Buy Grave Mercy: BN.com / Amazon / Indiebound
Find Robin online: webpage / twitter
1. As you state on your web page, quite a lot of the history in Grave Mercy is real, what kind of research did you do to find all this amazing information and why did you choose this time in history to set your fictional story?
I knew I wanted to write an epic romance filled with high stakes and impossible choices, with lives and kingdoms hanging in the balance. And I wanted my teen protagonist to take center stage, be the prime movers of the drama. 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.
While I could easily have set the story in an alternate world, for me personally, I love reading about stories that have their roots in history—it gives it all a much more, it could really have happened kind of feel to it.
I researched the time period, the politics, the geography, what everyday life was like back then, and the folklore and spiritual beliefs. I acquired all sorts of wonderful research books. (In fact, my husband insists I only write so I have an excuse to buy research books!) Luckily, I write in the age of Google, so I had access to a wealth of information, oftentimes I was able to look up ancient Breton lineages on obscure genealogy sites, or I would find that the walled medieval city where Anne lived still existed and I could see it online.
One of the (many!) things I love about research is that not only I learn amazing details of how people lived and thought centuries ago, but there is such great story material as well. I’m not sure I could have dreamed up a twelve year old inheriting a kingdom, but once I stumbled across it in my research, I knew that was the perfect backdrop for the book.
2. You also write middle grade books, but Grave Mercy is your first "YA" title, did you know that Grave Mercy would trend older and did you approach the book differently than you did your middle grade titles?
I knew from the start that GRAVE MERCY was going to be an older book, a darker, more complex, maybe even try-to-rip-your-heart-out kind of book, and nothing about it hinted at middle grade to me, so I never even briefly considered it as a younger project.
As for whether I approached it differently than I do my MG books, that’s an interesting question. The truth is, each of my books has required a slightly different process to get it to unfold, so in one sense I approach them all differently, using whatever method it takes to get the story to begin to jell and come together for me.
But by the same token, all my books get written in a similar way—with me trying to really understand my protagonist and their emotional landscape, then telling a story that will test everything they believe in and hold dear, and while doing that, somehow transform them. I also do that with my middle grade books, but because they are series, the protagonist’s transformation happens in smaller increments per book and their transformational experiences skew younger and less extreme.
Because I knew Grave Mercy was going to explore dark themes and heavy issues, I also gave myself permission to ‘go there’, wherever ‘there’ might end up being. I didn’t hold back or pull punches or veer away from issues I thought too controversial or risky. I wasn’t going to dance around the idea of these teen assassin nuns assassinating people, I was going to allow them to do all the hard and somewhat morally questionable things that the concept required.
3. You've gotten some amazing covers. What are some of your favorite details about the covers?
I have had simply amazing cover luck! For the GRAVE MERCY cover, there are just so many things to love! I love that she has that big old honkin’ crossbow, and looks fierce enough to use it. I love that her dress is authentically of that time (the dress itself came from the Royal Shakespeare Company in London), I love the storm clouds overhead that clearly signal trouble is brewing, and I love the strong, proud, fierce way the heroine stands in the frame. She is not curled in a ball, or headless, or wilting, or diminished in any way. She is a presence, a force to be reckoned with. And yet, even with all that there is a softness about her face—her cheeks maybe—that indicate that she is also a bit young or naïve. All in all, a perfect cover.
DARK TRIUMPH cover was meant to convey a completely different mood, and I think it succeeds in that. Sybella’s story is a darker one, and she herself is trapped in a situation that is nearly suffocating, so the use of a hallway and the looming castle walls to mimic that claustrophobic sense that she experiences in the book feels really effective to me. Again, I love the period authenticity of the gown, but mostly what I love is that she looks not only fierce, but royally pissed off. And she is! She has been betrayed by so many, she is nearly at the end of her rope. She deserves to be pissed off. She deserves to be able to put her head back and roar in fury. And in our society, we so rarely are accepting of women’s anger, or angry women, that it makes me really happy that the cover does not flinch from Sybella’s reality.
4. If you could visit one of the locations in Grave Mercy, which would you visit and what would you be most excited to see in that location?
I suppose it would be cheating if I simply said, Brittany?
If that is cheating, then I suppose it would be the city of Guerande. One of the things that is so alluring about Brittany is that many of its towns and cities still retain their medieval flavor and architecture. Guerande still has its medieval town walls and eight towers, and the cathedral that was built in the 15th century, and I would love to see all of that. The timbered and plaster homes, the narrow cobbled streets; I have heard it is like stepping back in time, so that would be amazing.
Having said that, I’m not sure I could visit Brittany without at least stopping by the Isle de Sein, since that was one of the seeds from which the idea for the story sprang—the place where the last nine of the druidesses lived, rumored to have extraordinary powers—to rule the weather, speak to birds, and change their shapes. Since that feels like the birthplace of the assassin nun concept, I would have to at least swing by there on the way back to the US.
5. Dark Triumph comes out next year, can you give us a three word preview of it?
Three words?!? Excuse me, I write 120,000 word books—I never use three words when 300 will do.
Oh, this is torture!
love, redemption, forgiveness
journey toward wholeness
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