Q&A with Jumata Emill

The Black Queen by Jumata Emill

1. Can you tell us about your new book, The Black Queen

The Black Queen is a murder mystery revolving around Nova Albright, the first black girl to win the coveted title of homecoming queen at Lovett High, in a town plagued with undercurrents of racism and modern-day segregation. Nova is killed the night of her coronation and everyone thinks Nova’s manipulative white rival, Tinsley McArthur, did it. But when Tinsley’s privilege doesn’t get the wheels of justice moving quick enough, Nova’s best friend Duchess Simmons launches her own investigation to prove Tinsley’s guilt, which means getting close to the entitled mean girl. Together, the unlikely duo discovers that Nova had lots of secrets that could have gotten her killed, including one that will change everything.

2. How would you describe the book in three words?

Twisty, blunt and complicated.

3. What inspired The Black Queen, and why did you decide to write it for teens and young adults?

This book was inspired by so many conversations I’ve had over the years with black police officers, friends (both white and black) and co-workers about race, privilege, the criminal justice system and unconscious bias. They were conversations I felt young people should be having with themselves, their friends and their parents, especially during a time when there is such a strong movement to ban books that confront these issues. We can never truly heal and grow from our sins of the past if we act like they never happened and don’t still have rippling effects in today’s social climate.

4. Can you explain Homecoming for your UK readers, and what made you choose this as the event that sets the plot in motion?

Homecoming is an annual tradition at many high schools and colleges usually involving weeklong events to welcome back alumni and celebrate school spirit. A cornerstone of those traditions involves electing a homecoming queen and her court, which is always a popularity contest. The diversity policy shaping the election of Lovett High’s homecoming court in The Black Queen is based on a real high school in southwest Louisiana. After learning the school would elect a white girl as queen one year and then a black girl the following year, and so on and so forth, I thought it could serve as the perfect premise for a murder mystery that also shed light on the ways initiatives around race and inclusion can be problematic if they don’t address the true reasons they were needed in the first place.

5. The Black Queen is a tense, edge-of-your-seat thriller. What qualities do you think make an excellent thriller novel?

Twists, twists and more twists. The best are the ones that were right there in plain sight but the reader doesn’t pick up on them until right before the characters are hit over the head with them. If you can’t put a book down because you just have to know what happens next, you got yourself a good thriller.

6. The book also sharply examines important topics, such as systemic racism and privilege. What do you hope readers will take away from The Black Queen about these subjects?

That we can’t act like these things aren’t still happening. That we need to talk about that, and those discussions might make some people uncomfortable. We can never truly heal and evolve if we keep acting like we all aren’t contributing or affected by these issues in some way or another. And to know better is to do better – at least, I hope so.

7. What was the most challenging part about writing The Black Queen?

Having Tinsley’s character arc feel as authentic as possible. I’m not a privileged white girl, and sometimes getting inside her head made me angry and frustrated. It was through conversations with my white friends that I tapped into what her journey would feel and look like. And what emotions she needed to go through as she was forced to reexamine her life.

8. Do you have any advice for aspiring writers?

Read as much as you can. Write as much as you can. Don’t focus on being “the next so-so-author.” Put time into writing the stories you want to read.

9. What are some of your favourite books, and which 2023 releases are you looking forward to?

I’m most looking forward to Blood Debts by Terry J. Benton-Walker and J. Elle’s newest fantasy trilogy House of Marionne, which I got an early read of and it is amazing. As for my favourite books, I can’t just pick a few. But there are some authors who I will read everything they publish, and they include Karen McManus, Tiffany Jackson, Christopher Rice and Nic Stone.

Jumata Emill, author of The Black Queen
Jumata Emill, author of The Black Queen

The Black Queen
The Black Queen is out February 2023

“A dark and twisty murder mystery – Ace of Spades meets Riverdale‘At once incisive and chilling, The Black Queen folds hard-hitting truths into a propulsive murder mystery, delivering a story that both entertains and examines. This is Pretty Little Liars for a new generation.” – Tahereh Mafi, New York Times bestselling author of the Shatter Me series

Tinsley McArthur was supposed to become homecoming queen, just like generations of McArthur women before her. But in a bid for diversity, Lovett High wants a black queen this year and the top contender is the bold and beautiful Nova Albright. Though Tinsley tries to convince her to drop out, Nova isn’t about to step aside for some rich white girl. On homecoming night, drunk and enraged, Tinsley is caught on camera declaring she should have killed Nova. The next morning Lovett High’s first Black homecoming queen turns up dead…

The Black Queen is out February 2023

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