On the cast of Gifted: Nikki and Zack

This post contains spoilers for my book, Gifted.

Everyone I know came up with a book, a series, or a world of their own at some point in their lives. It’s a rite of passage, I’m being told: that’s when you make peace with the fact that you have made-up people living in your head, then set them loose into the fictional world you made for them.

My world had layers. Some of them ran parallel to reality; others were completley divorced from it. The idea of a meta-cosm came to me by degrees (later on, I learned that there’s an actual term for this — paracosm). I was kinda like a magpie: I’d spot something interesting in a book, fanfic or series, and then I’d find a way to bring them over into my ‘cosm. Over time, they’d take on a life of their own, until eventually they became far enough removed from the original that I’d be able to claim them as my own.


The original cast of Gifted — codenamed The Dome back then — was pretty different from the five-person unit I ended up going with. The only one who survived a decade and a half of planning and re-shuffling with his original design and purpose was Nikki, although he ended up in a much different place than how I’d originally pictured him.

In Romania, as well as a number of other European countries, Nikki is most definitely a boy’s name. I’m Romanian; don’t @me.

Nikki went through a massive change throughout the years. I’d always known he’d be the one in charge, and I also wanted him to be more than just a cookie-cutter Benevolent Boss who could do no wrong. In fact, his quiet dread of doing any wrong ended up becoming a core part of his character. Because he lost a subordinate during his second mission as unit chief, he goes to great lenghts to keep the peace and keep everybody alive. He may not have a death wish, but he’ll gladly take a bullet for someone else if need be.

As I went through various story iterations, Nikki’s looks changed, too. On the right is a concept piece I commissioned from Gabriela Gogonea around ’14. The long hair stayed, as did the melancholy mood, but the overall ensemble looks more profesh and less like something a teenage Anne Rice might’ve dreamed up. Gabriela was a delight to work with; she understood the assignment perfectly. This was exactly what I’d been looking for.

Nikki’s backstory, meanwhile, also started to take shape around the same time. Griffin’s death was always meant to be the thing that changed him from cocky prodigy to overly-cautious atoner. The idea of having Katrina as a past love interest came later; originaly, the relationship between them was going to be adversarial just because*. Finally, having a love triangle (if you squint) involving added another layer of depth to the animosity between him and Nikki.


Speaking of Zack, he wasn’t even a part of the original cast. He showed up circa ’10 as a snarky “tech god”**, equal parts Rattrap and Rodney McKay, but ended up a lot more of a cynic than I’d originally envisioned.

A happy reunion between Zack and Lynn felt neither realistic nor in-character, so I decided to veer away from the long-lost sibling trope and explore a more ambiguous relationship instead. Zack and Lynn are reading from different scripts: he’s cautiously happy to have his sister back, she feels resentful he abandoned her.

I didn’t really have a clear picture of what Zack looked like until Gabriela came up with a concept in ’14 (left), and his design has been unchanged since. Sometimes, you really do get it right from the first try.

Zack wasn’t supposed to be an anti-hero, at least not at first. His character started moving in that direction as I was writing the first draft of what would later become Gifted. Rejecting Nikki’s leadership during the second act is the first time he rebels openly against Third. That sets up his dramatic exit at the conclusion of that act, as well as the role he’ll play in Book Two.

I also wanted to explore what losing a sibling meant to Zack and his sister, Lynn. Since Gifted is written in first-person PoV (Lynn’s), we don’t really get to see any of Zack’s thought process first-hand. Still, I made sure to mention he went against Third’s strict no-interference policy to attend the funeral of a brother he abandoned and comfort a sister who no longer remembers him. (Originally, I’d meant to include the full interaction between them as a flashback, but that ended up adding too much drag in a story arc that was already slow-paced.)

I look forward to writing these two again in Book Two. Meanwhile, I’ll revisit the rest of the cast in a series of posts on this blog.

PS: I also have an author website. 🙂

* Also, as the closest thing to an embodiment of Third’s bureaucracy, being an alpha b!tch felt like a natural fit for Katrina. Anyone who’s ever dealt with secretarial staff in an Eastern-European country will know what I mean.
** That designation originally belonged to another character who ended up not making the cut, except as a brief cameo towards the end of Gifted. They might show up in Book Two.

Gifted cover artwork by Nicholas Kay.