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.

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“The Trojan Girl” online at Escape Pod

FYI for all — for those of you who missed it in Weird Tales last January, my “cybergoth” story “The Trojan Girl” is live now at Escape Pod. “The Trojan Girl” is part of a sequence of science fictional stories I’ve been working on — another of those stories, “Valedictorian,” will soon be published in the dystopian YA anthology After later this year– in which artificial intelligences that have risen spontaneously from a futuristic internet struggle to figure out their place in the world. An excerpt:

Fizville was where Meroe had been born. Such places littered the Amorph, natural collection points for obsolete code, corrupted data, and interrupted processes. It made a good hunting ground, since lesser creatures emerged from the garbage with fair regularity. It was also the perfect hiding-place for a frightened, valuable child.

But as Meroe and his group resolved between a spitting knot of paradox and a moldering old hypercard stack, they found that they were not alone. Meroe growled in outrage as a foreign interface clamped over the subnet, imposing interaction rules on all of them. To protect himself, Meroe adopted his default avatar: a lean, bald human male clad only in black skin and silver tattoos. Zo became a human female, dainty and pale and demurely gowned from neck to ankle to complement Meroe’s appearance. She crouched beside him and bared her teeth, which were sharp and hollow, filled with a deadly virus.

Fizville flickered and became an amusement park with half the rides broken, the others twisted into shapes that could never have functioned in the Static. Across the park’s wide avenue stood a new figure. He had depicted himself as a tall middle-aged male, Shanghainese and dignified, dressed in an outdated business suit. This was, Meroe suspected, a subtle form of mockery; a way of saying even in this form, I am superior. It would’ve worked better without the old suit.


There’s no such thing as a good stereotype.

Rantytime. Warning for profanity — although I’m going to try and rein it in, as best I can. Nobody listens to Angry Black Women, after all.

This rant has been partially triggered by yet another discussion of “strong female characters” circulating in the blogosphere. (A good jumping-off point for this discussion is this io9 article, where I butted into the comments for a minute to pretty much make this same point.) This isn’t a new discussion, of course; people have been talking about it for awhile on and off. It’s just the latest hiccup.

The strong female character (SFC) is a stereotype. It’s gone beyond just a trope at this point. It’s ubiquitous; we see this character appear in films, in books, in video games — and because it’s a stereotype, we’ve started to “see” it in real life. Conservatives love Sarah Palin because she shoots things, and Ann Coulter because she thinks women should never ask for help, and should tote guns (and vote the way their husbands tell them). We celebrate images like this one, which has been all over my Facebook feed this week. We warn that the Republican “war on women” will “awaken the sleeping giant” — with violent, threatening language re what will happen when women fight back.

This is a good thing, right? We all know women can be strong. Us women can wield the big guns like the big boys. We can bring home the bacon and fry it up in a pan; we can do anything, everything, we can work and have babies and cut the cords with our teeth and then still get up and punch a motherfucker in the face with our brains

— Yeahno. See, that’s the problem with stereotypes. They contain a grain of truth, sure, but the rest is all melodramatic bullshit.
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Ignorant Mail, and Linkspam


I get emails from readers from time to time, and 99% of these emails are positive and welcome. (Thank you!) But every so often I get one that’s… soooo very not. It isn’t exactly “hate mail”. Generally I only get those via the comments on my more “controversial” blog posts, like when I complain about messed-up video games or movies. (Yeah, I don’t think those are controversial either, but the fact remains; I get more crap over the stuff I watch/play than the stuff I write.) I’m quick on the banhammer, so most of you don’t have to see those gems.

What people do occasionally send me, however, are what I’m starting to call “ignorant mail”. These are usually superficially-polite screeds full of passive-aggressive hijinx, many flavors of ‘splaining (man-, white-), and so forth. I’ve been lectured at length on how I disrespect the venerable epic fantasy genre by rejecting Campbell’s “hero’s journey” paradigm* in favor of heroines who don’t go anywhere. I’ve been helpfully advised by non-readers that they might eventually get around to buying my work, if only I make a greater effort to be like [their favorite author]. And today I got told that I was “playing the race card” because I wrote this story. Because most of the characters are black, see, and because the story actually talks about the racism of the era. Doing this is just like inviting some friends over to play a game — pointless and unnecessary, that is. The kind of thing you do just for fun, or as a tactic to win some prize.

::more sigh::

“The Effluent Engine” is meant to be a fun story, of course, because how could I not have fun writing a story full of bustle-wearing spies and derringers and secret societies and pecan penuche? But given the era it’s set in, I included some story elements that IMO it would’ve been disrespectful of history to ignore. It’s not real history in many ways; there’s an obvious divergence from the timeline of actual history at the point of the Haitian Revolution, which — in case you didn’t know — was not won by dirigibles. But I took pains to stick to history in every other way, as much as the narrative allowed. Norbert Rillieux was indeed a Creole inventor, though he probably wasn’t as much of an ass as he is in the story; his innovation to prevent Yellow Fever outbreaks in New Orleans was thwarted, and possibly stolen, by a rival named Forstall (Edmund, rather than Raymond). Norbert did have a sister named Eugenie, though I made up her personality from whole cloth. Rochambeau’s barbarous war crimes against the Haitian people are well-documented, and although I altered the name slightly, the Order of the White Camellia is based on the very real secret society called the Knights of the White Camellia, who thankfully were less effective than my creation. (Although they are theorized to have morphed into the very effective White Citizens’ Councils, later on.)

Of equal importance to me was trying to acknowledge the psychological and social impact of life in a slave society; for example the friction between Creoles and other free black people, between freedmen and slaves, and between women and men of color. The legacies of colorism, classism, sexism, and internalized racism still linger powerfully in American society today, so I tried to have all the characters reflect the earlier forms of this to some degree or another.

But working these things into my story, rather than ignoring them, was the wrong thing to do according to my detractor.

I’ll spare you this person’s rambling, condescending, self-contradictory WTFery; suffice it to say this one wasn’t even worth grading. But congratulations, Detractor! You at least merited a (brief) rant on my blog. Good job!

On a more positive note — I’ve been insanely busy lately, hence the slow updating. Sorry! But here’s some interesting stuff to tide you over in the meantime:

*I reject Campbell’s philosophies on the whole, because if not for him there might be more writers of color in the genre today. I don’t really care if he was right about some things. He’s wrong for me.

ETA: As folks have pointed out in the comments, I’ve been conflating John Campbell with Joseph Campbell, apparently for years. D’oh! Going to have to go back and re-read Monomyth!Campbell now; I might find my opinion of the theory improved if I no longer think of its author as a bigoted asshat. (Probably not, but we’ll see.)

Wikiwikiwikiwiki (shut up)

Cool points to whoever gets the subject line reference.

Just an FYI — I’ve mentioned this before, but finally got around to posting the Inheritance Trilogy Non-Wiki — that is, the notes I kept while I was working on the trilogy, to try and keep track of which godling had what affinity and where the Toks live and whether it was the Ken or the Min who were famous for their piracy. Why am I posting this? Because I’m not planning to write any more books in this universe — I’m not discounting the possibility of a creative bolt of lightning, but I’m not planning it — and because I figure it could be useful for folks who are contemplating fanworks, etc. Enjoy!

Now THAT was a trip.

Back from Hawaii. Exhausted, as one is wont to be after any 12-hour flight and jetlag, but it doesn’t help that I spent the whole trip doing stuff like this:

Me hiking Kilauea Iki; standing in hiking gear making goofy face

That was day 1 of the trip: a 4-mile hike around and across Kilauea Iki, which is basically the remains of a lava lake that was pretty jumpin’ — by which I mean, boiling hot and utterly deadly — back in 1959. These days it’s a much more sedate place, although the hike is substantially challenging even for people who haven’t just traveled to the other side of the planet and aren’t quite recovered from bronchitis. The ground is still hot in places, and most of the landscape there feels like something out of a desolate postapocalyptic story. I made it, though, and there’s no better feeling than finishing something like that. Better still, I decided to have lunch while sitting in the still-warm throat of an active volcano. Toasted my spam musubi over a hot crack in the ground, actually. Mmmm, delicious geothermal energy.

I also visited Mauna Kea, although I didn’t go to the summit (would’ve needed a 4WD vehicle — and the skill to drive it — to make it there, unless I wanted to go with a busload of retirees, which I kinda didn’t), and Pu’u O’o, the most currently active volcano on the island. Did the latter one via a helicopter tour, since I didn’t want to die; it’s been erupting continuously for the past 20 years or so. Apparently I’m now one of the last people to see the Lava House standing, as it was destroyed the next day! Alas, I wasn’t able to hike to the current site at which lava flows into the ocean; I was pushing the budget as it was, and while I can handle an old lava lake, I wasn’t about to go marching across a still-deadly-in-places lava field without a guide. But I did several next best things, so I’m happy.

And I did some stuff that has squat-all to do with research, like a day-long road trip along the northeastern coast of the island with fellow author and buddy Kate Elliott. Imagine spending a day talking about fantasy (and everything else) with an author whose books you’ve loved for years, and who’s as witty and adventurous as one of her own characters, while driving through one of the most fantastic settings on our planet! ::happysigh::

So. At this point I’ve been back a little over 24 hours, and I’m finding myself missing the Big Island in a way I rarely miss places I visit. The soft humid air, which my skin loved after being baked in New York apartment heat for the past few months. The coqui frogs, which are a recent and invasive addition to the island’s ecology… but their songs are beautiful. The food! HOMG, while I was there I had fresh local papaya, apple bananas, strawberries, kiwifruit, bacon made from wild boars, bread pudding made with Portuguese sweet bread, poke made with the freshest ahi tuna, sweet sticky rice treats sweetened with rambutan juice, and delicate liliko’i juice. I sampled kava (…ew) and listened to live folk music by the ocean and chased crabs along the beach on which the Kingdom of Hawai’i was unified. I wrote a chapter of the UMSP while sitting beside a koi pond at the B&B I stayed at (highly recommended, BTW), and even though I was missing Altered Fluid’s annual retreat in the process, I still managed to achieve that sense of inward stillness that’s so crucial for any writer’s creative process.

Hell, I’m even thinking about moving there, when I grow old and feel like retiring somewhere. So yeah. Good trip.

I’ll be posting more photos from the trip on my Facebook page shortly; just need a little more time to decompress.

Facebooking Hawai’i

No time/energy to post in multiple places, so for the next few days I’ll be mostly on Facebook, where I’m liveblogging (livestatusing?) my research trip to the Big Island of Hawai’i. You can see photos from today’s hike across Kilauea. Tomorrow’s menu includes a helicopter tour of the active lava flows, and hopefully a visit to the Mauna Kea observatory (depending on whether my rental car can handle the drive). Friday is assorted debauchery with Kate Elliott, as we get up to whatever shenanigans two wild fantasy-writing women can get up to and stay legal. Saturday’s anything-goes day, and then I go home.

Anyway, if you want to Facebook-friend me, friend away. I generally don’t post personal/family stuff on my Facebook page (mostly because I don’t want Facebook to OWN MY SOUL but also because it’s there purely for me to babble randomly at anybody who cares to read it. Might take me awhile to accept your friend request, though; sorry in advance. Busy climbing mountains.

And then it hits me.

This is where I’m going:

Kilauea at dawn, photo by Volcanodiscovery on Flickr

Kilauea at dawn, photo by Volcanodiscovery on Flickr

Off to Hawaii to research the coolest stuff ever. Back in a few days.

So, yeah. This happened.

Nebula nomination number three, for The Kingdom of Gods.

I found out on Friday, if you’re wondering why I’m so calm about this; had time to go out and celebrate with friends, recover from the hangover, and cool down over the last few days. But I’m still kinda ¡holyshit! about it, just more quietly so.

I totally wasn’t expecting it. Yeah, it’s common for the third thing of a trilogy to get nominated for the Oscars, and stuff like that, but I don’t think it’s particularly common in SFF. Also, I knew there was really good stuff out there to compete against this year — some of which I’ve read and raved about here. (Congrats, Genevieve!) Besides, I got nominated for fricking everything last year; the warmfuzzy of that still lingers. I was content to let it glow for awhile without trying to stoke up the fires again.

But, well, wow. Awed doesn’t begin to cover how I’m feeling right now. Seriously. Thanks to everyone who voted, and… yeah. Wow.

The Inheritance Trilogy: The Roleplaying Game?

woman wearing a t-shirt with RPG stats, from Zazzle.comNow, don’t get all excited. Nobody’s offered or expressed any interest whatsoever in creating a game out of the Inheritance Trilogy. It’s just that a fan mentioned the idea on Twitter, and it intrigued me, so I’m bringing the question here:

How would an RPG based on the Inheritance Trilogy work?

For now, let’s go with tabletop RPGs rather than a video game. Not that the idea of a Squeenix or Atlus take on 100K wouldn’t thrill me — ohholycrapyesitwould — but there’s so many ways for games like that to be formulated. Tabletops, though, are a little more strict. They need rules, stats, procedures.

And how on earth would someone apply that kind of quantitative rigor to a character like, oh, Nahadoth? His stats would change on a constant basis. The act of attempting to write down his stats would be a defiance of his nature and cause warps in the fabric of reality. The game would have to account for this by making changes to every other character, creature, and setting’s stats. And what about a character who’s elontid (the category of godlings whose nature fluxes and wanes — e.g., Lil, the goddess of hunger, who responds to the desires of everyone around her)? Their stats would vary depending on the context. It would be a numerical nightmare.

…But maybe my thinking on this is too limited. After all, I’ve never tried to create an RPG before, and have no idea what the process might involve. So I’ll throw this out to you. If you were making an RPG out of any of the books of the Inheritance Trilogy, how would you do it?

Not 100,000 Kingdoms, but quite a few

Just got another foreign rights offer! This one’s not signed yet, and I try not to talk about them until they are, but altogether The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms is now available or will soon be available in a remarkable number of countries and languages. This is not an exhaustive list (because I’m doing it from memory; always a risky venture), but thus far the book has sold to:

  • Most English-speaking countries (Not sure about India; I’m a little fuzzy on whether everyone in the Commonwealth can buy from UK sellers. Frex Australia can — sometimes — and Canada can’t. It gets messy.)
  • Most Spanish-speaking countries
  • France (not Francophone countries to my knowledge, just in France)
  • Germany
  • Taiwan
  • Macao
  • Hong Kong (not mainland China, alas — traditional Chinese, not simplified)
  • Japan
  • Poland
  • Czechoslovakia

Nothing in the Middle East or Africa yet, but I have hope. And note that most of the above are print rights (occasionally ebook, no audio except English) and generally just for the first book of the trilogy, although some of the foreign publishers have come back to purchase rights for the latter books too. It all depends on whether the first book does well in the publisher’s country.

One of the things I didn’t understand when I first became a published author was how important foreign rights sales could be. This is one of the reasons why any author trying to get published should first seek a good agent, IMO, and ideally an agent that has an established relationship with lots of foreign rights agents. Many publishers ask for world rights, but then lack the infrastructure, translators, or contacts to actually publish in most other countries. By selling rights separately to publishers who are actually in those countries, there’s a much greater chance of the book actually coming out in multiple languages and markets. And the author might even make more money than if they sold the rights as a “whole world” package.

Not that we’re talking about a lot of money, note. Most foreign publishers are small, and there aren’t a ton of people willing to buy American fantasy novels in other countries. If I’m lucky I make (after agent fees; I do have to pay the foreign agents too, but it’s worth it since I wouldn’t be making the sale otherwise) an advance of a few hundred dollars on each foreign sale; if I’m luckier I’ll get royalties in a few months (or years). But considering it costs me nothing in effort to make these sales — the book’s already written, after all, and I don’t have to translate it — and in exchange I get the chance to build a readership all over the world? For somebody like me, who’s hoping for a long-term career in this business, retaining and selling foreign rights is absolutely crucial.

And no, if you’re wondering, I don’t get to see most of these books, nor do I have any input on how they’re marketed (except in rare cases). But it’s enough for me to know the text, translated or not, is being read all over the world.

So let’s hope for more! More Kingdoms! Ha ha ha!

March 2015
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