Nebula, Locus, and Alex Award-winner P. Djèlí Clark (that’s me) returns with Ring Shout, a dark fantasy historical novella that gives an unflinching look at Ku Klux Klan’s reign of terror. Yup, like I told y’all last time, I wrote another book. And it’s here! Out today. Wanna know more
I told the origin story of this book before… but I’ll go over some parts again.
Ring Shout had been rattling around in my head for a minute. I want to say around 2014 and 2015. And I mean just in my head. Hadn’t written anything. Not even notes or character sketches. Didn’t have anything resembling a plot. But I knew there was a story there. I could feel it. So every once in a while, I’d pull up a song (did I mention music is integral to this story?). This one song. And I’d listen to it over and over on long drives, and dream up what tales might be.
Two or three or more years passed. Wrote other stuff. Published other stuff. Still held onto that story idea though. Was there when I watched Beyonce’s “Formation” video. Or I visited my sister in Georgia or went back to my old hometown of Houston. Was there when I reread Toni Morrison’s Beloved or while I was watching the movie adaptation of The Color Purple. Or I turned up some old UGK. Couldn’t get rid of the story. Like it was demanding to be written. Sometime in late 2016, I finally sat down and jotted some notes down. The barest of bones of a story. Then I put it away and went on living my life.
Then in April of 2019 I brokered a book contract with Tor Publishing. My first big writing contract! It was at first just going to be for a full length novel about this stuff. But my editor Diana Pho wondered, given my luck with previous novellas, if I had ideas for anything new? Funny you should ask, I answered…and pitched what had been rattling in my head for so long. It was still barely formed. I did know the title–Ring Shout. I think I said something to the effect of: “southern gothic meets fantasy. there’s music. a movie. things get weird.” Well actually, I said more than that. You get a chance to pitch, you better sound like you got a firm grasp of an idea and where you’re going, even if you’re putting it together on the fly. Whatever I said must have worked because Diana was on board! Before you can say Bob’s your uncle, I had a contract for a story… that I was still dreaming up.
No rushing the muse though. She’ll work how she wanna, even if it’s right up to the deadline. The story was due in September. I finally sat down to work on it in August. By that time though, I had an outline sketched out. And characters. And a plot. The story I was intending was wild. It was experimental. It seemed improbable. Whole time I’m writing I’m like, “can I do this?” Still, kept at it–mostly between 10pm and midnight because it was the start of an academic semester. I was busy AND I needed it off my plate. Took about three or four weeks, and when I was done I was relieved. Also thought, this is some mess. Sent it to Diana, wondering if her response would be, “errrr…what’s this homie?” I was fully prepared for a gentle, “I see what you’re going for here but let’s see if we can smooth this out and make it make sense.”
That didn’t happen though. When Diana got back to me she was elated. She loved it. Whuuut? Had suggestions on enhancing it. Whuuuut? Even said the 4k words I’d chopped off in my self-editing jitters, needed to go BACK in. Ran outta whuuuuuts? Anyway, some snipping and cutting and shifting things into place later… yadda yadda yadda… here we are.
Ring Shout‘s reception before it even dropped has been unexpected. This again, was a side novella–something to tide over readers until my wholly unrelated novel dropped. It was this thing I wanted to put down on paper, to get it out of my head. The story was unorthodox and lots of it at times personal. I didn’t know if the themes I was exploring would even resonate, beyond a small niche of people. And it’s at times heavy. Never you mind monsters. I’m talking about the Klan and racism. Of course it’s gonna be heavy–even if laced with humor, juke joints and the fantastic. Would readers be able to take all that in one book? Maybe they’d just think it was too much.Turns out, like Jon Snow, I know nothing. Readers who got previews have been pretty positive about it. And they’ve liked it. I mean, really liked it! Got a starred review at Publisher’s Weekly. And lots of very nice people (and places) have said very nice things. Even made the fall books list of Essence Magazine. Essence! The jawn I grew up with IN MY HOUSE! Mama, I think I made it.
Now, finally, it’s here for everyone to read. It’s an amazing thing to see something that started out as a half-formed tune tickling the back of my head, put onto printed (and digital) paper. And that other people are going to read it. Read my stuff. Read my words. I’ll never get used to that. But I’m grateful.
So this is where I drop the blurb:
D. W. Griffith is a sorcerer, and The Birth of a Nation is a spell that drew upon the darkest thoughts and wishes from the heart of America. Now, rising in power and prominence, the Klan has a plot to unleash Hell on Earth.
Luckily, Maryse Boudreaux has a magic sword and a head full of tales. When she’s not running bootleg whiskey through Prohibition Georgia, she’s fighting monsters she calls “Ku Kluxes.” She’s damn good at it, too. But to confront this ongoing evil, she must journey between worlds to face nightmares made flesh—and her own demons. Together with a foul-mouthed sharpshooter and a Harlem Hellfighter, Maryse sets out to save a world from the hate that would consume it.
Whet your appetite yet?
This is where I drop that cover again, designed by Henry Sene Yee.
Yes Virginia, those are mouths were eyes should be. Happy Nightmares.
So that’s it. That’s my new book birthday.
If you want to read an excerpt, check out the official promotional debut at Tor.com Publishing here. They give you the whole first chapter! And here’s a semi-spoilery review by the incomparable Alex Brown. I did say semi-spoilery, so swim at your own risk! I’ll also be gabbing about it in interviews and podcasts that I’ll try to keep updated on my official website. Oh, how can I forget the Instagram reviewers like Decentered Lit? The best!
Thank you everyone who has read and continues to read my work. Storytellers crave audiences. We delight at being given the privilege to delight. And y’all inspire and feed the muse like no one else. Hope you like this one.
A bit of what those very nice people (and places) are saying nicely about my new book:
“P. Djèlí Clark couldn’t write a bad book if he tried. Ring Shout is fantastically fun even as its core is as serious as can be.” —Victor LaValle
“Ring Shout is a wild ride into America’s nightmarish history, a fantastical cross between Ralph Ellison’s Invisible Man and Buffy the Vampire Slayer.” —Annalee Newitz
“Slyly told and laced with dark humor, this haunting tale pulled me into a richly realized world I didn’t want to leave.” —Rivers Solomon
“Ring Shout is a fearless punch to the heart and head!” —Jonathan Maberry
“A sublime work of revolutionary body horror.” —Sarah Gailey
“Brutal and hopeful, farcical and factual, Ring Shout is a book that speaks to the ridiculous and beastly nature of racism in a story that is difficult to put down.” —Justina Ireland
“From the start, Ring Shout explodes into vivid color with a voice that’s at once joyous and harrowing.” —Bethany C. Morrow
“A thrilling and provocative inferno of a story. One of the most powerful and propulsive pieces of speculative fiction I’ve read in years.” —Tochi Onyebuchi
“Feverishly inventive period adventure…. At once rousing, boisterous, and clever.” —Kirkus Reviews, starred review
“Readers will be both captivated and entertained by this fast-paced alternate history, which doubles as a meditation on the all-consuming power of hate and violence.” —Publishers Weekly, starred review
“This is a story of Black female power, drawn from both the old and new worlds, a tale that honors the Black American experience in all its complexity, and yet also delivers in its Lovecraftian delight.” —Library Journal, starred review
“Clark’s latest is set in a visceral world, steeped in historical detail and full of engaging characters, that asks the question, ‘Who is to blame for the hate that hate made?‘.” —Booklist, starred review