Last Friday evening, I had the opportunity to interview Mary E. Pearson, author of the Remnant Chronicles series (among other books), before she spoke to a larger group.
As a fan of the Remnant Chronicles—A The Kiss of Deception, The Heart of Betrayal, and next year’s The Beauty of Darkness*—I was excited to sit down with the woman behind the stories. We spoke about world building and the importance of strong female characters, among other things. Read on for our interview.
*Mary gave Friday night’s audience an exclusive when she revealed the title of the final book in the series!
Where did you get the inspiration for the Remnant Chronicles?
The inspiration came from a lot of places. Just like all my books, it’s usually a curiosity or something I’m wondering about. And I just keep wondering.
I was finishing up the last book of the Jenna Fox Chronicles—and that’s always when new ideas start knocking. I knew one thing: Whatever I wrote would be very different from the Jenna Fox Chronicles. Those books were very futuristic, with lots of technology; I had to do tons of research.
So, when starting a new book, I thought, I’m going to do something without any technology. Thus, we have a society in which the greatest technology they have is perhaps a wagon wheel or a nice polished pitcher. It’s not high-tech.
So that was a very mundane and self serving inspiration. I needed a change of pace. But another inspiration was more of a global, timeless kind of wondering. Every time I saw another battle or war breaking out somewhere in the world, I would think, does this ever end?
I was a child of the 60’s—the “love generation.” When the Vietnam War ended, we thought that there would never be another war anywhere in the world. And it seemed like it was peaceful for a very long time. But then a war started, and another, and we did what we humans have been doing for thousands of years: We fought and found ways to dominate each other. It’s a cycle that goes on and on.
I wondered, Is this in our DNA? Is this a survival instinct we can’t shake? It seems like we always have to dominate someone, and we just can’t get away from that.
At the same time, all is not dismal, I am a romantic too—and I say that in the very positive sense, not the unrealistic sense. As much as people can hate on each other, people will always find a way to love each other, too. And two people, no matter how much turmoil is going on in their world will still find a way to be together and will find themselves falling in love.
Those were the two things that I wanted to explore, two timeless things that are very different from each other.
When you were building the world of the Remnant Chronicles, did you think about what comes after wars?
That was one of the things. I also thought about how we pass along history and how history is perceived by later generations. History is a form of story told by very specific authors from their own unique vantage points.
In the beginning of The Kiss of Deception, a grandmother is trying to explain difficult things to her grandchild, and she’s couching it in a way that’s understandable for a young child.
But later, the grandmother also says things that are only meant for adult eyes as she looks at the crumbled world around her, noting that, “Even the great can fall.” We get glimpses of a grand world that no longer exists. Look at the fallen Roman Empire or the time when “the sun never set” on the British Empire. Things change, even for the greatest civilizations and empires of the world.
I was thinking of those kinds of things: how we perceive history, how we tell history and how much of history is lost to us forever.
There are a lot of men pining or angling for Lia, but she’s a pretty strong character with or without them. Why do you think it’s important to show that a female character can be both strong and independent, but also loving?
Because they are! I don’t think strong, independent, and loving are mutually exclusive traits. A strong woman finds her worth in herself. Her identity lies in herself. She knows who she is or is at least working to find that strong core within, but she can be in love too. Love is a strength too--not a weakness--it’s finding that balance of giving, taking, sharing, sacrificing, and holding firm, and a strong independent woman is up for the challenge.
It can be a funny little line to walk, but a strong woman can absolutely have a mind of her own—and she should—but she can be totally head over heels in love, too.
If you were in Lia’s shoes, would you be more interested in the good guy or the bad boy?
I have to say, it’s hard for me to separate myself from being the author. I love my characters. I even kind of love the Komizar, in some strange way.
I think you can be Team Everyone. I can be Team Kaden and Team Rafe, and love them both, but in very different ways. One in more of a romantic way, and one in a very strong friendship way.
Now, who is going to be who, I don’t know ...
I’m Team Lia, all the way. And I just want her to make her choice. I know it sounds weird, but I really do follow the characters I’m writing.
Do your characters have full backstories in your head before you start writing a book or a series?
I have just a glimpse when I start. Very quickly, as I’m writing, page by page, backstory starts filling in in my head and I have to decide how much of it I am going to use. It usually takes me about 50 pages to really understand a lot of what a character has been through.
Even now there are surprises. At this point, I’m 1,500 pages into [the third book] and I’m still learning new things about my characters.
It comes in waves. I knew Lia was very much an outdoor kind of girl. Being raised with three older brothers, she loved to run with them. Part of that comes from the fact that I was totally an outdoor girl, and I still am.
I love dealing with family relationships and complications—they weigh heavily in most of my stories. Lia’s relationship with her mother and her father continues to come to light as I go.
Out of all of the secondary characters in this series, is there anyone you’d love to write more about?
Lots of them! The secondary characters are always so much fun, because there’s not so much pressure to write them; they always surprise me. I love Pauline, Berdi and Gwyneth. In The Heart of Betrayal, I really loved Jeb, Orrin, Tavish and Sven. They were fun to write.
But I think the one person [I’d love to write more about]—and maybe it’s because he had such a rough beginning—is Eben. I’d love to see a little story about Eben and how he turns out as a teenager. Assuming he survives book 3.*
*She said, with a wink.
Are any of your characters based on real life people?
No, not specifically one person. I’m always asked about Lia, because she’s very strong. My go-to answer is everyone I know. I know lots of strong women. I think we all do.
My grandmother was one tough cookie. She grew up in the south during the Depression and she had to make some hard choices, in terms of survival. She continued to be a character throughout her life..
My mother was also very strong. I have strong friends and colleagues. I have admiration for many, many women—and for my daughters. They have such incredible strength.
Did you go into the series with a chronology in mind? That is, “this is going happen in the first book, this is going to happen in the second book,” etc.?
Yes, I did. None of it happened. Well, not all of it.
I wrote about 50 pages, a synopsis for three books, and how I thought they were going to go. That’s what my publisher bought it on.
But afterward I told my editor, “you do know it won’t go exactly like this, right?” Because how can I know what’s going to happen? Characters emerge I hadn’t even planned on. New twists develop.
If I knew exactly what was going to happen for all 1,500 pages, I’d probably be bored.
You can overplan. Sometimes I wish I’d written the entire series at once, so I could go back and tweak little things. You have to be careful what you say, because you will be held to it. Sometimes it’s good to keep things vague and loose and put in little clues, but don’t always write it in cement.
Switching gears a little from the Remnant Chronicles: What’s one story that you’ve always wanted to write, but haven’t gotten around to?
There are so many. I’ve always thought about writing a contemporary story about a prodigal daughter. It resurfaces in my head now and then, the opening scenes. I’m not sure if it would be young adult or adult.
Maybe something to do with family dynamics. I love exploring family relationships. In the Remnant Chronicles, you see that. Our relationships with our families can affect us for a lifetime. And something romantic too, because as I mentioned before, it is one of those timeless things that swirls in our lives again and again.
Thanks so much for meeting with me, Mary! I’m already counting down the days until The Beauty of Darkness.
Mary and Mandy C.
Want to win a hardcover copy of The Heart of Betrayal plus a limited edition print (see below)?
Tell us a story about a strong woman that you know and love in the comments. A winner will be chosen at random next Friday, July 31. Per the publisher: U.S. only, please. The giveaway is now closed.