Hi Stella, thank you for agreeing to this interview. Discuss your newest book? My new release, Wild Whispers is a story about a beautiful widow, Adaora, who lost everyone and everything she loved and cared about in Abuja and retreated to Dagor Village.
In this story, you will meet Adaora Dike, an African woman with a backbone of steel and a heart of gold and Gary Mason, a Londoner who happened to stray to her doorstep in the woods, sees the emotion Adaora wants to keep away and wants to share something deep and special with her.
This is the first book I have written with a heroine who is a widow. The great thing is, Adaora is not broken by tragedy.
Do you recall how your interest in writing originated? In all honesty, my deep desire to write romance novels originated from reading a ton of Mills and Boon romance stories in my teen years. My friends and I bought, read and swap countless books. It was very exciting. At that time, I did not think I would actually write but the joy of travelling with characters all around the world was unforgettable. Back in secondary school, I wrote plays. Although nothing came out of them, it was my first attempt at writing. Awesome.
What are your current projects? Two projects need my attention for sure. There is a story about a divorced woman that came straight at me one morning as I woke up. I have the blurb typed out. When the time is right, I would write her story.
Secondly, I owe my readers Book 2 of Royal Cowries, my historical/suspense/mystery romance novel. A few readers have sent me emails asking for a follow-up story. And I have committed to writing the story this year. Keep an eye out!
What books have most influenced your life most? Mills and Boon romance stories in my teens because there was a promise of a happy-ever-after no matter the conflict and hoops the characters had to jump over.
They influenced me to write the kind of stories I wanted to read – romance stories with African twist. Now I write Interracial/Multicultural romance.
What inspired you to write your first book? Loitering Shadows published in May 2010 was partly my story. When my colleague stuck a notebook and pen in my hand and asked me to write, I asked myself, what am I going to write? So I decided to start with the story I knew – mine. But as I carried on writing, my imagination kicked in and it turned into a half-fiction/half true story. It turned out to be a very therapeutic adventure.
In writing Loitering Shadows, I discovered that a writer did not need a therapist to get rid of past pain or things too naughty to tell anyone else. You just weave the details into your storyline and no one knows the truth except you. Lol! Every novel after Loitering Shadows reflects a bit of me or my husband in the lead characters.
Give us an insight into your main character. What does he/she do that is so special? In Wild Whispers, although Adaora was cast out and rejected by those who should have supported her and taken her in when tragedy struck, she did not allow her unfortunate situation to weigh her down or stop her from doing good deeds. She is one special woman.
Is there a message in your novel that you want readers to grasp? Yes, I want to showcase the plight of many strangers and emotionally vulnerable people in our communities. We need to be more accepting and treat them the way we want to be treated. There are lonely people around us who we probably look at with contempt or with no interest at all.
In Wild Whispers, only a young girl called, Ebele in the entire village paid the emotionally-torn Adaora any attention. The young girl’s infrequent visits brought Adaora the comfort she needed to stay strong. Such a good message.
Which actor/actress would you like to see playing the lead character from your most recent book? My most recent book before Wild Whispers was Red Velvet Rose ~ A Valentine Romance. It would be amazing to have Laz Alonso from Breakout Kings play the sexy-as-sin Moroccan Millionaire Zane Abdul and for Ashley Benson from Pretty Little Liars to play my beautiful blonde heiress, Gabriella Gilcrest.
Why do you write? I write to satisfy my innate passion. My fingers just writes no matter what it is. Whether I’m watching TV or reading a book, I always have a pen and paper by my side. For as long as I can remember, I have always scribbled on notepads.
Writing is a habit I engaged in when I was in school as well because it helped me understand my subjects better. When I worked as a food safety professional, I got nominated to be project teams’ secretary all the time even when I did not fancy sitting down to take notes.
One day, I told a colleague at work that I would like to get published. I just blurted my thoughts aloud. She said, ‘What’s stopping you?” and thrust a reporter’s notebook in my hand and told me to write as I commuted. And I did.
What made you decide to sit down and actually start something? As a teen, I read countless Mills and Boon romance novels. One day, I thought to myself, how lovely it would be to have romance novels featuring a blend of African characters, clothes, food and culture along with western characters and culture. That way, readers like me have the best of both worlds.
So my very first book was an interracial romance story titled: Loitering Shadows.
My motivation for writing IR is because I know that love breaks down every barrier across race and culture.
Do you write full-time or part-time? Until two years ago, I wrote part time but I now write full time. People might not know how demanding and exhausting writing is, but with a passion for writing and romance as deep as mine, there is nothing more fulfilling and rewarding.
What is the hardest thing about writing your latest book? There was so much tender romance growing between Adaora and Gary and I want readers to experience the same emotions as they read Wild Whispers. So trying to cram a lot into a short story was hard.
What is the easiest thing about writing? Having a laptop and a quiet space makes writing an easy task for me. The plot of the story is usually easy for me to write. For most of my books, through God’s grace, it just flows.
What book are you reading now? I just finished reading Black Unleashed by Penelope Marshall. It was a great read. And I have a review request to read The Wedding Day by Sharon Kleve. That is the next book on my TBR list.
What is one random thing about you? I drink bottles of water throughout the night, lying down and first thing in the morning.
What is your preferred medium of writing? Pen and paper or strictly tablet and computer? In 2010, I used pen and paper. In the past few years, I have used my smartphone, tablet or laptop. Life is so much easier this way.
What does your writing process look like? Once I get a nod to write which is usually in the form of a storyline or blurb waking me up from my beauty sleep, I just get on typing. Sometimes, I scribble down key events I want to feature in a few chapters to achieve a good flow.
After writing, I keep the draft aside. After a couple of days or weeks, I rewrite the story, edit and re-edit. Then I send it to my editor who uses a fine-toothed comb to go through the book. We do a bit of back and forth trips to revise and accept revisions. When I’m happy, I send the PDF copy to Createspace to produce a proof copy prior to publishing.
Do you have any strange writing habits (like standing on your head or writing in the shower)? Lol! I have had inspiration on fleshing out storylines or adding dialogue here and there when I’m in the shower or commuting in the bus. When I’m traveling, I record every detail on my smartphone. And if I’m in the shower, I wait till I’m out to type it out.
How important are names to you in your books? Very important. The names for the lead characters must ring true in my ears and match the characters personalities.
For example, in the first draft for Wild Whispers, the hero’s name was Ryan Bennett. At that point, I did not give the choice of his name a thought, I just needed to get the story down. After a few revisions, I asked my teenagers to come up with a more ‘manly’ name to fit my hero’s personality. And bang, my son came up with Gary and my daughter came up with his last name, Mason. Honestly, Gary Mason was the perfect name for a man with a great heart who would not allow prejudice affect his decisions.
Did you make any marketing mistakes or is there anything you would do in future? Oh yes I have made marketing mistakes. It is a learning curve. When I first started writing, I did not promote or engage with readers in any way because I worked full time and I thought writing was the most important thing. How wrong I was.
Through social media, I have learned that readers love to interact directly with authors and not through an agent or PA. I make out time to thank potential and new readers, chat about my book characters, storyline and get to know their own story in many cases. And I would continue to involve readers in picking character names, cities and give them credit by including them in the ‘Sincere Gratitude’ page of my books.
What is your favourite book and why? I thoroughly enjoyed Chicki Brown’s book – Don’t Stop Till You Get Enough (Stafford Brothers Book 3) and more recently, Black Unleashed by Penelope Marshall.
Do you have any advice for other writers? Yes. Write from your heart. Get a good editor (could be an author you love their writing) to get rid of the little foxes that spoil the vine. Interact with readers and promote your books on social media. There are millions of authors in the market, if you only write, no one is going to know your book exists.
What do you like to do when you are not writing? Play board games with my husband and children, enjoy cuddles and have a sweet time with my husband, watch TV, go swimming (in the summer), go to the cinema and read romance novels.
From where do you gain your inspiration? Mainly from God because storylines and character dialogue wake me up from my sleep. I also write about prevalent issues affecting relationships such as infidelity, age difference, parental influence, rape etc. I look around and I get inspired.
Forbidden Dance was written after I looked out of my bedroom window one day and I saw a woman in bathrobe drive off in a puff of gravel with a man trying to run after her. In my head, a story was borne.
What would you say are the main advantages of self-publishing against being published or the other way around? I love self-publishing because of the freedom to write, design covers and publish based on a timeline that works around my family life.
How do you market your books? Mainly on Facebook pages, on my blog (Flirty & Feisty Romance Blog) blog tour, Twitter, Pinterest and more recently, Instagram.
Why did you choose this route? Promoting my books on social media suits my family life, my health condition and it is free. It works for me.
Would you or do you use a PR agency? I use Ocean 2 Ocean Books Promotion for Facebook release parties because they are lovely, effective and affordable. Johnna N. Seibert PA is great at posting new releases on several Facebook pages for free. She is amazing
Do you have any advice for other authors on how to market their books? Spend time on Facebook engaging with readers (potential or exiting) and for some of your books, get your book covers professionally designed.
Readers love attractive book covers. Most of my book covers and promo materials were designed by the very creative and wonderful, Maria Lazarou of Obsessed by Books. She is affordable, delivers on time and creates extra special promo materials as a bonus. I love Maria to bits.
What part of your writing time do you devote to marketing your book? A large chunk, several days a week. I split my time between writing and promoting each book by keeping readers updated and doing giveaways.
What do you do to get book reviews? In chatting with people on Facebook, once they leave comments that they have read or bought my book, I encourage them to leave a review. Otherwise, readers often don’t. Some readers tell me they would read anything I write because they love my stories, yet, they might not leave reviews.
Sometimes, readers worry about what to write because they are not writers. They worry that their reviews would be judged as well.
How successful has your quest for reviews been so far? The most reviews I have on one book is seven, six or lower. Yet, my books sell at a rate I’m super delighted with considering I’m a relatively unknown indie author. It means I have loyal fans and new readers pick up my books as well.
When I struggled to write my Valentine Romance story in January, I posted the fact I was suffering from writer’s block on Facebook. The spontaneous responses I got from readers was overwhelming. They posted possible names of character, cities my heroine could come from, how my characters would meet and told me they would read anything I wrote. I was so shocked and delighted. One reader posted a photo of my heroine that ignited my writing the story. And I eventually released Red Velvet Rose in less than a month!
Now, I don’t agonize about not getting hundreds of reviews.
Do you have a strategy for finding reviewers? When I first started writing, I emailed book bloggers for review request, in almost all cases, they didn’t reply. There was one blogger who replied, read one of my early books (when I did not have an editor) and gave me the best advice ever. She told me to get an editor. But I had no money. God brought one brilliant US author my way who offered to edit my books for free. I have learnt so much from her.
That was the turning point. Thank God, the way for Flirty & Feisty Romance Novels now is UP. I don’t ask reviewers for reviews anymore because they seem to be inundated with review requests.
When I do Author Takeovers Events on Facebook, I give away my books and I do ask winners to leave a review.
Now, authors ask me to review their books and I feel honoured. I always make sure I reply every review request.
What are your thoughts on good/bad reviews? Good reviews are a delight of course because it gives me a great idea on what the reader liked and it is an affirmation my work is admired.
Bad reviews are great because it helps me grow. A reader who takes time out to share what they did not enjoy about my book is just as appreciated as a reviewer who wrote a glowing review. The only one I find unacceptable are reviews that either include spoilers or are abusive.
What’s your views on social media for marketing? My swift reply is, what would we do without social media? It provides a wide reach across the world for our books. Flirty & Feisty Romance Novels are sold in the US, Canada, across Europe, India and in Australia. This would not have been possible otherwise. I have never even been to most of these countries.
Which social network worked best for you? Facebook and Twitter for sure.
Any tips on what to do and what not to do?
Do: Actively engage and interact with readers on any platform that works for you.
Know your audience and write to keep your readers asking for more.
Find someone to help edit your story to get rid of the basic errors.
Keep writing. The more you write, the better you get.
Don’t: Don’t give up even when you receive bad reviews, you can only get better if you keep at it and listen to constructive criticism.
Did you do a press release, Goodreads book launch or anything else to promote your work and did it work?
It varies. I did a Facebook release party for Forbidden Dance organized by Ocean 2 Ocean Book Promotions, and it was a success. I did not do anything for Tempting Desire release and it was a huge success, thank God. I have never done a Goodreads book launch.
For Wild Whispers, I’m doing a blog tour.
Which famous person, living or dead would you like to meet and why? Actor Jim Caviezel tops my list. He blew me away with his extraordinary acting ability, swagger and personality in the movie series, Person of Interest. I would love to meet him.
What advice would you give to aspiring writers? Keep on writing. Don’t let anyone tell you, you are not good enough. Find an author whose work you enjoy to read your work if you can’t afford an editor. Self-publish and promote your work on social media. There’s room in the world for you.
How can readers discover more about you and your work? All Flirty & Feisty Romance Novels are available on Amazon and Smashwords. I have excerpts, snippets and teasers on my blog: Flirty & Feisty Romance Blog, Website: Flirty & Feisty Romance Novels and my books are on Goodreads.
Thank you, Courtney for this opportunity. It was fun to provide the answers to your questions.