Today's guest blog is with the multi-talented Laura Anne Gilman (suricattus ), fantastic editor, short story and novel writer, wine connoisseur, friend, and client of "rival" agent Jennifer Jackson (arcaedia ). (I put rival in quotations not because we're not competitors, but because it's not a hair-pulling and name calling sort of thing, even after said wine has been consumed.)
Changing Gears, without Losing the Love by Laura Anne Gilman
[this essay was inspired by a conversation Our Hostess and I had over drinks one night, about how difficult it can be, sometimes, to reach into yourself and pull out what a story needs… how scary it can be to face expectations – of both ourselves, and our readers.]
Writers write. That’s a given. But sometimes we write… different. And it terrifies us.
For the past five years, I’ve been best known for the urban fantasy “Retrievers” series, a kick-ass heroine in a contemporary setting, magic and mayhem and moral complications, all happening at the rat-a-tat pace of New York City.
I love those books, and the way people respond to them. And yet… even as I was having a fantabulous time with urban fantasy, there were other things tickling at my brain, other stories I wanted to tell; other styles I wanted to play with.
There’s a risk in changing gears, though. What if your readers don’t follow you? What if the book is terrible? What if, what if…? Writers, dear readers, are neurotic and delicate creatures, even when we’re trying to be tough as nails. So although I played around in my short fiction, I stayed focused on urban fantasy, and the Cosa Nostradamus novels.
And then a passing comment by my agent triggered an idea: a wine-based fantasy. Why not? I am a wine nerd of good standing (I even spent a year working in a wine store), and the idea of wine-makers as magicians seemed to make absolute and perfect sense to me – what is the transformation of grape juice into wine but the most basic alchemy, after all? And thanks to Christianity, wine already carries mythical overtones, and the setting of an alternate 14th Century world was ripe for what I’d been wanting to write about.... And then the character’s voice hit me.
I couldn’t stop myself, I ran with it – or, more precisely, it ran with me. For a year, I lived with this book even as I was working on the next Retrievers novel. I researched historical methods of winemaking. I read articles on vinification and the genetic diversity of grape varietals. I traveled to Burgundy and spent ten days getting my hands – literally – dirty in the fields, soaking up as much detail as I could to make my “Lands Vin” as true as possible. I talked to everyone, from the guy who hired out his horse-and-plow to the scion of a multinational winemaking family, to make my characters as real and as grounded as possible. I tasted as many wines as I could, to get a feel for the different types of grapes that would make up the Second growth within my world.
(Oh, okay, you caught me. I tasted as many wines as I could because I love discovering new wines. But it was legitimate research, too!)
And now, 18 months later, Flesh and Fire: Book 1 of The Vineart War, has hit the bookstores. The reviewers have already been quite kind – it got a starred review from both Publishers Weekly and Library Journal – but I have absolutely no idea how my readers will react.
And I’ve discovered… I’m okay with that.
Changing gears was scary as hell. It made me look at my writing, my storytelling, and my own hang-ups and fears under a bright and occasionally painful light, pulling me totally out of my comfort zone. But the results were worth it – and I will carry what I learned forward for the rest of my writing career.
The important thing -- in writing, in love, in life – is not to be afraid. Happy Book-birthday, Flesh and Fire. And thank you, for reminding me of that.