ROBIN KIRK: THE BOND

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When I read the short story that Robin Kirk submitted to Wicked South: Secrets and Lies, the anthology I co-edited with Katie Rose Guest Pryal, I knew I’d be excited to read Robin’s soon-to-be-released first novel, The Bond. The Faculty Co-Chair of the Duke Human Rights Center at the Franklin Humanities Institute and a long-time human rights advocate, Robin was uniquely positioned to write this book. I was thrilled to have her on the blog to chat. 

Welcome to the blog, Robin! Congratulations on the release of your first novel, The Bond. Give us a glimpse into the book. What’s it all about?

Thank you and thank you for doing this interview! The story starts on Dinitra’s graduation day. She fears the coming job assignment. Like the other girls at the Collegium, she’s been genetically engineered for something, but deep down she’s sure she’s a failure. She kind of is – she’s an artist, not a numbers person like her best friend. I was inspired to write this character by my Duke students, many of whom feel like imposters even after they’re “selected” for admission. Many are afraid that if they are their true selves, they won’t succeed. Instead of getting a bad job, Dinitra and her fellow graduates are drafted into the Legion, charged with defending her society, the Weave, from rebels. Slowly, I reveal that the Weave is a female-led society with very different ideas about gender roles, family, and the relationship with the natural world. Plus mutants! To keep from spoilers, I’ll just say that nothing is as it seems from then on.

You have a fascinating background! How does your work in human rights and the subject matter of your nonfiction books inform your fiction?

One of my favorite books is Markus Zusak’s The Book Thief, not only a great story but a superb way of engaging with the Holocaust in a fresh and compelling way. I wanted to write a fantasy that engaged with serious issues like violence and genocide, but not in a preachy way. I want my readers to be sympathetic to characters who are raised believing that some humans are inherently dangerous and should be eliminated, the engine of all genocides. And I had an easy group to pick on: men. The book flips the script of Margaret Atwood’s The Handmaid’s Tale (which I love) and asks if women are really more peaceable or less prone to abuses than men (spoiler: not so much). 

In addition to your book-length non-fiction writing, you’re an essayist and poet. What made you decide to make the leap into fiction writing . . . and what was different or challenging for you about the shift in forms?

Non-fiction comes more easily to me since it’s about clarity and organization as much as anything. Fiction is such a delicious challenge because you have to find a way to get to emotion, but without saying, “She was sad” or “He was happy.” Even when I’m not writing fantasy, every bit of the world of the story has to serve that purpose, to illuminate the character and throw problems at her that she must struggle to solve (sometimes and enticingly with disastrous results).

Why was it important for you to write a novel for young adults that explored the complex issue of genocide?

The books I read as a child and young adult went into my bloodstream in a way that fundamentally shaped the person I am. It’s so exciting to at least aspire to give young people a story that will do the same. Kids get moral ambiguity and challenges in a visceral way. There’s a reason dystopia remains a popular trope for teens since they live it in their daily lives — adults that have absolute control over their lives or who abandon them, the sometimes vicious castes of high school, and real life-or-death challenges. Teens who’ve read The Bond and who’ve written to me about it get the story immediately and relate it to their lives. That’s so exciting and satisfying as a writer.

You have an MFA from Vermont College of Fine Arts—which is a low-residency degree, correct? What made you decide to pursue this degree, and what did you find to be the advantages and disadvantages of the low-residency option? Would you recommend the program for emerging writers who are debating whether or not to pursue an MFA in Creative Writing?

Yes, the model at VCFA is 5 two-week residencies separated by six months of work with an adviser (you get four different faculty members during that time). I can’t say enough good things about the learning model and the community. First-semesters are overwhelmed and need those first six months to absorb. Then they reach a new level, and are again challenged. My brain was a very tired and stretched sponge, but I learned a tremendous amount and became a much better writer. The best thing, though, is that you meet your tribe, writers who care as much about story as you do. Writing can be so lonely, but I always have my tribe to lift me when I need it. I resisted the MFA for a long time (and still worry about the super-competitive aspects of some programs). But the VCFA model and community are spectacular, especially for those aspiring to write for kids.

ABOUT THE BOOK

Trust what you see, not what you’re told.

In a society that has made males obsolete, a woman’s gifts are carefully engineered by members of the Weave. Girls like Dinitra are engineered by Sowers and assigned their life purpose when they turn sixteen.

But sometimes, the Sowers get things wrong.

A resistance is growing, and the rebels are creating humans of their own—including males—and planning to topple the Weave in a war that could destroy them all. When Dinitra is assigned her purpose, she’s sent far from home, to a colony where she uncovers the ugliest secrets of the Weave. Her loyalty is tested when she’s captured by the rebels and develops a dangerous bond with a male warrior—a shameful crime that she may pay for with her life.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Kirk is the author of The Bond, the first in a fantasy series by Blue Crow Publishing. Her short story, “Love is a Wild Creature,” is featured in Wicked South: Secrets and Lies: Stories for Young Adults, also by Blue Crow. She is an award-winning poet.

Kirk is a human rights advocate and serves as Faculty Co-Chair of the Duke Human Rights Center at the Franklin Humanities Institute and is a founding member of the Pauli Murray Project, an initiative of the center that seeks to use the legacy of this Durham daughter to examine the region’s past of slavery, segregation and continuing economic inequality. As a senior researcher, Kirk authored, co-authored and edited over twelve reports for Human Rights Watch, all available on-line.

RobinKirk.com
@RobinKirkFacebook and Instagram

When I read the short story that Robin Kirk submitted to Wicked South: Secrets and Lies, the anthology I co-edited with Katie Rose Guest Pryal, I knew I’d be excited to read Robin’s soon-to-be-released first novel, The Bond. The Faculty Co-Chair of the Duke Human Rights Center at the Franklin Humanities Institute and a long-time human rights advocate, Robin was uniquely positioned to write this book. I was thrilled to have her on the blog to chat.

Welcome to the blog, Robin! Congratulations on the release of your first novel, The Bond. Give us a glimpse into the book. What’s it all about?

Thank you and thank you for doing this interview! The story starts on Dinitra’s graduation day. She fears the coming job assignment. Like the other girls at the Collegium, she’s been genetically engineered for something, but deep down she’s sure she’s a failure. She kind of is – she’s an artist, not a numbers person like her best friend. I was inspired to write this character by my Duke students, many of whom feel like imposters even after they’re “selected” for admission. Many are afraid that if they are their true selves, they won’t succeed. Instead of getting a bad job, Dinitra and her fellow graduates are drafted into the Legion, charged with defending her society, the Weave, from rebels. Slowly, I reveal that the Weave is a female-led society with very different ideas about gender roles, family, and the relationship with the natural world. Plus mutants! To keep from spoilers, I’ll just say that nothing is as it seems from then on.

You have a fascinating background! How does your work in human rights and the subject matter of your nonfiction books inform your fiction?

One of my favorite books is Markus Zusak’s The Book Thief, not only a great story but a superb way of engaging with the Holocaust in a fresh and compelling way. I wanted to write a fantasy that engaged with serious issues like violence and genocide, but not in a preachy way. I want my readers to be sympathetic to characters who are raised believing that some humans are inherently dangerous and should be eliminated, the engine of all genocides. And I had an easy group to pick on: men. The book flips the script of Margaret Atwood’s The Handmaid’s Tale (which I love) and asks if women are really more peaceable or less prone to abuses than men (spoiler: not so much). 

In addition to your book-length non-fiction writing, you’re an essayist and poet. What made you decide to make the leap into fiction writing . . . and what was different or challenging for you about the shift in forms?

Non-fiction comes more easily to me since it’s about clarity and organization as much as anything. Fiction is such a delicious challenge because you have to find a way to get to emotion, but without saying, “She was sad” or “He was happy.” Even when I’m not writing fantasy, every bit of the world of the story has to serve that purpose, to illuminate the character and throw problems at her that she must struggle to solve (sometimes and enticingly with disastrous results).

Why was it important for you to write a novel for young adults that explored the complex issue of genocide?

The books I read as a child and young adult went into my bloodstream in a way that fundamentally shaped the person I am. It’s so exciting to at least aspire to give young people a story that will do the same. Kids get moral ambiguity and challenges in a visceral way. There’s a reason dystopia remains a popular trope for teens since they live it in their daily lives — adults that have absolute control over their lives or who abandon them, the sometimes vicious castes of high school, and real life-or-death challenges. Teens who’ve read The Bond and who’ve written to me about it get the story immediately and relate it to their lives. That’s so exciting and satisfying as a writer.

You have an MFA from Vermont College of Fine Arts—which is a low-residency degree, correct? What made you decide to pursue this degree, and what did you find to be the advantages and disadvantages of the low-residency option? Would you recommend the program for emerging writers who are debating whether or not to pursue an MFA in Creative Writing?

Yes, the model at VCFA is 5 two-week residencies separated by six months of work with an adviser (you get four different faculty members during that time). I can’t say enough good things about the learning model and the community. First-semesters are overwhelmed and need those first six months to absorb. Then they reach a new level, and are again challenged. My brain was a very tired and stretched sponge, but I learned a tremendous amount and became a much better writer. The best thing, though, is that you meet your tribe, writers who care as much about story as you do. Writing can be so lonely, but I always have my tribe to lift me when I need it. I resisted the MFA for a long time (and still worry about the super-competitive aspects of some programs). But the VCFA model and community are spectacular, especially for those aspiring to write for kids.

ABOUT THE BOOK

Trust what you see, not what you’re told.

In a society that has made males obsolete, a woman’s gifts are carefully engineered by members of the Weave. Girls like Dinitra are engineered by Sowers and assigned their life purpose when they turn sixteen.

But sometimes, the Sowers get things wrong.

A resistance is growing, and the rebels are creating humans of their own—including males—and planning to topple the Weave in a war that could destroy them all. When Dinitra is assigned her purpose, she’s sent far from home, to a colony where she uncovers the ugliest secrets of the Weave. Her loyalty is tested when she’s captured by the rebels and develops a dangerous bond with a male warrior—a shameful crime that she may pay for with her life.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Kirk is the author of The Bond, the first in a fantasy series by Blue Crow Publishing. Her short story, “Love is a Wild Creature,” is featured in Wicked South: Secrets and Lies: Stories for Young Adults, also by Blue Crow. She is an award-winning poet.

Kirk is a human rights advocate and serves as Faculty Co-Chair of the Duke Human Rights Center at the Franklin Humanities Institute and is a founding member of the Pauli Murray Project, an initiative of the center that seeks to use the legacy of this Durham daughter to examine the region’s past of slavery, segregation and continuing economic inequality. As a senior researcher, Kirk authored, co-authored and edited over twelve reports for Human Rights Watch, all available on-line.

RobinKirk.com
@RobinKirkFacebook and Instagram

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