I am always thinking about why Stella is so set-apart. Why are these books so effortless for me? The first time I released the series, things went smoothly, and the same is happening now. I can sit down, open Stella, and flow (or as I told a room of students, I sit down and bleed, to quote Hemingway).
A good fiction book, to me, has great character development. The characters are realistic in dialogue, how they talk to each other, what their lives are like, the decisions they make, and so on. When I am writing novels, I typically write Historical Fiction, so setting and dialogue are paramount. The setting is a significant element because the environment affects the plot and the characters. A story set in the 1800s must have language authentic to that time, and the characters must speak and interact like they are in the 1800s, not 2020.
My books tend to include a wide selection of people, some minor characters, some major characters. This is risky, but I’ve been told it’s one of my strengths. Somehow, I am capable of keeping up with everyone and letting them interact authentically.
I’ve never fleshed out a family tree with any other series as I have with Stella, and I think it has helped with the writing. It doesn’t mean everyone in the tree are part of the central cast of characters or that I should include every detail, but it does make it easier for me when I am writing to remember who belongs to who. Stella is a short series (each book only about 100-115 pages). As Nathaniel, Hawthorne says, “Easy reading is damn hard writing.” Some may think a short book is quick and easy to write, but this is not so. It’s an easy read but requires just as much work as a full-length novel.
Let’s meet the family!
Paul Saddler and Deborah – Saddler is the owner of slaves on The Paul Saddler Plantation, including a young woman named Deborah. In 1845, Paul and Deborah had a little girl named Stella.
Stella and Solomon – Stella later gives birth to a little boy named Solomon. He is very light-skinned with jet black hair and green eyes like his father, John. Stella met John through her sister Clara, but you’d have to read book one to learn more about this awkward relationship.
Solomon – Solomon marries a white woman, and together, they have four girls: Deborah (named after Stella’s mother), Rebecca, Judith, and Sara.
Judith – It is in book two, we see that Sidney’s mother is Judith. Judith dates a black man and gives birth to a little girl she names Stella, in honor of her grandmother. But this Stella changes her name later in life (you have to read the book to find out why) to Sidney. Sidney marries a white man named Clarence McNair. Sidney and Clarence have four children: Edward, Karen, Joseph, and Glenda.
Edward – Edward marries a white woman named Vanessa, and together they have three children, Cynthia, Ryan, and Solomon. Ryan and Solomon aren’t major characters, but Cynthia is.
Karen – Karen dates a Black Panther in the 60s named Noah, and together they have a son, Noah Jr.
Joseph – Joseph marries a black woman, Fae, and together they have a boy and girl, Tanya and Micheal. It is in book three we learn what happened to Joseph after he left his mother’s house after the fight with Edward in book two, how he met Fae, and how he got mixed up in The Freedom Rides and Civil Rights Movement. His children are minor characters but add to the family tree and help to establish the depth of Jo and Fae’s relationship.
Glenda – Glenda is a single mom raising triplets, all boys.
In book one, we meet everyone here, including additional characters like Paul’s wife Elizabeth and their daughter Clara, Stella # 1’s friend Lola, Aunt Cecily, and others on the plantation.
What does writing out a family lineage as this do?
It helps me to create vivid characters. Everyone didn’t come to me at once. I started with the first Stella and her mother, Deborah. The first time we go back to Stella’s time in book one, that first chapter is what started the series, with Stella and her mom at the store and Stella trying to tell mom she has to use the bathroom. I then went back to write what became the first chapter, with Cynthia and Alex later.
Even though the book is called The Stella Trilogy, I wanted to focus in on Cynthia in book one to explore how not passing down history can affect our children. In book two, Cynthia is two years old, and the year is 1979. In book one, we opened in 1996, and Cynthia is a young woman. The decision her dad made in ’79 causes her to grow up and not know who she is. We recount Stella’s story in book one because it is the glue that ties everything together. We then go backwards with books two and three to see just how things unfolded.
Why does Cynthia express racists thoughts toward blacks even though she has black blood? Why did Edward leave his daughter in the dark about the true nature of her race? What happened in 1979? What is Mama Sidney’s big secret? How did the history of this family get so lost? Will Stella’s legacy bring her family back together again?
One inspiration for this family tree was Roots. I love the “six degrees of separation” this groundbreaking series has to it. To learn more about the motivation of Alex Haley’s Roots, click here.
About Book One:
Cynthia McNair and her boyfriend, Alex, express some racist feelings toward blacks. The visit Cynthia’s grandmother Sidney McNair, who recounts the story of her ancestor, an enslaved woman named Stella Mae. Cynthia has no idea of her African ancestry or how deep this rabbit hole goes. Will she accept the truth about herself?