If you are not sure about font, serif font is a good choice.

 

  • Set your paragraph alignment to justified. Justified means the left and right edges are straight. This looks neater and is easier to read.

 

  • Make sure your trim size is appropriate for the size book you want to publish. The size of a typical novel is 6×9, but you may want your book to be shorter in size. Change the trim size in word by going to Layout > Size.

 

  • Adjust your chapter headings (you do have chapter headings, right??), so they are not too far down the page.

 

  • A new chapter starts on a new page.

 

  • When uploading your document to KDP, consider uploading a PDF copy of the MS, not a Word Doc.

 

  • Make sure your paperback book is not just edited but also formatted. You can use formatting software or pay someone to arrange the text for you. I prefer to pay a professional to do all this for me after the book has been edited. 
Preorder Stella: Between Slavery and Freedom today.

It may seem small, but if you are Self-Publishing a paperback book, good typesetting makes for easy reading. This is one of those behind the scenes things that readers only notice if it’s done wrong. No one would have paid attention to the man, eating, and drinking air in Tyler Perry’s A Fall from Grace if there was food on his plate and water in his glass.

The same applies here. Readers care about the story. They are not going to pay attention to the typesetting unless it is so out of sorts it becomes distracting. 

If I open your paperback book and there’s enough space for me to write a whole diary entry between paragraphs, or it looks like a DIY your little brother put together, I am going to notice it.

It is not always a bad book cover or poor editing that brings down the quality of some Indie books. It is the typesetting or the way they print the text on the page that gives the book away.

The Stella Trilogy: The Research (Book One)

Cane River Creole National Park – Oakland Plantation, Natchitoches, Louisiana, November, 2016.

Since the meat of book one focuses on what life was like for a little girl, and then a young woman, growing up in slavery, the bulk of my research had to do with reading slave narratives and studying enslavement through the eyes of women and children.

Between Slavery and Freedom centers on Stella’s enslavement on The Saddler Plantation in Louisiana. As I introduce us to the first Stella, she is a six-year-old girl enslaved with her mother, Deborah. At this age, she is not aware that she is living property, which was typical for some enslaved children in their early years. She plays with the other children, including the slave owners’ daughter, but she does not yet understand the value of her flesh, that she could be bought, sold, traded, transferred, deeded, and gifted. Stella describes the plantation as a “big family.” She loves running through the dirt and the way it feels on her toes. She talks of childish things like eating sweet cakes, playing with Miss Carla, and trying to convince Mama, she touched the sun.

“One time, I made it where I touched the sun. It wasn’t even hot either. It didn’t feel like nothing but air. I told Mama the sun was tricking us. 

“And how it do that?”

“Cause Mama. I touched it, and it ain’t burn my finger none. It feels hot, but it ain’t really.”

– Stella, Between Slavery and Freedom

Historically, enslaved children who had a “childhood” in this way realized their status gradually. Their awakened consciousness may have been signified by seeing a family member sold for the first time or being sold themselves. The research points to ten as the age where the enslaved child knew and understood that he or she was property, except in the circumstances, as I have mentioned. As soon as they were old enough, the enslaved child’s life changed, and they realized that their lives as enslaved differed greatly from the lives of the white children they once played with as small children.

Slave-owners raised southern white youth as enslavers in training. Sometimes slave-owners gifted their children an enslaved person as a pet (sometimes it was the same child they played with). Literature also played a role in the training of southern youth to not only accept slavery as a regular part of society but to prepare them to own slaves of their own. Examples of such books is The Child’s Book on Slavery; or Slavery Made Plain. In a chapter called The Duty of Learning about Slavery, it states:

“if slavery is good, we ought to help it forward…”

In a chapter called Does Color Make Slavery, it states:

“Moses and all his people, I have said, were slaves in Egypt, but they were not colored people.” 

This explanation was to try to explain to the children that slavery wasn’t based on skin color, and it is a lie. Egypt is in Africa. Moses and his people were “people of color.”

In a chapter called What is a Slave, the author compares the enslaved to a horse, saying:

“Perhaps your father has a horse. That is his property. He has a right to make the horse work, only he should treat him kindly and give him good food. If the horse is his, nobody has a right to tell him he must not use the horse so. And then, if he thinks it best, he has a right to sell the horse to somebody else. Nobody has a right to forbid him. He need not go and ask even the horse, if he may have him plow the garden, or draw the wagon, for the horse would not understand him, and could not speak to him, and will never grow so old or so wise, that he can understand our words, and talk himself.”

Source: https://archive.org/details/ASPC0001969600/page/n5/mode/2up

Speaking of literature, another part of writing book one was reading many slave narratives, including Frederick Douglass An American Slave, and Up from Slavery. Other books included When I Was a Slave: Memoirs from the Slave Narrative CollectionBullwhip Days: The Slaves Remember, and Remembering Slavery: African Americans Talk About Their Personal Experiences of Slavery and Emancipation.

Cane River Creole National Historical Park

Cane River Creole National Park – Oakland Plantation, Natchitoches, Louisiana, November, 2016.

“Some people have to take the cotton and pick out the seeds, and others have to spin and weave. They don’t do nothing but spins and weaves. Some people even had to turn the weaves into threads.”

– Stella, Between Slavery and Freedom

More profound than this is my visit to a former slave plantation at The Cane River Creole National Historical Park in Natchitoches, Louisiana.

You might ask yourself why anyone would want to visit such a place. I was writing about people living on a slave plantation and what better way to get inside their heads than to visit one.

Originally called Bermuda, the founder of Oakland was Jean Pierre Emmanuel Prud’ Homme, who began farming the land in 1785 and received a Spanish land grant in 1789. The land’s first cash crops were tobacco, indigo, and cotton. The Prud’ Hommes were the first family west of the Mississippi River to farm cotton on a large scale.

Cane River Creole National Park – Oakland Plantation, Natchitoches, Louisiana, November, 2016. Slave Quarter turned home of Sharecroppers

“Down in the quarters, every family had a one- or two-room log cabin. Mostly one room though. We had mattresses filled with corn shucks. Sometimes the men build chairs at night. We didn’t know much about having anything, though. There were a lot of cabins for the slaves, but they weren’t fitting for nobody to live in. We just had to put up with them.”

– Stella, Between Slavery and Freedom

After the Civil War, sharecropper and tenant farmers continued to live on the land until the 1970s, and slave quarters became homes to sharecroppers later. The people worked twelve hours a day, six days a week. Seeing this with my own eyes put it into perspective how the south had reconstructed slavery by returning land to former slave owners and putting former slaves back into the fields under another name. Slave codes designed to control the enslaved became black codes intended to control freedmen, and cotton pickers became sharecroppers.

Martha Ann, an enslaved Laundress, worked in this wash house in the 1850s. In the 1940s, her descendant, Martha Helaire, earned $4 an hour working here as a Laundress. All we have to do is walk a few steps to the washer and dryer.

I blogged about this visit years ago. Get the full picture and see more pics by revisiting that post here.

Living on 40 Acres of Land

Finally, part of my preparation for book one also included where I was living at the time I started writing these books.

At the time I released the first book in this trilogy, my husband and I lived in an old house owned by our elderly cousin on 40-acres of land. Over the years, we planted a garden on the property, built a chicken coop and raised chickens, owned several dogs, goats, and even a horse. My grandmother-in-law also recounted stories of when she and some cousins picked cotton on this land.

The elderly cousin and her father built the house we rented many years ago. It was an old house and an old land. It was easy for my overactive imagination to envision what it would be like if we were not renting this house from our cousin; if we were not free to live life on our own terms; if this was not the 2000s, but the 1800s, and if we were not free but enslaved. I walked the property, breathed the air, and looked up at the trees. I had dreams of black people hanging from those trees and visions of people trying to escape.

We lived on that land for five years, eventually moving away in 2015, and I had a completed manuscript.


Preorder the ebook here for just 99cents

Preorder a Signed Paperback Here

Mark as Want to Read on Goodreads

(If you read Stella the first time around I would most appreciate you marking it as read on Goodreads!)