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An interview with 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'?

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.

Our NK Jemisin reviews

The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms by NK Jemisin

N.K. Jemisin has won the Hugo Award for Best Novel, Nebula Award for Best Novel, Audie Award for Science Fiction and the Crawford Award. Enough said. You want more? Okay, every now and again books comes out that deserves all the hype they get. N.K. Jemisin writes books that are at times smart, at times funny, and at times downright heartbreaking, all wrapped up in the the most original stories. This is a must for your bookshelf. This book is flat out 10 out of 10.

Read our review

The Fifth Season by NK Jemisin

Reading the Broken Earth trilogy can be a brutal, painful experience. There is much tragedy, despair and the characters’ futures often look nothing but bleak. But these ambitious, heartbreaking books mark a new stage in the evolution of the fantasy genre and their complexity, world-building and themes break new ground.

Read our review

The Killing Moon by NK Jemisin

In the first of her Dreamblood duology, N K Jemisin presents a vivid world of dreams and reality, sanity and insanity, and the stories of the people caught up within it. It’s a compelling tale of corruption and justice and the lengths people will go to in pursuit of both.

Read our review

The Stone Sky by NK Jemisin

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The Broken Kingdoms by NK Jemisin

In the city of Shadow, beneath the World Tree, alleyways shimmer with magic and godlings live hidden among mortalkind. Oree Shoth, a blind artist, takes in a strange homeless man on an impulse. This act of kindness engulfs Oree in a nightmarish conspiracy. Someone, somehow, is murdering godlings, leaving their desecrated bodies all over the city. And Oree's guest is at the heart of it...

"Jemisin has created a well-paced, thoughtful, intriguing book that has unexpected twists. The characters are fleshed out and memorable. If you like solidly built worlds where gods and people mix and enjoy looking at a culture in transition, you will find this book a great read."

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The Obelisk Gate by NK Jemisin

The season of endings grows darker, as civilization fades into the long cold night. Essun has found shelter, but not her missing daughter. Instead there is Alabaster Tenring, destroyer of the world, with a request only Essun can grant.

"This book is ‘gravitational’, you just can’t help reading further, wanting to know. You understand more about the opposing factions, and who all are involved in or perpetuating the war. And that a lot of these round about concepts of orogeny come to and through the discovery of magic. That’s plenty to think upon, and you should properly discover the rest yourself."

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The Shadowed Sun by NK Jemisin

Gujaareh, the city of dreams, suffers under the imperial rule of the Kisuati Protectorate. A city where the only law was peace now knows violence and oppression. And nightmares: a mysterious and deadly plague haunts the citizens of Gujaareh, dooming the infected to die screaming in their sleep. Trapped between dark dreams and cruel overlords, the people yearn to rise up - but Gujaareh has known peace for too long.

"Ultimately, The Shadowed Sun is a more personal tale than The Killing Moon. There is so much to love about it. But I found a few plot threads a little too easy to predict. I loved the characters and identified with each. The story grew organically and weaved together beautifully. And while, as I mentioned above, there is a significant emotional and moral discourse happening here - more so than the first book - for some reason I found myself LIKING the first book just a smidge more. Having said that, read them both. They are two of the best books I heave read all year."

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The Kingdom Of Gods by NK Jemisin

For two thousand years the Arameri family has ruled the world by enslaving the very gods that created mortalkind. Now the gods are free, and the Arameri's ruthless grip is slipping. Yet they are all that stands between peace and world-spanning, unending war. Shahar, last scion of the family, must choose her loyalties. She yearns to trust Sieh, the godling she loves. Yet her duty as Arameri heir is to uphold the family's interests, even if that means using and destroying everyone she cares for. As long-suppressed rage and terrible new magics consume the world, the Maelstrom - which even gods fear - is summoned forth. Shahar and Sieh: mortal and god, lovers and enemies. Can they stand together against the chaos that threatens the kingdom of gods?

Read our review