This tale is overdue. I have a funny relationship with my first novel, Night Must Wait, to be published this late October, because it’s been with me for such a long time. I have a lot of other stories, all the rest came more simply, more directly, and the biggest job my editor/agent Toni Lopopolo had was cutting through all the accumulated barnacles of ideas back to the essential story line and letting it swim. Yep, very much like a boat laden down with the encrustations of other lives needing a good scraping and copper sheathing so it could fly across the waters under sail.
I began work on Night Must Wait in 1976. I had met a batch of wonderful brilliant women at Wellesley College who became my friends, and I felt keenly the disproportionate emphasis on male friendship in literature. Female friendships always seemed to fray under the stress of romantic involvements in the world of fiction. That wasn’t what I saw in reality. It pissed me off. The moment a good looking guy came on the scene, fictional women seemed to behave like gonad-driven men except they didn’t engage in the clean fighting of swords, but a sordid dishonest struggle for the man’s attention that revolted me.
I wanted a fresh fiction that let women be people, real people of power and action, the way I saw my friends. So I imagined what I could do with placing these characters into a world full of risk, and what more adventure-filled place than Nigeria, where I grew up? A country of new challenge and opportunity and bright difference?
Now the thing happened that always happens if you enter into writing fiction. You can pretend to yourself that you can take real people into your mind and have them stay what they were outside of it, but that is the biggest fiction of them all. No, they become you. You may give them a few attributes of their old real selves but it’s superficial dressing. They begin to talk and act in the ways that those powers within your own character demand. And what happened to my ‘musketeers’, my women musketeers? The next thing I knew they had deserted my happy plot and were trying to kill each other.
Most disturbing of all, they didn’t need a single man for motive. A man has never been the most important thing in any of my female characters’ lives. All they needed was the information that my own character provided. So I tried for a bit to bring them around to reason, but pretty soon I realized that it was one hell of a better story to let them run, and use the violence within to tell the tale they chose.