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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

Every now and again a book comes out that deserves all the hype that it is getting. A lot of the time a book will come out that doesn’t deserve any of the hype it’s been getting. And probably more often than we like to admit, a book comes out that doesn’t get any hype whatsoever and is absolutely breathtaking.That is the case (as far as I’m aware) for The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms, book one in the Inheritance Trilogy by N.K. Jemisin. This book has blown my mind. As if out of nowhere comes this author who has absolutely nailed their debut much like [...]

10.0/10

Read our full review

The Fifth Season by NK Jemisin

When we say “the world has ended,” it’s usually a lie, because the planet is just fine. But this is the way the world ends. This is the way the world ends. This is the way the world ends. For the last time.I had known about N.K. Jemisin’s The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms for quite some time except I just couldn’t bring myself to read it. I don’t know why I decided to read her newest book, The Fifth Season, though I’m glad I did. I’m not a fan of tragedies, and this book is a great big mass of tragedy, so much so that I wonder if there will [...]

9.5/10

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The Killing Moon by NK Jemisin

In the ancient city-state of Gujaareh, peace is the only law. Upon its rooftops and amongst the shadows of its cobbled streets wait the Gatherers - the keepers of this peace. Priests of the dream-goddess, their duty is to harvest the magic of the sleeping mind and use it to heal, soothe… and kill those judged corrupt. But when a conspiracy blooms within Gujaareh’s great temple, Ehiru - the most famous of the city’s Gatherers - must question everything he knows. Someone, or something, is stalking its prey both in Gujaareh’s alleys and the realm of dreams. Ehiru must [...]

9.3/10

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The Stone Sky by NK Jemisin

The stunning finale to the record breaking triple Hugo Award winning trilogy.The Moon will soon return. Whether this heralds the destruction of humankind or something worse will depend on two women. Essun has inherited the phenomenal power of Alabaster Tenring. With it, she hopes to find her daughter Nassun and forge a world in which every outcast child can grow up safe. For Nassun, her mother's mastery of the Obelisk Gate comes too late. She has seen the evil of the world, and accepted what her mother will not admit: that sometimes what is corrupt cannot be cleansed, only destro [...]

10.0/10

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The Broken Kingdoms by NK Jemisin

In March, 2010 new author N.K. Jemisin released the first book in her Inheritance Trilogy - The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms. The book was fantastic, as evidenced by her Hugo and Nebula nominations for it, as well as it being listed on both the Amazon and Publisher's Weekly Science Fiction/Fantasy Top 10 of 2010. If the second had not come out the same year (November 2010) I have no doubt it would also have found its way onto those same lists.The Inheritance Trilogy is a well thought out, coherent, single story being told in three parts. If you haven't read the first one, go fin [...]

9.7/10

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The Obelisk Gate by NK Jemisin

Gods! I’m still reeling and craving and just in a... stupor (more like a coma). Daze. I’m still just thinking up more adjectives.Aah seriously!!So I just read The Obelisk Gate today or more like just finished it an hour ago (right before dinner), it’s still fresh in my mind (too much so). I’ve been waiting quite some time for it, since I read The Fifth Season, but I’ve kind of been dreading it too. I loved The Fifth Season – the complexity of its characters, the world building, the concept. Even so, there was just so much tragedy and despair [...]

9.5/10

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The Shadowed Sun by NK Jemisin

What are you willing to destroy and who are you willing to kill in order to achieve a "lasting peace"? Can people who abhor violence use it to achieve a greater good? If a society claims women are godly and reveres them as such yet robs them of their choices, is that hypocrisy? How much do we pay for the sins of our parents?Tough, complex questions. And yet again Jemisin has found a way to approach these difficult, thorny moral issues involving individuals and society in a way that makes you see both sides.The concluding volume in the Dreamblood duology picks up 10 y [...]

9.2/10

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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 [...]

10.0/10

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