Laura Anne Gilman Interview
Author of The Cosa Nostradamus Series
JMW: Hello. This is Jean Marie Ward for BuzzyMag.com. With me today is writer, editor, tired person, Laura Anne Gilman. Welcome, Laura.
Laura Anne Gilman: Thank you.
JMW: How many writing identities do you have now, and what are they all up to?
Laura Anne Gilman: Currently . . . only two, currently. Obviously as Laura Anne Gilman, still writing fantasy and science fiction. Most recently the Portals duology, which is “Heart of Briar” and “Soul of Fire,” just in stores now, which is a very, very loose retelling of the Tam Lin legend in modern time, where instead of spiriting away humans, they’re now also using internet dating sites.
JMW: That works.
Laura Anne Gilman: And chaos ensues, and so forth. Those were a lot of fun to write. As L.A. Kornetsky . . .
Laura Anne Gilman: . . . who is my mystery writing alter ego, the second in the Gin and Tonic Mysteries, which are set in Seattle, just came out. It’s called “Fixed.”
Laura Anne Gilman: Following up on last year’s “Collared,” which, as you can tell from the titles, actually has an animal element in it. My heroes, my human heroes, Ginny and Teddy, have animal companions who, in their own way, help with them. So it’s a lot of fun writing those, because they’re not talking animals. This is not a cutesy series in that regard. But the animals are very much full-fledged characters in the mysteries, and do their own thing. And writing those is a lot of fun. And I’m working on the third one now called “Doghouse” . . .
Laura Anne Gilman: . . . which will be out in 2014.
JMW: Very cool. And you’re also doing some Kickstarter stuff with some of your earlier series.
Laura Anne Gilman: Yes. Yes. Last year, I did . . . after writing the Cosa of Nostradamus novels, the Retriever series, and PSI novels, my publisher asked me to write something different, which is where the Portals duology came from.
But I got a lot of people saying, “But we want more Cosa of Nostradamus novels.” So I Kickstarted two novellas featuring Danny Hendricksen, who is the half-faun, half-human private investigator. “Miles to Go” and “Promises to Keep” were the two novellas. And did very well, and we’re actually going to be releasing them as . . . the non-Kickstarter edition, which is slightly different than the special edition Kickstarter patrons got, we’re going to be releasing them through Book View Cafe at the end of this month — the end of October — as novellas. DRM-free digital novellas, because that’s how we roll at Book View Cafe. And I’m also going to be having a print edition, limited print edition, of the two novellas in one coming out from Plus One Press out in California.
At the same time, we’re going to be starting a new Kickstarter for the next two novellas, with all the usual special embellishments for Kickstarter backers. So that’s fun. It’s basically getting just to say to New York, “Okay, you said you didn’t feel that these series are growing,” but the fans of these books get to still get their fix, and I get to have fun playing in the world. So I think everybody wins. New York gets me writing something else, and I get to continue doing this.
JMW: You get to stretch in many directions at once.
Laura Anne Gilman: Yes.
JMW: And speaking of that, with all this going on, when do you find time to edit?
Laura Anne Gilman: Oh, compartmentalization is a wonderful thing. In November, it’ll be 10 years I’ve been freelancing. And I learned pretty quickly, once I no longer had a day job that had set parameters, that I write best in the morning. Between 7:00 a.m. and noon is really my best writing time. And after 1:00 and before 7:00, that particular creative part of my brain does not really function as well. But my administrative, logical, nitpicky side is in full play.
So I will split my day into thirds. In the morning, I will do as much of the creative stuff as I can. And the afternoon, it’s administrative and editorial work. So I can sit down and, for two or three hours, work with a manuscript, work with a story, and be thinking completely with my editorial hat on. Which, by the way, is a nice fedora with a long plume. I actually have an editorial hat. Because people have asked.
And that’s how I manage to do it. Short of a killer deadline where I have to spend the entire day on one project, that’s how I find the time.
JMW: And then there’s a little time for you and the cats.
Laura Anne Gilman: Yeah. It’s called dinnertime. Actually, I’ve been trying to keep . . . like a normal human being, I try not to work at night. After dinner, I get to put my feet up, turn my brain off, just sort of extend. Be with people, watch TV, do all the things that I’m told normal people do. It’s an experiment. It’s a work in progress. But we’re doing it. It helps that there’s a lot of really good TV on this season, so I’ve got a reason to be in front of the TV.
JMW: Yeah, there is. Let’s talk a little bit more about your editing, because, well, you edit for BuzzyMag.com. How is editing short fiction, like you do for Buzzy mag, different from editing novels? Or is it?
Laura Anne Gilman: It’s very different. It is very, very different. Just the same as writing them is different from writing novels. When I’m working with a novel, every comment I make, I have to remember that it is going to be dependent on something that happens in the next chapter. I have to keep all of these things rolling in my head. I keep a sideline of notes of things that I want to remember, things I want to comment on, for the overarching story of the novel. And there are a lot more things that come into play because there’s a lot more happening within a novel. Ideally. Hopefully.
And there tends to be an editorial long game that has to be played of, does each individual section work, and does it work overall? That is always a lot more complicated than editing short fiction, because you’re juggling a lot of things. You’re trying to make sure that the author continues to properly juggle all of these things. And if they drop it and you don’t catch it, you can’t rely on the copy editor to catch it. Although, bless them, a lot of times they will. And that can make the entire story fall apart.
Short fiction . . . and when I edit a novel, I take my notes all the way through as I’m reading, and then I go back and do the line edit. When I read short fiction, which is anything under, basically, 9,000 or 10,000 words, for me, I read it through once quickly, very quickly, just to get an initial impression. I read it the way a reader would read it. And then I go back and I deconstruct the story as a whole. It’s not, all right, I’m reading this section, and then I’m reading this section. I already have the story in my head, and I’m deconstructing it. Saying, okay, I already know what your end game is. Are you setting it up properly? Are you hitting all the notes? Because it’s so important to get everything there. You can’t miss a beat.
But it’s snapshot, rather than the long game. And the skills are the same, but how you apply them are different. And it tends to also . . . fortunately, I can do all that in a day. Novels will take me considerably longer. The difference between 5,000 words and 100,000 words, right there.
Short fiction is a joy to edit, because every single story’s so completely different. Every author is so different. And I’m working on three stories this month for Buzzy, and each one of them has required completely different notes for me, and has put my brain thinking in different ways, because they’re so different. That’s fun.
JMW: Always a thrill when that happens, isn’t it? Yeah, you’ve been editing a long time. You’ve been writing and editing since college, if not before. What was the most important writing lesson you learned from editing?
Laura Anne Gilman: How to tell when something’s in my head but not on the page yet. It’s a problem every writer has. You know the story so well, you’re putting it on the page, and you think it’s all there because you know it, and you’re not necessarily realizing you haven’t completely explained it. And writing a great number of editorials where I’m saying, “I know it’s in your head, but you’ve got to share it with the rest of the class,” has taught me how to recognize it when I’m doing it, and to say, “Okay, did I actually give that information, or did I just assume that I was implying it?”
And my style tends to be a little more subtle than overt. Forcing myself to be overt, and in some ways feel obvious to me, but when people read it, they’re like, “Oh, that was beautifully done. I barely even noticed you were giving me that information.” I’m kind of like, “Okay then!” But seeing it as I’m doing it. Seeing when what’s in my head is not making it on the page as I’m going along is definitely a result of having written so many editorial letters noting when other people were doing it. That was an incredibly useful thing.
JMW: I can see how, speaking as somebody who doesn’t put it all one the page. Let’s flip that question. What’s the most important editorial lesson you learned from being a writer?
Laura Anne Gilman: Oh, dear. How to let the writer’s voice be . . . because a lot of times, as a writer, you want to fix it. And being a writer, coming to the editorial process, you curb that. You don’t say, “This is how I would fix it.” You want to say, “This is the problem. Here are a few pointers that hopefully will prod you in the right direction to fix it.” But there’s very much an awareness of the fact that I can’t tell the writer how to fix it, because I am not the writer. I know how I’d fix it, but it’s not my damn book.
So it’s given me a delicacy, I guess, which is not a word that people usually associate with my and my editorial skills. I think it’s Judy Tarr who once referred to my editorial letters as “science fiction boot camp.” I think she meant it kindly. I don’t know. But there’s a sensitivity of bringing them to the right answer rather than telling them what the right answer is, because I don’t know. But I know that they know. I trust them to know their story. Once I poke at them and say, “You forgot to put this on the page. You didn’t do this quite right. You’ve got to fix it.” Trusting them to find the right way that will work best for the story.
JMW: Cool. Very cool. What’s next for you? What do you want your peeps to know about in six months?
Laura Anne Gilman: Well, obviously the Kickstarter. And we have “Doghouse,” which is the next Gin and Tonic mystery that’ll be coming out. Actually, there are two more, “Doghouse” and the yet to be titled fourth book. The problem is, I can’t really say what’s coming in the next six months, because right now, a project that is very near and dear to my heart is out on submission.
Laura Anne Gilman: And we’ve gotten some publishers that are saying, “Ooh, we’re intrigued. We’ll get back to you.” But nobody’s actually gotten back to us yet. So this is the long night of trauma for the writer, which is a project that I love, and I’ve already written, like, 30,000 words of it, that my agent loves, that everybody who’s heard me read it goes, “Oh my God, when is that coming out?” And my answer is, “I don’t know.” So as soon as I know, I will be making massive amounts of noise on that. It’s a very, very different project than what I’ve been doing. That’s about all I can say.
JMW: Okay. Anything you’d like to add? The floor is open.
Laura Anne Gilman: Obviously that L.A. Konetsky is alive and producing, that my work at Book View Cafe, I’m continuing to put more original work up there. And also, in 2014, I’m going to be open to new editorial clients, which I haven’t been for the past year. But a couple of my babies have grown up and sold their projects, so I’m taking on new editorial clients.
JMW: Well, that’ll be great news for the writers in the audience. Thank you, Laura Anne.
Jean Marie Ward writes fiction, nonfiction and everything in between, including art books, novels (2008 Indie Book double-finalist With Nine You Get Vanyr), and short stories such as WSFA Small Press Award finalist “Lord Bai’s Discovery” and “Personal Demons” in the award-winning anthology Hellebore and Rue. Her videos include author interviews and tutorials.