Interview with Tochi Onyebuchi!

Beast Made of NIght

In the walled city of Kos, corrupt mages can magically call forth sin from a sinner in the form of sin-beasts – lethal creatures spawned from feelings of guilt.

Taj is the most talented of the aki, young sin-eaters indentured by the mages to slay the sin-beasts. But Taj’s livelihood comes at a terrible cost. When he kills a sin-beast, a tattoo of the beast appears on his skin while the guilt of committing the sin appears on his mind. Most aki are driven mad by the process, but 17-year-old Taj is cocky and desperate to provide for his family.

When Taj is called to eat a sin of a royal, he’s suddenly thrust into the center of a dark conspiracy to destroy Kos. Now Taj must fight to save the princess that he loves – and his own life.

A gritty Nigerian-influenced fantasy.

  1. What inspires you to write Beast Made of Night?
    • I’ve loved writing since I was a kid. Dreaming up worlds, playing in them. Massive battles and incredible adventures where characters would find love and friendship but also get their heart broken. And I wanted to write about my family’s culture. Growing up, I never saw people who looked like me in these books having these adventures, and I wanted to write a story that showed people who look like me, who look like my loved ones, in these epic quests. I’d also spent a lot of time working on issues of criminal justice, particularly incarceration. So issues of sin and crime and guilt were all swimming in my head by the time I sat down to write Beasts Made of Night. Again, for me, it was about telling stories of people who don’t often get their story told. People whom society has made the lowest of the low, people whom society has punished, they have remarkable stories in them.
  2. I can’t fathom how wonderful the concept of magic system in your book, how did you come up with the idea and what pushes you to pursue fantasy with that concept?
    • I’d grown up in a household where the Bible was very prominent. As a child, I was made to memorize verses, and we went to church every Sunday. So I was often thinking about sin and absolution. I also wanted to see those things made visible. In America, so much of your experience is dictated by your skin color. How you look, more than anything else, can determine how someone treats you, and I wanted to write a story where that was made manifest. And the inisisa? That was a way of finally getting to write those awesome fight scenes I’ve always wanted. I love fantasy for precisely those reasons. You can take ideas like racism and make them tangible. You can turn metaphors into reality. I love it.
  3. What was the hardest thing to write in Beast Made of Night? Was it the concept of the magic-system? The hierarchy in the book? The characters? And why do you have a hard time writing them?
    • I LOVED writing this book. But I think the magic system was what took me the most time. Getting it all to work cohesively was sometimes a challenge; a fun one, but a challenge nonetheless. I also wanted to make sure that it fit culturally. I didn’t want it to seem at all out of place or like it was something just dropped in.
  4. If you are going to give your 10-year-old self an advice, what advice would you give?
    • “Watching all those anime fight scenes you love so much will one day come in handy.”
  5. Given the opportunity to teach the world one lesson, what would you impart to every one of us?
    • Oh my goodness! I think it was Dostoevsky who said, “The degree of civilization in a society can be judged by entering its.” That quote always stuck with me because it seemed to mean that we are only as good as how we treat the least among us.
  6. Describe the next book in ten words!
    • Oh boy. “Tattooed boy and math whiz try to save their city.” I think that does it.
  7. What was it felt like publishing your debut book?
    • This whole time, even with signing the deal and holding the first ARC in my hands and signing them at festivals, still feels like a dream. It’s slowly becoming a reality in my head, but it’s only when my mouth starts to hurt that I realize how long I’ve been smiling. One of the truly remarkable things has been the fan reaction. I never would have imagined so many people would fall in love with this thing I wrote. Each and every response has burst my heart wide open. And during this journey, I’ve befriended so many incredible writers who have eagerly welcomed me with open arms and who have let me pick their brains about all sorts of subjects, and who have so kindly invited me into their lives. It’s been so wonderful becoming a part of the YA community. But I have to admit, people liking my book still, to this day, throws me for a loop.
  8. When did you realize you wanted to become a writer?
    • High school. I’d been writing for several years up until then, but it was mostly for fun and because my stories would always come back with good grades. Finishing Robert Jordan’s “The Dragon Reborn” in his Wheel of Time series was when I realized that there are people who do this for a living. And I had this remarkable feeling upon closing the book that I was still in that world with those characters, and I wanted to give that feeling to someone else. It happened so many years ago, yet it is one of my most vivid memories.
  9. Do you put foreshadowing on your book that readers will only figure out once they reached that certain story in the series or reread the book?
    • Yes! As a reader, I love that moment when a thing clicks, and I gasp or make some other noise that startles the commuters I’m riding with on the train. Whether in mysteries or fantasies, I love that moment, and if I can recreate it and give it to someone else, that is a fantastic feeling.
  10. What was your favorite quote from your book and why is it your favorite among them?
    • In Chapter 5, a young Mage named Aliya meets Taj for the first time. She’s spent most of her time studying sin and the Eating ritual, but this is her first glimpse of actual aki, and she is overjoyed and really curious. The aki are used to be reviled for how they look, but Aliya sees something different and, at one point, she says “On your bodies, I don’t see sins, or anything to be ashamed of. I see functions. Equations. I see poems.” It meant a lot to me to have a character say that. In the world of Kos, it was someone seeing something beautiful and necessary in what Taj does. But also, it was a way for me to say that one’s skin color is beautiful, something to take pride in. My hope is that a kid of color will read that and smile and be proud to be born the way they were.


OnyebuchiTochi Onyebuchi is a writer based in Connecticut. He holds a MFA in Screenwriting from Tisch and a J.D. from Columbia Law School. His writing has appeared in Asimov’s and Ideomancer, among other places. Beasts Made of Night is his debut.


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