I learned a lot revising The Stella Trilogy, but the most important lesson I learned is, “the day you plant the seed is not the day you eat the fruit.” I don’t know who the original author is of this saying, and I know there are many versions of the same quote.
This means to me, the first time you get an idea is not the same time you will bring it forward. I had wanted to revise The Stella Trilogy for a long time, but it was hard to imagine taking the time to launch a book that has already released, let alone three. It was hard to imagine having the resources to produce three new covers, edit three separate books, format them, and all that other jazz.
But the day you plant the seed is not the day you eat the fruit.
I had to wait until I had the time and resources to get it done.
Then, I had to put it in my mind that once I began, I would have to keep going. This meant no waiting two and three months between books. If I was going to release book one, books two and three had to be right behind it.
And I’m sort of a slow writer.
It’s incredible to realize that what we put into our mind can manifest as we planned it if we are disciplined and patient enough.
It’s even more incredible to know that although a man plans his way, Yah guides his steps. (Prov. 16:9)
I wanted to release these books back to back, and I am thankful that I could accomplish what I set out to do.
It was hard for me to see the purpose of this endeavor at first, but revising these books helped me to see visions of another series using the same characters from The Stella Trilogy (something like a spin-off) with Joseph’s children.
Isn’t that amazing? Maybe revising this story wasn’t about what was already there, so much as what can grow from it.
I am excited about where these visions will take me and so happy to have you here with me.
Book three follows Stella’s son Joseph after a fight with his brother compels a young Joseph to leave his mother’s house and join his friends for a trip to Atlanta for the Student Non-Violent Coordinating Committee’s (SNCC) second conference. Excited to live life on their own, Jo and his friends have left school and the lives they were living for a chance to become part of the movement. With no money and virtually no plan, the seven friends, three black and four white, set out for the road when they are stopped by a racist cop who makes them exit the car. The teens are unaware that a mob of Klansmen await them at the New Orleans bus terminal. Find out in the third installment of the Stella Trilogy how Joseph and his friends discover the hard way that freedom has never been free.
I am gearing up to release the last book in The Stella Trilogy, The Road to Freedom. After this book drops the series will be complete. Whoo hoo!
But what’s that saying? The real work begins after you release the book? Yea, that.
I don’t know who said it first, but there are no lies told here.
As book three is on its way out, I would like to draw more attention to books one and two by getting some book reviews in. As you guys know, these books were originally published in 2015-2016 but due to major editorial and formatting issues, I have had to take them down and relaunch them. One major risk of taking them down was losing the little reviews the books had. That was a risk I was willing to take if it meant a better reading experience. There are over three thousand followers of this blog. I am hoping I can get a few of you to help.
I just thought I’d ask. What’s that other saying? “Closed mouths don’t get fed.”
If you have read any of these books, it would mean everything if you could review them on amazon. Review book one here. Review book two here.
If you have never read these books and would like to receive an ARC copy, it would delight me to send it to you.
Comment below, contact me through the contact form or email me directly at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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.
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?
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.
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.”
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 Collection, Bullwhip Days: The Slaves Remember, and Remembering Slavery: African Americans Talk About Their Personal Experiences of Slavery and Emancipation.
Cane River Creole National Historical Park
“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.
“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.
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.
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?
Tomorrow will mark five years since I released the first book in The Stella Trilogy. Wowzers! I am celebrating by introducing the new cover to book one and two. If you haven’t heard, I removed the books from amazon for some much needed polish and am re-publishing them. To learn why check out the blog post “Quality Over Quantity: Why I Pulled My Trilogy from Amazon.”
While I changed the cover to I am Soul after its release and got a new cover to The Aftermath, my first novel (2012), I’ve never wholly revised my backlist before. The Stella Trilogy is getting an entirely new makeover, which includes editing, covers, formatting, and ISBNs. Why go through all the work for an old book?
Books do not expire. Every book is new to people who have never read it which is why it benefits Indie Authors to go back and update “older” works every now and again. Here are some things I saw needed work on Stella:
Editing – It wasn’t enough to slap a new cover on the books. I knew these books had to be revamped altogether. Like most newbie Indie Authors, I had a friend to edit the first version of these books because I didn’t have the money to pay someone. This time around, I am getting the books professionally edited.
Song Lyrics – The first book had song lyrics in it—rookie mistake. You need permission to include the words to a song in your books. I promptly removed those lyrics. I can’t afford to get sued.
DIY Covers – I like the cover to book one, but it was a DIY premade from Derek Murphy’s website, offered freely to authors. I added the image of the black woman, but the rest was unoriginal. I cringed every time I saw it on his site. Book two was more original as I purchased the winter lady image, but it was still poorly applied to the cover. I did everything in Microsoft Word, and since I didn’t know that super-thin books don’t need a spine (if there aren’t enough pages to warrant one) when the books printed the spine folded over to the front. Yuck. For this reason, new covers were something I knew I needed to get done.
Free ISBN – I am done with the free ISBN game. Listen, if you don’t include the cost of the ISBN in your book budget, you are still a beginner. Have I always purchased my own ISBN? No. ISBNs are expensive, but having your own is worth it. They (ISBNs) are also cheaper if you buy them in bulk. 10 ISBNs can cover ten different books. Applying your own ISBN number to the book ensures that your imprint name will be applied to the book. In other words, you are the publisher, not KDP, and not Lulu. This time around, all books in The Stella Trilogy will have its own ISBN so I can register the books to me.
BONUS: Alternate Ending – I am excited about adding an alternate ending to excite Stella fans who have already read the books. The conclusion to book one is not the ending of the original book one. Why the change? It is to tighten the link between all the stories for a smooth transition from one book to the next.
Lessons I learned so far:
Work with what you have until you can do better.
You don’t have to know everything to start. I didn’t. Work with what you have until you can do better. (If a free ISBN is all you have to work with right now, use it until you are able to move up. I did.) I do not regret putting Stella or my first books out there, even though they weren’t properly edited, and the covers were DIY. These books gave me my start, and the courage and the freedom to step out on my own. These books gave me my beginning, and I am forever thankful to Yah for them.
Then, when you can do better, please do it.
The other part of this, though, is doing better once I knew better. If I produce mediocrity, I will only get mediocre results. Once you’ve stepped out there, it is okay to go back and change what you see needs work. We may not be perfect, but this doesn’t mean we cannot strive to maintain a level of excellence in all we do, even if the best we can do still falls short. We don’t have to stay at the same levels in the latter part of the journey as the first. We can tweak and correct and improve with time. We have that freedom, to sharpen, and to elevate.
About The Stella Trilogy
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. We discover how three individuals living in separate periods strive to overcome the same struggle, carefully knit together by one blood. The three-part series features elements of enslavement, Jim Crow, Passing, and the Civil Rights Movement.