DEMON IN THE WHITELANDS is the debut novel from Month9Books author Nikki Z. Richard. This book is a LGBTQIA YA Fantasy that will debut at the end of September 2019.

Sometimes no matter how hard you try, some things cannot be explained.

Sixteen-year-old Samuel, son of devout cleric, has endured shame and prejudice his entire life. Although he is destined to become clergy too, he longs for an ordinary life in the whitelands away from demons and holy roots.

When the mayor claims to have captured a mute demon girl, Samuel is forced to become her caretaker. But as Samuel gets to know the prisoner, he finds her not to be very demonlike. Instead, she is intelligent, meek, and an exceptional artist. Despite her seeming goodness, some more concerning things cannot be explained. Samuel is hard-pressed to reconcile her uncanny strength and speed, missing arm, ambiguous gender, and the mysterious scars covering most of her body.

Samuel forms a deep attachment to the girl with predator eyes and violent outbursts, against his father’s advice. Their friendship could turn into something more. But when Samuel discovers the mayor’s dark intentions, he must decide whether to risk his own execution by setting her free or watch as the girl is used as a pawn in a dangerous game of oppression, fear, and murder.

According to your website bio, you are pursuing a Ph.D. How do you balance this with your writing commitments?

Balancing schoolwork with my other writing commitments has never been an easy task, but I honestly don’t think I’ve known another way of doing life. School is a place where you’re forced to read a bunch of different things, and then you’re forced to write about what you’ve read. College is probably one of the best environments for a writer. I wrote my first short story as an undergraduate student at LSU in a Fiction workshop course, and since then I’ve been writing creative works (poems, short stories, novels, screenplays, etc.) alongside my more traditional academic writing projects. In a way, learning how to write a strong research paper on racial and gender inequality in Chimimanda Adichie’s Americannah helps me know how to write a really good story with those same thematic elements. I guess that’s a very braggadocios way of saying, “I’m a nerd and I love school!” And I never sleep, and I drink a lot of coffee.

I also love school. I think that’s one reason I became a librarian. I’m intrigued by the mute “demon” girl in DEMON IN THE WHITELANDS. How did she come to you?

For me, Zei is a perfect representation of the voiceless other. People tend to fear what they don’t understand. It’s a cliche saying, but I’ve always found it to be true. Zei is an intelligent humanoid being with superb physicality, but lacks sexual organs and the ability to speak. Because of this, Zei’s identity is postulated and imposed by others, mainly those in power. Is Zei a human, a demon, a monster, or something else? The mayor claims Zei to be some sort of “demon.” In his naiveté, Samuel assigns gender and sexual identity to Zei, because Zei “looks like a girl.” It’s only when Samuel gives Zei access to writing tools that he is able to learn their true name. Instead of prescribing identity and intentions towards someone or something we don’t understand, I believe it’s our responsibility not to simply try and “listen,” but to make sure the voiceless are given access to the tools they need to be heard.

Absolutely. What do you feel is the most difficult part of the writing process and why?

The most difficult part of the writing process is actual writing-it-down part. I could live in my head all day, and I have a hundred different ideas for stories I’m always mulling over, but it’s like pulling teeth sometimes to get me to sit still long enough to punch the keys and write the words down. I really enjoy editing, so for me that’s the easy part. It’s that initial leap of faith, taking time out of your life to write down words that may or may not work out into a worthwhile project, that always kicks my butt. But, thankfully, I’ve been getting better at forcing those 1st draft ideas out.

First drafts are indeed challenging–I have to remind myself there are no wasted words. What are some of your current projects?

My biggest upcoming project is a new-adult queer dystopian love story that’s sort of a hybrid between Octavia Butler’s Parable of the Sower and Margaret Atwood’s The Handmaid’s Tale. It’s actually going to serve as my creative dissertation for my PhD! And, of course, I’ve already working on the sequel to Demon in the Whitelands, which will bring a lot more answers in regards to Zei’s origins.

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