Super Fan

Part 1

From Impressed to Obsessed

I was thirteen years old when I wrote my first novel in 1993. It was titled “The American Dream.” I remember it so clearly. It was handwritten in blue ink in three A5 exercise books. I had to sew them together with thick yarn to make one copy. My drawing ability came in handy, and I made a colorful illustration of the main character on white paper, then cut and glued it onto the brownish cover. Next, I wrote the title in fancy letters and covered the book in transparent plastic wrap, giving it a neat and glossy look.

The title could not be more cliché. What did an African teenager know about American life? Nothing, except what we learned from the media. We longed to live the American lives we saw playing out on television. The list was endless, from the Cosbys, Saved by the Bell, Fresh Prince of Bel-Air, Dynasty, Beverly Hills 90210, to Bay Watch and Melrose Place. The booming R&B and Hip Hop culture influenced our dressing and music choice. MTV music videos put the icing on the cake. We loved all things American!

The events that influenced the storyline and title of my book began five years earlier, in 1988, when I heard the song Dial My Heart by the R&B boy band of four brothers called The Boys. The song was at the top of our local music charts, and after I watched the four brothers dancing on stage in oversized tuxedos in the music video for A little Romance, I fell in love! I wished I could be one of the girls in that video. The Boys were not only handsome with cool haircuts, but they also had cool dance moves, and their vibrant energy was palpable through the T.V.

When my sister Rutendo saved her pocket money (allowance) and purchased the vinyl record Messages from the Boys, I went from being a fan to a super fan. I played the entire album back to back, repeatedly, singing and dancing to all the songs— every day for weeks. After that, I was officially an obsessed fan!

I studied the record jacket, front and back, and that was when I learned their names, Khiry, Hakeem, Tajh, and Bilal Abdulsamad. Then, I researched any information I could find about The Boys. What a task in 1989/1990! Without the internet and social media, my only source was magazines that were hard to come by and way too expensive for a nine or ten-year-old.

I can’t remember how I finally got my hands on a magazine with a center spread of The Boys, including an interview and their background story. I was thrilled. I read that article several times over. About how they began singing for by-standers at Venice beach in California to raise money for a Father’s Day gift. They earned good money and became so popular that they turned that one performance into a regular act and eventually got discovered and produced by Baby Face and L. A Reid and signed to Motown. The great American story—I was all in.

Of the four brothers, my favorite was Hakeem; he was my first celebrity crush. Hakeem was to me what Justin Beiber was to pre-teens when he first came on the scene. I came into possession of a wall poster of The Boys and couldn’t stop admiring Hakeem. My sisters and friends knew of my Hakeem obsession because I told everyone that I would go to America and find him, my true love.


Part 2

A message to The Boys

Before Twitter and Instagram, the only way to send a message to your favorite celebrity was through fan mail (you have to be at least 40 years old to remember this). You could send a letter to the fan club address via snail mail and, in return, receive a signed photograph of your favorite superstar. For example, my childhood friend and neighbor was crazy about Richard Dean Anderson, the main character on the popular T.V series MacGyver. After months of waiting, she wrote to his fan club and received an autographed photo of Richard Dean Anderson. I was blown away by that idea and knew I had to write to The Boys, specifically Hakeem (ha-ha).

And so I did. I discovered The Boys ‘fan club address on the back of their vinyl record jacket in tiny print. I saved my pocket-money to pay for the airmail (international postage stamp) that was pricey for a nine or ten-year-old (I can’t remember my exact age). In my letter, I told them how I loved their music and was probably their biggest fan in Africa. Could they please send me an autographed photo and poster?

I waited weeks and months and got no reply. So then I decided to send another letter if the last one got lost in the mail. So again, I spent all my savings. Spending all my money on a postage stamp was a considerable sacrifice. Pocket money (we called it tuck money) was a daily allowance that our parents gave us to spend on snacks during recess at the school tuck shop. So for days and weeks, I went without any treats/snacks, saving every penny. And still no reply.

I didn’t give up, and I wasn’t a happy fan. My third letter to The Boys was a long rant from a disgruntled fan. Yes, I did it. I wrote how selfish they were for not considering posting mail from Zimbabwe to the United States was expensive. Besides, it is downright rude to ignore a fan! Was it too much to ask for an autographed photo to show my friends? (I’d told everyone I was getting a signed picture of Hakeem). Still, I begged for a reply, and I had a special message for Hakeem. I wanted a photo of just him, without his brothers!

I don’t know if my letters ever made it, or perhaps they got lost in the pile of mail from hundreds of other super fans. I can only imagine the laughs by their management team if they ever read my third letter. But, unfortunately, I will never know because I never received a reply—there were no messages from The Boys.


Part 3

Lemons to Lemonade

Years later, at thirteen, I had more significant problems than worrying and obsessing about Hakeem and his brothers. I had moved on to other interests like the New Kids on The Block, Boys II Men, and Tevin Campbell. These musicians were at the top of the music charts and driving all the girls wild. But, unfortunately, the Boys seemed to have disappeared off the airwaves. I still liked their music, but as I grew older and the music scene changed, they became a distant memory.

I loved reading and writing and was always buried deep in a book. I enjoyed fiction, and in those days, Sidney Sheldon and Danielle Steel were my favorites. But then I had an urge to write, and the more I read, the stronger it grew. I wanted to tell a story but had no idea what to write or where to begin. Then the idea came to me. I was probably taking a shower to get ready for school or during our many daily chores like cleaning the dorm rooms (argh! the joys of boarding school), washing dishes in the school kitchen, or watering the vegetable gardens.

The story was about a seventeen-year-old Zimbabwean girl who was crazy about a superstar boy band of four African- American brothers. The Boy band was a global success, and to promote an upcoming album, they announced a competition to discover their “Super Fan.” Fans worldwide had to write a short essay about why they should be selected. The grand prize was a one-month Super Fan experience with the boy band, including joining them on tour and spending a few days in their Hollywood mansion.

The girl from Zimbabwe saved her allowance and raised enough to send a one-page essay about how their music inspired her to work hard to achieve her dreams, just as they had done. Finally, out of the millions of hopeful girls and boys from all around the world, she was the chosen one! The story detailed how the simple African girl was flown to America, her first time leaving her family, home, and country, to meet the world’s greatest boy band, including her first celebrity crush. A dream come true! But she would soon find out that it was not all glitz and glamor, and the reality was far from her fantasy.


Part 4

All that glitters

The story followed the girl’s journey to the United States, a country she had only read about and watched on T.V. As the writer, I had to imagine what that would have felt like because I had never been to America. But, at least I could write about being on an airplane because I had been on a plane once when I was eight years old, a short flight from Bulawayo to Harare, and I used what I could remember from that experience to describe the plane ride. The rest was pure imagination.

I imagined the girl being picked up at the airport by a limo driver holding a banner with her name. I had seen this scene on T.V. I described how she would have been overwhelmed by her modern surroundings compared to her humble African environment. When the limo pulls up to the mansion, the girl is mesmerized. I was inspired by the scene from “The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air” when Will Smith steps out of the taxi and looks up at the mansion, his new home. So, that “Bel-Air house” became the mansion in my book.

Then she met the brothers, and they looked nothing like they did on T.V. They were neither as good-looking nor friendly. She later discovers that the celebrity life shown on T.V was exaggerated and staged. The brothers didn’t get along as a band or as a family. They fought constantly, and each member threatened to leave the band to pursue a solo career. The brothers lived with their parents and managers, and they disagreed on just about everything. These rich and famous boys were overworked and miserable (think The Jackson Five).

The gist of the story was that the African girl who initially felt unwelcome soon warmed up to this dysfunctional family. Weaving her way into their lives, forming unique bonds with each member, and eventually getting them to appreciate each other and work together, like how Maria in “The Sound of Music” positively influenced the Von Trapp family, and they lived happily ever after.

The brothers liked her and invited her for a day at their school. And there, again, she was disappointed because it wasn’t as cool as it looked on T.V. Some of the kids made fun of her accent, clothes, and hair. However, one of the brothers saved her from a bully. And when everyone discovered that she was staying with the famous brothers, she became popular, to the mean girls’ despair. I took a lot of inspiration from Saved by the Bell to write that storyline. That was my idea of what an American high school would be.

I don’t remember all the story’s details, but I think there was a romantic storyline with one of the brothers and maybe a first kiss. By the time the month was up and the girl had to return to Zimbabwe, the brothers were back to being a united boy band. Their parents had stepped down from management to focus on parenthood. She thought going to America would change her life, but she changed the lives of her American host family.

That was my first book as I remember it. I wrote dialogue and detailed descriptions. My experience of being a super fan of The Boys, who never replied to my fan mail, inspired the idea for my first book.

My schoolmates at St. James high school liked my story. As I wrote and developed the story, I remember people lining up to read it, chapter by chapter. I loved the writing process, creating a fantasy, and putting it on paper for others to read. I wrote several stories after that, including short stories with illustrations and comic books (co-written with my sister Mutsa). The writing bug has come to bite me throughout the years, but I never completed any of the writing. Instead, I’d save to my computer or share with a friend or two and leave it. Then, life happened, and I didn’t have the time or drive to write again.

In 2018 that urge to write returned, and this time it was fierce. The idea for my book came to me while I was at work, and I couldn’t wait to get home and start typing. So, finally, the book is ready to be shared with the world. I am excited and can’t wait for you to read it!

Watch the Videos:

Dial My Heart music video:

A little romance music video: