You may have been wondering about what were on the minds of the Etisalat Flash Fiction Prize contestants before and after their stories were published, how they went about campaigning for their entries, the influences behind the entries and how some of them made it to the Top 20. All those you will know this week as TrueTalk interviews some selected writers who have scaled it all to the Etisalat Flash Fiction Top 20.
Today, we are engaging Tee Jay Dan, the author of "The Seamstress". One interesting thing about Tee Jay Dan is his engaging style in attending to questions. I found him a good interviewee. Enjoy!
TrueTalk: Tell us about yourself, Tee Jay Dan. Is that really your name?
Tee Jay Dan: Tee Jay Dan is my artistic name. I am a writer and filmmaker. Actually, I trained as a screenwriter with New York Film Academy in 2010. I am currently studying again, this time around online. I am one of the CEOs of Topnotch Films.
TT: What was the influence behind your story, “The Seamstress”? One of your readers once said it is more of a poem than a flash fiction. What can you say to that?
TJD: This question makes me laugh. There are lots of fake poets on Facebook. You must have encountered such guys. They write boring lines, desperate rhymes, lazy imageries, baseless rants then proceed to tag hundreds of people. I have plenty of them as friends on Facebook. It's depressing. I have had to warn some of them to stop tagging me. These fake poets inspired The Seamstress. They are always busy writing disgusting love poems for some girl. Then also, a lot of people treat matters of the heart like some dialectical process. I wanted also to preach that love is to be shown, not talked about - proclaimed by deeds rather than speech. As for those who think that The Seamstress is more of a poem than a flash fiction, well, isn't that the beauty of art?
When I entered, I was too excited about the prize that I failed to notice the voting condition until three days later when Etisalat emailed me the link to my flash fiction. But even if I had seen it earlier, I still would have entered. Contests excite me.
|Tee Jay Dan|
TT: What can you say about the various comments that have trailed the Etisalat Flash Fiction prize?
TJD: A wise man once said that everyone has an opinion, and at each point, a very different one. Some of the critics commented out of genuine concern for literature. These are the people who faulted certain aspects of the prize but made meaningful suggestions. These people I respect. Then there are others who commented for reasons best known to them. A lot of illogical comments have been made so far. Some are hilarious whereas others are straight up stupid. Take a pause brother, breathe then examine this exercise with a neutral eye. You'll see that etisalat actually have human beings, not machines, overseeing the contest. These people know good stories. If some whack stories made it to the Top 20, is it not possible that they could be the best of the whack stories entered for the prize? I'd like to see someone point to a flash fiction that ought to be on the shortlist and isn't. That'd be better than plain criticism.
When Pearl Osibu said that she was depressed after reading the Top 20 stories, I laughed. I was with Gimba Kakanda when I read it. Ask him, I just laughed. To be fair to her, her entry is better than some that made it to the Top 20. But is it better than all? I'd prefer Uche's story or St. Naija's over hers anyday. And yes, bad stories could be depressing. I understand. But she wasn't objective to have drawn such conclusion.
TT: How do you think this prize has helped our literature and growing unpublished writers especially?
TJD: The prize has created tremendous awareness both for the genre and the prize. A lot of us knew nothing about Flash Fiction before now. The prize has promoted this wonderful genre in Africa, Nigeria in particular. You'll see. Also, it has seduced a lot of passive literary observers into writing. I know a lady who wouldn't take writing seriously, but she actually entered for the prize. I am happy about this. Her name is Anita Adamilo Wasah. You can check out her story. I hope this experience will encourage her to finally take writing seriously.
TT: Do you think the prize will give anyone who wins the bragging right even when some said the Top 20 is fraught with many poor entries due to the voting method employed?
TJD: The Seamstress has given me the bragging right already. It's out there for anyone to tell me what's wrong with it. Yes, there are many poor entries. No, the Top 20 is not entirely fraught. I have read some of the comments. I am insulated from whatever jibes anyone throws. The Seamstress stands on its own and I am comfortable with it. Fullstop. I did not like the voting method, but it was fun. Look on the bright side, man. Millions now know about flash fiction because etisalat said we have to vote!
TT: Reading through some of the entries, one realizes that some do not know what a flash fiction is before submitting. What is your own idea of the flash fiction genre?
TJD: Sometime before an angel told me about the Etisalat flash fiction prize, Ejiro Eghagha had given me a collection of stories that were shorter than short stories. I was to adapt some of the stories into screenplays for a Hollywood agent. So I knew about flash fiction before the Etisalat prize. I knew about Ernest Hemmingway too before then. I had read a couple of flash fictions in the past that blew my mind and caused me to fall in love with the genre. So I did not think twice before entering for the etisalat flash fiction prize. I was too excited even to notice the voting condition then. In short, I think the etisalat prize was the push I had been waiting for. Writing The Seamstress was a new and awe-inspiring experience for me. I just couldn't stop after that. I have written up to ten flash fictions ever since. And my company will be making a short film of The Seamstress sometime this month. It's fun all the way! You'll see.
I keep one thing in mind when writing a flash fiction and this is it: "is the story smooth and fast-paced enough for a reader to finish before he finishes a stick of cigarrete?” The flash fiction genre is as challenging as it is fun to write.
TT: How do you think the voting system has affected the prize?
TJD: The voting system ridiculed the prize in a way, but not as bad as some critics will have us believe. I do not even believe that the Top 20 stories were selected purely on number of votes. Of course the votes counted, but it wasn't the sole determining factor. I think. I mean, I know some guys who made the etisalat contest a central point of their lives throughout the month of October. Every day and everywhere they went, they were all about canvassing for votes. None of these guys made the Top 20. Only three of my good friends promoted my story. I told some good friends to vote for me as well. Some very close pals did not even know I was in a contest. In fact, there were days that I totally forgot about it. My point is that a lot of the stories that were dropped had more votes than mine.
TT: What do you think the organizer can improved on about the prize?
TJD: If I am right in thinking that etisalat's purpose for the voting system was to generate a buzz for the prize and for their brand, then the goal has been achieved. I'd like to see the voting system scrapped. But if I am wrong, then, by all means, it should be sustained. People vote for certain music awards. People vote for the Afrinolly shortfilm award too. Why can't people vote for writing? What's special about writing and writers? This is art, just like music and filmmaking. Come on, let's have some fun too. It is arrogant to dismiss the etisalat flash fiction prize as a popularity contest. I read St. Naija's and Uche's stories. St. Naija aggressively campaigned for his story; I do not think Uche did same. They are good and would have gotten to this stage even without the voting system. Then there is The Seamstress too. A lot of the guys who didn't make it this far are more popular than I am. And I am yet to receive a single Facebook friend request simply because of the etisalat flash fiction prize. Besides where is it a crime for writers to be popular? We should be celebrated as well like our counterparts in the music industry. Like film stars too. We are artists too!
I'd like to see etisalat organize workshops for some future entrants, if not all. They should include great books as part of the prizes. Writers love books. So they should give us books too. They offer us money and smart tablet devices and a published book deal, really cool, add some books and we'd be more inspired.
TT: What do you think of the suggestion that all entries on the Top 20, aside the winners, be given consolation prizes?
TJD: All entrants who made it to the Top 20 should be given a couple of fine books. Really. But it's etisalat's show. If they decide to console everyone, fine and good. If they don't, all the same. It's been fun. Really.
TT: Thank you, Tee.
TJD: Thank you too, TrueTalk.