Interview with Gloria Ogo
“While Men Slept”
Gloria, thank you for taking the time to sit down with me today and discuss your new book.
You are welcome. Thank you.
When did you first decide that you wanted to be a writer?
Right from high school, I have always had a penchant for writing and literature. Then, I dabbled into light writing, nothing too serious. Until ten years ago, when I wrote my first novel( (yet to be published). In-between, I filled time with some short stories. Then, three years ago, I wrote my second one While Men Slept (now published). You could say, the writer has always been in me, waiting to exhale. The decision was never mine to make.
Which books and authors inspire you, and which ones do you just want to curl up with and read?
I am inspired in the wake of Chinua Achebe’s book Things fall apart, Bichi Emecheta’s Second Class Citizens and Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie’s Purple Hibiscus. The aforementioned are all educational and research materials for me. The ones I read for relaxation are thriller genres by author Dean Koontz, legal kinds by Sidney Sheldon and suspense shots of James Hadley Chase.
What are you doing when you aren’t writing?
When I am not writing, you will find me being a loving daughter and sibling (or so I hope*laughs*) Other times, I am working as a Secretary or finding quiet spots to read.
How long have you been writing, and is this your first published work?
I have been writing ever since I could hold a chalk and pen. Yes, this is my first published work. (sighs gratefully)
Where did the idea for the book come from?
The book was inspired by my immediate environment. Nigeria is a breeding ground of rich stories, waiting to be told. Rich, not necessarily in its content, but in its propensity as societal mirror to its people and a moral compass for our eroding values and structures.
Your characters, in “While Men Slept” are so vivid and real, are they based on actual people?
The activities are based on real events which African women relive daily and have unconsciously assimilated as status quo. They have become complacent in this unfair re-enactment and for so long considered it as being the way nature intended.
No, they are not based on real people.
Do you have a favorite character in the book, and if so, who and why?
All my characters are like my literary babies, not exalted above the other. They each represent an aspect of my society where I long for changes.
What can you share with us about your process in writing a novel?
I am not a straight-jacket kind of person who would choose to streamline myself to processes and patterns. When inspiration hits, which is at odd moments, I just pick up my pen and pour my heart out.
Now that you’re only a couple weeks from your release date, what other projects are you working on?
I have gone back to my closet to blow the dust off the binders of my first novel which I am in the process of editing and hope to release in 2018.
When is your release date and where can we get a copy of “While Men Slept”?
My maiden novel will officially launch 16th December, 2017. I would have love to have it sold on Amazon, but that platform, currently, does not cater to Nigerian based authors. So, for now, copies can be ordered through my email firstname.lastname@example.org or message me through my facebook page or my Author page https://www.facebook.com/Authorgloriaogo/
Where can my readers follow you on social media?
I love connecting with people. They can meet up with me on facebook, Gloria Ogo or my author page (link already provided above).
What other question(s) do you wish I had asked?
What difference do I see this work making in the future?
Over the years, I have seen Nigerians hunger for change, a difference, a usurp of the cyclical decomposition of our society. But, before an illness can be tackled adequately and effectively, there must first be a determination of cause. In future, an awareness of why we are like this as a nation will be established. An in-depth scrutiny of minds will commence and a discussion will be generated on public platforms, backed by prompt actions of restitution.
And were there any challenges encountered along the process?
In order to accurately depict each character in a manner that would be relatable to the reader, I had to constantly submerge my consciousness into the minds of these characters. It, sometimes, left me drained and was tasking, trying to resettle into my persona. My major challenge was getting a professional editor who would handle my baby right and give it the solid sponge bath it direly needed to sparkle. I was fortunate to take this path with Denis Doty and I have never regretted a moment working with him.
This week I thought I’d take a different approach and talk about Patent Medicines found in the American West between 1860 and 1899. Why? Because it’s the little things that add infinite richness to our stories of the time-period. It doesn’t matter if you are writing a traditional Western, a cross-genre, Steampunk, or a Victorian Romance or Mystery, a light touch of popular patent medicine can add depth and believability while educating and entertaining your reader.
Let’s begin with one of the most universal patent medicine cures of the day—Bitters. It was believed that bitters were a cure for virtually all ailments of the digestive tract. Bitters are made by infusing certain herbs, possibly Gum
Arabic and lavender, in alcohol. When the infusion has reached the proper potency, distilled water is added to bring it to the proper alcohol content. No doubt, the 47% alcohol content of this product contributed to the popularity of this cure especially among the ladies, since alcohol consumption was largely confined to men at the time.
Apparently, tobacco addiction was considered a problem by some folks even then. I have no idea what was included in this next patent medicine cure, but my guess would be that it included alcohol, laudanum, opioids or a combination thereof.
This next one is a little more personal and frightening. Doctor W.R. Merwin’s Cherokee Remedy was sold as a cure for “gonorrhea…and other diseases of the sexual organs in male or female.” Again, no idea what was in it except that, during this period, arsenic was widely used to “cure” sexual disorders.
It would be appropriate to note here that a shortage of women in many of the western towns and widespread prostitution, virtually guaranteed that western men would either abstain or contract some form of venereal disease.
My final example of patent medicines of the time is notable for the totally false claims it makes for it’s curative powers and even the diagnostic claims. This advertisement for Wolcott’s Annihilator states, “Catarrh is an ulceration of the mucous membranes in the head. Matter from those ulcers discharges into the throat and stomach, and is the only cause of consumption. (Consumption was the common term for tuberculosis which we now know is caused by bacteria that spread from person to person through microscopic droplets released into the air.) The ad goes on to
list another half-dozen symptoms which could just as easily be caused by influenza or the common cold and assures by implication that they are sure indicators of consumption requiring Dr Wolcott’s cure.
Again, I have no idea of the contents, but stopping the coughing of consumption of patients would have been the most certain method to convince buyers of the benefits of the product. This could be accomplished with laudanum, opiates, eucalyptus oil or certain other drugs. I would suspect the first two which were quite commonly available at the time.
There were literally hundreds of patent medicines available during the period and any could add a touch of realism and depth to your story.
Perhaps you’ll give it a try. Personally, I think I’ll write a short story about spending the winter in a Wyoming line-shack with a hypochondriac cow puncher.
Until next time.
‘Tis the Season for giving. As writers, all of us have gone or are presently going through the process of learning our craft. We can all remember our first painfully awkward steps on our path to publication. Along the way we have been the recipients of some great advice, encouragement and help with the process. Maybe we had a teacher who inspired us or encouraged our early attempts. For some, it came from our peers, other writers and editors who cheered our successes and gently pushed us back on track when we strayed.
By the time we published our first story, article, or novel, we have, hopefully, benefitted from a host of beta readers, editors and proofreaders whose contributions have enriched our works beyond measure. Most of us have taken the time to share with them our heartfelt thanks for that assistance.
But now, as the season approaches, let us think not about our gratitude but about how we can give back. What can we do to lend a hand to other upcoming writers and “pay it forward.”
There’s a lot that we can do. First, if you haven’t been a beta reader recently, consider offering someone you don’t know a read. Reach out and give them the benefit of whatever experience you might have. You don’t have to be a published writer to offer to read someone’s work and give them notes on what you liked or didn’t like, what drew you in or left you flat. After all, you’re a reader and readers will ultimately determine the success of their work.
Most professional editors would find it difficult or impossible to “donate” a novel edit, but there are dozens of writers struggling to learn the craft and get their work ready for market while juggling kids, a low-paying job, etc. Anyone who really wants to can find the time to work in an extra short story edit. Yes, that might be considered taking money out of your pocket, but I’ll bet that somewhere back down the line, an editor or exceptionally talented beta reader took the time to give you that extra bit of help.
Maybe you are a seasoned writer but pressed for time. Beta reading and editing can be quite time consuming. How about offering to proofread an edited manuscript or read and give an honest review of an advance copy.
For myself, I have volunteered to edit both short stories and novels outside of my paying clientele, and will continue to do so as I can. I have found that the rewards of doing a portion of my work as a volunteer, far outweigh any financial disadvantage which might accrue.
So, especially in this holiday season, consider giving a gift of your talent and experience.
I’ve been noticing some confusion in some of the works that cross my desk. So, let me give a few tips that may help you short story writers out there and especially those of you who write Flash Fiction.
First of all, a scene is simply a setting where some action, usually involving one or more characters, takes place.
On the other hand, a short story, no matter how short, is not the same as a scene. Every short story must have a beginning, a middle and an ending. Sounds simple, but it really isn’t. Let’s take them one at a time.
Your beginning, also known as “The Hook” needs to do three things.
First, it must introduce one or more of your main characters. You don’t necessarily have to name them at this point, but it is usually easier and more engaging than using a pronoun such as he, she or I.
Second, it must establish or at least hint at some form of tension or conflict. In a novel, there may be multiple layers of conflict and tension and you might want to start with a minor one and introduce the major conflict of your story later. That’s fine in novels, but in shorter works, especially flash fiction, you usually won’t have the luxury of space to do this.
The third thing your hook should accomplish is to set the scene. You need to give the reader at least some idea of the world your story takes place in.
Here is a fine example of how all of this can be done in a very few words: “Every summer Lin Kong returned to Goose Village to divorce his wife, Shuyu.” From “Waiting” by Ha Jin, 1999. In these thirteen simple words, Ha Jin has accomplished all that is required of a hook. We know who two of the main characters are, where the story takes place, and presumably, we’re dying to find out why he keeps divorcing his wife (tension). Perfect.
The second element of your story is the middle or body of the work. This is where the action takes place in one or more scenes to move the characters from your hook to your ending. For writing in general, more so for Short Stories and most especially in Flash Fiction, every word must either move the story forward or illuminate and develop the character. Here is a good example of how a simple line can illuminate a character. “In spite of everything, I still believe people are really good at heart.” From “Diary of Anne Frank” by Anne Frank. Here’s another that both moves the story forward and illuminates the character. “As he read, I fell in love the way you fall asleep: slowly, and then all at once.” From John Green, “The Fault In Our Stars”. Of course, not every line we write will be as great as these, but they should be both a template and an aspiration.
The final element of your story, appropriately, is the ending or denouement. This is where your main character achieves his or her goal, or alternatively, fails utterly. This is where you draw any loose threads of the story together to give the reader a satisfactory conclusion. Here, too, is where your main character realizes how he/she has changed over the course of the story.
So, a story is much more than a scene although scenes are necessary to building your story.
Until next time, write happily and write well.
Tools of the Trade
Every profession has its tools. If you’re a carpenter, you must have a collection of saws, hammers, drills, screwdrivers, planes, etc. to do the job properly, and you must know how to use them.
A writer has their own set of tools, and these tools are just as important to us as the tools of a carpenter are to him.
Here are the basic tools for a writer’s toolbox. This is, by no means, an exhaustive list, but it is a list of what I consider to be the minimum in order to achieve professional level work.
A Personal Computer – In this age nearly everyone has one or more. The writer’s computer must have certain specialized programs which enable them to do their job. Microsoft Word is the most essential of these programs. There are other word processing programs that you can write in, but to submit your work, you will almost universally be asked to submit it in a .doc or .docx format.
Your personal computer should also have a market search and submission tracking program. The days of thumbing through Writer’s Market or Novel and Short Story Writer’s Market are gone, as are the days of mailing your manuscript to an agent or publisher. Today it’s all done electronically. For market search and submission tracking, I recommend Duotrope. There is a user fee for this program, although it is quite affordable at $5/month or $50/year. If the budget is too tight for that, try Submission Grinder, a similar program which is free on-line.
There are many other programs available on-line which a writer might find helpful, but Microsoft Word and a good market finder/submission tracker are the essentials.
Professional Books – Certain books are as much a part of a professional toolkit as a Carpenter’s hammer. Here are some that I consider essential.
Chicago Manual of Style, The University of Chicago Press – This is the essential reference to style for most writing. Note: If you are writing articles, the AP Style Guide should be your reference, but I am focusing on fiction writers. CMOS contains everything a writer needs to know about grammar and punctuation, commas and italics. It is the single reference book which I use the most in both writing and editing.
Merriam-Webster’s Collegiate Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, Inc – This is my go-to work to check spelling and definitions. There are other excellent dictionaries available such as the Oxford Dictionary, but Webster’s is my choice.
Oxford American Writer’s Thesaurus, by David Auburn, Oxford University Press – A writer’s valuable guide to writing and selecting the right word to convey their meaning as well as to vary their word choices when they are repeating an idea in their work. Again, there are other, less expensive, and serviceable thesauri (bet you wouldn’t have gotten that plural right without a copy of Merriam-Webster or two years of high school Latin) available, but Oxford is my choice.
On Writing – A Memoir of he Craft, by Steven King, Pocket Books – In my opinion, this is the definitive work on the life of a writer. Well written and easy to follow, it both entertains and instructs. Every aspiring writer should read it.
Bird by Bird: Some Instructions on Writing and Life, by Anne Lamott, Pantheon Books – A humorous, sometimes painful, book on how to get off one’s duff and write, and to make a lifestyle of writing.
Writing Deep Point of View: Professional Techniques for Fiction Authors, Rayne Hall, Create Space Independent Publishing Platform – An essential guide to writing compelling fiction which will immerse your reader and keep them rapt within your story.
Creating Character Arcs: The Masterful Author’s Guide to Uniting Story Structure (Helping Writers Become Authors) (Volume 7), K. M. Weiland, PenForASword Publishing – A guide to making your characters come alive, and more importantly, making your reader care.
There are many other books in my professional toolkit, but these are the essentials. I would strongly urge any would be writer to read, especially the classics. There’s a reason that they are considered great literature. Pore over them. Suck them into your soul and make them a part of you.
Read everything you can get your hands on in your chosen genre, both good and bad. Think about what makes them one or the other. Read outside your genre, both fiction and non-fiction. See what others have done and where they have gone.
Just as a carpenter needs a frame-work before he can build a house, so does the writer. Books and reading are that framework.
All the best in your writing career. I hope to see you in print.