Robin Kirk on ‘The Hive Queen’ and Writing A Trilogy

In Conversation with Robin Kirk
© Salima Alikhan 2020

RQLA Agent Kelly Dyksterhouse had the opportunity to talk with author Robin Kirk regarding her most recent release, The Hive Queen.

Kelly Dyksterhouse (KD): Can you give our readers a quick summary (no spoilers!) of The Hive Queen?

Robin Kirk (RK): The story picks up about a week after The Bond ends. This time, we’re in the mind of Fir, the warrior who Dinitra, the heroine of The Bond, fell in love with despite everything she’d been taught. Fir’s mother is also his Captain, and in this society mothers raise sons to fight for them.

But Fir has wanted for a long time to be free and to 

take his brothers — all genetically-engineered and birthed via surrogates — somewhere where they can live in peace. Fir loves Dinitra, too, and hopes that when he’s free, they can somehow find each other again. But he and his brothers encounter many dangers: vicious mutants, dangerous men, and above all a mutant bee queen who tries to conjure Fir into betraying his brothers and helping her defend her kingdom. More adventures follow!

KD: The Hive Queen is the second book of a planned trilogy. What unique factors does a writer have to consider in writing a second book that they do not for a first?

RK: It’s true that this is a challenge. On the one hand, you have a world and a story that’s (hopefully) firing on every cylinder. As a writer, you want to get back on the speeding
car and race. But you also want to be welcoming to that reader who’s coming in at the second or even third book. I don’t want to have, as it were, a ticket to come inside my
world; I want the door to be wide, wide open. I began to see this challenge as more of an opportunity than a difficulty. With each new book, there’s a kind of invitation to take a breath, rethink what the core of the story is, and look at it with fresh eyes, especially if the main character is different, as it is in my three books. 

Just like real people, fictional characters see things differently, and that uniqueness…is a chance to deepen and complicate the story in an engaging way.

Personally, I love stories that give different perspectives on the same world. Just like real people, fictional characters see things differently, and that uniqueness (for me) is a chance to deepen and complicate the story in an engaging way. That said, I did have to keep reminding myself of what I needed to tell the reader without bogging down the story or lading in too many flashbacks and repeats. One thing I’m very guilty of is too many names, and I’ve tried to pare the story down to what’s essential and moves the story forward.

KD: The Bond won an INDIE award. Did that success filter into your thinking or writing at all — did you feel any pressure for this book to live up to the first’s success?

RK: I was so pleased to know that some people liked the story enough to get an award. Also, a writer heroine of mine, Cynthia Leitich Smith, won an award in the same category, so that felt great.

KD: The Hive Queen is told from Fir’s perspective, while The Bond is told from Dinitra’s.  What prompted you to make that change?

Robin's dog RoZee, the inspiration for the mutant battle dog 12.

RK: I’ve always loved series that give you that different perspective. It’s the same world, the same politics, the same histories, but two different people (or different creatures) can see it very differently because they bring different life experiences to it. Philip Pullman does this between the first and second books of the His Dark Materials series and I love that about the story.

KD: Do you remember when you first got the idea for this trilogy, or what it was that made you want to create this world and these characters?

RK: I remember so clearly. I had just finished an adult novel which still remains unpublished. But I knew it was good and, more than that, I had such a good time writing it. I was on a family vacation and we’d just climbed a mountain to a lake. We were coming back downhill, so I had a good three hours to think. And the kernel of The Bond — a world where men were no longer needed — came to me.

The Hive Queen experiments with the nature of freedom. Once you get it, do you use it to fight for others or become the thing that others fight?

KD: A big challenge in speculative fiction is world-building. I found the world of The Weave to be incredibly unique and yet still accessible. As a writer, what aspects do you consider when introducing your reader to a completely new world? How do you keep the world from becoming confusing or from overwhelming the character and the plot?

RK: World-building is both one of the hardest challenges and one of the most satisfying to me as a writer. You can go crazy — but the crazy has to make sense. The crazy has to have strong, knowable rules or else it’s all just a mush. And it’s digging into those rules and testing them where a lot of the best story bits come out. 

For instance, of course it’s impossible to imagine a bee-human mutant. BUT — if there were such a thing, what would she look like? How would she think? What would scare her or delight her? Just as the mutant battle dog 12 is my favorite character from The Bond, the Hive Queen, Odide, is my favorite from this book.

A sleepy bee in Robin's garden, the unlikely inspiration for the Hive Queen Odide.

KD: Are there aspects of your world that you discovered in writing The Hive Queen that you didn’t know when writing The Bond

RK: This is kind of a sad thing, but I discovered that though most every character yearns for peace, I just can’t give it to them. Just as our world continues to have awful violence, so does my dream world of these books.

KD: Fantasy’s greatest power is its unique ability to expand our understanding of what’s possible, cause us to question our own status quo, or to view our own world/experiences differently. Are there questions that you hope The Hive Queen will cause readers to ask or topics about which you want them to come away thinking about more deeply?

RK: My little secret is that this series aspires to pose serious human rights questions to young readers. In The Bond, I engage the question of genocide: how has genocide been posed as a good and necessary thing? The Hive Queen experiments with the nature of freedom. Once you get it, do you use it to fight for others or become the thing that others fight?

KD: I often hear writers say, “I don’t know where that came from,” when talking about their books. Is there anything that surprised you when writing this book, or that brought you particular joy?

RK: There is literally something on every page that was an “aha moment.” I write truly terrible, awful, hopeless first drafts. It’s really in the process of revision that I learn what my story’s about. I dig in and ask: what is really going on here? What is the fear? Where is the growth?

KD: What are some of your favorite books, and what are you reading now?

RK: So many great books! I just finished the final book in Hilary Mantel’s Wolf Hall series. She is up with the masters of any literature. Another book I just finished M.R. Carey’s Book of Koli. He’s a writer I will always read. And because he just died, I reread Charles Portis’s True Grit. Another phenomenal book.

KD: What are you working on next?

RK: Book 3! Still without a title, but I’m hoping readers — and I — will have it in our hands in 2021.

The Hive Queen is out now! Get a copy.

After the battle that toppled the Weave, warrior Fir leads his brothers east to escape servitude, or worse-death at the hands of rival warriors. They search for the fabled Master of Men who promises freedom for men in the Weave. But their quest leads them to a foe more dangerous than they could have imagined.

When the beautiful Hive Queen, Odide, bespells Fir, he’s compelled to betray his brothers-and risks dooming them all to an unspeakable fate. To survive, Fir must choose between his loyalty to his brothers, his allegiance to the Queen, and his love for Dinitra.

But salvation is not what it seems. When the worlds of the Hive and the Master collide, it triggers a devastating betrayal that leaves Fir with an impossible choice: can he sacrifice his brothers for the love he thought he could never have?

Robin Kirk is the author of The Bond and The Hive Queen, books one and two in a fantasy trilogy. Her short stories have been featured in YA and science fiction anthologies, including Wicked South: Secrets and Lies: Stories for Young Adults. Robin has published three nonfiction books on human rights in Latin America as well as essays, articles, short stories, and op-eds. She teaches human rights at Duke University. 

Robin is repped by Jacqui Lipton.

 
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