April 24, 2019

Rebecca Roanhorse

“I needed light and funny . . . I needed healing and female friendships.”
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We talked to Rebecca Roanhorse about what her characters would be doing if the world hadn’t ended, why trauma is so central to clan powers and why Storm of Locusts is a lighter, funnier novel than Trail of Lightning.

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A meditation on power and trauma wrapped within the irresistible framework of an action-packed monster hunt, Rebecca Roanhorse’s Trail of Lightning was one of the most acclaimed science fiction novels of 2018. After a climate apocalypse, one of the only safe places in North America is Dinétah, a former Navajo reservation where mythical gods and monsters have awoken and now affect the lives of the region’s inhabitants. But in Roanhorse’s sequel, Storm of Locusts, supernaturally gifted monster hunter Maggie Hoskie will have to leave the relative safety of Dinétah to find her partner, Kai, who has been kidnapped by a mysterious cult leader called the White Locust.

We talked to Roanhorse about what her characters would be doing if the world hadn’t ended, why trauma is so central to clan powers and why her second novel is lighter and funnier.

One of the things I love about your characters is how rooted they are in your world—it’s hard to imagine who they would be if the world wasn’t ending. Where do you think Maggie, Kai and the others would be if the world hadn’t ended?
My first reaction is that Maggie would be in jail, lol. But if I think about it a little more, if the Big Water hadn’t happened, none of the terrible things that happened to Maggie would have happened either. Her grandmother would likely still be alive, she would have never met Neizghání. So maybe she would have finished high school and gotten a job or moved to Phoenix. I still think she’d be rowdy, though. Okay, so maybe jail after all.

Kai would be a regular college student. Both his parents were professors and he’s got the temperament to be a scholar. He maybe would have gone on to get a Ph.D. and be an academic.

Rissa would have taken over the All-American for her mom, and she still may. But she would have done it with a business degree and a CPA or something. And Clive would have moved to New York or LA, met a good man, settled down, had kids. He’s a nurturer at heart. Of course, their dad and brother would have still be alive, so who knows? So many people were lost with the Big Water and the things that came in their wake; it changed lives.

Clan powers so far seem to complement the character of the person they belong to. Do the clan powers shape the person or the other way around?
Both. People can be the same clan but if the circumstances of their power manifestations are different, the powers will tailor themselves to the need. And, of course, once the powers manifest, people begin to rely on them the way Kai, for example, relies on his to get him out of trouble. Or Maggie relies on hers as a profession.

How was writing Storm of Locusts different from writing Trail of Lightning? Was there any part of the process that surprised you?
It was a completely different experience. I wrote Trail of Lightning over a period of two years, and then a third year editing before I queried it. I wrote Storm of Locusts under contract in nine months. I also wrote Trail of Lightning during the Obama administration and Storm of Locusts under Trump’s, so my needs as far as the emotional tone of the books were different. Storm of Locusts is somewhat lighter and funnier because I needed light and funny. I didn’t want to explore trauma and abuse like I did in Trail of Lightning. For Storm of Locusts, I needed healing and female friendships.

Do you think that if Maggie or Kai saw a way to get rid of their clan powers that they would?
Kai, no way. He likes his powers. But then he just takes more things in stride, even the terrible things. Maggie? I think she would give anything to go back and be "normal", but that would require the entire world to change. I don’t think she wants to be in this world and not have her powers, particularly as she begins to see them as not just a weapon for death but as a way to protect those she is growing to care about. Kai always understood that his powers could be used for good or evil. Maggie is still learning.

One of the recurring themes in both Trail of Lightning and Storm of Locusts is trauma. What led you to make trauma so central to how clan powers are awakened?
A lot of the modern Native experience deals with trauma, both intergenerational and personal. This is, to me, a Native story on various levels, so I wasn’t not going to talk about trauma. But I also wanted to explore the transformative nature of trauma, for better or worse. The old adage “what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger” was one I really clung to as a child, although now I’m more fond of Zora Neale Hurston’s quote, “If you are silent about your pain, they’ll kill you and say you enjoyed it.” But that first adage, that’s what birthed the idea of clan powers coming from life-alerting trauma. But I also am intrigued by the idea of receiving a power that served you in your time of need, but that years later you have perhaps outgrown and now only holds you back. We’ll see how that plays out throughout the series.

Is there anything you can share about what we have to look forward to in book three?
Oh, there’s a lot! Book three is going to take Maggie and Kai to the Burque, which is what is left of Albuquerque after the Big Water. It’s now a collection of city-states run by powerful water baron families that are descended from the old school land grant Hispanic families that exist in New Mexico. They’ll bring a new twist and new magics to the story. And, of course, the various Pueblo tribes that border the Burque will play a part, as well. And you’ll get to find out a lot more about Kai and his story and see him in his element. It should be a lot of fun.

What are you most excited about in speculative fiction right now?
The diversity of voices. Women and BIPOC have always been part of the genre, but now I can easily read books and short fiction from so many diverse voices it’s almost an embarrassment of riches. 2018 was great, but 2019 is going to be mind-blowing. I’ve already read at least a half dozen novels that I think should be on the awards ballots. It’s just fantastic. I saw someone mention this was a golden age of SFF and I can’t agree more. Just happy to be a part of it, and happier to be able to read it all.


ALSO IN BOOKPAGE: Read our review of Storm of Locusts.

Author photo by Stephen Land Photography.

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Storm of Locusts

Storm of Locusts

By Rebecca Roanhorse
ISBN 9781534413528

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