INTERVIEW WITH ADETOKUNBO ABIOLA,
AUTHOR OF AMERICAN 419 AND OTHER STORIES
Please give us a short biography of yourself
I’m a journalist and fiction writer. Though I studied political science at the university, I soon gravitated to creative writing. I’ve published short stories in Harper Perennial, One World Anthology of Short Stories, B.B.C Focus on Africa, and many other places. I’ve published a full-length novel titled Labulabu Mask with Macmillan Publishers (Nigeria).
When did you start writing?
I started writing in the early seventies. My writing habits are quite simple. I conceptualize ideas after reading. Then I sit down to write. I write everywhere. However, I write best in the morning. Then the brain is fresh. After writing for sometime, I get up and walk around. When I return, I come with a fresh perspective.
Why did you to write American 419 and other stories?
As far as the title story is concerned, I heard about an American who had been duped by Nigerian fraudsters. To recoup his money, he came down to Nigeria. He wanted to get his money back by duping Nigerians. I felt he would lose out. Duping people cannot be right. He made a mistake by falling for the scheme in the first place. Both the American and Nigerians are mere crooks. Also, the situation in my country is harrowing. Daily existence is shocking. Life is nasty, brutish, and short. Things have fallen apart and the center cannot hold. I wanted to depict this situation through short stories. However, despite the shocking life that we live, there is no much laughter, so much humor. In Nigeria, you can fall down in laughter when you hear about what is going on. The sheer possibilities of drama, tragedy, and humor are irresistible materials for fiction.
How did you select the themes in the book?
I didn’t select the themes. They grabbed me as the experiences in Nigeria suggested them. I didn’t consciously set out the themes. However, I tried to ensure there was a trend running through stories. Namely, we’re living in a really crazy world. Anything can happen in this mad situation.
How long did it take you to write the book?
About two years. However, I wrote the first draft in about eight months. While revising, I sent some stories out to publishers. Mobius was kind to publish one of them. Harper Perennial also used one of the. The editing took some time. In fact, it took most of the time.
What challenges do you face as a writer?
In Nigeria, there are too many challenges. This is why people self-publish their work. But I didn’t like that route. For this book, I wrote the stories not knowing they would ever be published. You see, I have no agent, somebody to push the book. I sent it after completion to about thirty publishers and agents. Three were interested, but they suggested I take out most of the stories. This is why I feel so happy that Laughing Press agreed to publish it. I can’t thank Mr. Dylan Jerome enough. Basically, the lack of an agent, the poor publishing network, the power problem, the poor reading culture in Nigeria, these are the challenges.
What impact would you like this book to have on readers?
We can’t continue to live in a world like this. There is too much cheating, oppression, manipulation, and terrorism going on. We are destroying the environment without thinking of the consequences. We are doing things as if there is no tomorrow. We’re living in the moment. The little men are being pushed to the wall through government and corporate interests. We can’t continue to live like this. I think we have to stand up and fight. We need to change the world.
How have you evolved as a writer during the process of writing this boot?
Before this book, I was hasty while writing. I would want to finish writing in a month. However, American 419 taught me to be patient. I developed stamina. I learned if I rushed the book it would come out bad. Of course, I didn’t want this. I paced myself. It made me read as well. My creative instincts were sharpened. I discovered possibilities I never knew existed while shaping experience into creative fiction.
What are your ambitions as a writer?
To write as well as possible. My ambition is to learn so that I can improve in the process of creating literary fiction.
Can you give us a hint about your next writing project?
I’ve just finished an 80,000-word novel. It is about a pair of lovers who are forced by excruciating social circumstances to undertake a 4,000-mile journey across the Sahara Desert. They went by road. They experienced so many incredible things. They were not prepared for the journey. It’s life itself. We’re never prepared for the journey we take. Can they remain lovers through the suicidal journey? Why were they forced to emigrate? Human beings died like flies in the course of the journey. I intend sending it out to agents with the hope that they can pick it up.
What books are you currently reading?
I’m currently going through Half of A Yellow Sun by Chimamanda Adichie. I’ve just got Norman Mailer’s The Naked and the Dead. I’ll soon settle down to read it. Of course, I also go through Dostoyevsky’s Crime and Punishment. I think it is a great book. Tolstoy, Turgenev, Hemingway, they are the other authors I’m reading. Obviously, reading is a continuous process. You cannot write if you don’t read.
Do you have any advice for aspiring writer?
Don’t write only from your head. Learn to write while reading a great writer. It solves so many problems. I think aspiring writers should first study the theory of creative writing. What is originality? Is it something that drops from the sky? What are the elements that ensure original writing? If I learned this earlier on, it would have enhanced my writing.
Anything else you would like to say about your work?
American 419 and other stories is not just about Africa. It’s universal. What goes on here also goes on in other places.