Author Interview: Robin Kirk

Photo by Jenny Warburg

Today I am interviewing Robin Kirk, author of the new YA fantasy novel, The Mother’s Wheel, final book in the The Bond Trilogy. She teaches human rights at Duke University, where she also started a class on speculative fiction and human rights.

◊  ◊  ◊

DJ: Hi Robin! Thanks for agreeing to do this interview! 
For readers who aren’t familiar with you, could you tell us a little about yourself?

Robin Kirk: Thank you for having me! Briefly, I’ve always been a writer and enjoy working in many genres: fiction, essays, poetry, opeds, etc. But the genre I love best is speculative fiction especially when it engages young people. Some of my best reading experiences have been as a kid devouring science fiction and fantasy.

DJ: What is The Mother’s Wheel and then the The Bond Trilogy about?

Robin: One day, my daughter asked me why I wasn’t writing books for kids. At the time, I was a full time researcher for Human Rights Watch and covered Peru and Colombia. The kinds of stories I was hearing, I thought, really weren’t appropriate for kids (even for most adults, to be frank). But then my daughter told me that I had to read her current favorite book, The Book Thief, by Markus Zusak. I was utterly blown away. Here was a YA book written by Death, during the Holocaust. And it was one of the most beautiful and exciting stories I’ve ever read, for young people and for adults. The Book Thief made me want to write about human rights for kids in a powerful way that used story to get at tough issues. On a long walk down a mountain, I started to wonder if I could write about genocide, when one group sets out to exterminate another. I wondered how I could do that in a way that many readers would accept. In other words, I wanted readers, at least at first, to kind of support genocide, as often happens in the real world. What group of people, I thought, had done a lot of damage to the world and would be easy to “sell” as the targets of genocide? Well, the answer came pretty easily: men. Men have done a lot of harm, including starting most of the wars. That’s essentially the story of The Bond and the dilemma my heroine, Dinitra, faces. Get rid of men and guarantee peace? Or acknowledge that men are human and, like women, capable of both good and evil. In Book 2, The Hive Queen, I wanted to make these ideas more complicated by really humanizing males and making them more sympathetic. I switched narrators, to the character Fir, a male warrior who Dinitra falls in love with in The Bond. He was genetically engineered for one purpose, to fight under his mother’s command. But he wants to free himself and free his brothers. That journey puts him in the path of the Hive Queen, Odide, a beautiful and dangerous mutant, or draft. The story of how he copes with that and finds his way back to Dinitra sets up Book 3, The Mother’s Wheel. A third narrator takes charge, a mutant frog-human named Sil. The real question in The Mother’s Wheel is who gets to be human–who gets that dignity and respect? And what does having a family mean when we are all constructs of one sort or another? That’s an especially important question at a time when we are seeing humans that are increasingly “engineered”: through IVF, gene therapy, modern medicine, bionics, etc.

DJ: What were some of your influences for The Bond Trilogy

Robin: The Book Thief, of course, more for the ambition than the execution. The blood of the armored bear Iorek, from Philip Pullman’s “His Dark Materials” series, runs strongly in the mutant battle dog, 12. I love Neil Shusterman’s Arc of a Scythe series, too, and the scope of that series inspired me.

DJ: Could you briefly tell us a little about your main characters? Do they have any cool quirks or habits, or any reason why readers will sympathize with them? 

Robin: Dinitra starts off the story in The Bond. She is genetically-engineered as are most beings in this world, yet she still feels a deep sense of not belonging, or not being fit for purpose, as the Brits would say. Her solace comes from her art and love of color, and later with the relationship she discovers with the battle dog 12 and then with the warrior Fir. In The Hive Queen, Fir feels the burden of leadership of his brothers–a leadership he was given by his mother, but doesn’t feel up to, especially when his youngest brother dies under his command. Then Fir falls under the spell of the Hive Queen and fully betrays his brothers. His effort to make it up to them is what drives The Hive Queen story. In the final book, Sil–the frog-girl brewed to mine a metal that no longer exists and who we meet in The Bond–realizes that she is the only one of her kind. Will she always be alone? Her path brings her to a new family she never thought she’d have.

DJ: Aside from the main characters in the story, who is a favorite side character or a character with a smaller role in the story? Why?

Robin: Well, I have to say 12, the murant battle dog; the lovely Hive Queen, Odide, in Book 2; and the ape who has become human, Desper, in The Mother’s Wheel. All of them face their own challenges. 12, utterly loyal to Dinitra, must fight again and again to keep her alive. But what is life like for 12 as an independent being? I think readers will love where her story goes in The Mother’s Wheel. In The Hive Queen, Odide faces a terrible future. Hunted by her murderous brother, she has to kidnap Fir and force him to be her mate, the only way she can make more children to strengthen and defend her hive. That becomes a real dilemma–rob someone of their free will in order to save the lives of her people. In The Mother’s Wheel, lovely Desper — a pretty bad poet and a gentle soul in the body of an orangutan–wants peace, but is compelled to choose violence to protect her friends and loved ones. I think the reason these are my favorites is because their survival isn’t assured (no spoilers!). So I hope readers feel an extra bit of tension as they explore the story.

DJ: What is the world and setting of The Bond Trilogy like?

Robin: One of the most delicious things I have for the books is a map! The world is divided, roughly, into four parts. The Weave is where I start, in an all-female society on the brink of devising a way to create new humans without the need for males. The ones in charge of brewing new beings are called Sowers. But some Sowers rebel and have fled over the mountains to a new land called Bounty. There, they “sow” both daughters and sons. But the sons are brewed to fight for them. Males have no choice in the matter. To the east is a land of men ruled by a mysterious Master. That’s where Fir and his brothers try to flee to in The Hive Queen (and are waylaid by the Queen herself). The final setting is explored in The Mother’s Wheel. The Deep is a vast, unruly jungle that is home to refugees fleeing the Weave, Bounty, and the Master of Men. It’s a jumble of humans, mutants (including a kettle of human-vultures), and sentient animals. Much of the inspiration for this world comes from the Andes, where I’ve lived and worked. The Weave is like the coastal region and foothills, Bounty is the high valley, and The Deep is the Amazon. 

DJ: How have the reviews been from readers, bloggers, and reviewers for the first two books of the The Bond Trilogy? Is there anything that your audience seems to be particularly enjoying or is eager to find out more about?

Robin: Reviews have been very positive! In fact, I didn’t really realize how important 12 was to the story until readers started loving on her. I hope readers love Desper as much.

DJ: What was your favorite part about writing The Mother’s Wheel

Robin: The whole process of writing a trilogy was much more of a discovery that I initially anticipated. My son, about 10 at the time, was the one who urged me to write a series. Initially, I didn’t think I had a series in me. But extending the story ended up being really satisfying. I got to dig into this world much more and also have a lot of fun experimenting.

DJ: What do you think readers will be talking about most once they finish it?

Robin:  I hope that readers are engaged by some of the dilemmas of the story. What do we do about violence presented as some sort of solution or a pathway to peace? How will genetic engineering–already a powerful force in the real world–reshape what it means to be human? And who should be our family? I think the best way to explore some of those thorny questions is through story, when we have sympathy for a wide range of characters and situations.

DJ: Did you have a goal when you began writing The Bond Trilogy? Was there a particular message or meaning you are hoping to get across when readers finish it? Or is there perhaps a certain theme to the story?

Robin: I think the main take-away is to have respect and appreciation for all living things, not just people. We are all connected and have value. I also think that the exterior differences of my characters–the mutant battle dog, the Hive Queen, Sil, the main character in The Mother’s Wheel-stand for the interior differences we all have as human beings. We all have intrinsic value as do animals and plants. And there are as many ways of being as there are people. We need to stop trying to shove each other into just a few categories or ways of living their lives. How can we fashion a world where we move beyond prejudice, exclusion, and violence and help each other make the most of the brief time we have on Earth?

DJ: I’m always curious when authors finish a series, how close to the original course they stayed when it is finally completed or if it ended up evolving and changing. Did the plot stay the same as you had first imagined it? How about the ending? The evolution of your characters?

Robin: Uf, a great question. I had no idea how the series would develop and end. At one point, I contemplated leaving the story at two books. But then I woke up in the middle of the night in a panic. What would Dinitra say to me if she realized I was abandoning her and 12? What kind of betrayal would that mean for Fir? Could I leave Sil, the frog-girl, unrealized as a main character? Without me, and more importantly without readers, my world dies. Once, I even imagined that I saw 12’s very long tail disappearing behind a corner. I had to finish, to make sure I’d done justice to this world and the characters in it.

DJ: When I read, I love to collect quotes – whether it be because they’re funny, foodie, or have a personal meaning to me. Do you have any favorite quotes from The Mother’s Wheel that you can share with us?

Robin: I think it’s the last sentences from the Epilogue:

“Desper reminds Sil often that she has two hearts. Enough for Far Eek and Puerta. Enough for the boys she calls sons. Enough to love herself and to love Sil. Enough to love all who see a family or come with one or make one along the way.  They are all family to her now.”

DJ: Now that The Mother’s Wheel is released, what is next for you?

Robin:  I’m working on a space opera as well as some speculative short stories. I also have a novella out that I hope sees print soon, about the first human born on Mars.

DJ: Where can readers find out more about you?  
DJ: Before we go, what is that one thing you’d like readers to know about The Mother’s Wheel and The Bond Trilogy that we haven’t talked about yet?

Robin: I also have a new non-fiction book for kids, Righting Wrongs: 20 human rights heroes around the world. Check it out via my website!

DJ: Thank you so much for taking time out of your day to answer my questions! 

Robin: Thank you for having me!

◊  ◊  ◊

***The Mother’s Wheel is available TODAY!!!***

Buy the Book: 

Amazon | Goodreads

◊  ◊  ◊

About the Book:

Sil is loving, Sil is principled, Sil is a reluctant hero forced to act. Like Gollum, Toad, Frog, and Kermit, she is a most memorable and endearing amphibian. Lisa Williams Kline, author of One Week of You

The Mother’s Wheel is the final, thrilling conclusion to Indie award-winning Bond trilogy. 

The mutant draft Sil, who readers met in The Bond, leads a ragtag group of desperate refugees to hoped-for safety in The Deep. Along the way, they meet an orangutan who loves poetry and guards the narrow path into the jungle. But safety proves elusive as the refugees are pulled back into the war unfolding on the heights. A fearsome bee-mutant attacks as part of his plan to murder his sister, the lovely and dangerous Hive Queen. 

Will love or hate rule? Who, in the end, can you count on as family when you are the only one of your kind? Their destinies entwined, Sil, Dinitra, and Fir reunite and must choose between each other and the worlds they once called their own.

Photo by Jenny Warburg

About the Author:

Kirk is the author of Righting Wrongs: 20 Human Rights Heroes around the World, from Chicago Review Press (June 2022). She is also the author of The Bond Trilogy: The Bond, The Hive Queen, and The Mother’s Wheel, a young adult fantasy. She has published multiple non-fiction books, including More Terrible Than Death: Massacres, Drugs and America’s War in Colombia (PublicAffairs) and The Monkey’s Paw: New Chronicles from Peru (University of Massachusetts Press). Her poetry collection, Peculiar Motion, was called “incandescent” by poet Jennifer Gresham. She is the coeditor of The Peru Reader: History, Culture, Politics (Duke University) and helps edit Duke University Press’s World Readers series. Her essay on Belfast is included in the 2012 Best Travel Writing edition edited by William T. Vollman. Kirk authored, co-authored, and edited over twelve reports for Human Rights Watch, all available online. In the 1980s, Kirk reported for U.S. media from Peru, where she covered the war between the government and the Shining Path. During that time, she also prepared reports for the U.S. Committee on Refugees, including the first report ever on the plight of Peru’s internally displaced people. Kirk is a former Radcliffe Bunting Fellow and is a past winner of the Media Alliance Meritorious Achievement Award for Freelance Writing. She teaches human rights at Duke University.

3 thoughts on “Author Interview: Robin Kirk

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s