Laura Anne Gilman made her first professional fiction sale in 1994 to Amazing Stories. Since then, she has sold over twenty short stories, written three nonfiction books for teenagers, and edited two anthologies (Otherwere and Treachery and Treason). She also runs d.y.m.k. productions, an editorial services firm. Staying Dead is her first original novel, but she's already at work on the next adventure featuring Wren and Sergei, who can also be found in the anthologies Powers of Detection and Murder by Magic.
Stacey Cochran: What do you see in the near- and long-range future for the Retrievers series?
Laura Anne Gilman: Well, I'm under contract for two more books, Curse the Dark (July 2005) and an as-of-yet-untitled follow-up. So that's the short term taken care of. Long-term, I know that there are at least two more novels in the series. After that, it depends on what the characters—and the audience—want to do. I could foresee myself writing about this cast of characters for a long time—they've got a lot of stories in them.
SC: Will Wren and Sergei get together?
LAG: They'll get together, yeah. But like everything else in their lives, it's not going to be a traditional happily-ever anything. Magic's easy. Relationships are tough.
SC: Let's talk a little about the world of Staying Dead and the Retrievers series altogether. What is a "pure"? Can a Talent become a pure?
LAG: In the world of the Retrievers, a pure is someone with no barriers, no blockages in their system to impede any skill set of Talent. It's actually not safe to be a pure, because of the power it gives you—far more likely to "wiz" out and go nuts. Wren isn't actually a pure, because, for example, there are things that block her from doing a translocation without difficulty (when she tries, it tends to destroy any electronics in the area and leaves her dry-heaving on the ground).
SC: Why is the electronic age a "godsend to magic users"?
LAG: In this world, the stuff that allows Talents to do what they do is created as a side-product of electrical energy (or vice versa; they're still arguing about it). "Tamed" current, man-made and channeled to your fingertips, is a lot easier to use than waiting for an electrical storm to come by or searching out a ley line. Problem is, a lot of Talents got lazy that way. This may come back to bite them.
SC: What are some of the advantages of crossing genres? Have you found all the communities (sci-fi, mystery, fantasy, romance, horror) receptive to your novel?
LAG: The advantages are that you're less constrained by what is "expected" from one particular genre. There are tropes in each genre that blend wonderfully with each other and add texture to the story that, in my opinion, are missing if you restrict yourself to one genre's accepted rules.
Overall, I've had a great reaction from the romance readers—I'd been worried about that. Staying Dead isn't a romance, per se, but a story about a relationship, and there is a difference in terms of reader expectations. Some SF/fantasy readers were, I think, initially put off by the Luna imprint, despite my cover being pretty straight-ahead SF/F. But I've had a lot of positive review attention from the SF media, mainly saying "Wow, this isn't a bodice-ripping romance, you don't have to be ashamed to read this!" Hopefully, that will allay fears of readers who've been hesitating.
As for horror, some of my earliest supporters came from the horror field, who knew me from my short fiction. There's a lot of darkness in Staying Dead, so hopefully they're pleased. I haven't gotten any "Woman, you sold out!" emails yet, anyway.
SC: Is there a need to bring the communities closer together?
LAG: As writers, or as readers? My answer either way would probably be yes. Genre distinctions are useful for marketing and academics. But in the act, we're all storytellers or consumers of stories and share the same concerns.
SC: When we first talked at WorldCon 2004, you mentioned that the short story form has been the more suitable medium for developing "heavier" themes and that you viewed Staying Dead as entertainment. Is this something that's likely to change as you continue to master the craft of the longer form?
LAG: Mmmm. Not sure I'd phrase it that way—sounds like you have an agenda to diss the long form—or the concept of entertainment. The truth is that, unless you entertain, you're not going to get the readers to stay with you. That's just human nature.
The two forms are quite different, in my experience, both in the writing and the reading. I've found that it's easier to play with a single difficult theme or concept in the short form. Yes, the reader is more willing to go with you down unmarked roads, and you're not stuck with the need to extend it to novel-length if the material doesn't go there. Plus, there's less financial weight attached to a short story, so there's more freedom to experiment and take risks. Risks are essential in the short form, while a good novel is a combination of comfort and risk
But I use a lot of those themes and concepts in my novels as part of the overall structure. Everything I write is what's going on in my brain—for example, Staying Dead and my short story "In the Aftermath of Something Happening" deal with the same themes of bigotry and urban socialization. But I approached the two stories quite differently.
As to whether it's likely to change, everything changes or it goes stale. I'm nowhere close to mastering either the short or long form yet. Ask me again in another fifty years.
SC: Do you view your role as a writer to be primarily as an entertainer?
LAG: Yes and no. I am, first, an entertainer. That's what storytelling is. But inherent in storytelling—unlike other forms of entertainment like sculpture or ballet or even most music—is the requirement that you stimulate the mind of the reader. Wake it up. Make it wonder. As I said a minute ago, unless you entertain, you're not going to get into those minds in the first place.
Besides, if I'm going to spend more than half my life creating these worlds, I want to be entertained, too!
SC: Reading Staying Dead, I kept saying to myself, this has to be made into a movie. In general, how do you feel about movie adaptations? Do you feel that the movie industry's respect for adapted novels has changed in the past thirty years?
LAG: From your mouth to some well-backed producer's ears! Hollywood has always had a love/hate relationship with the written word, and I don't think that has changed all that much—nor is it likely to, honestly. What we all need to remember is that movies and books are really two different forms of media with only the story idea in common. The advice I was given many years ago, and that I used to pass onto my own authors when I was at NAL, is that you cannot take Hollywood's money until and unless you're willing to cash the check and never look back. They will do as they will with your children, and you have no recourse. If you can't accept that, don't sell the movie rights.
SC: What are some of the challenges you face in creating a successful series? What are some of the advantages of series writing?
LAG: [laughs] Let's see if it's successful, before I start making pronouncements. The thing you have to keep in mind when writing series books is that each one has to stand on its own and yet be part of a continuing, evolving whole. It's tricky, basically balancing not one but two plots: the individual and the series arc. Plus, of course, you have to remember the character and world evolutions from book to book! Plus, of course, the question of how much to reiterate and how much to assume the reader remembers from book to book.
The real advantage to writing a series is that you get to go slow and build things as you go—I set a lot of things in motion in Book One that aren't going to be resolved for . . . well, a while. It also helped a lot when writing Wren and Sergei's evolving relationship: I knew that they weren't going to work out all the details in the first book. Or the second. Or, probably the third, or. . . .
SC: Do you have any non-series books in the works?
LAG: I'm currently working on a YA Arthurian fantasy trilogy for Harper called Grail Quest. There are a few other things out with editors, some of which are stand-alones. But until they're under contract, they're not to be spoken of.
LAG: Working on the Buffy projects was a lot of fun#8212;an excuse to watch episodes over and over again and be able to say it's work! I learned a lot from dissecting how Joss [Whedon] put his episodes together. When he is on, he's brilliant.
Jo and I collaborated mostly online, even though we're in the same geographic area. We'd sit in a chat room and toss ideas back and forth at each other, logging as we went so we didn't run the risk of forgetting a detail later. Then we'd email chapters back and forth, each one adding and editing and refining, until it was difficult even for us to remember who did what.
SC: How did the project come to you?
LAG: Well, I mentioned to then NAL-author Christopher Golden that I would love to do a Buffy book. Chris was the Buffy guy at the time, so it was more of an idle comment. But he gave me the name of his editor at Pocket Books and told me to go for it. So Jo and I sat down and hammered out a handful of proposals and went for it.
SC: How many words is Staying Dead? What is the best range of word count for you both as a writer and a reader?
LAG: The guidelines for Luna are 100,000 to 150,000 words. I seem to come in at 97,000 consistently (for this and Curse the Dark). I don't know if I have a mental barrier against breaking the 100,000-word mark from so many years as an editor, sitting in production meetings hearing people gnash their teeth over costs, or if it's just a natural stopping place for me. Might be a little of both.
SC: What are some of the promotional tricks of the trade you've used to get your books to readers (e.g., postcards, coauthor book tour, butterscotch schnapps for booksellers)?
LAG: Well, fellow author Keith DeCandido and I went on a shared tour together (the Magic & Mayhem Tour) since he also had an August release. Just for a goof, we created a CafePress store with promotional materials for the tour. But the store was more for fun than because we thought it would move books. What was successful was the postcards we made up. The covers and copy for Keith's Dragon Precinct, Jay Caselberg's Metal Sky, and my Staying Dead were all printed on the postcard, so when one of us did a signing we could slip the postcard in and advertise the other two. Shared costs, triple the potential audience. I've also been doing the usual website promotional material, including a contest via the Luna board. Had a great response to that.
SC: Tell us a little bit about d.y.m.k. productions. Who are some of the authors you've worked with?
LAG: d.y.m.k. productions is my editorial services company. There are two parts to it. The first is, obviously, editorial—exactly what I used to do for my authors at NAL and Berkley, only I work for the authors, not the publisher. I'm not comfortable giving their names without their consent, but it's an even mix of published writers who want more developmental editing than they're getting with their publishers and unpublished writers who want to learn and grow so they can get published. The other part of what I do is more on the marketing side—copywriting, manuscript evaluation, and market research. I've done work for a number of major publishers, including Pocket, Kensington, and Harlequin, as well as several small press publishers.
SC: Do you foresee more or less professional editing work for you in the future?
LAG: I love editing, so I can't see myself giving up on it.
SC: If you could change one thing about the publishing business, what would it be?
LAG: The returns system. No, I don't have any brilliant way to create or establish a better system, but I know that there has to be one.
SC: What four or five young authors do you predict will grow to fill the shoes of Neil Gaiman, Connie Willis, Terry Pratchett, Stephen King?
LAG: I'm so not even taking a flyer on that; it's even more of a crapshoot than, well, playing craps. You want to see who I think have potential? Look at much of the Roc list from 1997 to 2004 and see who I acquired during my tenure there.
SC: Are you interested in politics at all?
LAG: I'm interested because it affects me. If someone is going to do something in my name, I want a say in it. And the only way to have a say is to stay on top of what's going on as best you can, even if it's only to vote the bastard out if s/he does too many things you don't agree with. Activists aren't born; they're created by abuses.
SC: How about religion?
LAG: I was raised a Reform Jew, so I'm more into disorganized religion.
I also draw a distinct line between "religion" and "faith." Religion is an organization created around a faith, and as such is secondary. Faith . . . my take is that faith is an intensely personal thing, and anyone who a) tries to get between you and your sense of god/higher power/creative spark or b) thinks that they can tell you what form your faith must take is trying to undermine you and should be kicked to the curb (or, for the UK readers, kerb).
SC: If left on a deserted island for three weeks, what five things would you need to survive?
LAG: You mean, other than an Internet connection? A blank journal, a pen with enough ink, a good book I haven't read yet, enough drinkable water, and a sharp knife.
SC: And finally, what are your ten favorite sci-fi movies of all time?
LAG: I only get ten? Okay, in no particular order, at this moment in time, changeable at whim: Alien, Star Wars, Labyrinth, Lord of the Rings (it's all one story, so it's all one choice), Dr. Strangelove, Blade Runner, Mad Max, Men in Black, The Thing (the Carpenter version), and Soylent Green.
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