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Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Guest Author Blog Post: Kelly Link Author of Pretty Monsters

Visit Kelly Link's Website Here

Fantasy Book Critic is pleased to present a guest blog spot with Kelly Link. Kelly Link is the author of a short story collection for young adults called Pretty Monsters. We are excited that she was able to share with us another great interview with the author of Hundred Thousands Kingdom, N. K. Jemisin.


Hi! I'm the author of PRETTY MONSTERS, a collection of short stories for young adults. I'm about halfway through a blog tour at this point --previously I wrote for Book Chick City about having a somewhat atypical writer's career. I'd like to balance that post out by sharing an interview with a debut novelist whose work I've been greatly enjoying, and whose career path has been somewhat more conventional. N. K. Jemisin and I have met a few times -- at the Fantastic Fiction reading series at the KGB Bar in New York, and at WisCon, the feminist science fiction convention that takes place in Madison, Wisconsin every year. I've also been a reader of her blog, as well as her comments on the blogs of other writers. Later on in this interview, I ask her about community & networking for writers, and I feel that I should underline those three things: blogs, conventions, and reading series like KGB and the readings hosted by the New York Review of Science Fiction. Along with workshops, these are ways in which writers and readers begin to form contacts and communities. Nora's website is


Kelly: Let me start by saying how much I am enjoying THE HUNDRED THOUSAND KINGDOMS. It's a remarkably assured debut. Do you have any unpublished novels in the drawer, and could I read them?

N. K. Jemisin: I do have a duology, yes, although I'm in the middle of revising the first novel because another editor has asked to see it.

K: Something that I hope isn't a spoiler: as in many fantasy novels, a central strand of THE HUNDRED THOUSAND KINGDOMS involves finding the right someone to take on a difficult job. (It occurs to me, suddenly, that a lot of fantasy
novels could be described this way.) You're a psychologist -- who works in career counseling -- as well as a writer. Do you think of yourself as a psychologist who writes, or a writer who is also a psychologist? How does the one kind of work influence the other?

NKJ: I'm a writer who is also a counselor. I think of it that way because the writing predates the counseling by a long shot; I've been writing since childhood, but only finished grad school at age 25 or so. But I would say that the counseling has very much become a part of my identity as an *adult* writer. When I was a kid, I wrote mostly "idea" stories, but as an adult I write mostly "character" stories -- because it's the complexities of human identity and development that fascinate me the most, now that I understand them better. My reading reflects this too; I'm much more interested in, say, sociological science fiction than I am in "hard" science fiction. (Using scare quotes because science is science; I reject the artificial and biased distinction drawn between material and people-oriented sciences.) And my favorite fantasies are those which realistically depict human behavior and societies, even if only in allegorical form.

K: Within a few chapters of starting your novel, I was reminded of Tanith Lee, Ursula K. Le Guin, and Iain Banks -- as a reader, when you find a new writer whose work you love, you're always reminded of other writers that you've imprinted on. In this case, it's partially that the world of THE HUNDRED THOUSAND KINGDOMS feels romantic, baroque --voluptuously expansive -- and seems as if it will offer opportunities for many different kinds of stories. As with Lee's Tales from the Flat Earth series, and Banks's novels about The Culture, you've written a book which is both a stand-alone fantasy, as well as the first of of at least a three-book series. What novels/writers have you been influenced by?

NKJ: Lee and Le Guin are definitely influences. (I haven't read Banks, though people keep recommending him to me.) From Le Guin, her short stories had a great impact; "The Ones Who Walk Away From Omelas" in particular taught me not to pull punches, and that myths can be horrifying. With Lee it was her sheer wild reworking of mythology in the Flat Earth books. There's an obvious linkage between Nahadoth and Azhrarn -- though I actually read those after I'd conceived him, and modified him afterward as an homage. (Nahadoth's origins are a little eclectic; some of him comes from years of reading shoujo manga and watching anime, and some of him comes from Western novels featuring complex-evil characters, like Gerald Tarrant from C. S. Friedman's Coldfire trilogy.) An equal influence has been the religion and mythology of various past and current cultures -- most notably Hindu's Trimurti in the case of the Inheritance Trilogy, flavored with a bit of Egyptian-god sexiness and Greek-god drama. But I've read a lot of other stuff -- Haitian folklore, Amazigh myths, most recently some tales about Chang'e, the Chinese moon goddess. I read as much history and mythology as I do fiction. I'm fascinated by how much history *is* mythlike -- not only in the actual events, but also in the wildly disparate ways historians interpret those events. (Great case in point: Charles Mann's 1491 looks at the Americas prior to European contact. Not just a study of the facts, but why the historians got those facts so wrong.)

K: THE HUNDRED THOUSAND KINGDOMS is a character-driven novel. The setting itself
-- the city of Sky, and the palace also called Sky -- begins to feel like a character in its own right. The mythos that forms the backdrop of the central action has a nice heft to it. Can I ask you which came first? What was the original impulse when you sat down to write?

NKJ: The original impulse was a series of images in desperate need of an explanation: a man with stars in his hair, a massive palace sitting atop an impossibly thin column, a little boy playing with floating planets. But back then -- about ten or twelve years ago, when I first wrote the novel that became THE HUNDRED THOUSAND KINGDOMS -- I was still more of an "idea" than character writer. So all of the character complexity that's in the novel now, like Yeine's relationship with her mother, is something I added when I rewrote the old book from scratch.

K: I always think that one of the hardest parts of becoming a writer is learning to trust your instincts about your own work: when to recognize that something is working; when you need to revise vs. when you've gotten something right. I read an interview in which you said that you've been writing since you were very young. Can you talk a little bit about becoming a writer? How did you go about finding an agent? What was the submission process like when you were sending THE HUNDRED THOUSAND KINGDOMS out to publishers?

NKJ: Becoming a writer was never a question. The ideas were constantly in my head and it was easier to write them down than let them crowd out my own thoughts.

I spent my teenage years figuring out how to recognize when something wasn't
working. I wrote longhand in those days, and revising meant ripping up a lot of hand-cramp-inducing work, so it was pretty much sink or swim. Either the story worked and I finished it, or it didn't and it died. So I got pretty good at seeing pitfalls in the plot before I wrote myself into them.

I started thinking about becoming a professional writer in college, though I
wasn't sure how to go about it and really wasn't a very good writer back then. I still cringe when I think about the novel I forced my then-boyfriend to read. That relationship didn't last long; maybe that's why! Anyway, I didn't get serious until I turned 30 and decided it was time to grow up. If I was going to do this, I wanted to *do* it -- commit wholeheartedly, that was, and do whatever it took to get published. So I went to Viable Paradise a week-long writers' workshop, and started to figure out what I needed to do. I joined a fantastic writing group in Boston called the BRAWLers, and started working on my craft in both short stories and novels. Then I started submitting. I found my agent through the standard query process -- read LOCUS [Kelly: Locus is a trade magazine for science-fiction and fantasy publishing. The website is] for a few months, made note of which agents were selling to which publishers, on behalf of which authors, and then compiled a list and sent out query packets. So I knew when Lucienne (Diver) called that she was a good agent for me professionally-speaking, but then it turned out that we got along well and she really believed in my work. That was good, because the novel I'd sent to her did not sell, and several years passed before I finished another novel -- THE HUNDRED THOUSAND KINGDOMS -- to try again. Those were dark years. It was really hard to believe in myself, but it helped that she believed in me.

Selling THE HUNDRED THOUSAND KINGDOMS was the easiest part of the whole
process. I sent it to Lucienne, she sent it to several publishers, and suddenly there were offers. I was totally caught off-guard at how quickly my fortunes changed.

K: Maureen Johnson recently had an excellent rant about writers who feel that they need to sell themselves as a brand. It made me think about the related idea of networking -- that this is something new writers need to do, if they want to build a successful career. I'd like to get rid of the word networking, and replace it with the concept of community. How would you suggest a new writer go about finding a supportive community?

NKJ: I think there's a difference between a *supportive* community and a
*professional* community. A supportive community can take many forms -- fellow writers, people who aren't writers, loved ones, even co-workers. You can create a community like this wherever you have people who care about you and understand what you're doing. They can even help with networking, but their main job -- IMHO -- is to keep you motivated. My old writing group used to have a party whenever someone in the group passed 100 rejections; that kind of thing helped me feel like a real writer even though I wasn't (at the time) selling anything.

But I do believe networking is necessary, so I'm going to disagree gently
with you about getting rid of the word. Actually, I'm going to agree gently with Maureen. Her objection, if I'm reading it correctly, is to *bad* networking. Treating readers like peons is bad networking. Treating fellow authors like stepping-stools on the path to success is bad networking. Treating the internet like a 24/7 Home Shopping Network selling nothing but me, me, me, is bad networking. However -- and here I'm changing gears to career counselor thinking -- there is such a thing as good networking, that requires building a *professional* community. Doing this works the same as with building a support community. Make friends. Find mentors, and mentor others. Don't just take, give. Remember who helped you, try not to hurt anybody, and protect yourself from those who would hurt you in turn. Don't be evil. Etc.

The same things that are necessary when building relationships with anyone,
in other words. We don't need a new word for that, IMO. We just need to understand that networking is *not* "using/commodifying/objectifying".

K: What's the best advice on writing you've ever heard? What's the worst?

NKJ: Best advice: persist. I think it was at Viable Paradise that I came to
understand the writers who succeed are not necessarily the best; they're the ones who don't quit. They keep improving, keep submitting, keep believing in themselves.

Worst advice: stop writing science fiction and fantasy, because it's only
for white men. I've heard some variation on this my whole life -- some of it from writers and some from readers, some from fellow people of color and women in SFF fandom (yeah, I know) and some from white men in the industry. It made no sense for anyone to say this to me because *I* was proof that the "truism" -- or some kind of "ism", anyway -- was crap. Anyway, I let that kind of silliness taint my thinking for a long time, and I wish I hadn't. But I'm trying to make up for lost time now.

K: What are you reading right now?

NKJ: I just finished book 3 of the Inheritance Trilogy, so I'm kind of in a
reading fugue at the moment, plowing through several months' worth of unread books at once.

Notably, I just finished Mira Grant's FEED, which is a journalism thriller
that happens to be set during the zombie apocalypse. Riveting. And I'm catching up on Fumi Yoshinaga's manga/graphic novel series OOKU, which won the Tiptree Award this year. It's an alternate history of feudal Japan in which a plague kills off 3/4ths of the men and women take over the
shogunate. Brilliant, but then I've been a fan of Yoshinaga for years and her characterization is always amazing. A few weeks back read Diana Rowland's BLOOD OF THE DEMON, her second urban fantasy novel (that's actually set in the suburbs), about a police detective who summons demons. Urban fantasy gets a bad rap these days, but there are a lot of writers who are doing good work in this area, and Rowland's one of them. (Actual plot! A police procedural that's realistically handled! I barely noticed the hot demon guy. Really.) And most recently I read Nnedi Okorafor's first adult novel, WHO FEARS DEATH, a science fantasy set in a futuristic version of Darfur, with all that entails -- genocide, rape as a weapon of war, female genital cutting -- but also hope and love and transcendence. I'm recommending this one to everybody.

K: Thanks for the recommendations. Nnedi is a terrific writer, and I'm just reading Ooku myself. Making a note to pick up the Diana Rowland and Mira Grant novels. Thanks, Nora. Can't wait to read the next book in the Inheritance Trilogy.


Joanne said...

Hundred Thousand Kingdoms was absolutely brilliant. I found the characters to be engaging and worldbuilding to be just fantastic. I haven't enjoyed a book as much since I read "In the Night Garden" by Catherynne Valente. I found the use of alternate mythology in both to be really immersive and expertly executed. I'm really looking forward to the continuing saga of the trilogy.

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