FAQ (frequently asked questions)

Q: How do you pronounce your first name; NAY-lo or NAH-lo?

A: It's my middle name, and I pronounce it NAH-lo. (And it's not short for anything, and by all that's holy or unholy, please don't say it NIGH-lo. I have no idea how people hear that when they're trying to repeat my pronounciation.) My brother and I were named respectively after Këita Fodeba, the founder of Les Ballets Africains du Guinée, and Nalo Camara, one of the dancers.

Q: Where do you live?

A: I've lived in Canada since 1977. I was born in Jamaica, and lived as a child in Jamaica, Trinidad, Guyana and the U.S. before my family moved to Canada when I was 16 years old.

Q: Why do you write science fiction and fantasy?

A: Simplest answer is, because I enjoy reading science fiction and fantasy, and have since I was a child. I can come up with answers that sound more intentional than that (I'm interested in the possibilities for social change, I'm interested in the myths we tell about ourselves), but those are not why I picked Gulliver's Travels off my parents' bookshelves when I was a child. I wanted something different, and it looked promising.

Q: But Gulliver's Travels isn't science fiction! It's good!

A: Science fiction and fantasy allow us to step outside our known reality and examine that reality from a different perspective. They do so by creating imaginary worlds as lenses through which we can view our world. Does Gulliver's Travels do that? I think it does.

Q: Will you read my short story/novel and tell me what you think?

A: I probably won't. You can ask me, but expect that I will say no. It's not just a matter of my time, but of my finances and my health. If a piece of work that I do isn't feeding me, then it's taking time away from something that could be. That equation becomes very clear once you become a freelancer of any kind. And I have a couple of mild chronic disorders that affect my energy and my output, and make it difficult to juggle many tasks at once.

Q: Your last two novels -- The Salt Roads and The New Moon's Arms -- were fantastical. Will you be writing any more science fiction, or will it only be fantasy and magical realism from now on?

A: I haven't stopped writing science fiction. I've published a number of science fiction short stories since my last science fiction novel. And I have a novel in its earliest planning stages that will be science fiction. It's a few novels down the road.

Q: Your last two novels -- The Salt Roads and The New Moon's Arms -- were not published by the science fiction/fantasy imprint of Warner as your previous books were. They came out from Warner's mainstream line. Have you stopped writing science fiction and fantasy?

A: Between them, The Salt Roads and The New Moon's Arms contained gods, fractal math, time travel, magic, and evolutionary theory. The next three novels I'm planning will also contain significant elements of the fantastic and the futuristic. I write what I like to read, and that's science fiction and fantasy.

Q: But The Salt Roads wasn't fantasy! It was, I dunno, black women's fiction, or mythic fiction. It didn't have dragons and elves in it.

A: Did you read it? Actually, not even that; did you buy it, or borrow it from a library? Good. Then I don't care what you call it. And what have you got against dragons and elves?

Q: Do you think of yourself as a black writer, or as simply a writer?

A: Both.

Q: Do you think of yourself as a Canadian writer or a Caribbean writer?

A: Both.

Q: Do you think of yourself as a queer writer or just as a writer?

A: Both.

Q: Do you think of yourself as a woman writer, or --

A: Both. All the above, and more. All those identities are very important to me. I don't need to claim just one.

Q: Where do you get your ideas?

A: From whatever catches my fancy at any given moment. If it sticks with me, it's an idea. If I weld it to a few more ideas, they might begin to generate a plot.


Q: Hey, I have this great idea for a novel.  How about I tell you my idea, you write the novel, and we split the proceeds?
A: 1. No, thank you. I have my own ideas, and honestly, I'm more interested in my story ideas than in yours.
A: 2. No, thank you.  What you're describing is called work-for-hire, and the way it works is that you or your publisher would pay me.  In addition, see Answer 1.

Q: I'm reading your book X, and I feel I need to understand it better.  Can you please explain to me 1) what the nature of the relationship between character A and character B is, and give me page examples?  2) what is the symbolic meaning of C in the novel?  And I need the answers by the day after tomorrow, please.

A: Ah, it's the end of term, I see.  I'm not the best person to ask those questions.  What I wrote made sense to me at the time I wrote it, but by the time the book is published, a year or more has passed since I handed the manuscript in to my editor, and I'm on to the next novel.  I may not remember why I did what I did, or who all my characters are.  On top of that, I don't implant themes and symbols in my work as right or wrong answers with which to plague long-suffering students.  Sometimes there is deliberate symbology, sometimes it happens by accident and I'm not aware of it, and sometimes the reader derives a symbol from my work based on her or his understanding of the world.  If you see a particular symbol or relationship in a story of mine, then just go ahead and make a good argument for it being there.  It's as correct an answer as anything I could give you.