Why Romance of all genres?

Excerpts from my interview with Joseph Omotayo

Your first book,  A Heart to Mend, is a Romance novel. Why Romance of all genres?

First and foremost I wanted to write a story of love and finding oneself. I also felt that there were not were not enough romance novels set in contemporary Nigeria, and that I could do something to change that. Therefore, a lot of these themes in A Heart to Mend are motivated by events or stories I’ve heard or read about in real life Nigeria of the last few years. The characters and issues dealt with in the book are therefore meant to be relevant for contemporary life and relationships.

Again, I have always been intrigued by the principle of unconditional love. When I started reading the Mills and Boon Romance novels as a young adult, their stories had a big influence on me and my writing. My imagined and written stories changed from adventures to romance. So now that I decided on full time writing, I was moved to go back to that genre.

It seems, from the personal blog you operate and the numerous interviews that you have granted, that Romance is the genre you would be exploring. How do you plan to break new grounds with the genre, since Nigerian literary scene is unfamiliar with it?

The primary intention of promoting romance is to contribute the writing of the genre fiction as a whole in Nigerian literature. I grew up reading books of the Pacesetters fame, but they disappeared along the line. There has been a sort of renaissance in the writing and book publishing industry in Nigeria and I wanted to add my voice in a unique way. My plans include consistency, garnering publicity, and penetrating the book selling market as widely as possible.

It has always been the case with writers that boxes themselves within a particular theme (in your case Romance), that readers soon get tired of their writings. How do you tend to use your creativity to rescue yourself from this?

I don’t think you have it right at all. The fact is that popular fiction is named that for a reason. Readers love them, and cannot get enough of the works of such writers. I just need to name people like Danielle Steele, Karen Kingsbury or Francine Rivers, and you’ll realize how wrong you are. These romance authors have been writing for decades, and are New York Times Best Selling Authors. Someone like Sidney Sheldon is dead, but someone writes in his stead because his millions of fans want more of his style of books. Back home in Nigeria, most of our classics including Buchi Emecheta, Helen Ovbiagele, and even Cyprian Ekwensi, wrote romance at one time or the other.

What are you currently working on to prove to your readers that A Heart To Mend was not just some flash in the pan?

My next book, A Love Rekindled, is almost ready for release, and will hit the bookstores and shelves by the end of March 2011. It should be available in Nigeria by the middle of the year.

You were recently in Nigeria. Did that afford you the opportunity to create awareness for the book? How?

I was in Nigeria between November 2010, and January 2011, and indeed I was able to raise awareness about my writing. Beyond my writing, I hope I was also able to generate excitement for the popular fiction revolution which is my ultimate dream. I attended and facilitated a session at the Garden City Literary Festival Port Harcourt, where I met Wole Soyinka, Sefi Atta, Adaobi Nwaubani, Helon Habila, among other authors and writers. The session I promoted was for publishers and how they can better harness the social media in order to reach more readers. It was a successful outing, and I enjoyed it.

I was also invited, or a part of several readings and writer’s meet-ups in Lagos, Abuja, Asaba, and Enugu. In addition, I was a guest on a couple of radio shows, and had several articles and features in National newspapers.

True Talk got to know who Myne Whitman is online. It seems you are everywhere in the cyberspace. To what extent has the Internet influenced your writing and the book?

The fact is that the world has come to terms with the internet age and brought with it more opportunities to publish. So, other less conventional means of getting a book to an audience are beginning to take root - talk about eBooks, kindles and Nooks and other such technology. The internet, and all the resources available online have also been very useful for me as I have been polishing my craft, and improving my writing.

Having a blog, (which won several awards including Blog of the Year at the Nigerian Blog Awards 2010) really helped me in my writing, especially with the feedback and critique I get from my readers. My blog was part of the reason I decided to publish. I had such a loyal following that I wanted to give them a chance to read the complete story. Most of them had been following it on my blog and were very supportive. It was through the support of fellow bloggers that I did my first blog tour and all the publicity that came with that. After that I joined Facebook and Twitter and the following has been growing since.

As a blogger and a writer, can you really differentiate blogging from writing? Do you think a blogger has the creativity-confidence to be called a writer?

There are different kinds of bloggers as you know. Anyone writing down a recap of their day on their blog may not be called a writer, or even want to be known as one. However, in my blog rounds, I have seen articles written by bloggers, and which contain analysis that rivals that in NEXT, and even the New York Times. I have also seen fiction and talent that I would buy any day if it were collected in a book. So again, it depends on the blogger. I wasn’t the first blogger to turn to a writer/author. We also had the likes of Jumoke Verissimo and Joy Bewaji who had the boldness to go beyond scribbling online. Cassava Republic Press also published “Everyday for the Thief” by Teju Cole from the writings he had on his blog.

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