Friday, May 11, 2012

Interview week: Robin LaFevers, author of GRAVE MERCY

Welcome to Interview Week!
All this week, I'm interviewing awesome authors--and giving away a copy of their book! Come back each day this week for another author and another chance to win an awesome book.

Quick Stats on Today's Author:

We can read all about your life from your bio in the jacket flap of your book. So, what's a completely random fact about you that most people don't know?
I have the blackest of black thumbs and kill every plant I touch. I have been ordered to stay out of our garden, except to look, and we do not own a single houseplant.

As a kid, what was your favorite book? Have your tastes changed since growing up?
I know this makes me one of millions, but THE CHRONICLES OF NARNIA was my hands down favorite when I was a kid. My father gave them to me for my eighth birthday and I think I read the entire series at least once a year. They were the first fantasy books I read and I was just gobsmacked by the idea that authors were allowed to make things up; they didn’t have to ground their stories in reality. That was the moment I decided I wanted to make things up for a living. Since I still read fantasy, and now write it, I would have to say that my tastes haven’t changed much since then.

What’s the most interesting historical fact that you discovered while writing GRAVE MERCY, which takes place in a world based on medieval France? (Either one that ended up in the book, or one that didn’t make the cut.)
There were so many! It’s hard to pick just one. Because it ended up being so very central to the story, I would have to say it was the degree to which the early Catholic Church intentionally (as in it was part of the instructions it gave its clergy) set out to incorporate so many pagan deities, festivals, and locations into their own tradition. It was a well thought out tactic in luring reluctant unbelievers into the fold of the church. Gods and goddesses became saints, Catholic holidays were planned to coincide with pagan festivals, and churches were built on or near ancient holy sites. In fact, that was one of the sparks for the book, a photograph of a stone church built right next to a pagan standing stone.

It's the inevitable question: what inspired GRAVE MERCY?
I knew I wanted to write the story of a girl who was utterly powerless and put her through all the trials and ordeals that would shape her into an instrument of power—not just physical power, but also the power to stand firmly in her own self and make her own choices and decisions.

For that kind of story, I needed a big, sweeping canvas with high stakes and lives and kingdoms at risk, and a time when teens were in a position shape the world around them. That search brought me to the middle ages and a world full of sacred relics, patron saints, and lots of social turbulence.

Then I stumbled across another fascinating research tidbit and learned that many women in the Middle Ages preferred joining a convent to marriage because convent life gave them more independence and autonomy than they could ever have as married women! That kind of lit my imagination on fire and began to play with what sort of convent would be the best avenue for my heroine’s journey, and I decided on a convent that would give her power over life and death. 

One of the things that stood out to me in GRAVE MERCY was the way you created a very realistic girl from a medieval world that would still be sympathetic to readers today. Can you tell us a little bit about how you balanced the medieval world and character details with modern readers?
Wow, interesting question! She wasn’t a medieval person to me, she was simply Ismae, a girl struggling to find her place in this world and carve out some sense of power over her own life, somewhat universal themes that apply to any historical time period. So I focused on her core, internal arc first, and I really do think that those types of archetypal journeys sort of transcend time—they apply to us all.

One of the things I find most fascinating about writing historical fantasy is really trying to understand the worldview of people living in earlier times. What was life like without technology, where there was little understanding of science or the laws of physics and so much of life felt random and out of one’s control? Since Ismae belonged to a convent that served Death, what would her faith look like? How would her devotion be tested? What sorts of rituals would her life entail? Those questions were in the forefront of my mind whenever I sat down to write and helped me get into the head of a 15th century girl—what metaphors and similes would she use? What points of reference would she have? So that was probably the key to having her feel medieval on the page.

I also tried to (mostly!) use words that were only in use prior to the 16th century or phrases that felt reminiscent of that era. I definitely fudged sometimes; when the choice came down to readability I went for that over historical accuracy every time, because my overriding goal was that the story and the voice of Ismae be accessible to today’s teen reader

Can you tell us a little bit about the process--particularly the timeline--of writing & publishing GRAVE MERCY?
 I first got the rough glimmers of the idea for this book about seven years ago. I worked on it for five or six years, squeezing it in between other, contracted novels and projects, so I was able to take my time researching and building the world of the story. Because it evolved into such a strange, bizarre idea, I promised myself I didn’t have to show the finished product to anyone if I didn’t want to. (This is a little lie I often tell myself that somehow gives me the freedom I need to get the story down.)

I ended up doing countless drafts, mostly because there were just so many different directions the story could go in! Not to mention a huge variety of tones it could take, and it just took me forever to figure out which story I wanted to tell. I think that’s one of the luxuries we lose once we become published and are writing on contract—that freedom to play in the world of story and take our time, so I try to make time in my life for those kind of projects.

However, once I settled on the story I wanted to tell, it still took me forever to nail the voice. I got halfway through an early draft and realized that third person POV simply wasn’t working. So I changed the entire book to first person, which is much, MUCH more than simply changing pronouns. There is an entire different flow to language and narration when you change POV. The manuscript flowed much better, but I was still having problems with the heroine getting lost among the dramatic historical events.  It wasn’t until page 350 (of a 420 page mss) that I realized that the book had to be in first person PRESENT tense. I took to my bed for a week with a case of the vapors when I realized that. And writing in first person present is like speaking an entirely different language, so I had to completely rewrite the whole damn thing—again.

Which taught me an important lesson: experiment with tenses and POVs in the early stages of a book—just don’t set your POV choice on default mode.  

So about seven years from first glimmer to publication, and about twelve drafts. Not a quick or easy process, but definitely one of the most rewarding books I’ve ever written.

If your reader could only take away one emotion, theme, or idea from GRAVE MERCY, what would you want it to be?
That we owe it to ourselves to wrestle with the concepts of love and faith and honor and duty. We need to figure out what those mean for ourselves and not swallow whole the concepts handed to us by others.

What's the most surprising thing you've learned since becoming a writer?
How exposed I feel. I never expected that, but the deeper you dig to tell compelling stories, the more you expose parts of yourself, many of them not even consciously. It is a deeply uncomfortable feeling and not one I would choose (I am a card carrying introvert, after all) but apparently it is the tithe I must pay to the writing gods. 

Beyond the typical--never give up, believe in yourself--what would be the single best advice you'd like to give another writer?
You know that book you’re terrified to write? The one that is too hard, too scary, too weird, or too damn intimidating. Yeah, that one. That’s the one you need to write.

(Beth's note: that answer right there, the one above? Possibly the best answer ever.)

What do you think are your strongest and weakest points in writing? 
Evil question!  My weakest points (that I will admit to publicly) are an overfondness for exclamation points, parenthetical asides, and em dashes. And I am truly terrible at proofing my own stuff unless I haven’t looked at it for three months.

Probably my strongest point is that I am always hungry to learn more, try more, take it farther, deeper, wider. I love that I have a career that allows me to learn new things every single time I sit down to work, and I try to take full advantage of that.

 And now for a giveaway! Leave a comment with your email address below to be entered to win a ARC copy of GRAVE MERCY--and it's SIGNED! Please note that the ARC has a different cover. One winner will be picked next Monday; sorry, but this needs to be North America only. 


Kat said...

Thanks for the awesome giveaway. :) I've been wanting to read this book for awhile now!

katherineb06 {at} gmail {dot} com.

Michelle @ In Libris Veritas said...

I love that advice! So different and yet it make so much sense. Grave Mercy was a fantastic book, but sadly I don't own it and I'm dying to re-read.


storyqueen said...

I am a huge Robin fan! (and I love exclamation points, parentheses, and em dashes--of course!)

Anonymous said...

I've seen this book all over. Would be awesome to get a chance to win it! :)


Punya said...

Thanks for the giveaway. I've been after this book forever. Currently, I have a hold on it at my local library.


~Courtney said...

This book sounds fabulous. Can't wait to read it.

Annabelle Marie Veronica said...

This was such an excellent interview! I might just, uh, "borrow" some of your questions in the future. ;)

annabelle lovell (at) yahoo (dot) com

Natalie Aguirre said...

What a great interview. I loved hearing about how Robin wrote this and her willingness to write multiple drafts. I would love to win this. I've heard such great things about this book.

Jasmine Stairs said...

This is a fascinating interview. (I read the whole series of interviews, but I already own the other books). However, I do not own this book, so I'd love to win a copy! :D My email is jasmine dot medusa at gmail dot com

Katja said...

Thanks for the giveaway, this book sounds amazing!

Kayla Beck said...

It's always amazing how much an author puts into their work. It blows my mind that someone could spend years and so many drafts to create just one novel. As a reader, I want instant gratification - more of the story and instant sequels! Since entering the blogosphere and reading how much an author goes through to get a book in our hands, I appreciate it so much more when I read it.

pherlaithiel (at) gmail (dot) com

Anonymous said...

I loved Grave Mercy!! It was such an amazing book and may I just say had the most bada** nuns I've ever seen?? I'd love to win a copy, thanks for the giveaway!! :D


Christina said...

Grave Mercy is seriously bada$$. I loved every page. Going in I'd seen some mediocre reviews, but it was like this book was written for me. Strong heroine. Fantasy. Sexy man who appreciates the woman's strength and doesn't try to protect her all time. HECK YES!

cynicalsapphire at gmail dor com

Jess Keating said...

After reading a few interviews with Robin, I've come to the conclusion she's pretty much made of wisdom and awesome. Loved this interview, and can't wait to read Grave Mercy! :D

Unknown said...

This is one of my favorite books. Absolutely amazing giveaway... Thank you for the chance.

Jess Keating said...

Of course, I forgot my email - *Friday brain*

jesskeatingbooks at gmail dot com :D

Anonymous said...

I keep hearing such wonderful things about this book and this author. I love assassins.

sajobe at gmail dot com

Laura Pauling said...

I am such a fan of anything spies, murder and mystery. And assassins? Love them. Can't wait to read Grave Mercy!

And I agree best advice: write the book that scares you the most. I have one of those lingering on my hard drive to be rewritten!

laurapauling at yahoo dot com

c.c said...

I really like the idea that we owe it to ourselves to discover what things mean to us vs what other people tell you they are suppose to mean. From this answer - "That we owe it to ourselves to wrestle with the concepts of love and faith and honor and duty. We need to figure out what those mean for ourselves and not swallow whole the concepts handed to us by others."

c.c said...

and my email is (sry forgot to include in first post)

jpetroroy said...

I love books with strong heroines.
jpetroroy at gmail dot com

Emily said...

Love this interview and I LOVED Grave Mercy. Thanks for another great giveaway!


Sara @ Forever 17 Books said...

Love hearing how authors develop the concept behind their books! I also have a black thumb. Cannot take care of plants at all! Thanks for the giveaway! :)


Caroline Starr Rose said...

What an interview! I'd love a shot at winning.

Alyssa Susanna said...

OMG! I'd love to win this book! More than any of the others this week! Not that those weren't good or anything... I'd love those as well :D

Alyssa Susanna

Erinberry said...

This sounds really good. I'd love to read it. Thanks for the giveaway!

erinberry12 at gmail dot com

Erinberry said...

This sounds really good. I'd love to read it. Thanks for the giveaway!

erinberry12 at gmail dot com

Kari said...

What a great interview! Now I REALLY want to read this book. And what an awesome giveaway! Thank you :-)


Gabic said...

I can't wait to read this!!

Anonymous said...

My children and I love your books. I even take them into their classrooms to share.

Stephanie27 said...

I am really anxious to get my hands on a copy of this book! Thanks for the chance to win it.


drinkshrunkentears at gmail dot com

Drina said...

I would LOVE to read this! Thanks for the giveaway. :)

schmetterlinge85 at gmail dot com

Vivien said...

I'm a huge historical fiction nerd. I've been anticipating this one for months. Sounds absolutely brilliant!

deadtossedwaves at gmail dot com

Christine said...

I've been looking forward to getting my hands on this book! It sounds so unique and promising. And I LOVE her answer to the writing advice question too. Sounds so obvious, but everyone's been too scared to write a certain story, and usually it's the one they're most passionate about. I've been guilty of it, too, but I'm trying to be more fearless with my writing now. Thanks for the interview and the giveaway!

L Parker said...


You know I love France and this book sounds great! Thanks for sharing this book with all of us.

Yvette said...

Cool insights! So interesting to hear about how deeply the tense and perspective alterations change the telling of the story. I loved Grave Mercy and would love to own a copy. Also love Theodosia.
princess_y at yahoo dot con

Yvette said...

Oops, that's:

princess_y at yahoo dot com

(com not con --- it was autocorrect that changed it on me!)

Jessy said...

I heard this book was amazing. I really need to get my hands on a copy. Thanks dor the chance to do just that.

findjessyhere at gmail dot com

Leah said...

I have been craving this book since first setting eyes upon its wonderous cover. There is not enough historical fiction in the Young Adult Genre!

Julia K said...

I hadn't heard of this book until now, but it sounds like an awesome book. I'll have to read this now. :)

Susan Light said...


Grave Mercy was the absoulte best book I read this spring. I couldn't put it down and have passed it on to several of my high school students. I cannot wait to see what the next book brings!
Susan Light

throuthehaze said...

I would really love to read this book! Thanks for the giveaway
throuthehaze at gmail dot com

Megan said...

Ah, love Grave Mercy! LaFever's got amazing skill. (:

megaavidreader said...

I've been hearing great things about this book, but as I stated in another entry, I'm a poor teenager that frequents a library with even less in the budget for books!
megaavidreader at gmail dot com

Anonymous said... :)

wellreadinya said...

This is one of the books that is at the top of my summer reading list, I can not wait!!

Anonymous said...

Yes! I can't wait to read this book!

starryeyedjen said...

I have a brown thumb and The Chronicles of Narnia was a fave when I was a kid, too. :)

Emily Blake said...

Thanks for the awesome giveaway!!

emscrammedbookshelf at yahoo dot com

Lisseth Torres said...

LOL. I have a black thumb too. Really cool facts about the early catholic church. Especially this part:"set out to incorporate so many pagan deities, festivals, and locations into their own tradition". It reminds me of the origins of valentines day & how they changed it to fit them.Nice interview!

Leaveing this just 4fun:"Ah...valentine's day.The only day you can whip young girls with pig skins."

Brandon Scott said...

I've never read a historical fiction book, so I'm excited about reading this. I've wanted to review this on my blog ever since I read the synopsis. I'm very excited to see who won the giveaway! My e-mail address is:

Celeste said...

Looks interesting.


Bethany said...

I'd love to read this book! Thanks for the giveaway!

bethany0728 @ gmail dot com

Texas Book Lover said...

Great interview! Makes me want to read it even more!

mmafsmith at gmail dot com

Sandy said...

Wow I knew their were aspects of Christianity that were taken from Paganism but I didn't realize how much. Very cool history fact and I can't wait to get my hands on Grave Mercy. I need to call up my book store and order it now.


shialo said...

Thanks for the give away.

Megan said...

Thanks for the giveaway! :)

blanshire said...

Thank you for the giveaway and interview!
Sounds like a great read.

Anonymous said...

Oh my gosh! I've really been wanting to read this book so bad! Thanks for the giveaway!

Anonymous said...

Oh my gosh! I've really been wanting to read this book so bad! Thanks for the giveaway!
(forgot to put my e-mail in prievious comment! Sorry! :) )

Lena said...

Thank you so much for the giveaway. This one sounds awesome!!

Lena said...

my email is lmarste at yahoo dot com

StacyUFI said...

Have not read this yet. Thank you for the giveaway


Lyla said...

Thank you for this opportunity!

Marie O. said...

I love this book! Thanks dor the chance to win!

ako4eggs(AT) comcast (DOT) net

VRainwater said...

I'm really interested in this book!!!

Ello - Ellen Oh said...

I love Robin! She is without a doubt one of my absolutely favorite authors of all time!!!