I recently finished Mercy, and I loved it. The book wasn’t what I was expecting, and it kept me off-balance and guessing for the entire read. I was stoked when Rebecca Lim dropped by the virtual offices for answer a few of my questions.
[Manga Maniac Café] Describe yourself in 140 characters or less.
[Rebecca Lim] Friendly, quiet, organized, stubborn, observant. I am the biggest eavesdropper! There’s nothing better for giving your dialogue and characters more authenticity than listening to the cadences of real speech. And I never, ever sweat the small stuff. There’s no point, and no time.
[MMC] Can you tell us a little about your book, Mercy?
[RL] Mercy, brings together some of the genre-mashing I enjoy as a reader. It’s a YA mystery/crime novel – but with angels and romance and Latin and choral music thrown in. I tried to imagine what it would be like for someone with extraordinary powers to be suffering from a bizarre kind of amnesia where she only has prismatic flashes of memory. The inklings of more than one past life, and of what she’s truly capable of, would hopefully keep things interesting for the reader.
[MMC] How did you come up with the concept and the characters for the story?
[RL] Mercy came about through a combination of things.
I was researching an essay at uni when I came upon the classical idea that there are only three 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 create, I guess. I didn’t just want Mercy to be a “bad” angel – so her back-story is slowly revealed over the course of the first 3 books. And some people can’t stand not having the loose ends all neatly tied up by the end of Mercy, but I have a real horror of information dumping. I’m banking on those readers who like to be engaged and challenged, coming along for the entire trip.
Mercy is also a fictional response to some terrible abduction and imprisonment 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.
With Mercy I was hoping to reach YA readers and female readers generally because of some of the themes I cover. 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.
I consciously set out to create a heroine who can, literally, do anything if she puts her mind to it. I didn’t want to create a 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.
The male “leads” are a physical embodiment of the warring sides of Mercy’s nature, I suppose, and I can’t say much more because I don’t want to give too much away. But the series will just never be about a “love triangle” because other authors will always do that stuff much better than I can. The books were always intended to be about Mercy and the choices she makes and her journey back to herself. One of the “leads” is integral to the reason why Mercy “fell” in the first place, so that all becomes clear the further you go.
I wanted to layer Mercy so that it wasn’t just the typical “high school” scenario where you have mean girls, jocks etc. 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, friendship, the beautiful parts of life.
I’ve tried, as much as possible, to build a “world” and a cast of supporting characters that are as authentic and “real” as I can possibly make them without labouring the point too much. I would always prefer to “underwrite” rather than “overwrite” because I like giving the reader the space to think rather than forcefeed them with pages and pages of over-characterisation. That drives some people mad, but that’s just the way I work.
[MMC] What have you learned about yourself through your characters?
[RL] That I’ve been very fortunate. A lot of the characters in Mercy are incredibly damaged and wary and withdrawn because of the things that have happened to them or been done to them.
[MMC] What character traits, good or bad, do you share with Mercy?
[RL] I’m not sure I’d share that many with Mercy. I’m ethical, and I feel injustices quite deeply. So maybe her developing sense of ethics would be a “good character trait” we’d have in common. But she’s got some distance to go yet …
I wish I was more like Mercy in some respects. She’d fall into the category of an “immediate responder” while I’m a “delayed responder”. Writing her dialogue was so liberating. Imagine having an immediate comeback for everything! She can take care of herself in any situation, she doesn’t take nonsense from anyone and she doesn’t care what people think of her.
But because of her amnesia, and way she’s been damaged by her trials here on earth, you could say that as the series starts she’s a little sociopathic. And that’s as opposite from me as you could get! I’m pretty meek and very law abiding.
[MMC] Why do you think books with paranormal elements are so popular right now? Why did you decide to write one?
[RL] As a species, I think we want to believe that there’s something more out there than this concrete reality we see and experience every day. For some, it may be science that fills that void, for others it may be faith, or a constantly shifting amalgam of the two. But many of us want there to be that “something more”. And maybe that’s why paranormal fiction is exploding right now. Because it’s all about possibility, and the existence – in some kind of corporeal or tangible form – of that “something more”.
I have a few paranormal manuscripts in my desk drawer that I keep picking up and putting down because I’ve been pre-occupied with the theme for a while now. It all ties in with my curiosity about how things are supposed to “work”, I guess, and there aren’t really any concrete answers to that, sadly.
[MMC] What was the most challenging aspect of writing the book?
[RL] The biggest challenge was keeping Mercy’s identity quite separate from Carmen’s so that you get a sense of the human 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 hurt and confused and disconnected and what I’ve tried to do is give you an idea 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 had to consciously work at 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, and 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 (or ahead of) Mercy as she experiences things, and hopefully that makes things interesting for most people.
[MMC] If you had to pick one book that turned you on to reading, what would it be?
[RL] There are almost too many to name, but one that made a huge early impression was The Neverending Story by the German author Michael Ende. Don’t let the truly diabolical film that was made of the book (in the 1980s) stop you from reading it!
(And I blame The Famous Five, Encyclopaedia Brown and Trixie Belden for my early fascination with detective stories.)
[MMC] What do you like to do when you aren’t writing?
[RL] Reading and eating would pretty much be jostling for pre-eminence at my house.
Mercy is in stores now! You can purchase a copy from your favorite book seller, or by clicking the handy widget below.