Introduce Yourself: Introducing Guest Author VALI BENSON

Introduce Yourself is back! Please help me extend a warm welcome to VALI BENSON. Vali, welcome to the PBS Blog!


What is your name and where are you from?

My name is Vali Benson. I was born in Champaign, Illinois, the home of the University of Illinois. After graduating from U of I, I decided to go west to get away from the brutal winter weather. I now live in Tucson, AZ, where I am very happy with my husband, two sons, and grandchildren.

Brutal is right! I am from Chicago so you ain’t never lied there. Vali, got a favorite drink?

Iced tea is my favorite drink, but it has to be super sweet. When I am writing, I need my sweet iced tea. Oddly enough, I do not like ice in my iced tea, and I always chuckle when I hear someone refer to the drink as “Ice” tea. As far as cocktails are concerned, I love a spicy Bloody Mary.

Nice. Favorite food?

My favorite food is escargots. Growing up in Illinois, I would have never dreamed that I would say that, but I absolutely love them. The first time I had escargots was on my honeymoon, and the only reason I did it was that I didn’t want to appear unsophisticated to my new husband. Thank heaven I had no idea what they were at first, or else I would never have tried them.

Pick up your copy of Blood and Silver from Amazon. Click Here.

Let’s talk about writing. When did you publish your first book? What was that like?

My first book, Blood and Silver, was published on April 3, 2020. To be honest, it was surreal. I had completed a lifelong dream of putting my ideas and feelings into an actual book for others to consume. I was numb and excited. At the same time, it was extremely frightening because my innermost thoughts were now fair game for all to criticize. I still cannot believe that I can call myself a published author.

That is awesome. Congratulations and welcome to the world of publishing. That Blood and Silver cover is dope!

What genre do you write in, why?

I generally prefer to write young adult fiction. This is probably because that genre had such an impact on me as a girl. I was not the most confident child, so when I could read about fictional characters that were around my age, it made me feel secure. If my books can instill others with those valued feelings of pride, confidence, and acceptance, I know I will have done my job.

Wonderful. What do you wish you knew more about?

I dearly wish I was more tech-savvy. Computers and I have never really gotten along, but I am sad to say that I am being left behind by the changing times. The day has come when I have had to admit that technology no longer consists of luxury; it exists as a necessity. I better start swimming, or I’ll sink like a stone.

Do you have a favorite color Val?

Blue has always been my favorite color. Perhaps it has something to do with the fact that I have blue eyes, but I think it is because I am a believer in infinite possibilities. When I was a girl, there was nothing more infinite to me than the big bright blue sky.

Blue is a beautiful color. We love sharing historical fun facts on this blog. Who would you say is your favorite Historical figure?

Jacqueline Kennedy. She was so much more than just First Lady of the United States. Of all her accomplishments, it is her character that I admire most. The way she handled the traumatic events surrounding her husband’s death with the whole world staring at her still amazes me. Her grace, poise, and dignity amid unimaginable catastrophe is something all people, not just women, should aspire to emulate.

Beautifully articulated. What do you think of the world we live in?

The world we live in is truly what we make of it. It all depends on perspective. I choose to be positive and focus on what I cherish in my life and not worry about the elements that are out of my control. One factor to remember is that advancements around our world might change, but people and human nature do not.

What don’t you like about yourself?

Ever since I was a little girl, I have let others’ opinions affect me more than they should. I do not like that I put so much stock in what others think of me. The great thing is, I am getting better at only worrying about how I view myself.

What’s the funniest movie you’ve ever seen?

I love so many funny movies, and comedies are my favorite genre. But one that sticks out to me is Tropic Thunder from 2008. The performances are completely hilarious, and the writing is pure genius, but the film always conjures good vibes. The first time I saw Tropic Thunder, I really needed some cheering up, and it did exactly that. Plus, a bald Tom Cruise in a fat suit always cracks me up!

What is the worst advice you’ve ever been given?

Have low expectations for yourself so you won’t be disappointed.

I’ve heard that one before too…

I understand, in theory, what the person was trying to convey, and they meant well, but the advice was directed at my own performance. It gave me the feeling that no matter what I did, it would not be good enough, so why even try. The adage goes, “If you don’t believe in yourself, nobody else will either.” It was a long time before I believed in myself due to this piece of warped advice.

Thank you Valie for spending this time with us. We enjoyed you!


Author Photo: Vali Benson

Bio.

Vali started and sold two successful businesses before she decided to pursue her real passion for writing. She published several articles in a variety of periodicals, including History Magazine, before she decided to try her hand at fiction. She grew up in the Midwest and now lives in Tucson with her husband, two sons, and two grandchildren.

Be Sure to Follow this Author Online!


Are you an author? Looking for more exposure? Learn more about my Introduce Yourself Feature HERE


Revising The Stella Trilogy: Crafting Authentic Historical Details

In Beyond the Colored Line, book two of The Stella Trilogy, we meet Noah Daniels who is a member of The Black Panther Party for Self-Defense. There are two books I read that helped me to conceptualize his character in the most authentic way possible: Revolutionary Suicide by Huey P. Newton and The Assassination of Fred Hampton: How the FBI and the Chicago Police Murdered a Black Panther by Jeffrey Haas.

These books helped me to capture the language and the spirit of the movement as realistically as possible. I modeled Noah’s persona after both Huey Newton and Fred Hampton. Noah uses terms like “Pig,” regarding the police like the Panthers did in the 60s, but reading Newton’s story helped me to understand this wasn’t a random term they pulled out of the sky to be derogatory.

Black Panther rhetoric like “All Power to the People,” and the concept of “pig,” came with Newton’s interest in A. J. Ayer’s logical positivism, that nothing can be real if it cannot be conceptualized, articulated, and shared. While I do not agree with this philosophy as a person of faith (because faith is the opposite of this…the belief and expectation of something even when you cannot see it), it was helpful in me understanding the Panthers on a deeper level and thus helped me to make Noah’s story more real.

Not all research needs to be included in the story so you won’t hear Noah quoting A.J. Ayer. The point of research for historical books is to help the writer to better understand the culture of the time so the characters can interact with the setting genuinely.

Historical Fiction is not an easy genre to write because while the story itself is fictional, the dialogue and personas of the characters have to be true to the time. A young person living in 1960 wouldn’t speak like a young person living in 2020. If done right, adding authentic historical details enrich the story by triggering memories of the past.

Excerpt from Chapter Ten:

“That just bugs me. We supposed to march and get hit upside the head by the pigs?” he would say in conversations with his mother when he would visit her. Unlike many young black men raised by their mothers, Noah’s mother had decided early on that her son’s narrative would be different. When he came of age, she would turn him over to be raised by his father. She could provide a lot of things, but she could not teach him how to be a man. She supported most of Noah’s radicalism, but only to an extent.

“Now don’t you go rappin’ ‘bout all that communist jive talk in here boy. Violence and hatred never helped to expand no revolution.”

“But Ma, that’s where you’re wrong. It’s not about violence. It’s about defending ourselves. Violence is only the guilt complex that exists in the minds of America.”

Mama Daniels would lift her head to the ceiling, wishing she’d said nothing.

“To say that a man is violent because he defends himself does not differ from saying a man who is being lynched and thus fighting back is himself violent because he fights back.”

“Boy, what? You know, sometimes I wish you weren’t so smart.”

Noah laughed, “’cause you know I’m right. Mama, white Americans know that they have been violent against Negroes, and they fear that one day the Negro will do unto them as they have done unto the Negro.”

The 1960s presented a new wave of leadership and identity for people of color who went from being Negroes to Blacks. Just the previous year, the heavyweight champion, Muhammad Ali refused induction into the army on both religious and political grounds. The epitome of the black power movement was the Black Panther Party, founded by Huey P. Newton and Bobby Seale. This party organized the use of self-defense in the accomplishment of black justice and was right up Noah’s alley.


Stella: Beyond the Colored Line

Get it Here.

Haven’t read book one yet? Get it here for just $0.99.

Already read these books? Don’t forget to leave a review!

African American Images on Book Cover Premades!

If you’ve been following this blog for the past five years you know one of my biggest complaints has been the lack of African American/Black themed premade book covers. And guess what? I found a few!

Beetiful Book Covers

“Launched in 2013 by Stefanie Fontecha, Beetiful Book Covers offers African American premade book covers.”

Cover Your Dreams

This one is not exclusive to AFAM but I’ve seen several covers featuring black men/women. The prices are low so this may be useful for Indie Authors on a budget.

Marion Designs

This one looks a bit more upscale with professional photos.

Designs by Rachelle

It appears this site also occasionally features diverse photos in its premade covers.

Learn more about how to get the best out of premade covers and what to look for HERE


Do you know of any more we can add? Drop a comment on the table if you do and let us know!

Revising The Stella Trilogy: Book Two – Beyond the Colored Line

Book one is out and we are on to book two!

My main challenge for book two is making sure that it stays consistent with book one. This is important for any series, but for Historical Fiction, it is even more critical.

Since writing Historical Fiction is writing set in a time that has already occurred, the details of the past must be realistic to what was going on. A good Historical Fiction book places fictional characters somewhere in a world that has already existed in a way that reads authentic. Readers should be able to reimagine what that world was like by immersing themselves in the life of the characters and the world around them. I like to think of it as a time machine, which is also what makes writing #Histfic fun to me.

Style, Language, Dialogue

Like book one, book two opens in 1996 and picks up where we left off at Mama Sidney’s house in book one. But book two also takes us back into the life of Mama Sidney, and we revisit history from the 1920s through the 60s. My focus for book two was to make sure the dialogue, language, racial and political events occurring during this time were realistic to what was happening in the world. We talk about The Great Depression and touch on the reoccurring lynchings taking place in both the north and south. We look at the brutal murder of Emmett Till, the shooting of Dr. King, Jim Crow Laws, and The Black Panther Party. While I immerse Stella in her own world, there is still the larger world to deal with and we watch how she navigates both. How does Stella’s personal identity crises correlate to the identity crises plaguing her larger community?

Racial Terminology

The biggest thing to deal with for book two is the racial classifications of blacks during this period. African Americans are the only people whose racial terminology has changed with the census. We have been “Niggers,” Negros, Coloreds, Blacks, and African Americans, and this can get confusing when trying to use the right term for the right year. This is also not to mention other racial “nicknames” we called ourselves, such as Afro-American and The New Negro.

The challenge of using the right term for the right years is because there were terms that blacks preferred to call themselves and terms used discriminately by the wider society. Although by the 60s Black Americans were preferring to be called blacks or Afro-Americans (as Malcolm X used a lot after leaving the Nation of Islam) white separatist signage still referred to us as coloreds. “Whites Only / Coloreds Only,” or “Welcome to the Colored Zone,” banners and store signs could have read.

Credited to W.E.B. Dubois and Booker T. Washington, blacks advocated for a switch from Colored to Negro in the early 1920s. As blacks redefined themselves, terms like “The New Negro,” became popular and sparked a movement that later became known as The Harlem Renaissance.

By the 1960s, though, African Americans had transitioned from being “Negros,” to “Blacks.” (Malcolm X specifically didn’t like the term Negro).

During the Black Power movement when sayings such as “I’m Black and I’m Proud,” were popular (think James Brown “Say it loud, I’m black and I’m proud!”) blacks wore their hair natural, read and published black literature and did what they thought would reconnect them with their lost heritage. In this process, many black political leaders of the time, such as Kwame Ture or Stokely Carmichael, helped to shift the terminology away from Negro and toward Black. Black publications like Ebony followed by switching from Negro to Black.

While a large majority of people still preferred Negro, “Black“ was becoming the preferred term with the New York Times and Associated Press abandoning “Negro” in the 1970s.

By the 1980s, Jesse Jackson called for a shift from Black to African American and while the change is still not as accepted or monumental as black was during the 60s, it is the term most socially acceptable when referring to black Americans.

I had to consider these changes when referring to blacks throughout this part of the book. What did they call themselves? What did society call them? How do I integrate this into the dialogue and setting realistically?

Setting, language, and dialogue is the backbone of Historical Fiction because the setting makes the story seem real and determines the character’s beliefs and actions. Not only do I strive to make the characters stand out but the culture of the time in which they live.


About Book Two:

In book two, we dig deeper into the McNair family’s legacy. Named after her great-grandmother, Stella has a very light complexion causing her to be the tease of her classmates. Unable to find solace among her African American contemporaries, Stella finds it challenging to adjust to a world where she is too light to be black.

After The Great Depression of the 1930s forces Stella’s family to move to Chicago, a conversation with Aunt Sara provokes Stella to do something that will dramatically affect not just her life but the life of her children and grandchildren.

Stella: Beyond the Colored Line will be available through my website and back up on Amazon in digital and print by April 24th. I am not putting the rest of the books up for preorder, so you’ll be able to order it immediately on 4/24.

If you have not already read book one, click one of the links below.

Amazon Kindle

Signed paperback

https://www.yecheilyahysrayl.com/bookstore/stella-between-slavery-and-freedom

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)

Win $200 in Amazon Cash: From The 2019 Kindle Book Award Winners

Attention Readers!!!

I am so excited to collaborate with the winners of the 2019 Kindle Book Awards to award one of you a $200 cash prize, sponsored by Amazon. Please read on for instructions on how to enter. We can all use an extra $200!

For a chance to win a $200 Amazon eGift Card from The 2019 Kindle Book Award Winners, click the link and enter (every day if you want). It’s easy & fun. If you love #reading, you’re going to LOVE these BOOKS. Enter now; giveaway ends Feb. 29, 2020. Click here for details ~>  http://ow.ly/VlqT50ylWG6

WHAT: $200 Reader Giveaway
WHEN: Feb.15-29, 2020

Again, here’s the link!!

https://www.thekindlebookreview.net/200-reader-giveaway/

The fun kicks off on

February 15, 2020 

(The link won’t work until 2/15. I am posting it now because I won’t be available to post it then.)

“But My Family Don’t Support my Writing”

Popular Complaint: “My family don’t support my writing.”🤷🏾‍♀️

Umm. How can I put this, your family and friends will be the least supportive of your writing (as is the case for most businesses). That’s not a bad thing entirely because they are not really your targeted audience.

New Writer:  *Smacks lips, rolls eyes.* “Okay, so what that mean?” 🙄

It means you have to find those people who are most likely to read the kinds of books you write and often, they are not family members. This specific group of people is called a targeted audience. You are not targeting everyone but focusing on one specific kind of reader. Here’s an example from words from Tyler Perry:

“I clearly believe that I’m ignored in Hollywood for sure and that’s fine. I get it. My audience and the stories that I tell are African American stories specific to a certain audience, specific to a certain group of people that I know that I grew up with and we speak a language.” – Tyler Perry

Say what you want about Perry but he has a keen understanding of his Target Audience. That’s what he is speaking of here. A specific group of people who his films/movies/TV shows are specifically for. That’s why his movies are all along the same lines in the theme. We can see that Tyler Perry makes the same movies because he is targeting a specific audience.

Personally, I am not much of a Tyler Perry fan. There are only a few of his movies I like but that’s not the point.

We can agree or disagree with his movies, but he is an excellent example of someone with knowledge of his Target Market.

When you are targeting a specific group, you are not trying to reach everyone or garner everyone’s support. Your purpose is to appeal to that specific group.

(Feel like I’m saying “specific” a lot but that’s kinda important). 

How many people at Michelle Obama’s book signing were related to her?

New Writer: “What? But those was her fans tho.” 🧐

And you have fans too if you look beyond the praise of family members who will probably never buy.

New Writer: “So you saying my mama can’t buy my book?” 💁🏾‍♀️

Your mom will probably buy your book first, but she’s not the seventeen-year-old black boy with peer pressure issues you wrote it for is she?

New Writer: “I mean naw but…”🤨

…and she’s probably not gonna leave a book review on Amazon, follow you on Goodreads, Twitter, Instagram, or subscribe to your email list and if she does, she probably won’t remember to read it.

New Writer: *smacks lips* “Dang why you gotta be all negative for?” 😒

Because the truth will set a lot of writers free from unrealistic expectations about what it means to be an author.

Loyal family/relatives may buy a book or two and they may be there to cheer you on, lift you, and support you in various ways. Families are good at heaping praises.

They love to like your posts, root you on and tell you repeatedly how they intend to buy your book and how proud they are of you. This is helpful from an encouraging point of view and it feeds the ego, but praise doesn’t sell books. How many of these people follow up? Every year the same family member asks, “where can I buy yo book?” But they never buy.

It is those non-relative readers who your book is specifically written for who will buy with consistency and read your every release, becoming avid readers and fans.

(…and I hate to use the word “fan,” by the way. *Shudders* Be a fanatic for no one.)

👉🏾How many of your genetic relatives have bought your book?

New Writer: “Lemme see, my mama got one, my cousin, boo boo nem, lil Chris…”

So what, all five of them..?

New Writer: “Oh, so you being funny?”🤔

No. I’m being real. Put it this way, would a company whose buyers don’t watch TV, make a commercial to push their product?

New Writer: “Naw that’s stupid.”🙄

🤷🏾‍♀️ So why would authors focus the bulk of their efforts on trying to sell to people who don’t read the books they write?

New Writer: “I guess I see what you saying.”😩

Now, take out some paper. You’re gonna have to write this down.

…wait, what are you doing? Put your phone down this is important. 🤦🏾‍♀️

New Writer: “Imma type it in my notepad.”

Okay but don’t be on Instagram this is important.

New Writer: I’m not dang. 🤳Go. I’m ready.”

Okay, here are a few questions you can ask yourself to help you find your readers. 

  • Who are my current readers/Who am I trying to reach? How old are they? What do they like? Where do they hang out?
  • What’s the #1 thing my readers love/need the most?
  • What problem does my book solve? What are my readers’ pains/issues/struggles/challenges?
  • What do readers gain from reading my book? What do I have to offer?
  • Who would benefit most from reading my book?
  • What makes my book unique?

My Responses to Common Complaints from New Writers is something new I am adding to this blog based on common writing and publishing questions from new Indie Writers. I thought it would be fun to answer them here in the form of dialogue. You will know the posts by the quotation marks around the complaint to differentiate it from other posts.

Did you like this first post? Do you have a common complaint I should address?

Find more articles under the Writing Tips and Resources page here.