Now it can be told!

I’ve been sitting on the news of this for a few months now, waiting for the cover, etc., so I could squee about it in the shiniest way. But in addition to writing “The Awakened Kingdom” as a palate-cleanser after The Fifth Season, I also wrote some shortier shorts. I’d intended them to just be fun stress relievers, a chance to play with style in a familiar milieu, but the result ended up being so good that I thought, “Readers should see this.” So now you can.

cover depicting a blue-tinted metal grate on black, with the title and author name superimposed

From the shadows of the greater stories, away from the bright light of Sky and wending ’round the sagas of the Arameri, come three quieter tales. A newborn god with an old, old soul struggles to find a reason to live. A powerful demon searches for her father, and answers. And in a prequel to the Inheritance Trilogy, a newly-enslaved Nahadoth forges a dark alliance with a mortal, for survival… and revenge.

So: ask me anything about these tales, here in the comments. And note that you can preorder this triptych now at Amazon, B&N, iTunes Books, and other major retailers! It launches July 28th, 2015.

An open letter to the WSFS about unintended consequences

ETA: I missed that there’s been a new development since I started writing this; the folks putting forward the proposal are dropping the novelette clause. Still not liking the “saga” portion of the proposal either, for the reasons I’ve said here and which Scalzi said in his post, but at least the proposal isn’t actively harmful anymore.

Whoa. Did you guys think this through?

No, seriously. Beyond whether “The Wheel of Time” could get a Hugo, or whether you, personally, like short fiction or not. Did you consider how proposal B.1.3 looks, both within and outside SFFdom? What message it sends about WSFS priorities?

Consider the context. In a year when there’s been intense mainstream-media coverage of an attempt to ideologically tarnish the Hugo Awards, effectively making them less representative of the genre’s current dynamism and way more representative of racist white guys’ vanity publishing, this proposal compounds that problem. Let me break down how this looks to people outside of the WSFS process.

The “sagas” proposal privileges not just established authors as John Scalzi notes, but established successful white male authors. Systemic bigotry being what it will, it’s tougher for people from underrepresented groups to survive in this area, let alone thrive in the way that a multipart series would indicate. We need rooms of our own, so to speak. We’re writing from perspectives that tend to break away from the “comfort food” factor that sagas satisfy, of sprawling, rugged power fantasies set in strangely Middle-Americanish futures and carefully cropped medieval Europes. When we do find publishers for (or self-pub) our works, they get less buzz — from professional reviews to the endless “Best SFF of the year” lists composed entirely of white male authors. It’s hard enough to start a career under these conditions, or to sell any single book, but selling well enough to manage a second, or a third, or however many books it takes to get up to 400,000 words, is something that happens only for writers who are very, very fortunate.

(And yeah, I’m well aware that I rank among the fortunate; the Inheritance Trilogy probably would qualify for this “sagas” category.* The Broken Earth might, though I’m only halfway through the second book now so it’s too soon to tell. But notice how few other women of color are successfully writing multipart epic fantasy. Trust me; that’s not because we’re incapable of imagining stories of epic struggle.)

And then there’s the novelettes clause. Scalzi covers a lot of reasons why this is an absolutely terrible idea, and I agree with all of those. But in addition, as C. C. Finlay has also pointed out, the novelette category has until lately been a good entry point for new and underrepresented writers to gain recognition. Why? For all the reasons “sagas” privileges established successful white guys, basically: short fiction must rely (usually) on quality rather than preexisting financial success to prove itself; it requires a much lower investment of free time to write; and short fiction in general is less about comfort food than challenging the reader with new ideas and perspectives. The competition is actually more fierce for short fiction than it would be for sagas; there are more markets willing to publish novelettes than there are publishers willing to grind out multiparters, and the short fiction markets pump out multiple stories, multiple times per year. It’s just that fewer of the barriers that make it hard for non-white non-men to compete exist here. Women, people of color, and other underrepresented groups usually do pretty well when they’re working with a level playing field.

So let’s review. In a year when misogynists, white supremacists, and homophobes have already managed to use the Hugos to advance their own interests, along comes this proposal making it easier for privileged white men to gain recognition, at the direct expense of the marginalized. I’m going to assume it’s an unintended consequence that this proposal effectively reinforces the Puppies’ efforts; there’s been no reason to think that anyone on the WSFS is anything other than professionally neutral on the matter. Until now.

So, c’mon ya’ll. Did you really think this through? Is this the best time for B.1.3? Are you really willing to throw short fiction under the bus just to give bestsellers another accolade? Do you mean to throw a level playing field under the bus, to give more affirmative action to successful white men?

Think about that again, please. Seriously. Think about it again.

* Some of my readers asked whether the Inheritance Trilogy could be nominated for a Hugo, same as the Wheel of Time, especially with a new novella published in 2014 making it “complete”. I told them no, because I thought it was wrong for the same work to be nominated again when parts had already been nominated for Best Novel in previous years. But I could have pushed the issue.

I’m unable to go to Sasquan this year, but I bought a voting membership. If you’re actually going, plan to attend the Business Meeting. Might want to bring popcorn.

New author photo, starred review

For those of you not be-Twittered or a-Facebooked, these are the new author photos I got recently, since my old one was a whopping 7 years old. (Time flies when you’re having fun.) And while that old photo was awesome — taken by fellow pro author and amateur photographer E. C. Myers, with a little touching-up by fellow pro author and graphic designer Kris Dikeman — it was time to retire it. Haven’t worn my hair that way in years, and also I’ve earned my “older and wiser”, and I wanted that to show.

So this time around I went full professional. On a recommendation from Orbit’s art director, Lauren Panepinto — who better to know awesome author photographers? — I contacted Laura Hanifin, who’s done some amazing work already. I wanted someone who knew how to photograph regular people, not just models and actors whose job it is to look good. I needed someone who could advise me on what to wear and what kind of lighting would be best, because dammit Jim I’m a writer not a visual person. And I wanted someone who could capture my “author face”.

See, as anyone who’s met me in person will know, I’m geeky and have a twelve-year-old’s sense of humor, and can be shy. But — like most authors, I think — I put on a different face when I’m writing. Then I’m focused, controlled, channeling the personae and worlds in my head. I used to think that I was “just” writing science fiction and fantasy, “just” fiction. Yet I’ve come to understand over the years of my pro career that there’s no “just” about it. Because of who I am, because of how small others want the world to be, even something so simple as having an imagination is a revolutionary act. My writing is an act of defiance; my very existence, a challenge. I didn’t ask for this. I just wanted to write good books… but after the first death threat, it was on.

So be it; I can handle it. And this is who I am, too:

head and shoulders portrait of N. K. Jemisin

I cannot stress how absolutely delighted I am with this pic. It was an intentional choice not to smile, if you’re wondering. Smiles have meaning for women who are authors, and that gets more complicated for women of color. So although I got a few other, “smilier” photos made, too, which I’ll toss into blog posts and give to interviewers and such… this is the one that will be going in my books from here forth. Given production schedules and so on, it’s too late for this to go into The Fifth Season, but you’ll see it after that.

And apropos of which, just found out TFS got a starred review from Library Journal!

Multiaward winner Jemisin breaks uncharted ground with this long-awaited title that introduces a fresh world and trilogy, creating a completely realized society inhabited by three varieties of humans and a nonhuman species that lives inside the earth. With Jemisin’s record of prestigious literary honors, plus her strong following, this is a must-buy for all speculative fiction collections and an excellent recommendation for fans of Brandon Sanderson’s “Mistborn” trilogy.

Aww, yeah.

Not the affirmative action you meant, not the history you’re making

So many people have said so many good things about the Hugo Awards debacle in the past few days. I haven’t said much myself because a) I’ve got a book to write, and b) I don’t really care. I mean, I do care about the Hugos; this is a respectable award, which as George R. R. Martin wisely points out has value because the people of Worldcon over the decades have worked their asses off to build its value. Unlike GRRM I think the contributions to that value actually go beyond Worldcon; it’s also been built up by the librarians who buy extra copies of the Hugo nominees and winners for circulation (I definitely noticed a bump after my Hugo noms), and the bookstore staff who create Hugo displays, and the reviewers who rave or rant about them. This whole mess is a sad and ridiculous appropriation of all that work, by people who for the most part haven’t spent day one on a Worldcon committee, or done anything else of the like. But this isn’t exactly the first venerable SFF institution that Those People have attempted to shit all over, so at this point I’m inured to their “inflammatory” tactics. If a toddler throws enough red-faced tantrums, you eventually learn to just corral them somewhere so they don’t hurt themselves or anyone else, read a book ’til they’re done screaming, then pick up their mess and move on.

There’s really only one point that I feel like making here, specifically about Brad Torgersen’s little “Affirmative Action” whinge (located here, thanks to many others for reading his site so I didn’t have to):
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A Tale of Two Characters

Awhile back I mentioned offhand in another post that readers seem to be harder on my female characters than my male characters. This was in the context of analyzing one-star reader reviews culled from Amazon and Goodreads, and a few folks in the comments asked me to explore that topic further. So here’s a (hopefully) interesting exercise. I’m going to compare reviewer comments on two of my protagonists: Oree Shoth from The Broken Kingdoms, and Gatherer Ehiru from The Killing Moon. (For those who haven’t read either book, remember, you can read the first few chapters here and here, respectively. That might be enough for you to get to know each character, a little.)

To keep this simple, I’m going to look only at Goodreads this time. I’m a little hampered by the fact that few of the one-star reviews for both books have text attached, so I’m going to look at one, two, and three-star reviews in this case. And I’m just going to list individual lines from each review, where they seem to reflect the reader’s opinion of each character. You’re welcome to go over to GR and see the actual reviews if you like, but remember — I think reviews are valuable, even the “bad” ones, because they help me understand stuff about how my potential audience thinks. Please don’t be obnoxious to people who are actually helping me out.

Some spoilers hereforth.
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A world in which race matters

I’ve been thinking about this article for the last day or so. I posted a link to it on my Twitter feed yesterday, and saw a few reactions to it that seemed… confused. Part of the problem is that the article gets a little muddled at points, I think because it’s talking about a complicated concept: race as identity, versus race as socioeconomic marker within in the modern (racist) political structure. But part of the problem, IMO, is the misconceptions that readers were bringing to the article themselves. A couple even asked (paraphrase, since I didn’t ask them about posting their comment), does this person actually want racism added to their Dragon Age? Which is when I realized that, to a lot of people, race should only exist, or matter, where there is racism.

Which… yeah, OK, no. I mean, I get where this comes from, especially from folks who, like me, live in racist societies. When I say I’m proud to be a black American, it’s in spite of racism, while a white supremacist would declare themselves proud to be white because of racism. (Paraphrasing many people; not sure who originated this way of framing racial pride.) But I’m also proud to be black because blackness is fucking awesome. I am part of a people, and I revel in our collective uniqueness. Why wouldn’t I?

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How an author feels upon receiving her page proofs

Please excuse my messy kitchen and crap film production skills.

Slightly intimidating. On the other hand, I love this stage of the book production process. I probably shouldn’t, because at this point I’ve read the novel what feels like ninety times… but I do. This is the point where that year of sweat and harsh language starts to feel like a book.

A really, really, really big, book.


Stuff I wrote (and read) in 2014

Since people keep asking, here’s the very short list of stuff I published in 2014. I’ll have you know I’m postponing a perfectly good snow day nap to write this up!!

I did have one more thing published in 2014, but please note that this was a reprint, originally published back in 2012 in the anthology After. No novels — yes, I know some websites kept insisting that The Fifth Season was out in 2014, but as you know, readers, that was just an error. (We have a pub date! TFS will be out on August 4th of this year.)

And in recommendations-from-me news, while I didn’t keep up well with my short fiction reading this year, you can take a lookback at my two NYT roundups for a sense of which novels I’m probably going to be voting for myself:

So now you know. And knowing is half the battle!

What I’ll be doing this weekend

I’ve mentioned a few times here that I’ll be one of the Guests of Honor at this year’s Arisia in Boston, haven’t I? Well, now I’m mentioning it again. Here are the events I’m scheduled for, if you’ll be there too:

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“To anthology editors”, a corollary

Nalo Hopkinson has an awesome and helpful piece up today on her website on how anthology editors can go about creating cohesive, thematically powerful collections that don’t just contain the same old voices all the time. All of her essay is good; go read the whole thing. I’ll wait.

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