Welcome to BookView Interview, a conversation series where BookView talks to authors.
Recently, we interviewed Chiuba E. Obele, a poet, writer, and author of The Orientation of Dylan Woodger: A Central New York Crime Story. (Read the review here.)
CHIUBA EUGENE OBELE is a poet, writer, and author of “The Orientation of Dylan Woodger: A Central New York Crime Story.” He can usually be found reading a book, and that book will more likely than not be a crime fiction novel. Chiuba lives and works out of his home in Boston, Massachusetts. When not absorbed in the latest page-turner, Chiuba enjoys spending his summers vacationing with his parents, siblings, and nieces and nephews.
How did you decide on this title?
The title of my novel, “The Orientation of Dylan Woodger,” has three layers of meaning.
- College Orientation: When Boston-native Dylan J. Woodger finds himself being questioned by the Italian mafia in 2019, the last thing he remembers is being dropped off by his mother at Hamilton College outside of Utica, New York, in 2016. The novel begins with Dylan’s mother driving him to his first day of freshman orientation. While driving, Dylan and his mother engage in a conversation about freshman orientation, and the importance of befriending other students during orientation and the first year of college.
- The act or process of orienting: After arriving on campus, Dylan goes to sleep and then wakes up, three years later, in the woods, tied up, with a gunshot wound in his shoulder. It gets worse. Members of the Italian mafia grab him and demand their stolen three million dollars. Dylan doesn’t remember stealing anything or really any part of his life from the last three years. He insists he doesn’t have their money. While all this is unfolding, Dylan, as a first-person narrator, asks the readers four questions: “Who am I?”, “Where am I?”, “What time is it?”, “Why am I here?” These four questions help frame the narrative for the book’s early chapters; and they also happen to form the basis of COA x4: conscious, alert and oriented to person, place, time and event. Social workers in the mental health field are trained to assess a patient’s level of consciousness, alertness and orientation by asking four basic questions: whether the patient knows his or her name, the location and time, as well as why they are currently being treated. This practice came up during my research, and I thought it would be interesting to tie it into my book. The title is also influenced by this mental health practice.
- One’s true position with respect to attitudes, judgments, and beliefs: In the Britannica Dictionary, the word “orientation,” refers to a person’s feelings, interests, and beliefs. My novel is meant to be a character study. It’s about Dylan and his compulsions, judgements, beliefs, and attitudes as a person. Hence, the title of the book.
How often do you base your characters on real people?
Several of the characters in “The Orientation of Dylan Woodger” are based on real people. My novel takes place in 2019 at Hamilton College, where I went to school between 2009 and 2013. The central protagonist, Dylan Woodger, is named after one of my closest college friends, Woodger “Woody” Faugus. Dylan’s mentor, Reverend Jeffrey McAaron, is modeled after my own college mentor, Reverend Jefferey McArn. Another character, Stephanie, attends Hamilton College and is the daughter of a fictional rock musician, Esteban Love. In the novel, Stephanie dies of a heroin overdose. Her character is quite literally based on a former classmate of mines: Stephanie Rose Bongiovi, the daughter of famous rock star Jon Bon Jovi. She overdosed on heroin while attending Hamilton College in 2012. It caused a big controversy on campus. Fortunately, Stephanie Bongiovi survived her overdose.
What’s the most difficult thing about writing a novel?
For me, the hardest part of writing a novel is composing descriptive writing. I feel confident writing dialogue but describing scenes and characters doesn’t come naturally for me, particularly because this was my first novel. Fortunately, I was able to receive help from more experienced authors when writing descriptive prose. I am very grateful, because I wouldn’t have been able to complete the novel without their help.
Do you read your book reviews? Do they please you or annoy you? Do you think you can learn a lot from reading criticism about your work?
Most book reviews annoy me. I feel reviewers have a tendency to misjudge my work. One reviewer (who happened to be a male) said I placed too much emphasis on the topic of sexual assault! I felt that was a very ignorant thing to say.
But some of my reviews have included constructive criticism. For instance, a few reviewers mentioned that my novel’s ending felt rushed. It really opened my eyes and made me reflect on the importance of pacing.
What is your favorite childhood book?
My favorite book as a child was “Is Your Mama a Llama?” authored by Deborah Guarino and illustrated by Steven Kellogg. I still have fond memories of my mother reading it to me.
Who and what ultimately inspired you to become a writer?
Before writing my debut novel, I dabbled in some poetry. At one point, I tried writing a blog. I’ve also written a few pieces for student newspapers. What ultimately inspired my novel was a dream I experienced while asleep. I dreamt I was back in college being tortured by the Utica mafia for stealing millions of dollars that I couldn’t remember, because of amnesia. That vision I experienced eventually became the plot of my novel. Isn’t that amazing?!?
How did you decide which form or genre was right for you?
I grew up watching a lot of crime shows and movies. My mother and I also share an interest in murder mysteries, especially from Great Britain! For me, writing a gangster novel was a no-brainer. But while writing it, I unexpectedly included some romance. Social commentary is also a key feature of my book, which sets it apart from traditional mystery novels.
If you had to do something differently as a child or teenager to become a better writer as an adult, what would you do?
That’s a good question! I went to a liberal arts college with an open curriculum, so I could have easily taken a couple creative writing courses. Had I done so, it might have made me into a better writer as an adult. Also, like many other teenagers, I was more into watching television and movies than reading novels. Had I read more novels as a teenager, perhaps I could have been a better writer today. If I have children someday, I’ll definitely encourage them to watch less television than I did!
How hard is it to establish and maintain a career in fiction writing?
Much harder than I expected. Unless you have a deal with a traditional publisher, you are not likely to sell many copies of your book. But for those who are frustrated with their lack of success as a novelist, I would encourage them to turn their novels into screenplays for film or television adaptations. Right now, streaming services like Netflix are putting billions of dollars into fresh content — $19 billion for Netflix alone this year! They are begging for new content and often turn to novelists for inspiration. So again, I would encourage struggling writers to turn their self-published novels into film or television adaptations. You’re not guaranteed success, but it might breathe new life into your work. And if you’re fortunate enough to sign a television or movie deal, you can leverage that success into securing a book deal with a traditional publisher.
What’s next for you?
Right now, I’m working on turning my novel into a miniseries for television. Once I’ve written the miniseries, I plan on submitting the pilot episode to several screenplay competitions. If I win some of these contests or place highly, I might be able to secure agent representation. With the agent’s help, I can then pitch my novel to networks like HBO and Netflix. Wish me luck!
Categories: BookView Review Interview