Miriam Shumba is originally from Zimbabwe and though she now lives in the United States, her second book, That Which has Horns, is set in her native country. She says writing the story was like going home and while she is inspired to write about each place she visits, mostly, stories from Africa come more naturally. Miriam is also a Christian and was excited to find books with Christian themes and characters when she moved to America, and now that is what she feels comfortable writing too. They inspired her and she felt their power in how the characters trusted God to overcome and have victory. Enjoy our interview below;
Q: Where did you get your inspiration for That which has horns?
I can’t think of any one thing that inspired me but by the time I wrote it I had been writing and publishing short stories in magazines and story ideas would just come to me. They piled up in my head and some of the stories spilled over to the book project. I started writing it in June 1998, so it was a time when Zimbabwe was a secure place to live and I chose the era when I was a teenager and young adult. I knew what it was like and could create events that were authentic and characters that would come alive.
Q: Why did you decide to write this as a romance?
I grew up reading romances but it was very difficult to find romances that featured African people. My plan was to write about big issues that women go through, displaying portraits of the women in Africa, and showing their struggles and triumphs. The romance was important but not the main focus of the book. It has romance so sometimes I am more comfortable calling it contemporary fiction.
Q: That Which has Horns is your second book, was it easier or more difficult than the first?
I completed writing That Which Has Horns first even though it was published a year later than Show Me The Sun. I had been writing short stories and this was the time I decided to write a full novel. I just started writing it one day, not sure where it was going to go and I think what was difficult for me was the fact that I wrote over such a long time. As I matured I felt I needed to change it just as my worldview kept changing. I don’t think it’s a good idea to take so long to write a book.
Q: In your books, you tackle family relationships and self esteem issues, is there a reason for this?
Families are the ones who love us the most but for some reason they can also be the ones to hurt us and cause deep pain. I want to show that we shouldn’t expect perfection from our families each person has their own struggles to go through and they are dealing with life the best way they know how to. This is especially true where I came from, where as young people we were being influenced by Western culture and thought our customs to be archaic and disruptive while our parents and elders thought we were getting lost, getting influenced by Television characters and American music. This has caused tension in many families and I deal with those struggles in my writing.
As for the other themes, I don’t know a single person who doesn’t struggle with self-esteem. It’s something men and women deal with in a different ways, that feeling of insecurity, not being good enough or trying to fit into what the media tells you to do to achieve happiness.
Q: Do tell us more about Priscilla, the heroine of That Which Has Horns.
Priscilla’s beauty is as much a curse as it is a blessing. I enjoyed creating Priscilla, a striking, sensitive, anxious woman who begins to open up as the story unfolds. She grew and evolved over years as I wrote the book. She had an unhappy childhood, filled with secrets, fear and insecurity but tries to take control and emulate the role model aunt. She comes close to achieving her goal of independence but love complicates her plans resulting in the opposite happening. Priscilla is impulsive and makes decision that will haunt her later in the story.
Q: How do you go about choosing the titles of your books?
When I start I usually create a working title and sometimes I change them. That Which Has Horns went through 2 title changes. From Heart of Gold, to Family of Secrets then finally, That Which Has Horns. They usually just come to me as I think of the storyline. So far they have come easily and really ‘married’ the story comfortably.
Q: How do you decide on the hero and heroine of your books, how do you know the two characters are suitable for each other?
So far when I have created the hero and heroine of my stories I have let time slowly reveal the chemistry that is between them. I think because I take my time revealing their emotions, it gives the reader time to get to know them and see them as a couple and totally accept that moment when they fall in love or hate each other.
Q: This interview is part of my posts on the black history month. Do you think African stories count as black history or should it be limited to those in Diaspora/African-Americans only?
I like to think that we are all one, Africans whether we grew up in America or in Africa. Our stories can all be included in the different celebrations that we have. Every month should celebrate our history but it is a good start to use one month to focus on what we have contributed to the world.
Q: Did you have to do a lot of research to situate your book in the appropriate place and time?
I did have to do some research especially on the business aspect of the book and some of the Zimbabwean customs, I needed clarification on. I also wanted to use the correct Zimbabwean proverbs and that took some work because unfortunately, most of us don’t speak our native language as much any more.
Q: What was your publishing journey like, from your first book to That Which has Horns?
The journey was not easy. I remember trying to get my book published in Zimbabwe but it never worked out. I tried other countries but one South African publisher told me that they would only publish books with characters from South Africa. In the U.S I searched for publishers that were interested in African stories but I didn’t find many. The one I found only published stories translated from African languages. So I shelved my book and decided to write a story based in the United States to increase my chances of getting published. That’s why Show Me The Sun was published first, only because I had given up on That Which Has Horns. I was delighted when the same publisher agreed to publish That Which Has Horns.
Q: What's up next for you?
I’m revising my third novel and also working on various projects. I created a group, Writers with Purpose that meets in my community. It’s still in the early stages but it meets to motivate, to share and to write stories that change people for the better.
I’m drawn in many directions, wanting to accomplish a varied number of creative projects and I have to keep telling myself to focus on one thing at a time. Finish your third book then move on the next projects.
Q: What do you do in addition to writing? Where can readers find you online?
My website is www.miriamshumba.com. I also have blogs on teaching as I’ve been teaching for 12 years and speak at conferences on various teaching methods. Teaching and writing are both my passions and right now I enjoy inspiring my 4th grade students in their writing. Several of them are writing books now too. I like to help other writers achieve their goals of publication and will be working more to develop that in the near future.
Q: Please tell us where we can find the book for purchase.
My books are found online at amazon.com and at http://www.barnesandnoble.com/s/miriam-shumba
Miriam will also be having a giveaway of That Which Has Horns to readers who visit her website and send a message under the contact me tab, telling her what kind of stories from Africa they want to read about. The winner will be selected on February 25 and announced on the website by March 1st. Good luck!