Ten Questions About Heart of Briar / Soul of Fire, by Laura Anne Gilman

I love Laura Anne Gilman not merely because she is an excellent writer but because she also delivers unto writers excellent writing advice — advice that is practical and wise and comes from a place of actual experience, not just, you know, from the peaks of Made-Shit-Up Mountain. Here she talks about her next two books:

Tell Us About Yourself: Who The Hell Are You?

Former book editor for various NY Publishers, who fled the 8-6 life nearly ten years ago (ten years this November!) for the relatively low-paying but blessedly meeting-less freelance life.  Which takes care of the resume portion of WTHAY.  Otherwise, I’m a Jersey Girl-turned-New Yorker who left half her heart in Seattle, a cat owner who loves dogs, an urban sophisticate who loves camping and hiking, a clotheshorse who spends most of her days in jeans and bare feet.  Hot temper but a blessedly long fuse, liberal but not a Democrat (politics, pheh), foodie and oenophile, and generally still having fucks to give but far more reserved about where and to whom I give them.

Also known for the past twenty years as “meerkat.”

Give Us The 140-Character Story Pitch:

I’m retelling the Tam Lin legend in post-Internet world. With geeks, elves, snark, an asthmatic heroine, and a classic Gilman-style ending.

Where Does This Story Come From?

The same place all my stories do: a very dark, slightly terrifying back room in my brain, where all the bits and bobs I magpie out of the daily world get shoved.  They sit there for years, rubbing shoulders with each other, talking in low voices, wondering when, if ever, they’ll see light of day again, getting paranoid and occasionally hallucinating, until a group of them achieve critical mass and explode out of my ear and onto the page.

I was thinking about my next project, trying to find a different ‘jumping off’ point from the mystery-built UF I’d been writing before, and thinking that it would be fun to write a straight-on save-the-world fantasy adventure, something very traditional, and then give it a technological twist.  And – as per my editor’s request – keeping love/romance as a prime mover in the plot.

*boom*  An epic somantic legend, some PTSD, a bit of scientific thingamajiggery, and a non-traditional ending that will piss some people off…

Along the way, I picked up the challenge to write a duology, where the story continues, and yet is not a “second half” or a sequel, but the next logical act in an ongoing play.  So that’s how “retell Tam Lin” became HEART OF BRIAR/SOUL OF FIRE.

How Is This A Story Only You Could’ve Written?

Individually, anyone else might have come up with the specifics – the legend to be rewritten, the idea of the protag as a woman who has trained herself to avoid conflict and physical activity, the snarky-and-unsexy werewolf advisor, the science behind the magic… it’s the putting them all together and giving them voices that was uniquely me.  Because that’s what proper storytelling is – the combination of elements anyone could think of, in a way that nobody’s thought of yet.  So the more you develop individual thinking and ways of seeing, the more likely you are to write something someone else says “dude, I did not see that coming.”  Or, as one of my beta readers signed, “only you, Gilman….”

What Was The Hardest Thing About Writing HEART OF BRIAR/SOUL OF FIRE?

Not letting the secondary characters take over.  Jan started out as a strong, full-throated chatacter, but barely a chapter in, and it was a little like watching the Wizard of Oz – you know that Dorothy is the quest-character, but everyone else is chewing the scenery so wonderfully, you want to spend more time with them, too.

Much to my surprise, Tyler – who was a bit of an intentional cypher to begin with, as the wayward boyfriend, really developed away from where I’d thought he would go.  The more page-time he got, the more he changed the story away from the original outline.  Thankfully my editor understood and approved the change, because trying to shove him back in the box would have been impossible, and (IMO) would have made for a less-satisfying story.

What Did You Learn Writing HEART OF BRIAR/SOUL OF FIRE?

Other than the fact that duologies are possibly even harder than trilogies?  The fine art of writing engaging “internal” scenes.  My previous novels were either caper-plots (very few pauses), or more traditional quest-plots, where each scene tends to favor physical movement over internal.  But this book often had scenes that needed to be more static, even when they were physically in motion, to focus on the emotional and mental changes occurring.  It requires a very different approach from the writer, to keep the voice consistent and not lose forward motion even while you’re pulling your reader inside rather than pushing them forward….

Suddenly, my habit of reading mainstream literary fiction came in handy! (both in knowing what I wanted, and what I didn’t want it to look like)

What Do You Love About HEART OF BRIAR/SOUL OF FIRE?

The characters, and the culture they come from.  I had so much fun discovering them, watching them develop under duress… especially, as I said, the secondary characters, and even the tertiary ones, who only appear in a scene or two – they all grew themselves out of their situations so wonderfully, I was tempted to go down some story-alleys and see what their journey might be…  (sadly: deadlines did not allow for story-alleys).

What Would You Do Differently Next Time?

I think I would start out with it being Tyler AND Jan’s story, rather than it being set up as Jan’s story alone.  I might have done them both a disservice – but I didn’t realize that until halfway through SOUL OF FIRE. The relationship between Jan and Tyler starts the action, and for Reasons we can’t see his take on things until later… but I’d like to – given the chance – find some way to bring him forward more, earlier, and give his side of the story more play.  Because in the end, he saves her as much as she saves him, even more than [character redacted for spoilers] does.  It’s just more subtle, and I think that will get overlooked, as I wrote it.But at the same time, every book you write, you write to the best of your ability at that time.  And every book written would be totally different, even a year later…

Give Us Your Favorite Paragraph From The Story:

Seriously?  Seriously?  One paragraph….

Okay, fine:

“We’re fucked, aren’t we?”

AJ laughed, the low chuckle still as disturbing a sound as the first time she’d heard it. “We’ve been fucked since day one,” he said.

(from SOUL OF FIRE)

What’s Next For You As A Storyteller?

Something completely different.  I’m working on a story set in the early 1800’s, a road trip adventure where the supernatural/magical elements are so integrated into the world they’re almost unnoticeable (nearly but not quite magical realism).  The narrative voice is closer to much of my short fiction than my UF novels – more lyrical and considered, rather than the terser, “modern” style I use here.   Maintaining that for nearly a hundred thousand words is keeping me on my toes…

Also, writing a teenager primary character.  God, the pathos!  The stress!  The whinging!  And that’s just from the adults who have to deal with her!  (I joke.  Mostly.)

Laura Anne Gilman: Website / Twitter

Heart of Briar: Amazon / B&N

Soul of Fire: Amazon / B&N

6 comments

  • Thank you for sharing your writing process. You mentioned static scenes where the characters had to focus on the emotional and mental changes occurring without losing the forward motion. You said some mainstream novels helped you to see how to do this. I’d love to know what some of those novels are because I’m trying to do that with a first person memoir. Thank you.

  • Heather – John Irving, for one. I mainlined his novels when I was a teenager/20-something, and although the books themselves don’t hold up (they’re…very middle class white male pathos stories, overall), he blended the emotions of genre with the pacing of litfic pretty well.

    But a first person memoir is going to be a different beast entirely – for that you need to look at other examples of the type, and probably some of the better “popular” biographies….

  • Thanks, Laura Anne for sharing this.

    It’s hard to imagine, though, Heart of Briar not starting any other way when it did–with Tyler’s disappearance. Seeing Jan and Tyler’s relationship before it got broke, though, might be valuable from a character point of view.

    (And I still need to write a review and explain some thoughts I have about the book at length, at least more than our interview on S&F)

  • Thanks – yes, you are right about reading biographies – have been mainlining them. One thing I figured out was to change how the inner dialogue was expressed – I kept journals as a kid, so some of my posts are journal entries, as I got older I saw therapists to deal with issues raised from my abuse, so dialoguing with therapists brought out things that weren’t natural thoughts, and one other was imagination (daydreams where I interacted with various characters – imaginary good mom, good dad, even Dr. Kildare, etc.)

  • Oh, this sounds lovely! I’ve been reading a lot of memoirs lately, mostly to pick up on historical details, but hadn’t thought to bring in litfic for pacing and style. I haven’t read Irving in ages, I’ll have to pick something up and reread. Thanks for the advice!

  • That is a seriously amazing cover. I’m totally one of those that will pick up a book just because of a cover, and I want to read it just because of that.

    Plus, she sounds like a complicated person, and I happen to like complicated people :)

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