N.K. Jemisin

The Fifth Season

The Fifth Season

A season of endings has begun. It starts with the great red rift across the heart of the world's sole continent, from which enough ash spews to darken the sky for years. Or centuries.

It starts with death, with a murdered son and a missing daughter.

It starts with betrayal, and long dormant wounds rising up to fester.

And it ends with you. You are the Stillness, a land long familiar with catastrophe, where orogenes wield the power of the earth as a weapon and are feared far more than the long cold night. And you will have no mercy.

Learn more.


(OK, New Orleanians, cool points to anyone who gets the subject line. And yeah, I had seriously questionable music tastes when I was a college freshman. Shuddup.)

I just sold a story!! “Non-Zero Probabilities”, the story I read at the Diaspora of the Fantastic event a couple of weeks ago, has sold to Clarkesworld!! No word yet on when it’ll be published.

::does seriously questionable dancing around living room::

Maps, Comedy, and Politics

Or, why I should update my blog more often. (Sorry!)

Maps: I’ve got a new post over at the Magic District, talking about the map thing in epic fantasy. Triggered by something dumb on Fox News (is there ever anything else?), and an odd interaction I had at Worldcon last weekend, wherein I handed a copy of my ARC to someone and they protested (good-naturedly, but still protested) it wasn’t epic fantasy because it didn’t have a map.

Comedy: The other creative, activist black sheep in my mother’s side of the family, cousin W. Kamau Bell, is coming to NYC this week to do a series of comedy shows as part of NYC’s Fringe Festival. He’s really, really effing funny, and I’m planning to go see him next weekend. Here’s a sample of his routine — not worksafe, note, and contains copious racial slurs, used to make a point against racism. See the sidebar for other examples, then if you’re in NYC, go here to order tickets.

Politics: I generally try to keep politics off this blog, but I’m so angry that I need to vent.

I’m 36 years old. A little overweight, mostly because I love to exercise but also love to cook and eat really good food. No bad habits other than that; no real health problems; no history of same. I have a recent minor health issue, fibroids. (Like 40% of women.) My doctor sent me to get an ultrasound to see if I had them; I did; they’re tiny and require no treatment; no big deal; end of story.

Or so it should have been. Instead I’ve been getting letters from my insurance company saying that the fibroids are a preexisting condition, and therefore I have to pay for the ultrasound myself. They’re not preexisting, note; I get an exam every year like clockwork, and they weren’t there at last year’s exam. I wrote back to the insurer explaining this, and referring them to last year’s doctor for followup. But because I was on different health insurance at the time, and went through a brief period sans insurance while I was transitioning from being a 9-to-5-er to a full time writer, what my doctors say is irrelevant. I have no way to “prove” that I haven’t been walking around with giant benign tumors just waiting for my chance to spring them on some undeserving insurer. Ergo I must pay.

I’m fighting this, of course. I can afford to pay for the ultrasound, but I shouldn’t have to; it’s an ordinary preventative test given my medical history and demographics, and besides that, I didn’t have the damn things last year. But this little brush with the utter stupidity of our health care system brings home to me just how lucky I really am. I can afford to pay for the test; I have the means and the test doesn’t cost that much. And the fibroids are just fibroids — I don’t have cancer or something serious. I’m only 36, not 63 or at some other age where my insurer might not even consider covering me. I actually have insurance, which 43 million other Americans don’t. I have options.

But I’m not as lucky as I could be. I live in the United States, not an actual industrialized, modern, sane country, where the state would pay for my preventative care and consider it a good investment in its population. And while I can handle the insurance stupidity this time, what happens if I do get cancer? What happens when I am 63?

This is stupid. I can’t speak any more strongly without getting extremely profane, but this is stupid.

So I’m writing to my congresspeople. I’m pissed that the single-payer option is apparently off the table; I’m going to tell them that. I think everybody in this country needs to tell them this. So please do the same, and pass it on.

OK, back to writing.

Back from Worldcon

…and exhausted. I don’t quite have full-fledged con crud, but I think I’m skirting it. My own fault for wearing myself out. Worldcon, for those who’ve never attended, is a marathon endurance contest: panels and events and schmoozing by day, parties and events and schmoozing by night. Did I mention the schmoozing? Oh, yeah, there was schmoozing.

The good: Montreal! Holy moly, that’s a beautiful city. Wish I’d had time to see more of it. I think I’ll go there on vacation sometime, when I can just relax and enjoy myself. Bixi, Montreal’s ingenious system of public bikes. The lovely B&B where I stayed with Alaya, though it was far away from the convention center and necessitated the use of the Bixi bikes. Meeting folks I’d never met before but knew of and admired from afar, like Nalo Hopkinson (at last! after years of being mistaken for her!) and John Scalzi and Steven Boyett, at whom I totally fangirled because he’s the author of one of my favorite books (omg which is coming back into print and has a SEQUEL coming out soon at last and the protag is black wtf yay omg omg omg squee okay). Also, was thrilled that some folks I know won Hugos, including David Anthony Durham who got the Campbell, and who rocks the tiara if I may say so myself. On his noble brow it became a man-crown. Congrats to him and all the other winners!

Oh, and my green dress for the Hugos looked awesome, thankyouverymuch. Had matching toenail polish, but nobody noticed. Alas.

The bad: Some extremely ill-considered panel staffing with regard to matters of race. Seriously, wtf? Whoever thought those panels up must not have actually wanted productive conversation to take place (and it didn’t, since in several cases anti-racist fans and pros decided to boycott the panels, or in a few cases did a guerilla takeover). That was when the panels even made sense — many had titles/descriptions that nobody could figure out, including the panelists. And that was when the panels actually took place when and where they were supposed to, because there was much shuffling and cancellation/decancellation/recancellation funnybusiness. (I found out I was on one panel about 2 hours before it ran, for example.) Also not fun: the utter lack of wifi in my B&B for the first three days, which forced me to sit in the Dealers’ Room to use their very shaky wifi just to get my email fix. The smell on the party floors.

I’m leaving out lots here; it was a very packed 5 days. All that said, the good outweighed the bad, so I’ll put this con in the “win” column.

And now I’m going to take a long, well-deserved rest, and thank all available gods that World Fantasy isn’t until October.


OK, so here’s the thing: I’ve got a reading (11:00 a.m.) and a signing (5:00 p.m.) on Saturday at Anticipation. I’m sharing the reading with 2 other writers who are better-known than me, and the signing is fairly pointless since I have, y’know, no book out yet. So I was feeling fairly mopey about both events, until I decided to have some fun.


I have Advanced Reader Copies (ARCs)! They are beautiful and shiny and I love them. Now, most of these I’m reserving to send out to reviewers, bloggers of various renown, and bigmouths of assorted stripes, because, y’know, that’s what us n00bs gotta do. Sorry. But I will have one (1!) ARC copy available at the signing to give away to a — dare I say it? — fan.


a) You must have attended the reading earlier that day, where you will hear me read an excerpt from The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms. Note for those who heard me read at Wiscon — it will be a different section of the book!! So no cheating.

b) You must be the first person to visit me at the signing table, AND to ask me a good question about the section of the book I read! Judgment of “goodness” is up to me. ‘Cause. Y’know. I wrote the book. So I would know.

c) If you are the lucky winner of this very rare ARC of The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms, I ask that you either 1) blog about it, 2) post an Amazon or other prominent book-site review of it, or 3) pass it on to someone who will do 1 or 2, if you are incapable. And do this sometime before the book launches in February. I don’t require that you post a positive review, of course — I want an honest response. But I want a response.

Yes, I’ll sign it, if you want. Also note: the book won’t be out for 6 months, note, so you’ve got some time on part c.

Also, please note for all, I will be extremely sporadic on internet stuff while I’m away at Anticipation, because my laptop is heavy and I can’t afford to buy a netbook yet. -_-

Looking forward to seeing folks there!

My Worldcon Schedule

OK, so going to Worldcon again for the first time since Boston of a few years ago. I’m really looking forward to it, not the least because it’ll be in Montreal!!!!!1! I must have poutine! And beaver tails, despite their kinky name!

…Anyway, in between bouts of raising my cholesterol, I’ll be doing this:

When: Sat 11:00
Title: Author Reading
All Participants: Gregory A. Wilson, Nora K. Jemisin, P. C. Hodgell

When: Sat 17:00
Title: Nora K. Jemisin Signing

When: Sun 11:00
Title: Michael Jackson‚s THRILLER: SF Culture Landmark
All Participants: Nora K. Jemisin, Stephen H. Segal, John Scalzi
Moderator: Stephen H. Segal
Description: In 1983, Michael Jackson’s THRILLER video gave us
lycanthropic romance, zombie dancers, and state-of-the-art special
effects — not to mention Vincent Price reciting graveyard poetry. How
did this watershed television moment set the stage for the next 25
years worth of SF/pop music/pop culture crossovers, from Jackson’s own
subsequent oeuvre through Rob Zombie and beyond?

When: Sun 17:00
Title: Avatar Fan Club for Kids
All Participants: Cynthia Huckle, Madeline Ashby, Nora K. Jemisin,
Sharon Lee
Moderator: Cynthia Huckle
Description: This American-made anime from Nickelodeon was a big hit.
Why? What’s in store for the future? And what kind of bender would you
like to be?

I asked to be taken off the signing after the preliminary scheduling, since I uh have nothing to sign, but there it still is. I guess I’ll just go hang out and fangirl at people with Actual Books, like I did at World Fantasy last year. (Carol Berg!! Marjorie Liu!! Kay Kenyon!!) I guess if people want to meet me, that’ll be a good place to do it.

Looking forward to the reading, but as with the Diaspora of the Fantastic reading (which went smashingly, sorry for not reporting back here), I still haven’t decided what to read. It’ll be from 100K, but I don’t know if I want to read the beginning again after doing that at Wiscon. I think I will quickly get very tired of reading from the beginning of this book if I keep doing it. There’s a section near the middle of the book that I’m thinking about, if I can manage to explain things succinctly before I read it. Gotta practice it and the timing.

Very much looking forward to the Thriller panel, although I fully expect to be overshadowed by the bigger-name, better-at-talking people on it. Kinda glad there’s no longer a rock star slated to be on it, though I had no idea who she was anyway. (She seems like an interesting person to get to know, though…)

So see some of you there!

Describing Characters of Color, pt. 2

Did this over at the Magic District, so go see!

Reminder: reading tonight!

Diaspora of the Fantastic made TimeOut New York! Except I’m “others”. Alas.

Anyway, I’m going to be reading from “Non-Zero Probabilities”, a new (unpublished) short story that I just finished revising at 3 a.m. this morning when, in a fit of angst, I decided I could not could not COULD NOT read the piece I’d initially decided to read because I would’ve only been able to do a portion of it and I can’t tell you how annoying I find it when I go to a reading and I actually like the work being read and it isn’t finished and there’s no way to buy it for months and months. (This would’ve been either an excerpt of 100K, or of “Sinners, Saints, Dragons, and Haints…” which isn’t being published until summer 2010 in a UK magazine. Not really something the crowd at Bluestockings would want to hear, I’m thinking.) I don’t find those “teasing”, I find them irritating. Anyway, my personal neuroses aside, here’s an excerpt of the story, which is set in modern-day Brooklyn, where for some reason “luck” has become real and the laws of probability have gone haywire.

In the mornings, Adele girds herself for the trip to work as a warrior for battle. First she prays, both to the Christian god of her Irish ancestors and to the orishas of her African ancestors — the latter she is less familiar with, but getting to know. Then she takes a bath with herbs, including dried chickory and allspice, from a mixture given to her by the woman at the local botanica. (She doesn’t know Spanish well, but she’s getting to know that too. Today’s word is suerte.) Then, smelling vaguely of coffee and pumpkin pie, she layers on armor: the Saint Christopher medal her mother sent her, for protection on journeys. The hair-clasp she was wearing when she broke up with Larry, which she regards as the best decision of her life. On especially dangerous days, she wears the panties in which she experienced her first self-induced orgasm post-Larry. They’re a bit ragged after too many commercial laundromat washings, but still more or less sound. (She washes them by hand now, with Woollite, and lays them flat to dry.)

So if you’re in NYC, come out and see us!

Diaspora of the Fantastic this Thursday!

Just a reminder — this coming Thursday I’m going to be doing a reading with some other phenomenal black women writers at BlueStockings Books in NYC. Details and RSVP here, though the RSVP isn’t absolutely necessary. The readers will be li’l ol’ me, Bram Stoker award-winner Linda Addison; Alaya Dawn Johnson, who’s already got one novel out and two more on the way; and K. Tempest Bradford, who’s got several shorts out in current collections, including John Joseph Adams’ Federations. We’ll be reading for about an hour, followed by a discussion about race in sf/f/h. Should be fun, so come out!

On Book Covers and Race

I’ve been following and participating in the “Ain’t That A Shame” post over at Justine Larbalestier’s blog, in which she takes the risky (for an author) step of calling her publisher on its decision to post a white face on the cover of her forthcoming novel Liar.

Whitewashing — the fannish term for when fictional characters of color are depicted as white in cover art — has long been a problem in the book publishing industry. Its root is racism, of course: the pervasive belief that people of color’s stories aren’t universal enough to play to white consumers. (Though white people’s stories are deemed universal enough for everyone, hence the white cover figures.) We see this in other industries, as with the current fanrage over M. Night Shyamalan’s live-action film adaptation of the fantasy cartoon “Avatar: The Last Airbender”. The film version casts the heroic leads — for a series set in an all-Asian world — with Caucasian actors. The same thinking was behind the book industry’s bizarre reticence to publish “black fiction” for years, except from those few authors who were embraced by white critics (e.g., Toni Morrison)… until black authors started self-publishing to bestselling numbers, which forced the industry to take notice. Even then, the underlying racist beliefs lingered. At the National Black Writers Conference (put on by the Center for Black Literature a few months back), I got to hear Octavia Butler’s agent relate the story of a publisher she met who still insisted, in the late 1990s, that black people didn’t read. (Incidentally, Octavia used to get whitewashed too.)

So I wasn’t really surprised to hear that Justine had trouble with this. As I’ve mentioned elsewhere, it was something I was really worried about when The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms sold. In my first meeting with my editor, I said to her, “If you put my protagonist on the cover — and I’d rather you not because I’m one of those weird folks who hates figures on covers, but if you do — please don’t make her white.” But because I knew the history I was up against, in an effort to be “realistic”, I mentally prepared myself for a white cover figure.

But here’s the thing. My publisher is Orbit — one of the newer publishers in the US, though they’ve been around in the UK for awhile (they’re a subsidiary? imprint? offshoot? of Hachette). So they’re essentially a big old company that’s also small and new. Possibly because of this, they’ve got a new-paradigm way of looking at things, which over the past few months has increasingly impressed the hell out of me — to the point of catching me by surprise at times. So even though my editor is one of the only (or maybe the only) editors of color in SFdom, and even though I’d seen that Orbit was bucking some traditions in other respects, I was totally caught off-guard when they sent me the preliminary cover art for The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms. There was my character, front and center, looking striking and tough-as-nails… and gloriously brown. I’d absolutely convinced myself that a brown woman on the cover of a mainstream SF novel, from a new novelist, from a big publisher, just wasn’t going to happen. And yet there she was.

I felt a bit ashamed of my pessimism, actually.

Later on, though, my editor called to explain that they were making some changes to the cover — which included removing the character. I got a bit anxious about this, because I’d liked the prelim, but she broke it down: the preliminary image was just too busy, particularly once the final text was applied. It was also too dark, some other stuff. The final version ended up even more beautiful, and all my concerns vanished the instant I saw it, because it was glorious. It kicked ass. I was very happy.

But here’s the thing. Because I’d seen that preliminary cover, I knew the publisher had been willing to put a brown woman on my book. My fears were allayed at that point — such that when my editor said she was removing the character for aesthetic reasons, I believed her. But given the pervasiveness of whitewashing in the industry, I do wonder what readers are going to think when they see my book, read that the character is brown, maybe see my author photo and realize I’m brown, and then see there’s no character on the front. Will that feed into the notion that PoC on book covers don’t sell? And I can’t help wondering what might’ve happened if they’d kept my protag on the cover, aesthetic considerations aside. Even if the publisher had been willing to run with it, would the buyers at the chain stores accept it? Would retailers take one look and shove it in the African American Interest section? Would SF reviewers pay any attention to it? Like I said, this is a pervasive thing.

So I guess I’m still wondering what role my race (and my character’s race) will play in the business end of things.

I’m incredibly glad that someone with Justine’s profile is trying to call attention to the problems, though. I’ll be blunt here: authors (and readers) of color have been complaining about whitewashing for years, and it hasn’t changed much. So maybe it’ll help to have a big-name white author make a stink, and get a (largely) positive response from her readers. Every little bit helps.

All this said, I am still blissfully, gleefully happy to be with Orbit, in part because they are willing to buck the dominant paradigm. (Also because they’re just frakkin’ cool.) When a publisher has a 21st century attitude, it shows in everything they do — from who they hire, to what authors they choose to sign, to how they market their products, to their professionalism, and to the quality of the final work. I think this is paying off for them — several of their debut authors have hit the bestseller lists lately — so I can’t help hoping that I’ll be a big hit too, not just for my own sake, but to help show the industry that being progressive is a good (and lucrative!) thing.

Guess we’ll have to wait and see.

I got Mind Melded! Post Launch Pad

Am back from Launch Pad. Much to relate, in particular my conviction that Gay Haldeman is the nicest person in the solar system, but it’ll have to wait ’til I’ve processed things a bit and also until after I’ve finished the Book 2 revision, which I am now slightly behind schedule on. Going to finish the major riveting by tomorrow and then spend the remainder of the week and weekend spackling and painting, and then I can send it off to editor and agent with a smile. More on that later too.

In the meantime, enjoy these photos of Launch Pad attendees, taken by Jeremy Tolbert — note that they’ll be publicly available only for a short time. Also, those of you who are on Twitter can (if you didn’t already) follow my and fellow Launch Pad attendees’ in-the-moment thoughts and links by searching #launchpadworkshop. I especially recommend this video, which illustrates the astronomical in a really humbling, beautiful way.

In the meantime… I got to participate in SF Signal’s Mind Meld! Part 1 (with my answer) here, part 2 here. I feel all special now.

Random thought — I’m glad to be home, but I spent a few hours out on the balcony last night, realizing just how many stars I can see from Brooklyn and feeling quite smug that I know a lot more about them now.