Amara Nicole Okolo is the author of Black Sparkle Romance. We asked her to tell us a little more about herself and what it means to her to be one of our first Ankara Press authors.
What first inspired you to become a writer?
My drawings. I remember vividly when I turned ten, I was drawing a picture of an African woman cooking on an open fire, her two daughters helping out by preparing the ingredients, fetching water, and her husband and son cutting up firewood for the hearth. I noticed how vivid the art looked, like it had a story to tell, and I thought, why don't I just write a story alongside this? It seemed easy enough because I already had the drawing to guide me, so I went on and on until it became an illustrated children's book called The Fate of Ngozi. My mother still has it stashed somewhere, and to this day, I still draw out my characters before I begin writing a book.
What books did you read growing up?
A lot. My parents noticed my love for books from a tender age; I got my first library card at age six, but I didn't restrict myself to the children's section...I remember sneaking to the teenage section most times and reading the R.L Stine Goosebumps series there! Due to this, I had a wide range of favorites: Enid Blyton's Famous Five series, Jane Austen's Pride and Prejudice, Alice Walker's The Color Purple, Agatha Christie's The Mysterious Affair at Styles, Charlotte Bronte's Jane Eyre, Chinua Achebe's Girls At War, Buchi Emecheta's Joys of Motherhood, Flora Nwapa's Efuru. I also read quite a lot of the Pacesetters series while growing up.
Who is your ideal reader?
I hope to have enthusiastic readers of both sexes, but then I think my ideal reader would specifically be the young, independent African woman who has dreams of either finishing up her education, starting up her own business or travelling the world in search of her true self. Or she could be a career woman with set goals and strong ambitions, a budding entrepreneur, or simply an artsy girl who loves hanging out in bookstores, arthouses, cafes and coffee shops, finding life in her little gathering and loving herself for who she truly is.
What was the most difficult thing about producing your novel, ‘Black Sparkle Romance’?
The editing! I remember most days when I got back the manuscript from my editor I would be shocked to see just how many corrections I had to do. The first three editings were huge challenges as I had to literally rewrite the entire story. Another thing was finding a title for the novel as I did not want just another random, clichéd title name. The process was indeed a challenge but at the end I am really happy that everything turned out awesome and exactly as I envisioned it to be, so I guess that's a win!
Do you think that Black Sparkle Romance challenges romance stereotypes? If so, then how?
Oh yes it does. In the novel, my aim was to make the story about Mira. She is a young, independent woman with strong ambitions, and though she was not searching for love, love does find her. I wanted the reader to connect to her, to see themselves in her, to know that you can be the woman you want to be, a woman with goals and aspirations, and still find love. I have friends who have given up their dreams because they wanted to settle down; believe me, I am not against this, but I think that as a woman you can find a balance. You can aspire to become a pilot, and still want to meet the man of your dreams. You may want to become a high profile CEO, and should not have to give up that dream because you say, "I do." I made the story about Mira, about what she felt, the process of choosing to be with Dominic even in the moment of adversity and uncertainty. It does not portray Dominic as an alpha male who swoops down to save her as a damsel in distress, instead it shows what actually plays out in real life...the acceptance of working alongside a woman who believes in herself, who knows what she wants and goes for it, a woman who is confident and not intimidated. If that is not sexy to a mature, modern-day man out there, then I do not know what else is.
Do you believe that romance novels can be empowering?
I believe romance novels can be more than empowering...they can actually change a woman's life for the better. In Africa, there is this sad notion that women should not be viewed as sexual beings, that we are just baby-makers and household labour machines. This notion has disconnected the real essence of the African woman, and that is why our young girls and ladies today just straight up let themselves go once they get married and have children. They forget that they have feelings, that they have the right to love and be loved, to enjoy a wonderful sexual life just as their male counterparts. This shouldn't be the case. Before we become mothers we were girls, ladies, women. Women with dreams, goals, things we want out of life. Women with expectations of loving and being loved. I believe that we shouldn't give up who we are no matter the path we choose in life, and in it we should stay true to finding that fufillment, the essence of being an African woman who can love, live, feel and have the satisfaction she deserves.
What does it mean to you to be part of the launch of the Ankara Press imprint?
It means a great deal to me. Not only do I feel privileged to be a part of something so phenomenal, but I also feel like I am a part of a family, a close-knit community of the most wonderful women I could ever come across. It is uplifting and so inspiring that we do not just see ourselves as different authors who got different contracts to publish our books, but we already take each other as friends, sisters...ready to support one another. I guess that is what makes Ankara Press a unique publishing outfit; it brings and unifies African women together by telling our love stories, one book/author at a time!
What did you think when you first saw the cover of your book?
In simple words, I was blown away. Completely smitten. I had so much apprehension about the covers when they were not out; my biggest fear was that they may look clichéd or boring, but then they turned out a real pleasant surprise. I honestly love, love, love it!