Welcome, Osahon! We’re so happy to feature your beautiful story “To Look Forward” in the first issue of this new epoch of Fantasy Magazine. Your characters meet on the playground—a setting that they have outgrown—to escape the pressures from family, peer bullying, and neglect as they fight to find and keep their sense of self. It’s a perfect setting for the tension between childhood and adulthood to play out. Can you tell us how this story came about?
Thank you so much for this spotlight Christie! I’m really happy that this story found such a perfect home. I really wanted to play around with the idea of childhood imaginations being burdened with adult expectations, and I’m glad the swings managed to reflect that idea (as well as being the perfect metaphor). This story came about in many different ways—the first is that I wanted to write about a type of friendship that was built around each character being so engrossed in their own imaginations and journeys that they have no time for anyone else. In first-person stories I feel like we often get the main character’s story and then small glimpses (if we’re lucky) into the life of the side characters. What I like about “To Look Forward” in this aspect is that (much like the main character’s role as a listener) it gives everybody a voice of who they are meant to be. It’s definitely one of my favorite stories for that reason: everyone gets to be so well-rounded.
The second way this story came about is through personal childhood experience. I swung on a lot of swing sets and played in a lot of playgrounds when I was younger, and I was always trying to see how high I could go each time, until one day I literally broke the swing under me. I love mining childhood nostalgia like this in my fiction because I had a lot of imaginative experiences growing up, and this story is kind of a love letter to one of those moments.
The third reason this story came to me is because I really wanted to write a Shimmer story in late 2017/early 2018 (when Shimmer magazine was still in active publication). I was obsessed with the notion of what makes a story Shimmery and “To Look Forward” was one of my many attempts. Two of my biggest inspirations for this story actually came from Shimmer stories—I’d describe “To Look Forward” as a cross between “Hare’s Breath” by Maria Haskins and “Dandelion” by John Shade.
Your story is a poignant exploration of youth, power, potential, and the impossible choice of pleasing others or pleasing ourselves. This is a theme you’ve explored before—I recently read “Be a Thunder, Release a Roar” published by Robot Dinosaur, wherein your protagonist is struggling with many of the same issues, but in a different way. What draws you back to those themes?
A great question. I think one of the most complex issues about living in a collectivist society (which is the case for many African countries) is that you’re constantly taught that everything you do affects everyone, and all your choices must be made to respect/consider others in your family. I think this is pretty much a double edged sword—yes we should definitely take into account our family members and other people around us when we make some choices, but a lot of times this idea robs us of our own sense of choice and can be weaponized against us. As a result, we shrink into ourselves, or we live unhappy lives just to please others around us, to prevent ourselves from “shaming” our families, and I think one of the goals in my stories is to always show that your own happiness/autonomy is important. It is worth it. And you should seek it at all costs. There’s a quote by Sunny Moraine in their Uncanny Magazine story “Your Slaughterhouse, Your Killing Floor” which says: “Freedom tastes like blood. So be a Fucking Vampire.”
I also think both “To Look Forward” and “Be a Dinosaur” explore (and what I’m exploring in some other stories I’m writing as well) is how school systems in this day and age have become intimidating and oppressive all over in the world. In Nigeria, where “To Look Forward” takes place, students are forced to pick between art, social science, or science to study at a young age. I’ve always felt this system makes young children jump into intense courses before they realize what their true passions are, and as a result they become greatly overwhelmed. “To Look Forward” is as much an exploration of freedom as it is a critique of education, and I wanted it to be a wake-up call to how stifling this educational system can be.
You sold your first story when you were just fourteen years old, and pursued your own iridescence all the way from Nigeria to Pennsylvania to attend the Alpha Workshop for young writers. What was that journey like? Do you have any advice for other young writers?
I did! I sold my first story to The Dark in early 2017, and that was definitely an amazing feeling. Alpha was a dream come true for me as well; I applied on a whim last minute based off one of Daniel Jose Older’s promotion tweets for the workshop, and it was one of the best experiences of my life and for my writing career. It definitely gave me the wings to write my weird stories and to flesh out the stories of my heart. I met some of my favorite people there and I had the opportunity to read some of the most imaginative and beautiful fiction from my classmates (go check out the work of Wenmimareba Klobah Collins, Kit Pyne-Jaeger, and Kay Harlan, just to name a few). I would definitely encourage anyone to apply if they’re able—it is worth the experience and I can never forget it. And the two stories I wrote there, “Who Has Never Loved a Gentle House” and “Flags Flying Before a Fall,” have now been published in Strange Horizons! My advice to other young writers is basically to not be afraid to write whatever the hell you want. The only way to grow and expand the limits of what a genre can do is by trying it out for yourself, and I think it’s worth writing even the most nonsensical stories just to see what they can accomplish. Be inventive. Be a vampire. Don’t limit yourself. Everything that I thought was too weird and too strange has been appreciated in some form or another, and your work will be valued as well. Go for it!
This year the pandemic has changed every aspect of our lives, from the way we communicate, to how we attend and teach school, to how we buy groceries. Some people have felt like they had to put their creative mind on hold; others have found that it has given them more to write about. How has it affected you and your own creativity?
I think the pandemic has actually made me more of a horror writer. I usually write fantasy for the most part, but this period has definitely brought out my horror side. I’ve written a lot of horror stories and drafts, and I think that’s been my way of handling the situation: to focus on the scares I can control. I also do think the pandemic has affected and maybe changed my writing style a little bit—I have definitely found myself to be more finicky over my work than usual. These are uncertain times, and I think the best we can all do is to stay as safe as possible and try to get through it. There’s no real solution to creating words in a pandemic. It’s one day at a time these days.
In just three short years you’ve amassed an impressive list of publications, so I have no doubt that we can expect to see more from you soon. What are you working on, what do you have coming up, and what should we be looking forward to seeing from you?
Thank you for this spotlight! I suspect that by the time this interview is out I may have a horror story available from The Dark magazine about a Nigerian mothers’ WhatsApp group chat that goes horribly wrong (involving some creepy chain messages as well) called “Forwarded as Received”. Look out for that! I’m always working on a million things at once, but currently the newest contenders in my Word doc right now are: my novelette about the formation of a cult featuring someone who may or may not be Tarzan (don’t tell Disney), a science fiction story written partly in JAMB past questions, a story about a sentient bubble trying to become a famous Nollywood actor, an epic fantasy story written in pidgin English about betting on rams, one musical short story, and a magical school novel I’m still tinkering about with. My brain is in many different worlds at the moment.
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