the writer’s plan

     I’m looking over the author’s marketing plan and the first prompt is a question about ‘what were your goals in writing the book’. Gives one to think, doesn’t it? Or if you’ve been doing too much editing in the past few weeks, gives you the urge to scream and run out of the room.

    But it is a reasonable question, isn’t it? After all, a lot of people would wonder why a woman who looks like a meek hausfrau but is busy already with one career painting and having shows, would be sufficiently obsessed to  create a novel about the Nigerian Civil War. (No, I’m not going to talk about the other eight novels in the brains of my computer. Not yet.) Here is what I dredged up about this novel.

    I wrote the book to entertain, but that’s never enough for a writer; I also wanted to provoke, to inspire and incite. I lived in Nigeria, grew up there, watched the violence of coups and demonstrations, the strength of its incredibly varied peoples. I was forced to leave, I had to see Nigeria torn apart on the news by war while I lived as an exile in New Hampshire, safe and cold. I went to college and met amazing women, and had and have still their friendship. So in this novel I spin together these themes, one of women in friendship, plunged into war, and how the things they bring with them from the heart of their pasts twist everything that follows in the light of day. I have known powerful women, and I know we limit ourselves. My point is not that we are as good as men, it’s that we are as good as ourselves, and our genders are incidental. So in this book, we have women with and without men, just as in novels of all times we have had men with and without women. A man is never the meaning of any of my womens’ lives. There is my human agenda. 

     Then there is the political aspect of a white expatriate writing about the most powerful black African nation. I hope I do this humanly. I’ve read obsessively on Nigeria, lived there, smelled and tasted it, and I have loved it. But I know there is no going back and that it does not belong to me. This is one of the themes pervading every page, the push-me pull-you adoration of a superb and vibrant land, and the inevitable parting from it. There are the conflicts of feeling in the presumed superiority to  native peoples, struggling with the eventual realization that those feelings are contextual and all the strength of one kind of society cannot be transposed or infused into another. There is no simple way to help, there are only human individual ways. Ways that must be rooted in humility.

      I also remember the Nigerian Civil War. The Biafran War. Not many Americans do. It was short, it was messy. I was an evacuee watching TV in New Hampshire, glued to those images of starving babies the newscasters warned ‘might be disturbing’, but my parents felt that they could not edit what I knew even if I was ten years old. I believe they were right, and this novel is my answer.

 

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2 responses to “the writer’s plan

  1. When an author attempts to explain too much to her readers, she runs the risk of becoming tendentious, a claim that in varying degrees and in various novels may be assessed against Ayn Rand. The more she attempted explanations, the more she strayed from story.

    A former student of mine is a Yoruba prince who mourns that he cannot return to Nigeria. “They would kill me for the books I write about it and for what I said before I wrote the books. I no longer have any idea who the ‘they’ are, but I still love the Nigeria of my heart and each new thing I write about my love for it will cause more of ‘them’ to wish to kill me.”

    When the characters know more than the readers, by contrast, the reader is drawn closer to the alert position, looking for clues by which to absorb the texture and fabric of the narrative. Some readers will draw more nuanced visions than others. Not all readers “get” Faulkner to the same degree anymore than all viewers have the same response to the visual images you offer them. A novel is a portrait of evocation. Your marketing plan is to provide a window into a fracturing country as seen from differing perspectives. The fact of your primary narrators being self-actualized friends will suggest a comparison to the reader. Thus your marketing plan: Once you have read my book, the reader will never see Nigeria the same way as before, nor will she regard friendship as a matter of boundary and fracture.

    • Wow, Shelly, thank you. It will take a while for me to mull this over and incorporate your insight, but thank you… what a temptation to plaigarism you are!

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