The day is finally here! The debut of Children of Blood and Bone (Legacy of Orisha)! I remember seeing an article on twitter talking about an author whose debut novel was already optioned for a movie. I wanted to know who managed to accomplish this! I was happily surprised that it was a young Nigerian-American woman named Tomi Adeyemi. When I had the opportunity to interview her last year at San Diego Comic-Con (SDCC) I jumped at it. There was an immediate feeling that this was just the beginning of her journey and I was going to witness it with happy tears.
I waited to post this interview because March is Women History Month. I could’ve published it during Black History Month but decided to wait again. Black girl magic is in effect as Adeyemi is making history with her accomplishments! I managed to read a preview and the hype is well deserved. A review will be coming soon. I wish I was able to post the video (stupid battery) of our conversation but hopefully, you can feel the infectious excitement as you read the interview. I was so proud of myself for pronouncing her name right too! It was great discussing her journey creating this story. Enjoy!
TNE: So, I heard that you were coming to Comic-Con and I was like I read that you got optioned for a movie and this is your debut book!
Tomi Adeyemi: Yeah
TNE: So, that got me excited! Please tell us about your story!
Tomi Adeyemi: . . . My debut novel is called Children of Blood and Bone. It’s the first in a trilogy and it’s a West African epic YA fantasy about a girl who wants to bring magic back to her people. I love it for so many reasons! One, I’m just a big lover of big adventures. It’s been so much fun to write the most epic story I could think of and have that received… I didn’t know that was possible before…Are you a fan of Avatar the Last Air Bender?
TNE: Yes, I am a big fan!
Tomi Adeyemi: I pitched this as the African Avatar the Last Air Bender. So, . . . in scale that’s the kind epic adventure it is and I love the world because it’s inspired by my Nigerian heritage.
So, the names of the cities, the language they speak Yoruba when they’re trying to cast magic – I had to slip my parent’s names in there. So, I love that I was able to make this fantasy world inspired by my culture. . . . . [A]nother really cool thing about it is it really heavily features Orisha which is this awesome West African mythology and so I love that this book has these African gods and goddesses and adheres to the source of the magic. It is something that is so beautiful and so epic that –
I didn’t know they existed until I was 21! So, I’m excited to introduce it to an American audience and especially people of color because it means a lot when you see yourself depicted in a sacred way! That is something that is really important to me. And yeah, I love the characters! Dude, it’s like everything you know fantasy . . . is nothing without compelling characters and I really love these characters!
There are three main characters and they each have a point of view in the novel and – I don’t want to give too much away but it’s – they all have a lot of heart and they are all on very different sides of the battle. So, it’s been really fun for me to write the story and bring them together and hop in their minds. I just can’t wait for the readers to meet them!
TNE: So, when did you come up with the story? How did it pop into your head? When did the characters speak to you?
Tomi Adeyemi: Yeah this story was actually like – like a four-part inception over a period of years. I was would say the first part of the inception was – I don’t know if inception is the right word but I was going to keep saying it! [Laughs] The first layer of inception I think happened around – in 2011 after the first Hunger Games came out and there was this – or the Hunger Games movie came out and there was this backlash against the black characters in the book!
TNE: I did hear about that! And that made me so upset!
Tomi Adeyemi: It – it got – it broke my heart because people were . . . just like, “Oh why did they make all the good characters black? It wasn’t sad that Ruth died because she’s black,” but they were literally saying the most horrible things!
Tomi Adeyemi: For me to see such hatred brought into a fictional setting and then applied to an 11-year-old black girl that is brutally murdered it really broke my heart! It devastated me but then it made me really angry because I was like, “Okay well I’m going to write a story so good with all black people in it but it’s going to be so good that you have to read it or you’re going to miss out!” So, that was kind of like my revenge mission. That was the first layer; [Laughs] really aggressive, really militant. In the second layer [much] lighter.
When I was in Brazil two or three – I think it was two summers ago. I had gone there on a fellowship [intending] to study the history of slavery and compare it to America’s history of slavery and how that created these duel very different black identities in each country. But the whole museum that I had planned my trip around was closed and so I got there in Salvador, Brazil and I found out this museum was closed! It was going to be the pinnacle of my research!
So, I’m just wandering around and it starts raining and so I go into a gift shop and the gift shop owner is kicking out people who were there just to avoid the rain. Then I’m like, “okay look like you want to buy something,” I’m wide-eyed looking at things and that’s when I saw the Orisha for the first time and it was a poster with nine of the gods and goddesses and I had never seen black gods and goddesses.
When I saw it I was like, “Whoa! What is this?” I turned to my friend, “It looks like African the Last Air Bender,” and I need to know what this was and then that’s when I discovered the Orisha. . . . The rest of my trip which I had gone on intending to study one thing became the study of the Orisha and going to plays about them and looking at different cultural museums for them. That was two years ago and I knew I was going to do something with them but I just didn’t have the story.
The story came a year later when I was – I go on Pinterest a lot because I’m really inspired by art and I saw this beautiful painting of a black girl with luminescent green hair. . . . I saw it in the morning before work and I couldn’t stop looking at it! I was showing everyone at work like, “Look at this!”
And they are like, [shrugging] “Okay.”
I was like, “Who is this? What does she do?” I was actually talking to my boyfriend that night and I was like, “Ah, what if she was in a market and someone ran into her and was like ‘you need to help me!’” and I was like, “Does that sound cool?” And he’s like, “That sounds cool!”
I [went] with it and it was an explosion from there and yeah; that is how it all kind of came together!
I got the different pieces of the story at different times …. The last piece of it – was sort of the Black Lives Matter movement and the police brutality. I feel like that’s where the heart of my story came from because I had this adventure but there was so much going on around me that was kind of taking me to the same feeling of heartbreak, anger, and hopelessness that I felt back in 2011 when I saw so much hatred towards fictional characters in the Hunger Games and so all those four things coming together -that’s where this book kind of exploded from.
TNE: Okay so of the gods that you research do you have a favorite?
Tomi Adeyemi: Yeah my favorite – so there’s over 600.
Tomi Adeyemi: I narrowed it down to – I first narrowed it down to 15 and my editor was like, “Um, 15 is still a lot!”
And I was like, “You’re right!” So, I narrowed it back down to 10. My favorite is Oya and she’s in a real mythology she represents a couple of things like the passing of life and storms and the – like hurricanes and thunder ( . . . ) She’s epic! In the book, I sort of solidified her role as the goddess of life and death. Yeah [she’s] my favorite! [Oya’s] also the goddess that the protagonist Zélie is connected to!
Tomi Adeyemi: I definitely play favorites but I just – if you Google images of her it’s just like this beautiful really dark black woman in like epic red robes and silk things and so I love it and yeah that’s my favorite! So –
TNE: You were talking earlier about superhero characters.
Tomi Adeyemi: Yeah
TNE: And you apparently love Storm.
Tomi Adeyemi: . . . The funny thing is Storm is inspired by the Orisha too! She’s inspired by Oya! I didn’t realize that!
TNE: Me neither!
Tomi Adeyemi: I’ve just always grown up loving Storm!
TNE: I just learned something!
Tomi Adeyemi: Exactly and I’ve been, “Right! Of course, this epic woman is derived from this epic mythology that people don’t know a lot about,” but yeah – so, . . . – my new favorite is RiRi Williams. I am all about that! I’ve seen like two people cosplaying her. If I was cosplaying her I would be Riri Williams because I just love it! . . . I don’t have my fro anymore but when I had my fro that was like perfect!
TNE: Now you’re 23? (This was in July 2017)
Tomi Adeyemi: I am going to be 24 in –
Adeyemi’s boyfriend: Two weeks
Tomi Adeyemi repeats: Two weeks! [Laughs]
TNE: So, it just seems like just before your debut novel [is published] you got optioned for a movie! How did that happen?
Tomi Adeyemi: It was really crazy and I still don’t fully know and my sweetie he’s laughing because it was a crazy period which he was a witness for and there was just a lot of me screaming and running around and swearing and crying.
The book was submitted to publishers and then there was the craziness around that. I was lucky enough to end up with McMillan and I love it here! It has been so awesome but I didn’t know that . . . the film agent had been submitting the book to people as well. . . .[T]he book deal closed on a Thursday and then that next Monday I found out I was – we were on vacation and I got these calls that were like, “Ah, where are you? Pick up your phone!”
And I was like, “What’s going on?”
“FOX wants to do a preemptive offer!”
I didn’t let myself get excited then because I didn’t really believe it! I also thought with how much hype the book had been getting and seeing what people were buying I thought it might get optioned. I wanted all the details! I didn’t want myself celebrating.
[W]hen I talked to [my agents] about the details they were like, “Okay it’s the people that did Twilight, The Maze Runner and…– they love this and they are committed to – the representation . . . and not whitewashing,” [which] is really important to me.
“They are committed to that and they want to have you involved. . . . .They are not optioning it. [Fox] want[s] to purchase it! They actually want to make this!”
I was like, “What you mean?”. . . it’s hard to make a movie,”
My agents: “No, they really want to do this! Not [buy the] option and wait. They are actually trying to get going!”
[There was] a lot of screaming . . . swearing, and a lot of crying [Laughs]
TNE: A lot of hugging!
Tomi Adeyemi: Yeah, I was like “what?!” I think that happened . . . on a Tuesday and so I barely told my family [when] a Deadline article went up! So, it’s like I still hadn’t processed everything [before it] was announced and then everyone was like “Ahhhh!”
I still don’t know what’s happening and I still don’t understand what happened. So . . . it is still insane! I am still waiting for someone to pull out the rug and say, “Aha! Got you!”
Tomi Adeyemi: I’ve met with the producers [and] with the film executive at Fox. It’s just been –awesome! . . . They’ve been just so passionate for the story and they connected with it in such a real way! So – and even that feels like even more of a dream because I’m like, “How is this possible that not only this is happening but this is happening with such incredible passionate nice people?” [B]ecause that’s – I don’t want to say that’s rare but . . . I work in Hollywood so I know it’s not always like that! So . . . yeah I still don’t believe it but I’m so excited for it!
TNE: I’m excited for you! Like again I just read it and I’m like, “Oh my gosh that is so awesome!” So rare! You have authors that have been at it for years and now you’re just getting started with a movie deal and you haven’t even debuted yet!
Stay tuned for more of my conversation with Adeyemi, we talk about her first time at SDCC and I try to convince her having a cat is the way to go!