Friday, March 6, 2015

The Author Speaks with Amara Nicole Okolo

I'm celebrating St Valentine's day on this blog by interviewing Ankara Press authors(yes, even in March :) ). This is the third interview in the series. Enjoy!
Amara is a young lawyer. She lives in Abuja, loves cupcakes, green tea and her tabby kitten, Timber. One of her life-long dreams is to bungee-jump from the Victorian Falls, but for now she is settling for hiking up the hill near her house. Black Sparkle Romance is her first novel.
AA:  Tell me the story of your journey to publication with Ankara Press.
ANO: I found out about Ankara Press in 2010 via a blog. They were calling for submissions for Cassava Republic’s new imprint, exclusively dedicated to publishing African romance stories. I remember being excited because I had just started writing a romance novel as a bit of ‘experiment’. I wanted to test myself and see if I could write in all genres of fiction. So I decided to send in a few chapters. Mind you, this was my first attempt at writing romance, so I wasn't really optimistic about it making the cut. So you could imagine my surprise when I recieved an email a couple of weeks later, asking for the rest of the manuscript. Couple of months after that, I was sent a contract. That was when I began to take it seriously (laughs).
AA: I’m interested in the results of your experiment with writing in other genres. How has it worked out?
ANO: It's been exhilarating! I experienced some difficulties when I started off, most times I almost gave up, but I perserved and today I can say I have a fair understanding of how each genre works. So far, I have written children's books, chick lits, romance, horror, sci-fi, a mystery/thriller and contemporary fiction, so I guess I'm winning! Recently, I also wrote on illness and gender (I was told this a new genre). I have always known I do not want to be restricted to a particular genre of writing, so the experiment has really helped me to sharpen my skills.
AA: How long did it take to write this novel?
ANO: I wrote the first draft in two weeks. I had to start Law school the next year, so I knew I wouldn't have much time on my hands afterwards. When I signed the contract and was assigned an editor I rewrote a few parts a number of times. But in terms of the first draft, I’d say Black Sparkle Romance was finished in two weeks.
AA: You’ve said elsewhere that you draw your characters before you begin writing a book. How do you think this practice influences/shapes your creative process as writer? Do you do other forms of drawing unrelated to your writing?
ANO: It helps a great deal because I have the opportunity to visualize my characters; to put an individual face to them, to regard them as real people. With that, these characters are not just fictitious anymore, they now have names, voices, skin tones, feelings, so when I finally write about them it feels like they are standing in the room with me, telling me their stories, and all I just do is write them out for people to read. A couple of my friends who have seen my drawings always say they feel like the drawings are "alive", so I want to believe that these same feelings are aroused in the readers of my book, that they feel the characters come alive, the same way they do to me when I draw them out before writing my stories.
Yes, I do other forms of drawing unrelated to my writing...random sketches, pencil and charcoal art, a bit of painting, mosaics, abstract art. But I haven't drawn in a month or two, so I don't know how rustic my next art would be when I go back to it. I hope it won't be that bad (laughs).
AA: I was fascinated by Ajoke, she had me fooled about her intentions. What inspired her character?
ANO: The almighty friendzone! (laughs) And yes, contrary to belief it does happen to ladies too. Ajoke came to me as an afterthought--I tried to imagine that out there in the world, there existed a certain lady who was so much in love with a guy...but he only sees her as a friend. I tried to imagine how such a woman would feel when and if her friend finally falls in love with someone else, and how her reaction would be. Ajoke was not so evil as potrayed in the book, she was just hurt and irrational, and she let her feelings take over her actions. And that was the message I was trying to send out with the story: people of the opposite sex can be friends, but boundaries cannot be crossed and it is very important to watch out for signs that a friend wants more and the relationship isn't so platonic anymore. And logically when that happens, you would have to decide if you'd want that too, or if you'd have to end that friendship the best way you can.
AA: I found myself laughing at the interactions between Mira and her Rational Mind. Why did you decide to depict her thoughts this way?
ANO: I had fun with that too. Well, from the story we can tell that Mira is very logical and ambitious; if she is going for something she is focused on achieving that goal. But then she has the tendency to make mistakes, so then comes in her Rational Mind which acts like a balance to keep her on track. Balance matters a lot to Mira in her life and her career, so I decided to give her Rational Mind a voice, to create a personality for it so as to give the reader a hint of how Mira thinks and how she finally makes her decisions. But then, we all know you can't stay entirely rational with love, so when that came into play, Mira had to decide if she would follow her heart or her head. I'm guessing you know which one she picked (laughs).
AA:  Your top five all time favourite romance novels.
ANO: Pride and Prejudice, Jane Eyre, Wuthering Heights, Lucy Sullivan is Getting Married, Love in the Time of Cholera.
AA: What are you working on at the moment?
ANO: I am working on a second romance novel and a short story that will eventually be part of a contemporary novel. The romance was inspired by a painting I did when I was thirteen, and the story is based on memories from my childhood. I must admit, it is tough, working on two manuscripts at the same time, but it is also thoroughly exciting!
Buy Black Sparkle Romance here. Follow Amara on twitter via @BlackBubberrian. She blogs here.

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