Jul 19 2010 6:41pm

ReaderCon Panel Recap: “How I Wrote The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms

This small panel featured author N.K. Jemisin, recent author of The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms, upcoming November release The Broken Kingdoms, and the recently completed third novel in the trilogy, The Kingdom of the Gods.

At a convention that featured so many writers, and aspiring writers, panels that helped to illustrate the workings of a book were invaluable help to all interested, but also to those who really enjoyed the books in question. Jemisin’s talk about The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms felt like a behind-the-scenes look at what I thought of as a very good book.

The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms was actually written about twelve years ago, and looked very different from its current form. Jemisin revealed that it had originally been called The Sky God’s Lover, and functioned as a fairly normal read. It was rejected several times in this form, so the manuscript was put away. She wrote several other books after that, all of which were similarly rejected, prompting her to bring out the original manuscript for The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms and rework it. Originally, the book had a male protagonist and was in the third person, elements which were drastically changed from the original.

Jemisin noted that at this point she had grown up quite a bit from the time that the first book had been written and that that provided a number of useful lessons in and of itself. The book was then shopped around, garnering three offers for the manuscript which kicked off an auction that was eventually won by Orbit. They wanted only some minor changes to make it read like an epic fantasy, which Jemisin was happy to do. Three books were contracted, although the first book could function as a standalone novel.

What was most interesting about her talk were the insights she gave into how the book could have been marketed to several very different audiences. She noted that one publisher had been looking at the book as a paranormal romance, while another (Orbit) went with the epic fantasy route, implementing smaller changes to push the book in various directions.

All in all, Jemisin’s talk was an interesting, insightful one, not just for the fans of her Inheritance Trilogy, but also for those interested in some of the behind the scenes of the publishing industry.

Andrew Liptak is a freelance writer, historian and longtime science fiction fan. He currently holds a master’s degree in Military History from Norwich University, and has written for SF Signal and io9, as well as for his personal site, Worlds in a Grain of Sand. He currently lives in the green (or white, for most of the year) mountains of Vermont with a growing library of books and a girlfriend who tolerates them.

N. K. Jemisin
1. N. K. Jemisin
Hmm, posted this yesterday, but it doesn't look like it's gone through. To clarify, what I was trying to explain in the panel (badly, apparently) was that I didn't pitch the book as epic fantasy. I honestly wasn't sure what it was; I figured it could qualify as epic fantasy, New Weird, urban fantasy, mythpunk, or any number of subgenres. So I left that to the publishers to define. And the changes requested weren't to make the book epic fantasy; they were simply to add a subplot (in addition to the ones already there) to show more of the politics outside of Sky. I'd say it was less than 1000 words added to the existing text; a minor change, in other words.

Glad you liked the panel!
N. K. Jemisin
2. Eugene R.
I heard Ms. Jemisin read the opening of her novel on Jim Freund's "Hour of the Wolf" radio program (WBAI-FM, 99.5, NYC). It struck me as a work that was using epic fantasy tropes to tell a tale of family politics, somewhat akin to Mervyn Peake's Gormenghast books. I would have attended her talk, if I had not been seduced away by the concurrently running panel on comparing translations of E.T.A. Hoffman. Curse you, bilingualism allure!

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