Monday, June 27, 2011

Interview With Biola Olatunde

Biola Olatunde, author of Blood Contract
Today, I am talking to Biola Olatunde, author of the book Blood Contract. I was thrilled when I met Biola on a social networking site, because she is a writer and a Yoruba writer at that. Because I researched Nigeria and especially the Yoruba culture for my Fahdamin-Ra series, I could tell immediately that she was Yoruba by her name. When we started corresponding back and forth, I found that she is an extremely talented woman with a long list of accomplishments, such as being the producer of a small independent production company, a writer many scripts and a producer for radio and television programs, as well as writing and producing plays, and a published author. She also runs a small concierge service that takes tourists around to interesting places in Nigeria. I don't think that she ever sleeps!

I was fascinated by her book, Blood Contract, so I quickly aquired it and dove in right away. It is about a man named Kenawari, who lives in Port Harcourt, a city in Nigeria, but not at the Izon village where he came from. He has married a white American woman, started a family, and for fifteen years, he thought that he left his old life far behind. However, Ken ends up being sent home to the Niger Delta to investigate a kidnapping at his home village. The story is an unfolding mystery as the reader learns more about the present day case that Kenawari is involved with, as well as uncovering the secrets of Ken's past and why he left the Izon, never intending to return. He meets new people in the tribe as well as people from his past, in a mysterious area that is shadowed with old secrets.

Before I read the book, I was unfamiliar with the Izon tribe and life in the Niger Delta swamps, but Biola tells the story so skillfully that I was soon there with Ken, throroughly absorbed in the plot and characters. I love how she tells an thoughtful story of the turmoil in a man's life while showing us a people who struggle to survive.

Now, let's hear from Biola:

What inspired you to write Blood Contract?
That is an interesting question Chaz, I wanted to correct an impression amongst my people that every one who lived in the Niger Delta was a militant. I had met quite a number of them and found them fiercely devoted to their watery seascape. They are generally hardworking, stoic and taciturn. I had a chance to live amongst a particular tribe of the Niger Delta and learned to respect them. I wanted to present them as the same as every other Nigerian with more reasons to question the rationale of being part of an entity that does not recognize them as equal partners

Your main character, Kenawari, is from one of the 250+ tribes in Nigeria, a different one from your own. How did you become familiar with the Izon tribe of the Niger Delta?
 I worked with one of them as a broadcaster. Being of a curious nature I wanted to know his people and at first he was suspicious but gradually saw I was sincere so he would tell me about his tribe. The Izon makes for the fourth largest tribe in my country and the richest through its resources of oil and gas. It is however the most neglected part of the country until recently.

What message in Blood Contract do you want your readers to grasp?
 Essentially, the message of Blood Contract is a social commentary of humanity’s failure to recognize fundamental rights of everyone, to dream, and work towards having that dream actualized. The human society is the same everywhere. Being a member of a part of the world that has been stereotyped as backward, it was ironic that we also discriminate against ourselves. I thought it was dumb to do that, human beings have a right to be rationale and the demands of the izon and tribes of the Niger Delta was genuine. I also did not want to write a romantic story of the bad guy and the good guy, but wanted to show that the society we live in accommodates all. The good, the bad and the ugly.

The difficulties that Ken goes up against - the poverty, the robber barons, and kidnappings that happen in his village - are those problems present in the Izon tribe today?
 Of course those problems still exist not only in my country and in the Niger Delta but in every part of the world I imagine. We have not found Utopia yet anywhere I reckon. Kidnappings have gone on even in other tribes and armed robbers have become really daring, but not as a result of being Izon but as a consequence of the imbalance in the world generally.

What are you working on now? Could you share an exerpt? Would you like to tell us about it?
 I am working on a novel close to my own tribe, the Yoruba nation. We are a race of ancient myths, religion that has existed for millennia. One of the myths of my race is called ‘abiku’ with its twin ‘emere’. Now while ‘abiku is simply repeated births of the same suspected human being into a family, the emere is assumed not to favour such repetition of incarnation but is viewed as a spirit being who comes to Earth for a particular purpose and executes its mission to the letter dying at the peak of such achievements. The ‘emere’ is dreaded, attractive and assumed to be able to bestow wealth, pain, heartaches depending on its whim. My novel is thus woven round such a suspected spirit being. The twist is though there are reasons to assume such of this particular being, Imole Ife the spirit being is much more than is supposed. I could give you a small excerpt:
So how did it all start? Might be a good question if we all do that you know, check for why we are here on earth, in terra firma, and see if we had a beginning. The classic argument about what came first, the egg or the chicken. We all have a story to tell and I want to tell you about a lot of things. I have wondered if I should just start from the middle of the story but how do I make you understand who I am really? From the mists of confusion and the several bandages that cloud the inner understanding of our journeys into matter?

You have written a lot of stories for radio and television, in  addition to your blog and your novel. What kind of writing do you like best?
I have been trying to identify specifically what I like best! I have written most types, horror, detective, crime thriller, romance and the mystical. I generally love writing what I call ‘faction’. That is a mixture of facts as fiction about situations around me. Blood Contract was based on a true story and my current work is the same. Come to think of it my radio and television stories were based on concepts, myths and supernatural of my people and society. 

I have never visited Nigeria, but I want to go. What are some of the things that visitors like the most about Nigeria?
 Would dearly love to have you as guest, the first myth that will be broken will be that Nigeria is full of scammers. We are 99% hardworking, honest normal human beings. Hospitable, love a good story and have dignity. You will find history, culture and music that is thousands of years old. You will find warm dignified Nigerians proudly in their traditional costumes going about their normal business. You will find all sorts of human nature but basically you will find a resilient nation confident in her ability to always turn bad situations to good. You will find a value system as good as anywhere in the world confronted with the kinks of the human nature just like any part of the world. You will be home too except most faces will be darker than yours I guess. And that is what visitors find surprising when they come, that we are human after all!

Have you traveled? Do you think that it impacts your books?
 Yes I have traveled, not far and wide as I dream and wish. Experiences I have garnered has taught me tolerance, charity of the spirit and acceptance that human beings are part of the garden of creation. We all make tapestries that goes into the loom of creation which makes all of this wonderful creation move, and vibrate. It has given me a balanced outlook and that affects how I write. I think what we get is a measure of what we put in, so I feel if we really try to see a bit of goodness in every situation it will in response to the laws of creation only return in multiples of like nature.

What book are you reading now?
 I am reading two books actually right now. Okapi Promise by paula Boer and We were Seven by Merle Burbaugh. It is crazy, because I had started reading Paula’s book and my computer crashed..twice Bah!! But I am determined to finish reading it but I am also sidetracked by Merle’s book.

 Are there any newer authors that have caught your interest and why?
I hope it is okay to mention you here. I was blown over when I learned a white lady was writing about my race and religion. I was very intrigued. It became something I wanted to read. Then I had a chance to read the first one and I became envious because I wish I could write about her religion as much as she has done about mine. Chaz caught my interest because I am sincerely impressed by the style and it is new to me; a creation story that follows time honoured principle of teaching young persons to be proud of their origins, identify with lofty goals and learn dignity. I always read new authors particularly on my blog as I try to showcase authors there. So I guess I come across a new author every week as I have a guest every week and I try to read their books. I have come across a rich collection of friends that way. I learn from them and my writing skill has been enhanced.
Thank you so much Biola, for your time and for doing such a magnificent interview! Here is a link where readers can buy a copy of Blood Contract:  or

Friday, June 24, 2011

Yes, That's My Husband ~ Heading West

After Buzz and I got married in June, we headed to San Diego at the end of October. I had the romantic notion that it would be wonderful to go across country on a train, rather than fly. The Navy made the travel arrangements, for us to leave from Boston. We would be traveling by train day and night, so we would be sleeping in a sleeping car and everything.

It started out as a nice ride. We sat in wide seats which had huge windows and we were told that our train would connect up to sleeper cars later on. It was late when we connected with the sleeper cars, and we had been up early that day. I was getting motion sickness and I hoped that if I could only lie down on a bed, the train's motion would lull me to sleep.

We went to the right car and found the right berth, except there was a man there, who said that we were mistaken. Buzz hunted down a conductor, who made the man move out of our space. It was tiny! I had visions of a comfortable sleeping car with relatively roomy spaces like in the movie Silver Streak. Our room was nothing like that. I had to get changed and washed up in the teeny sink in the room while Buzz waited out in the hall. (The bathrooms were at the end of the hall, shared by everyone on that sleeping car.) After I was done, I put on my bathrobe and we switched places. When Buzz was done, he pulled down his top bunk and climbed in. I scooted in the berth and pulled down the lower bunk. The compartment was so small that we only had a small place to stand when the beds were pulled down.

The windows did not open. Somehow, I thought that I would feel better if I could have some air blowing on my face. It was not until we had a layover in Chicago and got off the train to walk around that I finally was able to stop feeling horribly nauseous. Buzz stopped and bought a hamburger, but I still felt queasy enough that I did not eat. The food I was eating at the start of our journey was white chocolate covered pretzels, but soon stopped when motion sickness kicked in. You could not pay me to ever eat another white chocolate covered pretzel again! If you have a food that you are trying to give up, I suggest this method - you would never be tempted to eat it anymore!

We finally arrived in San Diego and figured that the trip was a good test for newly married people, or to test how patient a husband could be with a nauseous wife. After we arrived in California, we rented a car. At the time, my New York City Native husband did not drive, so I got to experience the thrill of the superhighways of California. But I will save that story for next time.

I must add that since then, I have ridden Amtrak's DownEaster train to Boston from Portland, Maine. It is a wonderful, stress free way to travel if we want to travel to Beantown and I have never had motion sickness again while riding on it. Of course, I did not eat any white chocolate covered pretzels.

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Yes, That's My Husband ~ Getting Married

To continue my story - I went to my apartment so that I could get ready for my wedding. I was too nervous to eat, which was a rare occurance for me. When I went to take a shower, I found that there was no hot water. (I found out later that the hot water heater had died, and the landlord replaced the unit.) I bathed quickly in cold water, fixed my hair, put on my makeup, and got dressed. I was ready in plenty of time, but I could not pin my corsage on my dress and make it stay in the proper place. Somehow, not being able to do that unravelled me. I fiddled with it until I had to leave or I would have been late, and I hate to be late.

Now I was living in my hometown of Brunswick, Maine, a place where I lived my whole life up to that point. The church was located on a one way street. There was so much on my mind, that I could not figure out at first how to go the right way down that street! It may sound crazy but I was not sure that my family or friends would talk to me after I married Buzz. What if they ostrasized me? What if they ostrasized me and my marriage did not work out? I would be moving to California when Buzz got his orders in October and I would be so far away from everyone.

I finally started driving the right way down the street and the church was located near the end of it. When Buzz and his best man crossed the street (they were Jaywalking) I almost hit them with my car! I was really shook up.

I parked my car and my friend Keith came over. His wife, Yvonne, was going to be my witness but Keith told me that she had car trouble and was stuck in Boston. Oh no! I asked him if he could be my witness and he agreed. He was very calm and managed to pin my corsage on so it stayed in place. I was ready.

The church was beautiful, with soft light coming in from stained glass windows and candles, which made it look romantic. My husband's best man, Keith, the minister, and his wife were there when we got married. I did not think about how I had originally envisioned our wedding because I was so concious of holding Buzz's hand.

We could only afford to stay one night at an inn, and the next day we went to the beach and back to the apartment. We stopped by and got Buzz's belongings from the barracks and it did not take long to move him in. Then, we put off the task that we were dreading. We called our families.

I called my family and they were angry about it, but did not say anything about not talking to me again. I felt sad and weary when I was done with the conversation. "Let's call my family now," Buzz said. He called them, and they were happy for us and asking when they were going to meet me. The only bad thing was that they kept asking why they were not invited to the wedding, a quesiton that they kept asking me for years, though I had never met them when I married Buzz.

We did not have any furniture with the apartment except for a beat up wardrobe. Buzz and I had gone out the weekend before and bought an old hide-a-bed sofa and a card table and chairs at a used furniture place. I was trying to get comfortable on the thin mattress for the hide-a-bed when Buzz turned on the light. "There are misquitoes in here!" he exclaimed. Of course there were - there were no screens on the windows and it was June. The misquitoes and I had gotten along okay the week before, but Buzz, despite his nickname, was not going to put up with them. He ended up closing all of the windows and swatting misquitoes with a fly swatter. Even after we turned off the light and tried to go to sleep, he would hear another one, so he would pop out of bed, turn on the light, and chase it around the apartment. So when I say that I did not get much sleep, it was because of misquitoes and not what you would think.

Eventually, we did get to sleep and I went out and bought screens for the windows the next day. We went on to have new adventures, which I shall blog about next.

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Yes, That's My Husband ~ Before the Wedding

When I met my husband, Buzz, 27 years ago, my family disapproved of me marrying outside my race. It was a huge decision for me, but I decided to go ahead and marry him anyway. We started planning an October wedding - nothing fancy, we planned to get married at our church and have a reception downstairs afterward. I started planning decorations and the logistics of everything when my sisters told me that no one from our side of the family was going to the wedding.

What? I had been to a lot of weddings in my family and never thought that they would not come to mine. This was the first time that Buzz and I had ever been married. I wanted a wedding dress, a church filled with people, a wedding cake, and to be able to dance with my husband at the reception. What was I going to do?

I told Buzz and he did not know what to do, either. It was shocking to think that my family and friends of the family I had known most of  my life would not attend. We decided to talk to the minister about it at our next pre-marital class.

When my department manager found out the news, she told me frankly that if it were she, she would go ahead and get married anyway. She would either have the wedding and see who showed up, or she would elope.

Elope? We could do that except I always wanted to be married in my church. Could we elope and have the minster marry us there? I asked Buzz and he thought it was a great idea. Our last class with the minister was on Friday, June 15 at 7:30 pm. We asked the reverend if he could meet us at the church and marry us there, and he agreed. You see, we had been going to pre-marital classes and he saw how compatable we were. He also knew us from attending church.

On June 15, I worked all day until 4 pm. Only my department manager knew that I was getting married that night. I left work, picked up the flowers, and went home to the new apartment where I was staying.

In my next blog, I will talk about the things that started going wrong, which Buzz and I find hilarious to recount.

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Unprepared For My Kids' Hair

After I gave birth to my daughter, Callista, I was not prepared for motherhood or being the mother of an bi-racial child, but the biggest obstacle was what to do with her hair. I suppose other people would think that I had bigger things to be concerned with, like how to deal with a child who has a different shade of skin than both my husband and myself. However, every day, I had to figure out a way to take care of Callista's hair. At first, it was this short fuzz, but by the time she was nine months old, her hair was long enough and thick enough so that I had to think of how to arrange it.

My daughter inheirited my soft, fine white-person hair and her father's tightly kinked black-person hair, the worst of both. She has soft, tightly kinked hair that is difficult to comb out. I also did not know that I should have sent her to bed with her hair done up and take it out, comb it, and rebraid it in the morning. It took me a while to figure that out, and sometimes it got hopelessly tangled anyway. I used to give her a towel to scream into when her hair was a mess.

I tried cutting it short, and thought that it looked adorable. We picked out little barrettes or bows and put them in her hair. White people did not comment on that, but many black women would stop and lecture me about making my daughter look like a boy, comments that still bother her. Callista is a beautiful girl and always has been, so those mean comments were aimed at me, to put me in my place. I felt out of my element and insecure until I decided that my kids are brown, not black and not white. Who says that they have to wear their hair a certain way?

My son, Toliver, has hair that is a little more wiry than my daughter's. It was easy to cut it short when he was younger, and I learned to do it myself with a pair of clippers. When he got into high school, he started growing out an afro and still has it. It looks great on him. Since he attended a predominantly white school, kids were not used to having someone with an afro, and his hair is soft to touch. Toliver was constantly picking it out because kids would not stop touching it and making 'dents' in his afro. I never observed white kids touching other white kids' hair. Some of the people on my side of the family had a problem with his afro, and asked when he was going to cut his hair.

Once Callista got a little older, she grew her hair into what amounted to an afro but tied a scarf around it close to her head, so it was pulled tight around her face, making a 'ponytail' about four inches across at the crown of her head. Kids would not leave her hair alone, either. They liked to stick their fingers in her ponytail, where her hair was compressed together in a soft, curly mass. She found it distracting when she would be in class and kids would not leave her hair alone.

I took my daughter to get her hair relaxed when we lived in Puerto Rico, and the ladies at the beauty parlor knew what they were doing. She loved having 'slippery' hair, which is what she called it at the time. When we moved to Maine, I took her to a beauty shop where they promised that they knew how to relax her hair. They did not. The beautician burned Callista's hair off of her scalp in several places and she had to go to the doctor to treat her damaged skin. In addition, they were not going to give me my money back because they said that she combed her hair too hard. (!)

My kids now wear their hair in its natural state. Callista has short hair and Toliver has his afro. Now that they are adults, no one bothers them about their hair anymore, but Callista is still sensitive about having short hair and Toliver does not like anyone to touch his afro. I don't blame them. People forget that hair is a personal thing.

Monday, June 6, 2011

No Standing On the Fence

On June 12, it will be 44 years since the laws criminalizing interracial marriage were removed, allowing people of different races to marry. It seems like a long enough time for people to move forward and recognise the 6.1 million Americans who have more than one race. My own brown kids are labeled as black, though they have more in common with their white side, having spent most of their lives in Maine. I don't understand why people feel that they have to pick a race.

When my daughter was born, they listed her race as 'white' on her birth certificate. It was explained to me that they list the same race as the mother. I realized that I don't think of her as any race at all, or my son, either. They like to call themselves brown, which is a good word, much more appealing to me than mulatto or something like that. They have the benefits of both sides of the fence - being part of two races. I read celebrity interviews where the brown person talks about struggling to be two races. Who says that they have to choose? My kids had a few problems, but no big struggles. It has taught them a lot about judging other people by outside appearances and having compassion for anyone who is different.

Biracial is beautiful.

Wednesday, June 1, 2011


I am white, married to a black man for 27 years this month, and I write books with 'brown' kids as the main characters for my kids and other kids like them. I have a bunch of Google Alerts on different topic. A couple of weeks ago, I made a Google Alert for 'interracial.' What I started getting was not what I expected.

Just about everything that came up was for interracial dating and sex. Maybe other people could have forseen that, but being of a clean mind, I thought it would come up with incidents where people of different races cooperated together to accomplish good things. What is wrong with our society, that the interracial relationships that come up are titilating? Are we still judging people by the color of their skin in a smutty way?

First of all, the amount of groups that feature websites or Facebook pages where people of different races can meet is much larger than I thought. There are many who are just for people who date people who are black or white. What happened to wanting to know someone because of their personality and interests? Why would a person's skin color indicate what they are like to date?

I did not date my husband because he was a black man, and I do not have a fetish for black men, though I have met some people who only date someone of a different color. They have looked at me and thought that I shared their narrow view, but there is a difference between dating someone who is black and dating someone just because they are black, for instance.

It was Martin Luther King, Jr. who talked about his four children, saying that he wished that they would live in a world where they would not be judged by the color of their skin, but for the content of their character. I, too am waiting for that day, but by looking at the Internet, it is a long way off.