The second phase of the New African Writing call for entries has ended, and another fifteen short stories have been selected. Subject to further review, the writers stand the chance of getting their stories published in our e-book collection coming out later this year.
They are, in no particular order:
Simsim Halwa by Claudette Oduor
Curiosity by Akumbu Uche
Atonement by Valerie Nene Asuquo Ekpo
Fallen Embers by Egbe Nnamdi Fred
Secret Wars by Gothataone Moeng
Maurice by Gboyega Otolorin
The Queue by Tendai Huchu
The Hawker by Juliana Aja
The Vortex by Pemi Aguda
Mother’s Milk by Ema Iruobe
Gatecrashing by Joy Nwiyi
Nothing but the Truth by Osakwe Nwamaka
Incubus by Edwin Ifechukwu Okolo
Violent by Zainab Omaki
The Pink Chick by Uche Okonkwo
Congratulations to the selected writers, and we say thank you to everyone who sent in submissions. Please join us for a reading of the selected…
The internet has changed a lot of our attitudes towards communication, made information more accessible and continues to do so. Thanks to this invention, I am always being introduced to new authors (to me) and my literary scope continues to widen. Case in point: Dallas-based Nigerian science-fiction writer, Uche Obieri whom I discovered through the blog Curiosity Killed the Eccentric Yoruba.
My brief foray into sci-fi literature had begun during my childhood with H.G. Wells and ended shortly after with Jules Verne. However, Uche Obieri’s Six and Fifty-four, though short showed me how much more advanced the genre is today and has whetted my appetite for similar tales.
Recently, I conducted an email interview with the author and she was kind enough to talk about her literary taste, creative ambitions and thoughts on artificial life with me.
Below is a transcript of our conversation:
Your story, Six and Fifty-four fits tidily into the science fiction genre. How did you get introduced to the world of sci-fi?
I’ve always been interested in stories about impossible or improbable things, and though there weren’t many sci-fi books around while I was growing up, I tended to gravitate towards both fantasy and science fiction. A couple of the schools I went to had libraries with a good amount of both, and I read as many of them as I could.
What were the earliest sci-fi books you read?
The Risen Empire and The Killing of Worlds, both by Scott Westerfeld; Memoryand earlier books in the Miles Vorkosigan Series by Lois Bujold; Foreignerand the rest of the atevi series by C.J. Cherryh. I’d read a few other SF books before these, but they left the biggest impression. The Risen Empire and The Killing of Worlds particularly struck me because I hadn’t read such a deft combination of hard SF and romance before then.
What other genres of literature do you read?
I read a lot in the Fantasy, Urban Fantasy and Young Adult genres, and occasionally also in Romance. I particularly like cross-genre books that straddle two or more of those categories. Recently I’ve also been reading a metric ton of manga, mostly shoujo (targeted at young girls) and josei (targeted at women). I’m kind of a manga noob, so I’ve been happily churning through all the classics, but I’ve already got a few series that I’ll wail over if they’re dropped. I’m into series like Wallflower, Crimson Hero, Skip Beat! and much more. Currently I’m mourning the unfair dearth of shoujo-style sports manga with female main characters.
When did you decide to start writing your own stories?
I’ve kind of always had little stories going in my head for my own entertainment. In high school I started putting them to paper, mostly so I could fix the details down in a way that would let me remember the coolest bits that I thought up.
And how long have you been a writer?
Since my early teens. That’s when I think I actually started writing things down and trying to make them make sense as a story. I still remember the first thing I seriously tried to write– it was a play based on Romeo and Juliet and set in an Igbo context. I had so much fun working on it and sharing it with my friends that I kept going. We never did perform that play, but I’ve been writing ever since.
How long did it take to write this particular story?
The first draft didn’t take more than a couple of days. The edits maybe took two or three more days, stretched over the months where I either forgot about the story or despaired of getting it to work how I wanted it to. I had a really tough time with the ending; it was pretty abrupt in my first draft, and finding a way to finish things off satisfyingly without explaining too much or leaving the reader hanging was difficult.
I thought it was unique the way you gave the characters numbers as names. What inspired that?
The title – that was the first bit that I wrote down, taken from a couple of numbers that my writing professor had mentioned in class. The whole idea behind the title was that the numbers referred to people, so that’s why the characters ended up having them as names in the story.
There is a notion that androids are metallic and mechanical. The ones in your story eat, drink and even wear clothes. They could be humans.
They actually sort of are humans, from my perspective. My thinking was that they were just very, very modified for the sake of their jobs, and that adding faster reflexes, highly changeable appearance and internal networking to someone wouldn’t change the essence of who they were. Or at least, wouldn’t change it very much.
The musician Janelle Monae is known for using the imagery of cyborgs and androids to explore the state of modern society. What are you trying to achieve? Do you these beings have anything to teach us?
[Laughs] Not exactly. I simply find them very interesting to write about; there’s something about strong people struggling to break out of the mould or change their circumstances that really intrigues me as a writer. I think it’s the fact that the list of things they could do is longer and crazier than that of an average person; it’s fun for me to imagine that list and write scenarios from it.
You are a self published writer who has embraced e-publishing. Doesn’t the popularity of file sharing make copyright difficult to ensure?
Currently, I don’t worry about file sharing and piracy and all that. If I ever find myself in the situation where I’m not earning what I feel is enough from my work and that situation is directly attributable to random people illegally downloading my stories and nothing else, then there’ll be hell to pay and numerous lawsuits to file. For now, however, I think that making my stories available in convenient formats at a reasonable price is probably enough to keep things under control.
Some book lovers are strangers to sci-fi literature. What books or authors would you recommend to get them interested in the genre?
Generally, I’d recommend trying to find sci-fi that has themes they enjoy, for example, Military SF for people who like reading about wars and space operas for people who enjoy dramas. For specific recommendations, though, I’d probably fall back on these two authors: Scott Westerfeld’sUglies and Tamura Yumi’s7 seeds series, for an excellent apocalyptic survival story, mostly so that whoever’s reading these doesn’t forget that SF comes in a lot of mediums, manga included.
What next can we expect from you? How soon?
I’m currently working on my first novella, The Wrong Sort*, which one of my first readers classified as “romantic action”. It’s set in the future, and it’s about a woman dealing with the thorny police investigation of her employee, as well as her inappropriate feelings for the investigator in charge. I’m aiming to have it ready to publish sometime during April of this year.
Do you have any other creative pursuits?
I used to be really interested in singing, to the point that I entered in one or two vocal competitions in Nigeria, but all I ended up doing is singing a lot at home and buying way too much music. These days, I blog sporadically at flo.dreamwidth.org, and occasionally get to exercise the few Photoshop skills I picked up in college. I’m really proud that I managed to make the cover for Six and Fifty-four by myself, and I don’t doubt that the covers for most of my future works will start as a terrible mock-up on my computer even if I do end up paying someone with more experience to make them.
*Uche has kindly offered to send me a review copy of this book, so look out.
During my childhood, I had a serious case of cynophobia. This was despite the fact that I grew up with a dog in the household.
There is a photograph of my siblings and me posing with our family German Shepherd Dog, Dike. We four kids are standing at rigid attention, pale-faced from holding our breaths too long; eight dilated eyes screaming at the camera, We’d rather be anywhere but here. The source of our discomfort is chained beside us, a medium sized dog with beautiful sandy and black mixed coat, intelligent eyes, aloof nose and fly-bitten ears.
It did not always use to be like that. There is an older picture of my 3-year-old self, seated on the grass, my right hand draped casually around the neck of a giant mongrel. I remember the dress I was wearing in the picture but I do not remember the dog, my grandfather’s old dog Bull. Legend has it that he was killed in a hunting accident. My grandfather must have loved him very much because he did not replace him until five years later. At around the same time, my parents decided we too needed a dog to deter armed robbers and burglars from our new home.
By this time, I was convinced that all dogs were ferocious, snarling creatures that could not be trusted except if restrained by a chain. A belief passed down to me from my mother. From her I learned to gasp and jump in the air if I heard a dog bark and to stand still with shock if I mistakenly encountered one face to face. All those family friends, who assured us their puppies could not, did not and would not bite? Please. I knew better. All animals are irrevocably feral.
Oddly enough, I enjoyed watching those Dog-themed movies and TV series that were so popular during the 90s – Look Who’s Talking 3, Beethoven, 101 Dalmatians, Homeward Bound, All Dogs Go to Heaven, The Lady and the Tramp, The Littlest Hobo, Scooby-Doo and many more.
Years passed and one day, I came back from University to learn that our faithful sentinel, Dike was dead and buried beneath the palm tree in the garden. In his stead was a small reddish brown sausage dog with big floppy ears and eager eyes. Not an ounce of doggy smell about her; just short agile legs and a stretchy slender torso. Her name was Suzy and she was a “dash hound”as I erroneously pronounced her kind.
The first day we met, she growled at me. By the next day, we had become firm friends. From then on, she was always either in my lap or in my arms. I loved to caress her short-haired fur and carry her around like a baby. To pick her up, I would place my right hand behind her forelegs and fold her hind legs with my left hand.
My mother would eye me as suspiciously as she did Paris Hilton and the other Hollywood starlets who, as we saw in magazines, dressed up their lapdogs in sweaters and skirts and either tucked them away in their jackets or toted them around in designer handbags. It always seemed strange to her why anybody would want a dog so close to his or her body.
Suzy loved to lie down and sleep in the laundry basket. The fuller the basket, the cozier she felt. Her other favourite place was the kitchen especially when there was some form of cooking going on and she would prance about and sniff rather excitedly. Suzy was such a joy to be with.
Dachshunds make excellent guard dogs but Suzy was the exception to the rule. She greeted strangers with undiluted friendly enthusiasm. Her protective instincts only kicked in when she thought herself threatened. If you held a broom or mop near Suzy, she would start whimpering and would cower and retreat. If the room was closed or she had backed herself into a tight corner, then she would get aggressive.
As soon as she encountered a toddler, she would let out a bark so profound; you could hardly believe it had come out from her pint-sized stomach. After that, she would turn away and hide. I had never heard of a dog that was distrustful of children.
We found out from the proprietors of Ole Dog House, the Omenukos that life in her previous home had involved some kind of abuse. Luckily, her breeder had found out and promptly reclaimed her. Through Ole Dog House, she had been put up for adoption and that was how we came to own her.
Time came for us to move from Port Harcourt to Abuja and Suzy could not go with us. My mother had a million and one excuses why she had never warmed to Suzy. She cited everything from her busy schedule to Suzy’s addiction to affection. The veritable explanation was that she is just not a dog person. Not everyone is.
Regretfully we took her back to Ole Dog House.
The last time I saw Suzy, she was bouncing excitedly on a bag of pure water sachets. That was three years ago. She had been adopted into the Omenuko family and had settled well into her new home, where the presence of three children and many German Shepherds ensured she always had friends to play with and adequate attention.
Thanks to the short time we spent together, I have realized that we have so much in common with the canine species. Like us, they have personality; they have fears and loves and they are as capable of depth of feeling as they are of reasoning.
Many people dream of the car, house or gadgets they will purchase once they make it or “hammer”, as we like to say. For me, financial security will provide me the means to take care of my very own canine companion. I have a bias for dachshunds and I already have a gender-neutral name picked out.
I am cautious of strange dogs still, but that irrational, paralyzing fear is gone. I owe this to Suzy.