Interviewed by Katharine Eliska Kimbriel
Laura Anne Gilman. Writer. Editor. Tired Person.
This has been Laura Anne Gilman’s tag line forever, and with good reason. She does enough work for three people—she’s worked for major New York publishing houses and start-ups, including running the successful ROC Line; she has a flourishing editing business, and writes under both her own name (fantasy, SF, urban fantasy, YA) and L.A. Kornesky (mysteries). A Nebula nominee for Flesh and Fire, Book One of The Vineart War, Gilman does all this and still manages to travel extensively, help out at Book View Cafe and do charity work, and ride herd (or be ridden by) two energetic cats, CatofSize (Boomer) and Cat-of-Thursday (her new kitten Cas).
1) You are a full time writer, especially of fiction, and you’re an editor by profession as well. This raises two obvious questions:
a) Is it difficult to switch hats? How do you handle it? Different days, different locations?
A.) It is, actually, difficult for me to switch things around—far more than when I switch between different writing projects. There has to be a palate cleanser, a way to rest my brain and reset it from creative to analytical (or vice versa), from internal to emotionally distanced. I don’t switch locations, but I try to get some physical activity between—a walk, going for a ride (or sometimes a nap!) so my brain gets some white noise in there, rather than going 100mph straight through.
I tried alternating days, one for writing, one for editing, but deadlines put paid to that pretty quickly. Deadlines trump everything else for me.
b) How hard is it for someone else to edit you? Do you have preferences in how you are edited?
A.) Maybe as a result of being a full-time editor for so many years, or maybe because I have perfectionist tendencies, but I really like having an editor who pushes me, hard. Getting that outside look at my work, without coddling, is awesome. An editor says not “I want you to do X” but “This could be stronger” and gives me enough feedback to figure out how to make it stronger? Yeah, I love that.
I’m told that I’m pretty easy to edit, actually. Mainly because I keep my grumbling to myself/my friends, rather than wasting energy playing the diva, rather than because I’m any sort of ‘perfect student.’
2) You have spent many books in your urban fantasy world that is a step or two left of ours, first The Retriever series, and then the Paranormal Scene Investigations. After telling me there would be a break from this world, suddenly Danny Hendrickson the cop-turned-PI human/faun has reached out and demanded that you talk about Sylvan Investigations—in a grittier, almost noir style. What brought you back to this world so soon? Why did Danny and Ellen get to go first?
A.) Well, to be fair, there WAS a break from this world, long enough to write the Portals duology (Heart of Briar and Soul of Fire). But I’d always wanted to tell Danny’s story—he was such an interesting character, peeking through the cracks in the PSI novels, and once I introduced Ellen (in Dragon Justice), I realized that they were each the perfect catalyst for each other—the outsiders not by choice but circumstance, and how well Danny’s job could give Ellen the grounding she needed… Using the novella form rather than novel-length to tell those stories was a risk, but I think it worked out well—they’re both very pared-down characters, and the shorter, tighter length plays to that.
3) Your newest release is the second book of the Portals series, Heart of Briar and Soul of Fire. My first thought is, you had something you wanted to say about Tan Lin. Did this old fairy tale inspire you? Why this fairy tale as the heart of your story? And if not—why was Tam Lin not the kernel?
A.)The thing about Tam Lin that always fascinated me was the “stand-fast” aspect. And I wanted to explore that outside the relatively narrow grounds of True Love—what does it mean to stand fast for someone you might not always love, who might not be your True Love, or your Love at all? How do you stand fast for someone you might not even like, if they need you to be there? Jan holds onto Tyler because she loves him, and she holds fast for her allies because they are her friends (and vice versa), but when she’s challenged to hold fast to her enemies, to keep them from making greater mistakes/doing more damage… how does a human heart manage that? Can we?
4) In The Vineart Wars, you combined two of your loves—wine and epic fantasy. Where did you begin, and how far did you want to take the metaphor? Did it take you places you did not expect?
A.) Originally, I wanted to explore the idea of magic, not as a skill or talent, or even anything that was learned, but a commodity, something someone created and shared, rather than being possessed by a small portion of the population. What does it mean to be the crafter of that commodity? What does it mean for a society where everyone (theoretically) has access—and what happens when that access is restricted or abused?
What it became, in addition to all that, was a meditation on battle, and how ‘fighting’ can be redrawn in so many ways—the resistance of non-engagement as well as the resistance of defend-and-attack. Can you win by not playing? Can you lose by winning? Is it possible to be part of the world, and yet stand aside from seemingly unavoidable aspects of it?
I ask a lot of questions in those books. I’m pretty sure I don’t give any definitive answers. Some readers hated that. A lot of readers really liked that. I’m calling it a win.
5) What inspired the Gin and Tonic books?
A.) You mean other than an editor asking “have you ever thought about writing a straight (non-fantasy-genre) mystery? Would you like to?” The challenge of writing a four-character mystery, when two of them are a) not human and b) cannot interact directly with the two human characters was certainly a plus—I didn’t want to do a “talking animals” mystery, but I did want them to be engaged in the solving of the crime(s)….
And the vibe between two very dissimilar characters, bringing in the gender difference without making it about any kind of sexual situation, without making either of them oblivious to the sexual situations… Yeah. It’s an interesting tightrope. Challenge: accepted.
6) You love travel, especially spending time living in other cultures. Are we going to see the fruits of all that travel materialize in a book soon?
A.) I think it’s in everything I write. My sister introduced me to the idea of “slow travel,” where you don’t go for a day or three, staying in a hotel, but instead rent an apartment, or a house, and stay for a week or more, buying groceries at the local market, eating where the locals do, looking and listening rather than rushing through the sights. When you soak things in, take your time with them, they linger, and come back at odd times—the turn of light or sound of a word, the taste of a spice or feel of sea spray touching you in a way that isn’t familiar infiltrating your writing, adding a sense of ‘other’ to your characters, your landscapes and mixing with the familiar to create something half-recognizable, half-new.
That said, more than once it’s been suggested that writing is as much of an excuse for me to travel as travel is an impetus for me to write. Guilty as charged. I’m not sure I can separate the two.
7) Do you think your “voice,” the thing that stamps your writing as uniquely yours, changes from book to book, story to story—or can you already see themes that reoccur in your work?
A.) Oh, my voice absolutely changes… I change, so how can it not? That said, there are themes I keep returning to, in short fiction and long form. Trying to nail them down, though? Erm. Self-actualization, both within the community/family and outside it, about the balance of the two and the constant search to balance being the actual balance itself. And the cost of self-awareness… That last is definitely a constant with me: I’m fascinated by the cost of self-awareness, and who will pay it, and how far.
8) If your creative brain told you tomorrow to “take a sabbatical” what would you do other than write?
A.) Cook. Or, more specifically, I’d study with people who know how to cook. Not a full-on degree course, just dabbling here and there, different cultures—finally perfect my dumplings, maybe, and learn how to make fresh pasta by hand? Finally getting the hang of paella. And so much the better if I could do it in the country that cuisine came from… (see: travel). Cooking uses a different kind of creativity and handiwork, so it would rest my brain but still give me that feeling of satisfaction and accomplishment. Plus, feeding people.
9) To what concepts, intentionally or not, do you think you’ve exposed your readers?
A.) Oh god. That’s just…. you should ask them, right? Because I only write the stories and set them free, I have no idea what they do once they’re out there. I hope that I’m showing them something a step outside their usual thoughts, a way of connecting (and connecting to that they hadn’t been aware of, before.)
10) Has writing fiction taught you anything you didn’t expect?
A.) That would presume that I ‘expected’ anything. The first thing I learned about writing—past the “this is how you convey X”—was that every page I write, every character I develop, teaches me something new. Because everything I create comes from a mix of what’s inside and what’s observed, and in the mixing comes up new. And a writer who is in touch with their work sees that newness when it touches the page, and learns from it. It might be something as seemingly small as “oh, that’s what the character does next, not what I thought they were going to do (and thereby changing the entire track of the book) or it could be a sudden shock of personal epiphany, expanding to reshape the way we see the world… I’ve had all of those happen, often within the same book, and I can never predict it.
It makes going to work never-boring, at least.