In our interview with Graci Kim, the author of the Gifted Clans series spoke to the difficulty of saying goodbye to her characters in The Last Fallen Realm, the magic we experience in our daily lives, and what project she’s working on next.
If you read my The Last Fallen Realm book review, you’ll already know how much I adored this book—and the Gifted Clans series as a whole.
I got to speak with Graci last year about The Last Fallen Moon, and was excited to follow up with her about the final book in this series, not only to discuss the nuances of the story but also to talk about that magical ending. Plus, I’ve been thinking about her next writing project since she teased us about it last year, and I was delighted to receive a few updates on it.
If you’d like to listen to the interview, be sure to tune into Prophecy Radio episode #86, where we update you on all the latest Riordanverse news, discuss the Last Fallen Realm in detail, and then have a chat with Graci herself.
Click play and jump to the 1:12:10 mark to begin the interview. The below transcript has been edited for brevity and clarity.
Interview with Graci Kim
I guess the first question is: How are you!? How do you feel now that the series has come to a close?
[Laughs] How am I? Isn’t that the big question? Oh my goodness. You know, I feel lots of things. People always say, ‘It’s okay to feel lots of different things at the same time.’ And I think that is me in a nutshell. One part of me is really proud of the fact that the story is out and the way that I had envisaged it and the three books—oh, with a short story as well, set before The Last Fallen Star, that’s in the Cursed Carnival anthology. So, I’m really proud. I’m [also] really sad because you create characters, and you spend so much time with them, and then the idea of moving on from them, saying goodbye to them, that is really sad. So, I think I’m a mix of lots of things, but yeah, overall a little bit bittersweet.
The last time we talked, you said the second book came pretty easily for you. And in the acknowledgements of this one, you said Fallen Realm was hard to write because you didn’t really want to say goodbye. Was there anything else about concluding this story that was particularly difficult for you?
Yeah, you know, I said that it was because it was hard to say goodbye, which is absolutely true, but you’re right, there was something else. And I think part of it was it’s hard to— I don’t know how real or founded this is, but the feeling that I had was I had so many readers that I needed to meet the expectations of. I didn’t want to let anyone down, because as soon as you’re saying, ‘Okay, well, this is the shape of the story and this is the final book,’ suddenly there’s just a bit more pressure on that book to be something, you know what I mean? It’s not just like, ‘Oh, you know, another book in a series.’ It’s like, ‘Oh, it’s the finale.’ So yeah, I think there was just a little bit of pressure I was putting on myself. So perhaps that was part of the reason [Fallen Realm] was so hard to write, but also, you know, it’s just hard to write a book. I have learned that every book is hard and every writer finds different parts of the process difficult, but the drafting part, to me, is just the most impossible, painful part. And I find revision really fun. The part that comes afterwards. I think I may have mentioned this before, but I kind of see drafting as shoveling sand into a big pit—just shoveling, shoveling, shoveling. You don’t know what you’re doing. You have no idea where it’s going. You just [have] sweat in your eyes, sand going in your eyes. It’s terrible. And then the revising part is when the sand is already in the pit. So you’re just inside the sandpit, having a bit of a play, trying to make that castle look really pretty. So I love the revision, but yeah, I will be honest, like I put in the end of the book, it was hard to write.
I think that makes a lot of sense. And I love that analogy. I think that’s really visual. Did anything in the third book change from how you first envisioned it when you started writing the Gifted Clan series?
Oh, that’s a good question. And that involves me actually remembering exactly what I had in mind. [Laughs] To be honest, the structure that I had in mind for the three books was very broad. So, you know, none of the details, not even really any of the main characters. It was just the general shape of Riley’s story. So, I mean, I’m sure there were lots that changed. So yeah, I can’t quite remember. In fact, you know, my memory is so bad, my three-year-old, if she asks me a question and I respond, she kind of looks at me a little dubiously. And then she goes and asks her dad if my memory is right.
That’s funny. I also think that’s totally fair because when you’re writing a series like this, especially as one as complicated as the Gifted Clans is, there’s so many creatures and characters and magic and it’s so full that I completely understand not quite remembering every little detail.
I feel like this is my gift and my curse. I love books and stories, so on the screen as well, of stories where, you know, at the end of the season, like the world pans out and then there’s like this extra little bit in the story that you didn’t realize and you’re like, ‘Ooh, ooh, ooh!’ And then, you know, the story grows and then the next season it grows again. And I mean, I love that because I’m such a restless mind. I love being surprised and having my world grow bigger and without me knowing, you know, I just love that feeling. But as a writer, because I love that, I try to put that in my books, but in doing so, like you say, suddenly my casts get just unwieldy. The magic systems just get complicated. I’m just like, ‘Why can’t I just stay in one rich world and just play in that one world? Why do I always have to pan back and do more with it?’ So it’s a funny thing because it’s fun and I enjoy it, and at the same time, why did I do that to myself?
How do you normally research locations in your books? Have you ever been to Vegas?
Yeah, so, luckily I had been. I feel very nervous, actually, sitting—even though it is a fictional book and lots of writers do incredible research online and through their own research to paint those pictures. But I personally feel like I need to have been there. So…oh, you know what? I just said that, and I just realized when I wrote the second book, I had not been to New York before. So I just contradicted myself. [Laughs] But for the last one anyway, yeah. For Realm, I did feel like I needed to have experienced Las Vegas, or at least maybe I needed to have known what it felt like as a general place to have even thought to set it there in the first place, if that makes sense. But I also had lots of fun online, and I often spend a lot of time on Google Maps, just walking and charting. And there’s that Street View option where you can actually just follow the arrows and walk down the streets and things. I had a lot of fun doing that.
In this book, Riley deals a lot with imposter syndrome. Have you ever struggled with that personally?
Oh, my goodness, yes. I mean, I would say that made it into Riley’s story because it was happening to me. For sure. I mean, like I said, third book, last book, pressure that I was putting on myself, pressure imagined or real that I was feeling that others were putting on me. And I think just certain personality types also feel this a lot more. So, yeah, I’m a bit of a perfectionist. That might be a part of it, too. I was feeling a lot of, yeah, imposter syndrome, like, ‘Why am I here? There are so many amazing writers out there who don’t get published. Do I deserve to be here doing what I love doing right now?’ I mean, I had lots of thoughts. And I think that did weave into Riley’s story. I felt that through the writing of the story, I kind of managed to work through it a little bit. I mean, writing a book is definitely not a replacement for therapy and neither should it ever be, but I did feel like it was a little bit of self-therapy and that as other people are telling Riley, ‘Hey, hey, hey, listen, imposter syndrome is what it is. It’s totally valid to feel it, but really it’s our brain trying to protect itself from disappointment and from failure and what have you, but those voices are one of many.’ Sometimes I imagine my brain being a control room, and inside it’s this switchboard. And on the switchboard, there are lots of different levers for different things, right? And most of the time you don’t have to go into the control room because you’re a well-oiled machine and it just kind of goes. But sometimes there can be electrical faults, there can be storms, there can just be certain situations that put things out of kilter. And so sometimes I give myself permission to go into that control room and just put up some levers, put down some levers, that imposter syndrome vibe, maybe pull down that lever a little because it’s a bit too up, put the resilience one a little bit up. And it’s such a funny thing because it’s visual and it’s totally in your head, but I feel that when I really picture myself doing this, I come out of the control room and I do feel a little bit better. So it’s a long-winded way of me saying, yes, definitely mirroring my own experience. And I hope people can take a few tips from Riley’s journey as well.
One of my favorite aspects of this book, and I mentioned this last time as well, is Hattie and Riley’s relationship. It has just consistently been one of my favorite parts of the series because their friendship and sisterhood is natural. It’s imperfect, but it’s always supportive and full of understanding, even when they’re at odds with each other. And I think that they both grew a lot in the series. What was it like to balance them both, both of their personalities, as well as straddling that line of like Hattie supporting Riley and not enabling her? Because I think that was done really well.
Oh, wow. Thank you for saying that because I wasn’t sure if I had delivered that. I love my two little sisters. Like I love them so much. And my love for them and our relationship was really the catalyst for the story, to be honest, because the story really started with Riley’s relationship with her sister, Hattie. And so I was really trying in every book to give them—you know how like a character has a character arc in every story that they have to go through to change by the end of? And I really wanted to give that relationship a little goal in every book. So I remember specifically in the second book thinking, ‘I really need to give them a little bit of conflict,’ because in the first book, they would die for each other. They would do anything for each other, and that’s wonderful. But when the dust settles, you’re still siblings and you still fight about things, and you’re growing and you’re trying to figure out your place in the world, but also in your siblinghood. Is that a thing? And so it was something I really tried to explore, and I loved because it feels real, you know? And to be honest, if one thing I did try to put in there is to give Riley a bit more of a growth trajectory for her to question this sister of hers, who’s not her older sister, but takes on a real big sister vibe, like, ‘I’ve got your back, I’m a confident one, you just listen to me and follow me kid’ vibe. Because that’s kind of how I was to my sisters, because I was a little bit older and I was always the kind of pseudo mum in any situation where my mum wasn’t there. And so I wanted to give Riley the option to not have that and to kind of, I guess, rub up against the surface of what it would be like if she spoke out and said, ‘Actually, hang on a second. I can do this myself, too. So why don’t you sit back and love me from a little bit of a distance?’ So yeah, it was really fun, and I’m just really, really grateful that you spotted that. So thank you.
You’re welcome! Glad to help. I also have to ask, are you good at mini golf?
[Laughs] I love mini golf, and I have not played it in years because I don’t know why, but the city I live in in Auckland keeps getting rid of all their mini golf places. I don’t know, they just keep… Like, there used to be lots when I was growing up, and now there’s, like, maybe two that I can think of? And one’s super far away and one is pretty old and dilapidated. But the question was, am I good at it? And the answer is no. No, no, no.
Not all in one Gracie or anything.
Ha! No, not at all. But I do love them. They’re just beautiful. I don’t know, it’s just so delightful. You know, you’re just being in this space with people you enjoy being with, these little sticks and these little curated little greens and all these other people trying to get in. I love that pressure when you’re taking your sweet time and there’s people coming up behind you, waiting impatiently, or vice versa, and the café at the end. I just love it.
That’s great. I also wanna talk about the food in this book because I know that I can always expect lots of delicious morsels when I read one of your books. And I specifically remember talking about this last year, too. And the big focus this time was on gummies. Do you prefer gummies over chocolate candy?
You know, I definitely prefer them to hard candy—I’m just not a fan. And in recent days I’ve come to love chocolate a lot more than I used to. I definitely I used to be a big gummy fan. I just love the chewiness. There’s something about the chewiness. You know, you kind of have to work at it, and it feels like a process and it feels like it almost lasts longer because you’re chewing it. I love it. But, actually, in recent days, chocolate has really come up on the rise. So I’m enjoying both at the moment. But yeah, you know, somebody asked me the other day, like, ‘Why did you feature gummies so much in the story?’ And I was like, ‘I don’t know!’ I was probably eating gummies at the time that I was drafting. And I was like, ‘What if these guys fit into the story?’ I have no idea. I wish I knew. I wish.
Any other foods or beverages that you really enjoyed writing about in this book?
Oh my gosh. You know, the thing I really loved writing about is perfume that smells like food.
Yes, that was so great!
I’m like, ‘Why is that not a thing?’ I mean, of course it’s not a thing because people don’t want to smell like food, but also why is it not a thing? I feel like there are certain foods. Well, you know what, now that I’m saying that, there are certain sweet foods that we do have perfumes for, don’t we?
Yeah, like vanilla-y scented things or caramel-y scented things, I guess there are. But I don’t know, savory foods that, you know, you go into a restaurant and you smell that thing and your mouth starts to water? Surely there’s a place for, I don’t know, restaurants… I guess that would be misleading if restaurants were spraying certain stents and that’s not what they were selling.
True. I’m also asking this because I found out that an avocado shake is a very real thing. I did not know this! Have you had one? Are they good?
Yeah, so it was a bit of an in-joke for me. I mean, in-joke with myself, because I remember when I lived in China, when I was working at the New Zealand Embassy in Beijing, we would go out to lunch to this one spot who would make these incredible avocado shakes. And I remember for ages, my colleagues would be like, ‘Oh, you have to try this, this is amazing.’ And I was like, ‘Ah, I prefer my avocado on my toast. I don’t know about this.’ And then I remember the day I tried it, and I was like, ‘Oh, this is great!’ Because you don’t really get the taste of the avocado, but you get the richness and the smoothness and the creaminess with the other flavors that you get. And what’s great is that because it’s so creamy, you don’t have to put milk in it. And so for people who try not to have a lot of dairy or can’t have dairy, it’s an amazing thing. And, I mean, I love dairy, but it was also just nice to add another little different flavor. It was just cool. And so I put that in there because, yeah, I don’t think a lot of people know that you can put avocado in a sweet beverage like that. So, yeah, like I said, it was an in-joke, but really just to myself.
Okay, my last non-spoilery question is that the Tree of Life, also known as the World Tree or the Cosmic Tree, does play a part in this story, but it also shows up in a lot of other mythologies around the world. Why do you think this is such a consistent theme and piece of imagery?
Oh, wow, yeah. I mean, I don’t know. Do you think trees are like the true magical beings of this world? I don’t know, sometimes I look at trees and I just think, ‘You guys have seen so much.’ Like, we think we’re the big honchos in this world, but our lives in the scheme of your lives are—well, not all of them, but a lot of them—we are all but a spark. And are they just sitting there, sentient in a way that we can’t even fathom, just kind of chuckling at us, being like, ‘Ha ha ha, that’s very cute.’ I don’t know, maybe they truly are the ones that run the show, and their sense of time is so different, which is why they grow and change in ways that we can’t see with our naked eye. Maybe that’s why the whole idea of Mother Nature being… I don’t know, I wish I knew, but it’s so interesting that so many different mythologies have this concept of the Tree of Life.
We are officially entering our spoiler section! I wanna kick this off with the mayor because, I have to tell you, I felt so betrayed! I wanted to yell at him, ‘I trusted you!’ Kristen and I were just discussing The Last Fallen Moon the other day. We did an episode of the podcast on it, and we were like, ‘Wow, he’s so different than I expected. I really ended up liking him.’ I guess he sort of fooled everyone. He definitely fooled Riley in the end. Was this the plan all along? Was he always going to be the guy who was only looking out for himself?
So, when he first appeared, no. But very quickly, as the story developed, as I was trying to develop the third story, I was like, ‘Oh, he’s great. He’s great for this role!’ Because, yeah, he’d redeemed himself in a certain way, but he was so right for the taking, if you will. So, yeah, I’m sorry? But yes, while it wasn’t the original plan, he very quickly felt [like] the right person to play that role.
So, of course, the other major spoilery part of the book that I want to talk about is Dahl and Riley returning to the Godrealm and becoming celestial beings once more because the theme of this interview and the book and everything is that it was really bittersweet in a lot of ways. They were both happy to make the sacrifices that they did, both happy with the lives that they’re living now, but they’ve also been transformed into something that very much lives outside the realm that their friends and family exist in. What made you want to go in this direction for them? Was that a really tough decision to make?
Yeah, so I find this so fascinating to pass through in my brain because I don’t know why, like I don’t know the reasoning, but ever since the story came to me from the beginning, I knew—to be honest, I didn’t know Dahl would even exist—but I knew that Riley would go back into the sky and become the sun. I just knew, and so I guess everything was almost leading up to that, in a sense. And part of that was this obsession I used to have—I feel like through writing this book, I’ve almost gotten through it now—but this obsession I had with the idea of sacrifice. This idea that we do what we do for others because it’s something that I experienced so much growing up. I saw my parents sacrificing so much for us, and then was told that I would have to sacrifice a lot for my sisters or for the good of the family or for the wider good. This whole idea of having to put your own needs below the needs of others, and that constantly rubbing up against what I was learning in wider Western society, which is, you know, you have to take care of yourself and you have to be independent. You have to make the right decisions that fit yourself, and those things were very hard to marry in my mind because they seem so contradictory. If you do one, you don’t do the other. So how can you live a life not disappointing either side? I’ve always been really fascinated with this idea of sacrifice, and so I think maybe that’s what I was exploring. I’m not sure, but I always knew that Riley would return, and when Dahl appeared—and I didn’t know that Dahl would even be a character until I wrote the second book, actually—that it just made sense that they would return together. Now the interesting thing is—I’ve written this in the end of the book on the author’s note—is that after I wrote the book, I realized that there is a folktale about a brother and sister who become the sun and the moon. And while it’s not obviously the same story, just this idea of a brother and sister who become the sun and the moon was so weird and beautiful to me that I had never heard of this folktale before, and yet that is how my story had also mirrored this other folktale. And it really made me wonder that maybe there’s real magic out there when we tell stories. We weave from our imaginations, but maybe we weave from stuff that we don’t even know—back into this whole idea of us not knowing what is really out there. Maybe there’s these other strands just floating in the air and in us and through us that we just grab onto, and they just become part of the fabric of what we write. I just think it’s fabulous and eerie and beautiful, but it somehow became the story it became, yeah.
Yeah, I remember I read that in the author’s note and I was like, ‘Wow, what are the chances that they would parallel each other like that?’ I mean, that really must have solidified in your brain that you were going in the right direction and that this was the right story to tell for them.
And you know how we say with folktales and mythologies, often they were orally passed down and so they are continually refreshed and retold and modernized with the storyteller, depending on the circumstance and the society in which they’re telling them? And so I wondered, wow, maybe this is part of that tradition where I am just another storyteller in the generations retelling our old stories and without even realizing I’ve pulled from old tales that somehow are in me without even knowing that they’re in me. Do you know what I mean? Yeah, that’s a weird and wonderful feeling.
That’s amazing. We also get a little idea of what Riley’s life is like because she does get to visit the mortal realm once a year for vacation. Have you thought any more about Riley and Emmett’s future or even Hattie’s now that she goes back and forth between the Spiritrealm. Have you unraveled those stories a little bit more in your mind?
No, I haven’t yet. I’m worried that if I do, I’ll want to write a new book. So I haven’t really gone there, but sometimes in the quiet of my mind—this is going to sound slightly odd—but sometimes in the quiet of my mind, it’s like I look up at the sun and I’m like, ‘Ah, I wonder what she’s thinking about right now. I wonder what she’s doing.’ And at night I look up and I’m like, ‘Ah, I wonder if Dahl is being really annoying right now.’ So I do wonder on that surface level, but I haven’t really thought much about what the future might hold for them. The future I have wondered more about though is what life on Earth would look like in the future because things are so different now, right? And there’s this whole idea that maybe magic could belong to all those who believe. I keep wondering what that future world might look like and what kind of role the people left behind on Earth might play in that world. That excites me.
That’s amazing to hear because that’s actually a perfect segue into my next question, which was, would you ever revisit this world either to continue Riley’s story or to follow another character on their journey? And I was going to say, especially now that everyone has magic.
So I haven’t actively thought about this, but I just don’t know what would happen in the future. So, maybe. I mean, who knows while the things have happened. I wouldn’t know if I’d want to follow Riley’s journey because I feel like her journey is just so… It feels so, I don’t even know what the word is, but it feels so complete in the way that it is. But possibly through a different character’s eyes. I mean, that could be quite fun. Yeah. I mean, the first person that comes to mind right now—just spit-balling—would be Emmett. [He] is the first person that comes to mind. But yeah, who knows? Maybe! Mybe in the future.
If you can choose any of the abilities from this series, what would you like to be able to do or what elements would you want to manipulate?
100% healing. Yeah. I mean, there was a reason I chose that as the main power in the family, because I just think this idea of alleviating pain and suffering in others… Wouldn’t that just be the most amazing thing? I mean, people are complex and there’s all this other stuff that could be nice to have as powers, but alleviating suffering and pain and being able to heal people. That’s the one I would choose hand down.
Are there any emerging or debut authors that you’d love to see take on a Rick Riordan Presents series?
Oh. You know what, no one that immediately comes to mind right now, but the reason I say that is because I’m seeing quite a few authors right now writing very similar inspired works, but under all imprints. And I think that kind of speaks to the power of what Rick has done, that he created this imprint so that people writing about their own culture’s mythologies would have a platform to really be seen and to be heard. And I think through that, now, it’s become more mainstream. And so I feel like, yeah, I feel like how amazing is that? That he’s served its purpose, that there are more and more stories like this now coming out. So, I would say there’s lots coming out. In fact, just yesterday there was a book—it was called Lei and the Fire Goddess, based on Hawaiian mythology, by an author called Malia Maunakea. And I haven’t read the book, but for example, this is from Penguin Kids. And I was just thinking how awesome is that? We’re having these stories from all different imprints now. Yeah, it’s saying here this is Percy Jackson meets Disney’s Moana. A Hawaiian mythology adventure for eight to 12-year-olds. I mean, that could have been something you would definitely have seen under Rick Riordan Presents and is now just wider. It’s so exciting, and it’s definitely testament to what Rick has done for us.
Another thing I’m always thinking about is book-to-film or TV show adaptations because they’re so common these days, and especially with Percy Jackson being adapted for a second time now. Would you like to see the Gifted Clan series adapted someday?
Oh my goodness. That’s a dagger through the heart. I mean, absolutely. I mean, wouldn’t that just be incredible? Because the whole idea of screen adaptations, to me on a creative level, is just mind-boggling because they take a source material and they get teams of people working to turn it into something else, to develop into a different creative project altogether. I know some authors find it difficult having their stories pulled apart and changed, but to me, it’s part of the creative growth of that project. It’s because it’s something else, it’s not another book. It’s a different medium altogether. So seeing that be developed would just—I don’t even have words to describe what that would feel like. In saying that, even though it’s been optioned by the Disney Channel, these things, I’m told, can just die a quiet death. So I have absolutely no expectation of it getting off the ground, but if it did, you will know. You will probably hear me shrieking from where you are.
And is that something that you’d enjoy being a part of like Rick is with Percy Jackson, or is that something that you’d want to stay separate from? Because like you were talking about, it is a separate medium, it’s a separate sort of telling.
I would love to be part of it, but not as a central part of it, if that makes sense. I’d love to just see how it works. And obviously if there were things I felt really passionate about, the power and ability to feed my opinions into the mix, but I would love to just be a fly on the wall and just watch it go. I just think that would be fascinating.
The last time we spoke, you talked about a new series that you’ve been working on, which I’ve been calling your dream series because you were exploring questions like, ‘Why do we dream? Where do we go when we dream?’ I’ve honestly been thinking about this pretty frequently over the last year. Are there any updates that you can share with us?
Oh my gosh. I wish I could honestly tell you everything, but the publishing machine is such that I’m not yet able to, but while I can’t remember exactly to what extent I shared last time, I can share a bit more. And if I’m repeating myself, then I’m sorry, but I will share what I can. So I would have said last time that, yes, I’m fascinated with dreaming and this whole idea that we sleep for a third of our lives, which is like 30 years by the time we’re 90, which is so much time that we’re spending asleep. And so what does that mean? Is sleep just sleep or where we go in our sleep is somewhere different? What if where we went in our sleep was a different place? And what if… Oh no, now I’m going too much into detail. Okay, so wait, take a step back. Did I mention the four things, the four kind of strands of inspiration that fit into this idea?
Ooh, I don’t think so.
Oh, okay. In that case, I’ll share that because that makes more sense. So, dreaming is one strand that is going into this new world. The other strand is X-Men. Just because I love X-Men and this whole idea of genetic mutations and a whole part of the human population that might be genetically different. And what does that mean? And what does that say for how society is run and how these people are treated? So, X-Men. The third strand is Pokémon. Because I love Pokémon. So the idea of catching creatures, and what does that mean? And then the last one is if the Korean royal family was not decimated and they were still around, what would a Korean prince be like? Would he be regarded in the same way that we regard Prince William and Prince Harry? That kind of standing in our kind of pop culture or would it be somewhat different? So those four strands have come together to become this new project that I still can’t quite talk about. But I can’t wait. Honestly, like I am kind of like drooling right now because I want to talk about it so much, but I hope I’ll be able to share more soon.
‘The Last Fallen Realm’ published on June 6, 2022
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