In September of 2007, I received an e-mail with a Nigerian return address. Based on my past experience, I jumped to a conclusion you can easily guess.
The sender informed me that she had discovered my Snowflake method in late 2006, written a novel in January and February of 2007, signed with an agent in April, and sold the book to Hyperion in July.
The surprising thing to me came after that. The surprising thing to me was that there wasn’t anything else in the e-mail, except a thanks to me for creating the Snowflake method.
I wondered if this e-mail could possibly be legitimate. I wondered how anyone could believe that an unknown author from the Third World could sell a first novel to a major publisher after working on it for only a few months. I wondered when I’d get the invitation to help launder $100 million in crooked money.
But it turns out that it was legit. Completely. The author, Adaobi Tricia Nwaubani, had done exactly what she’d said. Her novel, I Do Not Come To You By Chance, told the tale of a young man who works for a Nigerian scammer. I knew Adaobi was for real when I read the review of her novel in The Washington Post.
I recently interviewed Adaobi for this blog and found myself absolutely inspired by what she’s done. Here is the interview. Enjoy!
About The Author
Adaobi Tricia Nwaubani was born in Enugu, Nigeria. She earned her very first income from winning a writing competition at the age of 13. As a teenager, she secretly dreamed of becoming a CIA or KGB agent. She ended up studying Psychology at the University of Ibadan, Nigeria, instead. At present, she lives in Lagos, Nigeria. I Do Not Come to You by Chance is her first novel.
About The Book
We’ve all seen the scams — those infamous 419 emails (named after a section of Nigerian law), that invade inboxes daily with a plea: “Dear Friend, I’m a retired barrister. I alone know the existence of this ten million dollar deposit. I am looking for your assistance…” But there are real people writing these emails, even if what they say isn’t true. In Adaobi Tricia Nwaubani’s vivid, often hilarious, debut novel, we learn how one young man gets sucked into the 419 world, losing himself in the process.
RI: Your novel is about a young Nigerian man who is hired to work for a Nigerian scammer. What prompted you to write this novel?
ATN: I grew up knowing that I was blessed with the gift of writing, but I had no plans of doing anything with it other than loads of lengthy letters to friends and penpals. Then in 2001, one of my mentors told me that I was supposed to do more with my talent. Finally, in December 2006, I decided that it was time to write my novel. So I lay flat on the floor and thought. I’ve always had a fascination with human personality and the science of why people do the things they do. I decided to scheme my plot along that line. One thought led to the other, and the scamming theme was born.
RI: You wrote the novel not long after you came to my web site. Tell us about your process for writing and how long it took you to go from your initial idea to selling the novel to Hyperion.
ATN: I came upon your site in one of those pre-novel-writing periods of Googling to find out how on earth one even starts writing a novel in the first place. Unlike what I’d been reading from many other writers, your articles demystified the whole process for me. You made it sound so easy. You made it sound so possible. Especially your Snowflake method, which explained the process of putting flesh to concepts and building up until they eventually became a whole book. You also gave time frames that made it clear that I didn’t have to spend my whole life writing one book! With my mind having been liberated, I started clicking away at I Do Not Come to You by Chance in January 2007, finished in February 2007, and that draft, though not perfect, was good enough to attract a contract with one of the industry’s best — my agent, Daniel Lazar of Writers House, New York — in April 2007. After extensive revisions, we sold to Hyperion in July 2007.
RI: Some of the scam victims in your novel have interesting names — Rumsfeld, Albright, Condoleezza, and Letterman. Tell us how people in Nigeria feel about those names.
ATN: Nigerians generally tend to be amused by my use of those names — names which, to us, were once ultimate symbols of the West. But then, mischief aside, why should I have chosen John or Jane, when Rumsfeld and Condoleezza sound more interesting? I try to infuse as much entertainment as possible into every single word I write, right down to my choice of characters’ names.
RI: Publishers Weekly and the Washington Post both gave you strong reviews. What sort of research did you do for this novel?
ATN: Most of my ‘research’ entailed chats with friends’ friends, or email exchanges with scammers who had tried to lure me with those emails. Apart from that, growing up amongst the Igbos of Eastern Nigeria meant that most of the sights and sounds described in my novel had happened right around me. My descriptions were mostly from personal observations of the 419ers and their lives.
RI: Despite living in Nigeria, you sold your novel to an excellent US publisher. What are the prospects of non-US residents for selling a novel to a major US publisher?
ATN: No one can tell exactly what the prospects are until more people living in Nigeria actually started trying. At present, I’m the only Nigerian in decades (and one of the very few in Africa) to have a novel published internationally while still living in my home country. Most of what I learned about getting an agent and having my novel published internationally was from researching online. Few people here seemed to have the slightest idea. When I meet home-based writers and ask why they don’t have any publishers outside Nigeria, it often turns out that they never even explored the possibilities. I constantly have to explain to them about agents, and about the goings-on between the period of signing a book deal and when the book hits the stands. To many here, the process sounds like Hindustani because they are so used to the Nigerian way of finishing your writing today, sending to the printers tomorrow, and having your novel ready the day after.
RI: What project are you working on now?
ATN: It’s a secret, Randy!
* * *
Randy sez: Now, is that cool, or what? Adaobi didn’t sit around fretting about whether she had to spend years of angst to write a novel or whether she could ever find an agent or whether she had a chance to get published . She sat down and wrote her novel. She got an agent. She published her book. Just like that.
OK, she has talent. Check out the Amazon reviews of I Do Not Come To You By Chance. She’s a good writer.
But Adaobi didn’t mess around waiting for the universe to deal her something wonderful. She took action. Something wonderful happened when she did. Almost nothing ever happens unless you take action. There’s a lesson hiding in there somewhere, no?
Very inspiring – I live in India:)
David Benedict says
Randy– and Adaobi.
That is cool– not what. Although Adaobi obviously is a talented writer, the compelling aspect of the interview is that 1. she wrote her novel and, 2. your Snowflake method helped her begin and carry the work to completion.
Since I’m still struggling with my own first novel work in progress this is encouraging. I’ve studied your Snowflake method– have to admit I haven’t applied it completely– but I’m really looking forward to the point when you introduce your Snowflake software. Hope that’s soon, Randy.
In the meantime, I’m getting back to my story– today. Thanks, Randy, for this interview, your blog and your Advanced Fiction Writing E-Magazine. Keep up the good work.
Karen Ward says
A lesson I need to learn! JUST DO IT.
🙂 Great interview…
Colleen Shine says
Randy and Adaobi,
Thank you so much for this post. Besides how fascinating Adaobi’s process was, it encourages those of us who wonder if while living outside the United States we can not only get our work published in the United States, but we can use our soil as setting.
Judith Robl says
Wonderful interview! I can’t wait for the second novel. She does know how to leave her audience hanging from a cliff.
She should be the Nike spokesperson – just do it! That’s where too many writers (read “I” here) get hung up on preparations, distractions, and reading blog posts.
My first novel awaits….
Judith Robl says
BTW – do we have an estimated time of arrival on the Snowflake Pro?
Randy sez: The release of Snowflake Pro is imminent (within days). I began alpha testing in July with a team of 25. In August and September, I had to deal with editing my book WRITING FICTION FOR DUMMIES (which will be releasing on December 2). In October, I resumed work on final bug fixes of Snowflake Pro and I added a few feature improvements to make it even easier to use. I worked with my daughter Carolyn (an English Lit major) to make four different example Snowflake documents. We used Snowflake Pro to create these examples, which led me to make a few final tweaks for usability. I began a very extensive beta test two days ago with people who have already bought a Snowflake-related product from me in the past. This beta test is just wrapping up and the success rate is very high for installation. (Installation is always the trickiest part. Even Microsoft had a lot of problems when they released Vista.) I’m working now to resolve a handful of installation glitches. Generally, these have to do with problems that can arise on the machines of my customers, but it’s still my problem to find a way to get it done. But I’m thrilled to say that the vast majority of the beta testers installed Snowflake Pro without a hitch and without any need for customer support from me. Already, a number of users are working on the designs of their novels using Snowflake Pro. I am hoping to reach 100% success, but I know that may be a chimera. When I’ve got it working as well as I know how, then I’ll launch Snowflake Pro. I’m a user of this product myself, so I plan to add new features whenever I see a way to make it work even slicker, faster, or better. All upgrades will be free to all my customers. If you buy Snowflake Pro, you’re buying it for as long as your email remains in my database. (I’ll notify Snowflake Pro owners by email whenever I upgrade the product.)
Sheila Deeth says
I love the way you tell it, and I suspect I will love the way she tells it too. How cool – what a fun idea for her story, and what an encouraging publication tale.
That is awesome kind got me fired up to get back to writing and not worrying about what will happen with it.
Jim Hughes says
Desperately Seeking Snowflake PRO!!!
Inspired by the interview. Time management is still my biggest challenge. I tried scheduling writing time each day or week but “regular work” keeps getting in the way. So, I took 2 weeks off from work. I have never taken this much time off in 22 years. One week of fun, chillin’ in San Antonio, and one wee writing. Goal 8 hours a day. Success? Well, 60%. Not bad though. I have been following Snowflake but need more structure. It sounds like Snowflake Pro is just the ticket. Yeah, that’s right, just the ticket!
Thanks Adaobi for sharing your thoughts and continued appreciation Randy for the valuable and mostly free information you publish. Please hurry up with the Snowflake software so I can pay you for something! Thanks again.
Donald James Parker says
How ironic. I just wrote a scene into my latest novel where the hero gets a scam email from Africa and wonders how anyone could be scammed on such a ridiculous concept. There must be a sucker born every minute. The author’s story is inspiring. I love to see a rags to paperback success. Kudo’s to Randy for making Snowflakes fall in Africa!
Donald James Parker
Author of Love Waits
Ann Isik says
I know those scams – had quite a few letters in the post!
I took serious action recently and isolated myself in The Alps for a month, with manuscript, Snowflake Method, Fiction 101, 201, a copy of ‘How To Write The Perfect Scene’, all the books recommended in aforementioned documents, a ton of fiction books and the cat.
But well done to Adaobi who must be immensely talented – and to Randy, who we already know,is. (Terrible grammar that last sentence).
Sarah Forgrave says
I’m jumping in this discussion late, but I had to comment. What an amazing story. Thanks for sharing with us, Adaobi and Randy. It sounds like Randy has achieved his goal of total world domination after all.
Leke Oyemi says
It was both saddening and disheartening at first, trying to duck from Randy’s roving tar brush that, quite unimaginatively, seemed poised to paint indiscriminately.
Enter Adaobi’s adobe tale, constructed from such a sun-dried brick-and-mortar material as the larger-than-life antics of a minuscule number embedded in the underbelly of her country’s clueless body politic. They are really ridiculous and the whole thing laughable, save for the nose-bloodying facts of otherwise sane and intelligent people actually falling victim.
But then all fraudsters are only differentials of grey of shady sheep to be found in every clan. And their bleating, like siren song, holds appeal only for kindred souls: ‘Once greedy, always a victim’ is the motto I recommend.
Everyone in cyberspace gets distracted by their tattered flags by the wayside, every now and then. Unread, I just click ‘Report spam’! To peep aside inside any rotten-mail as the scam scum put together, ‘just to see’, is to risk an accident as you cruise along Information Superhighway.
But redemption draweth nigh for Nigeria, hopefully, with ATN’s story. For me, it’s a variation on the timeless theme codified at 1 Samuel 21:9: “And the priest said, The sword of Goliath the Philistine, whom you struck in the valley of Elah; behold, it is wrapped in the cloak behind the ephod. If you desire, take it for yourself; for there is no other here except it. AND DAVID SAID, THERE IS NONE LIKE IT. GIVE IT TO ME.”
Well done, Adoabi, for seizing to wield the sword –poised like the sword of Damocles over Nigeria for so long — so well. Your chronicling in creative writing of this philistinism may well be the end of the road for it, the wind out of the sail for those who would shame the rest of us in the comity of nations.
I’m recommending your book to my reading group. Will write a review shortly.
P.S. Just got Snowflake, the software, to use. Cashed in on one of Randy’s ‘wacky moments’ of 80% discount! You can have your goal of total world domination, Randy–as long as I get mine of a baker’s dozen novels before 40!!