Link

I haven’t heard from my friend Uzo in a long while and then I get this message.

“I am currently writing you from a low-cost hotel. I lost “everything” in my apartment to a flood which devastated many homes in my vicinity (it rained heavily for six hours). Ah! It was really bad. In one case, neighbours had to break into a man’s fortress-like house (he wasn’t present at the time) to carry off his bedridden wife.

I think I can now relate on a deeper level with victims of Hurricanes Harvey and Irma.”

I Google his city (in Nigeria) and find pictures like this.

Uzo survives

Yes, I think, he can relate.

I write back and comment that a “low-cost” hotel can’t be very nice. (I’ve seen enough in many parts of the world to know what they are like.)

Uzo writes back.

“Well, the hotel room is better when compared to other places I lived in—a two-bedroom apartment with a leaky roof, and then a mud house in the northern part of the country (in this case, I had to fetch water each day and there was no power throughout my one-year-and-a-half stay).

“I’ve to reprioritize my spending from now on, bearing in mind I have to replace (buy) some essentials at least, like settee and chair cushions, electronics. You may be wondering, but most of us (if not all) do not have insurance (schemes). I don’t trust the state government to help; they put us in this mess with their shitty road constructions. They’ve seen the extent of damage caused by the disaster and are saying help is not for everyone. Can you imagine that?”

I ask if he’ll be able to move back to his home.

“Yes, I intend to go back home. In the meantime, I’ve invited some friends to help me clear, reorganize, and wash the things I can still use.”

I admire Uzo’s strength and resiliency. And I bitterly resent those who could, but don’t help—the wealthy elite of the world.

 

http://www.darlenejonesauthor.com

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How writers write.

 

 

Do writers  sit in a coffee shop or work at home? Do they insist on silence or handle noise by tuning it out? Long hand? Computer? Typewriter? Voice entry?

Haruki Murakami (http://ow.ly/RUSX308ju8Y) says, “When I’m in writing mode for a novel, I get up at four a.m. and work for five to six hours. In the afternoon, I run for ten kilometers or swim for fifteen hundred meters (or do both), then I read a bit and listen to some music. I go to bed at nine p.m.”

Maya Angelou (http://ow.ly/RUSX308ju8Y) says, “I keep a hotel room in my hometown and pay for it by the month.

I go around 6:30 in the morning. I have a bedroom, with a bed, a table, and a bath. I have Roget’s Thesaurus, a dictionary, and the Bible.  I have all the paintings and any decoration taken out of the room. I ask the management and housekeeping not to enter the room, just in case I’ve thrown a piece of paper on the floor, I don’t want it discarded. But I’ve never slept there, I’m usually out of there by 2. And then I go home and I read what I’ve written that morning, and I try to edit then. Clean it up.”

Emily St. Jonh Mandel, author of Last Night in Montreal (Unbridled Books, 2009) and The Singer’s Gun (Unbridled, May 2010):

“I do most of my writing in my home office, at my unbelievably messy desk. It’s by far my favorite place to write—my cats and my music are there, and it’s a very peaceful room. I live in Brooklyn and work at a university in Manhattan, and I get off work in the mid-afternoon. Often if I have theatre tickets or some other plans that require me to be in Manhattan that evening, I’ll linger at work for a few hours. When that happens, I go to the library at the university where I work and write there for a while. Often, very often, I’ll find myself writing in the subway. I spend two hours a day on the F train, five days a week, and I always carry a notebook with me.”

Alexander Chee, author of Edinburgh (Picador, 2002) and the forthcoming The Queen of the Night:

“Usually it’s trains where I get the most writing done—I wish I could get a residency from Amtrak on a sleeper car, or an office booth in a cafe car. I recently had a residency at a colony in Florida, where I had two days of writing 17 pages a day and it would have continued if I hadn’t had to leave. I think anonymity and displacement help me no matter where I am—I need to feel like I’ve vanished and no one can find me.”

Nova Ren Suma, author of Dani Noir (Aladdin/Simon & Schuster, 2009) and Imaginary Girls (Dutton, summer 2011):

“I live in a tiny apartment in New York and can sometimes be found writing first thing in the mornings at a cafe, if I can find a good table, but I don’t stay there for long. There are the crowds. The noise. I can’t control the music on the stereo. The real place where I get most of my writing done is called the Writers Room. Billed as an urban writers’ colony in New York City, it’s a place for writers of all genres to go for space, quiet, and uninterrupted time to work. At various desks in the giant loft space of the Writers Room, I’ve written, no exaggeration, thousands of pages. When you pay for an ‘office space’ like this and have a dedicated place to go, one filled with other working writers typing up their own pages, it makes you all the more motivated to do your own work.”

And the rest of us?

            I believe most authors (like me) work at home, at a desk tucked in a corner somewhere, tuning out the normal noises of family going about their daily lives (or wearing earplugs) and adjusting their schedule to the demands of life.

Others don’t have it so good. My Nigerian writer friend says:

Pls you may have to ignore the doc I sent in my previous email. Because of the acute shortage of power I am sort of working under duress. Once I fix my gen I’ll be able to work freely.

And later:

I’ve serviced my generator and now I don’t have to depend on the government for power.

Like many other peace-abiding Nigerians, we somehow still manage to survive. Everyday is an ordeal and sometimes I can’t help but feel the Lord God is punishing us all for the crimes some of us (including the cabal) made by turning to the legendary tyrant Buhari. Nigeria’s pitiful condition is an open book. A researcher some years ago said we are the “Happiest People on Earth.” I wonder if this survey will stand the test of time.

Robert J. Sawyer says it best in answer to this question.

“Name some of the rituals or habits you indulge in while writing.”

Not to be dismissive, but the answer is (a) none, and (b) it should be none. A writer needs to write, period. He or she can’t wait for the muse, shouldn’t need peace and quiet and isn’t entitled to perfect conditions or the perfect spot. Rituals? Fingers on the home typing row. Habits? Getting down to work, whether it’s in my home, on a plane, in a hotel room or (among other places I’ve actually opened up my computer and started writing) in the ruins of Pompeii, on a ferry in Australia or on a park bench in the Yukon.

 

Doing without

nigeria

Quick! What was the thing you most recently complained about? Got your answer? Hold that thought.

Now read this.

“I am only replying now (it’s around 1:36 a.m.) because this is first time in days that we have had power. Add that to the recession and you have a really “beautiful” picture of life from my end.”

Electricity off for days? Recession? And I’m upset because my WiFi isn’t fast enough.

The quote is from an email my Nigerian friend sent me the other day. I’ve been getting reality checks from him for some time now. I look around my house. What would I be forced to do without if there were no electricity? Lights, stove, fridge, microwave, TV, computer, iPad, Paperwhite, phone, humidifier, heat; even the gas fireplace needs its electric starter.

I’ve a book I’d like to send you, I write. It’s not available in ebook format. What’s your address?

“The post office building is vacant and has been for some time. The last time I received a letter was six years ago.”

Okay, I think. I’ll courier the book. I check with various companies to find that no one delivers packages in his area of the country. Scratch that idea.

Each missive from him jolts me. He rarely complains, but I can sense how hard his life is and how difficult it must be to remain optimistic.

We take far too many things for granted in our cozy corner of the world. Does his plight make me want to give up what I have? Of course not. But it does prompt me to stop buying things I don’t need, to be less wasteful, to “use it up, wear it out, make do, do without.” And, knowing him has prompted me to increase my charitable donations to organizations like KIVA. It’s the least I can do.

 

Reading reviews – a huge mistake?

419

I’m reading 419 by Will Ferguson—a powerful story, well told, with turns of phrase that delight.

Storms without rain. Winds without water. She woke, and when she sat up, the dust fountained off her and the voice that accompanied her once again stirred, once again whispered, “Get up. Keep walking. Don’t stop.

Vivid imagery abounds.

Zuma rock denoted not only the traditional geographical centre of Nigeria-the “navel of the nation” as it was known-but also the border between the sha’ria states of the north and the Christian states of the sough. Zuma rose up, rounded and sudden, on striated cliffs etched by a thousand years of rainfall and erosion. The ridges carved down its sides were the sort of lines that might be left by acid or tears.”

A woman from Canada, a girl from the north, a young man from the Delta, and a 419er. How will the lives of these disparate characters be woven together? I’m fascinated, enthralled, eager to read each evening, yet dreading the end, dreading the time when the story will be only a memory. The narrative makes me cringe and cry. I know this is a book I will read more than once.

I email my young Nigerian friend to tell him about the novel. He responds:

“ 419 – an internet scam organized by Nigerian scammers (aliases: Yahoo Boys, G-Boys). 419 is an alias that dates back to the past (I believe 1994-1997) in Nigeria, when innocent people, mainly teenagers, were repeatedly abducted and killed. Their bodies or body parts were then used for big money rituals.
I’ve come across painful remarks on Twitter, Facebook, and some other interactive sites about Nigerians being fraudsters. That they target white people and rob them of their money using various means; including telling them pitiful stories just to incite their help.”

I’m about three quarters of the way through the book at this point and the urge to learn more about Ferguson’s research can no longer be ignored. Googling proves to be a huge mistake. The first items that come up are reviews from highly respected sources, and while they don’t lambaste the book, they do contain enough negative comments to diminish my pleasure in the reading and cause a rather sour feeling.

I turn away from the computer in disgust, push the reviews out of my mind, and return to my Kindle. I refuse to let someone else’s opinion color my own judgment, my own enjoyment of the novel.

Sitting now, writing this, I wonder if I should stop writing reviews. Am I guilty of spoiling another’s enjoyment, of perhaps causing someone, because of my arrogance, to dismiss a novel without even giving it a chance? Conversely, does a review I write of a book I love convince a reader to pick up that book only to find that it doesn’t work for them? What makes me think I can or should pass judgment for another reader?

But the author in me craves reviews. They’re our “word of mouth” and vital to marketing. If we’re to have sales at all, we need people talking about our books, reviewing them, recommending them to fellow readers.

Amazon sends me emails. “So, Darlene Jones, how did this item meet your expectations?” Do I answer? What do I say? My own sister, daughter, and aunt don’t always like the books I deem worthy of their time.

Yes, I did write a review for 419. Book buyers may or may not read it. They may or may not take it to heart in their decision making, but I’ve decided writing reviews is my obligation to fellow authors. It’s my “word of mouth” gift to them. I hope readers of my books will do the same for me.

Introducing Uzo

drums

I don’t remember how we met. Uzo reminds me that he was surfing WordPress looking for authors, found my blog, and read some of the posts about Mali. He made a comment, I responded and a new friendship was born.

Uzo is a young Nigerian with a blog. He lives in Asaba, Delta State (South-South Nigeria), one of the oil producing states in his country. I’m an older Canadian with a blog. I live a world away (in so many respects) on Vancouver Island, Canada.

Uzo writes novels. I write novels. Uzo writes in English, which is not his first language. As he says, “English is quite a vast language. Every day is a learning process for me.”

We begin by talking about books. We both like Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie. I’d read Half a Yellow Sun. He told me about Purple Hibiscus. Here’s what he had to say about that book. “Purple Hibiscus is a wonderful story. Adichie did a marvelous job there from the first person pov. Kambili’s account is so real and reflects the life of a rich, caged Igbo child-woman during one of the military regimes in Nigeria.”  We’re both anxious to read Americanah.

Uzo says, “I’m a no-good writer. I’m just a wannabe like you guys call it.” On the contrary, Uzo is a powerful writer. Here’s a sample.

Although the Liberian war is now over, I cannot wish away the memories. There are nights in my sleep when I still find myself dressed in army uniform, AK-47 ready. On these nights I hear the voices of parents calling their children; others joking, shouting: “Where’s your bunker?” The air cracks and I hear the sounds of diving jets and stuttering LMGs. Fire, blood, bullets and bodies everywhere. Things soon simmer to normal as danger passes. People fill the streets, young boys and girls going on various errands. Then he appears in a blood-stained enemy uniform. His oily dark face is teased with abandon. He’s about to aim his rifle at me. In my dreams, he dies in different ways. I’m his killer. Something tells me that he is my son. But I’m too afraid to believe it.

I’m not a professional editor, but I’ve offered to help Uzo with his English as he’d be drained if he had to pay an editor, so files are sent back and forth. I’m careful not to tamper with the uniqueness of his voice.

Only the eyes that moved swiftly would see the legs that desperately sprinted across the farms and pathways. Thereafter thoughts would arise if the runner was after something, or rather, was the prey.

Beautiful, right? And yes, my life, as a person and as a writer, is richer for having met him. That’s the beauty of the Internet.

Here’s what Uzo has to say about himself on his blog. (I don’t like the harmattan season either when the West African trade winds blow incessantly from the Sahara.)

  1. I love the game of Scrabble a lot. And I’ve won a big-money competition in that regard lately.
  2. I love the smell of the air immediately after a cold, long rain. It’s so refreshing!
  3. I don’t like the harmattan season.
  4. Music. Highlife music takes me to a different place entirely. It’s a gift to W. Africa.
  5. I want to learn how to speak Hausa and after that Swahili.
  6. I usually write with my right hand. But can also do so with my left…and it’s legible too.
  7. I still watch a lot of cartoons and can’t do without my PS3!
  8. Biscuits–I’m addicted.
  9. My favorite time of the day is very early in the morning for all the right reasons.
  10. I’ll get my dog friend a partner once I publish my first book. Well, that’s more like a promise.   In the meantime, he can woo those around him.
  11. I still have most of my childhood toys and comics with me.

Uzo’s blog: http://85degrees.wordpress.com

CLICK ON BADGE FOR LINK TO MY VENTURE GALLERIES PAGE.

West Africa Tour – part 5 – Strawberry Pudding Powder

The next morning, we bid the nuns farewell and follow their advice to take the train to the capital, Cotonou (now Porto-Novo).

At the station we have the good fortune to meet a Peace Corps volunteer also headed to the capital. He proves to be an excellent guide. The train is slightly more comfortable than the taxi brousse as it slumbers along.

Each stop brings a swarm of men, women, and children, some as young as three or four, with wares to sell. “Madame, Madame,” they call. On the advice of our guide we don’t get off the train, but barter through the window.

Some children have handfuls of peanuts wrapped in scraps of plastic. These we buy. Others have fruit. We buy what can be peeled—bananas, oranges … The saddest of all are the children who have taken a square of plastic, filled it with water, and tied it to form a little ball. This we buy, with no intention of drinking, but our few coins will surely help a bit.

A couple of women have green bundles on straw trays that they carry on their heads.

“Oh, these are good,” says our guide. “They’re small birds about the size of a pigeon roasted in banana leaves. Want some?”

“Um … er … no thanks.” Suddenly we’re vegetarians.

“We wanted to go to Nigeria, too,” we say.

“Ah, that’s a no-go. The war you know.”

We do know. The Biafran war has raged for some time now.

Our guide laughs mirthlessly. “You won’t believe this. Aid groups back home sent over food. Stuff like strawberry pudding powder. What’s a starving African supposed to do with that? I ask you. I got a bunch of it on the black market. Figured maybe my money could help somehow. Then another group sent over a boat load of dried fish.”

“That makes much more sense,” we said.

“Sure, but they didn’t get clearance to enter the country so the fish rotted on the boat and had to be dumped into the ocean.”

A long silence follows, for what could one say?

Recommended reading: I Do Not Come to You by Chance – by Adaobi Tricia Nwaubani

To be continued