A (sort of) Guide to Reading No Gods, No Monsters

Hey Good People,

First off, thank you for coming on this journey with me. Books are nothing without readers. My gratitude is unending.

This isn’t a review. (I did consider it. Honestly, I only considered it once I was 1,500 words into whatever this is. At first it was a guide, or a FAQ, or somewhere in the same genre as those DVD commentaries from the era when people watched movies with the commentary feature turned on. Do people still do that? I haven’t in years.)

((Side-sidenote: A true DVD commentary are those “Notes” things on Goodreads. I can do one of those if you want me to.))

Can an author review their own work? I think so. I considered giving myself a rating, even. An honest one.

But I worry it’d be the sort of thing that sounds like a good idea right up until the internet proves it isn’t.

I want you to give this book a chance and rating it myself might make some folks come away with the wrong idea.

Writers have to have some pride or else they’d not survive this part: the sharing with strangers. The truth is I’m very proud of this book, even when my editor’s brain is fully engaged and I’m crossing out entire sentences during readings.

So, the better question: do I think this book is worth your time?

Maybe. I hope so. If after this not-review you still want to read the book.

I’ve occasionally ignored the good advice of authors who’ve told me Goodreads is for readers. I’m a reader. And occasionally I leave ratings, or, and I suspect you know authors do this, come to see how my creature is doing.

So, I know some of you are deeply confused, exasperated, maybe even angry. Even people that really like this thing.

I considered that the appropriate author response is: “Fine, you didn’t get it. No big.”

But that response feels condescending. It isn’t a useful response to readers genuinely approaching a book and aren’t getting it. There’s no way to salt a dish like this, except according to taste. My taste, from the inside, is different than a reader who doesn’t know what I know. I can wait for the reveals because I know what they are (mostly), and I know which ones matter.

That said, while revising this book, my wife recommended I do one small thing. “It’ll help readers,” she said. And I considered it and actually had a physical reaction. It just didn’t feel…right. So, I didn’t. Well, I actually settled on a compromise that was only half-helpful.

(A thought I’ve had while writing this is that books shouldn’t need explainers. If they do, then it is a failing of the book. I haven’t ruled that out completely. But some of my favorite stories have been illuminated by explainers. A whole industry has been made off explaining media.)

So, here I am with another half-compromise to half-help readers who’ve found this book. Readers who might’ve seen this talked about, or buzzed about, or enthusiastically pushed into their inboxes, and now find themselves with a confused look on their face. Or readers that read my debut The Lesson and thought, “hey, I like what this guy is doing” and picked this up only to realize “I have no idea what this guy is doing, please help me.”

Please know I did not intend to be completely bewildering. Maybe just a little. Or in an exciting way. Or in that very specific way when you’re talking to a friend about a challenging topic and you’re both invested in getting to the bottom of it, but you also know you won’t because no one has gotten to bottom of it. It is just the air we all breathe, and you have to accept it, but occasionally not accepting it can be an enriching experience, you know?

Maybe you don’t and there’s no hope for this creature of mine. But I want to try. Because I do think it is amazing that readers take precious moments out of their own life to read work they’re excited about. So maybe a head-to-head/heart-to-heart will do enough to make this worth the time/resources you’ve put in to read my book.

Anyway, here we go.

Things you should know while reading No Gods, No Monsters

1. The protagonist is the community.

What “community” means may not be altogether clear yet. The community is on a hero’s journey (and they haven’t all found each other yet). Calamities will bring them together. Each POV is given to add (more) weight to each person within that whole.

Examples from TV:

The Wire (mostly The Wire, maybe The Expanse?)

Examples from fiction:

“The Matter of Seggri” by Ursula K. Le Guin (an epistolary novella, made up of different “matter” from the inhabitants of a planet called Seggri. The story of Seggri is told through shifting POVs over time. The planet has a narrative arc through the individual narratives.)

Station Eleven by Emily St. John Mandel (Sometimes called a mosaic novel. I was so pleased when I stumbled across Emily St. John Mandel’s work because it made me feel more sane. My debut The Lesson is also like this, though easier to follow since all the characters are closely related and in one setting/time.)

Why am I doing this to you?

 No Gods is sprawling, but there will be an honest attempt at bringing all the elements together over the course of the Convergence Saga (it’s three books, so, a trilogy, but why stop confusing you now?). When I discussed the name for the series with my publisher, we all agreed that the name of the series was important on many levels.

 In my acknowledgments I (synonym for acknowledged) that there were “too many” characters. But multiple times throughout the outlining and drafting process I considered who I’d cut. Every POV seemed to be doing important work for the whole, either as a (very) important character or for setting up some central idea that would be used now or later. I know how this sounds. I promise I’m not lying.

Lots of POVs is how my brain works. But I think that’s how stories in our world work, too. Communities move according to many intersecting narratives, not through the actions of single protagonists. We like our stories this way, but our world isn’t this way.

The goal is to represent community somehow, while giving the individual representations, the people, significant weight. They pull against the central narrative with their own specific concerns.

(Sidenote: Many trilogies are designed to be episodic or quasi-episodic with the first book standing alone and the next two feeling more sequel-ish. I tried to make this stand alone, but this trilogy is more of a BIG-thing-in-three-parts sort of deal. Some people have strong feelings about which is better. I think it is more about what you’re trying to do with a story.

2. This book (and series) is about power. And MYSTERY. And how power uses mystery and is motivated by mystery. (More importantly it is about trying to capture the feeling of helplessness when hitting up against the incomprehensible.)

Examples from TV:

For Power: The Wire (again), Luke Cage (?), House of Cards, Succession

For MYSTERY: Lots, but my favorite is The Leftovers. (Most of you know another one contributed to by the same creator but I’m not naming it here because it’ll undercut my point too much.)

Examples in fiction:

For Power: Lots, but which ones can I name specifically. The Broken Earth Trilogy. Really, anything by Jemisin. Or Butler. Or Le Guin.

For MYSTERY: Big one that comes to mind is the Southern Reach Trilogy.

Why am I doing this to you?

Because it feels real to me? I’ve had to get comfortable with not knowing things or finding things out that lead to greater not knowings. I have a theory that there’s a relationship between this and power. I also think too much about metaphysics.

So, how do I represent that to a reader? By writing a whole book where the big things are happening in the background and even the major players seem confused.

There are lots of things that will be answered. Promise. But I’m afraid to tell you that this mystery thing (and its power over people) comes up a LOT more. I really can’t say anything else because I am having a bodily reaction.

3. Plot is events. Otherwise, it is people learning things about themselves.

(Or, Plot is external events (often calamity) outside people’s control (like what happens regularly in our society). Otherwise, it is (mostly) internal heart/mind things (sometimes) within people’s control brought about by social situations, leading to internal or external decisions being made.)

I won’t give examples. I think this is a salt to taste thing, mostly. Some people like action, where action means people are actively doing a lot of things. And in No Gods people are doing things. Sometimes it is action-ish. Sometimes it is two people baking bread and one person’s hand gets burned and they both learn something? I can’t say why that’s plot to me, but it is.

Why am I doing this to you?

I really don’t know. I read faster books than this and love them because they’re plotty. I read a LOT of Urban Fantasy books before deciding I wanted to do one. Faith Hunter’s Soulwood series is a favorite.

People make this separation by saying one thing is “literary” and another thing is “genre” or “commercial” or whatever. I hate these line because I see extreme levels of craft in plot-rich books. It takes skill to do plot and character and slip big ideas in.

When I sit down to write, ideas crowd the page, too. And because I have all these ideas, I want to represent them somehow. Sometimes, I’ll flat-out use bee analogies. Other times I bury it in themes. Other times people feel a lot, or imply feelings via subtext. For me, that’s action, movement. This stuff is valuable in my real life and so I give it lots of space in fiction.

Really this point isn’t as important as the other two, but if you read this and it feels like nothing is happening and/or makes you think, “Am I missing something?” You’re not. That’s just what this is.

(EDIT (that is also sort of a SPOILER for future books): Structurally this trilogy will be broken down thusly: Book One: The People. Book Two: The Monsters. Book Three: The Gods. There’s some crossover in each book, of course, but the concerns shift accordingly. Also, each book can be thematically summarized thusly: Revelation, Reckoning, Reconciliation. Each of these aren’t clear-cut. This is the sort of stuff that makes my skin itch to say, but it might help calibrate expectations.


Writing books are hard, so a big part of surviving the process is chasing the joy.

And selling a book is primarily about selling the things people get excited about and hoping that folks stick around for the other things you’ve slipped in (or packed in so hard the thing won’t close).

If none of this is helpful, I’m still sorry. But thank you for coming to this thing I made anyway. Hope I catch you some other time. Also, have you read The Lesson? Shameless plug to read The Lesson.

(But maybe don’t because the above things are also true-ish of The Lesson.)

September Newsletter

Hello all! I’m trying something a little different where a newsletter is concerned. Is this a newsletter? A podcast? An audio blog? Something in between? Regardless, it’s going to be a journey. And I’d love for you all to join me! You can listen to my newsletter by clicking the embed above, or you can read the audio transcription at the bottom of the page if that is your preference.

This month, we’ve got:

  • A brand new book published! No Gods, No Monsters is out into the world.
  • The launch of a collaborative writing project called Many Worlds

…and more! Don’t forget to check out all of my upcoming events here.

Subscribe to the Newsletter

In the future, you can sign up to receive my newsletters straight to your inbox in addition to a free flash story titled “We Built the Wall,” available in both audio and print formats. Sign up and receive your free story!

No Gods, No Monsters has received some incredible press! It has received starred reviews from Publishers Weekly, Kirkus, Booklist, and Library Journal.

As in Turnbull’s first novel, The Lesson (2019), the otherworldly aspects of the story act as a lens that brings the characters’ richly depicted lives and complex relationships into sharp focus. . . This is a deeply human story, beautifully and compellingly told.


Audio Transcription

Hey, friends.

This is going to be a quick one because this last month has been intense y’all.

But it’s really only two things that I need to update you on.

First off, No Gods, No Monsters is officially out in the world. I’m excited and very nervous about this fact. If you’ve already started reading, I hope you’re digging it so far.

The book is weird, I know, but it’s also my whole heart. So, I really appreciate you taking the time. I should mention that Dion Graham did a narration for the book. I told you last time that I was really excited about that part. And no matter how anyone feels about No Gods, this narration is going to turn heads, a’you. He absolutely killed it, a nd I’m so grateful for him, putting in all that work.

I want to share some accolades the book has received. Starred reviews from all four trades, that’s Kirkus Reviews, Library Journal, Publishers Weekly, and Booklist.

No Gods was also selected as an Indie Next Pick, a LibraryReads Pick. Recently, the book was reviewed by NPR and the review was so lovely. The book has made a mindbogglingly large amount of lists, including Buzzfeed, BookRiot, Tor, and many others. But yeah, that’s a lot of good news and I am still nervous because that is how my brain functions.

Okay, the other thing. I wanted to mention, again, MANY WORLDS. This is going to be the launch for this beautiful shared multi-verse project I’ve been working on for many years now. We have a crew of now 14 amazing writers that are part of this project. On September 15, which might be today, we will be releasing our very first story “On the Spectrum” by Justin C. Key. It is an amazing story that you’ll want to check out. Justin is a great writer and I feel very, very, very lucky to have him on board for this project.

All right, there’s one more thing, maybe, maybe two more things.

Okay, first thing. In somewhat related news to MANY WORLDS, a couple of weeks ago LeVar Burton read another one of my stories for his podcast, LeVar Burton Reads. I’m still processing the fact that he read my stories. Still doesn’t feel real. There’s all sorts of production value on this thing. Both readings are incredible. He says some really nice things at the end of both of these. It’s just great to have something you’ve done admired by someone that you really admire.

What I really wanted to say though, and it’s related to MANY WORLDS, is that both stories (that’s “Jump” and “Shock of Birth”) are part of the MANY WORLDS project. You can check those out now. There’ll be more soon, from me and other fabulous authors, so please stay tuned.

And the last thing, and I promise this time, this is the last thing. I wanted to say a little bit more about some personal stuff, and it is a little vulnerable for me to say this out loud.

In my last newsletter, I mentioned that it has been a bit of an adjustment for me as a writer. Well, that’s in part because I have ADHD. This was something I figured out over the last couple years, though I suspected it for a while? But I got the diagnosis this year, along with finding out that I have generalized anxiety and mild depression, also not complete surprises, and I’ve been taking steps to accept that part of myself and create healthy relationships with various parts of who I am. But, you know, it’s going to take some time for me. Having a book come out now, with the new teaching job and the diagnosis, has been challenging, but it has still been a phenomenal experience. Just trying to balance that with all of the other things that are going on.

I hope you’re taking care of yourselves in these very strange and challenging times. I know I haven’t been doing a good job of acknowledging all the ways this pandemic has been affecting me. I’m sure this is true of many of you.

I’ll have more to say about this stuff later, but in the meantime, I’m sending much love to all of you fine people.

July Newsletter

Hello all! I’m trying something a little different where a newsletter is concerned. Is this a newsletter? A podcast? An audio blog? Something in between? Regardless, it’s going to be a journey. And I’d love for you all to join me! You can listen to my newsletter by clicking the embed above, or you can read the audio transcription at the bottom of the page if that is your preference.

This month, we’ve got:

  • an exciting new project with Realm involving time travel!
  • a collaborative writing project called Many Worlds
  • updates on No Gods, No Monsters

…and more! Don’t forget to check out all of my upcoming events here.

In the future, you can sign up to receive my newsletters straight to your inbox in addition to a free flash story titled “We Built the Wall,” available in both audio and print formats. Sign up and receive your free story by clicking the banner below!

Subscribe to the Newsletter

Audio Transcription

This was a really, really cool experience in collaborative storytelling. I got to work with some great writers, some up and comers like Justin C. Key and Nicole Glover, but also some well-established, strong writers like Karen Lord, who is a really important figure in the Caribbean spec community. 

We had many meetings. We brought in a consultant, and we had development conversations with people at Realm, and we made this thing and we’re very, very close to the end. We probably have another revision to go before getting ready for this project to be out in the world. But keep that on your radar. I’ll give you updates as things move forward, which would probably be very quickly. 

The other thing that I’ve been working on that I’m very excited about is a project called Many Worlds. It’s a collective of authors (some authors that you might know from the speculative fiction community and some other writers that I have met throughout my journey as a writer) coming together to create a shared multiverse with short stories. Some of them stand alone. Some of them fit into a larger meta-narrative. 

I’m not just excited about the concept itself. I’m very excited about having something that brings in a bunch of different authors that are doing really fantastic work and sharing creativity and benefiting from creativity as a collective, using solidarity in art to raise all ships. And I’m very optimistic that this is the kind of project that will do that. Expect some more news from that coming out in the fall.

In book news, No Gods, No Monsters is still set for September 7th, 2021, and I just turned in my editorial notes.

The circumstances from which this book was made were definitely complicated. I was on tour a lot for The Lesson. I was having some difficulty, to be honest, adjusting to the new life of being a writer, having a public facing self when, for very for a very long time, it was just me alone in a room. 

And I was nervous. I didn’t know if I could really do it. 

There’s a version of me as a writer that exists solely in my head that gets everything right. And then there’s the writer that does the thing. When I reread, I’m very critical. I don’t consider this to be a perfect book. I don’t consider anything that I’ve ever made to be perfect. But, getting an opportunity to read through it from beginning to end, I realized again I was proud of it. 

I personally get very excited about audiobooks. Within the next few months, there’s going to be an audiobook of this thing. I can’t wait to listen to it. And I can’t wait for this book to be out in the world and for you all to read it. And I hope you like it.

I still get a kick out of having conversations with people about anything that they read that I wrote. I’m so appreciative of readers. This is a crazy book I put my heart and soul and all my mind into it. I just can’t wait for it to be accessible to all. 

Thank you in advance.