Robin Rivers is an award-winning writer who guides young authors as CEO of Quill Academy of Creative Writing. She has always been fascinated with stories of lost times and nerds out in the realm of all things historical, fantastical, female, and mythological. As a result, she spends her days in a literary universe best described as slipstream — a mix of historical, magical realism, and haunting romance. Robin lives with her husband, daughters, and their sphynx cat Hypatia on the unceded territory of the Coast Salish Peoples, including the territories of the Musqueam, Squamish, and Tsleil-Waututh Nations in Vancouver, Canada. Woman On The Wall is her debut novel. Stay up to date on The Sibylline Chronicles at thesibyllinechronicles.com and follow Robin on Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, and LinkedIn (see below interview for links).
When did you first realize you wanted to be a writer?
I always knew I wanted to do something creative, but the impetus to write came from, classically, my Grade 10 English teacher. I had just written a paper on Elizabeth Barrett Browning and he pulled me aside after class. I was terrified. Had I bombed the assignment? Had someone copied over my shoulder? No. He, instead, said one thing, “Robin, I think you should seriously consider a career as a writer.” My mother told me that being a writer wasn’t a profession. So, of course, I set out to prove her wrong.
What is your book about?
Here is the book blurb: For 500 years, the once powerful Order of the Sibylline has kept the identity of its future prophetess hidden in the most famous painting in the world. Amid the chaos of post-World War II France, one woman discovers their ancient secret and its ability to transform a fragmented world. This rich alternate history binds two women beyond time, each fighting to restore sight to a world blinded by the power and control of men. The fate of the world rests on their courage to reclaim the ancient feminine powers of the Sibylline.
In addition, the women in this story give us the opportunity to explore love and hate, and how they are hewn from the same stone depending on what matters. Through the lens of the lost Sibylline, women today can ask themselves what they would do to save who and what they love, and the price they are willing to pay.
Why did you want to write this book?
The Sibylline Chronicles series has been in the works in some form for nearly a decade. The big question for me had always been, where do I start? I had considered (and wrote a manuscript that will never see the light of day) starting way back with Hypatia of Alexandria. However, the realities of what readers and agents wanted made that book a non-starter. The Sibyls and the secrets of the Mona Lisa carried special significance for me. So, I considered how to combine them and, after several iterations, landed on this story.
What was the most difficult part about writing the book? The most rewarding?
The most difficult part of writing this book was taking the first draft to a developmental editor and having her tear it apart. This is a very normal part of the writing process. However, I ended up basically re-writing the novel in six weeks. My editor and I joked that I basically earned the equivalent of an MFA at super speed. It was a lot, but I learned more about writing to market, my own process, and what I needed to learn to really get better as a writer in the process. That means it was also the most rewarding part of writing the book.
What do you hope other people will take away from reading your book?
A lingering curiosity for the what ifs. What if the Sibylline were so much more than history tells us? What if they still exist? What if the sensibility and power of these extraordinary women could profoundly change the course of the modern world? Those are questions I intend to explore throughout the series.
If you could tell your younger writing self anything, what would it be?
Learn the craft, put the work in every day, and stay humble.
I was given what ended up to be some well-intentioned but poor advice by a newspaper editor while I was in university. He told me I didn’t need to go to school to learn how to write, that I could learn it on the job. For a while, that served me just fine. I had great mentors as a journalist. However, I never really understood the craft or the actual time it took to get an idea out and then refine it. I didn’t respect the process. So, when I turned from journalism to long-form fiction, I thought I knew everything and I actually knew very little at all. That meant re-training both to gain skill and to gain a real respect for the craft of storytelling. Humility and hard work have been a staple of my life for the last five years.
How long did it take to write your book?
I started researching this novel in mid-2019 and went to France to nail down locations/details in October 2019. The pandemic derailed me for a bit, but it was finished at the beginning of 2022 and released on Sept. 6, 2022.
What was the biggest challenge in writing your book?
The biggest challenge in writing this book was making the choice to weave together genres that I knew would not land me a traditional publishing deal. I spent a lot of time in the query trenches with agents. Finally, after a tough-love conversation with an author friend, I came to understand that I was going to have to go the independent author route. It was a very challenging decision for me, but ultimately allows me the freedom (and all of the risk) of an entrepreneur. Being a business owner and having owned several in my career, that entrepreneurial sensibility resonates with me.
Who are your favorite authors (and why)?
I read A LOT of YA fiction because of my teaching and have come to love Roshani Chokshi, Sabaa Tahir, and Leigh Bardugo for their incredible fantasy worlds and strong characters. Robin Hobb started me down the path of loving high fantasy. I am also a huge fan of Katherena Vermette. Her searing contemporary novels The Break and The Strangers are some of the best fiction I have ever read.
What is your favorite book in the same genre as your work?
I absolutely love Katherine Neville’s The Eight. It’s a brilliant mix of politics, feminism, strong characters, magic, and the beliefs that carry us through as a society.
What does literary success look like to you?
Literary success definitely takes a range of forms for me. Of course, penning a novel that really resonates with people and lands me on a Bestsellers list would be one totally exciting version of success. However, long-term success is really all about continuing to write. As long as I am creating and taking risks, I believe I will have found success. I do have to remind myself that on the regular, though, as publishing is as punishing as it is satisfying.
What’s the best writing advice you ever received?
Pay the money for a good developmental editor. It changed my writing life.
What do you know now that you wish you’d known at the beginning of your writing journey?
That novel writing is a very valid profession. I would not have spent a single moment doing anything else.
What do you do when you are not writing?
I teach writing workshops for children and youths. I also travel as much as possible.
What’s next for you?
Heading back to France to finish the research for Volume 2 of The Sibylline Chronicles.
How can our readers get a copy of your book?
I encourage everyone to shop their local independent bookseller.
Barnes & Noble (paperback and ebook): https://www.barnesandnoble.com/w/woman-on-the-wall-robin-rivers/1141646337?ean=9781778135729
Book Depository: https://www.bookdepository.com/Woman-On-The-Wall/9781778135729
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