Wednesday, July 27, 2011

The Fantastic Mr. Monpress: A Stellar Four Interview with Rachel Aaron

By Meghan B

 Every so often, a book series is so engrossing, well written and captivating that it makes you lose track of yourself. You miss your train stop. You read through all your meals. You glance up in disappointment when you remember you don't live in such a rich, lush and fantastic world. When you finish the last book in the series, you immediately re-read the first installment all over again. In short, the series is so epic you have to give it your full and undivided attention.

Rachel Aaron's Eli Monpress books are just that epic. Within a week I had read the first three novels in the series and actually started to re-read book one. I could not pull myself out of the amazing world she had created.

The series follows a charming and talented thief named Eli Monpress, who has his eye on earning a bounty for his capture worth a million dollars. He's joined by his friend and swordsman-with-a-secret Josef and Nico, a girl with her own demons to deal with. Using magic, outrageous quantities of luck and sheer cleverness, Eli steals anything that will get him closer to that record shattering bounty. Acting as the cop to Eli's robber is the smart and noble Miranda, tirelessly trying to bring him to justice. The characters are only part of the heady mix of magical daring do and awesome plot twists that make up the series.

I recently got the chance to interview Rachel Aaron about her brilliant characters, as well as the craft of writing. Besides being responsible for bringing Eli and friends to life, Rachel is incredibly funny and an absolutely joy to interview. Follow me after the jump as I try to hold back my inner fangirl and interview the wonderful Rachel Aaron! Caution: The interview contains spoilers!

The wonderful Rachel Aaron
Rachel, I really want to thank you for agreeing to do this interview. It's a real treat to pick your brain about my favorite thief! I have to admit that I love the series so much. I devoured the first three books (The Spirit Thief, The Spirit Rebellion and The Spirit Eater) in under a week and quickly re-read them again. You have created an incredibly compelling characters in a wonderful, magical land.

I think one of the things that was the most interesting about the Eli Monpress books was the whole new magic system you devised. I thought the idea of the spirits was really fascinating. How did you come up with them?

I'm always coming up with magical systems. I guess I just can't stand that we live in a world without magic, so I'm always thinking up rule sets for how magic would work if it did exist. The idea of everything in the world having a spirit was one of those. I don't actually remember where it came from, but I've been kicking it around for a long time. I came up with Eli separately, but the moment I did, I knew his world would be a perfect match for my spirits. After all, where better to put a man whose super power is charm than a world where charm is magic?

Putting three books out in one year is an extraordinary feat of superwoman proportions. Can you tell us about your writing habits and maybe give some advice to aspiring authors out there?

Ahahaha, this is actually a trick of Orbit's. It took me 3 years to write the first 3 Eli books (actually probably more than that when you count the The Spirit Thief going through the query rounds. Orbit held the books and then released them all at once. It's a great way to sell books - readers get books quickly, and you can combine your promotion budget for 3 books into one big push. Consequently, it also makes me look like a badass, so there's no love lost there. However, since then I actually have managed to tweak my writing system massively, moving my daily writing from around 2k per day to regularly hitting 10k without increasing the time I spent writing. The trick was actually stupidly simple: know what you're writing before you write it. There's more, of course, but that's the biggest discovery. If you want all the details I have the blog post with my whole process here. I really hope it helps someone double their word count!

The Eli Monpress saga is so well written and every piece fits together so perfectly. Did you have the whole five book story planned out ahead of time?

No, but thanks to the 3 book release schedule I mentioned in the last question I was able to edit my books later to make it look like I did! This was my first series, and looking back, I did everything all wrong (and I am SO HAPPY you didn't notice and thought they all fit together!). I knew the larger meta plot and the series ending, but I had no real clue how I was going to get there. I picked 5 books because I KNEW it wasn't going to end in 3. Thankfully, five turned out to be just right.

If I had it to do over, I'd have planned everything. Up until the middle of book 3 I didn't have much more than a general direction and sometimes things didn't fit together at all. Fortunately I had very strong characters that kept me in line, and by the time I'd finished Spirit Eater, I knew a heck of a lot more about planning novels. Books 4 and 5 were both very heavily planned, and it really shows. I think they're some of the best stuff I've ever written, especially in terms of tight, twisty plots. I'm firmly in the planning camp of writers from now on. It really does make books better.

What were some of your influences in creating Eli Monpress and friends? I know you have said in other interviews that Eli Monpress was loosely based on a friend's role playing character, but where did Miranda, Josef or Nico spring from? They are all such funny and interesting characters!

Thank you!! I should start out by saying this is truly 100% Eli's series. He was very loosely based on a friend's character, but other than his name, profession, and the bounty obsession, everything else is mine. That said, I don't actually know where Eli came from. He sprang into my head fully formed and announced I was going to write a book and it was going to be about him. So I did, and it very much was. All of my other characters were created to complement Eli. Miranda came into the book as the cop to Eli's robber. She was his foil (thought she would be deathly insulted if anyone ever told her she's Eli's moral reflection), and I think Miranda is the character who grew the most in the series. Josef came around because I needed someone to carry the Heart of War and be the muscle (and because I love stoic swordsmen), and Nico was literally just thrown in because I thought she was cool. I didn't even know her past until I sold the Eli series and suddenly had 3 books to write. (Did I mention how bad I was at this planning stuff in the beginning?)

A huge part of the work on these novels after I sold them was getting everyone's story down, and The Spirit Thief you see in stores is very very different than The Spirit Thief I first sent to agents. But through all the changes, the characters were always the heart of these books. I love them all to pieces, and sometimes (like right now, when I'm working on a brand new series), I worry that I'll never make anyone I love this much ever again. (This is horribly unfair to my new characters. How can someone who's been around a month compete with characters I've worked on for five years?) But yeah, I love love love these people, and I'm not ashamed to admit I cried when I finished the fifth book. It was like saying goodbye.

I must not be the only fan who fell head over heels for Eli. He is smart, witty, and a great thief! I must also not be the only one who wants to see him in the flesh! Are there any plans to bring him and his gang to the big (or small) screen? Who would your dream cast be for an epic Eli Monpress film?

HBO! Call Rachel! Then call Felicia!
I personally think the series would make a fantastic miniseries (HBO, SyFy... CALL ME). Sadly, there is nothing in the works at the moment. I'm actually terrible at picking actors, but I do think Felicia Day would make a good Miranda. Oh, and David Tennant, while he doesn't really look much like Eli, would none the less own that role. And for the record, Josef always looked like David Beckham in my mind, but David Beckham can't even act like he's good at soccer, so that would never work out.

I know you are a big Twitter user, which I think is awesome. I love hearing about what you're doing and I'm sure your other fans do too. How do you think social networking has changed your interaction with fans and your writing?

I'm pretty new at Twitter and did not expect to like it at all. I tried it because I really hated facebook and because Kalayna Price (good friend and amazing author) told me to, but didn't tweet much at first. Then I got a smart phone, and the world changed. Suddenly, I "got" Twitter, and now I post several times a day. It's made a huge difference in my interactions with fans. Sending a tweet is much less formal than email, and it's instant! Way more fun.

So yeah, I was dragged kicking and screaming into the digital revolution by my HTC phone. Now I'm on it all the time, my husband accuses me of being a phone person. I say he's just jealous of my Nyan Cat wallpaper.

What are your plans after you bid Eli and the gang adieu? Will we ever hear stories from that madcap land again?

I'm working on a new book at the moment, a SciFi romance actually, that I'm CAPS LOCK EXCITED about. But while I'm poking at a new book, I'm not done with Eli. Right now I've got 3 short stories planned for Orbit to go along with the release for the omnibus and books 4 and 5. All three are backstory issues that didn't get resolved in the main series, one is going to be about how Eli and Josef met and fell in together, the other's about how Miranda got Gin, and the last is probably either going to be about how Alric joined the League of Storms (very epic) or how Giuseppe Monpress and Alber Whitefall fought for a year over who gets to sit in the grand box at the Zarin Opera (completely hilarious... but maybe not in the kind of way anyone else would think is hilarious). I'm on the fence about the last one. Of course, none of these are written yet, so everything you see is subject to change! However, there will be short stories, and hopefully they won't suck.

Can you give us any hints about Book 4? Anything. Any hint. A word. A sentence. Please? I am dying here.

First up: SPOILER WARNING for the first three books. Seriously, don't read this if you haven't finished Spirit Eater.

Book 4, Spirit's War, is Josef's book. In it we find out all about his history, how he got the Heart of War, his teacher, and what it is in his past he's been running from with Eli for all these years. We also get to see the fallout from Nico becoming her own master (come on, do you really think the Master of the Dead Mountain is going to let her get away that easily?) and what happens to Eli when all his problems catch up with him at last. Spirit's War is a very, very emotional book, especially for Eli. Lots of big secrets get revealed, and Eli is getting backed up against the wall from all directions. That said, if you've liked the books up to this point, you will LOVE Spirit's War. It's the best thing I've written so far.

Book 5, Spirit's End, is with my editor for its first edit right now. If Spirit Thief was character introduction, Spirit Rebellion was Miranda's book, Spirit Eater was Nico, and Spirit's War was Josef, then Spirit's End is 100% Eli's book. The secrets are all out now and Eli has to finally deal with everything. It's a rough book for him, poor boy! I'm pretty proud of the story right now, and I'm sure it's only going to get better once I have another go at it with editorial notes in hand. It's definitely a series ender, though. This book is all climax. Literally, the climax starts in chapter 12 and does not let up until the end. I'm very proud of how I managed to tie everything up, but then, I haven't gotten my editor letter yet, so that pride may vanish. We'll see!

Finally, is there a question you've always wanted to be asked in an interview but never have? What would the answer be to that most awesome question?

Dear Rachel, what about the fan response to the books has surprised you the most?

Thanks for asking, Rachel! I think I've been most surprised by the outpouring of support for Slorn. Eli I expected. Josef? Totally. But Slorn? My grumpy bear? That was out of the blue. I mean, I love him to pieces, but I did not expect him to be so... deeply loved? A source of such excitement? Anyway, color me pleasantly surprised. Slorn's role in the larger story was greatly expanded thanks to the interest, and I love getting to write him more.

Tesset is also popular. For a man who came in halfway through book 3, he sure does have a fan base. I guess my readers love the overly serious types?  Anyway, the support for those two surprised me greatly. Just goes to show you never know what's going to stick!

Thank you so much for taking the time to do an interview with Stellar Four, Rachel. I for one am nearly breathless with excitement for the fourth book, The Spirit War. You have been a dream come true to interview!

I am always glad to make dreams come true!! Thank you for the opportunity and, as always, thank you thank you for reading. I write these books for my readers. If it wasn't for your support, I wouldn't be able to do what I love. Thank you a million times.

The first three books in the Eli Monpress series are out now in paperback from Orbit. The beautiful Legend of Eli Monpress omnibus will be available February 24, 2012 (preorder on Amazon!) and the fourth novel, The Spirit War, will be available summer 2012. The anticipation is killing me!
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