Zibby Owens: Welcome, Jane. Thanks so much for coming on “Moms Don’t Have Time to Read Books” to discuss Ties That Tether, your awesome book that just came out. Congratulations.

Jane Igharo: Thank you. Thanks for having me.

Zibby: It’s my pleasure. Would you mind please telling listeners who aren’t familiar with your book or who perhaps are not Book of the Month club members and didn’t notice that it had been chosen as one of the picks, congratulations for that again, what Ties That Tether is about?

Jane: Ties That Tether is about a Nigerian woman who immigrated to Canada when she was twelve and promised her father back in Nigeria as he passed — he was ill. While he was sick, she promised him that when she did come to Canada, she would stay true to her culture by marrying someone who was Nigerian, specifically Edo. Years later, she meets someone who is not Edo. He’s of Spanish descent. They have a blossoming relationship. She’s still caught between her family’s expectations and her heart.

Zibby: Excellent. I happen to have read the essay you wrote on Shondaland, so I know where this story came from. Perhaps you could tell us a little more, the inspiration for this novel.

Jane: The inspiration was my experience as a Nigerian woman. I immigrated to Canada when I was eleven. I’ve had to deal with what my family, specifically my mother, expects from me and who she expects me to date. Just dealing with all of it and dating guys within my culture and secretly dating guys outside my culture, that inspired this book.

Zibby: I think what you touch on in the book is something that people in so many cultures that are tight-knit or who feel that any external influence is in some way a threat can relate to. It usually comes from the older generation. I feel like these days, we don’t think twice about, really, anything. Our parents, and particularly our grandparents, are like, no, no, no.

Jane: It’s definitely the older generation, for sure.

Zibby: Tell me about your secretly dating the first guy who was not Nigerian and how it was not telling your mom about it and worrying the whole time about her finding out and all the rest.

Jane: That was stressful. It happened when I was at university and I got a bit more freedom.

Zibby: Was he in your class? How did you meet him?

Jane: I met him on the public transit.

Zibby: No way.

Jane: Yeah. He was really cute. He was from El Salvador. We just clicked. I dated him secretly.

Zibby: Wait, that’s not enough detail for me still. You’re on the public transport. Then what happens? You start talking to him? He started talking to you?

Jane: He started talking to me. He sat beside me. I can’t really remember the conversation. It was a while ago. We exchanged numbers, started dating. I had to hide my phone and lie to my mother about where I was going.

Zibby: Were you living at home?

Jane: Yes. I wasn’t living on campus, university, because I didn’t live that far from my university. I was living from home. So much harder to hide when you’re living from home. That’s tough.

Zibby: You managed to keep that a secret. Then you started dating other nationalities, somebody from Jamaica, someone who was white. Still, your poor mother is in the dark here.

Jane: For sure. I recently told her about this two years ago when I was dating someone who was Nigerian. She was very much content, very much happy. I was like, “You know, I used to date a lot of guys who weren’t Nigerian.” She didn’t believe me. She thought I was joking. I really had to spell it out for her. I’m like, “His name was this. He worked here.” Then she was like, “How dare you.” She was so shocked, but she got over it.

Zibby: Oh, my gosh. This is none of my business at all. Are you dating someone Nigerian now?

Jane: Yes.

Zibby: Okay. So she’s very happy.

Jane: You know what’s funny? She read my book, and I think she really did change her perspective a lot. A few weeks ago, she was like, “If you bring a guy home, a white guy home, like Rafael,” which is the hero in my book, “I will totally be okay with it.”

Zibby: Really?

Jane: I was like, that’s progress. That great. I don’t know if he can be like Rafael, but just keep your mind open. That’s good.

Zibby: I love how you came to this conclusion that it was really just fear that drove your mom. Tell me a little more about the conversation you had with her because I found that so interesting. We have all these assumptions about our parents and why they make their rules or why they are the way they are. You really uncovered the root of it. Perhaps, that’s what enabled her to finally let go of what she had held onto so strongly.

Jane: Sometimes I feel like we don’t even care to understand where our parents are coming from. We just get angry. We don’t want to figure out their perspective. For me, I gradually realized my mother was coming from a place of fear, like a lot of immigrants when they move to a new country. They’re far from home. They’re try to preserve what they had back there. It’s so different. It’s just preserving it, keeping that culture and tradition so their children can have it and their children can have it and it can still be strong even in the new setting. It’s really what motivates them most of the time, a lot of the time, to just say, don’t date outside our culture. I just wanted my readers to understand that as fear not prejudice.

Zibby: Also, you talked about how growing up you were happy to read all the books from school and all the rest, but they typically had white protagonists. They were not stories that reflected your inner experience. You feel very strongly about portraying characters like yourself in fiction. Tell me more about that.

Jane: Growing up, I didn’t see people like me, black people or specifically Nigerian characters, in books. The first romance I read was Some Nerve by Jane Heller. I love that book so much. I read it multiple times. I could relate to it on some level, but not completely because the protagonist wasn’t like me in any way. She wasn’t an immigrant. She wasn’t black. She wasn’t Nigerian. There was still that disconnect. The first book I ever truly connected with was Americanah, and that was just only a few years ago. I first read that book I think two years ago. It was published before then, but I only got my hands on it two years ago. I really felt seen. I loved the themes within that book of immigration and identity. She talked about hair, which people might not get. For black girls, hair is a big deal. I felt very seen in that book. I’m really excited that throughout my career I plan to write about Nigerian women. A lot of people have been reaching out and saying, this is the first romance that I’ve seen a Nigerian heroine, and it’s amazing. I don’t know if it actually is because I haven’t read every single book in the world, but it makes me feel really happy to know that another Nigerian girl is seeing herself in the words that I write.

Zibby: It’s amazing. What made you write? What made you start doing this? What made you write this book?

Jane: What made me write? Someone asked me this before. The answer is very straight. I couldn’t help it. I couldn’t not write. The journey to becoming a writer was incredibly hard. It was the hardest thing I’ve ever had to do. I wrote two books prior to this one in different genres. Trying to get an agent was incredibly hard. It didn’t happen until Ties That Tether. Even through that entire process, the idea of giving up never occurred to me. It didn’t seem like an option because even through the tears that I cried and the times I wanted to throw my laptop out the window, I knew that I couldn’t give up. It just wasn’t an option. I write and I will continue to write because I have to, because it’s in my blood. I think it’s what I’m destined to do.

Zibby: Have you always loved to write?

Jane: I wanted to be a Disney actress when I was younger. I really wanted to be that black Hannah Montana. I went on a few auditions, but they didn’t work out. It was the summer after I went on an audition and I was really sad because I couldn’t progress to the next stage that I wrote a poem called Longing for Spring. It was horrible. I was in elementary school. It was the first thing I wrote, in a purple journal. I kept reading and writing. It just kind of happened. That summer after a huge disappointment — I found out that I wasn’t meant to be an actress because I cannot act. I’m horrible, but I can do something else. I started to explore that.

Zibby: Wow. I know you felt like it wasn’t an option, but when you were crying, how did you get back to your laptop? How did you just say to yourself, it doesn’t matter, I’m going to do it eventually? Was it just this interior monologue, this faith?

Jane: Yeah, it’s faith. I’m a Christian. My faith helped me through this. There’s a Bible verse that says a man’s gift maketh room for him and bringth him before great men. I wrote that and I framed it. I put it in my room. I would recite it every time because it meant to me that eventually your gift will bring you to a place that you’re meant to be if you make room for you in this world where it’s crowded and full of so many other talents. Somehow, it will make room for you. Great people will see you. That was in my head. I said it all the time. My family was amazing. My mother, she’s an immigrant, but she never pressured me to be a doctor or a lawyer or an engineer, which so many African immigrants or maybe immigrants in general tend to do. I’m so grateful because I can’t imagine being a doctor or a lawyer. It’s just not for me. I listened to songs that cheered me up. This sounds really ridiculous, but I always listened to that Miley Cyrus song, “The Climb.” It’s a really good song if you want to be motivated. That helped me a lot.

Zibby: I am going to play that right after this. I’ll probably recognize it from my kids. Can you say the verse from the Bible again that you repeated to yourself? Just say it a little slower because you went so fast the first time. I just want to hear it more clearly.

Jane: A man’s gift maketh room for him and bringeth him before great men.

Zibby: Cool. I like it. It’s great to have a mantra. It’s great to have something that you feel like is from, I want to say a higher power but that sounds so hokey, but something that is grounding in that way and that really means a lot to you. It’s great. The Bible and Miley Cyrus, who knew? Who knew they would be in the same sentence in this interview?

Jane: Who knew?

Zibby: If you were to have kids who wanted to date outside the Nigerian world, would you have any issue at all, or no?

Jane: No, I wouldn’t as long as they take the culture that my mother has given me and I have given them and they hold onto it. My main character eventually learns in the book, you can appreciate many cultures, you can practice many cultures and still stay true to yours. It doesn’t take anything away from that. That’s basically what I would tell my children, to remember where their mother came from and hold onto that no matter what, no matter who they love.

Zibby: Jane, tell me about your writing process. What was it like? Did you outline this book? Did you consider writing a memoir? Did it all just come pouring out? What was it like?

Jane: This is the first book I’ve ever outlined. As a new writer, I didn’t know what I was doing when I started writing initially, like many writers. I just dove into it, sat in front of my computer. That was a huge mistake. I went to a conference in New York with writers. I learned a lot. I learned how to outline my book and plot points and all that stuff, very technical stuff that readers might not realize writers are trying to do. That really did help me, outlining the entire book from beginning to end even though things changed a lot. It gave me an idea of what to do and relevant points to hit instead of just having chapters that were not pushing the plot forward. My writing process since then has been always outlining my book. Sometimes I write the whole thing. Right now, I’m working on a book. I have a whiteboard, but I’m just outlining things as I go because I don’t know what’s going to happen in the story. Outlining is wonderful.

Zibby: Excellent. Can you say any more about your next book?

Jane: Book number two does not have a title. I’m really struggling with that right now. It’s about a biracial woman who never met her Nigerian father. Then she learns that he’s passed away. He’s invited her to Nigeria for his funeral because he wants all his children to attend. He’s this incredibly wealthy man in Nigeria. She decides to go to Nigeria to learn about her father and his family and the part of herself she never knew. She gets there and she meets this unconventional family of his, a first wife, a second wife, a mistress who never made it down the aisle, and children who are basically Nigerian royalty. She’s tossed into this colorful, insane family. Most of the characters are trying to find themselves as she’s trying to find themselves. I explore themes of immigration and identity and class in Nigeria, the rich and the poor.

Zibby: Wow, that sounds amazing. Oh, my gosh, that sounds great. That sounds like a movie. I’ll be tuning into that when that eventually gets optioned and all the rest. Do you have any advice to aspiring authors?

Jane: It’s very cliché, but I stand by it. Never give up. If you feel it in your gut that this is what you’re meant to do, just don’t stop. Not giving up can mean many things. It can mean shelfing a project and starting a new one, which is very painful. Sometimes it’s necessary. It could also mean taking writing classes, going to conferences. Writing is so isolating, but it’s so amazing that you can meet people who are like you, who are on the same journey, and learn from them. Not giving up also might mean joining a book club and just talking to people who are reading books, seeing what is marketable, seeing what publishers want. A lot of the times, writers don’t know what publishers want. That’s very important to know. Not giving up, that’s my advice.

Zibby: Love it. I have to ask, did you record the audiobook for this? You have the best voice. I’m serious. This should be your side hustle, is being an audiobook narrator.

Jane: Oh, my god, I would love to. I didn’t record the voice. I really would have loved to, but I did not. The person who did record I thought did a wonderful job. I really hope to do an audiobook for another of my books.

Zibby: Put that in your next contract. You got to negotiate that up front. Put that in writing.

Jane: Thank you. I will do that.

Zibby: Awesome. Jane, thank you so much. Thanks for coming on “Moms Don’t Have Time to Read Books.” Thanks for giving the vantage point of the daughter and the mother in this situation because you can relate to both. As a mom, I can relate to wanting to have my kids keep my culture, but see the point of view of the kid. I can feel myself as the kid too. All to say, thank you for your story.

Jane: Thank you for your time and for speaking with me. This was very fun.

Zibby: Good.

Jane: Thank you. Bye.

Zibby: Thanks. Buh-bye.