Q&A with Rebecca Lim

We got to sit down with Rebecca Lim, author of the just-released Mercy (which you can begin here on Figment).

Most of Mercy’s main characters are angels. Did you do any research on angel lore, and is there any particular book, story, or movie that particularly inspired you?

Mercy came about through a combination of things.

I was doing research for a literature essay at university when I came upon the classical idea that there are only three known classes of sentient being under God: bestial, human, and angelic. The idea stuck with me for years, because it seemed so black and white, but had so much potential to be upended and played with.

I’ve always been intrigued by the idea of “the fall” (whether of humans or of Lucifer and the angels that fell with him). There’s so little actual detail on fallen angels in the bible that there’s space to play with the idea, if that makes any sense. I didn’t just want Mercy to be a “bad” angel.  That’s why her back-story is slowly revealed over the course of the first 3 books.

Mercy is also a fictional response to some terrible abduction stories that were emerging around the time I was writing the novel. The news is a potent trigger for book ideas. The stuff people do to each other in real life is staggering.

So Mercy tries to work on a number of levels – it’s the imaginary history of a being of pure spirit (with a shattered memory of who and what she once was) who finds herself inexplicably entrapped in the physical, sensory world. And it’s also a self-contained YA mystery/crime novel that just happens to feature an amnesiac fallen angel, a hint of romance and a whole lot of choir nerds (I used to be one, so I can say that). I wanted to layer Mercy so that it wasn’t just the typical “school setting” scenario where you have mean girls and jocks and all that stuff. I wanted to shake it up a bit. And music is quite transcendent and something that Mercy has had missing from her life, so I wanted to bring that kind of transcendent stuff back into her memory because it’s part of her journey of getting herself back, remembering things like music, language, the beautiful parts of life.

With Mercy I was hoping to reach YA readers and female readers generally because of some of the themes I cover. The stuff that happens to women in the news just makes my blood boil sometimes, and I wanted to create a female heroine who looks outwardly very weak, but who could actually dish out vengeance to her persecutors. Kind of an empowering revenge fantasy, I guess.

She’s different from the other exiled angels out there because she’s female. All the other exiled angels I know of are “hot” guys. But I also consciously set out to create a female heroine who can, literally, do anything if she puts her mind to it. I didn’t want to create a female heroine who loses her capacity to function at the slightest hint of romance. I wanted to show that it’s okay to be a smart-mouthed, think-on-your-feet, strong, and abrasive, yet empathetic character, who also happens to be female. It’s not something that should just be the province of male hero-types.

So, yes, Mercy’s an angel. But not a fluffy, golden angel. A scary, bad ass angel who’s also kind of a smart ass.

What are the challenges of writing from the point of view of a character who’s unsure of her identity?

The biggest challenge is keeping Mercy’s identity quite separate from whatever host body she’s happened to “invade” so that you get a sense of the girl whose life she’s collided with, but you also get a growing sense of who Mercy really is as her journey progresses. At the start of Mercy, she’s incredibly damaged,  confused, and disconnected. What I’ve tried to do is give you a sense of Mercy’s developing humanity and warmth as her memory begins to return and she begins to form ties with the people around her.

Another thing I’ve worked on is the element of mystery that weaves its way through Mercy but also the other three books in the series. I haven’t consciously set out to confuse people, but my approach is to treat my readers as people who are sophisticated, intelligent, engaged, and who want to be challenged. Obviously, some readers intensely dislike a challenging read, but I’ve set things up so that people who read Mercy are really only one or two seconds behind Mercy as she experiences things, and hopefully that keeps things interesting for most people.

What do you think is so compelling about love triangles? Why do we love to read them?

It’s fantastic from a female point of view because we love choice! ( whether it’s books, bags, shoes, men, the list goes on …)

It’s that idea that with life, with romance, with anything: there’s more than just one possibility, things aren’t pre-ordained, and that anything could happen depending upon the choices we make.

And I’ve tried to stay away from the standard love triangle with the Mercy series. I like to think it’s more of a love hexagon or parallelogram (!) because more than one of Mercy’s old flames will pop out of the woodwork and have their five minutes in the sun as the series progresses.

The leading men in Mercy are very…erm…*cough*…sexy. How does one avoid creating boring, generically “hot boy” characters and make compelling leading men?

For leading men to be compelling, they have to be multi-faceted, and they have to appeal in some way to the different sides of our natures. And “hotness” and great hair shouldn’t be their defining features. If that’s all they’ve got going for them, then that’s when they become boring, generic, and ill-defined.

For my own amusement, and to give an added dimension to Mercy’s story, one of the leading men in the series is the ultimate “bad boy”. And I don’t condone the slightest thing about him at all, but he’s an integral part of the reason why she fell in the first place.

What’s the greatest number of pages you’ve ever written in a day — and can you pin down why you had such a creative spurt?

I think I’ve managed a couple of chapters in one hit. Adrenaline, wine, and coffee probably had something to do with that, as well as the characters literally running away with each other. I couldn’t have stopped the interplay between them if I tried. I was just the scribe, in a way.

How did you pick the location for Mercy? It’s very unique.

The actual physical location of the town of Paradise is something you won’t find out until the fourth and final book, Fury. Due to the way that Mercy’s shattered memory works, her view of the world is quite impressionistic until she starts to remember more and more of her own history. The reader is more likely to pick where she is before she does.

Exile (book 2) and Muse (book 3) are each set in a new location due to the fact she’s “soul-jacked” a new body in each novel.

You say that you enjoy “genre-mashing.” What are your favorite genres to pull from? What genre do you most abhor?

I don’t think I abhor any genre; I honestly read across as many as I can, because everything from thrillers  to historical bodice rippers, if executed well, are all completely transporting. They take you out of your every day life and plonk you somewhere else.

I would probably struggle to read an autobiography written by a famous sportsperson, but they would probably say the same of Mercy, so that would make us pretty even …

Can you leave us with three words to jump start a story – perhaps with an Australian theme?

Sun on water

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