Thursday, September 15, 2016
Interview with author Reuben Sparks
One Cowrie Shell
1. What inspired you to write your book?
I am first interested in history, culture and tribal life in Africa and the United States. Growing up in Alabama in the 1960’s, I also became fascinated by the civil rights movement. I remember reading Roots by Alex Hailey and being hugely impacted by it. As many know, his story begins with a young man going to the forest to get wood to make a drum and then was captured by slave traders and sold to the United States. From this, I wondered why African tribes didn’t come together and fight against slavery and those selling slaves to the United States. As I researched more, I found that many African tribes were fighting against each other and selling prisoners of war to the slave trade – thereby intentionally participating in the slave trade. This also made me wonder if African tribes knew what was happening to the slaves in this part of the world and eventually concluded that they didn’t know what was happening in the United States. However, they did see the brutality of the slaves being forced onto the slave ships bound for the Western hemisphere. With this, I wondered about the daily life of African people and how the wars and slave trade affected them – like if there were enough tribal people left to tend their gardens, marry or participate in any other daily activities.
2. What is it about?
One Cowrie Shell is a fiction novel set on the west coast of Africa in the early 1800’s. The story follows Jaiye, a young Yoruba tribesman. His age is not specifically mentioned but he is coming of age to be a man, around 19 years old and wants to be a man sooner than he should. His tribe, the Yoruba, have regular battles with the Dahomey, their neighboring tribe. After each battle prisoners of war are taken and sold to the slave traders. Jaiye is not participating in the battles yet, but he is ready to join the fights. Jaiye asks his father when can he join the fight and what happens to the prisoners of war being sold to the slave traders. Jaiye’s father is a high priest in the Shango cult of the Yoruba. He tells Jaiye his time to fight will come soon enough and don’t worry about what happens with the prisoners of war being sold to the slave trade. The second main issue facing Jaiye is that a wife has been selected for him. Jaiye has developed a crush on another young lady and he asks his father and the village elders to change their selection of Akinya to Kembi. All village elders say no and that the selections are final. Kembi is happy with the choice that has been made for her. Jaiye believes that if he gets her intended husband out of the way she will be more inclined to want to marry him. Jaiye hatches a plot to get rid of the intended husband. His plans go awry and Kembi is sold into slavery. Determined to save her, Jaiye goes to the United States to get Kembi back so he can marry her. One Cowrie Shell is the story of love, adventure and defiance by Jaiye to get his beloved back, but also see the horrors of slavery. It gives a perspective of slavery from an African who was not a slave. With the help of current and former slaves, he finds Kembi but she does not return with him. With the help of more current and former slaves and abolitionists, he finds his way to New York, England and back home to his Yoruba village. He tells his mother and father and the rest of the villagers about his adventure and that selling each other is not worth what is happening to them. He tries to convince his tribe and the Dahomey to stop fighting but again, his plans go awry.
3. What do you hope will be the everlasting thoughts of readers who finish your book?
I would like to pique the curiosity of readers who finish my book. Early Africans used cowrie shells as money. The Africans received cowrie shells as payment for prisoners of war who were sold to slave traders. I would like for my readers to have curiosity about history and other cultures. I would also like my readers to look inside their own souls to see what is important to them. I would also like my readers to question in their own lives and community what is important and what is not important. I would like to introduce my readers to new ideas. I would also like to have my readers see a common event or idea and see it from a new perspective.
4. What advice do you have for writers?
My advice to writers is to immerse yourself in your writing. I would encourage writers to thoroughly research a topic and then live within the soul of the person or event you are writing about.
5. Where do you think the book publishing industry is headed?
I think the book publishing industry is headed toward more self-published books and more ebooks. As a writer, there is a great push to separate yourself and your book from the thousands of other books that are published each day. I see the book publishing industry trying to reach out to more minorities and other groups that typically don’t buy as many books as larger ethic groups buy. I also foresee the industry trying to make more books into movies and genres that use visual media more than actually reading.
6. What challenges did you have in writing your book?
There have been at least two major challenges in writing my books. The first challenge is managing the time to write and finish my books. The second challenge has been to learn marketing and how to get my book out to encourage people to purchase and read my book. There is not an all-inclusive guide to tell writers how to navigate the world of writing, publishing and marketing.
7. If people can only buy one book this month, why should it be yours?People should buy my book this month because it introduces you to a new concept. First, this is a love story, and what would one mate do for another. It is a story of adventure and defiance. After all in the village said travel to this world and coming back to the village were impossible, Jaiye attempted it anyway. This is a story of an African who wasn’t a slave and his perspective on slavery in this world. One Cowrie Shell is replete with new ideas about a terrible time in history for this planet. This is filled with new ideas and ways to look at old ideas from a new perspective. This is a story far different from any other published story.
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