“The Next Big Thing” Meme

Last week I got tagged by buddy Kate Elliott to participate in The Next Big Thing, a meme that’s been going around. I’m slow, so only just now doing it (d’oh). But this looks fun, so here goes. I think it’s meant to be filled out by someone who’s got a soon-forthcoming novel, but I’m going to treat this as a between-series snack and just talk about everything I’ve ever written.

Cutting for brevity!

1. What is the working title of your next book?

::ahahahahaha:: That’s an ongoing question. As I’ve mentioned before, I’m working on a new trilogy, not just one book, and I’ve been calling it the Untitled Magic Seismology Project, because of my horrible track record for creating book titles that stick. Rather than allow anyone to get wedded to a name that might change once the books are in production, I’m using “UMSP” as a codename.

That said, it does have a real name (for the series and for the individual books) that I’m going to propose to my editor when it’s done. But I’m not telling you what that is!

2. Where did the idea come from for the book?

So many of my story ideas come to me as visual flashes or dream images that I must then build worlds and storylines make sense of. I don’t actually remember where this one came from — my brain works like that — but it lodged in my head and I can’t shake it. The image is of a middle-aged woman doing a menacing stroll across a gray, ash-flecked plain, with a black-glass knife in one hand… and a mountain hovering above and behind her. Out of that I’ve spun (the first 50,000 words so far of) a tale of a seismically hyperactive world in which all life, and magic, has configured itself around surviving catastrophic earthquakes and apocalyptic volcanic winters. The woman is Essun, an orogene, born with the ability to control seismic activity. She’s looking for her husband, who’s just murdered their son and kidnapped their daughter, but finding him will be a bit difficult. That’s because the worst and perhaps last volcanic winter that humanity will ever face has just begun, and factions are already forming among the survivors. Essun’s private war will have to wait as a much bigger war begins to brew and she is forced to choose sides between her fellow orogenes — the very people who destroyed the world — and ordinary humans — who kill and enslave her kind whenever possible.

3. What genre does your book fall under?

Apocalyptic fantasy, for lack of a better description. Note that I didn’t say post-apocalyptic; the world ends on page 7 in the current draft. (When I revise, I’ll probably try to bring the end of the world up to p. 3 or so. No sense delaying the inevitable.)

Because of the sheer amount of research I’ve had to do into seismology, geology, and more, there’s a solid scientific core underlying the fantasy; yeah, after all my ranting, I decided to write some magic that made sense. But at the moment I’m thinking that I won’t use the word “magic” anywhere in the story, because it’s simply the way the world works. We don’t call gravity “magic,” after all — but if we came from a place that somehow existed without gravity (if that was possible), we would. To readers who are used to our world’s physical laws, this will seem very strange. And maybe a little bit nonsensical. ^_-

4. What actors would you choose to play the part of your characters in a movie rendition?

Urgh. I don’t like live-action renderings of books, in general. If there’s a choice I’d prefer animation; I would so rock the Inheritance Trilogy as an anime series by Studio BONES, frex. And the Dreamblood would make an awesome video game, IMO, handled by a company like Bioware or Squeenix. No idea what voice actors I would choose, though I’m sure I could find a use for all the usual suspects, like Gideon Emery (he’d be perfect for Viraine) and Wendee Lee (her “ees” even match Oree!). I’d probably reach beyond the usual suspects, tho’, for certain characters. Laurence Fishburne’s voice (hey, a girl can dream) might work for male!Nahadoth; he’s got the menace and off-kilterness when he wants to play that, and I think his voice is sensual in a shiver-inducing kind of way. Good shivers and bad.

But if we’re stuck with live action*, things become iffier, because frankly I don’t watch enough TV or live-action film to have a clear sense of who could do what. I’ve seen some fan-castings of the Inheritance books (why no love for Dreamblood, huh? ::sad author eyes::), but I think most of those are choosing actors based on looks rather than acting ability. Still, I agree with a few of the suggestions I’ve seen, like Idris Elba as Itempas — got a taste of that when I saw him as Heimdall in Thor and Avengers, and he looks surprisingly good with sun-colored eyes. He’s also got the gravitas to play our man Shiny, and his acting chops are superb; Luther is one of the few TV shows I make time for. Angel Coulby would make a good Yeine; I don’t know her ethnicity, but she’s a good actress and beautiful in a distinctly non-Hollywood way. Cree Summer would’ve been perfect 20 years ago. Hailee Steinfeld is an awesome actress and — with a bit of bleach and a perm — could play Shahar Arameri (the younger). Djimon Hounsou might fit Ehiru; he’s got that gravitas too. Danai Gurira would make a lovely and lethal Sunandi.

Beyond that, alas, I got nothin’. But my inability to come up with established actors for many of my characters isn’t really a bad thing, because the characters I tend to write are the sort who wouldn’t get a lot of love in Hollywood. Nahadoth as a man is “effeminate”; Sieh is intolerably Asian-looking; Oree is extremely dark-skinned. Hollywood’s methods of dealing with these “problems” in established actors/actresses would just piss me off. So I’d hope for a talented newcomer in these cases.

I can’t really visualize the UMSP yet. But I’d want this in the soundtrack of a UMSP movie:

5. What is the one-sentence synopsis of your book?

Yeesh, that’s a challenge. OK, how’s this: “The world is ending, but for Essun it’s already gone.”

…Wow, that’s cryptic. And not much of a hook, geh. I’ll work on that.

6. Will your book be self-published or represented by an agency?

(That’s an odd question. You can be both self-published and agented.) As with all of my long works, I am represented by Lucienne Diver of the Knight Agency. The UMSP has been bought by Orbit Books, so it’ll be traditionally published.

7. How long did it take you to write the first draft of the manuscript?

::hahahahaha:: Ask me again in a few months.

8. What other books would you compare this story to within your genre?

This is hard! There aren’t many apocalyptic fantasy novels out there. Brandon Sanderson’s Mistborn comes to mind, although I’d call his postapocalyptic. Stephen King’s Dark Tower novels might qualify — it’s a really slow apocalypse — although I’ll be lucky if I can generate anything resembling those books’ baroque, awful beauty. Maybe some of China Mieville’s short stories? Offhand I’m thinking of “The Tain” and “Looking for Jake”. But mine’s more straightforward fantasy than New Weird. Maybe with a smidge of Martha Wells-ian “worlds of ruin teeming with scary life“? And maybe a dash of Le Guin’s Omelas.

Wow, I suck at this.

9. Who or what inspired you to write this book?

See #2!

10. What else about the book might pique the reader’s interest?

If women throwing around mountains doesn’t do it for you, there’s absolutely nothing I can add that will.

Still waiting to hear back from my tag-ees on this meme; I’ll update here soon on who I’m handing the torch off to.

*As a clause of the film rights contract I would require Dame Judi Densch to be present on set. I don’t actually care what role she’d play; she can sit somewhere and have a Mai Tai, whatever. I just want awesome in the house.

8 thoughts on ““The Next Big Thing” Meme”

  1. “…But mine’s more straightforward fantasy than New Weird. Maybe with a smidge of Martha Wells-ian “worlds of ruin teeming with scary life“?

    I love Wells’ Books of the Raksura, so I’d consider that smidge to be feature, not bug. :)

  2. So excited for this trilogy.

    Also, I had never before heard of Zoe Keating — thanks, now must go find more stuff by her.

  3. I’m very interested to read your next series. The Killing Moon was one of the most innovative and interesting fantasies I’ve read in a long time, so I’m looking forward to learn how you build this new world.

  4. 1) That sounds really intriguing. I sort of love that you ranted about magic systems and then went ahead and started creating something like this. It shows that it’s okay to be unsure about how best to make a fantasy world feel imersive, and that uncertainty’s probably a much-needed precursor to finding one’s personal solution to that problem.

    4) This is exactly how I feel about my characters. I’m about as amateur a writer as they come. By the time I feel more confident in my ability to create stories I hope Hollywood will have begun to sort out its frickin’ issues. BONES and Sunrise, however — well, an animanga fangirl can dream. The export/dubbing arm of the anime industry seems to be suffering at the moment, which is a complete shame since Soul Eater and No. 6 are really two excellent adaptations. And then from Sunrise you’ve got classics like Cowboy Bebop and Escaflowne, as well as newer stuff like Code Geass. I really do wish anime as a medium could reach a wider audience.

    But I can say that the folks over at Thousand Pounds Action Company make me feel a little less bleak about the future. They’ve successfully Kickstarted a whole lotta money to producer their animanga-inspired martial arts fantasy web series, so I’m crossing my fingers that this works out well for them. I saw the casting call they put out for Clandestine and they’ve requested way more brown people than I’d expect from any big Hollywood studio working on a similar production.

    Also, this: Nahadoth as a man is “effeminate”; Sieh is intolerably Asian-looking; Oree is extremely dark-skinned. — these descriptors just made me very, very happy, because no, they’re not typically acceptable. But if you can get loads of people to see them all as attractive and worthy of admiration, then as cheesy as it sounds, there’s hope for the rest of us.

  5. I am so excited for this next series! Your world-building is absolutely fantastic and I love how you seem to so easily challenge the so many taken-for-granted assumptions in fantasy and sci-fi (and, well, fiction in general). Very excited to read this series when you are done!!

    P.S. The only thing missing in your worlds is an inversion of the world – making fantasy non-northern hemispheric centric!!!

  6. Pingback: Smugglivus 2012 Guest Author: N.K. Jemisin | The Book Smugglers

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