Tomi Adeyemi is an open book. From dancing in a wombat onesie to opening up about a personal run-in with cops on social media, it’s plain as day, she’s a genuine treasure.
Her work is too. Children of Blood & Bone has taken the literary world by storm, earning the top spot on the New York Times bestseller list including a production deal with Fox 2000…and it lives up to the hype. Anime, heartbreak, sequel updates, and more, Quirktastic got a chance to catch up with the alternative creative. By the way, if you aren’t following her on Instagram, I don’t know what you are doing.
QT: You’re a child of immigrants. What was it like growing up as first generation and adjusting as a blerd in American culture?
I always struggle with this question because we’re not conscious of it. It wasn’t like I grew up and was like, “I’m a first gen immigrant.” When you’re growing up it’s more like, “why can’t I do what all my white friends are doing?” That’s what I would say is the only conscious restraint I had at the time. Otherwise, I just felt like a kid because I was just a kid. I would say looking back, what really unites the first generation experience is that we are raised wherever your motherland is [or] your parents were raised – that’s how you’re raised inside of your house. And when you step out of your house, you’re whatever America sees you as. I was Nigerian inside my house and I was black outside my house and those are very different experiences and very different identities.
Not all of which I was conscious of when I was young, but being Nigerian…family is very important, respecting your elders is really important, working very hard is really important – not getting B’s. So I would say my drive is definitely honed and cultivated by my family and my culture. I think just aside, Nigerians are very proud to be Nigerians. We’re so excited to see Nigerians excel in any area. I would say about once a year you get that story about the kid who gets into all the Ivys. Most times the kid is Nigerian. Two out of ten times the kid is Ghanaian, but you can see my culture in my work ethic. A lot of Nigerian culture is being doctors or a lawyer or an engineer. So preparing for one of those intense careers then combining that mental preparation with my passion has also been a big factor to my success.
QT: You’re also educating people on West African/Nigerian culture. Do you understand how hungry I was reading about the food?! What does that mean to you?
I’m a morbid person in the sense that I don’t think I can go through one day without being grateful that both my parents are alive. I don’t know what that says about my personality. My mom lost her mom when she was seventeen, so I feel extremely grateful to have all my family and specifically my parents alive to see this. That in itself would be the most special thing, but for this thing to be their culture? I grew up here and they grew up in Nigeria. So to be able to have this celebrated and embraced by the world and be so deeply personal and so connected to them is the most beautiful gift and most rewarding thing because there’s a different sense of pride.
Like in book two, there’s a character named after my dad’s nickname from school, so just being able to name a little boy after him, or one of the ladies of the noble court be named after my mom, or having Jimmy Fallon’s favorite character be Yemi, who’s like my favorite aunt. It’s hard writing a story that’s so personal because it takes a lot out of you, but it’s love. So, you feel like the people you love are being embraced too, so it’s a really rewarding experience.
QT: As artists, what I find most fascinating about us is that we often break our own hearts in service of the story and so I’m curious if there’s one particular event in CBB that just killed you to write?
All of it. Because it’s real. It’s really hard because it’s all so personal and not just personal… this is happening. Every conflict in the book, I connect it to something going on today or something as recently as the last 20 years and because of that, it was just rough. The hardest part to write was the author’s note because that’s where I took it all off. I don’t get to dilute the feeling through another character or get to shift from something painful and say, “but look at my giant lion.” It was just like, hey guys this is the world. This is all real. I had to rip away the safety net for both myself and the reader and it was really devastating.
There are times when I do wish this book was just a story like Harry Potter – not like not something where all the pain was real, where all the grief was real, and all the fear was real. I know that’s what makes the story so powerful, but it’s also hard and sad because I don’t write this not knowing real people have died and are dying. That’s what I mean when I say I’m very morbid. I think about human life a lot. I think about how life gets cut short. I think about how that affects that person’s parents or their brother and so already having that in my personality and writing something that directly affects me and my family and the hundreds of millions of black bodies around the world – having to be face to face with that was really rough. I know it was necessary, but I’m also grateful to be at least in this period of my writing past that. It takes a big emotional toll. I don’t know how Angie (Thomas) wrote The Hate U Give or how Nic Stone wrote Dear Martin without being able to jump on a giant magical lion, you know? To take some of that real pain and heartbreak away.
QT: What is something fans can expect in the next installment, Children of Virtue & Vengeance?
I’m feeling really good about it. That says something because I hate everything [laughs]. I’m very critical because as much as I’m like “you’re doing great,” I want everything to be amazing, especially with the sequel. I’m very critical and I’m really loving this story and my dad, who is also very critical because he’s a Nigerian dad, is also loving the story so I’m feeling really excited. The tease is that the world gets a lot bigger. We still have some of the characters that you fell in love with in the first book but we also have all of these new characters. It’s just so exciting. You know the Hunger Games? I love the Hunger Games. The second book is my favorite because you see Katniss do it on her own and then she gets a whole team and group dynamics are really fun. It’s just great to add new personalities and new flavors and to have the ability to just have more people that you can get to know and fall in love with…I’m excited. I used to be excited like, “oh I can’t wait to see this thing in the first movie.” Now I’m already thinking about the second movie adaptation and really, really excited. I haven’t said that in an interview yet so that just shows my journey. I got a lot of work left, but it’s going to be great!
QT: You’re a Slytherin…Were the maji clans inspired by the Harry Potter houses?
Yeah, so I was a Ravenclaw and then I became a Slytherin through this book process. I always say Slytherclaw, but it’s definitely ’cause my mind works as a Ravenclaw, but my personality is full Slytherin. The clans were all from Orisha. As flattering as the J.K. Rowling comparisons are, they can also become a bit like, “ok guys. I do have ideas.” [laughs] The thing I specifically drew from the houses… I don’t even think J.K. Rowling was conscious of the fact that she was creating a much easier MBTI (Myers-Briggs Type Indicator) or personality diagram. ‘Cause if I say I’m ENTJ, I don’t know what that means. I don’t expect you to either, but if I say I have a Ravenclaw mind and a Slytherin personality you instantly know where to place me. And so that’s what I definitely thought critically about as I was creating the personalities of the clans. If this character’s a burner, what are they going to be? Are they loud and brash? Are they quiet and pensive? Really trying not to make it just this type of magic, but this type of personality because I think that’s what helps these things go beyond the book.m It would have been much simpler if I just did four [laughs]. I made it really hard for myself, but I’ll be really happy if in like five years, someone can say, “well you know, I’m a connector, but I have a burner personality” and someone knows exactly what that means.
Read the book? Find your maji clan here!
QT: Fox 2000 is producing the silver screen adaptation and we can’t WAIT! I kind of want the talent to be completely unknown, but who are your dream cast choices?
I have some dream cast members in mind. I used to have like, “ok this is the exact cast I want.” Then Black Panther came out and I was like, “oh my god, the most exciting thing about this is the ability to discover new people.” So I don’t want an entirely unknown cast, but I do want a lot of actors who we either haven’t seen or haven’t had their big, big break. I want to put more Letitia Wrights and Winston Dukes on to the scene and I think that’s what Black Panther did so well. It blended established talent, giving them roles that they deserved that they never had, but it also brought up a lot of new talent that helped launch their careers so that’s really what I want CBB to do.
QT: Marvel or DC?
OMG. Is that even a question? SO hardcore Marvel. That being said I do enjoy DC’s animated projects and I enjoy a lot of the CW shows like Arrow or The Flash. Young Justice made me finally like Superman. Not even Superman. It was like a clone of Superman that had daddy issues and I was just like, “I like you. You’re annoying, but in a good way.” The DC cinematic universe just does nothing for me. I really shouldn’t say this so aggressively, but I can’t even hide. I should just say Marvel, especially since X-MEN is a universe I’ll love forever.
QT: Favorite BTS member?
Well, this is a bit more complicated. So, I just found out that there’s a term, “wrecker.” And my bias is Suga. You know, especially when you’re first learning what they are and who they are, but eventually one member keeps giving you an intense physical reaction? And every time he raps, my heart would have these convulsions. So, I noticed him then I went to the concert and J-hope winked at me and that changed a lot of my life. J-hope really got in there and messed things up. So I have a deep personal connection to him.
QT: Favorite anime?
I consider Avatar: The Last Airbender to be American anime so I’ll put that there, but I would also say if I were going straight anime (I’m really bad at this), I would say a mix between Naruto, Death Note, and Attack on Titan.
QT: Where DID that onesie come from?
I was an intern at a consulting firm and I interned in their LA branch. There were four interns and I’ve always been crazy. I think that’s pretty clear through social media, but people never know, but I’ve done weird things my whole life [laughs]. That summer I kept trying to get them to buy us these onesies. They’re called morphsuits and I really wanted them, but I didn’t want to spend my money on them ’cause I’d rather buy Thai food. So I wanted someone else to spend their human money on it, but I still wanted it. I kept trying to be like, “this will be great for team building” and everything else and they’re like lolol and I’m like lololol, but I’m serious. When I got the offer… A lot of people would be like, “if you buy me this expensive bottle of champagne I’ll sign right here.” Again, it’s silly. [I said] If you buy me this morphsuit, I’ll sign. They were like, “are you serious?” And I said, “more serious than I have ever been.” And they said ok. They bought me the morphsuit and I signed and then I ended up going somewhere else completely unexpected like five months later because I got a job offer in entertainment and I knew I wanted to work in entertainment. I was really scared they were gonna take the suit back but of course they didn’t. They didn’t even remember getting it because it was so weird. So…hustle.
View this post on Instagram
THIS WILL BE YOU when you walk into @barnesandnoble on black friday & get one of those hand-signed/limited edition/fine-ass red copies of #childrenofbloodandbone on an equally important but highly unrelated note, do you remember those dancing silhouette @apple commercials? cause i feel like i should be in one. picture it. white background. wombat suit. korean trap music. i spin around and it’s a sexy macbook tell me that wouldn’t move you #bnsignededitions
QT: If you could travel back in time before CBB’s success, what would you tell yourself?
I would put my hands on my shoulders. I would come back with all white hair and spectacles so that I would know that it was me from the future because here’s my thing… I just feel like I loved fantasy and magic so much that.. you know whenever something happens and someone’s like, “oh my god how are you here? What’s going on?” I would like to think I would just bypass that and be like, “yo, tell me what you need to say.” And so I feel like I would put my hands on my shoulders and I would say, “buckle up, b*tch.” I talk to myself very violently. So if we were doing the censored version, it would be “buckle up and believe in yourself and fight for yourself.”
That’s what I would say more than anything because if we’re gonna get real, something this experience has taught me is a lot about entertainment. I understand why Britney Spears shaved off all of her hair so I’ve definitely become more empathetic to people in this entertainment business in a way I never have before. Especially as a woman, especially as a woman of color, especially as a black woman of color, especially as a young black woman of color. I have to face that stuff a lot, so it’s really helped me build a backbone. A backbone and a fighting spirit and a self-esteem…It’s an ongoing process. It’s literally something every day, but I can feel who I’m becoming in a great way and I can feel the confidence. I’m being confident in who I am becoming in a way I never had before. So that’s the one thing about being tested so much.
We can feel it too, Tomi and we’re excited to continue this journey with you! In a society which necessitates healing, you Tomi Adeyemi and CBB are certainly part of the cure.
For more updates on Tomi and Children of Blood & Bone, be sure to check out her website here.