R. L. LaFevers (aka Robin) grew up in Los Angeles with seven brothers and a consistent parade of rescued animals, such as chipmunks, a peacock, an anteater and even bears. “We were a happy, squabbly, quarrelsome, but loving litter,” she says, but as the only girl in that rambunctious group she often felt at the mercy of her sensitive nature, detecting undercurrents lost on her brothers. LaFevers found solace in the animals, frequently carrying a chipmunk in her pocket. “They were a formative part of my experience,” she says of the close relationships she forged with them. “Having access to them all the time was…mystical.”
LaFevers knew she wanted to write when she was eight years old after reading the Narnia books. “I inhaled [them] in a week,” she says, but unfortunately she describes her path to publication as “long and torturous.” She found inspiration and support in the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators (SCBWI) and Romance Writers of America studying and polishing her craft. Success finally came at an SCBWI conference when an agent offered to represent her work. “I was six feet off the ground!” LaFevers says. “It’s such a leap from no one believing in me to someone willing to align her professional reputation with mine.”
LaFevers’ books often mimic events in her life whether she plans it or not. One of her earliest books, The Forging of the Blade (book one of the Lowthar’s Blade series), features a character who wants to find his father and put his family back together. LaFevers wrote the book to celebrate the pure love of a child and the faith and support children extend to their families, but at that time it never crossed her mind that her character’s trials were also part of her emotional landscape. Her parents divorced when she was seven and she dreamed of reuniting them.
After completing the Lowthar’s Blade trilogy, LaFevers sat in her rocking chair—her favorite thinking place—trying to “crawl back into her eleven year old skin” to figure out what would have met her needs. The answer: “An action/adventure starring a girl front and center.” The name Theodosia, an old English name, popped into her head for her main character. A self-described Anglophile, LaFevers loves everything British and set her story in London. Rocking in her chair brought her back to the time when she loved Ancient Egypt as a kid. “The more I researched, the more I discovered Egypt was a source of some of our western magical practices.” She set her Theodosia books in 1907 during the golden age of Egyptology. “Plotting is easier when you delete the modern ways to solve problems,” LaFevers says. “Sifting through ancient papyri is more compelling than Google.”
Interestingly, Theodosia and the Serpents of Chaos marks LaFevers’ first “girl” book. “One of the most important things we bring [to our stories as authors] is our unique, quirky, foible-y perspective. The important lesson is to tap into one’s own emotional landscape.” LaFevers often felt overlooked in her chaotic family of brothers and pets and she maintains that “as writers, the ideas that will be the most fertile for us come from the period where we had the most trauma.”
Although LaFevers was an Egypt fan when she was eleven, she did not retain much of what she’d learned. “Google is my God,” she says referring to her online searches that yielded such sources as a London street map circa 1895 and the obscure and out of print Egyptology titles she purchased for her library. LaFevers’ love of research manifests itself physically—her cheeks flush with excitement as she opens a new source book and falls into her subject. “I always find plot solutions in research,” she says. Her husband quips that she writes books as an excuse to research.
During LaFevers’ school visits, second and third graders habitually approach her to ask if Theodosia is too hard for them to read. Rather than simply nodding with an apology, LaFevers responded with Nathaniel Fludd, Beastologist—“accessible fantasy for emerging readers.” While researching Theodosia, LaFevers found a medieval bestiary. Flipping the pages of the volume, she studied the creatures and asked “What if they were real?” Nathaniel, reluctant adventurer and aspiring beastologist, follows in the footsteps of his indomitable Aunt Phil (a vibrant role model for 50+ women). “I adore [Nathaniel] as if he were a child of mine, a living breathing person in my life,” LaFevers says.
LaFevers works from her Carpinteria home in Southern California. Upon waking in the morning, she pads (still in pajamas) to the coffee pot and then to her rocking chair where she writes in long hand or on her Netbook for two or three hours. “That’s my best, most productive, most fertile time,” she says, “when my brain is still in touch with my subconscious.” Prior to writing for a living, LaFevers held a number of other jobs she calls her “training ground.” Now that she has found her passion, she pours herself into it. “The most interesting parts of me are in the books. As the author, I want to be invisible.”