Laura Anne Gilman is a Nebula-nominated author, a former editor for a major New York publishing house, and a freelance editor. She’s writing the Paranormal Scene Investigations series for Luna Books and the Vineart War trilogy for Pocket. She also has a short story collection available from Fairwood Press and has self-published short stories. She is currently working on her first mystery novel for Pocket.
Daily Dragon (DD): Welcome back to Dragon*Con! Flesh and Fire, the first volume in The Vineart War, was nominated for the Nebula Award in 2009. Please tell us a bit about that series.
Laura Anne Gilman (LAG): The short version is that it’s an epic fantasy trilogy about a world where magic flows from wine, and those who make that wine, Vinearts, are faced with a sudden and very dangerous enemy. The longer version is that this is the story of young people who, instead of the traditional life they expected, are thrown into a situation where they have to improvise and adapt to survive, and recreate themselves—and each other—in the process. And, in the end they have to decide who they want to be, and what they want their world to be… and accept the consequences of those decisions.
DD: What inspired this unusual magic system?
LAG: I’m a wine nerd, and so is my agent. We were talking one day about a wine and food expo that was nearby, and she joked that I needed to write a food-or-wine-based fantasy, to make that into tax-deductible research. And—just like that—it sparked ideas that had already been in my head and gave it a magic system to wrap around. Making wine has always been a sort of alchemy, and the seemingly endless varietals of grapes….
The fact that I was able to do it working within an agricultural and mercantile world, rather than one of warriors and royalty, added to the appeal. If magic is natural, it must also be organic, and the ingesting of the magic… there was just so much material there, I couldn’t NOT write it.
DD: How do magic and politics interact in the world of the Vineart Wars?
LAG: Very, very carefully and cautiously. The set-up of the world is that two thousand years before, mankind had brought itself to the brink of disaster. A break was forced (allegedly by a god) between those who had magic, and those who had political power, to prevent it from ever happening again. Of course, human nature being what it is… there are those who want both.
DD: The concluding volume, The Shattered Vine, will be a November release from Pocket Books. Will it completely close off the story, or will there be room for you to visit this world again?
LAG: It will close off Jerzy’s story, and the story of the Vineart War. But there are other stories in that world, absolutely.
DD: Luna is releasing Tricks of the Trade, the third volume in the Paranormal Scene Investigations series in October. Please tell us about this series. Do you think calling it a magical CSI is fair?
LAG: Absolutely fair, although not entirely accurate, as they tend to get their noses into more than just the evidence. The PUPIs (private, unaffiliated, paranormal investigators) were created to bring accountability to the Cosa Nostradamus, the magical community, for crimes committed with magic (or by/against magical creatures). This brings them into direct conflict with those who would rather magic users be above the law entirely…
DD: The Paranormal Scene Investigations novels take place in a world you created for your Retrievers series from Luna but have a different focus. Could you contrast the two?
LAG: The Retrievers series focuses more on the “lonejack” or independent side of the Cosa Nostradamus—the folk just going about making their way—by means criminal, in the case of our heroine, Wren Valere. PUPI was first introduced in those books, and when Wren’s story was done, I thought it might be fun to tell the story of Bonnie and the PUPs, and how they try to “tame” Wren’s world a little.
DD: You have a short story collection, Dragon Virus, out now from Fairwood Press. The description on your website says it’s about “generations and families in conflict over the very definition of what it means to be human.” Could you expand on that?
LAG: Dragon Virus tells the story—over generations—of the impact massive genetic changes have on our world, both globally and locally. It’s one thing to be “us vs. them,” but when “them” could be your sister, your son, your lover, your grandchild…. What then? And when the mutation doesn’t have a single face… how do you, as Changed, create a group identity? Where do science and religion land? What do we become, when the rules change?
I very intentionally made all of these personal stories, rather than national or global conflict, because the change was so sweeping, it could really only be understood up close.
DD: The description of Dragon Virus reminds me of the Retrievers series and the role prejudice plays in those conflicts. Is there a similarity?
LAG: “Us vs. them” is one of humanity’s driving forces, and “Them-ism” is something that has always fascinated me, in a kind of horrified way. But I try to balance the fear and hate, power and envy—the dark side, if you will—with the love and compassion that breaks through those feelings and builds up rather than tearing down. They’re just harder to find and hold, which is pretty much what Dragon Virus is about—the finding and the holding, even in the violence.
DD: You’ve just been contracted to write your first mystery. What sort of mystery is it, and what’s it about?
LAG: It’s the start of a series about two amateurs—a bartender and a personal concierge—who take on a job that they think will be easy—find out the whereabouts of a missing man, whose nephew is worried about him, and quickly discover the first truth of being a PI: the client lies. Also, that investigating things is a lot harder than it sounds. It’s fun for me, because while it’s a cozy, I’m also bringing in some elements from old-school noir—and did I mention the would-be “guidance” from two devoted, if occasionally clueless pets?
Having a LOT of fun with this one.
DD: If you don’t mind putting on your editor hat for a minute, can you tell us what common problems you see in the work of aspiring writers? What advice would you offer them?
LAG: Stop worrying about “the market.” Write the best damn book you can, and then make it better (an editor is your ally, not the opposition!). That’s the only part of this you can control—everything else is heavily weighted by what other people do or want, and if you try to anticipate that—you’ll fail. Also, stop fighting the “traditional or self-published” thing. There’s room for both in the world. A good, professionally-prepared story will win readers. Crap won’t.