An Interview With Rachel Aaron on THE SPIRIT THIEF
Have you always known that you wanted to be a writer?
Yes and no. I’ve always wanted to tell stories, but I went through several mediums before settling on writing. For a long time (all through middle and high school) I wanted to write and draw manga. Unfortunately, my artistic talent never matched my ambitions. In the end, I’m really glad I went with books. I feel that I’ve been able to tell a much larger story in far less space through writing than I ever would have managed with panels. Plus, no one makes fun of my drawing ability anymore.
When you aren’t busy writing, what are some of your hobbies?
I’m a total nerd. I play video games and read as much fantasy and manga as I can get my hands on. I also have a horrible adoration of trashy television, particularly reality police shows. You can learn so much about human behavior watching a drunk, shirtless man trying (and failing) to bluff his way out of a ticket.
Who or what inspires you in your writing?
I draw inspiration from all over: things I read, things I watch, daily life, the usual places. One of my favorite things to do is to take something I already love, say, for example, a clever confidence scheme executed by charming thief, and add magic. This can be a great kickoff for all kinds of stories. Then there are the ideas that just come to me while I’m doing something else, like why are girls always riding giant cats? How about a giant dog? All of these ideas get sorted through and picked over and the best go into my novels, whether they look like they’ll fit or not. I’ve actually had some of my best plot twists emerge while trying to shoehorn in yet another cool idea. Sometimes it seems like a lot of bending around just for some extra razzle-dazzle, but those “oh cool!” moments are what make fiction, especially genre fiction, so much fun.
How did you develop the concept for The Spirit Thief?
It started, very appropriately, with Eli. He wasn’t even my idea at first, but a character concept from one of my husband’s old D&D buddies, a thief whose goal in life was to be worth one million gold. I loved it, I couldn’t get it out of my head. A thief actively trying to make his bounty higher? Why would he do that? What would he be like? Thus Eli came into my life and started talking to this door. It was all downhill from there.
Everyone else went through several pretty radical iterations before settling into their current rolls. For example, Miranda was originally Eli’s thief rival. That lasted about a chapter before I realized this woman was way too duty bound to ever steal anything. After a few more tries she settled in as the cop to Eli’s robber, and the Spirit Court emerged from my need to give her a backing organization. It was a great fit and I’ve never been happier to be wrong about a character. Josef, on the other hand, was a last minute addition. He came into being because I needed someone to carry the Heart of War, making this one case where the sword truly did choose its wielder on every level. It had excellent taste, and I’m very happy with the cast I ended up with.
As for the concept of the book itself, it evolved naturally. After all, I had a thief and a cop, now I needed a crime, and what better crime than kidnapping a king? But, since nothing can ever go smoothly, the king had to have a dastardly brother waiting in the wings. Once I figured those bits out, the novel found its own way.
When you began writing, did you set out to write a series, or did it just happen organically?
I tried to fit it all into one book, really I did. I’d read on all these publishing blogs that no brand new writer can sell a series, so I was determined The Spirit Thief would stand on its own. I even tried to convince my then soon-to-be agent it was a standalone book. He didn’t buy a word of it. Finally I admitted it was the first book in a series and everything went much more smoothly. I may have been the author, but the book was a thing of its own by that point. I could no more have made it a standalone work than teach it to wash the dishes. Sometimes you just have to call a duck a duck.
Eli’s magical power – having the ability to talk to the spirits of inanimate objects – is something rather new and exciting. How did you derive the idea for this?
As I’ve mentioned, I’m a nerd, and one of the nerdy things I do is make up magical systems. I have tons of them lying around waiting for a story, but this particular one seemed tailor made for someone whose main super power is talking people (and now objects) into doing what he wants. I’ve always loved the idea of talking things. Not just swords or items of great importance, but silly, normal things like pots and fireplaces. I wanted to create a world where everything could talk back to you, if you could listen, and also one where humans weren’t looked on terribly favorably. We’re a pretty scrubby bunch, after all. I’m sure my couch doesn’t approve of me.
Do you have a favorite character? If so, why?
Eli, of course! He’s hands down the most fun to write. Josef is a close second, because I adore straight talking swordsmen, followed by Gin, as he’s just a straight talking swordsman of another (shifting) color. I also have an extremely soft spot in my heart for Miranda. She tries so hard.
What’s in store for Eli and his crew in the next novel, The Spirit Rebellion?
Eli and company had it relatively easy in Mellinor, but now they’re headed out into the larger world where things get more complicated. After all, as Eli never misses the chance to point out, he’s worth a lot of money now. Money attracts attention, and attention makes even simple heists much more dangerous. To keep his hide intact, Eli’s going to have to play his cards much closer to his vest… too bad subtlety isn’t one of his strong points. Meanwhile, Miranda has to deal with the fallout from the fact that, not only did she fail to catch Eli in Mellinor, she actually ended up helping him. Let’s just say that her homecoming to the Spirit Court isn’t as warm and cheery as she’d used to.
Finally, what has been your favorite part of the publishing process so far?
The feedback, definitely. Back when I was first writing The Spirit Thief I would give it to my friends and family to read, but I always had a hard time believing them when they said they liked it. I thought oh, they’re only saying that because they have to or because they don’t want to hurt my feelings. But then I started submitting my novel to agents, and even though I got a lot of rejections, I also got requests for more pages. Then I got a letter from my current agent’s assistant, the wonderful Lindsay Ribar. She’d read the first few pages of The Spirit Thief and wanted to see more. Now, anyone who’s ever tried to do anything with publishing, or with any competitive creative work, can understand the elation I felt at this. Here was a person, an exceedingly busy person with no reason to give me the time of day, wanting to read what I’d written. A publishing professional who’d picked me up out of the slush pile, out of the hundreds of other pages from hundreds of other authors, and liked my words enough to write me an email asking for more. That’s a fantastic feeling.
I still had a long way to go after that, of course. The novel you hold in your hands is the product of the hard, dedicated work of many wonderful, book loving people, both on my agent’s side and from Orbit. Without their feedback, time, and attention, The Spirit Thief would never have become what it is. That’s the part of publishing that never loses its sparkle, the fact that these wonderful people are willing to pour their time and attention into my silly little story about a thief who talks to doors. Every time I think about it I feel humbled and elated all at once, and also determined to do my part to deliver the best stories I possibly can. That feeling of working together and being part of a team is definitely my favorite part of the publishing process.