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Eleven Questions: Author Enock I. Simbaya

Updated: Jun 1, 2020

Enock I. Simbaya. Author of Nasomi's Quest

Our first Eleven Questions guest is Enock I. Simbaya! Enock is an Electrical Engineer by profession, living and working in Zambia. He loves to read and create stories in his free time. His short story "Morning Didn''t Come" was featured in  the anthology "Welcome to the Future" in 2015. In 2017, another of short story "Zaina's Song" appeared in "Experimental Wrtiting: Africa vs Latin America". He has published a YA crime novel called "Mable".Enock is the author of the upcoming Sword and Soul adventure, 'Nasomi's Quest.'

1). How did your writing journey begin?

I fell in love with books at a young age, and I tried to write my own stories. Most of them never got finished. I took writing more seriously in my final year of university, when I and a friend collaborated on a story that we thought would be the first of a fantasy series. He drew some character concepts and we discussed the story. I did much of the writing, and I finished the book a year later. Some people liked it, and it was a good enough story, but I wasn’t satisfied with it. Firstly because I thought it was too short, and secondly, it didn’t represent who I am, my culture, my understanding of life. But I was ignorant of fantasy stories that represented people like me, I never thought they’d be good stories coming from an African background, so I padded it with what I could glean from foreign cultures. But I felt something was missing, deep inside I knew this wasn’t it. So I kept the story in a computer, and over the years it got lost.

But it had planted a seed, the process of writing it helped me develop some skills that I now use every time I write. And when I deliberately delved in African history and mythology, I knew then what kind of stories I wanted to write. My passion flared up again, and I began plotting a fantasy series inspired by African culture and history, infused with my wild imagination. My skill was far from what it needed to be, and so it took time till I could write the first novel. I started to look for authors who wrote what I wanted to write, and I was delighted to come upon people like Nnedi Okorafor, Milton Davis, Charles R. Saunders. I found where I belonged and I knew the stories I wanted to tell.

2). Who are your writing inspirations?

The list keeps growing every time I read new things. So many talented writers in the world. I will name a few: Stephen King, Anthony Doerr, Nnedi Okorafor, Patrick Rothfuss, Neil Gaiman.

3). Are you an outliner or a panster?

Mostly an outliner, but a bit of both. There are some works I outline, and some of which I just go with the flow. Sometimes I think up the beginning and ending of a piece and start writing, aiming towards that end. Sometimes, like for stories in the series Legends of Ao, of which Nasomi's Quest is the first book, I outline each chapter to the minute details before I write them. My favorite tools I use to outline are Google Keep, Excel and Scrivener. When I’m pantsying, I use Google Docs.

4). What are your favorite books?

I read widely and my favorite things keep changing. Fantasy is what I usually go to, because it fills my mind with so many possibilities and magical things and big things. I love stories that make me transcend reality, see beyond the limits of daily life, bring me into worlds I can only dream being part of, and touch me in a deep way.

5). Describe your writing process.

Haphazard, messy. I’m always juggling projects and ideas, jumping from one to the other. That’s how my brain works. So, while I can be writing every day, I’m not working on the same thing continuously unless there’s a deadline. It begins with a compelling idea, a scene or concept that refuses to let go. Sometimes I even create a blank document for that snippet, just to show myself I’m serious about writing it. Then I spend weeks or even months thinking over the idea, building events and characters around it. I'd write a few notes about what comes up, and as time goes on, I end up with an outline and a few scenes. I’d tart arranging the scenes, write what’s hot on my mind at the moment. Which means I’m jumping from an earlier chapter to a later one, back to a middle one, and so on. I call this “Draft Zero” because it’s such a mess. I then work on it from beginning to end to make a more stable first draft. I’m doing this for say two or three books at the same time, but finally focus on one when it’s going into its second draft. Crazy way to write, maybe, but it works for me.

6). What inspired you to write Nasomi’s Quest?

Interesting story how Nasomi came to be. I was working on draft zero of what I thought would be the second book of the series. It’s about a boy who became a mage and has to fight his superiors because they become. I wanted to go beyond the trope of making him an orphan, so I decided that the parents have gone away. He hardly knows them because they left when he was younger; and he has an elder sister who still believes they're coming back. She says to him, as they argue, “Mother went to bring father back.” Later, when I wanted to figure out how mother went to look for father, that story became even more compelling than the one about the mage boy. By then I was reading the anthology “Griots” Milton Davis and Charles R. Saunders. And it stuck me to write a short story out of my idea as I figured out the boy's story. I fleshed out “Nasomi's Quest” in the style of stories in the anthology. I sent it to Milton, he loved it, said he’d publish it. Later, I felt I needed to expand it into a novel, and the ideas were flashing to me. It has been the fastest novel I’ve written. And that’s how Nasomi jumped to being the first tale in the series.

7). Tell us a bit about your book.

Nasomi's Quest takes place on a fictional continent called Ao, which has various kingdoms and city-states. The story is taking place at a time in history when deep magical things are happening all about the continent, and the lives of some people are about to transform. Hence the title “Legends of Ao”, which will chronicle the lives of these special people. Nasomi’s Quest is not a large-scale story, even though it covers a vast geography. It’s a personal story of a simple girl, who faces great odds. I like to think of Nasomi’s Quest as three things: a love story; two people choose to love each other even though they’re things to be lost. It’s a “dude-in-distress” story, where the guy is the helpless one and the girl has to rescue him. Ultimately, it’s a transformation story; her quest is also about what she becomes internally.

8). What do you hope to accomplish with Nasomi’s Quest?

If someone reads it and think it’s a good story, I’d be more than delighted because that’s the first thing I am aiming for. If someone reads it and reflects on how great they can become in life, then I’d have done my job. I love inspiring people. I like telling them “You are more than you let yourself be”. That’s the passion I write from.

9). Will there be more stories of Nasomi and her world?

Of course. I’m just not sure if I’ll write one that focuses on her specifically like this one does, but she has big roles to play in upcoming stories. They are quite a number of characters we have to meet and we’ll love them as much as we will Nasomi. “Legends of Ao” is not planned to be a chronological series. Don’t you hate it when you pick up a trending book and discover it’s 25th in a series? You’re like “Oh my, I have to get book 1!” I want my readers to pick up my books from any point. My task is to find clever ways to connect the different stories together, make them interesting enough.

10). How do we keep up with all things Simbaya?

I tweet once in a while, and I have a Medium blog which is demanding some content. I will try to finish up what I have planned for the blog one of these fine days. I am on Facebook often, catch me there.

11). What advice would you give to new writers?

The usual advice: read a lot and write a lot. Be obsessive about it. Read the good stuff, find out why it’s good. Read beyond what you like, you’ll find there’s a lot you can learn. Find ways to keep writing, forgive yourself for not being good enough, type at your keyboard incessantly. I will add this also: write from your soul. What is it you desire, deep down inside you, to see in the world? Write from that.

Big ups to Enock for joining us. Look out for Nasomi's Quest, available now from MVmedia and anywhere books are sold. Sword and Soul Forever!

Nasomi's Quest. Cover art by Odera Igbokwe

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