A Day With Nico

One of the best fantasy books around - The Legend of Eli Monpress by Rachel Aaron (an omnibus of The Spirit Thief, The Spirit Rebellion and The Spirit Eater)Author’s Note: If you haven’t read my books yet, you should totally try the new omnibus. For one, the price is fantastic, but also, the omnibus contains the first three Eli books, ending with The Spirit Eater. You can try the first few chapters of The Spirit Thief for free on my site.  And if you’ve already finished the first three, I’ve got a big chunk of the fourth book, The Spirit War, up on my site just for you, complete with more Nico!  There are, of course, spoilers for the first three, so read at your own peril.

One of the things I love as a writer is when people send me messages talking about their favorite characters. Eli is, of course, very popular (Eli: of course. Rachel: Shut up). Josef and Miranda are also up there, as is Slorn. But what never ceases to amaze me is how many people write to say how much they love Nico.

For those of you who haven’t read my books, Nico is the only girl in the Eli thief trio. She’s also a demonseed who is excessively dangerous and who has had a very hard life. She came in with Josef, my serious swordsman, and sticks by him though everything, an aspect which has always delighted me. Eli might be the leader, but Josef is the glue that holds the Monpress thieves together. Ahhh, group dynamics. Anyway, I’m always a bit surprised how many people really seem to like Nico. Not because she’s not worth liking, but because in the whole series, she was the hardest character for me to write.

It wasn’t that I didn’t know her role in the books. I knew her story before I started writing Spirit Thief, up to and including the huge part she has to play in the events of the final Eli book, Spirit’s End, which I won’t go into here. But while I had her plot from the get go, I didn’t really have Nico, the character, until the final edits of The Spirit Thief, and even then I didn’t really get into Nico like I did my other characters until it was time to write her parts in Spirit Rebellion (book 2). This wasn’t because I didn’t like her or that she wasn’t important, though her role in book 1 is more limited than it is in later volumes. It was because Nico was so damn quiet.

All of my characters are me in some small fashion or another. That’s how I write my people, I find their aspect I can really understand and then I work from there. Eli was exceptionally easy to write, maybe too easy, actually. Miranda also came naturally, as did Josef. Edward, Duke of Gaol, was REALLY easy (I’m also a control freak), as was Benehime, though I’m totally not going into the implications of Benehime being easy for me to write. But Nico was different. Nico was quiet. In a huge cast of over the top personalities, Nico was shy. She hid her problems, and schizophrenic as it sounds, I could never get her to come out and show me her voice. This is part of why she doesn’t talk as much as she probably should in The Spirit Thief, I just didn’t know what she wanted to say. I would give her a blank page, but she wouldn’t fill it up. Considering the huge roll I had for her to play, this was very alarming.

When it came time to start Nico’s parts in The Spirit Rebellion, I knew it was time to do something drastic. So I turned off the computer and got out of the house. I called in sick to work and went to a forgotten corner of my local library, and then, sitting down with my notebook, I kicked everyone else out of my head and turned my full attention to Nico. I asked her questions, I wrote down her history, I asked her about Josef. I focused on her, and then I shut up and listened. And in the quiet, Nico started to speak.

This was probably one of the most artsy ‘my characters are people in my head’ things I’ve ever done, but it was necessary to actually understand who Nico was. See, she’d actually been trying to talk since the very beginning, but Eli and I had to shut up enough to hear her. But even when she started to talk, I still had to learn to listen because, of all my characters, Nico is probably the most unlike me. She’s quiet and shy where I’m loud and outgoing, an introvert to my extrovert. Like Eli, I tend to talk over people. Like Miranda, I can be very sure of my own way. But Nico is a creature I had a very hard time understanding. It took me a lot of time to actually figure out who she was and what she cared about, but I’ve never regretted a moment of it, because for all her quiet shyness, I think Nico became one of the deepest and most interesting characters in the Eli series.

The Spirit Eater is Nico’s book more so than any of my other books could be said to belong to another character. It’s also one of the books I’m most proud of. Don’t get me wrong, I’m super excited about sharing the final two Eli books, but watching Nico come out of her shell and into her own in Spirit Eater was one of the most satisfying things I’ve ever done as a writer.

Eli may get the spot light and the name on the cover, but in a lot of ways this is Nico’s story just as much as it is his. I can’t actually explain how vital it was to me that I do right by my demonseed, that I not let her down. It seems kind of silly to feel guilt and obligation for someone who doesn’t exist, but I felt on a very deep level that I owed Nico her story. The Spirit Eater caused me more writer angst than any other book in the Eli series, but it was worth it. When all was said and done, I didn’t fail my girl. I came through for her, just like she always comes through for Josef and Eli, and even now that the series is done, I don’t think I’ll ever stop being happy about that.