INTERVIEW: Nnedi Okorafor, author of “The Go-Slow”

Tell us a bit about your story. What’s it about?

“The Go-Slow” is about a man who is stuck and how he gets unstuck. It’s about Nigerian traffic, fate, choice, Nollywood, and freedom.

What was the genesis of the story–what was the inspiration for it, or what prompted you to write it?

I was sitting with some writer friends (Mary Anne Mohanraj was one of them) and someone challenged me to write story with emus in it. That got my gears going.

Was this story a particularly challenging one to write? If so, how?

If anything was challenging, it was the fact that the story is so damn weird. I kept wondering if I should just stop writing it before it got weirder. But then something sprung from the trunk of my character’s car. Once that happened, I had to see what happened next.

Most authors say all their stories are personal.  If that’s true for you, in what way was this story personal to you?

The part about the steer running at the main character was plucked from my own life experience. During a family trip to Nigeria, we were stuck in a go-slow (traffic) that was so bad people stopped their vehicles and some even went to get lunch. I was sitting in the van with the door open when a steer came running out of a nearby market. It was white with super long horns. It had a wild look in its black eyes- like it was bent on obtaining its freedom by any means necessary. Next thing you know, it sees me and decides to change right at me. I jumped in the van and slammed the door shut just in time. An inch from my window, the steer decided to turn and run around out van and across the street. A minute later two boys with sticks came running after it. I told them which way the steer went and they took off after it. I knew someday I’d write about that focused beast. 

What kind of research did you have to do for the story?

I did a lot of research on emus, including watching footage of them running. I needed to know how they moved. I also observed them in the zoo. If I could have, I’d have liked to touch one, too. One day.

What is the appeal of wizard fiction? Why do so many writers–or you yourself–write about it? Why do readers love it so much?

Not all wizard fiction appeals to me. The kind that I am drawn is the kind where the wizards feel real. The wizards have to be touched by what they do. How can you tap into that kind of power and not be affected? I can’t say why other readers love this kind of fiction, but I love it because I’m fascinated by powerful and flawed characters who and well-done wizards are both of these things. 

What are some of your favorite examples of wizard fiction, and what makes them your favorites?

The Man in Black from The Gunslinger (not so much the subsequent Dark Tower Books) was a bad bad powerful man. When I was a kid, he used to scare the heck out of me because he seemed so unpredictable and cruel. I loved him.

Kvothe from Pat Rothfuss’ Name of the Wind is easily one of my favorite. He’s brash, head-strong, and genius to his own detriment.

In my own novel, Who Fears Death, the character named Aro embodies the positive and negative aspects of every male Nigerian elder in my life. Of course, such a character would be a wizard. He’s one of my favorite characters to date.