Going Strange Places

Hi. I’m N. K. Jemisin; you can call me Nora. I’m supposed to tell you something about myself here. I considered saying all the usual things — my writing influences, when my books will be out, all that. But that’s not about me, it’s about my writing career, so I figured I’d have to dig a little deeper than that. So here goes:

When I was a kid, I loved to visit strange places by myself.

My favorites were the woods near one of my childhood apartments, where an abandoned construction site had left an unnatural clearing dominated by an ancient oak tree, and a big red-clay gulley near my middle school. I would climb the oak tree and sit in it, staring at the big hole the developers had left at its feet. Or I’d climb down the steep slopes of the gulley with no thought for how I would get back up, and just walk around. Not imagining anything, or thinking at all really. Just absorbing the atmosphere of the place. In retrospect, doing this was incredibly stupid and I’m lucky I didn’t end up as a picture on a milk carton. I kind of knew it wasn’t a smart thing to do. But I couldn’t help myself; the compulsion to go into these places was far too powerful for a little thing like common sense to counteract.

That compulsion still exists in me, though it’s modified over the years. I no longer go into places that are noticeably unsafe, or so isolated as to be. Instead I seek out strange little places in the middle of urban environments. In Boston, where I lived for 7 years, I found an abandoned castle in the middle of the Back Bay Fens. (No, really; I have no idea what it used to be or why it was there, but it had turrets and everything.) I wandered through it while some kids were playing baseball nearby. In New York, where I live now, such places are everywhere — a train underpass, a rooftop, a quiet street. Sometimes I just stop in the middle of a sidewalk and stare at something. Nobody bothers me when I do it, or even gives me a second glance. (Hey, this is New York.)

I think I understand now why I need such places. When I walk through them, silent, listening, I absorb something indefinable. It isn’t always pleasant, whatever it is. There’s filth and darkness and fear to go along with the moments of heartstopping, profound beauty. But later, when I write, I try to regurgitate whatever it is I’ve taken in from these places. If I can capture it with words, even a tenth of the time, I’m happy.

So that’s who I am. My first novel, The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms, is due out from Orbit in early 2010. It’s about a very strange place indeed: a world where humans have enslaved their gods. One very angry young woman has to decide whether to free them — which may help her avenge her mother’s murder, but also destroy the universe. (Yeah, she’s that angry.) It’s the first of a trilogy set in this strange world, so I’m hard at work right now on books 2 and 3. (I have some short fiction already available; go here if you want to see it.) Hope you’ll check them out, and come with me into those places, when the time comes.


3 Responses to “Going Strange Places”

  1. February 13, 2009 at 10:42 pm

    Really looking forward to your trilogy, Nora!

    I had a childhood weird place similar to yours–a construction site where there was this weird pool of water–electric blue and probably poisoned with something. But it conferred some kind of weird magic on the place and its empty house frames.

  2. February 14, 2009 at 3:41 pm

    Why thanks! And yeah, that blue pool sounds like a potential Superfund site. =) But I bet it was beautiful, in a surreal sort of way.

  3. February 15, 2009 at 1:03 pm

    …and I used “weird” three times in that brief comment. Oy!!

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