[Interview] Miriam Shumba

Novelist Miriam Shumba lives in Michigan in the United States where she works as a teacher.

Her books include Show Me the Sun (Genesis Press, 2010) and That Which Has Horns (Genesis Press, 2010).

Her short stories have been published in magazines in countries that include Zimbabwe, South Africa and the United States.

In this interview, Miriam Shumba talks about her writing:

When did you start writing?

My earliest memory of enjoying story-telling is when I used to sit on a rukukwe and listen to my grandmother, Theresa tell us stories that began with, "Paivepo". The stories were mythical, sometimes scary, but they always had a lesson in them. That warm feeling remained with me when I started creating my own stories, at times writing long hand in school exercise books.

At the age of 10 my mother sent one of my comics to a publisher who sent the most memorable letter in my writing career. The publisher was very gracious and I was a bit embarrassed because the story my sent was in the middle of a school exercise book. The publisher (which, I recall, was Zimbabwe Publishing House) wrote back and said, "Thank you for your submission but we do not publish comic books at this time. In future you should show us where your story starts and ends etc" because it was all over the exercise book.

Thinking back, I am surprised they even took the time to read it and send it back to me with a typed letter too. I'll never forget it because about 10 years later I did get a response from a publisher that they would publish my work. That to me was the seed being planted.

In high school I kept a diary in which I documented almost every significant event that happened during my entire high school experience. If I didn’t make choir, had a great Scripture Union meeting or was upset with a friend it all made its way into my diary pages. I used to write to “Ferry” which was a nickname I gave to my best friend, Faith, who passed away when we were both 12. Writing that diary was a way of communicating with her but, in many ways, it also played a huge part in developing my love of expressing thought on paper.

The turning point in my writing career came in 1997 when I decided to send my short story “Still Waters” to Drum Magazine while attending university. It was at this time that I gathered the confidence to have my stories scrutinized by professional editors. My moment came when Drum Magazine agreed to publish the story I had sent them.

How would you describe your writing?

I write stories with a real-life theme in the context of families, love and spirituality. My desire is for my writing to inspire more than entertain; meaning that my pieces will always carry messages that can lead readers to improve their lives or, at least, get them talking about topics that would otherwise be overlooked because of the demands of everyday life. I believe that I am exploring important issues, issues that affect regular people. I would say my writing is inspirational writing.

Who is your target audience?

My books are for mature teens and adults. They are books that can be enjoyed by people from different cultures and backgrounds.

Which authors influenced you most?

I am quite a broad reader and have been influenced by authors such as Colleen McCullough, Khaled Hoseini, Francine Rivers, Francis Ray, Nicolas Sparks, Jhumpa Lahiri and many others.

These authors are all so different but they all have great storytelling abilities that grab the reader’s attention. Additionally, they are all adept at delving deep into the human spirit and share that with the world.

One author I can speak of with passion is Francine Rivers. After I discovered one of her books at a local library five years ago, I went on to read her published set of books and it helped me re-focus my own writing. Her book, Atonement Child was the first Christian novel I had read and it touched me and showed me that Christian fiction existed and it can compete at the highest of levels. I knew that my writing would never be the same as I discovered that I could write Christian Fiction that is enjoyable and that will still carry God’s powerful message of love.

How have your personal experiences influenced your writing?

My writing is not based on my experiences and the characters I create are fictional. However, there are certain themes that may be closely related to my own life. For example, when I deal with women and self-esteem in my books, I base that on some of the experiences from my own life. I think, mostly, I write what I enjoy reading about: drama, deep emotions and surprises.

What are your main concerns as a writer?

My primary concern is reaching the reader in a profound way. I measure my successes against how people relate to the characters I create.

To me it is not enough for a reader to just enjoy the story, the reader must also immerse themselves in the book and see how my characters’ experiences are similar to their own life experiences and what they can learn from them.

I guess I want people to enjoy the book and if they have more questions than answers at the end I need to do more.

I deal with this by spending many months researching, conducting interviews and revising my manuscripts to match real-life scenarios. The process tends to take very long but I think it’s worth it in the end, to have a life-changing story.

What are the biggest challenges that you face?

My challenge is the discipline to write regularly. The demands of family, work and writing requires organization. So, I set my goals for each week or month and do whatever it takes to pursue and achieve them.

I tend to work consistently when I have deadlines drawn for me by my publisher.

In the coming year I will schedule one hour every single day for planning, research and writing to enable me to reach set weekly goals.

How many books have you written so far?

I have had two published novels available right now in bookstores around the world and I am working on a third manuscript.

I also have several short stories that have been published in mainstream magazines such as Jive, Drum, Parade in the USA, South Africa and Zimbabwe respectively.

My novels were both published in 2010 by a publisher based in the USA.

The first novel to be released was Show Me The Sun, a story about love found and lost, wading through darkness to find the light at the end of the tunnel.

The second book is That Which Has Horns, is story about Priscilla, a young woman who tries to understand where she fits in the new Zimbabwe. After watching her mother and many women struggle to survive in difficult marriages, complicated by cultural bonds, Priscilla has decided that she will control her own destiny, making decisions that will affect the course of all who know her. One thing she had not counted on was the power of love.

Which aspects of the work did you find most difficult?

I enjoy the creating part, the early stages when a story is forming in my mind and it’s fresh and exciting. The part when I am constructing characters and forming the plot is exhilarating for me. I feel like I get to know these people and I keep adding to their personalities as the weeks go by. I like to spend time developing their likes and dislikes, their quirks and state of mind. It’s easier to write a story when I know the characters very well, like I would recognize them in the street if they walked by me.

I really find revising difficult. With both books I had to cut out abut 30,000 words and this was very challenging for me. After you remove a particular event you have to make sure that you don’t refer to it in the next chapters. And it’s also hard to remove sections that you enjoyed or worked hard on.

What will your next book be about?

My next book is almost done. I have finished most of the first draft and now the real work has began. This book is called Chasing the Wind and it’s about a young woman who comes to America from Zimbabwe to chase her dreams only to have them shattered in the most dramatic way.

This book is one I am most excited about because it’s about the character’s relationship with God and as I am writing it my prayer is that I am growing stronger as a Christian and that the message in the book speaks to me first and transforms my life even as I know that God will work in the readers’ lives too when it’s finished. This book is one that I now know that I can let God breathe through it and use me to send His message of love.

What would you say has been your most significant achievement as a writer?

Getting my books released in the same year was my most significant achievement. It was wonderful and I wouldn’t have dreamt it and I know God used 2010 to make all these dreams come true.

Related article:

Reading 2010: Miriam Shumba (Zimbabwe/USA) [Interview], Wealth of Ideas, January 9, 2011

Possibly related books:



Anonymous said…
i loved `that which has horns`it got me thinking for a week. God bless you.

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