Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Interview: Laura Anne Gilman

Who: Laura Anne Gilman

Bio: Born in the late 1960’s in suburban New Jersey, Laura Anne endured only moderate trauma – and some good times – before escaping to Skidmore College. After graduation, given the choice between grad school and employment, the lure of a paycheck took her to NYC and a career in publishing, while working nights and weekends to get her writing career started. In 2004, she and corporate America decided they needed a break from each other. Her first original novel contract in-hand, Laura Anne became a full-time freelancer, and never looked back.

Laura Anne is also an amateur chef, oenophile, and cat-servant.

She lives in New York City, where she also runs d.y.m.k. productions.

Work: She is the author of the Cosa Nostradamus books for Luna (the “Retrievers” and “Paranormal Scene Investigations” series), a YA trilogy for HarperCollins, and the forthcoming Vineart War books from Pocket [REVIEW of “Flesh and Fire”], while continuing to write and sell short fiction.

She also writes paranormal romances for Nocturne as Anna Leonard.

Foreword: From all the 09 author interviews I have conducted, although they were not as many as I would have liked, Laura Anne Gilman has been a treasure to have on my blog. "Flesh and Fire" came as a most wondrous surprise and certainly remains one of the books that top my all time list, climbing to a spot right next to "The Picture of Dorian Grey". I wasn't even sure that Miss Gilman would accept my invitation, because I nearly lost my marbles, when I wrote to her. I was still on that good novel high and looking back at that e-mail I seemed like a lunatic. But as luck would have it, I have had the pleasure of conducting this short piece.


Harry Markov: Hello Miss Gilman and thank you for accepting my invitation for this interview. I’m simply delighted to have you here on my blog. But let’s begin. “Flesh and Fire”, the first novel in The Vineart Wars series, was published and warmly received by traditional fantasy fans. However you are known for your Retriever series, which are urban fantasy. Were you nervous about the change in genres?

L.A Gilman: There’s always a risk in changing gears. What if your readers don’t follow you? What if the book is terrible? What if, what if…? Writers are neurotic and delicate creatures, even when we’re trying to be tough as nails. So yeah, I was nervous. At the same time, though, this was a story I really wanted to tell, in the style it needed to be told. So the nerves took back seat to the need.

Markov: Speaking of “Flesh and Fire”, exactly how did you decide to entwine a magic system with winemaking and wines in general? I can imagine the process sucking time in research and tedious world building, as the foreword hinted, but did this occur naturally on instinct or did it involve wandering, dead ends and radical brainstorming?

Gilman: I am a wine nerd of good standing (I even spent a year working in a wine store), and the idea of wine-makers as magicians seemed to make absolute and perfect sense to me – what is the transformation of grape juice into wine but the most basic alchemy, after all? I don’t know that I would call the process ‘tedious,’ – in fact, I know I wouldn’t. The act of discovering what this world was about, how it differed from ours, and why – that was a great deal of fun, and told me chapter and verse about the characters I was writing about; why they did and thought and felt the things they did. I also got to spend time in the vineyards of Burgundy, as well as Italy and California, to get a feel for the differences and similarities of vineyards in different regions.

Markov: So you actually traveled up and down the world to get a good sense for your novel. I find that fascinating, but isn’t it hard to afford such dedicated research? Can you sketch a bit how those trips went?

Gilman: Many of the trips had actually been taken before I started writing this book -- my family spent a total of four weeks in Italy, where I took note of the vineyards and the local wines, and the towns we visited – part of being a writer is that it never gets “turned off.” Likewise, the vineyards of California, and all over the United States.

The fact is, successful writers have magpie minds. In the middle of something totally unrelated, your brain says “oh, that’s interesting” and files it away. It might get used in your next story – or one you write ten years later.

When I knew that I was going to write The Vineart War – the publisher had countersigned the contract – I could have gone from the research I’d already done, and what I could learn from books and the internet. But the heart of the story is really Burgundy, both the history and the soil, and I had never been there. So I went.

Expensive? Yes, and no. The plane fare hurt, going as I did in September just before the harvest, but I rented an inexpensive apartment for a week, and cooked most of my own meals, and my days were spent, not shopping, but walking (and bicycling) around the countryside, talking to people and taking photos and notes and tasting the specific wines that are grown there, the “common” wines that aren’t always exported. Once you’ve drunk the wine and eaten the food of a place, you understand the people better, I feel.

And I met an amazing number of people – so for that alone, the trip was worth it.

Markov: What is the plan for “The Vineart Wars”? Is it destined to be a trilogy and is it early to tell whether you will inhabit your world with more stories?

Gilman: The Vineart War is a trilogy, in that each book is act I, II, and III of a complete story. I’ve already finished the draft of book 2, and will start book 3 in the New Year. As to there being other stories in this universe… I already know several stories I’d like to tell, but for now, it’s “we’ll see.”

Markov: While raiding the Internet for inspiration about what to ask, I found that before becoming a novelist you were an editor and are also rumored to kick urban fantasy into popularity. That is some interesting reputation. Judging by the amount of time you stuck as editor I gather you were as devoted to it as you are to writing. When one is equally passionate about two similar in nature activities, it’s hard to arrange priorities. What was it that prompted you to establish a name as an author and not an editor?

Gilman: I can’t claim to be responsible for restarting Urban Fantasy’s popularity – genre popularity cycles in and out, and all an editor can do is pick the best, most readable books available and hope that she hits it on the upswing. I spent fifteen years as a book editor, starting right out of college, and I loved the job – I still do some editorial work on a freelance basis, as my schedule allows. But I was always also a writer, and there came a time when I had to choose between the two as a full-time career – and writing won. In another fifteen years? Who knows…. Being an editor is similar to being a teacher; it’s as much a vocation as a profession.

Markov: As far as editors go there has been this image of an underpaid and overworked person with the iconic red pen and massive stacks of pages being carried around. From your personal experience to you find that image to be true and did you have a hellishly overstuffed schedule?

Gilman: That is, um, a really, really accurate depiction. I’m told that these days more editors are using e-readers, which means they will have fewer shoulder and back problems, carrying manuscripts home!

But you don’t get into publishing to have an overpaid and slothful life. You get into it because you love books, and you want to be part of the process, and you’re willing to do what it takes – or you get out, quick.

Markov: I am sure that you might get this question a lot, but you are a writer and editor. You have short stories published, a young adult series, a non-fiction book, an urban fantasy series going strong and a new traditional fantasy in the works. Do you do something special in order to make time and dabble into so as many fields as you have? I am a scatterbrain and although I try to make the time for my own projects I rarely succeed much, so it’s not only about zest, but about technique as well.

Gilman: The first thing is, not to think of it as “dabbling.” If you’re a writer, you write. The secret to success, which I share freely with anyone who asks, is simple: AIC. Put your Ass In the Chair, and get it done. How you do that is up to what works for you. I get up early in the morning and write as much as I can before lunch, because that works for me. Other people find they write best late at night, when the household’s gone to sleep. The trick is to find what works, and then do it. Every day.

As for the various genres, you should follow the story you need to tell; the telling will define the format, not the other way around.

Markov: So when you did change from editor to writer did you find it hard to switch roles and become the person on the receiving end of the critique?

Gilman: Not really. In fact, I would say it helped me become a better writer, and be more accepting of critique. I argue with my editors, but I also appreciate the work they do, and I know how much their input helps me grow as a writer, and craft a better book each time.

Markov: Apart from the AIC principle what else can you give out as advice from a well established person industry to a newbie writer such as me?

Gilman: That is the most important advice I give new writers. This is a job. It’s a wonderful, exciting, and occasionally heartbreaking job, but it’s still a job. It’s work. If you don’t treat it as such, and accept that you are an independent businessperson, you won’t make it, no matter how brilliant a writer you might be. Sit down, put your hands on the keyboard, and write a story. And when it’s done, send it out and start writing another one. Everything we do in service to those books is secondary to writing the next, better, more interesting book.

Markov: Let’s hop back to the YA series you have completed. I am extremely curious about this genre, since it can be any type of story in speculative fiction, but at the same time is a genre on its own. What are the unwritten rules that separate it from adult, because quite honestly from what I get there is as much sex and violence in YA as there is in adult and sometimes adult novels have teen protagonists, so the line for me is really thin. What makes YA young adult?

Gilman: Countless people have asked this, and almost as many people have tried to answer. For me, it’s not the content that’s different, but the context. YA readers have different worries, different stresses, different dreams than adult readers. They’re not more or less complicated or more or less important… just different

No matter what genre, the four questions you need to answer are:

What Happens?

Who does it Happens To?

What Changes/is Learned/Discovered?

What is the Cost/Reward?

Markov: Last question. If you could be a vineart in your own world, what kind of grape would best suit you? I know I would like to have a grape that would make me a certain kind of Poison Ivy character, but the author is more curious in this case.

Gilman: I think I would probably grow firevines. They’re not the most interesting, difficult, or useful of vines to grow, but they have a certain purity to them that I appreciate. Also, they are based on primitivo/zinfandel grapes, which I’ve always had a fondness for. They are bold, often rustic red wines that you either love or you really don’t enjoy; there doesn’t seem to be a middle ground. But I just asked a friend, and he said I would grow aethervines, the difficult, almost mystic wines, so….


Adele said...

I love the sound of this book. Great interview. :)

Harry Markov said...

You oughta. It's brilliant. :)

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