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Sunday, February 20, 2011

Interview: Myne Whitman speaks

Myne Whitman is the author of a romance novel, A Heart to Mend. She is a Nigerian. She has a Master's Degree in Public Health Research. She presently lives in Seattle, USA with her family, where she writes full time. She is the founder and managing editor of a Nigerian portal of creative writings, Niajastories, a platform that showcases Nigerian aspiring writers to the reading and Internet world.

In this interview, Myne Whitman talks about herself, her book and the future of her writing career. She also speaks, inter alia, on the genre she writes in and her new book that will soon be hitting the shelf soon.  



True Talk: In three sentences, introduce yourself like you would to a person who does not know who Myne Whitman is…

Myne Whitman: Myne Whitman is my pen name. I was born and raised in Enugu, Nigeria, where I spent most of my time, studying, reading and daydreaming or climbing trees and playing with the boys. I have a Master's degree in Public Health Research but have chosen my childhood dream of spinning stories.


TT: What's the name behind Myne Whitman? Why Myne Whitman?

MW: I coined my first pen name when I began to write fiction seriously in secondary school. Most of the books I read were in English, and since I was writing in English too, I decided my name would be the same. So the pseudonym is a play on the transliterated words of my maiden name, Nkem Okotcha. As a published author, I chose to use this form of my name because it gives me some privacy, and also to meet the demands of my split career in public health and writing.


TT: Your first book, A Heart to Mend, is a Romance novel. Why Romance of all genres?

MW: First and foremost I wanted to write a story of love and finding oneself. I also felt that there 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 therefore 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.


TT: It seems, from the personal blog you operate and the numerous interviews that you have granted, that Romance is the genre you would be exploring. How do you plan to break new grounds with the genre, since Nigerian literary scene is unfamiliar with it?

MW: The primary intention of promoting romance is to contribute the writing of the genre fiction as a whole in Nigerian literature. I grew up reading books of the Pacesetters fame, but they disappeared along the line. There has been a sort of renaissance in the writing and book publishing industry in Nigeria and I wanted to add my voice in a unique way. My plans include consistency, garnering publicity, and penetrating the book selling market as widely as possible.



TT: It has always been the case with writers that boxes themselves within a particular theme (in your case Romance), that readers soon get tired of their writings. How do you intend to use your creativity to rescue yourself from this?

MW: I don't think you have it right at all. The fact is that popular fiction is named that for a reason. Readers love them, and cannot get enough of the works of such writers. I just need to name people like Danielle Steele, Karen Kingsbury or Francine Rivers, and you'll realize how wrong you are. These romance authors have been writing for decades, and are New York Times Best Selling Authors. Someone like Sidney Sheldon is dead, but someone writes in his stead because his millions of fans want more of his style of books. Back home in Nigeria, most of our classics including Buchi Emecheta, Helen Ovbiagele, and even Cyprian Ekwensi, wrote romance at one time or the other.


TT: What are you currently working on to prove to your readers that A Heart To Mend was not just some flash in the pan?

MW: My next book, A Love Rekindled, is almost ready for release, and will hit the bookstores and shelves by the end of March 2011. It should be available in Nigeria by the middle of the year.


TT: You were recently in Nigeria. Did that afford you the opportunity to create awareness for the book? How?

MW: I was in Nigeria between November 2010, and January 2011, and indeed I was able to raise awareness about my writing. Beyond my writing, I hope I was also able to generate excitement for the popular fiction revolution which is my ultimate dream. I attended and facilitated a session at the Garden City Literary Festival Port Harcourt, where I met Wole Soyinka, Sefi Atta, Adaobi Nwaubani, Helon Habila, among other authors and writers. The session I promoted was for publishers and how they can better harness the social media in order to reach more readers. It was a successful outing, and I enjoyed it.

I was also invited, or a part of several readings and writer's meet-ups in Lagos, Abuja, Asaba, and Enugu. In addition, I was a guest on a couple of radio shows, and had several articles and features in National newspapers.


TT: When writers are spurned by conventional publishers, Self-Publishing becomes the comfortable alternative. In your case, what circumstances pushed you to self-publishing your book?

MW: I decided to self publish because I heard some good stories about the process and how it can be successful if you apply yourself. I had been discouraged earlier on in my writing when I tried to pursue it after my first degree. I was rejected by the very few publishers we had in Nigeria in those days. So this time after several similar letters from publishers and agents, I decided on self publishing since I had my full time to dedicate to it.


TT: True Talk got to know who Myne Whitman is online. It seems you are everywhere in the cyberspace. To what extent has the Internet influenced your writing and the book?

MW: The fact is that the world has come to terms with the internet age and brought with it more opportunities to publish. So, other less conventional means of getting a book to an audience are beginning to take root - talk about eBooks, kindles and Nooks and other such technology. The internet, and all the resources available online have also been very useful for me as I have been polishing my craft, and improving my writing.

Having a blog, (which won several awards including Blog of the Year at the Nigerian Blog Awards 2010) really helped me in my writing, especially with the feedback and critique I get from my readers. My blog was part of the reason I decided to publish. I had such a loyal following that I wanted to give them a chance to read the complete story. Most of them had been following it on my blog and were very supportive. It was through the support of fellow bloggers that I did my first blog tour and all the publicity that came with that. After that I joined Facebook and Twitter and the following has been growing since.


TT: As a blogger and a writer, can you really differentiate blogging from writing? Do you think a blogger has the creativity-confidence to be called a writer?

MW: There are different kinds of bloggers as you know. Anyone writing down a recap of their day on their blog may not be called a writer, or even want to be known as one. However, in my blog rounds, I have seen articles written by bloggers, and which contain analysis that rivals that in NEXT, and even the New York Times. I have also seen fiction and talent that I would buy any day if it were collected in a book. So again, it depends on the blogger. I wasn't the first blogger to turn to a writer/author. We also had the likes of Jumoke Verissimo and Joy Bewaji who had the boldness to go beyond scribbling online. Cassava Republic Press also published "Everyday for the Thief" by Teju Cole from the writings he had on his blog.


TT: Will you ever stop writing?

MW: I doubt that a lot. Even as I plan to branch into publishing others, I know I will continue writing.


TT: Give us a brief about your writing activities.

MW: I write full time so it takes up most of my day. I get my morning duties done, and then I write maybe until noon. I take a break, have brunch and come back. I do some social networking and publicity for my writings and for Naija Stories, and then I get back to writing until evening.


TT: Please, give a sentence to the blog.

MW: I believe this blog is doing a great job, and I hope for the day True Talk becomes a site that people will come to for the latest news in Nigerian literature.


TT: Thank you, Myne.

MW: Thank you, Joseph.


Monday, February 7, 2011

Get Your Browsing-Cheats Here

Our Internet Lifestyle:

Our pleasure for Internet freedom and lifestyle all started some four years back when mobile web browsing was just a novel experience and mobile broadband a non-existing idea. Have you ever come to think of the factor that gave a stupendous rise to the mobile-phone market among youths? Your guess might not be right. It was not in the airs of sophistication it constantly added to us. No! Mobile phones began gaining conscious popularity when a more social feature it could always perform was integrated into it – mobile web browsing! This was the particular thing that made me and my friends to start believing that internet connection might soon cease to be something we walked miles to get access to anymore. At first, it was how to get the money for the phones with compatible simple web function that overrode our thoughts. We heard Nokia 2626 was economical to get and that Nokia 3110c has larger memories to manage multitudinous apps for computer-like internet surfing. The glee this new discovery gave us was beyond boards. We spent our feeding allowances and some of the cash gotten from the kindness of relatives and friends on the newly found trove. Though, we always instinctively condemned Mutiu whenever we found out he had 'reshuffled' his father's money (Mutiu called it 'reshuffling' rather stealing, because he said he was only helping himself with the money to satisfy urgent needs), we wouldn't reject it when the money was meant to pay our internet subscription. But when our activities on our mobile web began to weigh down more than what we could pay for despite Mutiu's constant 'reshuffling', we devised other means…


The other means was when we sought ways of circumventing the service of our network providers. For this cause alone, we got ourselves on the network that was porous to accommodate our means. Our normal contact became unreachable. It was different sims every time. We migrated to and from different lines we could bypass.  It was Tobiloba who first brought the solution that very boring day when we fidgeted with normal downloaded gaming applications on our phones to contain the drabness of the mood we were thrown into for lack of money to buy more expensive internet bundle plan. What was annoyingly unbelievable about these bundle plans was the measurement in which the internet connection was given out to customers as a groundnut oil seller would make sure little tickle of her oil does not get to the brim of your bottle. They were in MBs (Megabytes). Various sizes of MBs came with different costs; 100MB for #1000, 500MB for #3,000 and so on.

Tobiloba hopped in that day and galloped around like a demented possessed priest of Ogun, the god of Thunder. We all knew something as different from the usual had happened. We needn't be told. This was the same thing Tobiloba always did before he announced any news or something no one else knew about. Such was his act when he caught Mutiu's downward spirited piece of man feverishly glued to the fleshy posterior of Bisi, our street's orange seller, in the diffused darkness that was only welcome whenever bulbs become mere scientific invention made useless by incessant power outage. Tobilola was the bringer of odd happenings, the ears of the king at homes and at farms.

Tobiloba detailed how he had met a friend who also has a friend that knew somebody who could get the issue of our internet lack solved with meager penny. That paved the way for the unbridled access that followed. We only paid the hacker, so he was called for the skill he has in altering communication and data codes, two hundred naira for each of the phone he configured with his strings of generated IP addresses, Proxies, Access Points and pre-customized Opera Minis, which he said would cast a cloud on the detecting machine of the service provider we were on. We browsed freely, downloaded music of larger file memories and replaced previously installed applications with updated versions.

The Departure:

I started it first. I knew I did, though I only thought things were meant to be done rightly in order to be able to reroute the course of things that weren't orderly. The idea was mine and I was the origin of the divide that got my friends' backs turned against mine. It was no debate the network providers were exploitative in their internet plans, I also knew standing against what is bad couldn't be done with soiled conscience.

Only a deranged person will still pay for things that could be given as freebies, right? But the free booty was not satisfying as it should anymore. Sometimes, we paid for a configuration and the next couples of hours it would be blocked. Our pleasure never took us long, we paid for browsing-cheats for our mobile more than the price the normal connection was bought for. I was fed up. My academic performance was worsening for the lack of Wikipedia and to read.

That peculiar evening, I lobbed the words that caught my friends' off-guards, how deadly they blew the gaskets afterwards!

"I want to start subscribing again." I told them

"I'm not all in for this shady cheats of a thing. After all, it always sent us going back to pay more illegal money to that guy who wouldn't tell us that the cheats might be blocked in some minuscule minutes from when it was configured."

I deleted the customized Operas on my phone, browsed the Internet in the crammed café room we ran away from initially, and pulled through pages of different Internet providers. My hard-saved penny catered for the modem whose sole means of recharge came from forgotten changes of money used to buy random items like Maggie and salt for the home.

Mutiu and Tobiloba were always in the habit of snatching at me when they learnt I had started paying for internet again. I was on 100 megabytes subscription that would only last me to download few pages of gmail, facebook and Naijastories. For Mutiu and Tobiloba, system upgrade of network providers meant one thing: the blocking of free internet access. One who knew not my friends before now, would easily pass them off as sim card retailers. They had stacks of them. When MTN blocked them out, they took solace with Etisalat. When Airtel's gprs crawled; for them, Glo's 3.5G network might work the speed. It has been three years now since we have gone our separate paths for what they misconstrued as my puritan streak of legality. I got a group facebook request from them few days ago. A group they created for distributing free internet Access codes online. Solving Internet Accessibility for the Masses was the group's name.

I couldn't have toed the same track they followed. Doing so, would mean always escaping from the internet noose of my network provider. I only wish access to the internet were cheaper and available, where a month subscription wouldn't cost more than five hundred naira. I only dream…

Friday, February 4, 2011

Be Armed: Information Is It!

My mum, a market-woman who deals in various food items, taught me something. Being with her as a child has made me to come to terms with the strength and rescue one gets from information; no matter how petty the piece of information may be. Each time, my mum came home with the news of how some items in the market have taken slight changes in their prices; there were always stories to tell. The lesson point for me in her market-stories was the part she would desultorily narrate how a customer who had hitherto learnt of a slight change in price of a particular item had come to her stall, hoping to cash in on her ignorance to get an item at a price it was used to be sold. My mum would later go on to tell us that she would have been had by the customer if not for the timely information a fellow market-woman had passed to her a few moments before the encounter. From this, it stuck to my head that in as long as information creates wealth, the insatiable thirst human has for information will never allow the uninformed to have it equally as the informed. In her kind of business setting, keeping up to date with price-movement is sacrosanct. This is done to have sufficient capital to be able to match the current price of a commodity.

What makes the mistakes you make costly is in the immenseness of the information you let slip of you. Just like in Law, a defaulter bears the brunt of his disobedience to a rule even though he claims ignorance. The children of Israel who died in the wilderness after the return of the twelve spies from Canaan died on their ignorance. Only the two, Caleb and Joshua, who had the basic info about the supremacy of the God they were serving got spared {Num. 13:26-33, 14:26-38}. This is what information does to you; you are always spared from general calamity. What makes a man arrive at his destination earlier is not because he knows the way that everybody also seems to know, it is his ability to beat others to it faster by taking a detour with relevant information that gives him speed.

Daniel could also have died with the wise men of Babylon under Nebuchadnezzar if he hadn't got the real info to the king's dream. What separated Daniel from the other interpreters was the exclusive information he had on how to go about reminding the king of his dream and interpreting it {Dan. 2:14-21}. I do not know how Joseph would have ridden so fast to the ladder of fame if he hadn't given Pharaoh the answers to his dream {Gen. 41:25-44}. As you must have known, information still remains the years-long secret that hasn't lost his value with numerous passages of seasons. What makes the corporate world different from other unorganized institutions is their resourcefulness with info. Ever since the Fall of man in the Garden of Eden, those who neglect information have never stopped becoming the battered victims.

Information is not only the embedded streak in the culture of man that births civilization; it is a necessary tool for creation. When it is despised, our guards for survival are weakened and we become easy preys.

I'm glad to bring you to the conclusion that the reason why that same situation has always toppled you over all this while is because it advances more on you than you advance in getting solutions to it.

You want a problem to be solved by God? Trade with the information-word in the bible. You want to add up to your professional ranks? Explore more related studies. Information works a tangible contributory role in all achievements.

All you've got to do is to be armed with the chink-less armor of information. With it, nothing might be unreachable after all. Be Armed, Information Is It!

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