Friday, November 18, 2011

Author Interview: Robin LaFevers + Giveaway (US)

Please Welcome Robin LaFevers!

Robin LaFevers is the Middle Grade author of the adorable Theodosia Throckmorton and Nathaniel Fludd series, as well as the upcoming YA series His Fair Assassin (Grave Mercy, Dark Triumph, and Dark Hope). You already know how I feel about Theodosia from my review yesterday, but I'm warning you now, get ready for massive book pushing from me when it comes to Grave Mercy (think The River of Time series kinda book pushing. Yeah, it's that good).

I love both Robin's MG and YA books, and they are both historical fantasies, but they are distinct in tone and feel. Robin is here today to talk with you about channeling those very different voices. 

 There are NO spoilers here!

All The Voices In My Head
by R. L. LaFevers

My editor wasn’t overly surprised when I submitted my second series to her, Nathaniel Fludd Beastologist. After all, I was already writing one middle grade series, and going from a precocious eleven year old girl in Edwardian England to a timid ten year old in post WWI England was only a jump of a few short years and one or two stages in childhood development.

But, when I turned in my latest project, a dark YA historical fantasy about teen assassin nuns in medieval France, she was, to say the least, floored. And possibly more than a little concerned for the state of my mental health. She loved the project, but had a hard time wrapping her mind around the fact that all three had come from the same person.

The answer to her question, where do all these ideas come from probably did not reassure her, because the truth is, the voices just come: A wounded eight year old musing in my head, wondering what will become of him now. Or a clever-yet-needy eleven year old, who is too smart for her own good and is torn between testing the full strength of that cleverness and being the child her parents want her to be and thus ensuring their love.

But of course, a snippet of conversation, even inside my own head, is not enough to make a book. That’s where the hard work comes in, the rolling up of proverbial sleeves and digging and prodding, trying to understand who these characters are and why I am the one to best suited to telling their story.

After enough digging and thinking and pondering, the answer usually ends up being that we, the characters and I, have had something in common at one point or another.

Writers tend to go to where the best material is; for me, that was childhood. I was anxious, frightened a lot, insecure, and powerless. In other words, ripe for a transformative journey that would turn me into a hero. I think it is not uncommon for writers of children’s fiction to have been voiceless as a child, to have their childhood scars and wounds be some of the most severe that they have sustained during their lives.

Each of my characters start with at least one core emotion or defining characteristic that is mine, if not now, then back in the distant murky past. That’s not to say that each character is me; far from it. But I have to have one point of entry into each of my characters, a point of access, if you will, like the opening in a glove through which I can slip my hand, allowing me to enter, not only their world, but their very skin. Because for me, that is key. I don’t watch my characters from without as they move through the story world, but instead, I move through their world as them. I become them.

The truth is, we all have many facets to ourselves. We all laugh and cry, are brave sometimes and terrified others. In some situations—and with the right people—we can be quite droll and witty. Other people or situations make us so anxious that we become timid and fearful.

All of us have a tender inner child who experienced a first loss, or vividly remembers the first moment when they learned their parents weren’t infallible. As children, most of us have looked at the adults in our lives and marveled at their cluelessness. Or kept secrets from them simply because the act of keeping a secret was the only power we had.

As we grow older, we have all taken steps to claim our personal power, self actualize, all that painful growing up stuff. Some of us do it in tentative baby steps and others in giant leaps. Still others struggle with it their entire lives.

I think one key to being a successful writer for children and teens is being able to access those emotions of long ago.

Pictures help. So does having a good, long, perhaps unforgiving memory.

So my secret is simply that I tap into all those various selves. It is pretty much that simple, but it is far from easy. For even though we might share one or two key emotions, there is still a lot of prep work involved in taking that emotion or memory and turning it into a living, breathing, autonomous character on the page. Collecting pictures of the time period, looking through my own childhood photos, not just to connect with myself, but especially when writing boy characters, to look back and remember in intimate detail the struggles my brothers went through, their fears and worries and joys. That is helped somewhat by the fact that I have two sons, and have been able to watch them and their friends over the years (and take notes!)

It requires locating true memories, rather than reminiscence. Memories that have not been shaded or stretched or papered over by family dynamics or retellings—but are true recollections containing both our ten year old joy and delight and our ten year old disappointment or anger or sense of betrayal. You can usually recognize those true memories by the small, visceral emotional punch that can still be felt in our bodies; an echo, if you will, of how we felt back then. It might be a small lump in our stomach reminiscent of the tummyaches we used to get all the time, the faintest quickening of our heartbeat, or a ghost of clamminess on our palms.

So as an eight year old, I was fearful and anxious and worried, but I was also surrounded by a huge variety of pets; cats, dogs, chickens, chipmunks, a goat, and at one point, two baby bear cubs. Exotic animals were a hugely positive part of my childhood experience and I took great pleasure from the special bonds formed with them. I also had a grandmother who would swoop down and take me away for a few days when everything got to be too much.

At eleven, I was hugely curious and very clever and loved books and myths. Libraries seemed to me to be holy ground, as did museums. My divorced parents were hugely distracted with their own disintegrating  lives and it is probably safe to say that I was emotionally on my own for a time.

And at eighteen, ah, at eighteen I met my husband. (Yes, we were that young) and ran smack dab into something I thought did not exist: unconditional love. He required nothing of me, simply loved me for myself, warts and all. (Although for the record, I would like to make it clear that I had no warts. Not then, not now.) The impact of that love changed the trajectory of my entire life.

The hardest part of using all this raw material for our work is clawing our way past our own adult filters, because of course now, as adults, it is much easier to see where parents were coming from and perhaps even agree with their decisions and actions. As writers for children, we have to forget all that. We have to be true to the childhood experience. We owe that to our young readers, be they eight years old or eighteen.

Thank you so much for stopping by, Robin!

Ah ha! So that is why I find myself relating so well with teen and tween characters! I really do enjoy a book so much more when the characters' emotions truly resonate with emotions and experiences I have had throughout my life.

What about you? Do you find you connect better with a book when you can relate to the main character and live their experience? If you write, have you ever tried this approach to developing your characters?

Robin is generously providing a copy of your choice from either her Theodosia Throckmorton series or her Nathaniel Fludd Beastologist series for giveaway!

Info for the giveaway:
  • As always, you do NOT have to be a follower
  • You must have a US address
  • You must be 13 years of age or older
  • One entry per person
  • Your address is not required, but including it will help with sending the book out to you sooner
  • I will contact the winner through email and the winner will have 24 hours to reply before a new winner is chosen 
  • This giveaway closes on December 7th

What about Steampunk? Is it historical fantasy?  Share your thoughts today with Ruby!

Check out our Historical Fantasy Jubilee full schedule of events and giveaways!

Have you entered to win our prize pack giveaways?


  1. Great Guest Post! Becoming your character. That's good advice. Now that Nano is half over and I'm bored, I might try that to get into my story again. Yes Small rants on and on about your Theodosia books and that would be my first pick. The first in that series. We compare notes often and recommend books often. But it seems once she latches onto an author she likes, she's loyal for life. You're lucky! You have a fan for life! And I'm sure she'll make all of us fans. I'm looking forward to the Theodosia books already! And killer nuns?? Sounds great!


  2. I'm a reader that has to have great characters and for that the author must really know (or be) the characters. I haven't read one of LaFevers books - YET! I just discovered Grave Mercy the other day and I CAN'T WAIT. I think I may have found a new author to be obsessed with!

  3. Excellent guest post!I've read all the Nathaniel Fludd series so far and they are really cute! I'm also looking forward to reading Theodosia Throckmorton series AND now Grave Mercy. I don't know if the cover on Goodreads is final for Grave Mercy, but it's beautiful!Just added it to my list!

  4. Great post. I'm looking forward to reading Theodosia Throckmorton. Become your character is great advise (I try to do that with my favorite character when reading a great book)
    thanks for the giveaway!
    gfc donna

  5. I loved this guest post! As a reader, I think it's important to be emotionally invested in the characters. It makes them much more real and approachable, thus making their transformation/journey that much more powerful and personal. I tend to live vicariously through the characters so if they went through similar events in my life, I can totally see their POVs.

    Also thank you for the heads up about the darker YA fantasy series, I wouldn't have known otherwise. Adding it on to my tbr pile. :)

  6. Wonderful post, Robin. Voices in your head AND exotic pets! The more I learn about you and your writing techniques the more I understand why I enjoy your books. Can't wait for Grave Mercy.

  7. Heather, haha, yep once I attach myself to an author, I can't seem to shut up about them :P I'm reading the second Theodosia book now and it's just as cute as the first.

    Book Sake, I am hopelessly obsessed with Grave Mercy. I hope you love it as much as I do!

    Holly, Aw, that's so good to hear about the Nathaniel Fludd books (not that I ever doubted that). I'm so happy that with Grave Mercy I've finally found a book that is as incredible as it's gorgeous cover.

    Donna, Theodosia is very cute! Make sure you've filled out the form to be entered in the giveaway :)

    Rummanah, I agree, I live vicariously through the characters too. You're welcome for the heads up, but don't worry, you will be hearing about it A LOT from me :)

    D. August Baertlein, I agree!

  8. Aha! I had always heard that the best authors write what they know...and now we see that is true :) No wonder my favorite books are those with characters I can connect with in some way--they are just more genuine for me. But then again, I've always read for the characters, more than anything else.

    Great, insightful post! :)

  9. Jess, I'm the same way. I always read for the characters. :)

  10. Wonderful and eloquent. One of the best Author insights I've read -- Thank you Robin LaFevers!
    - AZ


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