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

People Will Never Forget How You Made them Feel

If there is one thing I have learned in both my personal and professional life (to include blogging) is that change is inevitable. One day you will look up and the people who were rooting for you, in the beginning, are not rooting for you any longer. As I’ve said on this blog once before, you can look up and see an entirely new group of supporters/readers.

Just as quickly as COVID-19 has swept over the world, people will pack up their support and leave you dumbfounded. What happened? What changed? Am I no longer interesting? Is the content no longer quality?

It’s easy to blame ourselves. It’s our blog, our book, our product. And while we are conscious enough to know that sometimes our circle will decrease in size, we must remind ourselves that while the support might decrease in size that doesn’t mean it doesn’t increase in quality. A lack of interest sometimes has nothing to do with us. Although it may feel like it, it’s not personal.

But as I’ve said, we are human with feelings and thoughts and emotions. We cannot help but wonder. These are the times where we will need to pick up our faith, hold on to those gifts and hold our heads higher than we’ve ever held it before. I can’t tell you why some people leave, why they unsubscribe from your life or what you did to influence this decision. What I can echo are the words from one of our favorite poets and one of my favorite quotes:

“People will forget what you did, people will forget what you said, but people will never forget how you made them feel.”

These are such powerful words to me because it’s a two-edged sword. Whether you make people feel inspired and empowered or whether you make them feel discouraged and disheartened, people will remember it.

People will leave when they’ve served the purpose in your life it meant them to serve and some of them will even forget what you’ve done. What they won’t forget is the impact you’ve had on their life, the imprint you left there and how you made them feel.

Entrepreneurship, authorship specifically, is hard and I know that in this climate “hard” doesn’t seem like a strong enough word to describe what it’s like to endure this, but I hope this message and Angelou’s words were not only encouraging for you today but that they help you persist in the troublesome areas.

One of the most important lessons I’ve learned was understanding the state of my mental health is much more important than my career because my level of self-worth and self-love is what will drive the work.

A text I received from Ms. Edwards (pictured) inspired this post; how good it felt to know someone was thinking about me. So whether it’s a text, phone call, email or DM, it doesn’t take much to be kind. Since we are all in the same boat right now, with the time you have, be sure to reach out to someone who has made an impression on you and show them you appreciate them.

Let us remember that support is a verb.

No One Talks About How Hard Faith Is

Image: John Crux Photography | Copyright: ©2017 John Crux

Nobody talks about how laborious faith is. How mentally challenging it is to wait for something that feels like it’s never going to come, and yet believe that it is still yours. To see without seeing. Seeing beyond sight. No one talks about the exhaustion that sometimes comes with seeing beauty where there is none. To begin again and not feel silly for surrendering to strength. To keep falling, and getting up again. Each time, being strong but feeling weak. Each time knowing that what is easy is not worth it and what is hard is worth everything. No one talks about what it’s like to hold onto hope, even as it’s slipping through your fingers. To faith-walk the staircase with no idea what’s at the top. To believe that you can see, even when you can’t. To believe you are not standing alone, even when you are. To foresight your way to the next step. To be future and present at the same time. To act according to what’s coming, and not just what is here. No one talks about the mental fortitude it takes to be patient and still and to see nothing and everything at the same time.

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)

Book Publishing in the Age of COVID-19

Kayana Szymczak (for STAT)

I know some of you are wondering about the effects of the Coronavirus on the book industry. Some of you have asked if you should still publish your books.

Yes, I do think you should proceed with publishing your books.

Based on the current climate, I also think it is wise for all businesses to expect some changes as a result of COVID-19, which is now a global pandemic, according to The World Health Organization. On Wednesday night, President Donald Trump also suspended travel from Europe to the US for thirty days, excluding the UK.

What we know for sure is there have been significant changes due to this virus. We have seen changes in the stock market, cruises, theme parks, tourism, sports, and travel. Factory closures in China (the world’s largest exporter, responsible for a third of global manufacturing. China accounts for more than 80% of imports of toys alone) led to a record low in the country’s Purchasing Manufacturing output. Italy, which has the world’s ninth-largest economy, is on lock-down, and the state department raised the worldwide travel advisory level to Level 3: Reconsider Travel. This advisory means there is an official warning against nonessential travel.

The entertainment industry has seen changes as well with Tom Hanks and his wife testing positive for the virus.  In the sports world, the NBA has suspended the season until further notice because of Utah Jazz center Rudy Gobert, testing positive. Yesterday morning, a second Utah player, Donovan Mitchell, also tested positive.

The NCAA men’s and women’s basketball tournaments have been canceled, the MLB suspended training, delaying opening day two weeks, the NHL suspended its season, and tons of other sports activities are being canceled.

Trillions of dollars have been wiped from the financial markets this week, and small businesses are already seeing signs of struggle as supply chains dry up. Yes, human suffering can be due to illness, but it can also be due to people not being able to pay their bills, subsequently losing their homes and going hungry.

Consider too the 24 states (more by the time this post is live) under a state of emergency.

What we are seeing is the potential unfolding of several crises, all happening at once. People are panicking and making up stuff, buying out the toilet paper for some strange reason, leaving their jobs; children are not going to school, and conferences, venues, and even sports games are being suspended until further notice.

Whether you want to believe this is media sensationalism or not, the reality is that things are different and there have been changes in the world that are affecting the lives of real people.

This post is about adjusting to these changes as a businessperson in publishing, the hope I see for authors in an age where the go-to form of entertainment (sports) is brought to its knees, and the good news in store for Self-Publishers.

Here are the changes I discovered so far in publishing. Please add on to them by commenting below on what you are hearing as well.

  • Book Fairs and Conferences (where large communities of people gather) are being canceled. This “social distancing,” as it is being called, includes The London Book Fair (The UK’s largest book fair event), the Bologna Children’s Book Fair, and the Leipzig Book Fair.

 

  • An employee at Amazon was diagnosed with COVID-19. The bookstores in NY have been holding up so far, I hear, but amazon workers from New York are working from home. “Sellers on Amazon’s marketplace are reportedly struggling to bring goods into the country.”

 

 

  • Not exactly sure if this is directly linked to the Coronavirus, but I am hearing it’s been a hard week for big publishers. Three of the big five are struggling, specifically MacMillan, Hachette, and Simon & Schuster.

 

  • Some individual authors have reported a decline in book sales since COVID-19, but some have seen an increase. There is no telling to my knowledge if there are any significant cases of falling book sales among Indies. I do know sales of apocalyptic type literature is on the rise.

 

 

  • Some Authors/Publishers are focusing on the online version of their book business to avoid contact with large groups of people. Examples include releasing digital products, blogging, and live streaming events and conferences. ALLi’s Self-Publishing Advice Conference will be online.

The good news for Indie Authors is that Self-Publishing has its strengths online. Making use of the internet by continuing to release books and digital products through author websites, blogs, live streams, and social media is a smart move in the age of COVID-19. Small book signings might be okay, but most states are now restricting larger gatherings.

My final thought is this:

If you are planning to publish a book in the next few days, few weeks, few months, my thought is to go ahead and keep to your schedule, but take the effect COVID-19 can have on small businesses seriously. Make preparations for working from home as much as possible just in case your city is the one on lockdown.

Update:

The US is officially under a National Emergency, so movement is even more limited, and there is talk of more travel bans.

Virtual Book Tours, Online Presentations and Conferences, Facebook and IG Live, Digital Products, Radio shows, Text Interviews, Online Services, Blogging, Guest Blogging, Blog Tours…are all things you can do as an author that doesn’t require face-to-face contact.


Preorder Stella: Between Slavery and Freedom today.

Don’t forget to pick up your copy of book one in The Stella Trilogy. Something tells me you’re gonna need something to read 😉

>>Get it Here<<

Stella: Between Slavery and Freedom (Preorder Book One)

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. We discover in this Trilogy how three individuals living in separate periods strive to overcome the same battle, carefully knit together by one blood.

Preorder Book One Now. 3/24/2020

These books were first released in 2015 and helped elevate my writing to another level. These were not the first books I had ever written. Still, they were the first books to appeal to people outside of my circle and were my first Historical Fiction books.

I took the risk of removing them to get them re-edited, re-formatted, and the covers recreated.

I am happy with my decision and even prouder of this work. I get to relaunch these books and reach more readers of African American Historical Fiction. I am hoping to at least sell 50 copies of book one to start (at least 25 ebooks, 25, print books), and I hope you can help me with that!

Stella: Between Slavery and Freedom

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.

Book one is available now for preorder in digital and print. Release day is March 24th.

The preorder price is 99cents but will go up after release, so you want to take advantage of this.

Preorders are also available in paperback through my website. Paperback books are signed and will ship the first week of April.

*If you already read this series, you should know book one has an alternate ending! The story is the same, but the books are better polished, and each book flows smoothly into the next book. This time, while the books can be read alone, they are much more in a series format. You will want to read all three books to get the full picture. Well worth re-reading! 

Preorder the ebook for 99cents

Preorder a signed paperback

Mark as Want to Read on Goodreads

(Already read Stella? Mark as read and leave a review)

Revising The Stella Trilogy: Cast of Characters

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.

Family Tree

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.


Coming March 24, 2020

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?