Interviews Rebecca Roanhorse Celebrates Indigenous Fantasy Pre-Columbian Americas inspired Rebecca Roanhorse to create a world filled with giant corvids, a nation of women sailors, and more in her acclaimed 'Black Sun.' By Melissa Bendixen stop mute max volume 00:00 16:32 repeat Update Required To play the media you will need to either update your browser to a recent version or update your Flash plugin. Note: Text has been edited and may not match audio exactly. Melissa Bendixen: This is Audible Editor Melissa Bendixen, and today I'm speaking with Rebecca Roanhorse, author of Black Sun, an epic fantasy following four characters through a pre-Columbian-inspired world. Black Sun is the first in a new trilogy from Roanhorse, who is no stranger to delighting Audible listeners with her inventive fantasy. Welcome, Rebecca.Rebecca Roanhorse: Hi, thanks for having me.MB: Of course, so happy to have you. Rebecca's debut novel, Trail of Lightning, won the Locus Award and was one of Audible's top fantasy picks of 2018. And then the following year her next novel, Storm of Locus, was also one of Audible's top five fantasy listens of the year. I have to say that I have been excited to listen to Black Sun ever since I heard it was coming out. You can tell just from the cover and the summary that it's going to be an epic undertaking of a story with a full cast of characters, which is quite different from your postapocalyptic urban fantasy Sixth World series. What inspired you to move in this new direction for your next series?RR: I always wanted to write a big, sprawling epic fantasy. These were really my favorite books growing up. I read all the Dragonlance Chronicles, The Belgariad, The Wheel of Time, all of that stuff. And so I think that really influenced me from my childhood. I came to urban fantasy later as an adult, and as much as I love that genre, my heart is really in the world building and the grandeur of epic fantasy.MB: I can totally see that, with the way that you put the world together. You've drawn from pre-Columbian cultures like the Aztecs and the Maya to make your vibrant world. Did you conduct any research while you were writing Black Sun?RR: Oh yeah, I did a lot of research. You know, I've been reading in Mesoamerican cultures, architecture, city planning, and literature for decades. This is just one of the topics that I just love. So I sort of had that base to start with that really inspired me. And then for specific aspects of the book—for example, some of the characters go on a sea voyage—I knew I needed to drill down and do specific research, like about the maritime Maya or about Indigenous sailing methods, things like that. So I had a nice base to start with, but I definitely did a lot of very specific research."No tears when you're writing, no tears when they're reading"... I find where my own vulnerabilities are. And I try to bring those to the page in a way that is true to the character and hopefully convincing to the reader.MB: Wow, Indigenous sailing methods. That is very cool. I have to say that I'm most drawn to Xiala as a character and her mysterious Teek culture. Did you pull from a specific culture in order to put her Teek culture together?RR: No, that's pretty much all my imagination, beyond the sailing methods. Her sailing methods are actually sort of the Teek sailing methods, and they are drawn from ideas in a traditional Polynesian sailing, but the all-female culture, the sort of siren culture with special abilities that I won't spoil for anyone, that's pretty much me. That's pretty much just my ideas.MB: Will we get to learn more about her and possibly visit her homeland in future installments?RR: You definitely will. You know, the Teek became quickly one of my favorite cultures in the book. I love them all, but each chapter starts with a little epigraph, often pulled from sources as various as a book of lamentations or a mythic cycle. But all the Teek ones that I created are often these pithy sort of sayings, these sort of truisms, even a curse. And as I wrote those it helped me to fill out the ideas and the culture in my mind. I'm actually really excited in future books to take readers to Teek.MB: Yeah. I love the fact that it is a matriarchal society pulled together by women for women, and it feels very natural as women sailors and women of the sea. It kind of all comes together. While your stories have propulsive plots, what I love most is the way that you craft your characters and their relationships to each other.Xiala, for instance, is irreverent as you would expect a sailor to be, but she's not overly tough as to appear invulnerable. There were tears in my eyes when Xiala and Serapio spent Serapio's last evening together in the bathhouse. That was probably my favorite scene. Just the way that he cared for her. You could tell the depth of their emotions. Can you share with us how you find and approach the emotional life of your characters?RR: I do think of my books as character driven. I mean, plot, like you said, is important and the plot in Black Sun is quite twisty and there's lots of politics, but the book I don't think would be anything without the characters. Serapio and Xiala, in particular, are really the heart of the story. They're the engine that drives it. And each one of them brings something to the other, which I think is really important to balance them out, to make the character more approachable, to expose things like their vulnerabilities, particularly for a character like Serapio, who I think would be otherwise unapproachable.You know, I have to say when I wrote that scene, I might've had some tears in my eyes myself. That is by far one of my favorite scenes in the book. And I think, as a writer, you just have to dig deep. There's a saying, and I can't remember who said it or exactly what it is, but something along the lines of "no tears when you're writing, no tears when they're reading" sort of thing. So I just dig deep. I find where my own vulnerabilities are. And I try to bring those to the page in a way that is true to the character and hopefully convincing to the reader.MB: Well, I was completely convinced. I think that saying seems very accurate to me. Black Sun is performed by four narrators: Cara Gee, Nicole Lewis, Kaipo Schwab, and Shaun Taylor-Corbett. What was the process like for you, choosing how you wanted to craft the audio performance?RR: The audio producers at Simon & Schuster Audio approached me with their suggestions for who they thought would be great narrators. And I was thrilled. I'm actually a huge Cara Gee fan and a Shaun Taylor-Corbett fan. I was familiar with their works. I was also familiar with Nicole's other audiobooks, so I was on board, actually. And the whole idea that there would be a full cast, that there would be four separate narrators, one for each point of view, was really thrilling. It made the book feel a little more almost like an audio play or something.I want readers to feel all the joy and thrill and adventure that I feel when I read epic fantasy, but in a different setting, a setting that hopefully celebrates pre-Columbian Indigenous cultures.So I said yes to that. And then we did go through a number of rounds with pronunciation, because there were a lot of words I either made up or words that are unfamiliar in the book, and Simon & Schuster Audio really consulted me on how to get the pronunciations right. And so I think it turned out incredible.MB: I think so too. Because we have the four narrators in there, you really get that full-cast feeling and it feels like a movie. And by having each different narrator with all of the different perspectives, it really captures that feeling of the different people, and how they tell their story feels different.RR: Yeah, and each narrator's voice is very different, and their delivery is very different. And I felt by the end, because I did listen to the audiobook, I couldn't resist, and by the end I really felt like they had embodied the characters. Like, now this is the voice I hear, what I think of Serapio, when I think of Naranpa, so very, very cool.MB: I love that you listened to your audiobook. Not all authors can do that.RR: Well, I don't often read the books. Sometimes that's painful because all I see is the mistakes or the places that "Oh, I should have changed that" or "Oh, that could be better." That sort of thing. But the audiobooks are like a different experience, like someone is reading you the story and they're bringing their own interpretation to the story. So I don't feel quite as critical. I don't bring a critical eye to it. I'm just there to enjoy it and just be part of the audience. So it's actually great.MB: Do you feel like you get to experience the story from a third-party perspective when you're listening to it in audio?RR: Absolutely. You know, I think that is the feeling, that I can remove myself as the author and just enjoy the experience as a listener might.MB: That's awesome. I'm assuming, have you listened to all of your audiobooks and your Sixth World series as well?RR: I have.MB: Have you learned new things from listening to your audio or picked up a different perspective?RR: I'm trying to think, I know I do. So I have a number of short stories that LeVar Burton has read in his podcast, and I learned a lot from listening to the way he reads my stories. His inflections, his emphasis, all of those sort of things. He's such a master storyteller that often I will take those and I will incorporate them into my own readings of my stories. So yeah, I think the audio narrators, when they're great, can really teach us something.MB: Wow, that's so cool that you have LeVar Burton to read your stories.RR: It's absolutely cool. It's one of the highlights of my career.MB: Well, I'm very curious to hear what you're working on next, and when we might be able to expect book three in your Sixth World series, as well as now book two to Black Sun.RR: Well, I am currently working on the second book. It's called Between Earth and Sky, the Black Sun series. And so that second book will be out next, either in late fall 2021 or early spring in the following year, depending on when we get it in, depending on me. And I'm not sure what we're going to do with the Sixth World. I think that'll be up to both the muse and the publisher to see where we go from there.MB: Well, I'm excited get more of both. What would you like your listeners to take away from Black Sun?RR: I think I mentioned before that I put a lot of care and love into these characters, and in building this world. I want readers to feel all the joy and thrill and adventure that I feel when I read epic fantasy, but in a different setting, a setting that hopefully celebrates pre-Columbian Indigenous cultures. It's not a history book, it's not a one-to-one, but I certainly think the inspiration shines through. And that they just enjoy an adventure with these characters that I've created, and hopefully they come to love them the way that I love them.MB: And I'm so glad that we are getting more stories like yours, where they're fantasies that are inspired by non-European cultures. We need more of that, and I'm really glad we have you to give us the wonderful stories, as well as the new perspectives that we all need more of today.RR: Oh, well thank you. Thank you.MB: Thank you so much for speaking with me today, Rebecca.RR: It was a pleasure, thank you so much.MB: And, listeners, you can find Black Sun as well as Rebecca's Six World series on audible.com. 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