N.K. Jemisin

Out now!

The Killing Moon

The Kingdom of Gods

In the desert city-state of Gujaareh, peace is the only law. Along its ancient stone streets, there is no crime or violence. Priests of the dream-goddess, known as Gatherers, maintain order: harvesting the dreams of the citizens, healing the injured, and guiding the dreamers into the afterlife. . .

When Ehiru-the most famous of the city's Gatherers-is sent to harvest the dreams of a diplomatic envoy, he finds himself drawn into a conspiracy that threatens to drag the dreaming city into war.

Learn more.

Launch Day!

Hi folks. Well, it’s official — as of today, the omnibus edition of the Inheritance Trilogy, and “The Awakened Kingdom” novella, both go on sale.

Cover shows a photorealistic, ornate stone door, superimposed with text reading THE INHERITANCE TRILOGY. At bottom, INCLUDES A BRAND NEW NOVELLA SET IN THE SAME WORLD, THE AWAKENED KINGDOM

The omnibus is available at all major retailers, print and ebook, and includes the novella. If you’ve already got the trilogy in separate-book form, however, don’t worry — you can buy just the novella as a standalone ebook for $2.99.

Awakened Kingdom ebook cover - shows stylized brassy stars exploding on a burgundy background, and book title.

It’s available for Nook, Kindle, and as a Google ebook.

As for the omnibus, here’s KING OZZYMANDIAS (or Ozzy, for short) to demonstrate just what a whopper it is:

Orange cat sitting next to a very large book.

In the next photo, he pushes it off the desk.

…Might wanna have it delivered. Just sayin’.

I usually post sample chapters of my novels, but since this is just a novella (about 1/3 the size of most of my books), and it doesn’t have chapters, I’m going to post a shorter segment, below. This is from the pre-copyedited version, note, and from a few pages in.

Happy reading!
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DA: Inquisition Story Review

So, since people keep asking me about this on Twitter, I’ll summarize my thoughts about this game, which I finished this past weekend. Emphasis on story vs other gameplay elements, so thus the post title. Spoilers herein, BTW, so a cut:
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Your groundbreaking is not my groundbreaking

Note: I will be mentioning a few spoilers in this post. Look away now if you’re not ready for that yet!

So, a few nights ago I started Dragon Age: Inquisition, the third game in a franchise I’ve liked a lot over the years. Just for shits and giggles I livetweeted my game for a few hours. Most of the feed is pretty dull — like, me eating dinner while waiting half an hour for the game to finish installing on my XBox’s hard drive. But once I finally got the game going and dug into the character creator, I felt a moment of sharp bitterness at the realization that even though I write fantasy, there are times when this genre is really, really hard to love. My in-the-moment reaction:

I ended up with this when I was done rolling up my character (sorry for the terrible image; it’s just a photo of my TV screen):

image shows a DA: Inquisition character: middle-toned black female elf with white facial markings and nearly bald shaven head

She’s okay. Not what I wanted. But okay. And that’s pretty much how the experience left me feeling, despite the fact that I’ve been stupidly excited over this game for something like three years. That pretty much killed the excitement right out of the gate. I’m still playing, but I’m not raving about this game to anyone, anymore. It’s just something to do, now.

So, this little experience has me thinking a lot about the concept of “normal”.
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You can tell a lot about a fantasy novel by its glossary

Was just working on the glossary for The Fifth Season. Glossaries are both fun and frustrating for me — fun because a glossary is worldbuilding at its most stark, and frustrating because it’s part of the story, and can enhance or detract from the reading experience if it’s mishandled. The tension between TELL THEM EVERYTHING, EVERYTHING, HA HA HA and tell them nothing, nothing, they don’t need to know gets kind of uncomfortable after awhile. That’s why I’ve asked that all of my glossaries be located at the backs of my books, rather than the fronts — because, like maps, they contain unavoidable spoilers to the reader about where the story’s going to go and what it will involve. I prefer for readers to figure that out the way the characters do, by living in the world’s context and immersing in its strangeness.

Still, the Broken Earth trilogy is the, hmm, biggest thing I’ve ever written, and the scope of it is forcing me to do some things I’ve never done before. The Fifth Season is going to have a map, for example. (Yeah, yeah, I’m breaking my infamous “NO MAPS!” rule, lemmealone.) But I needed one while I was working on TFS, which pretty much means readers are going to need one too, so I’ve spent the past few weeks working with an artist on my first-ever fantasy map. That’s been fascinating as hell — the first draft alone is awesome — and when it’s done I’ll tell you more about it.

And the glossary is bigger. I’m editing it down now, because ya know, the glossary shouldn’t be longer than the novel. In the process I’m trying to put myself into the head of a reader who skips ahead to read the glossary before reading the book, because I know full well some of ya’ll do that. ::mom eyes:: That way I can (hopefully) extract any spoilers before you impatient people hit them. :)

So, an exercise! Here’s a random page of the glossary, from which I think I have extracted any spoilery material. There should be stuff here that makes you scratch your head and want to know more, but not anything that would reveal Important Plot Secrets. Warning in advance that I might have failed in this, so I’m putting it below the cut if you’d rather not risk it. The rest of you, if you’re feeling brave, help me out!

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Why I Talk So Damn Much About Non-Writing Stuff

A reader at NYCC asked me — not in an accusatory way if you’re wondering — why I spend so much time on social media talking about world events, social justice issues, health care, etc. I’m an SFF writer, after all; why don’t I just spend all of my time talking about writing?

What I told her, basically, was this: when I talk about those things, I am talking about writing. How can I manage good characterization if I don’t understand the complexities of human behavior, and their motivations? How plausible will my fantasy worlds be, if they don’t demonstrate the power dynamics and cognitive fallacies which shape our own societies — i.e., what readers will expect to see, given their own likely experiences? Apart from the fact that the stuff I retweet and comment upon affects me personally — e.g. race and gender issues, gaming, Amazon vs Hachette — these things are also story material. In The Kingdom of Gods, Dekarta’s personality is shaped by being a mixed-race person who cannot pass as Amn, in a society that has privileged and applied value to Amn “purity” for generations. That’s not a personal experience for me, but when you read enough stories like this about supposedly-loving parents who nevertheless consider their child’s brownness to be a “loss” for which they should be compensated… well. It’s easy to extrapolate. In The Broken Kingdoms, when Oree knows better than to expect justice of Shadow’s system of law enforcement — that part is personal experience, and also reading a thousand news articles about how police victimize and disproportionately target the poor and people of color and trans people and so on. Many of the scenarios in The Shadowed Sun are drawn from everything I’ve read and lived on how sexual abuse is handled in societies which are in denial about having a problem with sexual abuse, and which simultaneously point fingers at other “more barbaric” societies. And so on. Sure, it’s all fantasy… but I’ve always been firmly of the opinion that the various whoppers of fantasy (e.g. dream-stalking ninja priests) go down easier if they’re coated in realistic human structures and interactions.

That’s the whole point of speculative fiction for me, really — playing the “what-if” game. What if, all other things being equal and people being people, the apocalypse happened every few hundred years? What if, all other things being equal and people being people, gods lived among us, and were sometimes real assholes? Those what-ifs don’t work without the people being people part. Which means I need to understand people, in the real world, in all their glory and grotesquerie.

So, for those of you who get frustrated by how often I post about Ferguson, or bigotry in video games, or whatever, and who wish I would just stick to writing… well. I get that you might not be interested in the stuff that interests me. But you might want to expand your definition of what’s relevant to writing, is all I’m saying. For the worldbuilder, all the world is necessary fuel.

Author strength training: Reading reviews

So, I saw Kameron Hurley (who’s got a new book out that I really need to get to ASAP) lamenting this morning on Twitter about something familiar:

It’s the thing they don’t really tell you in Pro-Author-Wannabe school: getting published is just the beginning. Or maybe they said it and I just didn’t want to hear it — because after all the effort most of us go through to learn the craft, make the connections, find the agent, and/or sell the book, who’s really ready to hear, “Okay! Now it gets hard“? But the thing is, despite the manuscript deadlines and the page proofs that have to be done yesterday and the interviews and the conventions and the blog maintenance oh and the day job most of us won’t be able to afford to quit, we also have to make sure we’re continuing to improve our craft. Becoming good enough to publish doesn’t mean you’ve crossed some artistic finish line; it means you’ve qualified for the real race. It means you’ve reached a minimum level of readability — and I can’t speak for other authors, but I’m not satisfied with minimum anything. I need to be the best writer I can possibly be. That means I need to not only “stay in shape” writing-skill-wise, I also need to make an active effort to improve those skills over time — kind of like strength training when you’ve hit a fitness plateau. A few ways that I’ve done this “author strength training” include: trying to stay current with my writing group, although I’ve done a terrible job of that lately and need to try harder; attempting drastically different styles and perspectives in my writing, and forcing myself outside of my comfort zone; and reading as much as possible, which I’m pleased to say I’ve done a decent job of this year. (Except Kameron’s book. Sorry, Kameron. Soon.)

But another thing I do is look at my reviews.
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What I’ve been up to lately

So, it’s been awhile, blogosphere; my apologies. I would’ve updated sooner, but I had some technical difficulties (now fixed thanks to a move to a new web host) and a series of cascading deadlines that was… well, not fun. But for the first time in awhile, I’ve got room to breathe! So here’s what you missed, if you don’t follow me on Twitter or FB.

“The Awakened Kingdom” and Inheritance Trilogy omnibus are on the way!

You can preorder the ebook version now. Just sent off the page proofs today! And here’s the cover, if you missed it:
Awakened Kingdom ebook cover - shows stylized brassy stars exploding on a burgundy background, and book title.

Clarion!

I came back from Clarion into a massive deadline and a fresh bout of bronchitis, so didn’t update at the time. Fortunately, a number of Clarion students have blogged about this summer, including Martin Cahill’s account of how the dreaded Week 4 went with me on deck. (Hint: I shot them. I SHOT THEM ALL.) It was grueling, inspiring, frustrating, and humbling in the best way. Clarionites, I miss you guys!

Some members of Clarion UCSD mugging for the camera, and me

Photo credit Vida Cruz, July 2014

Birthday!

Sept 19th was my birthday, so for a personal treat I finally got around to doing the thing I’ve wanted to do since 2004 when my first novel got me an agent, which I consider to be the starting point of my pro-writer career. I’m a big believer in the importance of acknowledging personal milestones; without those, I don’t feel like I’m making any progress in life. So to demarcate the point where I took a great flying leap toward the achievement of a lifelong dream, ten years later I’ve gotten my Gatherer tattoo. Those of you who’ve read the Dreamblood may recall that when a Gatherer-Apprentice is accepted into that path, he is marked with an identifying floral tattoo (since Gatherers’ faces are generally unseen — everyone knows them as “the Rose”, or “the Nightshade”). Nijiri’s is the blue lotus. I started to go with an Egyptian design originally, and some of you may recall that I solicited ideas from readers about what the Gatherer tattoo should look like. I got several good designs — thanks, folks. But nothing really grabbed me, and since I didn’t have the money to spare at the time, I set the idea on the back burner again. But then lo and behold, artist Lee Moyer and I got to talking about some things re Arisia (where we’ll both be GoHs next year), and he showed me a pretty, and that was it. That was Nijiri’s lotus. So with his kind permission, I have applied his art to my flesh.

This is the tat freshly done. Can’t show you the final form because it’s still healing and looks kind of gross right now. -_- Maybe later.

Image of Jemisin's left shoulder with tattoo of a stylized blue lotus

Design by Lee Moyer, tattoo by Willie at Brooklyn Tattoo.

And a little something more…

ETA: Almost forgot; I’ve been busy with a few other things lately. A few reprints newly out, plus another NYT SFF roundup review is coming soon. I can’t talk about the review, but I suppose I can gloat a little about at least one of the books I’ve gotten to read lately, thanks to this NYT gig…

Photo of three books -- two anthologies featuring Jemisin reprints, the third a review copy of Ann Leckie's ANCILLARY SWORD

So that’s all the news that is news in Noraville. How’s by you guys?

A survey of my recent gaming

And by “recent” I mean “I played it recently”, not that these are recent games. ‘Cause I’m busy, and sometimes it takes me awhile to get around to things. Spoiler warning on all of these, so I’ll put them behind a cut, but these are all old games anyway, so my guess is that nobody really cares about spoilers anymore.

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Small Acknowledgements

I miss WisCon. One of the reasons it’s been one of my favorite conventions — during the years I wasn’t personally boycotting it, anyway (it’s a love-hate thing) — is that I learn so much, often despite myself, and that kind of learning is always a pleasure. (So many mind blown moments.) But that said, it’s a 1000-person con, and while I’m a very functional introvert, I am an introvert; I need space and silence to recharge and reflect. So I’ve been doing a lot of that in the slightly-more-than-24-hours since I got home.

In particular I’ve been reflecting on the speech of my fellow Guest of Honor, Hiromi Goto. It’s a beautiful speech; she has more poetry in her little finger than I could ever muster in a hundred years, and given that I was sitting in the audience dripping nervous sweat when I heard it, it gave me strength. (If you’re reading this, Ms. Goto, thank you again.) I’d noticed the thematic congruity of both speeches before fellow author Sofia Samatar “remixed” them to show them in conversation, though her reconstruction really brings it home.

But in particular I want to focus in on something that Ms. Goto chose to do at the very beginning of the speech:

I would like to acknowledge the Ho-Chunk and Dakota Sioux Nations and their traditional lands. I am a guest, here, and I am grateful.

It’s a common thing in this genre for us to acknowledge our mentors and allies, our families, our readers, anyone else who’s helped us get to where we are within the scope of our career. What’s uncommon is a broader acknowledgement; one which stretches past the individual and into community, and history. My nation is one which encourages its people to think of the present and future as something neatly divided from the past; one which values, valorizes, rugged individualism. The problem with this kind of thinking, though, is that it lends a false gloss of accomplishment to everything we do. Like businesses built on public land using public utilities and roads which then refuse to pay workers enough to keep them from them going on public assistance in order to survive… and which then demand a tax exemption because they’re doing the public such a favor by existing. Of course individuals who succeed usually work hard to do so; it’s just that their accomplishment doesn’t happen in a vacuum, and we are a country that likes to pretend otherwise. Particularly when the people who got us to where we are are those we’d rather not acknowledge, for various reasons.

Ms. Goto’s acknowledgement is, I think, modeled on the Australian Acknowledgement of Country that I alluded to in my Continuum GoH speech last year. And though I’ve come to believe in the time since that it might be too soon for reconciliation in SFF — that we have not yet earned that level of closure — I do think there’s value in emulating some of the other cultures which are trying to do this. What many of these cultures seem to have figured out is that acknowledgements, however small, matter. It’s not just the thefts, the violence, or the exclusions that hurt, but also the rewriting of history to pretend none of that shit happened. Injustice keeps the wounds festering, but it’s the lies that salt and sting.

And maybe this is the kind of thing that can help. It’s a simple gesture, only a few words, but words have power. I did not include an acknowledgement like this in my speech, and I feel instinctively that it should be different to an acknowledgement of country; as I understand the Australian practice, those are done at events using public space and/or government funding, for the obvious reason that the government wouldn’t exist without the land it stands upon, and the people who’ve funded it — all of them. In the US, that’s a more complex statement, because so much of this country was built not only upon stolen land but stolen labor. And in the literary field, our foundations were built in different ways.

So this is my Acknowledgement of Genre. Or Art. Still noodling. I welcome suggestions on changing/improving this, BTW.

I acknowledge the Lenape people on whose ancestral land I stand; the African people whose bones were buried unmarked in this city’s foundations; and the involuntary and exploited labor of people from every land which helped to make New York City great.

I also acknowledge the literary ancestors without whose sacrifices and inspiration I would not be here: Mary Shelley, W. E. B. Du Bois, James Joyce, and Octavia Butler. You are joined most recently by Maya Angelou, an inspiration to us all.

I’m aware that this is too simple a statement to encompass the totality of any one person’s literary debts owed — just as the acknowledgement of country is too simple a statement to acknowledge the totality of any colonial nation’s debts. And I’m aware there’s substantial controversy regarding acknowledgements like this, which — without a real effort at memory, and unaccompanied by a serious attempt to redress past wrongs — can seem superficial, trivial.

Still, I think it’s a start. I kept it short because a complete acknowledgement would take forever, and because this is meant to be symbolic, not literal. The first paragraph is obviously specific to my locality. For the second paragraph, I chose four names so that two could be male and two female. For my first two names I deliberately chose people whose place in genre history is often forgotten or elided in favor of white men; then Joyce because he’s probably my strongest actual literary influence; then Butler because I would never have tried to get published in this genre without her example to lead the way. Obviously I chose only people who are no longer living — thus “ancestors” — because acknowledging the ancestors is a tradition that my own family has adopted, and which I suspect a lot of African American families do as well in an effort to reclaim lost aspects of our heritage. And I included Maya just because it felt right.

For now this is a thought exercise. I’m not giving any more speeches anytime soon — my next GoH appearance will be at Arisia — and I’ve got novellas and books to write as well as a whole bunch of short fiction to read before Clarion. But I think I’m going to try including this at the beginning of any future speech I give, once I refine it to my liking. You’re welcome to use it too.

A note on my Wiscon speech

Some friends asked me about a part of the speech that bothered them — namely the quote that I included from Delany’s 1998 essay, this line in particular:

As long as there are only one, two, or a handful of us, however, I presume in a field such as science fiction, where many of its writers come out of the liberal-Jewish tradition, prejudice will most likely remain a slight force—until, say, black writers start to number thirteen, fifteen, twenty percent of the total. At that point, where the competition might be perceived as having some economic heft, chances are we will have as much racism and prejudice here as in any other field.

Since other folks may have the same questions, let me address them here. I can’t speak to what Mr. Delany meant, and wouldn’t presume to try. He’s perfectly capable of speaking for himself, if he wants to do so re a 16-year-old essay quoted by some woman he met once and probably doesn’t remember. I can only speak to why I chose this passage, and what it meant for me. To me it seemed a straightforward description of the SFF genre of the 50s and 60s, especially from the perspective of an outsider trying to break in: that is, mostly white liberals — by the standards of the time, however we might describe them today — and people who were at least Jewish if not liberal, and thus theoretically accepting of black writers because they got the concept of discrimination. (Delany’s essay details how accepted he actually was in those days. Might want to go read it, for context.)

But I’m not Jewish, and I don’t have a radar that pings whenever “Jewish” and words like “economic” are mentioned in close proximity. It didn’t even occur to me that the statement could be read as an allusion to the stereotype of Jewish people being parsimonious. That’s certainly not how I read it, obviously — but I get that this is one possible interpretation of the passage, and that my own privilege as a non-Jewish person is why I didn’t notice that. And especially in light of (TW for anti-Semitism and general bigotry) ongoing bullshit happening both here and overseas — I also get why some of the folks who heard those lines were… concerned.

Sooooo not my intention, ya’ll. Really sorry for that. And from here forth I’ll try to keep a closer lookout for those kinds of “stereotype keyword” combinations, to avoid confusion/alarm.

[ETA: fixed broken link.]


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