The end of an era

Jed Hartman’s retiring from editorship at Strange Horizons.

Jed talks about this himself, so go over and read his blog post, and say goodbye. It’s not a sad affair; it’s just time to move on for him, which I totally get. But I think it’s important to point out just how revolutionary SH has been — and no, I’m not heaping praise upon it because Jed & the gang have published two of my short stories, which gave me 2/3rds of the sales I needed to reach SFWA pro status. I’m heaping praise upon it because the folks who started that magazine have done a lot to change this genre for the better. At the time SH first started, SFF magazines were largely all print, hard to find on the newsstand shelves (you had to subscribe to be sure), and representative of many things wrong with the genre: women rarely appeared in their tables of contents, people of color rarely appeared in their pages, and too many of the stories published were thinly-veiled paeans to colonialism or white male power fantasy. SH just threw that whole model out and went back to the drawing board. They opted for broad accessibility rather than esoteric tradition. They embraced literary quality with the same fervor as speculative content, where other markets turned up their collective noses at genre meandering or stylistic shenanigans. And despite many, many naysayers at the time who predicted their early and ugly demise, they succeeded. They’ve been here all this time. They pay authors a pro rate even though they’re funded solely by donations. And they’re largely responsible for the rise of a new era of diversity within the genre, in content and composition and personnel — of whom Yours Truly is just one example.

I wish the new SH team luck, but I’m sad to see you go, Jed. Still, go with the assurance that ya done a good thing. Or three. Good luck in all your future endeavors!

More Fanart Awesome

I’ve been remiss — found this one weeks ago, and asked the artist for permission to repost… then forgot to check back and see if she’d given permission. (D’oh.) She did, so here is “Dayfather and Nightlord”:

portrait of Itempas and Nahadoth side by side

Click to biggify, because it’s beautiful and should be viewed in its true size and glory. Of drawing only two of the Three, artist ex-machina says, “I’d have drawn the Grey Lady too, but she wasn’t turning out the way I wanted… more sketches necessary.” I like what she’s got so far. Now go visit ex-m’s site and tell her how awesome she is.

My Comic Con Schedule

Next week I’ll be a Special Guest at San Diego Comic Con. Now, I’ve been to New York’s Comic Con several times, but SDCC is its bigger, meaner older brother, and I have to confess that I’ve been a little intimidated by the idea of the whole thing. Still, it’s hard not to get excited, ’cause holy crap see what I’ll be doing:

    Thursday, July 12: Creating Diverse Spaces for Diverse Representations

    I was excited about this already, because I think the folks at Racebending are doing a hero’s work, poking Hollywood with a stick to get it to stop being so damn racist. Then I saw that Marjorie Liu, who’s cool as hell, would be on the panel. Then I saw that David Gaider would be on it — and for anybody who knows me in a gaming sense, my latest obsession has been the Dragon Age games. So now I get to gush at him over how incredibly well-written they are! (Haven’t started the Mass Effect series yet. In good time, people, in good time.)

    Thursday, July 12: Spotlight on N. K. Jemisin

    So, apparently I’m supposed to do something for this. Like, a reading or an interview or something… er. Um. Yeah. I’ll figure it out. ::ulp::

    Friday, July 13: Epic Fantasy War

    Me and a bunch of other fantasy writers being awesome together. I’ll finally get to meet Christopher Paolini and find out how he feels about my Inheritance Trilogy series name! I’ll finally get to fangirl in person at Lynn Flewelling! Did I mention AWESOMENESS?

    Somewhere in there (probably after the Spotlight panel) I will do a signing, too. Or maybe two.

    So see you soon, fellow SDCCers!

Recent guesting about

Apologies again, folks, for not updating here much. Between my day job and my new trilogy deadlines, I don’t have a lot of free time for blogging. Still, I’ve done a little blogging and interviewing in order to promote the Dreamblood duology, so here’s a roundup of stuff I’ve said elsewhere, in no particular order.

“The Unexotic Exotic” at The Book Smugglers.

People who read these books may be able to identify with a few traits of each of these characters, but no one will match them all. And that’s fine — because in theory, readers can identify with any character who’s written well enough. In theory. We see the uglier truth in reality, however. We see that boys balk at reading books with girl protagonists. Publishers hesitate to put characters of color on book covers for fear white readers won’t buy them. Even those characters who make the cover are almost never fat, or queer, or old, or visibly disabled. There is a crisis of connection in English-language fiction, and it exists because we — speaking as a lifelong book lover here — have been conditioned to have trouble relating to people substantially different from ourselves.

Instead, at best, we exoticize. At worst, we hate.

This is what the Dreamblood books face. And although I really just want to write a good, exciting fantasy tale about ninja priests, I’d be stupid if I didn’t acknowledge this reality and design my worldbuilding accordingly.

Interview in the Book Smugglers’ monthly newsletter

The Dreamblood is my effort to write traditional epic fantasy, just to see if I could. Problem is, most modern epic fantasy bores me to tears! Too much of it feels to me like it originated as a D&D campaign, with stock characters who have to grind through a stock setting, a magic system that’s supposed to be logical but is really just complicated, and a very foregone conclusion. I would’ve gotten bored halfway through writing one of those. So I had to write the kind of traditional epic fantasy I could enjoy: with a setting that looked nothing like medieval Europe, characters who don’t fit the usual archetypes, and magic that owes less to 3D6 and more to social science and non-Western beliefs about the supernatural. My favorite epic fantasies all do this, as do my favorite ancient epics, so I tried to emulate those.

“Five Things I Now Know About Being a Professional Writer” at my agent’s blog

Sometimes it’s laughable to think of myself as powerful; unless they’re mega-bestsellers, writers are pretty much at the bottom of the hierarchy in the publishing world. But the fact remains, we have more influence than any individual reader. We have — and it’s hard for me to even say this word, because it still feels kind of egotistical to think this way — fans. And ultimately, if our work gets enough attention, we have the power to change the genre itself.

All reviews that I’ve seen so far of The Killing Moon are here. Lumped in a few of The Shadowed Sun, though there aren’t many of those yet. I’ll round them up later.

The Killing Moon made NPR’s summer reading list!

And I made Bookpage’s Ten Women to Watch in 2012!

Did two podcast interviews at Geek Girl Crafts and Reading and Writing Podcast.

OK, back to work for me!

Introducing… er…

Cat in a bookcase.

This sweet thing is my new cat! I just adopted her yesterday from my vet (who manages a small no-kill shelter; if you’re in NYC and looking for a cat, BTW, let me know and I’ll refer you to him). This was one of the few photos I was able to snap of her before she disappeared into my closet and/or under my bed. She’ll settle in eventually.

My vet thinks she’s about 9 years old — which is good for both of us, since I prefer to have older cats who’ve settled out of their kittenish obnoxiousness, and since older cats tend to have a hard time finding new homes. She was abandoned at my vet’s office by some guy who dropped her off in a box, claimed he would return for her later, and never did. Someone spent a lot of money on her at one point; she’d already been spayed and (sigh) declawed. And she’s obviously been a housecat for some time; she’s perfectly housetrained, doesn’t jump onto things she shouldn’t, and loves people. I don’t understand how someone could have a cat like this and just… stop wanting her. But that’s why she’s with me, now.

I suspect she’s a Maine Coon. I don’t normally go for purebred animals — seems to me “mutt-cats” are healthier; witness NukuNuku’s 19-plus years — but she’s got the conformation and coloring, and she’s also painfully thin beneath her fur, which is something that happens to MCs when they get older, I’ve noticed. (Considering how much she ate yesterday, we might be able to remedy that somewhat.) She also has a remarkably tolerant temperament; when she’s not hiding, she’s super-friendly, and at the vet’s office they noted that she doesn’t mind being picked up and cuddled — also a common MC trait. (If you ever want to have a cat that’s good for toddlers/small children, get a Maine Coon; I’ve had lots of friends with kids who’ve sworn by the breed for that reason.) The vet could probably do a genetic test to confirm her breed, but I don’t care so won’t bother.

But I’ve got a dilemma: I’ve only ever inherited cats who’ve already been named. “Lindsay” was just a temporary name the vet techs gave her, since the schmuck who abandoned her her former owner didn’t tell anyone her real name. But since I associate “Lindsay” with “Lohan”… let’s just say I’m thinking about a change. She doesn’t feel like a “Lindsay” anyway. Suggestions welcome! (And no, they don’t all need to be elaborate anime-flavored constructions like “All Purpose Cultural Cat NukuNuku” — I didn’t name NukuNuku, although that name fit her to a T.)

So please welcome… uh, her!

But, but, but — WHY does magic have to make sense?

Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic. -Arthur C. Clarke

Any sufficiently analyzed magic is indistinguishable from science. -Agatha Heterodyne (Girl Genius) by way of Larry Niven by way of Clarke

La la la can’t hear you. -Me

This is a whine, not a rant. I rant when I’m angry; right now I’m just frustrated and annoyed. It’s hard out here for a fantasy writer, after all; there’s all these rules I’m supposed to follow, or the Fantasy Police might come and make me do hard labor in the Cold Iron Mines. For example: I keep hearing that magic has to have rules. It has to be logical. It has to have limitations, consequences, energy exchange, internal consistency, clear cause and effect, thoroughly-tested laws with repeatable results and —


This is magic we’re talking about here, right? Force of nature, kinda woo-woo and froo-froo, things beyond our ken, and all that? And most of all, not science? Because sometimes I wonder. Sometimes, whenever I see fantasy readers laud a work for the rigor of its magic system — we’ll come back to this word “system” later — I wonder: why are these people reading fantasy? I mean, if they’re going to judge magic by its similarity to science, why not just go ahead and read science fiction? Science fiction has plenty of its own magicky stuff to enjoy (e.g., FTL, “psi” powers). Shouldn’t fantasy do something different, not just in its surface trappings but in its fundamental assumptions?

Because this is magic we’re talking about. It’s supposed to go places science can’t, defy logic, wink at technology, fill us all with the sensawunda that comes of gazing upon a fictional world and seeing something truly different from our own. In most cultures of the world, magic is intimately connected with beliefs regarding life and death — things no one understands, and few expect to. Magic is the motile force of God, or gods. It’s the breath of the earth, the non-meat by-product of existence, that thing that happens when a tree falls in the forest and there’s no one around to hear it. Magic is the mysteries, into which not everyone is so lucky, or unlucky, as to be initiated. It can be affected by belief, the whims of the unseen, harsh language. And it is not. Supposed. To make. Sense. In fact, I think it’s coolest when it doesn’t.

And here’s the thing: fantasy — specifically English-language fantasy since that’s all I’ve been able to read — used to get this. When I read Le Guin’s A Wizard of Earthsea again last year before the Center for Fiction’s Earthsea Big Read, I was struck by the fact that none of the stuff Ged learned at Roke made any sense. OK, it was all about names. To figure out the names of things, wizards basically had to experience enough to understand them, and disengage with their preexisting assumptions — and then, apparently, they had to cross their fingers and wish really hard. Because magic was an experiment whose results were never repeatable, never predictable, and even the most accomplished wizard could only make an educated guess about what would happen any time magic was used. And in fact, magic itself could change as its caster changed. It was an intuitive thing, not an empirical thing, and an intuitive wizard could build a spell out of guesses — or leaps of faith — based on nothing more than gut feelings. Also, feelings mattered. Bring the wrong feelings into a magic-working and it could all go pear-shaped. Le Guin rendered this beautifully, and I loved it, because it felt like magic should feel to me. So did Tolkien’s magic, which had the same all-over-the-place weirdness to it. In LotR, sometimes magic meant forging a ring with a chunk of soul melted into the alloy. Sometimes it meant learning obscure/dead languages, or talking to obscure/dead creatures. Sometimes it meant brandishing a particular kind of stick in a particular kind of way, and shouting really loudly. Sometimes it meant being born with pointy ears, and sometimes resisting magic meant being born with hairy feet. It was organic, embedded, a total crapshoot. And it was wonderful.

Here’s what I think happened between Tolkien/Le Guin and now: Dungeons and Dragons. D&D has a lot to answer for re the modern fantasy audience (and I say this as a fan of D&D). I blame D&D for systematizing so many things that don’t need to be or shouldn’t be systematized: fantastic racism, real racism, gender essentialism — hell, let’s just say all the “isms” — career choice, morality. Yes, yes, D&D has gotten better over the years, and yes all these things happened in the genre (in spades) before D&D, but remember boys ‘n’ girls et al: systems are remarkably effective at reinforcing stupid thinking. This is because systems are self-reinforcing and have internal consistency even when they’re logically or ethically questionable. It’s the way the human brain works: when enough events occur in a pattern, we stop thinking and go into macro mode. Then suddenly we see nothing wrong with saying that of course orcs are evil, because they’re orcs. Or of course magic has to be logical, because how else are we going to simulate its effects numerically and in a fair way that encourages good team mechanics?

That’s game logic, this concern over quantitative fairness and teambuilding. Game logic should not apply to magic, because it’s fucking magic.

OK, let’s get personal. The Inheritance Trilogy. There was a magic system, of sorts: the scriveners had to learn how to write the gods’ language. This was a science to them, very precise, very detailed, riddled with rules and empirical tests — and I deliberately did not focus on it or describe it beyond the most superficial level. Why would I? I wasn’t interested in the mechanics. I created scrivening solely to frame gods’ magic by contrast, and to illustrate the more fundamental differences between mortals and gods. Scrivening: limited, generalizable, a system complex enough to make Gary Gygax proud. Gods’ magic: SMITE, the end. What, you think the Greeks ever rolled up stats for Zeus & the gang? (Please don’t send me links to wherever someone has rolled up stats for Zeus & the gang.) As far as I was concerned, it defeated the whole point of writing about gods to focus on something so pedantic as “how they do what they do.” They’re gods. They work in mysterious ways. Also: fucking magic.

I imagine there will be some who take issue with the narcomancy used in the Dreamblood books, even though that’s a little more systematized, because it’s partially based on stuff Jung thought up during a psychotic break. Well, we’ll see.

Part of my frustration comes from a few incidents lately in which I’ve worked with up-and-coming writers as part of convention workshops, etc. I’ve seen these folks, most of whom are future fantasy novel-writers, positively agonize over their magic systems, taking great care to consider rules, required resources, the laws of conservation of magic, yatta yatta yatta, all for fear that they’ll get published someday and have their magic systems picked apart by the Fantasy Police. In some cases these writers had spent far, far more energy on trying to create a magic system than they had on trying to create plot or characters. Sadly, I’ve seen this same kind of to-the-exclusion-of-all-else focus on mechanics in the works of some published writers — and worse, I’ve seen readers going ga-ga over this sort of thing, as if the magic system really is the only part of the story that matters.

Is that all fantasy is? Thin storytelling papered over a players’ guide? Is that all fantasy should be? Mechanistic magic, formulas and figures?

Of course not. Fantasy is, can be, should be, so much more than that. So give me mysterious, silly, weird, utterly cracktastic magic please. And easy on the logic. It’s not like we’re doing science, here.

Sexual Violence in THE SHADOWED SUN

This one’s going to be a toughie, for me and some of you reading. Please take heed of the subject line, and avoid if you need to.

Continue reading ›

Why there’s no tipjar

A reader wrote to me today, suggesting that I put a tipjar on my website so that he could contribute to my earnings, since he gets my books from the library. I wrote back to him, but since other people might wonder about this, I figured I’d repost the content of my reply here to share.

Hi [redacted,]

For as long as I’m traditionally published, I’m not planning to do a tipjar. I really appreciate the thought, but thing is — you are contributing by checking out books from the library. The more lends and reservations a library gets for a particular book, the more books that library will purchase. And if it gets checked out a lot, they might prominently display it somewhere, which will (hopefully) earn me more long-term readers. So if you really want to contribute beyond what you’re already doing — and that’s completely not necessary! — then buy a copy of the book and give it to someone who does have the space. Maybe you’ll win me another reader. :)

Keep in mind also that the best way to contribute to me is buying books. That lets my publisher know I’m worth investing in — which means they’ll buy more books from me. I prefer to work with a publisher because I don’t particularly want to spend time on self-publishing tasks (e.g., marketing, copyediting, distribution) when I could instead be spending time writing. So every book you buy = time for me to write, if you want to think of it that way.

And basically, that’s it. I want to embellish a little on the library point, though. It really, really, really helps me to be in libraries. Not all traditionally-published books get that privilege; most self-published books certainly don’t. So if you’re feeling at all guilty over checking my stuff out from your local library — don’t. Consider: you’re helping to keep me on their “buy” lists, especially in these days of rampant budget cuts, which means several hundred (if not thousand) additional sales for me. You’re keeping me on their shelves long-term, which earns me future fans. Of course that helps me. When I was a child, my mom used to use the library as a babysitter; made me happy as a clam, kept me out of her hair while she ran errands. I have so many wonderful memories of those hours — free time, completely free time, with all the books in the world at my fingertips — that I’m proud to be there as an author now, maybe helping some other bored person fill her hours with a bit of excitement. I still visit libraries now, since I live in a tiny NYC apartment and space is at a premium; with new authors, I prefer to try before I buy. But once I’ve found an author I like, I buy their books on sight. And thanks to libraries, I can discover authors whose books are long out of print. Nowadays that usually means I hop online and try to find out if they’re self-publishing or e-publishing their backlist — which earns them new sales. In this way, libraries keep writers’ careers alive long after the publishers and retailers have gone away.

Sure, buying a book is the best way to help me, if you want to, and if you can. I just know that not everyone can. Getting it from a public library is the next best thing.

Silence Here = Busy Elsewhere

Apologies, Epiphanistas; I haven’t had much to say here in the past few weeks aside from launch announcements. Sorry! But I haven’t been silent. Here’s a complete list of the interviews, guestblogs, etc., that I have done and/or will be doing shortly.

  • Guestblog at FantasyBookCafe, for their Women in SF&F Month (read the whole series! Some great authors get profiled.)
  • Guestblog at the BookSmugglers on The Unexotic Exotic
  • Interview in the BookSmugglers’ Newsletter
  • (And just for completeness, here’s Ana and Thea’s review of The Killing Moon. It scored a 9! Warning for spoilers, tho’.)
  • At Goodreads, as part of their “Good Minds Suggest” feature, I list my favorite epic fantasies, and just to mix it up (because I get asked that one a lot) I added, “…for people who are sick of epic fantasy”.
  • Did another Big Idea over at Scalzi’s Whatever blog.
  • Did a reading and Q&A last night with Paolo Bacigalupi at Word Bookstore here in Brooklyn. The audio of the event was recorded, and will be posted on the bookstore’s website shortly; I’ll let you know when it’s up.
  • In upcoming events, I’ll be doing an “Ask Me Anything” on Reddit this Thursday; more once I have more details.
  • Also in upcoming events, if you’re in upstate New York, I’ll be doing a reading and signing at the Flights of Fantasy bookstore in Albany on Saturday.


Launch Day for TKM!

IT’S OUT IT’S OUT! The Killing Moon is officially out in the US! UKians, it’ll be out on Thursday for you. Not sure about Australia or other English-language markets, or the audio version (yes, there will be one), or anything else at this point. Tell you later. Too busy squeeing because IT’S OUT MY FOURTH NOVEL IS OUT!

Of course, the book has been appearing in stores for several days now, so we’ve had what most people in the business call a “soft launch”. Not a bad thing for readers, who don’t have to wait to get their hands on a copy; not the best thing for writers, since soft launches reduce that critical first-few-weeks sales velocity. Velocity is what dictates bestseller status. But I’m content that it already seems to be selling well. In a bit of purely anecdotal evidence, I stopped in at the downtown Brooklyn B&N last night and offered to do a stock signing — and couldn’t, because they had only one copy left. They’d had more, but sold them all. (And the clerk basically palmed the last copy once I signed it, saying that her son had been asking for it. Fortunately there were more on order.)

Chapter 3 of The Killing Moon is up now, by the way. In which we meet Nijiri, the third protagonist of the novel, who demonstrates how little Gatherers are made. (Hint: it involves violence and death.)

And to reiterate what I’ve said at every book launch thus far, if you’re interested in how best to use your dollars to help me (thank you!), here are some suggestions:

  1. Buy the book if you can. If you can’t, see last point.
  2. Read the book. (This is kind of necessary for the next step.)
  3. If you like the book, tell everyone you know. This includes everyone on Goodreads, Library Thing, and all the retail bookseller sites, especially if they let you post reviews. (The Amazon “post your own review” feature should be active now, BTW.)
  4. Under the category of “tell everyone you know”, blog about the book. Tweet it. Tumblr it. Status it on Facebook. You’d be surprised at how useful word-of-mouth is to authors.
  5. If you cannot afford the book, that’s OK. Put in a request for it at your local library. Readers often think this won’t help authors, but it does! The more requests a library receives for a given book, the more likely that library is to order more copies of the book. More copies = sales for me, and you get to read it for free. Everyone wins. Then please tell everyone about the book, blog about it, etc.
  6. And if you’re in a non-English-language country and you’d like to read the book, tell a local publisher! Start with any publishers who’ve imported and translated my other books in your country. Not all of them will be able to buy the rights; I know the recession’s hitting everyone hard, especially in Europe. But publishers are more likely to try if they know there are local people who want to see a book. (Though if you want it in English, you can get it here.)

In the meantime… The Dreamblood is very much a labor of love for me. It’s my homage to epic fantasy — as opposed to the Inheritance Trilogy, which was more my eyeroll at epic fantasy — and I’m hoping it’ll win me new readers from among those who missed or didn’t like the Inheritance Trilogy. But it’s also another of my Quixotic attempts to change the genre that I love so much from within, by putting my money where my mouth is on non-medieval-European settings, diverse casts, women who are strong and not “Strong”, and all the other stuff I constantly bitch about. Most importantly, though, it’s another attempt on my part to write a solid, thinky, exciting story that’ll keep readers hooked all the way to the end. That’s my only real agenda, ya’ll: a story that welcomes all, and satisfies most.

Hope you like this one.