There’s no shortage of stress, anxiety and fear that underscores every new pregnancy. When a baby makes its debut well in advance of the scheduled due date, the perilous proceedings associated with its survival impose physical, emotional and spiritual challenges on the parents that they could never have anticipated. I interviewed Sola Olu about her debut memoir, The Summer Called Angel as part of the WOW! (Women on Writing) Blog Tour. My book review is at Blogcritics.
Interviewer: Joanna Celeste
Q. You mentioned that it was part of your culture to be strong. What do you consider you have passed down to your children from your (and their) cultural heritage?
A. Funny you asked this – I just had a reprint of my article in In-Culture magazine. Hopefully that will give you an idea.
Q. As someone who visited Zimbabwe when I was just a kid, my impression of the African culture was that of strength, dignity, endurance, compassion. Share with us more about your cultural heritage.
A. Nigeria is part of Africa—so the culture is like that of Zimbabwe—exactly that. Crying, etc., could be seen as a sign of weakness. We are raised to be strong and resilient. The typical response to hard times is “It will be better or it will become better”. Things like panic attacks are not even discussed, which is why I mentioned it in my book… it does happen. The culture is changing to be more accepting thankfully.
Q. Yes, you shared your experiences with PTSD in your book. What ultimately helped you overcome those panic attacks?
A. I saw a therapist on the advice of my dad. She helped desensitize me by exposing me to driving in the spots I feared. It took a while. It took me 3 years after the birth of my son to get back to driving on the highway.
Q. That’s great you were able to push through. This is a day [Valentine’s Day] that celebrates love, albeit commercially. Your story is that of exceptional love—between you and your husband, the two of you and your children, your family and you, and your relationship with God. How did you draw strength from this tapestry of love?
A. Just knowing I wasn’t alone, my husband was there and that God in a mysterious way was still watching over us, even though I went through periods of frustration and doubt. We had to be there for our daughter and that’s what we did, I think that’s what any parent would do.
Q. Yes, but it doesn’t make what you and Chris pulled off any less miraculous. What did you hold on to when your faith wavered, when you were spent of all you could possibly give, and there was truly no hope?
A. Some form of inner strength, at other times, just sheer numbness, just surviving day to day. It’s like being in a dangerous place and your survival instincts kick in. I knew there was an ending; I just didn’t know at some points what God’s will was.
Q. I could appreciate your experiences through your raw descriptions; your ability to capture the miracle of life was intense (sometimes painful) but beautiful. Your blog conveys your generous spirit, your playful verve employed in tackling challenges, and your attitude towards the things you seek to discover and change. What is your writing process for your blog posts?
A. Thanks for visiting my blog. As you can see I stopped in 2010, due to work, trying to get my memoir published and other life commitments. I have now restarted it with renewed energy, and my aim is to blog about whatever comes my way in my new journey as an author, the good, the fun, and the bad.
My process /schedule should be the weekends – one posted and one written to be posted mid-week. I haven’t achieved that yet, so I try to post whenever I can. I mostly write at night after my kids go to bed. If I can nail the weekend schedule down, I should be good.
Q. In your blog, you refer to yourself as a recovering procrastinator. How have you organized yourself to juggle your family, your new book release, work and your volunteer efforts?
A. I’ve divided my time into chunks –during the day, early evening, and late night, and of course weekends. Each item has its own time slot.
Q. Smart! You also mentioned that publishing your memoir is the fulfillment of a lifelong dream to become an author. It’s difficult enough to write a fictional story, but piecing together all the medical records, the memories, and reliving experiences so you could convey what you felt in that exact moment—that must have taken extreme courage and dedication. How did you write your memoir (did you use storyboarding, index cards, etc.)?
A. No I didn’t—no formal beginning or planning here. My memoir initially started as something to write and read to my daughter when she was older, then as the hospital stay became longer, it became more than that. I started and stopped several times, depending on where we were with her complications. A lot of it also came from sheer memory—I can still remember certain scenes vividly, and certain words even up to today. I guess writers don’t forget… the pain fades but the memory is there.
I thought it might become a book when the title came to me, but I didn’t really seriously consider that until she was safely home and then I felt I could inspire people with her story of survival so I restarted with that aim. It took forever because I’m a working mom; then came my second pregnancy and ultimately that story was added in.
Q. Your book covers how your title came about on page 100, but would you share the story with us?
A. The title came to me in conversation one day, when my husband and I were leaving the hospital. I noticed the leaves were turning orange—it was autumn and I asked my husband what happened to summer, it felt like we didn’t have a summer. He responded that we did indeed: “we had a summer called Angel”. I thought “hmmm… that might be a good title for a book”. (At that time I didn’t know what the ending would be.)
I always dreamt of being an author and have several unpublished works, but it was by accident that my memoir helped me fulfill that dream.
Q. Congratulations! As you wrote, God often works in mysterious ways. In your blog, you shared some of your experiences self-publishing (that your process took two years and you went through five editors, and the stream of never-ending issues there were to deal with), as well as some of your lessons learned. What advice would you give to others just starting out in self-publishing?
A. It takes time, and you do almost all the work—I wouldn’t use the editing process of the self-publishing company again. That process did not work for me. My subsequent editors were great, with each one finding different issues, but I believe I still have a lot to learn in the editing process.
Q. Thank you. What has been your most effective marketing strategy?
My website, Facebook fan page, author sites, interviews with targeted groups and of course the [WOW! Women on Writing] blog tour.
Q. Did you contact WOW!, schedule interviews, and set up your own site?
A. Yes, I contacted WOW, they set up the blog tour, and I set up my own site using GoDaddy products. It’s a constant work in progress 🙂
Q. Thank you. Your epilogue referred to your children as toddlers. Please tell us more about how they are now.
A. They are both doing very well. Thank you. Lani is a thriving, inquisitive kindergartner. Angel is a beautiful 8 year-old third-grader thriving and enjoying life. She is an excellent reader and enjoyed the book a lot—she has her own copy. She graduated from all the services, though we still have a doctor’s appointment once a year to monitor her vitamin levels due to the surgeries.
Q. Yay! What are your plans for the three children’s books that you have stuck in a drawer?
A. Working on one of them next!!! Stay tuned.
Q. You’ve mentioned you may go the traditional route for your next book – is that referring to your children’s book? What are your plans for the traditional route? (Have you made any contacts who are interested?)
A. Not yet… I’m doing a lot of research, compiling lists of agents, etc. I also plan to attend a writers conference very soon. I’m looking forward to learning a lot from that. It’s the same one I went in 2010 that helped me decide to publish, so I’m very excited. Yes this is for one of the children’s books.
Q. Awesome! I loved your blog post on the seasons of life. How would you describe this season?
A. Very fulfilling… very, very fulfilling. I’ve always loved to write and like so many of us, we go on several detours on our journeys. I believe I am back on track and using the talent that God gave me.
Q. Congratulations. I’m truly happy for you, after everything you have experienced and how you have turned those dark moments into something beautiful. What is your favorite motto?
A. Dream it, write it down, make it happen. There used to be a magazine that featured people in a column with that title, I can’t remember which.
Q. What a great motto. You’ve talked about how you volunteered to help parents who find themselves in your shoes. How do you advise parents struggling with premature births, preeclampsia, or the various mental, spiritual and physical challenges associated with “difficult births”?
A. It’s difficult to advise because all situations differ, even with premature births. Be strong, be an advocate, do your own research, seek second opinions, and, if applicable, pray that God’s will be done. That was my father’s advice when I didn’t know what to pray for.
Q. I appreciate it. Your supplementary essays and the poem were a lovely close to your journey. Please share with us the one thing you hope that everyone—regardless of their experience with premature births or not—takes away from your book The Summer Called Angel.
A. Miracles do happen, but sometimes other things happen that are beyond our comprehension. I have learnt that we can’t have all the answers, at least not in this life. Always have hope—no matter how difficult—and this is something I tell myself constantly. I have seen others have hope, even when I’ve been weak, and I think it serves as a buoy.