Welcome to another edition of Couch Convos with your girl, Lisa W. Tetting. Today we have a special treat for you. Author Yecheilyah Ysrayl, aka EC, joins us to talk about her short story trilogy, Stella. It is a unique take on racism, slavery and provides a history lesson we all need to learn.
LWT: Welcome EC, let’s get started. What was your inspiration behind Stella?
YY: “Well, I used to teach third and fourth grade creative writing as part of a Home School program and we studied black literature a lot. In that process, Stella was conceived during an assignment I’d given my students on writing about that era, about slavery and discrimination. I always seek to be an example, especially to children, so I occasionally participated in these assignments to show my students that we were in this together and if I could do it, they could as well. That is when I wrote the first chapter, or part, of Stella. I saved it because I started to like Stella! And I knew I would build on her life at some point in the future.”
LWT: I’m glad you save it! Why did you choose to make this a short story trilogy as opposed to a novel?
YY: “I felt that drawing it out, which I would have had to do for a novel, would have taken away from the simplicity I am trying to achieve with these books. I don’t want my readers to get bored and because of the way Stella was designed, I think a novel would have done that. Of course, there is always room to add more, and always room to clarify. But I want my readers to have something to think about after reading these books. I want to leave yall hanging a little bit; it’s a lot more fun. It provokes the individual to go on his own search and to think more. The idea was to make it short, sweet, and to the point. Ideally, I would like for each book to be under 100 pages.
LWT: That being said, there is a difference between the e-book and the print book, why did you decide to make them different?
YY: “This was a mistake actually! I sent everything in to the various distributors, Amazon, B&N, etc., for the e-book version. Afterward however, I realized that I wanted to add more to the prologue to really capture those scenes and I also wanted to lessen the broken language of the slave scenes so that it’s easier to read. Because I could not reedit the e-book, I just reedited the print book and decided to make it a special thing since you’d generally pay more for the paperback than the e-book anyway. So I turned this mistake into a marketing tool. That is, if you want the deleted scenes you’d have to get the print book!”
LWT: Explain Cynthia’s belief that she is not a racist, yet she believes blacks and whites should be separate?
YY: “Cynthia is an example of the upbringing of many Europeans who are the offspring of parents who have been taught racism. It has been said that many black people still exhibit characteristics of slavery because of the deep rooted trauma they’ve incurred. But the same is true for some white people. If we believe that African Americans have developed character traits that go back to chattel slavery, then is it too far-fetched to say that whites may have also developed character traits that go back to their fathers? So, Cynthia’s mentality is attributed to a kind of generational, institutionalized racism. For instance, Cynthia makes the statement that her Aunts tell her all the time about how it was better to live in the 60s when the races were separate. Cynthia then really believes she’s not racist and in her mind she may not hate blacks, but racism shows up in her heart because it was planted there.”
LWT: That is very profound and gives us all something to think about. What is your opinion on the concept of Separate but Equal?
YY: “In my opinion, it should have been Separate but Unequal. I am also of the opinion that this was not necessarily a bad concept. Of course, I don’t agree we should have been bitten by dogs and burned to a crisp, but I do believe that Blacks have always been called to be different. Everything that black people do is mimicked by people all over the world because everything about them is unique. Everything about them is special. Everything about them is unequal. The separation of blacks during this time in history actually helped us to maintain a more communal mentality than integration did. It was our inability to acquire the same jobs as others that motivated us to build what would later be known as Black Wall Street. The Greenwood community of Tulsa, Oklahoma was one of the most successful and wealthiest African American communities of the 20th century. Black people were also the first to Home School their children when they couldn’t go to the same schools. Upon integration however, we lost a lot of that culture and that family bond we once had. Our children also did not receive the same kind of education upon school desegregation and many of them began to fail. It has been said before and I’ll say it again, we are a spiritual people. And it is the bible that says to envy not your oppressor and to choose none of his ways.”
LWT: Speaking of racial divide, please expound on the concept humans were meant to be divided by nationality as opposed to race.
YY: “Historians and Scholars have deemed Genesis Chapter 10 of the bible as The Table of Nations because it’s basically a description of the genealogy of man, the nations divided from Noah. These nations have been traced back to the various people spread across the world. For instance, Magog has been traced back to the Russians, Hungarians, Goths, etc. Madai goes back to the Meds or Indo-European people. The Kushites, who lived south of Egypt in what is the Sudan today, are the Ethiopians and Nubians, and according to the record of Egypt, the Somalians go back to Put. So forth and so on was man divided according to his lands. Race, a term first used by a French physician Francois Bernier, who was the first to use the word race as a category for classifying humans, focuses solely on physical attributes and characteristics (race) as opposed to land, language and livelihood (nationality). We are called blacks but black is not a nationality. Meaning it does not have land, and it does not have language. It does not have these things because black is a color. But we identify ourselves as blacks because man has divided the world into shades and colors and sizes, this is race. In fact, Science has a lot to do with the usage of race to identify a people. Although there is uncertainty about the correctness of the term “race” versus “species” to classify human variation, Bernier relied on categories based on outward physical characteristics such as skin color. To make a long story short, the Almighty divided the world into Nations of people. Man on the other hand, divided it into races of people and by attributing psychological value and importance to race; this became what we know as racism.”
LWT: What is your opinion on people who pass for another race?
YY: “I think people who pass for another race, in addition to whatever issues many of them have or feel in regard to their own physical attributes, are also on a quest to understand more on how to rightly place themselves among the races. If race does not actually exist and we are all nations of people, where does that put the person who does not fully understand what nation they are from? If race does exist, where do we rightly place the person of a mixed race? Could they pass to position themselves among one people? So, you know, I think the answer is rooted in nationhood and a sense of belonging.”
LWT: That being said, how do you feel about the Rachael Dolezal issue?
YY: “I find the Rachel Dolezal story intriguing actually. I do not feel betrayed nor do I think she’s crazy, but I believe she understands more about black people than she’s letting on and that she is trying to mimic that. For instance, in a comment on whether or not she was African American, Dolezal stated: “I don’t understand the question.” That was profound to me because I tend to give people a similar answer about what it means to be African American. I use these terms, Black, African American, for the sake of understanding but like Black, African American is also not a nationality; it’s just a combining of two continents, the continent of Africa and the continent of America. The ancient Hebrews, Egyptians, Ethiopians, and Libyans never spoke of a place called Africa even though these people were indigenous to that continent. In fact, the word Africa is foreign to many of the indigenous people living there today. The name Africa is Latin and it was Leo Africanus, a Roman, who called that land mass Africa, in honor of their military general who defeated Hannibal in the Punic wars. And as I stated, there has always been something special about black people that other people have wanted to copy and in that aspect I believe Rachel was really trying to mimic a restored identity. I mean, don’t tell a white woman she can’t wear a black hair style and excuse Beyoncé for wearing a white hair style. I’m just saying if we gonna keep it real, keep it all the way real. Black women have been trying to be white for years.”
LWT: With such passion for bettering the race,why do you choose to use the “N” word in your writing?
YY: “I use the “N” word in my writing because my stories are representative of real people and real people use the “N” word despite their Nationality. I also use the “N” word in my writing because I think it’s foolish to think that getting rid of a word will get rid of the behavior associated with it. I’m all for change, but as long as certain behaviors exist, so will these kinds of words. Black people will always be known by mockeries, proverbs, and bywords as long as they are unaware of who they are and as long as they are comfortable living their lives in ignorance.
LWT: Tying this back to Stella, why is this story so relevant in today’s society?
YY: “I believe the so called Black people today are the direct descendants of the ancient Israelites and that their entire existence has been prophesied about in the bible. For nearly 400 years black people have suffered at the hands of their oppressors. From slavery, to Jim Crow, and to police brutality, if there is any kind of suffering going on you can be sure that we are in the midst of it. And if we are not dying in the streets we are suffering from incurable diseases, our children are in the foster care systems, and our brothers and sisters hang out on the corners like wild bulls in a net. And if they aren’t strung out on the latest drug they are in jail. African Americans comprise the highest prison population both black men and black women. I read an article once that prisons estimate how many more beds to add to their cells based on the reading scores of 4th grade black males. This story or these kinds of stories rather, are more important today than they were fifty years ago because slavery is being taken out of the history books. Our children know nothing about whom they truly are or where they come from. Many of them don’t even know about the events of The Civil Rights Movement, we’re talking about the basics. So, I hope that my books can be a stepping stone to increased understanding in a world that seems to be without structure and without placement for the so-called African American people.”
LWT: How do we combat this epidemic of misinformation that is fed to the masses about slavery and history in general?
YY: “I believe Self-Revolution is what is necessary to combat the level of misinformation that plagues us today. I mean, as a people we have to change. In the 1960s and 70s black people spoke a lot about a revolution to come and many of them stood up and declared themselves revolutionaries. Revolution by definition is a change in power or organizational structures, and so many of our people at that time sought to spark a revolution among our people. They did this in many ways but the way they didn’t try was Self-Revolution and because of this many of these revolutionaries are no longer with us today. But the revolution has not ended. You see the problem with the revolutions that they were bringing is that it always started on the outside, but in truth if one seeks to create a change or reversal of a condition it has to begin on the inside, it has to begin with self. You’re only capable of changing lives if you yourself have been changed. Black people, and all people, who wish to see a change in their conditions have to first seek a change in themselves. To love ourselves enough to reverse our condition will help to bring about a reversal of the condition that plagues the world, which is a lack of love. Love is a universal language and can be understood by all people. When a baby emerges from his mother’s womb he is crying out for love; he must be reconnected to her breast, literally or figuratively, to continue to receive that love. This is what the bible talks about from the beginning to the end; it teaches us how to love. I can walk down the street in China and help an elderly woman across the street and she’ll understand that language. That’s because the law of Love inspires discipline and compassion among all people. It is the umbilical cord that connects us to our creator and the rest of mankind.”
LWT: Switching gears, let’s talk about the business of writing. What tools do you use to market your work?
YY: “I use a combination of online and offline methods to market my work; mostly online since social media has made it easier to be visible that way. I have an Author Website, a Newsletter, and social media accounts across the board. Whatever is out there I’m on it. I blog, I tweet, I post, I upload, all of that. I try to be everywhere there is to be online. Offline is the part I think is important for me to explain because we often lose sight that we need a combination of both. I don’t have a lot of money, but I try to run my writing like a business so when promoting offline I’m marketing myself as an online merchant. I don’t have the funds to carry around boxes of books, so I carry business cards and flyers instead. Professionally designed and printed flyers with my book covers and contact information on it. I also try to always have at least a sample book to present. But in all of this I’m putting my books out there as part of an online store. In this way, people know to expect to find me online and if they don’t have internet access they can always request an offline form. Fill that out, mail it back to me and I will process that order. That combined with the blessing of social media gets the job done.”
LWT: That is amazing advice! Now, tell us about your experience using iTunes?
YY: “I actually have not experienced using iTunes hands on. I didn’t upload my e-book to that service directly, but it was sent to iTunes, Amazon, and B&N directly from my publishing platform so my books can be available at multiple places. When I get my Publishing Company off the ground however, I’ll have a better answer for you! But in brief, what I love about iTunes is that it gives readers another venue in which to purchase books. Like I said, I’m trying to be everywhere there is to be online. Whatever you want, I got it. That’s my motto: “Using Digital Technology to Create Unique Reading Experiences”. So if you want to download Stella from iTunes, I got you. You can do that.”
LWT: A one stop shop. I love it! Do you find doing book reviews helpful to exposure for your work as well as other authors?
YY: “I do. Not only do I enjoy writing book reviews to help others, but I really believe that anything an author writes is a kind of advertisement or marketing if you will, of their work. Of course, we all have those moments of personal writing on our blogs, social media and all that, but I also try to keep in mind that everything that I write is either useful or harmful to me as a writer. Writing Book Reviews for me is like a diamond in the ruff. It’s helpful for the author but it’s also helpful for the writer of the review; if you can convince someone to buy a book based solely on personal opinion and critical analysis that says a lot about you as a writer. It’s not just about exposure for the author, but it also helps me to sharpen my writing skills. If I like the book, I don’t want to just tell people what the book is about, but I want to help interpret the authors’ message for his or her audience in a way that will compel readers to buy. So I’m like promoting and learning in the process. And it’s a lot of fun too. You get to read all these great books nobody would ever know about if not for Self-Publishing.”
LWT: That is a blessing in itself. Please give other indie authors 5 tips to successful networking?
- Have an Author Website where ALL of your work can be found in one place. Even if it’s on Amazon, put the Amazon links on your website. Make it easier for people to find you.
- Create Social Networks for at least the top 3:
Facebook, Twitter, Instagram
- Create Business Cards you could pass out to people you meet on the street. You never know who you’ll run into so keep it professional.
- Save your Contacts. Surround yourself with people who can help you, especially those who are professionals at what they do and save their contacts. If you consider yourself an author you should have at least a few (non-related) author contacts.
- Be Visible: Make your presence known online and offline. Stay in the loop.
LWT: Tell us what genres you have written in so far and why?
YY: “I’ve written Poetry, Sci-Fi, General Fiction, a Screenplay, and now Historical Fiction and Short Story. Poetry, obviously, was the reason I got into Self-Publishing in the first place. I didn’t have a desire to do anything outside of publish my poetry. I am also becoming really interested in science because my husband’s a science nerd! He’s a handsome nerd though, he’s no Geek, there’s a difference! LOL. He doesn’t have the goggle glasses and pocket protectors going on! But he is really intelligent and wise and I learn a lot from him. Consequently, I became really interested in writing about the future and advanced technology; designer babies, flying cars, and all that weird stuff and, most importantly, tying these things into scripture and the end times and all that. So that’s where the Sci-Fi comes in at. The screenplay was just something I wanted to try my hand at. I’ve written plays before for my High School and watched them being played out on the stage and was actually in some of them, so I wanted to kinda bring that back so that’s why I wrote Pearls Before Swine which is actually a play not a novel. I pretty much want to try my hand at every genre if possible! I’m looking at Romance kinda sideways though, I don’t know, I’m not really into Romance like that. I like to read it but I don’t think it’s really my style from the writing POV. Historical Fiction and Short Stories is something I’m really digging right now though and I think Stella has shown me my primary niche.”
LWT: Since you write poetry in addition to books and short stories, how has spoken word helped you expand your readership?
YY: “Yessss! Finally a question about poetry! What took you so long? LOL. Having this skill has really blessed my readership. When I’m on stage or somewhere and I open my mouth to spit that piece, people are instantly interested in me individually which includes my work across the board because people love stories. What I’m quickly learning is that behind each product is a story, a narrative and it is that story that draws people in to support that product. As writers we are that product and we have to sell our stories. A book is good but it must have a heartbeat behind it too. For instance one day I was at this Open Mic spot right, in Shreveport, and these sisters were so drawn into this piece that I did about black women that they said that they will follow me everywhere and that just blew me away because I’m really into awakening the sisterhood. I was like ooookkk well, here’s my card, look me up! I don’t really share stuff like this though because I’d like to think I’m a pretty humble person and I don’t really need people thinking I got fans and whatnot. But I say this to say that poetry increases my readership a lot because of the power of spoken language and how it makes people feel. Maya Angelou said it best: “People will forget what you said. People will forget what you did. But people will never forget how you made them feel.”
LWT: Sorry I took so long, but I was warming you up. LOL. Speaking of people not forgetting how you make them feel. Social Media is a way to make an impression. How has social media helped you with building your readership?
YY: “Oh man. Social Media has given my readership like, steroids! I mean, I met you through social media! I get to communicate with a lot of authors and readers and professionals, by way of social, so that’s great and the feedback is awesome. My blog is doing better than any other blog I’ve had in the past (I’ve had two) and my website is starting to see some real traffic.”
LWT: Speaking of websites, how important is it to have a great author website?
YY: “I’m glad you asked that Lisa because I am actually in the process of upgrading my Author Website. It’s OK but nowhere near where I want it to be so hopefully my readers will be seeing a nice upgrade soon. Having a great Author Website is critical to an Author. As I talk a lot about on my blog, writers should treat this like a business. And any great business needs to invest in a website where people can go and view all of their products. Like I said when you asked me to give tips, create an Author Website and put ALL of your products on there so that people know where to find you. Even if you’re on Amazon, embed your Amazon links into your primary website because you need one place people can go. The idea is to drive as much traffic as possible to the website. If at all possible, get a professional to design the site for you. It has to be fun to visit, but also very easy to navigate so don’t try to do too much. Simplicity is always best.”
LWT: You are up for a small business grant from Merchant Negotiators; tell us about your budding business and how things are going?
YY: “I am so excited about starting this business! I don’t know if I’ll get the grant but as many of you who follow my blog already know, I want to do more than write books. I love writing but my passion for teaching has got to be included in some way. Eventually, I would like to start my own Publishing Business to help other Indie’s to get started (For the non-writers out there Indie is short for Indie Author or Independent Author). Not only do I want to help others to publish their own books, but I would also like to offer a few Self-Publishing packages even if they would like to publish elsewhere; a place where they can still come to me for Book Cover Design, Formatting, Editing, or whatever they need to help prepare the book for publishing. Right now I am in the process of registering The Literary Korner as an LLC or Limited Liability Company, polishing off the Business plan, and setting something up for those who would like to invest in this vision.
LWT: That sounds like a great plan and I look forward to following the progress of your company. As far as writing goes, what is coming up next for you, EC?
YY: “Well Lisa, I have so many plans for this coming year that I’m excited about and I’m just taking it one step at a time. I want to stick to the Short Story Genre so hopefully more short stories are coming. Right now though, Stella Book #2, Beyond The Colored Line, releases on the 24th and I’m putting the finishing touches on Book #3, The Road to Freedom, before sending it to my editor which I’m really excited about. I think yall are really going to love it! Its part of the Stella series and takes you back to the Freedom Rider age. In the meantime, I’ll be trying to get this Publishing Business off the ground so there’s a lot to do but I’m excited.”
There you have it ladies and gentlemen, another edition of Couch Convos in the books. To connect with EC please click the links to her Social Media sites below. You can purchase her books at most online retailers or via her author website. Don’t forget to pick up Stella, available now and the sequel Beyond The Colored Line available on August 24th.
Click the pic above to purchase
Facebook: ThePBSBlog (Blog)
Yecheilyah Ysrayl (Personal)
LinkedIn: Yecheilyah Ysrayl