‘Why I dwell more on romantic fiction’
Myne Whitman is a Nigerian author based in the United States. In this interview, she speaks on her self -published works — A Heart to Mend (2009) and A Love Rekindled (2011) — as well as her remarkable success in using the social media to promote her works and African literature in the US. Excerpts:
Tell us about yourself and your journey to becoming a full-time writer.
I’ve been writing for a very long time. I can say since I was about 11 or so. Unfortunately, most of those scribbles were lost when we moved cities. I started writing seriously around my third year in university, took a break for work and further studies and, now, writing is my full time career.
The decision to send my work out into the world matured around the middle of 2009. I had just moved to the United States and being unable to work at first, I began writing full time, initially for six months. I joined a writing group, started a blog, and people seemed to like what I had to write about. Eventually, I made up my mind to pursue this full time writing career and see where it took me.
How would you compare both of your novels?
A Love Rekindled differs from my first book, A Heart to Mend in that it spans a longer period of time. Readers will be transported to the years at the turn of the millenium and to the days of first love and loss. The two books are similar in that they are set in Nigeria and are about people dealing with issues of love, family, and personal development.
In A Love Rekindled, Efe is an independent woman who returns to Nigeria, ready to face the future, after years in the United States. However, it is the past that she first has to confront when her former fiance, Kevwe, comes back into her life, claiming he’s never stopped loving her. He has to unravel the mystery of their broken engagement before she is willing to rekindle their love.
The book I’m working on now is about a woman who has just clocked age 30 and has to determine whether marriage is the next step in her life as everyone one around her expects. Being seduced by a guy during a vacation to Nigeria does not make this decision any easier.
Why the focus on romance novels? Is there really a market for African romance literature?
I prefer to refer to my writing as romantic fiction. Many of my readers have commented on how my style is less sappy than your usual romance. It has also been described as a marriage of literary and pulp fiction.
I do write about the romantic experiences of the hero and heroine in my story, and frame them against the background of a realistic day-to-day life setting. My stories are set in Nigeria, where I grew up and lived for most of my life. My language is simple and direct, accented by the tones of local people in the Nigerian setting, but adapted for an international audience. My target audience is international, anyone who has ever loved or felt emotions as they interacted with other people.
When I started A Heart to Mend as an 18-year-old, I had at the back of my mind, not only the loads of Mills & Boon romances, but also the Pacesetters and African Writers Series I had devoured as a teenager. I was motivated to write stories that featured people like me, and that people like me could identify with. At the same time, I did not want to write literature. I decided on romantic fiction because romance is universal, most people will experience relationships more than anything else in their lifetime.
After I moved to the US, I went back to the story, and rewrote it as a story in which I could share my background and world view with those that were different from me. For everyone who reads the book, if there is one thing to take away, I want it to be the universality of what makes us human … the experiences, the emotions, and the aspirations of life and love.
What has been the response in Nigeria, compared to other markets?
For several weeks during summer of 2011, my first book, A Heart to Mend, stayed at number one on the AmazonUK Kindle store for romantic suspense. To date, more than 30,000 copies have been downloaded. In Nigeria, it is more difficult to track these things. My second book, A Love Rekindled, was at the top of the bestseller list for one of the major bookstores in Lagos within two months of its release.
You have self-published both your books, but at what point did you decide to go the self-published route?
I researched the available options, and gave traditional publishing a try for a few months. The rejections I received had a common thread. While most agents liked my writing, they didn’t think it suited them, and there were a couple that suggested I change some fundamental parts of my story to suit what they thought best for their market. I found that idea abhorrent, and further research yielded some resources on self-publishing.
How have you managed to sell your books without the support of a publisher?
When I had satisfied myself that I understood what self-publishing entailed and was ready to face the challenge, I decided to go with a foreign publisher to design, print and distribute my books. On the editorial angle, I drafted my manuscript several times, working with feedback from my writing group, readers on my blog, and finally, an editor, to make sure it was ready for a mass audience.
Looking at your own experience, would you consider self-publishing to be a realistic option for other African writers?
I think it is a very realistic option for African writers, especially, considering that the traditional publishing companies are so thin on the ground. However, it is not an easy decision and I wouldn’t advise anyone to rush into it.