Tag Archives: Nnedi Okorafor

Fanmail Q&A: YA Recomendations

Hello, Pat!

Today, my 10-year-old daughter, Becca, came home from school with a book pressed to her nose. This is nothing unexpected; she’s been addicted to books for nearly as long as she’s been able to speak!

But today, I had a little smile when I noted the title that she’d selected from her school’s library: “A Wrinkle In Time.”

I recently read your blog post about your early experience with the book, and it gave me pause to think. I had one of those thoroughly “mom” moments, suddenly picturing my redheaded, freckle-faced, bespectacled, skinny 10 year old as a grown-up with a career!

I hope I don’t sound dreadfully stage-momish when I say that I’ve long guessed she would end up being a writer. She thinks differently from other kids. She’s never been afraid of spiders or robbers, instead, her real-life fears include the concept of infinity and people one day traveling at the speed of light. Many nightmares over the size of the universe. She’s bizarre, but pretty darned cute, so it balances. ;)

(Editor’s note: She is pretty cute.)

Writing all that down probably seals her fate as a future tax accountant!

So, here begins my question to you… She’s read all of the usual suspects for children at her age, including Harry Potter and the Narnia series. She also spent a whole month reading every BabySitter’s Club book she could scrounge up! (She is a little girl, after all!!)

But finding books that really challenge and appeal to her as a voracious reader has been a years-long sprint to stay ahead of her curiosity! She adores fantasy, but a LOT of fantasy novels are just too sexual, or too violent for her, at this age.

I’ve loved your recommendations of books over the years, and I wonder if you could think of a list of books that little budding geeks would adore? …a geekery primer, as it were.

Thank you so much for sharing your time and talent with the world.

-Carrie

Well Carrie, I won’t lie to you. You do sound slightly stage-mom. But at least you’re aware of it. Knowing is half the battle, after all.

I have a lot of control-freak tendencies myself. (I think some of it comes from being an author.) But so far I’ve managed to reign in those elements of my personality when it comes to planning Oot’s future.

Sarah constantly wants to speculate about what he’ll be like when he grows up. What job will he have? Will he be right handed? Will his hair be curly or wavy? Will he be gay or straight? What will his secondary mutation be?

I decided early on that I don’t care about any of that stuff. I only want two things from him when he grows up.

He must:

1. Make the world a better place.

2. Be happy.

That’s all I require of him. He can even do them in whatever order he likes. Concurrently or consecutively. Everything else is meaningless detail as far as I’m concerned. (Though it would be nice if he was a bit of a reader, too.)

But yeah, back to the point of your letter. Let me see if I can think of some good YA reads for you….

The first thing that leaps to mind is:

  • Terry Pratchett’s Tiffany Aching books.

I don’t really feel the need to sell these books to you. If you know anything about fantasy, you know who Terry Pratchett is. You know he’s great.

On the off chance that you don’t, I’ll simply say what I’ve said before: There may be authors as good as Terry Pratchett, but there are no authors better. And the Tiffany Aching books are as good as anything he’s ever written. I just pulled one down off the shelf and right now I’m having to actively fight my desire start reading it again.

In order, they are: Wee Free Men, Hat Full of Sky, and Wintersmith.

The fourth book in the series, I Shall Wear Midnight, is coming out in less than a month. I plan on reading it the day it’s released.

Side note: I’d probably recommend *any* of Pratchett’s books as a safe YA read. They’re all really good, and by opening that single door, you instantly add more than thirty exceptionally high-quality books to your reading list.

  • Neil Gaiman’s Coraline

Again, I don’t feel like I need to push you very hard about this book. It’s Neil Gaiman. You know how good he is.

Side note: The audiobook version of this is really excellent. I just listened to it for the third time about two weeks ago. Gaiman reads it himself, and does an absolutely brilliant job.

  • Peter S. Beagle’s The Last Unicorn.

Again. I rave about this book all the time, so I won’t go on and on. I didn’t read it when I was a kid, but I can’t help but feel that it would be a great YA read.

Secondary Recommendation: There’s a movie too.

  • The BFG by Roald Dahl.

I remember reading this one as a kid and loving it. Dahl has the rare gift that I’ve come to think of as The Divine Ridiculous.

You see, anybody can be goofy. Anybody can just make up some silly bullshit. But true inspired ridiculousness can’t be forced. You cannot strive for it, for in striving you fail. It’s like Nirvana. It’s like the eternal Tao.

Some authors manage to touch this odd piece of our Jungian collective consciousness, and when they do, they write things that are genuinely delightful and bizarre. Douglass Adams brushed up against it occasionally, as do the guys over at Penny Arcade.  Dahl kinda lived there. I remember reading his books as a kid and thinking the kid version of, “WTF?”

That’s a good thing for a kid to think, in my opinion.

Secondary recommendation: Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory is pretty good, too.

  • The Fledgling by Jane Langton.

Honestly. I can’t remember much about this book except that I read it when I was a kid and I loved it. When you asked this question it was one of the first books that sprung to mind, that says a lot, considering it’s probably been 25 years since I’ve read it, and usually I can barely remember to put on pants before I leave the house every day.

  • Zarah the Windseeker by Nnedi Okorafor.

I’ve interviewed Nnedi Okorafor on the website before, and talked about some of her newer books. But this was her first book, which I read years and years ago. I really enjoyed it, and have given away many copies as gifts. Not only does it have some cool non-western worldbuiding in it, but the protagonist is a clever, capable young girl.

I could go on and on. (The Hobbit, The Princess Bride, Podkayne of Mars or other Heinlein juveniles, Peter Pan, The Little Prince…) but I think I’ll stop there.

Feel free to post some of your childhood favorites in the comments below. Discuss and disagree. That’s one of the joys of threaded comments.

However, I do expect things to remain civilized. If you you don’t think a book is appropriate for kids, feel free to say so. Feel free to explain why. But don’t be a dick about it. Typical internet asshattery will result in suspension of posting privileges, the scorn of your peers, and my terrible, terrible wrath.

pat

Posted in Neil Gaiman, Oot, recommendations, Sarah, Young Adult | By Pat486 Responses

Locus Magazine

I’ve been cutting back on conventions this year so I can focus on revisions and my pretty new baby.

I’d even decided to skip Wiscon this year, even though it’s in Madison, which means it’s practically in my backyard.

But then I found out my friend Nnedi was going to be Guest of Honor there this year. (Remember Nnedi? I interviewed her for Worldbuilders last year, and talked about her book a couple months ago.) Anyway, getting asked to be GOH at Wiscon is a pretty big deal, and I don’t see Nnedi nearly as much as I’d like, so I decided to go.

Then the people at Locus dropped me an e-mail, asking if I wanted to do an interview. I said, “Sure.” Because Locus is a pretty big deal in the Sci-Fi Fantasy publishing world. And I like doing interviews, especially when they’re in person. I spend enough time typing.

So I meet up with the lovely folks from Locus. The interview is fun. They ask good questions. We hang out. Then they say, “Do you mind if we take some pictures?”

And I’m like, “Sure, if you’re into that sort of thing.”

Then a couple weeks ago, this shows up in the mail:

My first thought? “If I’d known they were going to put me on the cover, I would have gotten a haircut….”

My second thought was, “I’m on the cover of Locus.”

My third thought was, “Shit. This is kind of a big deal. I hope I don’t sound like an idiot…”

Then I open up the magazine and burst out laughing. Here’s what I see:

Why don’t we zoom in on that a little?

Yeah. There you go. You can click that to embiggen it if you want, but you might want to be careful, lest the intensity of my sheer awesome reduce you to a quivering wreck.

For those of you who are curious. My t-shirt says: “My Marxist feminist dialectic brings all the boys to the yard.” It’s a very specialized sort of joke, and there really isn’t any point in me explaining it if you don’t get it. Suffice to say that Wiscon is a feminist Sci-Fi/Fantasy convention. It’s the only place I can wear the shirt where people think it’s funny.

Anyway, after I had a good laugh at this picture I was much more relaxed. I get very nervous when people take me too seriously.

I read the interview and was very pleased that I didn’t come off sounding like an idiot. It was a lot more wide-ranging than a lot of the interviews I do, and we talked about some stuff I don’t normally talk about.

If you want a taste of it, there’s a few excerpts over on Locus’ website.

Still revising. One week ’til deadline.

pat

Posted in Achievement Unlocked!, being awesome, cool things, Interviews | By Pat64 Responses

Who Fears Death?

Since I’ve become a published author, a lot has changed in my life.

Most of these changes have been good things. Money, for example. These days when I go to the grocery store, I don’t have to buy the 33 cent burritos. Now I can buy the 59 cent burritos, which contain, if not food, then at least a texture designed to emulate food.

When I buy ramen, I don’t have to buy the Chicken Maruchen ramen, which you can get for a dime a packet if you buy it in bulk. These days I can buy really fancy ramen. Ramen with three or four little packets of stuff you add to the noodles. These packets contain flecks of material that I suspect are not merely vegetable colored… they might actually *be* vegetables.

True, I usually buy the Chicken Maruchen ramen anyway. But it’s nice to know that if I wanted to, I could splurge a little.

People recognize me in public now. Not just here in Stevens Point (where I live) or in Madison (where I used to live.) Someone recognized me in a train station in Manchester England last year. It was a surreal experience back then, but it’s happened all over the US now, people come up to me on the street or in a coffee shop and say, “Are you…?”

And, usually, I am.

It’s amazing what you can get used to. I never thought I’d get used to seeing my book in bookstores, but I’ve grown accustomed to it. I’m used to fanmail. I’m used to sometimes getting a hundred comments when I post a blog.

But when I was at Wiscon a couple weeks ago, I got another surprise. My friend Nnedi Okorafor was GOH there and I picked up a copy of her newly published book: Who Fears Death.

Some of you might remember Nnedi’s name because of the fun little interview I did with her a couple months ago.

Anyway, when I was standing in line to buy her book, I flipped it over and was surprised at what I saw there.

(Click to Embiggen.)

It was a blurb extolling the virtues the book… from Patrick Rothfuss.

I shouldn’t have been surprised, of course. I had given her the blurb, after all. But still, it’s not something I’m used to yet.

Everything said, my blurb seems kinda weak compared to some of the others. I kinda suck at giving blurbs for a variety of reasons. But that’s a topic for a different post I suppose…

Despite my lack of blurb prowess, if you’re looking for something to read, you should check it out. This is doubly true if you happen to be tired of the same-old done-to-death fantasy crap. You know what I’m talking about: plucky orphans, schools of magic, faeries, dragons, vaguely medieval settings, stew…

Nnedi’s made a different type of world here, and she’s telling a different kind of story. I can honestly say there were scenes in this book that filled me with genuine horror and dread. I mean that as the highest sort of praise. It’s easy to make me laugh, and you don’t have to work too hard to make me cry. But to make me actually terrified on a character’s behalf? That’s rare stuff.

More news soon, stay tuned.

pat

Posted in recommendations, the art of blurbing, Things I didn't know about publishing | By Pat66 Responses

Books, and an Interview with Nnedi Okorafor

This is a Worldbuilders blog.

Nnedi Okorafor was one of the very first writers I met when I was starting my publishing career. We both won places in Volume 18 of Writers of the Future back in 2002, and we met out at the workshop in LA.

I think I even have a picture of us back then at the award Ceremony. Let me see if I can find it….

(Awww…. Look at us. We’re cute as fluffy puppies…)

Nnedi’s a dynamo, and way tougher than I am. After I got my master’s degree, I left academia behind me, shaking the dust from my feet. But Nnedi got her PhD.

In fact, she got her PHD, had a baby, and launched her writing career pretty much all at the same time. Like I said: Dynamo.

But in addition to that, she’s a lot of fun. So when I started thinking of doing interviews for Worldbuilders, I thought of Nnedi….

Heya Nnedi. Let’s say you’re at a party and you meet someone you wanted to impress. What sort of things about your writing career would you casually drop into the conversation to prove that you’re awesome?

I’d mention that I won some awards and stuff and that I like to write about a Nigeria enslaved by juju-powered computers.

Which awards have you won? Anything super-cool?

My novel, Zahrah the Windseeker, won the Wole Soyinka Prize for Literature. That was cool because not only did I win $20,000 but I was flown to Nigerian for a ceremony where I got to meet one of my greatest idols, Sub-Saharan Africa’s first Nobel Laureate Wole Soyinka. Coolest day ever.

My children’s book, Long Juju Man, won the Macmillan Writer’s Prize for Africa. Last month, the University of Illinois gave me a Special Recognition Award. I’ve also been a finalist for the Tiptree Award, Golden Duck Award, Andre Norton Award, WSFA Small Press Award, Theodore Sturgeon Award, Essence Magazine Literary Award, an NAACP Image Award, blah blah.

Wow. That’s a lot of mojo. Back in the sixth grade I won an award for doing the best lip sync in my com class, but you’ve totally got that beat.

Uh, dude, you also won the freakin’ Quill Award and were a NYT bestseller. Can’t forget those, man. ;-)

They just gave me the Quill because I’m pretty. What are you reading right now?

Otherland by Tad Williams. I read the series back when it first came out. My disgust with District 9 made me want to reread it; to wash away the grime. It’s working. Next up, King’s Under the Dome.

If you had to pick your favorite book of all time, what would it be?

The Talisman by Stephan King and Peter Straub. I first read it when I was twelve. That book unlocked a door in me that will never close. I still return to it every so often, despite the character of Speedy Parker being a “Magical Negro”, heh.

That’s a term I first heard of because of you, but not a lot of people know about it. Care to explain?

There are five points I came up with to spot a Magical Negro. Speedy Parker hits them all (well, number 3 is a little shaky until Black House). Here they are:

1. He or she is a person of color, typically black, often Native American, in a story about predominantly white characters.

2. He or she seems to have nothing better to do than help the white protagonist, who is often a stranger to the Magical Negro at first.

3. He or she disappears, dies, or sacrifices something of great value after or while helping the white protagonist.

4. He or she is uneducated, mentally handicapped, at a low position in life, or all of the above.

5. He or she is wise, patient, and spiritually in touch. Closer to the earth, one might say. He or she often literally has magical powers.

Check out my essay, “Stephen King’s Super-Duper Magical Negroes”, on the Strange Horizons website here.

If you lost a bet and had to stand under Neil Gaiman’s window at midnight and serenade him. What song would you pick?

Lady Ga Ga’s “Poker Face”, the acoustic version.

Which would you rather do: cut out 20% of your current book, or insert a wacky talking animal sidekick (a la Disney movie) into half the chapters because the marketing people think it would make the book sell better.

Hey, I write for Disney (The Shadow Speaker is published by Disney and I’m writing a Disney Fairy chapter book titled Iridessa and the Fire-Bellied Dragon Frog). :-P. Plus I love wacky talking sidekick animals! I’ve got one in The Shadow Speaker. Well, Onion (Ejii’s camel) speaks in monotone and with very very few words but yeah. :-D.

Heh. I’ve read Shadow Speaker, but I never thought of the Ejii’s camel in the same vein as the classic Disney animal sidekick.

True. Onion’s nothing like Abu in Aladdin or Mu-Shu the Dragon in Mulan. But I think the wacky Disney side-kick can be an asset when done with some finesse.

I like the idea of a sh*t-talking parrot or miniature hedgehog who makes no sense whenever she speaks. Or how about a jive-talking black monkey whose catchphrase is “AW DAAAYAUM”?

What’s the best compliment you’ve ever received?

At a book signing, a grown man once told me that my YA novel Zahrah the Windseeker made him see spiders and insects everywhere he went for days. Ha ha, he looked relatively sane, but I guess you never know.

What’s the most hurtful thing someone has ever said in a review of your book?

This white guy (won’t mention names), once wrote that he wouldn’t read my novels because it’s full of black people and had no white characters to “balance it out”. Nice.

If you could punch one literary figure, who would it be?

HA HA HA HA! OMG, dare I answer this…nah. My response would be absolutely SCANDALOUS.

Aww… Come on. You tell me yours and I’ll tell you mine…

Believe me, you wouldn’t believe who it is. It would be very very bad press for me to speak the name. It’s utter blasphemy. But it makes me giggle that this name was the first thing to instantly pop into my head when I considered your question.

Okay. I don’t want to get you in trouble…

The poet Edith Sitwell used to lie in an open coffin each day before she started writing. Do you have any little rituals that help you write?

I have a lot of rituals. An interesting one is that I must turn on my space heater and set it right beside me. Even during most of the summer days. I need to be hot when I write. Ok, that sounds kind of suggestive. Heh, you know what I mean.

Through an effort of pure will, I’ll resist the urge to make the obvious joke….

I recently made a joke about “transition putty” on my blog. That being, of course, the what we writers buy at Home Depot to smooth out our rough transitions.

If you could have some sort of handyman tool like that, something like Plot Spackle or a Character Level. What would it be?

Natural-Looking Filler for those tough glaring gaps between the exciting parts of the story where crazy sh*t happens.

You can just say shit if you want. We’re all friends here. Nobody’s going to judge you.

Yeah, I figured it was ok with you. It’s just that I judge myself. I was raised to never use profanity, so it’s still odd for me. Ironically, I’m a big fan of cursing; it’s one of the reasons I enjoy hip-hop so much. I do most of my cursing in my fiction. Like in my short story, “On the Road” in the Eclipse 3 Anthology.

Hmmm… Now that you mention it. I cuss a lot in real life, but not very much in my books. I wonder if there’s a connection.

There is!

Maybe I need to save some of my cussing, so I can put it into a book later. I didn’t know it was a finite resource…. Anyway, that’s all I’ve got. Thanks so much for the interview, and thanks for donating some books to the cause.

:-). And thank you for putting it all together. I’m happy to be a part of it.


“Okorafor-Mbachu’s imagination is stunning.” – the New York Times


Remember folks, for every 10 dollars you donate to Heifer International, you get a chance to win hundreds of books like these: some signed, some limited edition, some out of print. Plus there’s the whole helping make the world a better place thing. That’s nice too.

And don’t forget, I’m matching 50% of all donations made. So why not head over to my page at Team Heifer and chip in. Trust me. You’ll feel great afterward.

Or, if you want to go back to the main page for Worldbuilders, you can click HERE.

With thanks to our sponsor, Subterranean Press.


(I keep trying to write a limerick, but nothing rhymes with Subterranean.)
Posted in recommendations, Subterranean Press, Worldbuilders 2009 | By Pat21 Responses
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