An interview with NK Jemisin

Image: NK Jemisin Nora K Jemisin is an author of speculative fiction short stories and novels who lives and writes in Brooklyn, NY. In addition to writing, she is a counselling psychologist (currently specializing in career counselling), a sometime hiker and biker, and a political/feminist/anti-racist blogger. Her short fiction has been published in pro markets such as Clarkesworld, Postscripts, Strange Horizons, and Baen’s Universe; podcast markets and print anthologies. Her first novel, The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms, is out from Orbit Books as of February 2010. It is the first book of the Inheritance Trilogy. Nora kindly spoke to Fantasy Book Review in June 2010.

Give us a brief description of yourself (who you are, where you’re from, what you do if you’re not writing full time).

I'm from lots of places, but most notably Mobile, Alabama and Brooklyn, New York; I live in the latter now. In my day job life I'm a career counsellor, and aside from that I'm a political blogger, biker, and wannabe chef.

Cats, dogs or other?

Cats! Though I don't dislike dogs. I'm just a city girl and it's hard to have them here. As for "other", as long as they're not spiders, I'm all good.

Have you been a fantasy fan all your life? Do you read outside the genre?

Yep, and yep.

Who are your favourite authors in fantasy and outside of fantasy?

In fantasy: Tanith Lee, Storm Constantine, Carol Berg, Lynn Flewelling, C. S. Friedman, and Stephen King. Beyond fantasy, I mostly read nonfiction histories, a la Charles Mann's 1491 and Jared Diamond's COLLAPSE, and stuff that's good for speculative writers to read, like Alan Weisman's THE WORLD WITHOUT US. Fictionwise some horror -- King does double duty there -- and recently I've been exploring romance. No favourites there yet, but I haven't read enough for a thorough survey.

Is this the first book that you have tried to have published?

Nope. Like most first-time authors (per Tobias Buckell's author survey of a few years back), I did not break in with my first novel; in my case it was the third. Fourth if one counts the fact that I wrote the book that became THE HUNDRED THOUSAND KINGDOMS twice.

You’re on Twitter, Facebook, Livejournal. How do you use these internet tools? Strictly for publicity or as an additional expression on top of your book?

Additional expression. Though honestly, everything a writer says in public is part of his or her publicity.

Can you give us your pitch for ‘The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms’?

Image: The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms book cover Actually, they used my pitch on the back of the book*, tweaked and shortened slightly. Orbit's been great about listening to my input with the marketing of this.

You’re getting some pretty positive reviews (I gave you 10/10). Did you think you would hit it so big so quickly? Was there the knowledge that you had something special?

I don't know that I'd say I've "hit it big" at this point -- all I've got are positive reviews, haven't broken the bestseller ranks or anything like that. But it does look like I won't have to pull the old "change my name and start my career over again" schtick, which would happen if my sales sucked.

And like most writers, I think everything I've written is special, at least for a little while. ;)

The stream of conscious is a rare storytelling method these days. What made you go with it?

It's not really rare in literary fiction, or more literary-oriented fantasy subgenres (e.g., slipstream, New Weird). I went with it because that was how the story needed to be told. I tried an earlier version in a straightforward, didactic third person limited, and it just didn't convey the character complexity that I needed. So I tried something else, and that felt right.

Was there a conscious effort to create a homosexual/bisexual relationship between Nightlord and Bright Itempas? Or was that an unlooked for by-product of the fascinating differences these two had to other literary gods?

To clarify, their relationship isn't something we have a name for -- or at least if we do, I don't know it. It's a polyamorous incestuous marriage in which one of the parties is gender-fluid (technically all three of them are, but by preference Itempas is always male and Enefa was always female). Beyond that -- they're gods. They do what gods do. The Greco-Roman and Egyptian gods did it this way; why not mine? So the only conscious effort I exerted was to make them a believable pantheon.

You have one book under your belt, another two to go in the trilogy. Is that it for you as a writer? Is that the only story you have to tell? Or is this your goal now, to be an author and to write many books?

Does any author just have one story to tell? These days it's hard to get published if that's all you've got. Publishers are looking for authors who can be built up as brands, cranking out lots of "product". So of course I'll be working on more stuff in the future. Hopefully it'll be stuff you get to see!

* The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms blurb

Yeine Darr is an outcast from the barbarian north. But when her mother dies under mysterious circumstances, she is summoned to the majestic city of Sky, seat of the ruling Arameri family.

There, to her shock, Yeine is named an heiress to the king. But the throne of the Hundred Thousand Kingdoms is not easily won, and Yeine is thrust into a vicious power struggle with a pair of cousins she never knew she had. As she fights for her life, she draws ever closer to the secrets of her mother’s death and her family’s bloody history.

With the fate of the world hanging in the balance, Yeine will learn how perilous it can be when love and hate — and gods and mortals — are bound inseparably.