Q&A: Laura Anne Gilman

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Q&A: Laura Anne Gilman
Laura Anne Gilman

Before Laura Anne Gilman became the successful author you know and love, she began life as a book editor for a major NYC house, squeezing her writing into the interstitial hours where she could. Then, in 2004 she flipped it a full 180 degrees and nowadays she’s a full-time writer and freelance editor.

And when she says “full-time,” she means it! She’s the author of two urban fantasy series for Luna (Retrievers and Paranormal Scene Investigations), and the award-nominated The Vineart War trilogy from Pocket, and has a new story collection Dragon Virus coming out from Fairwood Press.

Just back from the Nebula Awards Weekend and a trip to BEA, she paused just long enough to answer a few questions:


LMS: Let’s start with the basics. You’re a “working writer.” This is your day job, your main source of income. Given that, what’s your writing process, and how does it shape your day? Break it down for us. What have you found that works for you, and why. And what have you discarded along the way that sounded like perfectly good advice and valid things to try but just didn’t fit you well?

LAG: I’ve always worked in a deadline-focused environment; the only difference now is that if I feel the need to take a few hours off and do something else (be that chores or a nap or playtime), I can. But mostly, I’m at my desk Monday-Friday, for anywhere from four to ten hours, depending on what I’m working on and how urgent the deadline. When I take on a day job, as I do occasionally, I shift that work-time into the evening/weekends. The main difference in workingfor yourself, no matter the field, is that you tend to pack a lot more actual WORK into each hour. Fewer/no meetings or interruptions lead to a certain ‘lean’ and focused mentality.

As for process… it all depends on what I’m working on: if something’s due the next day, you work on it until it’s done. However, I’ve discovered that I’m more creative early in the morning/later in the evening, so I tend to do my straight-ahead writing then, while things like editing and business matters are best handled mid-day. That took me about a year to sort out. It’s also important to remember that only part of a writer’s life is actually writing – but the rest has to be given time, too.

Some people post their word count on a daily basis, or use the word-meters as a sort of accountability. I tried that, but it always felt awkward. Sometimes I’ll talk about how many words I wrote, especially if it was an impressive day, but mostly I’m working on so many aspects – writing, revising, editing, researching, thinking – that it feels like I’m shortchanging myself if all I focus on is the word count.


LMS: You’re probably best known at this point for the fiction from your Cosa Nostradamus universe (the six book Retrievers series, and the Paranormal Scene Investigations series which is currently at two books). But you’ve written several paranormal romance novels (under another name) as well as gone off in a completely different direction with The Vineart War fantasy trilogy (the first of which landed you on the Nebula Award ballot for best novel). Now, in this new collection for Fairwood Press, you’re going off in yet another direction, a set of related tales that describe a story arc of nearly a century in six glimpses. What’s going on here? Why such a huge departure from the series you’ve been creating? And is this just the beginning of a new universe for you to play in, or is this one volume the sum total of what you plan to do with these ideas and this worldbuilding?

LAG: See, I don’t think of it as a departure at all. I’m not an Urban Fantasy writer, or an SF writer, or a mystery writer or etc. I’m a writer. I tell stories – I write about people who are in the grip of a change or dilemma or realization. And for each story I try to find the form and format that works best for that particular project. Sometimes I’ll skew commercial, and sometimes… not so much.

Dragon Virus in particular was born in two short stories, written a year or so apart. They were conceived independently, but when I was done with the second one I realized that there was a story arc between them, something that didn’t focus on any one particular person or period, but an entire society, an entire way of life undergoing both a violent and a gradual change. You can read the stories independently, without the linking material, or as one piece – it works both ways. That intrigued me, to see how differently the stories hit, individually and together. It was also a fun challenge, to see if I could get people emotionally and intellectually involved, via this format (based on the reviews: yep).

There’s been some discussion of expanding one of the time-period stories, maybe a YA novel, but for now it’s just a bunch of notes on my desk and thoughts in my head.


LMS: As someone who’s been on both the editorial side and the author side, what’s your view of the current rush of so many new authors to go the Indie route? I’m not asking you to balance the rare, Amanda Hocking stories against the thousands of Indie authors who vanish with so much as a blip, but rather what is your general impression of what it’s all going to mean for the industry as authors grasp for alternatives to traditional publishing and distribution models.

LAG: I think anyone who says “X is the future! ” or “Y is better!” is missing the real story, which is that indie publishing and small press publishing and “Big Six” publishing are all parts of the greater whole. The same way I’ve been choosing formats to tell my stories, writers can now choose the best ‘fit’ for their work, not as a career-spanning choice but on a project-by-project basis, without losing momentum or status either way.

Listening to people on both sides of the argument, I am reminded of the stories I heard from my uncle, who also was in publishing, about what happened when mass market paperbacks were first introduced. “It will be the death of publishing!” some cried. “Cheap paperbacks will destroy hardcovers!”

Y’know? Not so much. The options expanded, but the content remained key.

And on content… the one thing I worry about is the rush to self-publish, thinking only “I can get my work out now, be master of my own fate, and see cash come in right away,” forgets the still-vital role an editor plays in the process. I have never seen – from either side of the desk – a project that was not improved by having an impartial and capable editor run the writer through her paces one more time. And, please, let’s not forget about the copy editor/proofreader…! Writing is a single-person occupation, for the most part. The act and art of publishing, less so. Self-publishing should have the same standards that we hold for commercially published work – maybe even higher standards, actually, since we’re not having to work with a corporate bottom line….

(as an aside: I have no respect for anyone who derides “gatekeepers.” Having read slush – and worked with unpublished writers – for many years, I can vouch for the fact that gatekeepers serve a useful and needed purpose. We all create clunkers. Having someone say “no” isn’t always a bad or wrong thing, for a writer. It makes us go back and learn how to do it better.)


LMS: Years ago I challenged you to dispense world-changing writerly wisdom to me in sixty seconds or less, and your three word answer (Ass In Chair!) really transformed my experiences as a writer. Assuming you don’t regret sharing that advice, are you up for dispensing some more insight (if you think I can take it)?

LAG: If you’re scared of a project, that’s the one you should attempt. Push, stretch, reach, fail, and grow.


= = = = =

If you’ve been dazzled by Laura Anne’s answers — or you just want to read some of her fine fiction — you’re encouraged to click on these pretty pictures, which have been carefully trained to whisk you off to an order page.

Dragon Virus Staying Dead Hard Magic Flesh and Fire: Book Book One of The Vineart War

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