Tuesday 27 September 2011

Author Interview: Rachel Aaron

Today I have the author - and Eli's partner in crime, Rachel Aaron stopping by. Welcome to Mel's Random reviews - it's great having you here!

First tell us a little about yourself...
Well, first off, my name is Rachel Aaron and I write books. That's pretty much what I do all day every day: books books books. I'm a professional escapist artist :D. The Legend of Eli Monpress is my first series published by the fantastic Orbit Books. I've finished the final two books, and the whole thing is now in my editor's hands going through all the primping and polishing books undergo before they hit the shelves. I live in Athens, GA with my husband and toddler son, who may or may not have eaten 2D6 of my books. And if that last sentence didn't tip my hand already, I'm also a huge nerd. I was a Warcraft addict but kicked the habit a few months ago to focus on books (but I'll come back when they fix shaman healing). I love anime, manga, videogames, and books I can't put down.
The Legend of Eli Monpress series has three books currently  released (The Spirit Thief, The Spirit Rebellion & The Spirit Eater) - how would you describe it to potential new readers?
I tend to describe my series as an adventure fantasy starring a charming scoundrel of a gentleman thief. It's very much rooted in the 90s style of action packed, swashbuckling fantasy but with a modern, urban fantasy pace. No slow rolling epics here. That said, the series is actually kind of hard to define. It's a character driven story with big personalities and larger than life situations that's also got a good bit of dry humor (sort of like a fantasy Dr. Who, actually. Funny people in tough situations). If the idea of a quick talking thief getting in way over his head and having to charm his way out appeals to you, then my series might just be your cup of tea.

If you just want to take a look, though, I always suggest new readers go to my website where you can read the first couple chapters of The Spirit Thief for free. People usually know by the end of the first scene whether my series is for them.

The magic system in the Eli books is unique – what inspired you to develop the idea of animating inanimate objects?
The inherently hilariousness of talking doors! Actually, that was a huge part of it, but the magical system of everything having a spirit (and how that ties in with the larger meta plot of the world) came to me years before I had the idea for the Eli books. Being a huge nerd, I'm always inventing magical systems. I have this bucket of worlds waiting around for the right story, and when Eli came along, my spirit world was a perfect fit for him. After all, what better place for a man whose super power is charm than a world where you can talk to everything?

There are many great characters in these books – do you have a favourite to write for and why?
Oh goooood, why did you ask me this? Um, my favorite changes. Every day I swear I love someone else the most. Eli certainly has the strongest voice, I can almost hear him in my head. He's probably my favorite character, but my favorite person to write is a toss up between Sara and Alber Whitefall. The scenes where they are together are some of my favorites in the series, unfortunately they're all in books 4 and 5, so I'm afraid no one will know what I'm talking about until next year. Trust me, though. You are going to LOVE those two.

My favorite couple in the book is undoubtedly Gin and Miranda. I just love a girl and her puppy. I also really love writing Benehime, which kind of upsets me. She is not a nice lady, but her dialogue comes so easily, I'm beginning to worry about myself.

Do plan in advance or to you start not knowing where the story will end?

When I started writing the series, I only planned vaguely. I knew the beginning and the end, but the middle was kind of a muddle. Somewhere around the end of book 3, I had the really novel idea that if I knew what I was writing before I wrote it, things might be easier. This was the DUH moment of my career. After this, I started planning everything, and not only did the writing get easier, the books got way way better. I planned both of the final books, The Spirit War and Spirit's End, extensively, and it really shows. They are hands down the best things I have ever written.

My discovery of planning lead directly to a huge jump in my daily wordcounts as well. Seriously, HUGE. As in I went from struggling to get 2000 words a day (roughly 1 scene) to writing well over 10,000 words a day (1.5 - 2 chapters) by the end of the final Eli novel. It was miraculous, and it was mostly due to planning. I actually have a blog post about my process here: just in case anyone is curious.

Eli Monpress is charming but he is also a thief – have you ever stolen anything?
I plead the fifth! But I will say that many moons ago I was a very bored teenage girl with tastes that outstripped her babysitting money. I can also pick locks, though not nearly as well as Eli can. (Fun fact - picking locks is actually way easier than you think and a very useful skill if you're prone to forgetting your keys.)
Why do you think fantasy remains such a popular genre?
Because fantasy can be whatever people need. There is a freedom in fantasy to be the very best of who we are as a species, to make extremely restrictive systems and then upturn them. Most fantasies are full of conflict and heroism of the enormous, satisfying type you just can't plausibly get in the real world. You can set up the most amazing situations with absolutely no regard to reality and run your characters through hardships people were never meant to handle... and then watch them survive and thrive. Fantasy is the ultimate celebration of the best and worst of humanity. Nothing illustrates the price of power, the sacrifice of doing what is right, the glory of heroism, or the agony of impossible choices better than the fantasy genre.

The world can be a cruel, unfair place where a good person can strive and strive and still die stupidly in a car crash never having reached their happy ending. Fantasy is popular in all languages, all around the globe, because we as a species long for a world where our efforts and values are rewarded, where unfairness and cruelty don't win, where the universe is governed by a system we can understand, and where one hero really can change the world simply by refusing to give up. That's a powerful, primal story, and one humanity has been telling since the beginning. Fantasy is the modern evolution of myth, and like myth, it will never leave us.
Have you ever had a fantastical experience?
No, sadly, unless you count the day I wrote 13,000 words. That was pretty damn magical. I felt like I was stumbling drunk when I finally had to stop. Otherwise, though, not really. I'm a pretty realistic, cynical person in my daily life, and I think part of what drives me to write fantasy is a longing for a more magical world. Though sometimes when I read about space, a bit of that childlike wonder comes back. I'm a real sucker for the Symphony of Science videos.

What have you got coming up next?
I actually just finished editing a scifi romance full of powered armor combat (amazing things happen when you can write 8-10k a day) that's meant to be the first in a trilogy. It's with my agent right now, so I don't know if it will be published yet, but I hope it will. I love it to pieces! It's very different from my Eli books, but it's got the same fast pacing and character driven plot. And if that doesn't sell, I'm working on a YA fantasy. Busy busy busy! But since publishing is a slow industry, anything I write now won't come out for 2 years at least. The snail's pace of publishing can be really vexing sometimes.

I'm also working on some short stories set in the Eli Monpress world for Orbit Short Fiction. I've already written one about how Miranda and Gin met, and my next is going to be about how Josef and Eli fell in together. If Orbit buys them, they'll be coming out to celebrate the Omnibus edition of the first three Eli books this February. If Orbit doesn't buy them for whatever reason, I'll just put them up on my site, so you'll get Eli short fiction no matter what!

That's it for the tough questions - on Thursday we tackle a 60 second quick quiz!


  1. Oh I think Orbit will buy them easily.

    I had to laugh at you saying you like a girl and her puppy. :) Since I have a 100+ lbs dog, I have to agree! LOL

    I have read and loved the first book. I so need to read the rest.

    Great interview Mel!!

  2. Great interview :D
    And the books sounds so good! And well I do love fantasy best of all genres so it should be right up my alley

  3. Great interview, I've always thought being able to pick locks would be a handy skill to have and would save me loads of time as I often stand at my front door searching through my bag for keys that I have left in my house:)