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Thursday, April 8, 2010

Interview with N.K. Jemisin (Interview by Mihir Wanchoo)

Read FBC's review of The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms Here
Visit N.K Jemisin's Official Site Here

N.K Jemisin is the author of The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms which was published this past February by Orbit. Mihir Wanchoo was able to conduct an email interview with her for Fantasy Book Critic. Read on to learn more about N.K. Jemisin.


Your debut novel The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms was released in February this year to critical acclaim, how does it feel to finally be a published author and all that it entails? What's one thing that we wouldn't know about you based on your site bio?

It feels fantastic, but it's become very clear to me that getting published is the beginning of the journey, not the end. Now I not only have to write as well as I can, as quickly as I can, but also I have to constantly manage my "brand", travel and make appearances to promote my work, worry about income fluctuations and taxes, and so on. I'm working harder now than in my day job -- and I've still got the day job. But that's how it works for authors, these days. Being your own boss means working your butt off.

My cat's name is NukuNuku. :)

You are a part of the writing group “Altered Fluid” how does that help you in your writing, could you tell us something about it as to how the advice given by the group benefited/altered your writings?

They're a great group. Really talented writers and really hard workers! But any good writing group should be like that, or what's the point in being in it? I've had the fortune to be in several very good ones over the course of my career, of which AF is just the latest.

You had once described your book as a dilemma for the main character as the world is already a very orderly place and by the protagonist’s machinations, the peace and prosperity might be lost or even forcibly altered to the point of no return! What were your intentions behind writing such a tale?

I didn't really have any intentions, beyond writing a good story. :)

The gods in your fantasy setup behave in a very human manner in spite of their heavenly origins, was this a purposeful nod to the God pantheon of the Greek, Hindu and Norse mythologies?

Greek and Hindu to some degree; Egyptian and Dahomeyan and a couple of American Indian myths more specifically; random bits of others I've picked up over the years. Really, when you dig deep enough, most religions and myths are very similar. There's probably been some cross-pollination somewhere along the way. So with that in mind I tried very hard to *avoid* borrowing too heavily from any one religion, because I wanted the mythology to feel as if it could be a logical outgrowth of any of them. Mostly what I borrowed were archetypes and structure. Most trickster figures are similar across faiths, for example, and serve a very specific purpose. Most pantheons depict its members as an extended family and also a kind of multi-modal marriage. Most faiths feature a prominent resurrection or two.

How many interviewers have asked you about your trilogy sharing a common title with a popular series by C. Paolini, Do you have any second thoughts about changing the title or any alternative series title? Has any Paolini reader emailed you irately about the title?

Nope. A couple of interviewers have mentioned it, but no Paolini fans have said anything to me about it. That may be because I'm not the only one to use it -- there's also a science fiction and an old mystery series (long predating Paolini's use, actually) with the same title. Can't blame us all for liking it; it's a good title.

In regards to epic fantasy, as is the want of map to go along, this was missing from your book, any specific reason as to why no map was included?

It wasn't "missing"; I didn't want one. I was reluctantly willing to work with a designer on creating one if that was something Orbit required, in the interests of fitting the standards of the epic fantasy genre -- but fortunately they didn't want a map either, and I was happy with that. Diana Wynne Jones, in her hilarious THE TOUGH GUIDE TO FANTASYLAND, points out that maps have become both a cliché and a kind of spoiler within the epic fantasy genre. The maps in most fantasy novels feature only locations that will become important over the course of the series -- so by looking at the map, any savvy reader can pretty much figure out where the story is going.

Besides, the focus of THE HUNDRED THOUSAND KINGDOMS is, depending on how you look at it, either the whole planet, or one city-sized palace. Which one should've gotten the map?

What level of technology is the overall world of the 100K kingdoms set at? I mean for eg. The city of Aramari seems to be very technologically advanced, however the rest of the world doesn't seem to match up in that regard.

Technologically speaking, all of the Hundred Thousand Kingdoms are at about Renaissance-level technology. They've got newspapers, very basic sciences, long-distance seafaring, and so on. The Amn's capitol city, Sky, is no different in this respect. What Sky has more of, is *magical* advancement, mostly because the Arameri have money. Anyone in this world can have access to magic -- the power to imitate the gods -- if they can afford it. The nobility and wealthy people all use some of the same magical doodads as the Arameri, like the communication spheres and healing sigils. The poor people, however, make do like poor people in any society: they work a lot harder and they die more easily.

You have written some varied short stories such as the Red Riding-Hood’s Child, The Effluent Engine, The Narcomancer and Non Zero probabilities amongst which Non Zero probabilities is up for a Nebula this year and you will be competing with your friend Saladin Ahmed in this category, how do you feel about this?

I think it's hilarious that Saladin and I are competing in the same category. And he well deserves the honor; I love his story myself. He's not my only friend in the category this year, though -- I'm also up against Michael Burstein and Jim Kelly, both men I consider mentors, and Kij Johnson, who I met recently and thought was way cool. So the way I figure it, since I know and like all these people, I won't feel bad if one of them wins instead of me. But I still want to win myself. ;)

You have a very active online presence via your blog, Twitter and Facebook, often commenting on a variety of topics, where do you manage the time to write amidst all the online stuff?

Well, commenting on stuff doesn't exactly take a lot of time. I love the fact that Twitter forces me to be brief, actually -- that way I don't spend too much time on it. Blogging takes more, but like I said -- this is part of what an author has to do these days to get noticed. I budget time for it like I budget time for everything else. Part of the job. Fortunately it's fun, too.
The mythology which you have created for your world has a trinomial aspect to it chiefly and then further spreads out. Was this a deliberate positioning in lieu of the trilogy or just another coincidental occurrence?

No, that had nothing to do with it. The cosmology is a trinity because I just felt like doing a trinity. The books are a trilogy because I just felt like doing a trilogy. Total coincidence that it's three and three! =)

What does a normal writing day entail for you and could you give the readers a glimpse into your writing habits. Also how do you cope with the stressful nature of schedules and deadlines?

Well, I work part-time at my day job, and those days are all over the place, so I'll focus on the days that are all-writing. I get up around 9 and usually read over what I wrote the day before, for continuity. Usually I'll go to the gym at about this point, because writers really need to work at staying healthy, given the sedentary nature of our work. I've got a workout partner who's an actor, so she keeps me in line. Then I'll head either home or to a nearby coffee shop, where I'll spend several hours trying to hit my word quota (2000 words) for the day. If it's a good day, I hit it by 5 or 6 p.m. If it's a bad day, or if I'm busy with other stuff, I hit it by midnight. If it's a really bad day, or I'm really in a Zone, I wake up at 4 in the morning with an idea in my head, and I have to get up and write it down. It's usually good stuff, but I'd rather sleep.

As for coping with stress, I do the usual: friends, going out to have fun, video games, reading a good book. I'm a typical New Yorker -- I've always got a book with me in case I end up sitting somewhere for awhile, and my iPod is loaded up with short story podcasts.

In one of your blog post you have mentioned that amongst your 5 favorite non-human characters is Gerald Tarrant, from the Coldfire Trilogy by C. S. Friedman, what is it about this character which fascinated you so much?
Mostly it's just that he's so principled. His sense of honor leads him to make incredibly evil choices, and he stands by those choices without regret because he's the kind of guy who accepts the consequences of his actions. He's not admirable; he's a monster. But at least he's a grownup about it.
You also talk about your yearly obsessions, so which food article has your fancy this year?

Luckily, it seems to be Red Mango yogurt. Cheap and fat free! Except I like it with chocolate chips.

Thank you so much for your time, so looking ahead what can we expect from you in regards to the second book and the trilogy?

I think I'll leave that one for people to find out when books 2 and 3 come out. Hope they like 'em!


darkeva said...

What a great, insightful interview! I've seen Ms. Jemisen recently profiled in the latest issue of Locus magazine with Nnedi and it piqued my interest in her work :-)

The Reader said...

Hi Darkeva

Thanks I'm glad you liked the interview :)

Robert & Liviu have had high praise for the book when they they read it earlier this year. I hope you give it a try as well.


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