In this week’s Author Spotlight, we ask author Laura Anne Gilman to tell us a bit about her story for Fantasy, “Crossroads.”
What inspired your story “Crossroads”? Could you tell us about the process of writing it?
The story, or at least the opening lines, came out of a writing assignment that I gave my class during Odyssey Fantasy Workshop in 2010: to introduce the protagonist, the antagonist, and the narrator in a paragraph of less than 200 words, with specific restrictions on what they were allowed to show or tell. It seemed only fair to do the exercise along with them, and so “John came to the crossroads at just shy of noon, where a man dressed all in black stared up at another man hanging from a gallowstree” came from that (the original line has been lost to waves of revision). I had no idea who these characters were, or what was going to happen, but the three men, set in opposition at the crossroads, stayed with me, and I knew that there was a story. The moment I came to the line “That, John thought, his pack heavy on his shoulder and his hat pulled low, was not something a wise man would get involved in,” I had it, and the rest of the story poured out. The conflict, the characters, the tension simmering in the entire world … it was all there in my hands.
It also let me know, in no uncertain terms, that there were other stories in this universe. Sometimes a story does that, gives you not only the voices in that one room, but echoes of conversations throughout the house.
John notes that “Others might think he carried rotgut or whiskey; water was safer. Water couldn’t be magicked.” Your Vineart War Series also connects magic and alcohol; in the books, spells are drawn from wine. What kind of magic, do you think, would result from whiskey? From rotgut?
I actually address whisky in the Vineart War novels, although it takes someone familiar with the drink to recognize it. A much rougher, sea-faring magic, that. Rotgut … I think that would be a very personal magic, taking on the character not only of the still but the distiller. I don’t think you could sell or trade that sort of magic: You’d have to use it yourself. I also wrote a story in the anthology After Hours: Tales From the Ur Bar wherein a Sidecar (a cocktail popular just after WWI) has a certain magical component … This has lead a lot of people to assume I drink a lot. My answer to that is “by whose standards?” Hemingway would consider me a sad piker …
For me, the lone lawman facing down outlaws at noon reminded me of the western film “High Noon.” What are your favorite westerns?
I’m actually not a huge fan of Westerns; I’d get distracted watching the horses, not the actors (this happens whenever there are horses on-screen, actually). I saw Unforgiven and Silverado a bunch of times, and does Butch Cassidy and The Sundance Kid count as a Western? What I love is reading nonfiction about the American West and other frontiers; the sort of mentality it took to abandon everything known and to then deal with what you found past the known, especially when it didn’t match with what you had been expecting/told to believe. Every sort of personality comes out to play, when you get beyond “civilization.” And then, to see what sort of civilization they recreate, in their own image …
Your short fiction spans several genres, including horror, sci-fi, and fantasy. Do you have specific genres in mind when you write? What other genre(s) would you like to try your hand at?
I don’t really think in terms of genre, for short stories. I start with the characters, and the situation, and the story unfolds without me thinking “okay, I need more X to make it horror, or a romance, or etc.” Once I know where it’s going, then I can add in the right elements—”Crossroads” could easily have been horror, or SF, if a different twist had suggested itself. You never know.
Mostly, I think about genre after a story’s done and I have to find a home for it. Occasionally, when I’m writing to a specific invitation, I have to put aside what I started and try something else, because it ends up being the wrong “sort” of story.
What’s next for you?
Well, the 3rd book in the Vineart War trilogy, The Shattered Vine, is out in October, and Tricks of the Trade (PSI #3) is out in November. There are three more books coming in the Cosa Nostradamus series under contract, after that. There are fantasy proposals out with editors, but nothing to report, yet. And speaking of skipping genres—I’ve literally just agreed to write a “straight” mystery series for Pocket—the first one’s due in January. On the short fiction front … well, things are always percolating. So long as neat ideas and the urge to Do Something with them keep hitting me, I’ll keep writing. And, hopefully, finding people who like to buy/read them.
Simon & Schuster’s Author Reveal lists your birthday as August 25th. Happy early birthday! Before we conclude, if you could have one magical gift for your birthday, what would you wish for?
Thanks, and wow … I suppose it’s too late to ask for a pony? If I were being unselfish I suppose I’d wish for a magic dose of common sense and compassion to infiltrate every world leader and would-be world leader. But you said “wish,” not miracle, so …
… the thing about magical wishes is, once you have them, it’s hard to go back to “normal” life, after. That’s the double edge of wishes granted. So maybe I’ll just stick to the pony (and the funds to keep said pony in style, natch!)
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