N.K. Jemisin Brings Her World-Building to New York City

Posted by Cybil on March 1, 2020
N.K. Jemisin, one of today's most beloved fantasy authors, is back this month with a brand-new series–the first since she wrapped up her groundbreaking, history-making, and award-winning Broken Earth trilogy.

Her new series begins with The City We Became, in which five New Yorkers must come together in order to defend their city against ancient evil that threatens to destroy the city that never sleeps.

Jemisin talked to Goodreads about the new novel, what's changed (and hasn't) in the fantasy genre, and her approach to world-building.

Goodreads: The City We Became begins your first series since the triple-Hugo-winning Broken Earth series. You’ve called this series an “emotional palate cleanser” as well as your “chance to have a little monstrous fun after the weight of the Broken Earth saga.” Tell us more about that.

N.K. Jemisin: Hilariously, as soon as I said I wanted to have a little monstrous fun and started mapping out my research against current events, I realized just how dire all this was probably going to be. I definitely tried to have fun–all these characters were great to work on, and there's nothing like trying to figure out the physics of wielding an umbrella on top of a moving cab–but I realized very early on that no amount of supernatural shellac was going to change the fundamental stakes.

I hope it's an enjoyable ride for readers like it was for me, but without taking topics like gentrification and white supremacy seriously, the story would ring a little hollow.

GR: As a resident of New York, why did you decide to set your new series in the city and to put the city in peril against a sinister ancient evil?

NKJ: On some level the location was a gimme–it's one of the most famous cities in the world and is no stranger to being menaced by all sorts of supernatural perils. But for anyone who lives here, the speed–and directions–in which the city is changing is always personal, especially for those who find themselves being edged out of their hometown, or that some people's idea of change has no room for those who can't meet a price tag. The evils don't always have to be sinister and ancient; plenty of them are clear and present.

GR: In The City We Became, NYC’s defenders embody the five boroughs. What was the most fun part about bringing these very distinct neighborhoods to life as characters? What was the most challenging or surprising part?

NKJ: The most rewarding and least fun part of the process was the research–this is the first time my research has been so directly related to real-world events, which was a fascinating process but also a new one. History is a messy business, and reading multiple perspectives of New York past was nothing compared to trying to sort out New York present. It was also the first time I've been able to directly visit the places I'm writing about, which was invaluable–and sometimes surprising. (When I went to Inwood Park in the middle of a weekday, I was the only soul in the place, which for anywhere in New York is oddly creepy.)

GR: This is the first book of a new trilogy. Can you give us any hints about what will come next for our gang of heroes? Will you stick with New York or explore the personifications of some other cities?

NKJ: This is definitely a New York trilogy, and this town will be the battleground–sometimes against the common enemy and sometimes closer to home. But New York has always attracted people from other places, and the city avatars are no different; New York doesn't stand alone.

GR: You’re known for your attention to world-building, even teaching workshops on how to create these fictional places. Can you tell us about your research and process? How has it evolved over time?

NKJ: Honestly, the thing that's evolved the most is how I'm able to talk about the process overall. It's one thing to know what your own story needs (research on Egyptian toilets for the Dreamblood duology–those are some very specific search terms) and another to be able to walk a room full of people through building a world from scratch in real time. In that way, it's been most effective as a tool to see how people understand storytelling as it happens to them.

GR: As the first author to ever win three consecutive Hugo Awards for best novel, how has that recognition changed your career? Or has it?

NKJ: I spent a lot of years at a day job as a career counselor, and one of the pieces of advice I had to give most often was that pinning too much significance on any one metric was dangerous–it sets you up for disappointment if you fail, but also if you succeed, because...what then? All you can hope for are projects you can throw yourself into. I'm lucky enough to have that, and I wouldn't dare speculate beyond it–I've counseled too many people otherwise, and they might see me!

GR: Since the publication of your debut novel, The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms in 2009, what do you think has changed in the sci-fi and fantasy genres?

NKJ: I think quite a bit has changed–but I'm not sure how much of that is the things that really need to change. There's been a lot of interesting movement in terms of the breadth of marketing categorization, and to some extent a blurring of audiences as things like YA fantasy become solidly mainstream titles.

However, behind the scenes publishing remains as overwhelmingly white as ever, and marginalized writers aren't afforded nearly the same level of opportunity. Some changes happen faster than others, I guess.

GR: As a world-builder and creator of humanity-ending evils, what’s your take on our current times? How much of that view is represented in your work?

NKJ: The Broken Earth trilogy exists to answer exactly this question–and then I went back to New York City, condensed cosmic evil into a gentrifying white lady, and started over. Mine aren't the most optimistic takes, but sometimes you have to call them like you see them.

GR: As a speculative fiction and comic book author, are there any pop culture events you’re fangirling out about now?

NKJ: I recently finished–and loved–HBO's Watchmen. Up next: I'm excited about the third season of Westworld, and I cannot wait to yell at my TV through a whole new season of panicked courtiers getting eaten by zombies in Kingdom.


N.K. Jemisin's The City We Became will be available in the U.S. on March 24. Don't forget to add it to your Want to Read shelf. Be sure to also read more of our exclusive author interviews and get more great book recommendations.

Comments Showing 1-25 of 25 (25 new)

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message 1: by Christine (new)

Christine Bullen Adore N.K. Jemisin and can't wait for this next adventure.

message 2: by Eoneillreally (new)

Eoneillreally Robert wrote: ""Overwhelmingly as white as ever"
Every other sentence out of her mouth is anti white sentiement. How silly (and racist) would I be for incessantly ranting about how the NFL and NBA are overwhelmingly black??"

The fact that you miss the essential difference stinks of (presumably) white male privilege. You don't recognize that, do you? Who has the power? Who owns those teams? Who manages them? Who's paying the salaries? Same in publishing. Even if the author is a woman of color, the one who has the power to publish, to pay, to edit the soul out of a book... that's probably a white man, at the top.

You're insufferable.

message 3: by Alondra (new)

Alondra Miller Can't wait to get into her work.

Being so behind on my huge tbr is not helping. ugh!!

btw, Roberts statement was ridiculous and ignorant. Save that crap for Facebook.

message 4: by SheaN (new)

SheaN ✨✨

message 5: by Liz (new)

Liz I can't wait to read this new trilogy! Thank you, N.K. Jemisin for your work, even if the change is slow, what you're doing is so important!

message 6: by Annie (new)

Annie Love to read your work NK, and am so grateful for the way you share your perspective through hyper-compelling stories. Can’t wait to devour a fantasy set in our “real” world!

The FountainPenDiva, Old school geek chick and lover of teddy bears I'm super excited about her new series. I've introduced even non-fantasy fans to the Broken Earth series.

Of course, leave it up to "Robert the Racist" who thinks that any hard-won accolades authors of color receive must be due to skin color rather than the fact Jemison is highly talented.

Newsflash, she IS highly talented, beloved in ways you'll NEVER be and just because you don't like the truth about the lily-white gatekeeping of the publishing industry is meaningless. Save the fauxrage for the industry. And really, using sports as a lame excuse is so yesterday.

message 8: by Annabelle (new)

Annabelle Been on my TBR for quite some time. I can't wait to read it. I love N. K. Jemisin.

message 9: by Barry (new)

Barry Eoneillreally, I agree with you 100%

message 10: by Robert (new)

Robert Omg. This gives me goosebumps. I loved the Broken Earth Saga. To hear she has a new series coming out is fantastic. It sounds very different to Broken Earth though. I hope it's good :) I enjoy her writing style so fingers crossed.

message 11: by Dustin (new)

Dustin Robert wrote: ""Overwhelmingly as white as ever"
Every other sentence out of her mouth is anti white sentiement. How silly (and racist) would I be for incessantly ranting about how the NFL and NBA are overwhelmin..."

people like you are why she "rants incessantly"

message 12: by Kristin (new)

Kristin I've had this pre-ordered for quite some time. This will definitely be on my April TBR.

message 13: by [deleted user] (new)

Yessssssssss perfect reading for the apocalypse! Cannot wait!

message 14: by Tim (new)

Tim Hicks Good interview.

And Robert? Don't go on Twitter with this shtick. You'll get deSTROYed - and deservedly so. Might make you a sad puppy.

message 15: by Darcy (new)

Darcy Thank you for the great interview! I will be ordering the City We Became as soon as I post this.

message 16: by Book Minded Mag (new)

Book Minded Mag Can’t wait to read this!! And YES to screaming at the TV while watching Kingdom!!!

message 17: by Larry (new)

Larry Witte Robert, what a horrible and racist comment.

message 18: by Laura (new)

Laura L. Van Dam Wonderful writer! I read the Broken Earth trilogy when it came out and loved it. cant wait to read her new book

message 19: by Hulda (new)

Hulda N. K. Jemisin's books are like a breath of fresh air into fantasy. Don't get me wrong, I do love the traditional epic fantasy, but sometimes I want to read fantasy that's entirely different. After a long time without finding any, her books gave that to me. I look forward to her new trilogy!

message 20: by Kate (new)

Kate I'm very excited. I hope because of the flupocolypse I will now be able to see you on tour. You are an amazing writer! I was hoping my pre-order would come sooner but alas.

message 21: by Andy (new)

Andy Unlike Robert ( I missed the intial post) this white male appreciates N.K. Jemisin story telling, and the fresh perspective she brings to our fantasy world it reading.

Looking forward to the new series.

message 22: by Jesse (new)

Jesse Keeter Love your worlds and your words. We need them now more than ever. Thank you!

message 23: by David (new)

David A Townsend Will shades of Shadow ever be released as a book?
My copy of the City we became has not arrived yet

message 24: by Becks (new)

Becks One of the few authors who is so good that all her interviews are unmissable and worth reading because she drops the most interesting stuff in!

message 25: by Adam (new)

Adam I appreciate that Jemsin keeps it real in her answers. Still have to read book 3 of the broken earth trilogy. Then this. (But I wish chicago instead of NY!)

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