Q&A With Oghenechovwe Donald Ekpeki

Oghenechovwe Donald Ekpeki is a writer of science fiction and fantasy whose work is deeply concerned with the implications of power. In his latest story, Ekpeki brings readers to a future Lagos, his home city, where he casts a critical eye on problems he witnesses today. We are pleased to feature “Destiny Delayed,”in our [May/June issue, on sale now!]

Asimov’s Editor: What is the story behind this piece?
Oghenechovwe Donald Ekpeki: “Destiny Delayed” was inspired by a practice in Southern Nigeria where female children are given away, permanently, by their parents to settle loans or long standing debts they can no longer settle.
In Northern Nigeria child brides marriage is a thing as well. So these cases of spending the lives of young female children as currency was something that inspired my story.

AE: How did this story germinate? Was there a spark of inspiration, or did it come to you slowly?
ODE: Aside from child bride marriages and loan settlement practices with girl children, Nigeria’s toxic and exploitative corporate practices also inspired this story. One day the two ideas collided and I decided to merge all the above issues to critique and examine them in my fiction.

AE: Is this story part of a larger universe, or is it stand-alone?
ODE: Hardly any of my stories are stand alone. I feel that the beauty and major work in a story is realized in short stories. Creating the world, premise, main characters. And it always seems like a waste discarding all that after just making a short story with them. Hence my shorts usually have an extension or expansion. More going on with the same characters, the world. Much like my Ife-Iyoku short story that became the novella Ife-Iyoku, Tale of Imadeyunuagbon and is becoming a trilogy. This story is no different. I envision it as a multiple book series, seven books at the moment, with the series title, The Seven Destinies or Nyerhovwo. Each book taking place in a different African country, with the series an exploration of African lore and geography as the main character here journeys in search of her destinies across the breadth of the African continent.

AE: Do you particularly relate to any of the characters in this story?
ODE: I can relate with almost everybody in it. The banker who has to get mixed up in the sordid world of corporate theft and exploitation to survive. The father who has to make horrid sacrifices because he thinks he sees and has no better options. I can relate with all the characters really. Which I believe is the job of the writer. To tell their story, I have to see through their eyes, walk in their shoes and even wear their skin. Metaphorically speaking of course. I have no literal experience of doing what they did. But I understand the desperation, and some of the emotions that lead there. And that’s something that comes extra easy being that I live in the very city the story is set in. The reality, not far from the fictional.

AE: How did the title for this piece come to you?
ODE: It comes from the popular saying “Destiny can be delayed but not denied.” It’s something that’s often thrown around here. And I thought about the saying a lot. It’s used to excuse a lot of horrid things happening here, a form of consolation. Cold comfort if you ask me. Because sometimes “delaying” a “destiny” is damaging enough and one may never recover from that damage. So I thought to explore the literal interpretation of the saying, as SFF often does. What if destinies were tangible or at least could be interacted with, could be harnessed, delayed? What would be the implications of that? The story and people behind it, in an urban, modern setting, the commercial hub of the most populous African nation. This is why I intend further books in the world, to explore fully the loss of that destiny on the main character and how they deal with that loss and the journey it takes them on, dealing and processing its true meaning for them.

AE: What made you think of Asimov’s for this story?
ODE: Asimov’s has always been my dream venue for science fiction, if not the dream venue for it generally. And this story is very much science fiction. My brand of science fiction; mundane, genre bending, and flavoured with African elements and Nigerian elements, from where it’s set. So naturally I thought Asimov’s would be a great fit for it.

What if destinies were tangible or at least could be interacted with, could be harnessed, delayed. What would be the implications of that?

AE: How much or little do current events impact your writing?
ODE: My fiction tends to be hyper realistic. At least my science fiction. And even when not, to interrogate issues in the real world and have themes that do. My BSFA, Nebula finalist, climate fiction novelette O2 Arena did that. “Destiny Delayed” like it is set in present to near future Lagos so it, like that story, is as close to current events and happenings in our society as possible. This is to give an accurate enough representation that even people who have not been there can have a strong enough measure of the truths being told and events being portrayed.

AE: Are there any themes that you find yourself returning to throughout your writing? If yes, what and why?
ODE: The most dominant for me is power. Power in its entirety. Its effects— misuse, lack, effect of its lack, the processes taken to obtain it, the results of those efforts, the results and cost, the effect of its being obtained and the uses to which it’s put by the formerly powerless when they do eventually obtain it. It’s a subject that I find myself returning to, perhaps because of the state of powerlessness I find myself as a Black, African, disabled writer on a continent that’s been enslaved, colonized, and exploited for centuries and continues to be. There’s also toxic capitalism, gender and racial issues, illness and disability, marginalizations generally, and more

AE: How do you deal with writers’ block?
ODE: Food and drink. Especially chocolate. Those can usually force my creativity out no matter what or when. And change in environment, scenery. Also, peace of mind, resulting from financial and other security helps too.

AE: What other projects are you currently working on?
ODE: A number of projects. You’ll find out soon enough. *Wink wink*

AE: Do you have any advice for up-and-coming writers?
ODE: Craft is good. But it usually and unfortunately takes up all the space in a writer’s process. Beyond the writing craft, writers, especially marginalized writers, should give some thought to the other aspects of writing. Like publishing. How and where they want their works to come out and appear. The kind of editors, agents and publishers they want and how to obtain those in a world that will try its utmost to deny them anything good. As it will take deliberate effort to break through the wall of marginalizations that lies between them and their dreams. And having that at the back of your mind as you create isn’t bad. It can help to streamline things to the direction you want to go. Pay attention to the industry you are in.

AE: What is your history with Asimov’s?
ODE: I’ve been submitting to Asimov’s since 2017 when I started submitting to SFF mags. I’ve sent in nearly every piece I’ve written since then. I always felt my chances of getting in were slim, since I had no science background and it was considered the premier science fiction venue. I felt that would show in and affect my work and chances of getting in. But it remained a dream, what I considered my biggest challenge because of my non-science background. So I persevered. And the rest is history as you can see. Perhaps destiny really can never be denied, even if it can be delayed, as they say. *grin*

AE: How can our readers follow you and your writing? (IE: Social media handles, website URL . . .)
ODE: Website: https://odekpeki.com
Twitter: https://twitter.com/penprince_
Instagram: https://instagram.com/penprince

Oghenechovwe Donald Ekpeki is an author who currently resides in Lagos, Nigeria. His work has preciously appeared in Asimov’s, Strange Horizons, Tor.com, and elsewhere. In addition to winning the African Speculative Fiction Society’s Nommo Award for his short story “The Witching Hour,” Ekpeki is the first African novelist whose work became a Nebula Award Finalist with his novella Ife-Iyoku, the Tale of Imadeyunuagbon

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