My Memoir Writing Journey

What exactly am I working on now? A lot of things but mostly my memoir. Now that Keep Yourself Full is on its way out, I really want to get this done and I will have to deter a lot of projects to do it. At least until I finish the first draft and then I can work on other stuff and just work on the memoir from there.

This is the hardest writing job I’ve ever undertaken. I have deleted everything I ever sent my email list as a sneak peek two years ago (can’t believe I let you in on that *insert eye-ball roll*) and have started over. I am fifty pages and nine chapters into the first draft so it’s not so bad considering starting over. What I don’t want this memoir to be is an autobiography. I’ve always wanted to write an autobiography, but that’s before I learned the difference between the two.

I learned memoirs differ from autobiographies. Memoirs are popular because they center on one theme and read like novels, making them much more interesting than the chronological format of the autobiography.

Theme

One thing I am working on is not making this psychoanalytic, if that’s the right word. While I’ve endured much trauma in my life, I don’t want this to be a dark history of my crazy. I don’t want this to be a therapy session. This is difficult because I’m not a sugarcoat type person and neither is my mother. I gotta keep it all the way real. I gotta be honest. How do I do this without going too far?

My title is “I Wasn’t Built to Break,” so my theme is to take all the things that have been obstacles and challenges in my life, that could have broken me physically, mentally, and emotionally, but didn’t. This means that I will not go into every single detail of my life but I will focus on certain significant events, starting with growing up in the Robert Taylor Projects.

Anyone who grew up in any of Chicago’s projects is a survivor in my eyes, a warrior. It meant they not only escaped the drugs, violence, poverty, neglect, and gangs, but they also escaped literal death. Perched above the high-risers of Robert Taylor and Cabrini Green, snipers (aka Gang Members) with high-powered rifles would sit on a top floor (in a vacant apartment) and shoot their rivals. These bullets though, often hit innocent bystanders, mostly children. I remember my Uncle coming to school to get us early because the buildings were shooting, and we had to run to our building. When I say it was a Warzone, I mean that literally. And none of us project kids ever got counseling or therapy for the things we saw. Not even the classmates of the seven-year-old Dantrell Davis from Cabrini who was shot by a sniper on his way to school in 1992 in front of his mother, teachers, police officers, and classmates.

Historical

Writing a memoir is no easy task so my approach is to research and write this as if I am writing a Historical Fiction novel, except everything is true. Since I enjoy writing Historical Fiction, I’ll use history as a buffer. Instead of focusing on my experiences only, I want to take us back into the politics of some of what was going on in the world I did not have knowledge of as a kid. There’s my world where I can only see what’s in front of me and around me. As, a child my view is limited not only physically but also mentally and emotionally. I can only understand my current surroundings and circumstances from an eight-year-old‘s perspective (which is the timeframe I am focusing on in the beginning of the book). Then there’s the world at large. How did the decisions of others affect me, one of 21,000 children growing up in what became known as one of the poorest urban communities in the United States, a concentration of poverty they called it, the Robert Taylor Projects?

I want to go into how the projects under the Chicago Housing Authority (CHA) replaced the Chicago Slums, the discriminatory policies like redlining that kept blacks from purchasing homes in their own neighborhoods, the kitchenettes and one-room basements blacks lived in during the 30s, 40s and 50s, the beacon of hope the projects promised as a replacement, the mixed-community that was there (because whites and blacks both lived in the PJs!), the racial riots that never made the news, and the racist policies that caused many white families to move out of the projects and into the suburbs. Also, the Plan for Transformation that demolished Public Housing and replaced them with a mixed-income community of condos and townhomes and what this cultural mix meant for former public housing residents. (There is even history behind the name Robert Taylor. He was a black man on the board of CHA who opposed building the projects on the same land as the slums. He wanted to spread them out, so they fully integrated blacks throughout Chicago. After CHA refused, he quit. To name a building after him in the same location he worked against was disrespectful and an insult to his memory.)

I hope that if I do this, it will be a much more enjoyable read. I want to incorporate both history and personal testimony with the testimony supporting the history. I remember for instance that whole “Homie the Clown” Scare of the early 90s. I remember that because I had nightmares of the clown coming into our apartment and chasing me around the couch. In 1991, rumors surfaced that a man who we called “Homie the Clown” was riding around in a van kidnapping and killing kids. “Homey the Clown,” was the name of a character played by Damon Wayans on the early 90s sketch-comedy show In Living Color. The character was an angry black ex-con who carried a sock for knocking bad kids upside the head. His catchphrase was “Homey don’t play that.” Our “Homie the Clown” was allegedly dressed as a clown and went around kidnapping kids. Rumors said that he rode in a van and liked to stand next to mailboxes eating bananas. This sounds silly now, but it was serious back then, just like the recent clown scares. We got let out of school early and children were afraid to walk by mailboxes. It also didn’t help that Stephen King’s IT had also just come out.

Community

It wasn’t all bad though so I want to talk about the close knit community that existed there too that never made the news. Generations of families grew up together in what is rarely seen today. My mother’s friend, who lived next door, helped her to babysit. People watched one another children, shopped together, stepped up when someone was in need and shared food. We could go next door or downstairs to ask if someone had sugar or flour. We bartered services and passed along information about job openings or what was new at the Aid office and the candy lady was an entrepreneur. She used her food stamps to open a candy store back when you can get one piece of candy for every penny you had, better known as Penny Candy.  People threw house parties and sleepovers. Robert Taylor was not just a concentration of poverty. It was also a thriving community. When things were good, they were really good, and everyone was family. But you didn’t see this on the news. We were not all crack babies. We were not animals.

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The Most Irritating Thing about the Self-Care Movement

the fact that everything is a movement now

like the importance of self-love didn’t exist

before Instagram memes

like healing is a status update

like self-care ain’t a journey but a tweet

like healing ain’t a process but words we hang

on our Facebook walls

and pretend we ain’t cover trauma in hashtags

I see healing differently

mistakes are opportunities

failure is strength

and self-love and healing is a process

paths that we aren’t always sure to take

we become masters of ourselves

only to begin again

like a battle we don’t know if we’ve won yet

a journey, healing is

and we master the parts of ourselves

until there are no more apologies

in our throats

until everything we do doesn’t sound like

sorry

until we value ourselves like we do

likes on a post

until burden ain’t heavy no more

cause we learned how to carry it

until we no longer carry it

until we’ve struggled so long

we don’t know what quitting is


Your Books in Independent Bookstores

When 2018 started, I told myself that I would step outside of my comfort zone by trying to get my books accepted into bookstores, a challenge for an Indie Author with no large following and no large publisher backing her. But I did it and now I am making it a goal to get my books into libraries and in schools. And if it’s Yah’s will, I hope to do some public speaking. Before this year ends, I’ll be sending my email list my personal goal-setting chart and they will get to see exactly how I set my goals and the action steps I implement to achieve them. Today, I am taking the time to reveal some basic things you can do to prepare your books to be accepted at bookstores and how to go about the process and it’s yours free. All you have to do is subscribe to my email list HERE to access the PDF. You will get a welcome email and the document will be in that email. Please be sure to check your spam / junk folders if you do not see the welcome email in your inbox.

Some of the things covered in the document.

  • Know Your Why

Unless you are already famous, people aren’t gonna be checking for your books at bookstores in the same way they do online. In order for people to walk in and not look over your book, they must have some prior knowledge about who you are (more on this below). Be sure you know why you are doing this. Getting in bookstores and libraries is not some fast track to fame or money maker. That’s not what it’s about. Getting into bookstores is only a big deal to Indie writers because many of us aren’t backed by a big publisher so getting onto the shelves of brick and mortar stores gives us a greater opportunity for the possibility of hosting book signings at those stores, meet new people (who we probably would not have met online), and expanding our brand far and wide.

  • Get Your Name Out There

As you’ll see in the document, it’s not very difficult to get into small, local, Independent bookstores on consignment which means that’s not really the challenge. The challenge is selling those books which is difficult to do if people don’t know who you are. I am still trying to get my name out there and I have identified some areas where I could do better. However, you don’t have to be a celebrity or famous to start. You can start with social media and drive traffic through your blog and social media accounts. The most effective thing, though, is to get out and attend local events. Is there a book festival in your hometown? Go. Is there any event that matches what your books are about? Go to those events. Here, you’ll meet people who may be able to help you, work with you, recommend you, and help you to get your message out.

  • Target Stores that Match Your Audience

I approach black-owned bookstores because my books are about black history. There are exceptions where I’ll take a chance on a non-black-owned store (such as Tall Tales Book Shop…I love their store set-up), but for the most part my target is populations where the majority of the readers are Israelites (Blacks) and women. Why? Because my books are about the lives of Blacks in America and the lives of women. It has nothing to do with “race” and everything to do with positioning myself to be at the places where my ideal reader is.

  • Technology is Still King

Don’t overthink it with the bookstores though and forget why the Indie Revolution started in the first place. It’s good to attend events and get out and network with people face to face but don’t forget technology is still king. You don’t want to create a situation where your presence is needed to make you money as perfectly put by Cici aka “The 6 Figure Chick” on IG. That is, you don’t want to only bring in income when you do an event. Keep that online presence going. I am of the opinion that Indies with books in the store should do so as a supplement to the online business, not as the business itself.

A website, email list, social media, and a payment method are among the foundational basis of an online business (and if you’re an author with books on amazon be sure to have an Amazon Author Central Page set-up. You can learn how to do that here). Your website is your home, your email list is your connection, your social media pages (includes blog) is your traffic and interaction, and your payment method/shopping cart (including amazon) is how you get paid. If you meet people in person, it won’t mean anything without a way for them to keep in contact with you. Update your blog and social media pages regularly and continue to be consistent. Remember that your success is not the same as everyone else’s and being authentic doesn’t have to mean doing what everyone else is doing. Be you. Be disciplined. Be consistent.

Read more by downloading the entire PDF Document when you subscribe to my email list HERE.


Pictures from Friday’s signing at Tall Tales Book Shop are now available on my website HERE. Thank you to everyone who came out. If you’re in the ATL area, my next signing is December 22nd from 2-5p EST at the Medubookstore at the Greenbriar Mall.

The Diary

My first practice in writing was the diary. Sometimes it wasn’t an actual diary but a journal I turned into one. It was a special thing for me because prior I had been writing in notebooks but notebooks didn’t provide the kind of privacy that diaries did. With the privacy of the diary, I could be more open which meant that I could be more real in my writing. I could express how I was feeling authentically because I knew that no one else would read my words. I could be angry, happy, sad, and excited. Unknown to me at the time, this was helping me to learn to express myself, to experiment with language and to organize my emotions.

My first diary was something I found somewhere. It had a lock on it that didn’t work and was pink and some other colors I don’t remember. But even though the lock didn’t work the cool thing about the diary is that as soon as it was understood this was a diary, people knew not to read it. To do so was an invasion so strong that you would fight someone over it. If someone read your diary it was like they had read your soul. It was deep because of how deeply you confided in it. I still remember what I felt when the events of 9/11 happened. I remember because I wrote it down.

First, our teacher turned the radio up. Something about New York and terrorists. Then, the school let us go home. When I got home, I stared at the television in the living room and watched as the twin towers crumbled to the ground. It was the first time I had seen something like that happen without it being a movie. I took to my diary to voice my opinion.

“Today is Tuesday, September 11, 2001. I am fourteen-years old. We are at war. God bless America.”

I was so corny and what I wrote was lame but because of writing it down I remember the exact day of the events and my age when it happened. I was fourteen so I didn’t understand all the politics surrounding the event at the time and of course I believed whatever the news told me. I also didn’t realize how writing this down was helping me  with my memory.

I got my next diary/journal when I was fifteen-years-old. It was pink and fluffy with a blue sparkly butterfly on the front. I got it in Cincinnati Ohio during my 8th-grade trip. I got more personal in this one. I was fifteen and the boys had gotten cuter. I wrote more about life in general in this diary. I wrote about when my favorite cousin had gotten jumped so badly that when he came over to our house his face was terribly plump. I wrote about my excitement and sadness over graduating from eighth grade. I was graduating with honors but my twin had to go to summer school. It made me sad we couldn’t graduate together. I wrote about how this boy at school had a crush on me and how I liked him but I didn’t want to “go with him” because he went to my school. I didn’t “go with” people who went to my school. I had standards.

In my next journal, I would dedicate it completely to poetry. It was a gift given to me by my cousin. I was sixteen (I got a new diary or journal almost every year) and my cousin and I thought we were poets. We would have poetry contests (and till this day he wants me to let everyone know that he taught me how to write…lies) to see who could write the better poem. I don’t remember who judged us. I think we judged ourselves. (insert eye-roll)

But I had also begun to express myself in a different way by now. This journal was green, not pink so that the color and the content of the book reflected my maturity compared to the other journals. I didn’t write about my life, I wrote poems about life instead. I started to look around me and write about the things I saw reflected in the world and not just what was reflected in me. I would look up the definitions of words and write whole poems based on those words. Most of the time it made no sense but it did help me to expand my vocabulary. I also wrote poems about sex because I was sixteen and that’s pretty much all we thought about.

At every stage of my life I always had some kind of diary or journal with me to help to organize my thoughts and feelings and I didn’t know then how it would help me with my writing later on in life. (It also helps me to be patient by writing thoughts down on paper before publishing it to the internet. Letting them sit in ink for awhile and waiting to see if  the words are even worthy of being shared with the world. Most times they aren’t.)

Before the internet, before social media, before Facebook posts and blogs, there was the diary. The one place where we knew that we could be ourselves without judgment. I still keep a journal with me today and even though it’s filled with business ideas and inspirational quotes, it still helps me to write down my feelings and to organize my thoughts. It still serves as a powerful tool in helping me to be a better writer.

New Author Tip – Nothing is a Waste of Time

Me and Vivica Fox at her Book Signing yesterday. Be sure to stop by The Medu Bookstore at the Greenbriar Mall in Atlanta and grab your copy of ‘Everyday I’m Hustling’ by Ms. Fox and ‘I am Soul‘ by me!

Dear Indie Author / Self-Publisher, that thing you are doing, that step you’re taking, that move you made….

…is not a waste of time and don’t let anyone tell you that it is. Time is never wasted. Everything is a learning experience IF you choose to see it that way. People like to tell you not to do something because it hadn’t worked out for them or because they can’t see any good in it. If you sow negativity about every mistake then you will reap negativity and nothing will ever work. But, if you sow positivity by turning those mistakes into lessons then you will reap positivity by acquiring a new skill. You will be blessed with an understanding you didn’t have before and the courage to take risks that are no longer bound by the limitations of others.  As an Indie Author you will be bombarded with advice so you have to be very conscious of what works for YOU and what doesn’t. Sometimes the only way to know this for certain is to do the work. Knowledge is only power when it is applied. At some point you must make the difficult decision to stop researching and have faith in the work. Just do the work.

3 Life Lessons from the Story of Creation

#1: Celebrate Along the Way

After everything Yah created, he stopped to praise the work he had done. When he created the lights, it was good. When he created the expanse, it was good. When he created the land and the waters and the sun and the stars and so on, Yah stopped to acknowledge that what he had just created was good. In our own lives, we must learn to celebrate our success along the way and not just what we consider great successes but small ones too. And when I say small I am talking about being able to get out of the bed in the morning. When I say small I mean getting your children ready for school. When I say small I mean cooking for your family. When I say small I mean being able to have a warm cup of coffee in the morning or a cool glass of wine in the evenings. This is surplus. Anytime we can have more than the bare minimum, it’s surplus. Its extra. So when I say small I mean being successful at just getting through the day without going insane.

Miserable people will try to criticize your joy. They will say things like, “ain’t nobody happy all the time.” While you certainly won’t be happy all the time, you don’t have to be happy to be thankful. We must learn not to just promote praise among those finished projects but to also see the good in the unfinished. We must learn to be grateful during the bad times, the tired times, the frustrating times, and the sad times because these are the most important times. In fact, these hard times are probably even more important than the good times because the hard times are cultivating something in you. You are being prepared for something. You are being strengthened for a work. Additionally, being grateful for what you have and celebrating on the way to where you are going builds healthy self-esteem. When you stop and give praise for everything that you have, even if you don’t have what you want, you begin to feel better about yourself, about your life and about who you are.

#2: It’s a Process

Certainly, the Almighty Power could have created everything in one day. Certainly, he is powerful enough and more than capable of doing it but instead, Yah took six days. He took his time making sure that the world was perfect for those who would inhabit it. In our own lives, we must understand that everything is a process. You cannot expect to have everything figured out at one time and you can’t expect to have everything you need at one time. You may find one piece of the puzzle today and the next piece may not come until next month or next year. The next piece may not come until you are mature enough to receive that piece. It may not come until you are in a place mentally to receive it.

Greatness doesn’t just happen. It is a result of years of work, of trial, of failure, and of learning. It is a culmination of experiences and setbacks. It is a process. We must learn to allow ourselves to be nurtured and to be prepared for our destiny and our purpose.

#3: Rest

The creator of everything certainly does not need to rest in the way that we do and as previously stated, certainly he could have created everything in one day and be done with it. But he didn’t and I believe it was to show us something. After six days Yah rested on the seventh day and set this day apart. In our own lives, we must understand that there’s no such thing as this 24-hour working life we see on social media and television. You cannot expect to work until you are exhausted and still expect to have enough energy to be productive. Rest and vacation have become a privilege in this world and that’s a shame. Rest is not some privilege. Rest is a necessity. We cannot expect to be 100 every single day. That’s not realistic. Rest is just as important as work is.

Sleep plays an important role in your physical health and is involved in healing and repair of your heart and blood vessels. Going without sleep or rest is linked to an increased risk of heart disease, kidney disease, high blood pressure, diabetes, and stroke. This is because our bodies are designed to refuel during rest. This is when we get our wind back. You can run non-stop until you are out of breath and falling over or you can walk and pace yourself so that you have enough endurance to make it to the end. We can try and mimic the “hustle” and “grind” of everyone else and run our health into the ground. Or we can take some time to rest our bodies, our hearts, and our minds.

The Power of Preparation – Guest Post by, Yecheilyah Ysrayl…

Join me on The Story Reading Ape Blog with Chris! Tonight, I am talking the power of being prepared using my bookstore journey as an example. Come on over!

Chris The Story Reading Ape's Blog

Yecheilyah and Nora at The Nubian Bookstore in Morrow, GA. Copyright©2017 Yecheilyah Ysrayl.

If you’ve been following The PBS Blog you know that I have been on a bookstore journey where I am visiting bookstores to see if I can better understand the process. The update is that I’ve been stocked in one store, two are currently reviewing two of my books, and I am hosting a double book signing event this month. Today, I would like to share a few things I’ve learned about the power of being prepared and how it has allowed me to cut through a lot of red tape.

But first, why bookstores? Aren’t brick and mortars over and done with? Not quite. Large stores like Barnes and Noble may be on the decline but Independent Bookstores are making a comeback which can have major positive benefits for Self-Publishers.

“Just take a look at the…

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