Lessons from a Tomato Plant

We’ve been trying to grow a tomato plant but the weather in Georgia is not warm enough to put it into the ground so it’s still in the original package. The plant is dying as you can tell. It needs to be transplanted to a bigger environment. Either we will attempt to put it into the ground or my husband will put it into a large Styrofoam cup temporarily. (He’s done it before. Brilliant he is with plants.) Just as long as it is removed from its current place to a bigger place, it can survive long enough for us to put it into the ground. This had me thinking about life. Funny how inspiration can come from something as seemingly insignificant as a plant.

There’s a common misconception that fish only grow to the size of the fish tank it’s in. This is not necessarily true. Not statistically anyway. It’s not about the fish tank. The fish will continue to grow just as the plant will continue to grow. However, if the environment the fish or the plant is in does not accommodate it’s growth, both will die. Just as the plant needs to be transplanted to a bigger environment, the fish needs to be moved into a bigger tank as well.

The moral of this story is that, as humans, we are not much different. We do not stop growing but if we are not in an environment that encourages growth, we will be stagnant and, like this plant, can wither away. We wither in various ways. We get sad. We get depressed and, sadly, some of us even commit suicide. Just like plants die and fish die, we die too when we cannot fulfill our purpose. When we cannot grow as we need to, we die. When we do not feel that we have anything to offer the world, we die. This may not be a physical death but it could also be an emotional and psychological one. This can also be a spiritual one.

There’s a quote floating around that says you cannot grow in the same environment that broke you. I don’t know who said it originally but whoever it was, you’re right. Our environments and the people we surround ourselves with must begin, at some point, to take a more important role in our lives. It’s not just about us individually, but also who we surround ourselves with. If you are growing but you have not removed yourself from an environment that does not support that growth, does not nurture that growth, it might stop you from reaching your true potential. The point is this, our environment is not an insignificant part of our lives. It is essential.

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Pay Attention

Don’t forget to clean up your environment. Pay attention to how being around certain people makes you feel. Do you suddenly feel drained or negative? Mad? Irritated? Are these people always complaining? Do they reach out to you just to share bad news? Is it always about them? Are they interested in your life at all?  Remember that we cannot grow in the same environment that broke us. Only surround yourself with people who lift you up, empower you and challenge you to become the best version of yourself.

No Whining Wednesday – The Company You Keep

Welcome back lovelies! To another No Whining Wednesday, the only day of the week where you do not get to whine, criticize, or complain for a 24hour period. If you are new to this blog or new to this segment, please visit the first post HERE to understand what this is all about.

The No Whining Wednesday Badge

Today’s inspiration is Will Smith’s Instagram video. It has been making its way around social media and for good reason. We live in a world dominated by social media and for this, it’s important to remember that everybody who LIKES you don’t “Like” you. In fact, I am willing to bet that many of us have people on our Facebook “friends” list who are not our friends and people who like our every post but will not reach out in real life. People who say they support you but have never bought a book or left a review or just helped you to promote your work. This goes far beyond writing, this is about life. Who we surround ourselves with has a lot to do with the person we eventually become. This is how important associations are. If the people around you are not encouraging you, lifting you up, inspiring you, correcting you, helping you, etc, why are they around you? Why are we allowing people who do nothing for us to have so much access to us?

“Defend your light with your life.”

Realistic Character Changes

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With the exception of books I read for review, during my regular reading times I have this bad habit of reading more than one book at a time. I’ll start reading a book and then stop and mark it off so I can go think about it. My intention is to come back after thinking about it for a while but I just end up reading something else. I do come back to it, it’s just. I have a problem.

Anyway, so I’m reading a few books, one of which happens to be C.S. Lakin’s Writing the Heart of Your Story (part of The Writer’s Toolbox Series) and for these kinds of books I am never really finished with them because to me they are part of my study material. So, it is while sitting in the bed, pillow prompted up behind me (while trying to sit as straight as possible because my computer cord has a short in it) that I decided to put my kindle down a moment (see? SMH. Get it together EC) and share my thoughts. I am especially excited because my husband is watching the football game while I’m drafting this which means he doesn’t particularly want me in his face. So, I thought I’d write until I feel like bothering him again.

In Chapter 15, Character Arcs (she dislikes that term by the way), Lakin explains how change for characters come in stages. This caught my attention because I come across this a lot. That is, the characters in the story aren’t given enough time to decide or come upon an epiphany that makes sense. What I mean by making sense is that they are too easily convinced, swayed, or compliant at times where they should be pushing back against the grain.

If the character hates ice cream, it’s unrealistic for him to be convinced to eat an ice cream bar after one conversation with his brother (who loves ice cream) taunting him about it. That’s not realistic. In real life, he would not be so compliant, in fact, he will probably get upset that his brother would even offer him such a treat. There will likely be resistance. Lakin explains it so much better than I do:

“Remember, you have to change characters in stages, starting with their opinions and attitudes and eventually changing their core beliefs.”

– Opinions
– Attitudes
– Core Beliefs
– Self-Image
She goes on to say:

“You can’t have a character talking to someone about the death penalty (which he is all for) and just through that one conversation have his belief changed (fully against) right at the heart of his core belief.”

When I read this I had to share it with you all because it’s such valuable advice that I will definitely be heeding.

At the end of the day, everything about our characters has to reflect that of real people. If in real life it will take someone a while to warm up to change, our characters have to resemble the same. We have to get out of the way of the story and let the characters do their thing.

Speaking of getting out of the way I have one more tidbit. There’s something else I’m seeing more and more and that is this: the author who is so passionate about their cause that the tone of the book sounds as if we’re talking to that author more so than the characters in the story. The author’s purpose or mission is so prominent that we can’t separate the author from the characters in the story.

Let me be clear: The author will, inevitably, come through his or her work in one way or the other. That’s not what I’m talking about. I’m talking about deliberately, or inadvertently, creating characters who are just a replica of yourself.

Be sure that when you’re sending a message through books, that you aren’t inadvertently forcing your beliefs on readers. As a reviewer, the author’s personal belief is something I actually do not count toward my rating because  my job is to focus on the story, not the author’s personal life (I’m working on a separate article about my biggest challenges as a reviewer soon) but it is becoming such a problem that I may find myself taking it into consideration while rating if it gets in the way of the story too much. How do you know if you are forcing (or may appear to be forcing) your own beliefs on the reader?  If your manuscript resembles too much of the following:

  • Posting scriptures directly in text
  • Using more than one paragraph for your character to preach or pray in (this will most likely be skipped. No offense, js)
  • Characters who are too young to realistically understand the meaning of certain scriptures
  • Anything that sounds too much like overt religious or political speech

I believe anything can work just as long as it’s done right. The reason I speak so much about symbolism in writing is first because I just think it’s the best way to reach people in writing, but also because I think it’s a great way to write for those who want to send a message specifically but don’t want to be preachy. Fiction is all about the story. People want to be entertained or informed but most of all they want to disappear from this world a moment and get lost in another one: your book.

This means you want to make it their worthwhile. If you’re giving readers sermons and lessons then you’re not (technically) casting down your nets and may do more harm than good. Readers will likely be turned off, your story will fall flat, and you would have reached no one.

Also, by sermons, I don’t just mean religious in nature but any belief system that may seem forced on the reader. It can even be an age difference. Because I write Young Adult, Historical Fiction, I have to take care not to put my own adult voice inside the head of my characters (I know, we don’t like to say characters but work with me here) but to make sure that their dialogue, emotions, and actions are fitting for their age.

To do this, I try to fall back on my years of experience working with children for a reminder of what it was like to be a kid or a young person in general (or OK, a younger person).

What you can do instead is drip feed (introduce drop by drop, here a little, there a little) the message throughout the story, make it a part of the story. Maybe your character was anti that belief but in the end comes upon a revelation. Something like that but don’t make it blatantly obvious.

Remember that fiction writing is, at its core, about entertainment. Even when we do have messages (who doesn’t?), we must still educate through entertainment.

Now, pardon me while I check on Nora.


Yecheilyah Ysrayl is the YA, Historical Fiction author of eight books, most notably, The Stella Trilogy. She is currently working on her next book series “The Nora White Story” about a young black woman who dreams of taking part in The Harlem Renaissance movement and her parents struggle to accept their traumatic past in the Jim Crow south. “Renaissance: The Nora White Story (Book One)” is due for release spring, 2017. For updates on this project, sneak peek of chapters and the pending book cover release for this project, be sure to follow this blog and to subscribe to Yecheilyah’s email list HERE.

Bad Relationship Advice in Movies

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I don’t speak much about relationships on this blog. But what I don’t understand is how grown men and women continue to model their relationships after these Hollywood style movies, especially within the Black community. From Waiting to Exhale to Scandal these shows are far from realistic as far as strengthening a relationship is concerned, and are doing nothing more than rotting your attempt to be successful at building a strong family unit. If you’re going to dedicate yourself to these kinds of shows at least understand when you’re being lied to. At least then you can receive back some kind of substance from having watched it. For instance, “Think Like a Man.” First of all, how did Steve Harvey become such a relationship expert? But that’s another post for another day. But here’s a movie where grown men and women play children’s games. Women, Steve Harvey tells you to think like a man. The bible says that Satan thinks like a man, and that the inclination of the thoughts of men’s hearts is only evil continually. It looks good yes, but everything that looks good ain’t. Why do I want to think like a man? I’m a not a man, I’m a woman. These movies got many of you walking around thinking like the devil and you don’t even know it. There is nothing of value that you can take from this movie and apply to your real life relationship. Far as Scandal is concerned, there is just nothing healthy about the way Olivia controls the men in her life; she may as well have them on strings and yall are eating it up. What kind of advice can Ms. Pope give me that will help strengthen my marriage? In the real world we say, “I want to be a good woman,” but then we turn around and give energy to shows that are not representative of what we say we want. Our mouths are in a conflict with our hearts. (And let’s not even talk about Empire that yall love so much. I’m still asking myself why  Denzel Washington could win an award for Training Day and not for Malcolm X. But I suppose we’ll always be nothing more than Pimps and Thugs instead of  Gods and Kings, but that’s another topic for another day). It’s not just about entertainment. Subconsciously, you still take something back from it that you implement into your physical life. The kinds of things we expose ourselves to: music, movies, books, etc., all have the capacity to affect us in some way. There is always something that we take back from the experience and make manifest into our physical existence. I’m not condemning anyone; I ain’t got stones to throw at you that don’t first belong to me. I’m in this same boat. It’s just that I’m at a point in my life where I am beginning to do away with those things that do not prove to be of value to my life. Personally, I cannot continue to give myself to anything that no longer grows me. There are certain things that I am no longer willing to even allow occupying my consciousness. As a unit I just think that we must learn to understand the messages given us and how they are teaching us to operate in the real world. There was a point where I lived for this kind of entertainment, especially because of the love I have for my people. Anything we did or was a part of I wanted to support, even if it was a TV show. But I notice that we tend to upgrade everything about ourselves except our minds. It’s time to get started on that.

The Faceless Internet

turtleneck_by_faceless_monster-d5l2jwlIf I could go back in time to visit my great great great grandmother, she’d probably not believe me if I told her about this world; if I told her about the people walking around with no face. Except they do not exactly walk either. They glide instead on finger toes and eyeballs. Here skin meets electricity and together they blend their energies into the production of a being; a something with a name and a picture for a face. My grandmother would probably ask the obvious, “How do we know that’s truly them?”

“Well, Granny that’s the point, we don’t.”

These are faceless internet people. They create careers out of dot-coms, and download personalities they think will fit the World Wide Web. The most courageous, most bold beings I’ve ever seen behind Photoshopped Gravatars and surrogate heads. You see the Internets a place where flies are dragons and little blind mice are soldiers. Be who you wanna be and say what you will because no one will ever discover your venom to be nothing more than a glass spine. They don’t really have mouths anyway. Just faceless internet people walking around on keyboards with their fingers, pretending to be people.

Dear Writers, A Quote Worth Remembering

“By writing and publishing your book, you have the potential to touch many readers. The possibilities are endless of how your story can positively affect others, whether it’s an entire town or just one person. It’s through stories that we connect to others. So keep writing, you never know how your message could change someone’s life.” – Nicola Gibbs

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