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!
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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?