Photo Courtesy of Myne Whitman
Born Nkem Okotcha in Enugu, Nigeria, and writes with the pen name, Myne Whitman, she talks about her humble beginnings, her new book, interests and the future. Her new book, "A Heart To Mend" can be purchased anywhere books are sold.
Much has been said already. But my readers would like to know more about you. Tell my readers about yourself.
I am a Nigerian blogger, writer and poet. I am also the author of A Heart to Mend, my first novel. I live in Seattle with my husband and write full time. I write mostly romantic fiction and love poems though recently I have been trying my pen at literary short stories. I am currently working on my next novel. I am the managing editor of Naija Stories, a social networking website for aspiring Nigerian writers. I'm also a member of the Seattle Eastside Writers group and the Pacific NorthWest Writers Association. I blog at http://www.mynewhitmanwrites.com and I am on http://twitter.com/Myne_Whitman and http://www.facebook.com/Myne.Whitman .
Tell me about your childhood, growing up and your surroundings.
I was born at the University of Nigeria Teaching Hospital Enugu, Nigeria and I grew up in that city till my middle secondary school. I attended Ekulu Primary School, Queens School Enugu, Special Science School Agulu and Nnamdi Azikiwe University Awka. I remember as a child studying a lot, reading everything I could lay my hands on, and then trying to play the rest of the time. My mother was a school teacher and my father worked for the electoral commission, so the love of reading and education came from them and from the environment of Enugu, which is a part an academic and civil service city.
This early background made me very cosmopolitan because I went to school with people from all across the country and outside. Reading a lot makes me sometimes come across as quiet but I do like a good loud debate too, having watched my father and his friends talk politics and football. In three words, I will describe myself as friendly, caring and fun-loving. I realized early on through books that it was possible to be whoever and do whatever you wanted to do. I learnt to stretch my wings even further when I first left the country. I have been a teacher, NGO consultant, banker, skate-hire attendant, and researcher and have worked for the government both in Nigeria and Scotland.
When was the first time you put your thoughts on paper and have others read it?
This was between my primary and secondary school, and only my siblings and friends got to read it. It was a children's adventure mystery set in Nigeria.
You have written your first novel "A Heart To Mend" which remarkably is doing well. While growing up as a kid, did you ever envision seeing yourself writing a book, signing autographs and attending book fairs and events of that nature to promote your work? How did all these began?
I did envision myself writing a book, but back then, I did not know about promotional events and all these events. None of the books I read back then were autographed. I thought authors just wrote the books and got on with life.
Reading many of the reviews, I must freely confess it is a thumbs up. In what environment did you come up with the fascinating characters -- Aunty Isioma, Gladys, Edward, Chief Okirika and the rest in such a compelling story?
The idea first came up in Nigeria. It was meant to be a novella of less than 30,000 words. I'm glad people find it interesting. I sent it out to one publisher in Nigeria and never heard back from them.
And how do you feel about the reviews and receptions?
What can I say? I am very happy and overwhelmed by the outpouring of support. Both from fellow writers and also from readers who I know from their honest feedback really enjoyed the book.
In the literary world of where you grew up, romance novels are not common save for the ones foreign authored. It's either storytelling, civil unrest, corruption in government, scandals of moral outrage coupled with all kinds of social problems and things like that. And since romance novels are not best sellers in Nigeria, in my opinion, how did you conclude writing such a compelling, compasionate love/hate idea would penetrate the Nigerian literary market?
I think love and romance are universal concepts. And I do not agree that there was a lack of romance novels authored by Nigerians. Half of the Pacesetters series were romantic fiction and many of them were written by Nigerians. However, when I decided to publish A Heart to Mend, I never knew it would blow up like this. I just sent it out to get it in the hands of my blog readers who were clamoring to read it after I had been sharing excerpts of it on my blog. I'm surprised how it caught on in Nigeria but I guess it shows that people will always like a well told story despite what genre it is cloaked in.
I read where you mentioned not having the desire to dabble into Nigeria's political turmoil, the pogrom, civil war and things like that, thus leaving it to those who "chooses" to do so. Romance thrilling novelists do chip in situations of their national interest. Nigeria is economically, politically and socio-culturally unstable. Why are you not chipping in?
My novel is set firmly in Nigeria and shows up the tumultous political and social landscape, there is no way to escape that as a realistic writer. In A Heart to Mend, I mentioned where thugs are causing violence on election day and making it difficult for people to move around. Also the upheavels in the economic and financial climate in Nigeria forms the major backdrop, with the ailing Nigerian Stock Exchange standing center stage. In my current manuscript, one of the characters had lost a parent in political clashes between the Urhobo and Itsekiri in 1952 and battles his emotions on ethnic relations with other people.
When I said I would not dabble in those areas, I meant that I would not write a political thriller for example, or one where the main story is about the civil war. I believe that there is a wide range of ways to tackle issues and I have chosen this method. It is a method that will draw in both old and new readers into a light and enjoyable story and also pass along some messages without being preachy.
Let's talk about Myne Whitman and Nkem Okotcha. Born Nkem Okotcha and penning with Myne Whitman, what are the relationships? Any resemblance?
They are the same person. If you look closely, you will see that the pen name is just the translation of the other. It allows me some privacy to my real self and a channel for my creativity.
When did you decide to write "A Heart To Mend"?
Like I said earlier, the idea for the story actually came to me some time ago, and I wrote a short story about it. That was a few years ago but I never had the time and didn’t think I was in the right mental place to complete it until last year. It was summer 2009. I had just moved to the United States and I was in love for the first time in my life.
When you made up your mind since it was your debut, what was it like putting all the stuff together -- from thinking about the characters, the brainstorming, the rough sketches and manuscript before ending up in the publishing house?
I decided to dust up the story and try my hand at full time writing. I used the earlier short story as more of an outline for this longer work. I finished the story in one month. It took me another five months to finish three drafts of the novel and complete the editing before handing it over to the publishers.
Successfully debuting with a novel of its own class and with many writers still out there having difficulties to publish, what would be your counsel?
I would encourage other aspiring authors to keep writing, that's what makes us writers. And also have the courage to send out their manuscripts to a broad range of agents and publishers.
What are your other interests besides writing?
I love travelling, visiting and exploring new cities and meeting new people. I also read a lot and watch movies either at home or at the cinemas.
Have you started working on your next project, and when do we expect it to arrive the bookshelves?
I am working on another Manuscript at the same time as promoting A Heart to Mend. The novel is now in it’s third manuscript draft. The working title is Ghost of the Past and it is also set in Nigeria. It spans about ten years and references some important historical events so I have had to do some goodly amount of research. I hope it will be out by next year.