CHILDREN OF BLOOD AND BONE author Tomi Adeyemi is just like us. She loves Harry Potter, 90s music, and she’s into anime!
We got a chance to spend some time with first-time author Tomi Adeyemi to talk about her bestselling debut novel Children of Blood and Bone, working with Temple Hill productions on a movie adaptation, and what, if anything, she can tell us about book two, Children of Virtue and Vengeance.
What we know and love about her is that she doesn’t put on any airs about who she is, despite being a bestselling author. She’ll rave about 90s music and how it brings her back to when she was a child and made a music video using a Beastie Boys (if I recall correctly) song and mixed it in with clips from her favorite anime shows. She’ll tell you it still stands to this day, which is impressive to know.
Tomi also didn’t mind talking to us as if we were good friends, even though we had just met. Her personality is just so welcoming to all, even if her book deals with harsh realities. That just tells us she’s one of hope and inspiration and we were delighted to actually get to know her.
Of course, she couldn’t help bringing up the excitement of being at Comic-Con, a place she feels just as comfortable being in as everyone else here, as we share a common thread of being a fan of something in pop culture. Tomi Adeyemi is a real person indeed, who is a wonderfully talented writer and an awesome geek girl.
When you finished writing Children of Bone and Bone, what were your first thoughts?
It was just like, get it out, get it out, get it out, and then just try and make it legible, so that’s what it was. The first draft was just get it out, second draft was make it legible, don’t say insert desert shit, describe the desert. That was the whole process, so it was really a flurry, and I had no idea what I made. And that’s so funny, because that’s how I write now. Everything has to come out so fast, so I very rarely have a chance to actually be like, what is this, and step back, and so I haven’t even read the book all the way through. I just had to go into it, so I didn’t know if it was working or not.
…there wasn’t really thought, because there was no time to think. So I didn’t know if what I created was good or not. I just knew I’d finished the book, and I had a couple of days to figure out how to make it better in the second draft. And I was like, race against the clock!
Sometimes it is like a race against the clock. I know some people want to write, but they don’t have that push.
For me, I realized that I needed deadlines. The way I finished my book—for the first book I tried to get published— I’ll just call it The Keeper so it’s easier—I couldn’t get myself to do it until National Novel Writing Month in November, so I just needed some sort of stress, some sort of deadline to pump it out. For both years, I basically did the book in that month, and for the rest of the year, I just didn’t have that same pressure. It was always easier for everything else to come first. I know I work best that way. I wish I didn’t. I think now I’m more disciplined and more structured, so I think I can do it a little more – just more calm now.
Your book has gotten rave reviews from both young and older people. Why do you think your book resonates with so many people?
I think we just all love good stories. I think, especially if you come into a place like Comic-Con, you see every type of person, you see every age, and when the story is good, it doesn’t’ matter where you’re from. Because at the end, we’re all humans, which sounds very kumbayah, but it’s just true. If you can tell a very human story, people are going to connect with that. If you can tell a human story with like really cool magic, then people are going to connect with that and really love it. And that’s why we have a whole generation named after Harry Potter. I think that’s really what it does – it’s very human, and that’s what I always try to do, too, because when I’m reading a book – I actually have a very short attention span and I’m a slow reader, so I know I have to feel like I’m really in it and really connected and so I try and write for that person.
Yes, you’re going to have a lot of magic and you’re going to have a lot of complicated stuff, but you don’t even need to see most of that stuff. And I hate reading about it, so I’m not going to tell you about it until you absolutely need to know. It’s this big fantasy, but it’s not so up its own butt with being a fantasy. It’s still a very human story. It just happens to take place with really cool magic and giant lions.
What do you want your fans to learn most from reading your book?
For my black readers, especially the little black girls reading, I want to learn that they’re worthy of being on the cover, that they’re worthy of having that big adventure, and that’s very personal for me, because I’ve been writing since I was young, but after my first story, I can’t find any other story I wrote with characters who look like me, and so I internalized that I couldn’t have a magical adventure, that I couldn’t be a princess, that I couldn’t ride a dragon. And so I’m sitting there alone in my room writing these stories and these adventures I wanted to have, but I didn’t think I had permission to be in them. That’s pretty traumatizing from a self-esteem perspective. That’s a lot of crap that I had to work through after I realized that. So, I’m hoping that stories like this and all the other great stories that are coming out will let those kids know that they are worthy and that they should be drawing themselves into these pictures, that they should be writing fan fiction with themselves in it.
And then for everyone else, it’s a story about the modern black experience and the modern black experience is full of pain and trauma, and what I wanted is for people to understand that. When I tell people that for all of 2017 I was scared, like I was scared for my life every time I got behind the wheel of my car, people were like, well, really? And there’s so many kids now, and teenagers who don’t want driver’s licenses.
Antoine Rose wrote a poem about being afraid, that he was going to be killed by police, two years before he was killed by the police. So I think a lot of people don’t realize the very real life or death mentality, that emotional PTSD, that people are going through all around them every day. Cause they’re like, but this is America, and you’re like, yes, this is America. So, that’s what I wanted. Again, it’s a big adventure. I wanted this story first and foremost, because you’re not gonna—there’re venues to talk to people about stuff, but I was like, no, I’m a lover of stories, I want to give you a great story. So, when that story is over, and when you’re thinking about it, I want to make sure that it doesn’t stay in a great story. I don’t want you to go, oh my gosh, it was so sad, then this character died, and then not think about the real life people who are suffering those same things every single day.
For like me, I tend to imagine them as real people, so I feel like I tend to empathize more and that’s important for these characters. And that’s real good for people of color to see that, to see themselves in your book.
Yeah, it matters! And it almost sounds so simplistic, where you’re like, how can it matter? Until I saw black gods and godesses, I had never even imagined that there could be black gods and goddesses, and that’s where this whole story started. In a gift shop, just seeing a black god, and I was like, what the hell?! Your imagination does not go there if you never see it, at all.
In regards to your characters, which character do you relate to the most?
I’m split between Zélie and Amari, because I say, if I’m level 5 version of me, Zélie’s level 50, so it’s like we have the same impulses, we have the same emotional responses, we think the same. She talks way more eloquently than I do, but we are kinda the same person, it’s just she is a bit freer, so if someone does something and I’m like I want to punch you in the face, she does punch them in the face. So it’s very fun to write her, because she’s kind me with no limits.
But with Amari, her journey is very similar to my journey, and I didn’t realize that when I started writing her. It was only towards the end, through deeper vision, that I was like, oh she feels, she starts—I guess they start at different stages. Amari knows the world isn’t perfect, but it’s not until something really horrible happens to her that she feels completely powerless and helpless, and that’s how it kinda was with me. I always knew there was racism, but it’s not until Trayvon Martin, and Philando Castile, and Alton Sterling that I felt, oh, it’s not just this one-off thing, like, this is it. This is every day. This could be easily my today, my tomorrow, this could happen to my mom, my dad, my brother, my sister, my cousins, and so it was deep helplessness and I really felt trapped in that darkness, and so her journey from starting there to finding her voice and finding her power, and finding even the power in her sword, and that to me is sort of like my journey with this book, like okay, I felt powerless and alone, and now, I’m not alone. And there’s still things in the world that make me feel the way I felt, but it’s that quick reminder that no, you can always do something. You can always fight back, you can always bring good people together. I’m not saying it’s easy, but it’s possible.
Your book was already optioned for film by Fox and Temple Hill. What were your thoughts on that and have you heard any news since then about it?
Yeah, actually, right after this I’m going to go eat with one of the executives that’s down there from Fox, so I’m pretty excited about that. When I found out, I thought towards the—like as it ramped up to go into publishing house, I do think this is something that will have interest for being optioned just because that’s how Hollywood works, and it’s a different story, and this is also pre-Black Panther, so as exciting as that was I didn’t let myself celebrate that excitement. I was like, okay, you need to be very strategic about this, because I think bad movies start at the beginning, bad adaptations start at the very, very beginning. Obviously source material is a part of it, but if you have good source material then it’s like it’s up to you to make sure that whoever you’re deciding to give it to is the right person.
With the team, not only are they like amazing, passionate of people, and kind, which is kind of rare for Hollywood to be a nice person. They’re so smart, but the movie they had just done was Hidden Figures, they had Love, Simon, and The Hate U Give. They also had The Maze Runner, so I knew they could do these brilliant movies, and so I was like, oh, you want me involved, you care about the proper casting. There was no red flag, and I guess its’ been a little bit over a year, and it’s just their passion and their desire to get this right and make it the best ever and all the people they’re bringing on. Honestly, I keep knocking because I was just like, you can’t tell me that all of these amazing, kind people are going to bring this movie to life, but that’s really what it seems like. You can tell I’m superstitious!
Temple Hill seems to have a huge amount of respect for the source material and it’s exciting to see that they’re at least super faithful.
Yeah, when they change something, it’s because—it’s like everything makes sense. Everything they do elevates it, because, yeah, they’re not supposed to be the same. Books and movies are still different, but yeah, it’s just they really care. And they care a lot about making good movies, and movies that matter. So, yeah, they’re going to give you that adventure, but they’re also going to give you the first gay romantic teen comedy, they’re going to give you The Hate U Give. It’s not that other people wouldn’t make those things, I just think the scale and finesse that they do. Love, Simon is one of the my favorites films I’ve ever seen! And The Hate U Give is going to be brilliant. Every time they do something, it only increases my excitement more.
(Thinking contemplatively) You know that devil emoji? It’s like purple, and it’s like (gives mischievous look.) That’s my tease. That’s it, because I’m deep into it right now, but I haven’t even gotten to write my favorite parts yet, or rewrite them, because the first draft is done. And I’m already like, this is awesome. Oh, and this is awesome. Oh, and this is awesome. Ooh, that character is cute. I’m pretty excited because, you get to go back into that world, and the whole world has changed. I’m still figuring out logistics because that’s the one thing about worlds, is that you can be like, I know this, but what does that mean for everything around it. But the easy answer is that devil emoji.
Seeing as we’re at Comic-Con, if you could dress up in costume, who would you dress up as?
So, I like half-assed it, because I was like, okay, we’re going to do the white hair for Zaley, but then when I did it, I was like, oh my god, I’m giving me Zaley! I’m giving me Queen Ramonda! I’m giving me Storm! So I think I just work with what I got. Even this (pointing out her white hair) was way harder than I thought it would be. So I have so much respect for the full outfits. I don’t know if I’ll ever be that on top with my life to commit to that.
What were your favorite books growing up?
Definitely Harry Potter, but actually most of my favorite stories are in anime. So, Avatar: The Last Airbender, Naruto, Bleach, Death Note. That’s really where most of my childhood was spent.
Children of Blood and Bone can be purchased at any of the following:
Children of Virtue and Vengeance is set for publication on 3/5/19 and pre-ordered at the following: