|Laura Anne Gilman: From Writer to Editor and Back Again|
Editors live to give writers headaches. They always want more, faster, better -- especially better. A writer can get whiplash from their lightning shifts between passionate cheerleader and personal Torquemada. So what happens when the writer is herself an editor? For writer/editor Laura Anne Gilman, the answer is a lot of good fantasy.
Gilman, the author of Luna Books' first contemporary fantasy series (the Retrievers), spent 15 years as an editor in some of New York's top publishing houses. She made a name for herself as the champion of smart, urban fantasy and helped nurture the current renaissance of the genre. A couple of years ago, with several of her own books and many published short stories already under her belt, Gilman made the shift from editor/writer to writer/editor. She scored big with Staying Dead, the first novel about the edgy, sexy partnership between Wren, a magically gifted "retriever" of objects, and Sergei, her sophisticated, secretive colleague. Recently, she took time from her many projects to talk to Crescent Blues about her multi-faceted creative life.
Crescent Blues: How long have the characters who became Wren and Sergei been knocking around in your head?
Laura Anne Gilman: I think that they showed up somewhere around 2001, in terms of characters in search of a format. Their first outing in print form was in 2002, when the first version of Staying Dead came into being.
Crescent Blues: What were their origins? Did they arrive together or did they develop separately?
Laura Anne Gilman: Interestingly enough, Sergei showed up first. It started as a discussion of characters for an on-line RPG that was being put together -- I needed an older, somewhat worldly and blasé character. Instead, I got Sergei. Once he was in, he held the door for Wren.
Crescent Blues: What was the inspiration for the world they inhabit and the magical system they use?
Laura Anne Gilman: I don't think there was any one inspiration. I tend to gather details and ideas and bits of shiny sparkly bits as I go, and store them in the back of my brain until something coalesces. In this case, my love of thunderstorms, the need for a logical source of magic, and a way that it would dovetail well with the modern world were the shiny bits. They met with Wren's voice, and Current was born.
Crescent Blues: How has living in New York influenced the development of Wren and Sergei's world?
Laura Anne Gilman: Well, I don't actually live in New York City -- I'm across the river, in the 'burbs of New Jersey. I did work in Manhattan for 15 years, and spent time "playing" there as a teenager, so absolutely it influenced me. Manhattan is a living entity, vibrant and chaotic and colorful and just a perfect counterpart not only to the partnership of Wren and Sergei but to the entire Cosa Nostradamus. Not to say that there aren't fatae and Talents pretty much everywhere...as we'll be finding out.
Crescent Blues: How did you hook up with Luna Books? Did you seek them out as a writer or did they go looking for you?
Laura Anne Gilman: I had actually submitted (via my agent, Jennifer Jackson) a more traditional historical fantasy that they liked -- but then I had lunch with Mary-Theresa, who would become my editor, and mentioned this contemporary project I had going, as well...
Crescent Blues: Can you tell our readers a little bit about your next Retrievers novel, Curse the Dark?
Laura Anne Gilman: Sure. Curse the Dark takes place a few months after Staying Dead, when the deal that Sergei made at the end of the book comes back to bite them on the posterior, sending them off to Italy in search of a VDA (a Very Dangerous Artifact) that has been taken from its secure storage facility and -- possibly -- let loose on an unsuspecting world. In the meanwhile, back home, tensions are rising between the fatae and Talents, and P.B. has managed to get Wren involved, very much against her wishes. And of course, [Wren and Sergei's] relationship takes a few steps forward...and a few steps back.
Crescent Blues: How hard was it to leave editing behind to write full-time?
Laura Anne Gilman: Very. I still do some editing on the side. Basically, I've switched the percentages of editor/writer to writer/editor. But I miss full-time editing, yes. Okay, I miss most of full-time editing. I don't miss the meetings. At all.
Crescent Blues: Did you always want to be a writer?
Laura Anne Gilman: Always. And I was fortunate in my ambition, because my mother is also a writer, although mainstream (but we'll forgive her that) and I grew up hearing not "be practical, get a job," but "writing is a job." That allowed me to focus on the practical aspects of learning my trade, rather than having to justify my storytelling impulses.
Crescent Blues: What prompted you to take your first job as an editorial assistant?
Laura Anne Gilman: In addition to a mother who is a writer, I have an uncle (her brother) who is an editor. So I grew up knowing that there were these people whose job it was to help writers get their works into the best shape possible and find an audience. This seemed like -- and still does seem like -- one of the coolest jobs in the world, to me.
Crescent Blues: What prompted you to continue in the editing arena for 15 years?
Laura Anne Gilman: I loved it. Even when the corporate parts of the job began to overwhelm the hands-on editing, and the burnout started to creep in, I still loved the act of editing, of being a book's in-house advocate (as well as the writer's best nightmare in terms of getting the book into its best possible shape).
Crescent Blues: As an editor, did you ever find yourself looking a manuscript and thinking, "This could be so great if only…" And how did you deal with the feeling?
Laura Anne Gilman: Sure, felt that all the time -- the "Perfect Book" is a rare creature. I dealt with it by writing an editorial letter (if I had bought the book), or a hopefully constructive reject letter (if I had to pass on it, for whatever reason).
Crescent Blues: What made you decide to strike out on your own?
Laura Anne Gilman: A combination of things, including the fact that I was suddenly under a three-book deadline, and I had a growing sense of "now or never." There comes a point where you have to check your parachute, close your eyes, and jump out of the plane.
Crescent Blues: After having published so many short stories in so many venues, what prompted your decision to write three tie-in novels?
Laura Anne Gilman: I was offered money for them? Seriously, I don't see any kind of dividing line between the long form and the short form, in terms of production. - I write what I'm interested in writing. The Buffy books were a fun sideline that combined my personal/fannish interests with, well, payment, and the Poltergeist: the Legacy book allowed me to stretch my chops into writing a locked-room mystery (okay, a "locked island" mystery). I would never do a media tie-in for a project I didn't already enjoy -- life's too short and Hollywood's too weird for that. For something I did enjoy? I'd do it again, in a heartbeat.
Crescent Blues: What prompted the pseudonym for The Shadows Between, when you didn't use one for your Buffy novels?
Laura Anne Gilman: That's an easy answer: the Poltergeist books were published and distributed by Berkley, which had just been acquired by my own employer, Penguin. So it was going to be sold by the same people I worked with on a daily basis. I wanted, honestly, to avoid merging the two careers quite that closely, and my editor at Berkley agreed.
Crescent Blues: How did the non-fiction books happen?
Laura Anne Gilman: I knew an editor who was working for a non-fiction publisher, and she knew that I was good at writing for that grade level (YA/pre-teen), in terms of language and tone. So she asked me if I wanted to do one... and everything followed from there. I like writing non-fiction - it's an interesting challenge, to impart information in the least dry, most interesting wordage possible, without losing track of the essentials. I especially like writing for teens and pre-teens, because there is still such a sense of astonishment at the world around them that, if you do it right, they can soak up information for the sake of just knowing it. And you never know, ten years down the road, how that information will manifest itself.
Crescent Blues: How did you juggle your job as an editor, writing non-fiction, short stories and novels?
Laura Anne Gilman: Very, very carefully, and with a lot of caffeine.
Crescent Blues: What is the greatest advantage to having a professional background that encompasses editing and writing?
Laura Anne Gilman: I know that there are a lot of things I don't know or am not as good at as I should be, and that professionals are there to help me. As I said earlier, my background in the field is two generations deep, so although I love what I do, I'm also very pragmatic about it.
Crescent Blues: What is the greatest challenge?
Laura Anne Gilman: Letting go of that pragmatism enough to remember the geeky ego-thrill of something working. I've been told that I'm my own harshest critic, occasionally to my own detriment.
Crescent Blues: Could you tell our readers a little bit about d.y.m.k. productions?
Laura Anne Gilman: d.y.m.k. productions is my freelance side -- the work I do for other folk, rather than my own writing. That includes writing marketing and advertising copy for other publishers, some ghostwriting, and editorial work (both for publishers and individual clients, and yes I am sill taking on new clients.)
Laura Anne Gilman: I suspect I've already answered this one. But I should also mention that my dad was a huge influence too -- he was always determined that his kids follow their dreams, and not get trapped in the "salary above all" mindset. Money's good. I love having money. Would like to have lots of money. But at the end of the day, if you don't enjoy what you do... money can buy comfort, yeah, but not satisfaction. Not for me, anyway.
Crescent Blues: Do you have any joint signings planned for 2005?
Laura Anne Gilman: Right now, the only signings I have planned for 2005 will be at conventions I'm scheduled to appear at (Boskone, WorldCon, World Fantasy, hopefully Balticon). Probably there will be more set up around the time Grail Quest and Curse the Dark come out, but nothing has been set up.
Crescent Blues: What prompted the move into the young adult arena?
Laura Anne Gilman: I actually started out in YA, with the Buffy books, so it's a return, not a "move into." I love writing YA, mainly because it had such an impact on me when I was a young reader looking for something to spark my imagination, especially Lloyd Alexander and Susan Cooper's works. If I can do the same thing for someone else, then I've accomplished the best, most important aspect of a writer's mandate -- to create a love of reading.
Crescent Blues: Regarding your upcoming YA novel, Grail Quest, was working in the Arthurian mythos the fulfillment of a long-standing dream for you?
Laura Anne Gilman: Honestly? Not really. I loved The Once and Future King as a teenager, but have never been an Arthurian junkie. As a history junkie, the inconsistencies in the stories always made me start thinking like a researcher, not a reader. Gerard's balancing act between the knights and his friends, Ailis' fascination with Morgain le Fey, Newt's uneasy background, they were all things I was able to create because of the Arthurian setting, yes. The sense of pressure on these kids -- three teenagers with vastly different expectations placed on them by their society, trying to keep their friendships intact as they move into the adult strata, dealing with things thrown at them they had no reason to expect -- is distinctly Arthurian, but the themes are ones that can and do arise in any setting.
In other words, this is NOT traditional Arthurian.
Crescent Blues: In addition to your web site, you use a news group at sff.net and a Live Journal to connect with your fans -- not to mention participating in the Luna bulletin boards. How hard is it to avoid getting lost in the thrill of direct communication, a la Live Journal and b-boards?
Laura Anne Gilman: Very. I like talking to people; the loss of daily interaction is one of the toughest things about going freelance, when the only outside contact you have tends to be strictly work-related. Or talking to the plumber. So I have time limits as to how much time each forum gets, and I had to give up entirely on some other forums, where the signal to noise ration wasn't enough to justify the time.
Crescent Blues: How did you acquire the nickname "Meerkat?"
Laura Anne Gilman: Let's just say that there is a rather disquieting resemblance...
Crescent Blues: Any words of wisdom for aspiring writers?
Laura Anne Gilman: Other than the usual "take it seriously, don't give up?" Be honest with yourself about what you're producing, and why you're doing it. Do it only if you must. If you can live without writing -- do so. Your mental health may be the better for it. And remember that the moment you make your first submission, you ARE a professional, and will be judged by other professionals as such. This is both terrifying, and exhilarating.
Click here to learn more about Laura Anne Gilman.
Jean Marie Ward