Today’s Featured Author – John Ukah

Please welcome author John Ukah to my blog. His book, Murder at Midnight, was released in November.

Interview

Tell us a bit about yourself.

My name is John Ukah. I am a graduate of Business Administration from the University of Benin, Benin City. I am a banker and an Associate of the Institute of Capital Market Registrars (ACMR).

Where were you born and where do you call home?

I was born in Delta State of Nigeria. But I have always considered Benin City in Edo State home because that’s where I grew up. That’s where my parents live.

What or who inspired you to start writing?

I have always kept a personal journal. Writing is exhilarating and therapeutic. The books I grew up reading, influenced my writing.

When did you first consider yourself a writer?

When people asked me to write stories or essays for them and were willing to pay for it.

How much of yourself, your personality or your experiences, is in your books?

My writing is usually inspired by conversations with others and personal experiences. I am also blessed with a fertile imagination, which gives wings to such experiences or conversations.

Have you started your next project? If so, can you share a little bit about your next book?

It is a detective thriller that affirms the point of duty on young men and women to make the right choices with their eyes open. It contains love, pitiful criminalities, investigations, assumptions and deceits.

Do you write full-time? If so, what is your work day like? If not, what do you do other than write and how do you find time to write?

I work in a bank. It is challenging finding time to write with a banking job. However, we do find a way though to do the things we love.

What is the best and worst advice you ever received? (regarding writing or publishing)

Best advice is that writing is an evolving process. We get better at what we do constantly. Worst advice is that a writer has to sit and wait for inspiration. Writing is work and a commitment to get the task done.

What is the best thing about being a writer? The worst?

The best thing is the fun in doing what you love. Living the life you dream about. The worst or hardest thing is that you don’t get to spend as much time with friends and family as desired. You have to make time for your writing.

What fuels you as an author to continue to write?

Writing is cathartic and some stories demand to be told.

 

Do you outline your books or just start writing?

An outline helps in developing the plot. I prepare broad outlines and chapter plans. I write a few chapters at a time and not necessarily in a sequential order.

Book Blurb

murder-at-midnightAlex Simpson, an ex-police officer, decides after a bout of typhoid fever to take a break in a serene and therapeutic environment. The last thing he expects is to be called upon to solve a murder at the Kinging Guest Lodge. But that is what happens, when the delectable and vivacious Maria Marshall is found dead in her bedroom at midnight.

The gallery of characters living at the guest-house and thrown into the mix, does not make his task of solving this chilling and brutal murder any easier …

 

About the Author

john-ukalaJohn Ukah is a seasoned banker and Associate of the Institute of Capital Market Registrars (ACMR). He is a graduate of Business Administration from the University of Benin, where he was listed as University Scholar. He also holds a Masters Degree in Business Administration (MBA).

You can purchase Murder at Midnight from Amazon, Amazon UK (and the other Amazon affiliates by searching his name), Barnes & Noble, Smashwords, the Kobo Store, Apple, and Okadabooks.

 

Pen Names: when you might want to consider one

Last week, I wrote about fantasy character names. Sometimes fantasy authors come up with some hard to pronounce names which can really turn off readers. You want the character name to be memorable. Even more so, you want your name to be memorable. You want readers to be able to recommend your books to others.

I host authors every Friday, and I have seen some pretty hard to pronounce names and ones that I imagine are impossible to remember or spell correctly. How do you expect readers to recommend you? How are readers going to be able to search for your books on Amazon when they can’t figure out how to spell – much less pronounce – your name?

Image result for Pen nameThis is where a pseudonym or pen name comes into play. A pen name allows authors to select a catchy, memorable name. It allows them to switch genders or even nationalities, which depending upon the circumstances could mean more book sales.

Reasons for using a pen name

1.) Your real name may also belong to someone already famous or to another author.

2.) Your name may be hard to pronounce, remember, or spell.

3.) You may be known for writing one genre and want to write another. Or perhaps you write non-fiction books and now want to write romance novels.

4.) You pick a pen name to mask your gender. If you are a man writing romance novels, you might want to choose a feminine pen name. Some genres are more dominated by men so using a masculine name or initials might improve your chances of succeeding. (Examples: J.K. Rowlings, J.D. Robb)

5.) You want to hide your moonlighting. Perhaps you don’t want your boss to know you are an author, so he doesn’t begin to think you aren’t working hard at your job.

6.) You want to remain anonymous. Some people want a private life. They don’t want fans tracking them down, or perhaps they don’t want people they know to find out they write erotica or romance novels.

Other Authors with Pen Names

Many famous authors write under a pen name. Probably the most well known is Mark Twain (real name Samuel Clemens. Here are a few more…

  • George Orwell(real name Eric Arthur Blair)
  • Stan Lee (real name Stanley Martin Lieber)
  • George Eliot(real name Mary Ann Evans)
  • Lewis Carroll(real name Charles Lutwidge Dodgson)
  • Seuss (real name Theodor Seuss Geisel)
  • Anne Rice (real name Howard Allen Frances O’Brien)
  • Nora Roberts (real name Eleanor Marie Robertson) – has also written under J.D. Robb, Jill March, and Sarah Hardesty

Margaret Astrid Lindholm Ogden, a fantasy author, writes under two pen names: Megan Lindholm for her earlier, contemporary fantasy, and Robin Hobb for her epic, traditional fantasy books.

Dean Koontz has written under several pen names in the beginning of his career, including David Axton, Leigh Nichols, and Brain Coffey.

Picking a pen name

There are tons of ways to pick a name. You can look through a baby naming book. You can shorten your name. (Amelia to Mia) Maybe you like your middle name or a friend’s first name. Try looking at family names for last names.

Make sure the name you pick out is easy to remember and something you can answer to just a readily as your own name.

After you come up with a list of possible names, check out to make sure there isn’t already an author by that name by using Amazon. Use Google to search the name and see what links come up. Another place to look up the name is on Facebook. You can then figure out if you have a unique name or one that quite a few other people have.

Now some authors keep their pen names a secret while others proudly claim what other names they write under. And that is totally up to you. There is no shame in using a pen name. In fact, it might just help your book sales.

 

My daughter’s quest to be “rare”

shopkin

Rare Shopkin Toy

As Lexie collects Shopkins or other collectible toys, she is excited to find a rare or ultra-rare one. And that desire to have something that very few others possess has also spilled over to herself. She is constantly trying to find out what make her different. She wants to know what makes her unique or rare.

“Is having blue eyes common?”

“Is having your organs on the opposite sides rare?”

“Is your heart beating fast unusual?”

With brown being the dominant eye color, blue eyes are not as common. And Lexie’s eyes are beautiful, and as she often tells me, bluer than my own.

Lexie does have Situs Inversus Totalis, which means her organs are flipped as a mirror image (left to right) of the average person. Her heart, stomach and spleen are on the right side of her body instead of the left. Situs inversus is rare. You have a .01% chance of having this. But Lexie is not the ONLY one to have it. Singer Enrique Iglesias, actress Catherine O’Hara, singer Donny Osmond and basketball player Randy Foye are a few of the more notable people with Situs Inversus.

And of course your heart beating fast is very common. It can occur when you are scared, or after you have been exercising. But Lexie sometimes insists hers beats fast when she is just sitting still. (Maybe that is unique?)

originalNow I am sure many kids want to feel special. They want to know they are loved. They want to know that they are good at soccer or science or drawing. We all want to be good at something. And some people excel at shining while others would much rather blend into the background.

Jase is the one who wants to blend in. He doesn’t want to call attention to himself. But eight-year-old Lexie is the opposite. She wants to be noticed. She wants to be special. And more and more, it seems she wants to find out what makes her rare.

As her parents, my husband and I struggle with her constant questions about what makes her special. We have tried explaining that everyone has something they are good at or something that they might do better than others. However, that doesn’t mean they are better or more special. In other words, we are all special in our own way.

We don’t think Lexie does this because she doesn’t feel loved or know that she is good at drawing. Maybe she is like every other kid striving to be “better” than her brother or classmate. Maybe she just wants to know that she is not like everyone else, that she possess something that makes her different than others. Something that makes her special. We try to be factual in our answers. We don’t want to diminish what is different about her or what she does well such as drawing but not everything that happens makes you different or unique.

Hopefully as she grows older, she will grow out of this phase of needing to find what makes her unique. Maybe one day she will realize that just being Lexie is special enough.

Today’s Featured Author – Chioma Nnani

Please welcome to my blog author Chioma Nnani. Her book Forever There for You came out in November.

Interview

Where were you born and where do you call home?

I was born in Port-Harcourt (in Nigeria), went to school in Nigeria and the United Kingdom, and Abuja (the Federal Capital Territory of Nigeria) is where I call home.

What or who inspired you to start writing?

Writing is something I’ve done from childhood; it wasn’t like I was trying to try out a career path for the future.

How much of yourself, your personality or your experiences, is in your books?

To be honest, a fair bit. The protagonist in “Forever There For You” attends college in the city of Oxford and I attended college in the city of Oxford. She worked herself to the point where she got an ulcer, I did the same – although the ulcer showed up much later in my case. She finds that the British weather is not a friend of any Black girl’s hair; that was a traumatic lesson I had to learn … my hair was literally falling off. I can’t even laugh about it now; it was that bad! There are a few bits and bobs … “Forever There For You” isn’t about me, but some of the characters lived through what were my experiences in real life. One of the really weird things, though – in the book, the college accommodation where Nadine lives when she’s in Oxford is called “McMillan Student Village”. After the book was released, I found out that there is a real “McMillan Student Village” but it’s in London! A bus that I was on, broke down and it happened to stop beside the “McMillan Student Village” in London. It was very surreal!

Have you started your next project? If so, can you share a little bit about your next book?

Yes, I have started my next projects. As an author, there’s a collection of short stories to be released very soon. I read something in one of Faye Kellerman’s novels a long time ago, in which a character said, “Everybody is either running away from, or towards something.” But it dawned on me that you run till you get home, because home is that person, place or thing where you can be naked and unashamed. So, this collection of short stories is about finding home, being home and … just what home means to a lot of people despite our external differences.

Do you write full-time? If so, what is your work day like? If not, what do you do other than write and how do you find time to write?

(laughing) I almost wish I could afford to. But I run The Fearless Storyteller House Emporium Ltd; it currently consists of an “Authors Services” department, an “Office Angels” department, a “Learning & Teaching” unit, a “Services to Media” wing, and a “Mentoring Club”. There is one other component to the Emporium that I don’t think I should talk about publicly right now, because it’s still being worked on … but I also run a blogazine – Memo From a Fearless Storyteller – and present a radio show – The Fearless Storyteller PX Show – with a London-based radio station.

My work day tends to be … semi-organized chaos. Generally speaking, I’m up by 6am, meditate a bit, check my emails and social media, have a shower during which I go through some part of my day in my head. I have breakfast either at my desk, or on the go if I have to be out for a meeting. What I actually do during the day will depend on what needs to get done. I may liaise with a school to run a training program for them, a prospective client who needs more information on a service or product, an affiliate marketer who wants to sell our products or service, a media outlet trying to get an interview, an author whose marketing plan needs tweaking, my PR people to discuss a concern or a plan of action or an advantage we have, an editor or graphic designer who needs me to sign off on their work, a supplier to pay, a guest blogger whose content I need to approve, a mentee I need to get back to, a blog that I need to send content to (because I guest-blog as well), or my account manager to understand why I don’t like what I’m seeing on my bank balance. I might also have an event scheduled, so I would need to speak to my stylist or skin person or hair person … or all three (laughing). I actually have to create time for writing and that’s important to me because that’s actually at the core of who I am. I try to put my phone on silent from 9pm, which is when I start trying to wind down for the day. I will usually eat lunch and perhaps dinner at my desk, or on the go.

Having said that, there are days I just shut down because I need a break.

Please tell us about your current release.

“Forever There For You” is a cocktail of love, friendship, sisterhood, religion, domestic violence and cultural clashes. There’s quite a bit going on … it’s coming-of-age, chick lit, women’s fiction, Afro-centric stuff and sorta religious fiction going on. It’s also set in a number of places – Nigeria, London, Oxford, Paris and Bristol.

What kind of research did you do for this book?

There’s a case that shocked England when it happened, that I made reference to – a woman named Kiranjit Ahluwalia was brought from Punjab to England, via an arranged marriage to a man who turned out to be really violent. One day, when he was asleep, she poured gasoline or something on his feet and burned him. He died. Her case changed British legal history because at first, the judge ruled that her defense of self-defense wasn’t valid because she wasn’t in immediate danger. However, for some weird reason, the catalog and intensity of abuse Kiranjit had suffered, weren’t heard by the judge or jury – so, she went to prison. This organization, Southall Black Sisters, heard about her and felt she had been unjustly treated, that there had been a miscarriage of justice. So, they got involved and helped her tell the full story … they got a lot of publicity and celebrity support, and the case went back to court. The charge of murder was downgraded to manslaughter and because she had already served time, they let her go. She did a book, then there’s a film on it called ‘Provoked’ with Aishwarya Rai-Buchnan playing Kiranjit. That case literally changed the meaning of ‘provocation’ in a legal context in British law … when I studied it in my first year (Criminal Law was a compulsory module in first year), I had no idea that years later, I’d be writing a book and recalling that. It does pay to listen in class (laughing)!

Did you base any of your characters on real people?

Yes. The best friend of the protagonist, Nadine is called Stella and she’s based on two people I know. So, I got their best and worst traits and exaggerated them and Stella came forth (laughing). The abusive character, Tony is based on my brother – abusive, violent and in many ways, a coward.

Which of your characters is your favorite? Do you dislike any of them?

Oh, wow! I don’t have a favorite character. I do have different feelings about some of them … the protagonist is “Forever There For You” is completely different from her friend, Stella who is cheeky and mischievous, but fiercely loyal. I think we need different kinds of people across the spectrum for life to be as interesting and colorful as possible. Some characters, I don’t dislike, but I dislike some of the things they do – like Stephen, because he’s friend-zoned himself with Nadine. He loves her, but is too terrified of saying anything till it’s kinda late …

Can you tell us a little about the black moment in your book?

There are quite a few of those … there’s a bit about a plane crash in the book, but it’s not fiction. It happened in December 2005, in the city where I was born and it was really bad. There were only two survivors. About 61 of the passengers were schoolchildren who were coming home for the Christmas holidays from their boarding school in Abuja. A plane crash is never nice, but these were kids. And one of the really horrible things about it was that the plane actually got to the airport and parents were waiting – because obviously there was a schedule, they knew when their kids were due to arrive … and the plane literally burst into flames on the runway, in front of parents! It’s probably one of the blackest Christmases that the city of Port-Harcourt has ever known; it felt like everyone was directly affected, or knew someone who was. I knew someone who lost her sister, I know someone else who lost her dad, and one of my mum’s former colleagues at work was on that plane. There was this one woman who lost all three of her kids … you do tend to send all your kids to the same school, if you can. And you book them on the same flight or bus going or coming … all her kids were on this flight and she was waiting at the airport to receive them. I think one of the worst parts is that till today, over a decade later, nobody knows what actually happened that day. The investigation was a shoddy disgrace and left everyone with more angst than answers.

Now, in the book, it’s the aftermath of the plane crash that pushes the protagonist, Nadine in a certain direction that kinda determines the rest of her life …

What was the most difficult thing/scene to write in this story?

The abuse. It was mentally difficult. I had to go to places literally and metaphorically, that I really didn’t want to go. But I put in the work, because it had to be done. And having the kind of result that it’s birthed – not even about the awards or recognition or career trajectory – but the impact it’s had on people … a woman contacted me after reading it and was like, “I just read your book and I’m going to file for divorce right now”. It turned out she had been living in limbo for 17 years, her husband was a violent man who abused her terribly, they were separated but she hadn’t had the nerve to file for divorce because she was afraid of judgment from the church (which is something that the protagonist in “Forever There For You”, Nadine had to deal with).

If you could be one of the characters from any of your books, who would it be and why?

This is actually from a book that we’re scheduling for release in autumn, this year. The name of the character is Claire and I’m not even sure how I’m going to get away with calling her the protagonist, because she’s something else! (laughing)

If you could jump in to any book, and live in that world, which would it be?

Hmm, I think it would be the futuristic New York, in which J. D. Robb sets majority of her “In Death” series.

Do you have an all time favorite book?

No, but the “In Death” series by J. D. Robb is amazing; Cecelia Ahern’s “P. S. I Love You” made me bawl from maybe page 30 till the end, Martina Cole is in a league of her own, and a part of me sees Jeffrey Archer’s writing and is like, “I want to be like that when I grow up. Without the going to prison part, of course!” (laughing)

What book are you reading right now?

“Survival” and “Sun Sets At Vanity Fair” by two new authors, being published by my company, this quarter (January – March 2017).

If you could meet two authors, who would you pick and why?

Lynda La Plante, because of what she’s been able to do with her work in terms of creating multiple streams of income and a platform; it’s almost like a franchise. Then, there’s Barbara Taylor Bradford, just because her book “A Woman of Substance” is everything!

Book Blurb

foreverWhen NADINE is confronted with the reality of her failing marriage, her first instinct is to work it out. She has had it drummed into her that marriage is ‘for better, for worse’. Walking out is just not an option – her faith would condemn her and her culture would make her a pariah.

The combination of Nadine’s background, education, social standing, friendships, faith, experiences and past relationships is meant to equip her to become a success. Failure is alien to her and love means forgiving at all cost.

As she tries to survive and make the most of the curves that life has thrown her, she discovers that ’success’ is a subjective term, and ‘happily ever after’ is something that you have to discover and define for yourself …

About the Author

chiomaChioma Nnani is the author of FOREVER THERE FOR YOU. She is an award-winning storyteller, as well as a two-time UK BEFFTA (Black Entertainment Film Fashion Television and Arts) Award nominee, in the ‘Best Author’ category. A talented ghost-writer who is known for “being able to get into your head and under your skin, before writing down exactly how you’re feeling”, Chioma is also a 2016 DIVAS OF COLOUR finalist (in the category of “Diva Author”), a 2016 CREATIVE AFRICAN Awards finalist (in the category of “Best Fiction Writer”), and has been named “One of 100 Most Influential Creatives” by C.Hub Magazine. She holds a Law (LLB) from the University of Kent and a Postgraduate Certificate in Food Law (De Montfort University, Leicester).

She is the founder of THE FEARLESS STORYTELLER HOUSE EMPORIUM LTD (a premium storytelling outfit based in the Federal Capital Territory of Nigeria, where she lives), typically contributes to lifestyle and literary publications, and runs the “Memo From A Fearless Storyteller” blogazine at www.fearlessstoryteller.com for which she won the 2016 BEFFTA (Black Entertainment Film Fashion Television and Arts) Award for “Blog of the Year”.

You can purchase Forever There For You on Amazon, Amazon UK (and all other Amazon locations – simply search Chioma Nnani). It is also available on Smashwords, the Kobo Store, The Apple Store, Barnes & Noble and Okadabooks.

Naming Fantasy Characters

Naming characters can be hard. Naming characters in a fantasy or sci-fi novel can be even harder.

Last week, I spent time picking out the names for the two antagonists in my latest story. (I am almost halfway through writing my first draft but haven’t needed to know their actual names until now.)

alexandria-namesMy typical way to pick a name is to peruse a baby naming book. (For general tips in naming characters, check out my original post.) The baby book I have (picked up at a used-book store) has a lot of unusual names. It worked for one antagonist’s name, but the other name was still elusive. Then I tried making up my own name.

There are several ways to do this. You can take a common word and just play around with it by changing letters until you create something you like. (This example was found on another website.)

Radio -> Tadio -> Tadia -> Tazia -> Yazia

I actually came up with the name of the dragon in my latest story when I took the kids out to lunch at McDonald’s. I was trying to think of names when I saw the Red Box outside. That became Reddex.

Or you can take a name and work on changing it around. Add extra letters, double letters, change vowels…the options are endless in making a name seem different or foreign. (Again, an example from another website.)

Galen can become Ghalen, Galeen, Galenn, Gaelen, Galan, Galeen, Gallen, Galyn and even Dagallen or D’Gallen.

For my second antagonist, I added two extra letters (Sa) before a name I found in the baby book which did create a unique name fitting a sorceress.

Here are some tip for selecting character names.

Tips

  • Avoid having too many names start with the same letter. (Tom, Todd and Tim)
  • Ditto to names that rhyme or sound similar. (Drake and Jake)
  • Make sure you say the name out loud. Anything unpronounceable or with a lot of syllables is not good.
  • If you are making up a new name, do a Google search to make sure it is not the name of a company or has some unforeseen associations or connotations.
  • Actually, run all character names through Google to make sure they do not belong to someone famous – or perhaps another well-known literary character.

However, when making up names, it is easy to get carried away and create names that no one can pronounce – sometimes even the author. If your reader stops and struggles with it every time they see it, then consider other possibilities such as changing the name, including a pronunciation guide or giving the character a nickname.

Now with Fantasy names, each author and reader have their own preferences. For some readers it takes them out of the story if the characters don’t have truly foreign names derived from the cultures of the worlds you built. Some fantasy authors, therefore, reserve the baby books for “Earth” names but develop names for different worlds and more importantly different species. (Examples from my book above show a few made up names and ones found in the baby book. I took more liberties with the last names.)

And while I agree with this to a point (I can’t imagine a dwarf named Sean), I don’t see why you can’t use some more obscure names in the baby book as names on a different planet because after all you created it.

elemental-namesI work more on the belief that I want the characters to be memorable. I do not care if you can tell where a person is born just by their name. I pick names I like and work for that character. Maybe this makes me boring or lazy as an author, but I don’t think the names of my characters are going to jar the reader out of the story.

I stuck with mostly short names for my trilogy The Elemental. (See image) No hyphenated names. Nothing with lots of syllables or consonants. No apostrophes (an overused affection of fantasy writers). Just simple, short names that were easy for readers to remember. (And there were a lot of names…this list is just a sampling.)

And for me as a reader, this would be important because I would rather enjoy the story rather than try to figure out who is who and where they come from based on the exotic spelling of their name that I have yet to figure out how to pronounce.