In book one, Cynthia McNair and her boyfriend, Alex, express some racist 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.
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…
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.
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?
The Stella Trilogy put me on in more ways than one. It was the first time I got reviews on amazon for my books (I knew nothing about amazon when I started) and the Stella Trilogy book signing made me enough money to pay my bills and then some. It was the first time I saw real money from my writing and it was all from selling paperbacks (I always sell more paperbacks than ebooks. Unconventional for some, but this is how it has been for me). I also won my first award, an appreciation award given to me by my readers.
The Stella Trilogy changed lives.
The Stella Trilogy changed minds.
The Stella Trilogy is how I widened my readership.
The Stella Trilogy helped me to level up and step outside of the box.
The Stella Trilogy was groundbreaking for me and it is precisely for this reason that I am pulling her from Amazon and my website… for further editing.
The books are undergoing makeovers, a fresh edit, and new covers. For those of you who’ve read it, you know the books are short and as my #1 priority outside of the coming poetry book and Lit Mag Magazine; I hope to have them back up by the end of this year. I am not slacking on this. Stella made a big impact, and she needs to be back up soon.
The year is 1864 in Louisiana and the story slips back in time introducing Grandma Stella’s Great grandmother, Stella Mae, age nineteen years. Stella Mae begins her story with a memory of how as a child she was forced to use the facilities designated for “niggras only.” Young Stella Mae tries to reason out why her Mama can’t walk into the front door of the general store and why they can’t use the restroom everyone else uses. Even at a young age, Stella Mae could sense the inequality in her existence. – Colleen Chesebro
I have come a long way since 2015 when the first Stella book released. As a historical series it’s important to me that the book is as superior as I can afford to make it. Now that I have my foot into the schools, I hope to one day have the series taught as part of the curriculum. I have so much hope for these books and so many visions for what they can become.
The sky is not the limit. There are no limits.
I was different. It might give you a slow start but being different is gonna carry you a long way.” – Master P
I am not a fan of most rap music and never was. I like a few old school tracks from Talib Kweli and Common, but I’ve never really been into rap marketed to my age group (although I danced to it in my teens at parties lol). I was always an R&B type of person. I still remember the days my sisters and cousins used to record music videos on VHS and fall asleep watching them. We also recorded songs from the radio on cassette tapes so we can listen to it repeatedly. Despite not being a fan of the music, I admire Percy Miller aka Master P more than any other rapper. I admire him because I think people underestimate him which is precisely why I think he does so well in his business endeavors. I admire him for his commitment to being Independent and using his faith as a catalyst to propel him forward.
Indie Authors, Don’t Be Afraid to Revise Your Backlist
With great authority comes greater responsibility. As we grow and mature in our understanding of this publishing thing, more will be required of us. I know that a poorly edited book could damage my reputation not only as a writer with influence for excellence but also as a teacher and as a lecturer.
I published the first book I ever sold in 2010 and I knew nothing. The book was not edited and had never been available on Amazon. This taught me two lessons:
Begin where you are. Take the first step “even if you can’t see the whole staircase” (MLK).
After you have taken the first step and put yourself out there, make changes as you see them. If your first book was poorly edited, take it down and get it edited. You didn’t know better at first and that’s okay. But then, once you know better, do better. Do the best you can, until you know better, to quote Maya Angelou. “Then when you know better, do better.”
Do not think for a second that we are not responsible for the knowledge we have. Do not think we are not responsible for changing our behavior as we learn and grow. The quality of the books we put out shows readers what we think of ourselves and also what we think of them. Quality must always supersede quantity. I temporarily removed these books because the quality of the work I put out is more important to me than feeding my own ego of having “published x amount of books.”
It was exciting at first to publish book after book. Like anything we do for the first time it was fresh. As I have grown and as I grow, I value more where these books are going and how they are influencing the world much more than how many of them there are.
Now, for my Stella fans:
I am not changing the core of the story. I am editing the books for better readability and understanding. I am also changing the covers so all the books in the series look the same.
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 3-Part series focuses on the history of one family in their struggle for racial identity. Discover in this Trilogy how three individuals living in separate time periods strive to overcome the same struggle, carefully knit together by one blood.
Between Slavery and Freedom (1)
We deal with enslavement and freedom both physically and psychologically.
Beyond the Colored Line (2)
We deal with passing, self-love, and racial identity. If you were a Black woman living in the Jim Crow era and light enough to pass for white, would you?
The Road to Freedom (3)
We deal with the Civil Rights Movement, Freedom Rides, and the impact our choices make on the next generation.
Excellent Article on whether or not you should turn your masterpiece into a series. I definitely think it’s something you’ll notice right away though. I knew before I finished Stella that it was going to be a Trilogy. I mean like, before I’d written the books.
The word ‘series’ conjures up different emotions in different writers. Some might grin at the thought of spending multiple books exploring the world and story they’ve created. Others might rub their hands together at the potentially lucrative benefits of a long-running series. And still more might simply cry in horror, ‘A series? Writing one book is hard enough!’
No matter which of these camps you fall into, there’s no questioning the fact that the series as a literary concept is here to stay.
From Arthur Conan Doyle, Enid Blyton and Agatha Christie to J. K. Rowling, Terry Pratchett and Patricia Cornwell, writers of all genres and styles have made the series work for them.