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What better way to usher in Valentine’s day than with an African female writer chatting us up about love, romance, and the writing life. Meet Myne Whitman, a Nigerian romance writer and the founder of the online literary collective called naijastories.com. She shares her thoughts on romance novels, nollywood, and African erotica. Ms. Whitman lives and writes in Seattle. Brittle Paper wishes all the brittlers out there a very happy Valentine’s Day. 

 

Valentines Day is upon us. Any advice on how to make it a perfect day?

One way to make Valentine’s Day special is to fill it with love. It is not just about couples, but for everyone – singles, parents, friends, family, and those less privileged than you are. Spend quality time with yourself and with those around you and those you care for.

For romantically-inclined ladies who have no partners, any advice on how to make that day happy and fun?

If you don’t have a significant other, take Valentine’s Day as an opportunity to spoil yourself. Treat yourself to a bit of pampering, buy yourself something nice, or head out for a fun evening with a friend or an inspiring evening volunteering. Just spend the day doing what you want to do and make it a special in your own fashion.

Tell us about yourself. What drew you to writing? Why romance fiction?

I had begun writing as a young girl, adventures for kids that featured girls like me. I wrote my first romance after I got into university. It was sort of decompression after this new level of study. I returned to writing in 2009 after I got married and had the opportunity to write again. Of all the books I read, romance novels stood out as making the biggest impression on my personality and outlook on life. Along with other life experiences, the books made me realize that most times, the closest bonds and relationships we’re able to form are what determine our life outcomes. And thus was formed my decision to write romance novels too.

Do you have a love of your life? Does your experience of love and romance influence your writing?

I am indeed lucky to have met and married the love of my life. But I started writing romance long before I met him. What influences my writing is not really personal, but largely the experiences I have heard, seen and read about. My books are like amalgamations of my thoughts and what I think could have worked better.

We all grew up on Mills and Boon and the Harlequin, and I have really never lost my love for romance stories. What do you think is cool about romance novels? What sort of enjoyment do they afford that the reader can’t get elsewhere?

They are entertaining and usually written to make for fast reads, either by size or by style. Other novels that do the same thing are mystery, detective, or fantasy among others. In contrast, highbrow literary fiction tend to be more turgid, lacking a plot and relatable characters.

Why has there not been a truly Nigerian or African brand of romance fiction? Like a Nigerian Mills and Boon? Or is there?

I recently heard about a new publisher, Ankara Press, which when fully set up will be the beginning of such a series. In the 80/90s, there were the Pacesetter series, a multi-genre series that included some romance.

I study the so-called “serious” novels, but I have an undying love for popular fiction. I read Fifty Shades in one go! What would you tell someone who looks down on popular fiction?

I would say, free yourself. Seriously though, find what makes you happy, and leave others to do them. #nojudging.

Where do you draw inspiration for your stories.

From anywhere and everywhere, internal and external, personal and communal. I daydream a lot as well as being an avid and silent people studier and news/story imbiber.

Let’s talk about erotica. I know there is a huge difference between romance and erotica. But I thought you might be the one to ask why we still don’t have an African Fifty Shades of Grey. What will it take to get us one?

LOL…there probably is, just that you and I haven’t heard of it. I met a writer during my last visit who told me she wrote erotica and published in small local magazines. I have a friend who also specializes in short form erotica, she publishes on the blog—Adventures from the Bedroom of African Women—but not yet a novel. Some members of the Romance Writers of West Africa are also querying their erotica manuscripts, and I’ll keep you posted when they are published.

Tell us about your other projects. What is Naijastories.com?

NaijaStories.com is an idea that came from my experience with sharing excerpts of my first novel on my blog—Romance Meets Life— and later coordinating an online interactive story. I found out about other writing sites like Authonomy, joined some of them and then realized that aspiring writers in Nigeria could benefit from such a platform. Today Naijastories.com is the leading community for Nigerian writers and book lovers, combining elements of a writing critique website and a social networking site. We just put out an anthology of 30 stories that were originally published on Naijastories.com. The anthology is titled Of Tears and Kisses, Heroes and Villains and is the first of many compilations that will come out of the of the newly established NS Publishing imprint.

A quick question about the state of publishing in Nigeria. You have been doing this for a long time…I mean writing and publishing. What is your take on why things are not where they need to be in the Nigerian publishing industry?

I feel the industry is desperately under resourced and under-funded like most things in Nigeria. I believe that if the economy of the country as a whole improves, it would have a domino effect on the Arts. The biggest gap I see is in the industry currently is in the sparse number of publishing houses, and the distribution channels available to get books to readers. I also think the current publishers have a focus on books written for an international audience, and while this is not intrinsically bad, it also means that the books cannot excite Nigerians because majority of readers don’t get the stories in them. This becomes very obvious when you compare the publishing industry to Nollywood or the music scene for example.

Why can nollywood never do romance right?

LOL…they’re doing their best. I listed 40 of my favorite romance movies on my blog recently and about 4 Nollywood movies made the cut including Keeping Faith, Letters to a Stranger and Violated.

Do you see yourself writing or making Nollywood movies about love and romance?

I would definitely love to do that. I’m waiting for options and offers, and if I had the funds, I’d probably produce one. The video promo of my second book was a dream cast of actors I would like to play the different characters, lol…

Feb. 14th is right around the corner. Do you have any fun plans?

As it is, Feb 14th is my wedding anniversary so it’s de rigeur for us to have plans anyways. A massage for two is on the cards, as is a dinner. The real fun starts after all that.

So it’s the week leading up to Val Day, and I want to curl up in bed with novels that show me the power of true love. Give me a few suggestions, including Nigerian or African titles.

I’ll give you only Nigerian titles, lol. I promise you won’t be disappointed. Island Bound by Kiru Taye, The Officer’s Bride by Lara Daniels, The Small Print by Abimbola Dare, Surprise Package by Netty Ejike, Chancing Faith by Empi Baryeh, and A Love Rekindled by Myne Whitman, of course. Have a wonderful and loving valentine!

 

 

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Ainehi Edoro is an Assistant Professor of English at the University of Wisconsin-Madison where she teaches African literature. She received her doctorate at Duke University. She is the founder and editor of Brittle Paper and series editor of Ohio University Press’s Modern African Writer’s imprint.

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