Tuesday, April 17, 2012

She's Got Some Bite to Her

Today marks the release of Nalo Hopkinson's new novel, The Chaos. To celebrate this release, we are thrilled to have Nalo herself here to tell us about the novel, spicy peppers, and Baba Yaga...

The Chaos is my first novel in five years. Everything that slowed me down in those five years would make a blog post in itself, and a very long one at that. But I'm going to don my seven league boots and leap over that awful time to the joy of seeing another book of mine appear from a publisher, when I'd thought my writing career might be over. I recently received my copies in the mail. Doesn't she have a pretty cover? I'm so thrilled by it! I didn't set the publisher an easy task. My protagonist, Sojourner "Scotch Bonnet" Smith, has a (mostly) white Jamaican father and a (mostly) black American mother. In this world, that makes her culturally and ethnically black in the complicated way that many black people from the Americas and the U.K. (including myself and my family) are. Her features are clearly predominantly African, and her skin is some iteration of light tan. She's quite happy with all that, though she frequently has to fight for her right to claim her own heritage. In the real world, it's not uncommon for well-meaning and otherwise lovely white people -- it's usually but not always white people, almost never someone who shares our ethno-cultural background -- to say to biracial and multiracial people, "But why do you say that you're (black, Asian, South Asian, Aboriginal...)? You don't look it to me. You could be anyone you choose!" In her brief sixteen years of life, Scotch has heard this type of dislocating statement often enough that she's come up with a reply of her own. I had big fun putting that into the book. Scotch's nickname comes from the name of the Jamaican scotch bonnet pepper, which while it has a delicious flavour is one of the hottest peppers in the world. She's got some bite to her, does Scotch.

In any case, what I'm saying is that my publisher, Margaret K. McElderry Books, which is an imprint of Simon and Schuster, had the task of depicting all that complexity in the image they chose for Scotch's face on the cover of The Chaos. I think they handled it brilliantly. They also gave me a truly gritty, urban-looking cover, one that you could easily believe represents some part of downtown Toronto. I love it that they did that for a fantasy novel.

And I loved putting the Russian witch Baba Yaga and her famous house into the story. In undergrad, I majored in Russian and French. Writing this novel gave me the chance to use some of my rusty Russian. By the way, there's a typo in the transliterated Russian in the story. On page 127, the terminal "a" was left off the word "mulatka." If you have the printing with that mistake in it, think of it as an instant collector's item. If you ever bring your personal copy to me at a signing, I'll hand-correct the mistake and initial it.

Of course, having Russian text in the book means that I sometimes have to give readings from it. And of course I had to go and pick the tongue-twister -- to an Anglophone like me, anyway -- "karichnyevaya ee fkusnaya." I predict that I'm going to get pretty decent at saying those three words together over the next year or so. I consider it good practice for the novel in which I plan to name one of my main characters "Lu!aba". That exclamation mark represents what I believe is called an alveolar click. You make it by yanking your tongue forcefully down from the roof of the mouth. At least, people who speak languages with click consonants in them do. Heaven alone knows what sound I'll be able to muster when I read from passages in which Lu!aba appears. Wish me luck.

I've been working hard in the past couple of years to catch up on all the writing projects that fell by the wayside during that period in which I could barely read a line of text, much less write one. The Chaos comes out on April 17, 2012. My chapbook "Report From Planet Midnight" comes out from PM Press in May or June 2012. And my novel Sister Mine comes out from my adult publisher, Grand Central Books, in May 2013. If I get my rewrites in on time, that is. They're due on the same day that The Chaos appears on bookstands. That's two days away, and I have many chapters to rework between now and then. So please excuse me for a brief post. It's that way in the service of making more books of mine happen. I hope you'll think that's a good thing.

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