Why it took me so long to write this

I am seated on the floor in this house I’ve rented somewhere in Mbita town. I am listening to King of Kings by Hillsong and sipping coffee, hoping to diffuse some warmth in me, given that it rained all night through to 9am today.

If you’ve read my most recent posts, you may be able to tell that I am stalling, and bear with me because speaking of this hurts me more than I thought it would.

I am finally going to sell copies of my latest book, Sifuna, in Kenya this coming November.

I worked on this and got it down to 115 pages (I’m not so great at writing more than 200 pages).

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About the book: It’s been 22 years since his Father was assassinated. Baoya, now in his mid-thirties decides to vie for a Senatorial position in the upcoming elections in his county. His decision and plan of action is backed by his childhood friend Sifuna. Baoya’s led a peaceful life and his actions spur a media frenzy on speculations as to what led to his Father’s assassination.

Challenged by the desire to find the truth behind this intrusion into his life and the desire to maintain the sense of calm he’s had in his life, Baoya finds himself being swept downstream…will he find the answers he seeks and if so, at what cost?


So, you may be wondering where I am going with this, and I can talk of why it took me so long to write this:

  1. I have been afraid that this book would not influence anyone who read it. It may sound a bit far-fetched, because I started writing this late last year and with every edition, I kept editing and changing the narrative arc so much so that at some point I set it aside and cried. It wasn’t right.
  2. Taking up a new job, relocating to a new town and just making time for this book has been a challenge.
  3. I’m scared of negative reviews. Now, here I am getting people to buy a book and then they’ll feel like they wasted their money on it- that hurts and this point should probably be number one. I’d love to give people value for their money. As a Reader too, I get it, I do not always react the same way to all books- and some books have grown on me, just because I read them at different points in my life, so if people love or hate this book, it is not a direct hit at me as a human being- it’s just the work. Question is, how do I separate myself from my work?
  4. I wasn’t sure where I was going with this book and after sending it out to fellow writers whose works I’ve read and loved, I finally got feedback and could figure out how to focus my writing.
  5. Finances. I self-publish and every time I’d want to work on this, some pressing matters would arise and I’d focus my finances on those- not my writing.
  6. At the beginning of the year, I promised myself that I would write and publish at least three books and the weight of fulfilling that promise has been like a dark cloud hanging over my head- trying to steer me in a different direction. 

All these “what ifs?” held me back and even as I write this, I am still afraid, the only difference today is that a part of me is done holding onto this story and wants to release it to the world. This part is forever asking me “so what?” and pushing me to just put it out there, and as such set my mind free so I can start writing something else.

So why did it take me so long to write this? Fear.

I am learning that it’s good to be afraid, and it’s even better to just step out into the world and say “why not?”

 

A Rose for Every Season

When a woman gets to her breaking point, two things are certain; vengeance or surrender.

If anyone told you that Helen chose neither vengeance nor surrender, you would react the same way I did. You would shake your head, laugh and walk away.

If you embody certain Kenyan mannerisms you’d throw in the phrase Ghai! Wacha jokes! 

There is something beautiful about betrayal, a certain unveiling of character and actions that make life worth living. It is like watching two bulls lock horns and even though you are guaranteed the show of a lifetime, you know that at any moment the tables could be turned on you…and lastly there’s blood. Of all the magnificent colors in the world, why did blood have to be red and not silver?

So, there I was laughing when it hit me, that what Helen did is something that took not her courage, but her resolution…she did what I would never do, and that is why her story is worth telling.

PS: It’s just began, a process that I had to endure, the frustrations and pace in writing. I am pleased it’s being edited 🙂 

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The perks of writing

I am listening to Sam Smith’s “Lay me down,” which features John Legend hoping to hear that final rendition that gives me the shivers. It is soaring to 31 degrees outside and the open window guarantees a humid breeze.

I have had two cups of tea and filled out a job application for the next research project I would love to engage in just to avoid writing this article, but you know what they say about writers- we are forever churning up words even in our sleep. Gosh! People can be clueless at times, but it’s beautiful.

Writers have the best company, words. With this delightful company comes a villain, the need to rearrange and do away with some to create the best story.

Have you ever been to an open air market?

Okay, in Kisumu, there’s this big open air market, we call it Kibuye. It is pronounced as kee-boo-yeh. I think. There are plenty of hawkers and goods and you have to bend and go through piles of clothes until you get what fits you. It is like digging through a pile of laundry which reeks of storage, to get the perfect second-hand outfit which you’ll wash, rinse in fabric softener, and iron and you’d look like a goddess. The process of getting that item is stressful. Writing is like that.

Well, it feels like that to me, but this is not about me, not yet.

Now, let’s get back to me, thank you. The final version of Earth was delightfully emailed to my Mentor/Editor this morning- during my first cup of tea moment. One hundred or so pages of words that he would slash and underline or comment on using green fonts for the sake of originality. He called immediately to ask, ‘how do you feel?’

I wanted to say, ‘hot’ because of the tea I had swallowed in a hurry but resorted to saying ‘fine, thanks.’ He added, ‘you should be excited, you know the advantages of writing and so far it has been a great journey for you, eh?’

He hung up. I looked at my phone halfway between rage and joy. It’s a hard place to be in because rage shakes you to your core and joy is like a volcano that’s working its way to an eruption. Writing has advantages? Really?

Now that I think about it, it does: not everyone delights in the company of words or rearranges them to create a story. I mean, even liars cannot stick to a story for long.

So, if you are writing, or finding your way around words and it seems like nothing good or praise is coming out of it, just know it takes time. Yes, everything takes time, but with writing you have to keep the words flowing out of you. Let them flow and sometimes force them out of you. Purge on that blank screen.

The greatest perk of writing to me is the fact that it came out of me- not you, him, her, or someone else, but the words come out of me-and that in itself is the most glorious creation.

 

What I’ve learned while writing a Series

The first time I thought of writing The Currents Series, I was seated at Java in Kisumu with a friend. We had just ordered some mocha (I love an iced-mocha) and he was telling me about how frustrated he was with his parents especially his Dad for expecting so much of him. He had school, piano lessons and was also working part time for the family business, and it was taking a toll on him.

He said, “It’s like his business is some throne that I’m supposed to sit on whether I like it or not.”

And that’s when I thought of writing about a young prince who had to rise to power, and take after his Father whether he wanted to or not. I remember scribbling a text and saving it as a draft.

I did not think about it for the next three months.

Then one day, as I was in a matatu making my way from work, I heard these two women talk about a Nigerian movie where the Prince was forced to marry and abide by the customs but he chose not to and instead married a blind girl whom he truly loved. I remember thinking, that could be a great story line- but when I arrived home I was too exhausted to do anything but sleep.

I did not think much of the idea until the next Saturday morning when a friend asked me if I was still writing.

So, I started by writing bits and pieces of the story. I started with the names of the kingdoms and the characters. I went with Kiswahili because each name represented something, and as days went by I carried a notebook where I would write down scenes and phrases that came to mind. I sat down one weekend and typed it all.

When I was almost done, the lights went out and I had only saved half of the work. So, I resumed my typing the next evening.

I procrastinate, and I come up with many ideas while working on one- which often causes me to lose sight of what I am working on, so I had to set up an outline (thank you Stephen King but some discipline is needed!).

I had this structure that included a sequence of events that I had to follow while writing, and I stuck with it. The best part of finishing that first book came in on December 27, 2014.

I remember holding my books, touching the cover and reading it in print and thinking, “this is what it feels like.” I mean, it was my first book in the Series, I had done everything from designing the cover, selecting the font and simply putting it out there.

But no one told me how to market the book. How was I going to get people to read it?

So, when my friends and family members bought it and read it- they started demanding for the next book. I was not ready. I remember thinking, “now what!” but the book was needed and so I had to write and I have been since then.

So, what did I learn while writing a series:

  1. Have an outline. Yes, there’s that whole Stephen King debate about plunging in- but it works for him, if you are writing and seriously considering publishing an outline is the best guide you’ll ever have. You need to focus on the plot and not lose track of the story line.
  2. Readers do not love you if you leave them hanging at the end of every book. In my case, I have done so gently, but I still got complaints of major cliffhangers! Each book in the series needs to highlight a major aspect of your plot while advancing it, ensure that your reader moves along with you…maintain a steady pace.
  3. Get an Editor. Yes, I did not have one for my first book and though it turned out well, it could have been excellent with an Editor. If you cannot afford one, look for your English Professor and ask him/her to read it, because you might not know the tiny mistakes that slip by while you write. An Editor is like a picky eater, they consume only what is necessary. You need to weed out unnecessary words and scenes in your book.
  4. Overnight success is an illusion. Write. If you think you’ll make millions in less than a year, well, let’s just say that it depends on what you are writing, but you need patience.
  5. Yes, and your friends and family may be great supporters of your work, but nothing keeps a book afloat more than word of mouth- or sharing buttons in sites! They should not just tell you they love the book. They should share the links on social networking sites, and write reviews to help spread the word.

This series was personal for me. I have written and submitted manuscripts to publishers before and never got any feedback. There was one time that a publisher called me to say that he wanted someone less “White” and more “African.” His words were “Your story is good, but the English is just not like our people, you know…we are looking for something more African.” I have written articles and I decided it was enough when I read my work under someone’s name. It hurt even more when I wrote three articles only to be paid for one under the guise of inadequate funds. I remember sitting at home and looking at the MPESA text on my phone and thinking, “I get paid this little for that much work?”

So, I have never submitted any of my works to any publishers here since then.

I am writing the final book in the series, and I am not yet a millionaire, but my journey has been worth that idea, the blackout, and the frustration of editing and revision. Though I am not so keen on writing another series, but I would most definitely write a romance novel…I love a good romance.