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'I Longed To See Something Different, So I Wrote It': Questions For Rebecca Roanhorse

Oct 16, 2020
Originally published on October 17, 2020 11:22 am

On a storm-tossed sea, a blind young man with crow-shaped scars carved into his chest and a jewel-eyed, trouble-prone sea captain are heading for an uncertain, probably terrible destiny. And a street beggar-turned-High Priest struggles to maintain position and power in a treacherous city.

In Rebecca Roanhorse's new fantasy novel Black Sun, all paths lead towards the city of Tova, where a coming eclipse could signal rebirth — or disaster.

Roanhorse is one of the many authors breaking away from the traditional (and let's face it, kinda done) quasi-European settings of a lot of classic stories, and setting forth into new worlds based on Southeast Asian, Native American and Mesoamerican civilizations — like the Pre-Columbian indigenous cultures that influenced Black Sun.

In an email interview, Roanhorse tells me that's something she's always wanted to write about. "I have been reading epic fantasies inspired by European settings since I was a child, and while I'm still a fan of many of these works, I longed to see something different," she says. "So I wrote it. I never made a conscious decision to go in that direction. That direction was simply the natural culmination of my love of the architecture, poetry, politics, and history of these places and people that I've been learning about forever."

What came first, the world or the characters? And how did the story take shape in your head?

I knew my general setting, but it's really character that is the engine of inspiration for the story. I'd written an early draft that my editor was lukewarm on, so I took that back and tore it down to its bones. From those bones I saved some of the essential elements of the worldbuilding, like the clans, the emphasis on trade, the city of Tova, but it was really the character Xiala that began to speak to me. I knew I wanted that hard-drinking disaster of a sea captain with powers that she doesn't quite understand and a home she had lost, and then all the other characters started to come together, like variations on a theme.

What was your research process like?

Lifelong. Like I said, I've been reading about Pre-Columbian cultures for decades. But for this book I really dug into everything from Polynesian sailing methods to what we know of the Maritime Maya to the habits of corvids. I also read a lot about crows. They're fascinating birds with long memories and intriguing personalities. I, of course, added fantasy elements to their behaviors, but so much of the book is grounded in research.

Your Sixth World books are pretty dark — it is a post-apocalyptic world, after all — but WHEW is this story DARK.

Is it? I'm not a good judge of what is dark and not dark in my books. I know that if someone listed all the dark elements I could objectively say, "Yeah, that's dark." But when I'm in it, writing it, it's just the story that naturally comes to me. It's true I wrote a fantasy book that talks about class politics, religious corruption, generational trauma, the cost of vengeance, and the narrow road to redemption, but I also wrote a story about a boy who plays with shadow and talks to crows going on the roadtrip of a lifetime with a party girl. Those two things can co-exist.

I know you can't give toooo much away, but what can we expect from the next book?

A continuation of the story with the four POV [point of view] characters I love, but also the addition of a new POV character, a look into new lands on the Meridian continent, and, yes, more time with the Teek [Xiala's seafaring people].

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