We “met” by accident, since it was a virtual introduction through a social media networking site. I had talked about my book BLOOD CONTRACT and she became interested in the name. I learned something too. A white lady living up North in the United States had been writing about my race because she liked my race..the Yorubas. I was very intrigued and quickly showed my willingness by trying to cram into scanty emails the thousands of years of the Yoruba people. I wanted to know her and she wanted to know more from a live Yoruba woman across thousands of miles. It was a virtual meeting of impressive dimensions. So you will thus understand my excitement when I invited her to be my guest.
FAHDAMIN-Ra is a fantasy built around a family, Celestine, her father and brother as Creators. It is a creation story/fantasy using the Yoruba creation concept and ethos. It is both modern and ancient with twists and turns. What I find enchanting about the story is its treatment of the Yoruba traditional religion belief in a pantheon on gods and goddesses with OLODUMARE as the supreme being. Chaz showed enthusiasm, fine taste and sensitivity as she has portrayed a people she only met on the pages of research information with the love she has felt. There is no sense of condescension you will find from the pages nor the patronizing superciliousness when ‘whites’ speak about ‘savages’ or ‘natives’. I really look forward to her book being available in the Nigerian market so young Yoruba children can enjoy a refreshing outlook on their customs, and hopefully show pride in what makes them so distinctive and appealing.
Here is Chaz Young.
1.Tell us a bit about you and your books
I live in Bath, Maine, which is in the northeast section of the United States, in an area called New England. I am originally from Maine but I lived in several places in the United States and in Puerto Rico because my husband was in the military. I have always like to write, and have always amused myself by making up stories in my head. I wrote Travels to Fahdamin-Ra because my daughter and son wanted a fun, fantasy story where brown children were the heroes for a change, instead of white children. I had so much fun writing it that I published the sequel, Across the Savannah. I am currently working on the third book in the series, The Voyage North,and plan to have five books in all for the series. The first and third books are narrated by the main character Celestine Bridges, and the second and fourth are narrated by her younger brother, Joel. The last book will be a prequel, narrated by Obasi, who became the first Creator in Fahdamin-Ra.
2.You live thousands of miles away and belong to a different race, what attracted you to the Yoruba people?
I have been interested in Africa since I was a little girl. I don't remember when I first heard about Nigeria, but when I started doing research for my books, that was the country that I chose. I picked the Yoruba culture because it was governed by kings and seemed the most interesting. I found Yoruba sayings and music, and enjoyed some videos that showed Yoruba weddings. It seems like the most colorful and fun tribe in all my research.
3.How do you authenticate your stories to make them resonate with the real Yoruba concepts of creation and ethos?
In my books, the original world of Fahdamin-Ra was created by a Supreme Being and then given to a man named Obasi, who challenged the Creator by saying he could make people who were better than the ones he found in this world. The Creator was amused, giving Obasi a world and letting him create people for it from clay, stone, and wood and bring them to life. When Obasi lives in this world, he was a normal man, but when he went to Fahdamin-Ra, he was a supreme being himself. He goes on to have a line of descendants, with one person in each generation that carries the Creator's mark and is allowed to go to Fahdamin-Ra and rule.
Even though my story is a fantasy fiction, it fits with Yoruba creation stories in that there is a God that rules over the other gods, and that he sent someone to earth to create people and bring them to life. People were created from rock, clay, or trees, so they have a connection to the materials they were made of and interact with all other living things. They are considered the Creator's children and keep their identity by singing songs and reciting poems and stories.
4. How received are your books within your immediate community as these are stories of another clime and concept?
People find them interesting and like the exotic location, but some say that the character's names are hard to pronounce. However, I have had many readers tell me that they relate to Celestine and Joel Bridges, the children that the reader meets in the first book, and people have favorite Fahdamin characters that they like to talk about. The idea of a positive fantasy book that features children of color is considered unusual in America, where most books about black people are what I call "victim" books, and are very negative. It is also against the current trend to feature brown or black kids from an intact family, who are happy and well adjusted.
5. There is a tendency to view cultures different from ours as a piece of curio, how have you related with concepts that must be alien to you and write a believable story at the same time?
I have always been fascinated by people from other places, and after I meet someone foreign, I try to learn more about their culture, which is a lot of fun! For my books, I researched a variety of cultures, starting with the Yoruba, and selected what customs and traditions that I wanted to give to the three tribes in Fahdamin-Ra. I also made some customs up. I gave myself a little leeway because I always had it in my mind that Obasi had to leave his home at an early age and that he traveled to many places, so he was influenced by many kinds of people. Fahdamin-Ra is a different world that the Creators visit, so it is not intended to be exactly like here. I worked out the beliefs and customs of the tribes before I started writing the books, trying to make them different from each other, yet somewhat alike. Their tribal personalities are based on what they were made of. The Harun, for example, are made from stone. They are not as emotional or imaginative and tend to be solitary, but they are the most loyal to the Creators.
6. You are a wife, mother and author and as I heard some kind of philanthropist, what drives you? And how do you balance all these roles?
By being organized, and having a schedule in my head, so I don't waste time. I also have a lot of energy. I get up early every morning and write before I go to my full-time job, and sometimes I write at night if I have a deadline, but if I have to do that, I might say to my husband, "I have to work on my book until 8 pm. After that, I am all yours." My children are in college now so they take care of themselves. My daughter lives in Hawaii, where she is attending the university there, so every Wednesday night at 7pm, we Skype with her, and my son has Sundays off, so I know that we can spend time with him then. My husband, son, and I also sit down together every night for supper and get to talk about our days. I have a meeting once a month for one of my philanthropic groups, and fit the others in when I can.
7. Do you have any plans to make your books easily available for Nigerians and particularly for Yoruba people to read?
They are for sale on the Navarone Publishing site, Amazon, and Barnes & Noble. Both will be available shortly as e-books and Travels to Fahdamin-Ra is going to be released shortly as a soft cover book instead of hard cover. I don't know how else to reach the Nigerian market, but I will definitely talk to my publisher about it.
8. What aspect of the Yoruba culture do you find admirable, and which one do you find puzzling?
I find your long history, music, and family closeness admirable and the Abiku children idea puzzling. How would someone know that they had an Abiku child? What kinds of marks would they have? Would the child always die young, or could you prevent it?
9. If we were to give you a Yoruba name, which one will you like?
I would like to be called "Ayobami" because I have a joyful personality.
10. As a female author, have there been any special challenges ?
No, not because I am a female. I have had some disappointed readers who meet me in person and expect me to be black, or at least a brown person like my daughter. The biggest challenge is trying to promote a book with an African type country here in Maine, especially when some bookstores put my books in with the Maine writers, among the books that have covers with lighthouses, pine trees, and snowy scenes.
11. Who is your favourite female author and one that has most influence on you?
Jane Austen is my favorite female author because she wrote about family and relationships. My books are basically about the Bridges family that is thrust into Fahdamin-Ra and have to go about ruling it like they are gods, and the relationships they develop with the Fahdamins. The author that has had the most influence on me is Stephen King, another Maine writer.
12. What do your children think of your books?
They were very proud when I got the first one published and continue to be interested in each one in the series. Since the main characters of Celestine and Joel are based on my daughter and son, they advise me on what Celestine or Joel would do. Sometimes I read parts of my manuscripts to them and they disagree strongly with what I wrote, so I go and change it. They are usually right.