‘The Fifth Season’ author N. K. Jemisin answers your questions

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JUDY WOODRUFF: And now to our monthly conversation
for our Now Read This book club, in partnership with The New York Times, where you can read
along with us and thousands of others, and then hear directly from the authors. Our book club producer, Elizabeth Flock, has
our pick for June. It’s a story about the end of the world. It’s part of our ongoing arts and culture
coverage, Canvas. ELIZABETH FLOCK: What happens when a planet
is threatened by environmental catastrophe and a few citizens develop special powers
to resist? Are they heralded as heroes or feared and
destroyed? Our June book club pick, “The Fifth Season,”
is a fantasy novel that imagines a world just like that. Author N.K. Jemisin is here to answer questions from our
readers. Welcome to the “NewsHour.” N.K. JEMISIN, Author, “The Fifth Season”: Thank
you. Thank you. ELIZABETH FLOCK: So the fifth season is the
first in a trilogy. N.K. JEMISIN: Yes. ELIZABETH FLOCK: For those who have not read,
can you tell us a little bit about what you are after in this first book? N.K. JEMISIN: The first book is an introduction
to the world and an introduction to the people who are trying to survive in this world. And on this world, for whatever reason, there
is excessive seismic activity, to the point that, every few years or so, there’s a thing
called the Fifth Season, which is similar to what we have had in our old world, the
year without a summer, for example, where people have to learn to suddenly survive where
they can’t grow food, they don’t see the sun for weeks months on end. And so it’s rally just about people surviving
amid external and structural disasters. ELIZABETH FLOCK: Well, we have a lot of reader
questions. So, let’s get to the first one, which I think
is about where you began. N.K. JEMISIN: OK. SOLANGE ASHBY, Washington: How did you decide
to base this trilogy on stone lore? N.K. JEMISIN: I have always been interested in
the ways in which human beings transmit knowledge. So I was interested in kind of playing with
a culture that was very different from anything in our own world, and I decided to play with
the written word in a more ephemeral form. We talk a lot about how, when things are chiseled
in stone, that makes them very permanent, very unchangeable. ELIZABETH FLOCK: Right. N.K. JEMISIN: And I wanted to talk about the fact
that, no, human beings are involved, so it’s changeable. So even stone lore, even something chiseled
into a block of stone, can still be edited, can still be revised, and what that might
mean. ELIZABETH FLOCK: And a lot of this stone lore
is about the constant geological upheaval that happens in this world. N.K. JEMISIN: It is. And a lot of this stone lore is actually about
— it’s survival mechanisms. It’s ways for people to kind of prepare for
the Fifth Seasons when they come along. It’s basically a disaster preparedness guide. But it’s also a guide to how to understand
people in a disaster. ELIZABETH FLOCK: OK, let’s go to our next
question. N.K. JEMISIN: OK. JEFF STEELE, California: The book posits Earth
not as maternal and nurturing, but as paternal and evil. What are you trying to say about gender and
gender politics? ELIZABETH FLOCK: Right. So, it’s Father Earth, Mother Earth. N.K. JEMISIN: Yes. ELIZABETH FLOCK: Why? N.K. JEMISIN: Mostly, I just wanted to kind of
mess with people’s expectations. I don’t think of Father Earth as evil. The people of this world do, for good reason. But evil is in the eye of the beholder. And in a lot of cases, people are putting
themselves into their perceptions of the world. So I wasn’t really trying to say anything
specific about gender, other than to challenge the idea that the Earth was always nurturing. ELIZABETH FLOCK: I think we have another question
from readers about what you were trying to say. N.K. JEMISIN: OK. BRYAN PEKEL, Minnesota: Do you think that
sci-fi and fantasy as a genre is particularly useful in deconstructing white heteronormativity? (CROSSTALK) ELIZABETH FLOCK: … change people’s minds,
beliefs? (LAUGHTER) N.K. JEMISIN: I think all art can do that, yes. And science fiction and fantasy is art, too. I know there are a lot of people out there
who don’t think so. But it’s literature. It’s just like any other form of literature. And its ability to change your mind is dependent
both on the author’s skill and the reader’s willingness to accept a new way of thinking. So, yes, definitely I think it could change
minds. ELIZABETH FLOCK: In this particular book,
what were you trying to say and affect people’s opinions or beliefs? N.K. JEMISIN: I think, in all of my fiction, I
am interested in exploring protagonists that are not normally seen in adventure stories
or stories about changing the world. So, I wanted in this case to kind of center
the story on a 40-something, overweight, dreadlocked black woman. (LAUGHTER) N.K. JEMISIN: Gee, I wonder where that came from? But — so I wanted to center the story on
the kind of person that you normally don’t see as a protagonist or as a hero. And I just wanted to see someone else change
the world. ELIZABETH FLOCK: In this book, I think one
of the particular things is that the way you write is so particular. So I think we have a question about that as
well. N.K. JEMISIN: Sure. OK. HEWSON DUFFY, Virginia: Why do you choose
to have such a funny and involved authorial voice? It’s unlike anything I have ever read. N.K. JEMISIN: I don’t really choose that. It just happens. ELIZABETH FLOCK: Did it take you a while to
develop that voice? N.K. JEMISIN: Not really. When I’m first starting a new novel, I write
what I call test chapters, where I will — I know the sort of basic thing that I want to
do, but I will write it with different voices, different perspectives. Sometimes, I will switch up the main character
and figure out who needs to be telling the story. ELIZABETH FLOCK: We will continue this conversation
and have it all available online and on our Facebook page Now Read This. The book is “The Fifth Season.” N.K. Jemisin, thank you for joining us. N.K. JEMISIN: Thank you for inviting me. ELIZABETH FLOCK: And for July, we will come
back to Earth. Our pick is “The House of Broken Angels.” It’s a joyful, tender novel about family and
migration by Mexican-American writer Luis Alberto Urrea. We hope you will read along and check out
our Facebook page for insights from our authors and other readers. That’s where you can join our book club, Now
Read This, in partnership with The New York Times.

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