Monday, June 10, 2013

Published Author Interview | Straw Dogs | Bolaji Olatunde

D.O: You are welcome Bolaji Olatunde. Being the first Nigerian author to be featured on the blogs, Authors' Curtilage with Darmie Orem and I am.... Darmie Orem, I am so thrilled to have you.

B.O: Thank you.

D.O: Before we delve into Straw Dogs, do you have some kind of mantra that says I'm going to write a novel and, make sure it is the best I ever written or the writing magic has always been a thing with you?

B.O: First and foremost, I believe that in order to write anything, one must have the drive to simply write, to love language, to be in love with documenting thoughts, communicating one’s thoughts and designs of one’s imagination. It’s an ineffable instinct that grows with time. One must not be selfish with one’s imagination or personal perspectives on the human condition. Straw Dogs is the only novel I’ve written and published, for now. I don’t know if it will be the best I’ll ever write, I hope not. I know I can do better, but I suspect none will enjoy as much devotion as it received from me. The story haunted me for years. “You’ve got to write me down. You have to put me down in black and white!” It kept yelling at me from within. 

D.O: I understand how you must have felt. The creative spirit of light always haunts a person to write once he’s got the calling. Believe it or not, Straw Dogs won’t be your last book. When did your inner writer spoke to you to write Straw Dogs? What is the inspiration behind the compelling concept?

B.O: The inspiration hit me in June or July 2003. I was at a personal crossroads at the time and had a lot of time to myself. I was recovering from personally trying times and had the displeasure of watching certain plans of mine derail. The story, I believe, formed unconsciously as I created those weird characters in the book to entertain my bored self. I’d just read for the first time a variety of what I considered at the time to be really, really weird books, Tough Guys Don’t Dance by Norman Mailer, My Secret History and Hotel Honolulu both by Paul Theroux, The Three Witches Of Eastwick by John Updike.  I’d also read writers such as Tom Wolfe, James Baldwin, Bertrand Russell, among others. They were weird, compared to the diet of relatively tame Nigerian literature I was used to, and when I say tame, I don’t wish to diminish their fantastic literary quality. So my unconscious must have been thinking, “Why don’t you do weird?” The first draft was completed in March 2008. Five years it took from conception to actual penning. After trying to get it traditionally published for 3 years, I resorted to self-publishing after an American literary agent who seemed interested in my work informed me that his reason for turning it down was that it would be too expensive to produce. It’s a rather large book, but I didn’t buy that. So I thought to myself, if you, Bolaji, don’t invest in your own work, who will? So I put part of my savings into it. 

D.O:  Let’s get to meet you as an author and who you are outside the publishing field.

B.O: I’m actually an accountant, living and earning a living in Abuja, Nigeria, which is in Africa, for those who may be geography challenged.

D.O: What exactly about fame in this field will make you content, simply recognition or adoration?

B.O: The literary field? Frankly, I don’t know. I’ve always dreaded this question. In effect, I think you’re asking me why I write. In the words of B.A. Baracus of the American TV show, The A-Team, “I do it for the jazz.” I’m not sure I enjoy attention. Some people actively pursue fame, I don’t.

D.O: Is this ego based or because fame can be useful?

B.O: That is minefield territory for me. That I made someone somewhere smile or laugh, that I made them sit back and see the world in a perspective different to what they are used to is satisfying enough for me. I like anonymity. I could be in a public place – I‘ve been in public places, buses, shops, restaurants and bars, where strangers have openly made disclosures that they had no idea would fly into a book someday, with slight adjustments, of course. People feel more comfortable with perfect strangers sometimes when they tell their personal stories, sometimes to seek advice and commiseration, maybe not to get it all in a book for all and sundry to read about. I am grateful to those who shared some of the stories that made it into the book. Fame is a double edged-sword. I see famous writers who come off as egotistical maniacs on social media, the type you wouldn’t wish to interact with. If they were less famous, perhaps we’d simply enjoy and be touched by their works, if we were lucky to come across those works. Fame can make millions of readers take you seriously and respect your views and one can induce positive change with that voice. 

D.O: Wole Martins is often the most sought after staff clients wanted to see for financial advice at Holocene Securities. The first narrator said he has an overpowering cockiness about him that bowled over his colleagues and HC clients. Could the ten severe gunshot wounds he suffered have arisen from the envy of his colleagues?

B.O: Answering that would spoil the fun for a first-time reader of the novel. The general complaint against Nigerians in the diaspora is our cockiness, aside from complaints about deviousness. We’re a brilliant people, kind and generous, even if we seem too full of ourselves sometimes, but that’s only human. We’re as human as anyone.

D.O: Okay. The C.E.O of Holocene Securities is from Glasgow, Scotland.

B.O: Yes, Graham Phillips. He only appeared in the prologue and epilogue. He was, I must confess, a last minute addition to the novel. When the twenty-eight chapters were done and I was doing a second draft, the story felt inconclusive. A part of me kept considering that, surely, there could be a better closure to this tale, a less open-ended denouement. The prologue and epilogue give readers an opportunity to see Shola Dina, the narrator of most of the work, through the eyes of others, not through his own, well, not-so-impartial eyes.

D.O: How very important is his role in Straw Dogs?

B.O: Without Phillips, Dina’s story wouldn’t have been told to the world, or so he leads us to believe. 

D.O: Straw Dogs explored many of the morbid crimes that kicked into downtown Johannesburg after the democratic elections in 1994. The descriptions are lurid in the book. I would say these gruesome crimes are too overwhelming me for me to plunge into in this interview. So I'm leaving it up to your potential readers to read themselves.

One of the incidents that left me pained seriously was that of Patricia that had to watch her 5 year old son Brian almost shot to death before her eyes and "the idiots took away her car with all of the purchases in it, leaving the distraught mother and excited child by the curb."

So Bolaji, how much of this book is based on true events and fiction?

B.O: Well, crime knows no boundary and isn’t restricted to Johannesburg. South Africa’s crime rates are well-known, unfortunately. Anyone with a little knowledge of that country knows of its alarming crime rates. Black South Africans complained regularly in the years immediately succeeding 1994 – and they still complain – that their economic opportunities were and remain limited, the end of Apartheid notwithstanding. In writing those South African crime scenes, I took into cognisance the accounts of victims of South Africa’s crime incidents, black-on-white, white-on-black crime and black-on-black crime. Reports of xenophobic crimes and attacks against fellow Africans who migrated to South Africa at the end of Apartheid also guided my writing and the way those narrations were fashioned. I remain unapologetic about writing those passages. It’s a reflection of reality although it’s my creation. 

D.O: Hmm. What are the goals that drove Straw Dogs forward?

B.O: The goal of sharing my imaginings and perspectives with an audience other than myself. A careful reading of the book will reveal that the early parts may seem rather bleak and angry, with doses of dark humour. They are reflective of my state of mind at the time. The later chapters are considerably lighter and contain more of the doses of wicked humour which the review by Kirkus Reviews says it shows. 

D.O: What is one of the best mid-point-shifts that added a new element to the story and kept it fresh?

B.O: The part where an angel does something quite questionable, horrendous even, in order not to be found wanting. I think it’s that part of the story that makes me pause and wonder the extent one could go to appear in control.

D.O: What is the central conflict of Straw Dogs?

B.O: What’s evil? What’s good? Who’s good? Who’s evil? How far should one’s answers to those questions guide our existence and ambitions? Is ethical relativism the key to life so we may understand and live peacefully with others?

D.O: Hint us briefly about Straw Dogs.

B.O: The blurb, which is widely available online, says it all. It’s a tale that explores several themes, life and death, mysticism, erotica, international espionage and politics, history. It’s a mixture of many themes.

D.O: In the end, will Wole die? Please, don't answer that. Let the readers find out themselves. What are the moral messages you want your readers to take away from the book?

B.O: I didn’t write this novel to pass moral messages. I wrote it to tell a story, or stories. I’m sorry if that sounds dangerous or nonchalant but that’s what I did. I wrote it for an adult audience that I rightly or wrongly presumed should have a fair idea of what’s morally acceptable or otherwise. If the novel was written for children, and then maybe there’d be a clear moral message, or messages.

D.O: Moral messages can simply be saying in dialogues or narrative “you should follow your heart or face your fears or be true to yourself — pick your empty nostrum - the key to your happiness is to gulp down your own defeat”. The readers organically highlight these inspirational messages in fiction.  Suppose you suspect that not much of the success you dreamed of is achievable in the publishing field, will that hurt? And will you still continue in the field?

B.O: Like I said earlier, I write for the excitement and all that jazz. Okay, huge sales figures won’t hurt but there’s a warm feeling that comes from creating a story, completing a piece of writing. There’s nothing like being told, “Hey, your work made me laugh, it  made me think, “even by just one person – and I have had more than that. Most individuals I interact with physically, on a daily basis have no idea I’ve written a novel, which, believe it or not, is just fine with me. My book is self-published and the prospects continue to broaden for self-published works and authors.

The derision with which self-published works are almost customarily greeted has reduced, at least among the literati, or readers who are in touch with current publishing trends. Self-published works are getting better – better editing, and with the help of social media, better promotion and sales. Disposable People by Eziekel Alan, a self-published book, has just been announced as the regional winner of the 2013 Commonwealth Book Prize, for the Caribbean. As long as fictional stories, where ever they come from, make their presence known and felt in my head, I shall continue to write fiction and do self-publishing if I need to, so I can put the work out there to be accessed by someone who needs it. 

D.O: Will you advice upcoming writers to list the positives and the negatives when setting on the path of publishing?

B.O: I’m an aspiring writer myself! Please do and consider if it’s worth your while to continue. The positives, you get to rub minds with some wonderful human beings, brilliant minds, thanks to the social media, even at the few literary events which my schedules allow me to attend, because they know where you’re coming from, what you’ve been through as a creator. People may – may – take you a little more seriously than you’re used to, that can be flattering or frightening. The negatives – writing fiction can be very taxing, mentally and spiritually. Your social life, the physical now, not the internet, may take a hit. Extended periods of self-imposed solitude can be anti-social or result in anti-social traits. Getting used to being alone can cause unique unpleasantness for dear ones who don’t understand. 

You need solitude to actually write – there’s no other way, I believe. And oh, be ready for some insults and mockery from a variety of folks who believe writing is a waste of time or that you lack the talent to follow through. How you react to it, I can’t prescribe – go with the flow. Creative people are filled with passion, so good and bad drama will feature constantly in your days.  Is that completely a negative? I don’t know. I owe some of my stories to drama involving me. Another negative – you will be approached by snakes in the form of greedy publishers, especially the self-publishing outfits, who only seek to milk or make money out of you, as well as friends and acquaintances who wish to do the same. Some folks will tag along because of what they can get out of you and for supporting the promotion of your work, not necessarily because of the textual content between the covers of your book. 

That’s not to say you won’t get genuine help. You have to put your foot in the doorway and if you have to, kick your way into that room of literary success.

People will label you and your work with all sorts of tags, the good, the bad and the downright ugly. Folks will promise or state their intentions to help you work on your manuscript, to help you put your work out there – it’s not going to happen, nine times out of ten. You, my colleague, are going to have to make things happen yourself. Possible pitfalls are that sometimes, your work won’t connect with an audience, maybe at a given point in time, maybe forever. My take on that is that one should write about any subject one wishes. Nobody, no one has the right to tell you what stories you should create or for which you should act as a medium. Speak and write from the heart. If you wish to write political stories please do –erotica, religious, please do – any perspective on the human condition is invaluable to those who value humanity and literature. 

Anyone who tries to constrain your story-telling range is not the best friend of your development as a writer. Another negative is that you’ll meet odd readers, if you make it big. Be nice to readers and cater to their eccentricities when you meet them. Once at a book reading/signing, I requested a, for lack of a better phase, somewhat-well-known Nigerian writer to sign my copy of his latest book and to write my two names, “Bolaji Olatunde”. He had no idea I was a writer myself. He brusquely wrote only my first name with his illegible scrawl, signed and dismissed me with a scowl for the next person in the short line, a pretty lady who got a much better reception – she was, well, one of my guests for the evening who owed her presence at the event to my invitation, which he probably didn’t know. I won’t be buying another copy of his work in the near future. Yes, it’s my money! Thankfully, he’s the only writer who has treated me that way.

D.O: Hello audience, I hope you've enjoyed the gripping chat between the published author Bolaji Olatunde and me? I remain Darmie Orem, committed to bringing you interviews that offer exposure, boost sales of authors' books, and give you a wide range of compelling books to buy from.

Once again, Bolaji thanks for proffering the opportunity to feature you on the blogs.

B.O: Thank you.

D.O: I wish you good luck in your publishing career.

B.O: Hey, I wish you all the best as well.

Author Bio: Bolaji Olatunde is a Nigerian writer, playwright & international affairs enthusiast. His first novel is Straw Dogs published in the United Kingdom in April 2011. He lives in Abuja.

Book Title: Straw Dogs

Book Genre: Thriller/Supernatural

Short Book Description: The attempted assassination of President Bill Clinton when he visited China in June, 1998. Not related to the Hollywood movie of the same title.

Formats Available: Kindle, Nook, Paperback

Purchase Links:

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