Tuesday, 27 September 2011

Why I Love Writing Romance

An interview with author and award winning blogger, Myne Whitman

Myne Whitman is the publisher and managing editor of NAIJA STORIES, a critique website for Nigerian writers. A former banker and NGO consultant, she is the author of best selling romance novel A Heart To Mend. Born and raised in Enugu, eastern Nigeria where she had her early education, she later moved to Edinburgh where she obtained an MA in public health research in 2007 before returning to writing, her first love, in 2009.  She is the 35th most networked person in the United States and this is no surprise because she loves blogging and face booking and twitting. Myne is a very friendly, caring and fun loving person, but she likes some “me time” too, especially when she’s writing. Although she now resides in Seattle with her husband, Myne still misses the Nigerian weather and some of our local fruits like mango and cashew. Myne has a thing for love and romance, her latest novel A Love Rekindled has love as its thematic focus. She tells us about it in this interview. And just in case you were wondering about her name, she is fully Nigerian, but with a pen name like hers, you could easily pass for Afro-American.

How did you start writing?

I’ve been writing since I was much younger, around twelve or thirteen but it was always more of a hobby. The career path I initially chose was in the health sciences and I have a Masters degree in Public Health which I got in 2007. All this while, I always wrote by the side and it was only in 2009 that I decided to go back fully to my love of writing.

Why did you choose the pen name Myne Whitman, Is Myne Whitman different from the real person?

The pen name was inspired by my real name. As a teenager, I read so many books and found out in the process that a lot of authors used pen names. That was when the idea to use a pen name started, and when I started writing again I decided to use one. There are two major reasons for this; first, I do most of my writing online and one has to be careful when on the internet. Also, I do still have a passion for health systems and I don’t want to conflate both aspects of my life. That said, there is no difference.

Tell us about your book "A love rekindled"

The major themes in the book are of forgiveness, and of tolerance, framed within love. In the book, Efe returns to Nigeria after years in the United States, dreaming of a happy, independent life. However, her nights become plagued by nightmares of Kevwe Mukoro, her ex-fiancĂ©. Long hours at work and drinking in nightclubs only provide temporary relief, and when she encounters another Mukoro, she knows it’s a matter of time before Kevwe is back in her life. Sparks fly when they finally meet again, but desire is no match for bitter memories of heartbreak. All these years, Efe believed she was rejected; now Kevwe claims he’d never stopped loving her. Stuck at a crossroads, Kevwe prefers to look to the future, with them together. Efe does not want to lose him, yet she needs the traumatic events of the past resolved before she can give in to rekindled love.

You like to write about love and romance, is there a reason for this choice of genre/style?

First and foremost I want to write stories of love and of finding oneself. I also felt that there were not were not enough romance novels set in contemporary Nigeria, and that I could do something to change that. Therefore, a lot of these themes in A Heart to Mend are motivated by events or stories I’ve heard or read about in real life Nigeria of the last few years. The characters and issues dealt with in the book are meant to be relevant for contemporary life and relationships. Again, I have always been intrigued by the principle of unconditional love. When I started reading the Mills and Boon Romance novels as a young adult, their stories had a big influence on me and my writing. My imagined and written stories changed from adventures to romance. So now that I decided on full time writing, I was moved to go back to that genre. 

Do you have any rituals that help you write?

Not really. It does help though if I'm sitting down, either on my bed or at my writing desk. 

What is your daily routine like?

I try to write for at least a couple of hours every day. I usually write during the day time, but my muse can be quite strange, and has kept me awake all night in the past.

What would you rather do, sky diving or ice skating?

I have tried ice-skating and it involved a lot of falling on my bum. I'll like to go sky diving one of these days, all I have to do is jump off the plane, right? 

If you had to pick your favorite book of all times, what would it be?

 This is very hard to tell. I have read so many books and greatly enjoyed and benefited from a lot of them.

What is the best compliment you've ever received for a book you wrote?

One of my characters in A Love Rekindled, my second book, made me cry while writing it, and when some readers sent me feedback saying they cried at some points of the book too, I felt completely fulfilled. 

Myne's book A heart to mend

At last year’s garden city literary festival, I saw you freely chatting with fans and some of the participants and I thought "That's a very friendly person". Are you, or is it just part of being a celebrity?

I think I'm a very friendly person when the occasion calls for it. I do like some me-time too, especially when I'm writing. 

How did you arrive at your status as the 35th most networked person in the United States?

A lot of my publicity efforts have been using social media and blog and my Facebook page are my hubs. In August 2011, Western Union celebrated its 160th anniversary by launching of a hunt for the most networked person in the world. I was intrigued, and curious to know how connected I was, so I took the challenge. I found that I was 3rd most networked person among my Facebook friends and 35th in the United States.

You once wrote that women are better communicators than men, is this why in contemporary times; female Nigerian writers have been doing much better than their male counter parts?

You could say that. But really, the male writers are there too, including Helon Habila, Eghosa Imaseun, Tony Umez, among others. 

Since you live in the states, do you still eat African dishes?

Yes, I do. The food stuff are rare in the area where I live so I don't eat it that often though.

What is your favorite Nigerian dish?

I think it is Banga soup with pounded yam. 

What do you miss most about Nigeria?

It has to be my family. And I like that the weather is more stable and warm year round. I also miss some of our local fruits like mangoes and cashews, and I miss the vibrancy of the people.

Advice to young aspiring Nigerian Writers?

 They should keep writing till they complete a collection of shorts or a novel, and work at editing their manuscripts till opportunity comes knocking.
Three things Myne Whitman can't do without?

Books, conversation with friends, and relaxing music.

interview by Chidi Ugbe

NIGERIA'S STRIDING AMAZON: An Exclusive Interview with Award Winning Author Nnedi Okorafor

 Young female Nigerian writers, of recent are making sensational waves around the world. They have brought in a fresh perspective to the art, and are heralding a renewed appreciation of Nigerian literature abroad as well as in Nigeria. A good measure of their impact on the contemporary Nigerian literary scene is the numerous international and national awards and award nominations they've harvested in the past two decades. Among this new bloom of female Nigerian writers who are making us proud is award winning Nnedi Okorafor. She was born in Cincinnati, Ohio in 1974 to two Igbo parents who emigrated from Nigeria in 1969. After earning a BA in rhetoric at the University of Illinois in 1996 and an MA in journalism from the Michigan state university in 1999, she moved on to obtain her MA in Englishfrom the Chicago state university where she is now a professor of creative writing.

Nnedi's debut novel  Zarah the wind seeker appeared in 2005. The Novel which was published by Houghton Mifflin was the winner of the 2008 Wole Soyinka price for literature in Africa. The wind seeker made it into the Parallax awards and the Golden Duck and Garden State Teen Choice awards as a finalist. Nnedi was also the Winner of the 2007/2008 Macmillanwriter’s prize for Africa. Her fantastical Novel WHO FEARS DEATH is currently being converted into a movie by award winning director, WanuriKahui. A shining example of outstanding success and self-determination, this striding Amazon lives in the Chicagosuburbs with her daughter. Enjoy this chat with her.

You were born in the US, is that correct?
Yep, i was born in the US, Cincinnati, Ohio. From the age of 7,my parents started  taking me and my siblings to Nigeria, so while I had a American experience, I had a Nigerian one too.

It’s clear that had a big influence on your writing. How did you come about your love for the magical and speculative?
The magical and mysterious in my work is merely a reflection of how I see the world. It’s been there from the first story I wrote. The science fiction interest came later when I started wanting to see Africa in the future and an Africa that reflected the one Iknew. Clarion sparked everything, whenI arrived at the clarionschool of creative writing, met these other people writing fantasy and science fiction, this really crazy stuff, andI thought, oh these are my people! These are who I belong with. This is who I am.

Talking about science fiction, why do you think it hasn’t made further inroads in Africa?
I guess people write what they know, from my experience with Nigerians, most don't read stuff specially characterized as fantastical. Ben Okri, AmosTutuola, even Chinua Achebe...their work has fantastical elements,definitely,but the categories of science fiction almost aren’t in Nigerian vocabulary. I think that part of why i am able to write science fiction is because i was born and raised in the United States. Thus I have been exposed to this specific style of writing, along with African literature with fantastical elements. Maybe this category doesn’texist in Nigeria because it’s not needed. The fantastical is naturally a part of the Nigerian World Already.


Most of the major characters in your stories are female; does this in any way support the view of you as a feminist writer?

I have been called a feminist writer and that’s correct. I'm a feminist, a womanist,pro equality, all of that. What’sinterestingisthere’s always a little conflict between my womanist side and my feminist side. For instance there was a scene in one of my novels (who fears death) about female circumcision ,andI was trying to Get to the root of it. It’s a horrible practice, but it’s a complex thing. You can’t go into somebody's culture and say something is wrong with what you are doing...you should stop it, without respecting their culture first. I have been accused of being pro female circumcision because of the way Iportrayed this incident. I think even if you look at it in a non judgmentalway, you can see its rotten. So there is a cultural conflict, when it comes to feminism and how I identify with myself. I'm the extreme side of feminist and when I come to Nigeria I'm yelling about everything. And then when I return to the states, I am defending Nigeria. Its that whole being in the middle of things.

Who were your influences?
I grew up reading Stephen king. He taught me to love story telling. The first book of his that I read was it. Scared the heck out of me.

In July, you were one of the VIPs invited to witness the final launch of the historic space shuttle, Atlantis at the Kennedy space centerFlorida. Can you tell us more about this experience?
 It was a fascinating experience. And you know, I’vealways wanted to write about space travel.. It was the final space launch for NASA, ending three decades of crewed flight into earths orbit. It was a chance to see an exercise in American technological greatness. I got to the space centre with my daughter two hours early. We had to wait with other  visitors for about two and half hours listening to the official say wonderful things about the space shuttle program of NASA, before the thirty minute count down began. It was miraculous. Then it started to dawn on me that the gigantic shuttle on the Pad 39A would actually take off. We were there to witness history. There was festivity in the air as it seemed to dawn on the people around us too. Every time the clock stopped for whatever reason, we all held our breath, when it restarted..we all applauded. I focused on the launch pad,3 miles from where we were. I had two cameras, butI wanted to see the craft take off with my own eyes. 10-9-8-7-6-5-4-3-2-1 and blast off! Ones everyone saw the plumes from the exhaust people started cheering.. It was an exhilarating moment, Imean, it was actually happening in front of me. I've seen launches plenty of times on TV but this felt real, so real. It was right there in front of us. I was tingling with astonishment and fear. It was so close. Up, up,up, it went. Then it punched through thethinning clouds and then it was gone. You could see its shadows reflecting on the clouds. It took less than a minute, but it was absolutely awe inspiring. I had watched human beings leave the earth and it was beautiful.

interview by Tchidi Jacobs