Wednesday, June 7, 2023

Gail-Agnes Musikavanhu

Gail-Agnes Musikavanhu was born in South Africa and raised in a number of places including Boston, Massachusetts, where she currently resides. She is a graduate of the University of Cape Town, where she received a BA in English literature and film and media production, and she uses those skills to write stories, pitch media and watch movies. Ride or Die is her debut novel.

My Q&A with the author:

How much work does your title do to take readers into the story?

Ride or Die does all the work of taking the reader into the story. It immediately denotes action, flare, and a dash of mystery, while also relaying that this is a story about deep friendship. I’ve always been proud of the multilayered nature of the title’s meaning. The protagonist, Loli, and the mystery figure at the center of the novel embark on a game of dares with high psychological stakes, and they really do believe it is either “ride” or “die”. They feel an urgency to take dramatic, competitive action or it’s the end of the world. My publisher and I tried brainstorming more unique titles when the book was sold (so many songs, movies, books, etc. have the same name) but we ultimately couldn’t find a more perfect title for this story.

What's in a name?

My protagonist is named “Loli” after a song I loved as a teenager, (also featured in the book) but as I outgrew teenhood I thought she needed a “proper” name. While doing research, I happened upon the Malawian name “Naloli” which means “it is true”. If you read the book, you’ll find that Loli has a complicated relationship with the truth. Yes, she is always her most authentic, truest self; she’s unafraid to speak her mind and exist loudly and exactly as she is. But she often lies to herself about what she wants because the truth isn’t exactly what she wants it to be…

How surprised would your teenage reader self be by your novel?

I don’t think she’d be much surprised! This is exactly the novel I wanted to read as a teenager, so maybe she’d be surprised that I finally did it. Though she might be scandalized to find that I tucked a curse word somewhere in there…

Do you find it harder to write beginnings or endings? Which do you change more?

I really struggle to write beginnings, but endings come naturally to me. I know exactly where I want a story to go and how I ultimately want things to be resolved, but I find it difficult to know where to start a story that is so full in my mind. It’s daunting having to approach a mass of activity in your mind (character backstories, desires, appearances, personalities, twisting plots) and concisely lay it out. By the time I’ve finished writing a book the beginning has been re-written at least half a dozen times.

Do you see much of yourself in your characters? Do they have any connection to your personality, or are they a world apart?

I never used to think I had anything in common with any of the characters in Ride or Die but somewhere in my revisions I began to see a lot of myself in Loli’s best friend (and potential love interest?) Ryan Pope. We have a very similar “glass-half-full” mentality, we play the same role in our friend groups, we’re both majorly conflict-averse (often to our detriment), and I’m always so enamored by glittering, egocentric people like Loli. It’s so easy to get swept up and lost in their world.

What non-literary inspirations have influenced your writing?

This is the perfect question for Ride or Die because it was mostly inspired by non-literary art. To me, teenagehood has always had a sound, and perhaps because rock was the dominant genre for teens when I was a child it has remained the sound of teenagehood in my mind. I was listening to a lot of Cage the Elephant, The White Stripes, Led Zeppelin and some Weezer while writing this book. Born to Die by Lana Del Rey was a huge influence for Ride or Die as well. That album is a seminal work for so many artists of my generation.
Visit Gail-Agnes Musikavanhu's website.

--Marshal Zeringue