(This interview also appeared at Muse Hack – and I think I’m going to resyndicate my interviews with creatives here because the Sanctumites could learn a lot too. In this case ElizaBeth Gilligan gives us a huge lesson in authorship!)
I met ElizaBeth Gilligan at ConVolution. She’s got a series called “Gypsy Silk” published through DAW, with a third book coming. She’s also a writer of short stories, a journalist, and more. So it’s time for us to get her secrets (and she managed to raise kids to boot).
1) OK, you’ve done a lot with your writing. How did you work your way up to landing a deal with DAW?
While writing the first novels in the Gypsy Silk saga, I was actively learning what makes a good manuscript from writers’ workshops (big and small groups, one or two even online). I voraciously devoured every opportunity to learn, the quickly applied what I learned to my work. It took several generations and about nine years to have the right story to tell and in good enough condition to be marketed. When I was ready for that (actually even before), I made a point of talking about my novel with any publisher when I was at a convention. Conventions worked well for me, because (as my husband, beta reader supreme Doug says) I was always “on” and promoting myself. I first sent my book to a Freelance Editor for Del Rey books. She spent a full year before she actually read it and then pitched it to Del Rey’s Editor in Charge who, after another almost six months, voted it down. He cited the length (he suggested that I cut a third of the novel, which would have made it a completely different story that I intended while I was writing it). Ultimately, I had my book with Del Rey for just about 18 months. In the end, obviously I went with my knowledge as a writer and then chose DAW.
Ever since I saw an ad in a DAW Book seeking new authors, (published back in 1978, I think) I wanted DAW to be my publisher. I was specifically pleased that DAW a) was not some giant, faceless spewer of novels; b) was a family shop (I mean, who else would you like to handle your novel, but a close-knit family?); c) they tended to like really long novels; and d) kept your novel(s) in print as long as you are a DAW author and a zillion other things. DAW took almost 2 ½ years to make me an offer on the book. Over this four year period, I tried to keep the faith, and kept working on my second novel in the series.
2) You’ve done a lot of nonfiction writing – how does that help fiction and vice versa?
I actually took two majors, Journalism and English, with a Philosophy minor at Kent StateUniversity. I worked on the newspaper for the college and surrounding communities through the end of my time at KSU. I specialized in Investigative Feature stories. During my Freshman year, I won a William Randolph Hearst Award for my article on convenience store work conditions which resulted in the convenience store chain being the first set of setting up the strips on the door so the clerk could report a height after being robbed among a few other things.
My actual decision to get a Journalism degree was because I wanted to train myself to be able to work on a deadline and applying that to my fiction. I found, however, that when I was focusing on non-fiction, the fiction came in dribs and drabs. It is true with fiction, when I’m writing fiction, I find writing non-fiction nigh on impossible. I, personally, think that the fiction is a right brain activity and the non-fiction is a left brain activity. It’s hard to be in two different mind-sets at a time. The non-fiction does help the fiction though. My training Journalism taught me to be a research nut, to find corroborating references, etc. My stories are better works of art because of the standards of research and the sheer amount of research that I do.
3) Who helped you get to this point in landing the book deals?
My workshops helped me hone my craft skills and my critiquing. These groups included: Catherine Asaro (before she was published too), Jennifer L. Carson. Teresa Edgerton, Doug Gilligan (my husband), Carolyn Hill, Mark Kreighbaum, Irene Radford, James Van Scyock (J. Sydney van Scyock’s husband), and Brook and Julia West. Tanya Huff introduced me to a particular web-site to use for the Rromani where I wrote some non-fiction articles for them. Then surely the great editor, Sheila Gilbert, who took me on and my agent, Carol McCleary, of the Wilshire Agency.
4) So what is Gypsy Silk about?
The first book in the series (Magic’s Silken Snare) sets up the Gypsy Silk series which is about a Romani (yes, the double “Rr” upstream is accurate, and only recently adapted, and since I’m writing about 17th Century …) woman (Luciana)who learns that her younger sister (Alessandra) has been murdered at court. Luciana goes to court to follow appropriate death rites for a Romani only to learn that her sister’s body has been stolen. She goes in search of the murderer and the man who has stolen Alessandra’s body.
Book Two (The Silken Shroud) is about Alessandra’s mullo (in Romani it refers to the undead who remain restless, both vampire and demonic ghost) re-uniting with her lover, Maggiore Mandero di Montago, a military man who goes in search of Alessandra’s body and justice.
Sovereign Silk, Book Three, returns to Luciana and her husband, Stefano di Drago, they must act quickly to subvert the villains’ last plot … to steal the throne. I can’t say more about Sovereign Silk, because then it will reveal too much about the earlier books.
The Gypsy Silk referred to in the titles of the books refers to a kind of silk the Romani make with a glamour so that a person can intensify whatever about the person wearing it wants to. It can magically enhance the wearer to look healthier, taller, more intimidating, etc. Luciana is the “merchant princess” in control of the trade and is entitled Araunya di Cayesmengri e Cayesmengro (Cayesmengri means “things used to make Gypsy Silk” and this includes all of the looms, needles for sewing, and the mulberry trees where the silk is harvested; while Cayesmengro refers to all of the living parts of the process the weavers, tailors, the attendants caring for the trees, etc.) having inherited the Cayesmengro title from Alessandra.
In actual history, Italy lost its silk trade to the French and this devastated Italy’s economy. By making the Gypsy Silk (for obvious reasons) that is made solely by the Romani, no other silk traders can take this silk away from the country and is so popular that it literally fuels the economy of Tyrrhia (the fictional land that takes Sicily — made larger by including the Aeolian Islands — and a large chunk of southern Italy).
5) How did you decide to do a series as opposed to a single book, and how are they different?
I never actually set out to write three books. It was meant to be a singleton and just contain the contents of Magic’s Silken Snare, however, in the telling of the story (toward the end), I discovered there were still too many ideas to be explored. I couldn’t contain the idea into a single book, so I made it into series.
The difference between a single book and a series (trilogy) is the scope of story. It’s like a photographer deciding to use a panoramic shot, vs. a normal photograph. It’s an important choice since you’re talking apples and elephants. It helped having that four year waiting period — as painful as it was — so that I had time to tackle Book Two and have it mostly written by the time we reached contract negotiations. By that time, I knew that there needed to be three books, so my agent pitched it as a series which was then sold to DAW Books.
My advice to new writers is: If there’s any possible way to make everything fit in one book, do it. Keep the writing tight and the focus is on the story you’re working on right now. If you really feel that the book absolutely MUST be a series, keep the writing tight and focus on the story you are telling right now. After you’ve finished a single book, you can move on to another project. After you’ve finished Book One in your series, take a couple of days (that’s two to three days) to veg out, and then fire up your computer and focus on the next story in the series. If you do it this way, you’re more likely going to have pages for an editor to see and understand why you need three books to sell a single story at the time of contract negotiation.
6) What do you think is needed in fiction these days?
More, or better, research before and when you’re writing. If you’re in a good writers’ workshop or have a few good beta-readers, hopefully, you’ll find someone who cares enough about your project to tell you where your story has research holes. For instance, when I have been telling this story set in 1684-1685, I wrote up a time-line of events that took me back to 412 AD … yes, really, 412 AD! I made up my time-line with fictional events, then I researched what really happened. I wrote my fictional time-line in one color of text and when events happened that affected my story, I would put in the accurate facts. So, while I was starting everything in blue, I discovered that I’d done enough research that my fictional facts were practically all based in fact, and most of the pages of time-line wound up being black. Know your background well.
Also, select your beta-readers carefully for confidentiality and are people who will tell you the truth instead of blithely giving you fulsome praise to “fluff” your ego. With criticisms, consider the points carefully, don’t let your critiquers change your story, but if you don’t agree with a critiquer’s suggestion, consider carefully where you have failed to convey your story and fix it. I had to LEARN this process on my own. So, please, take my advice to heart.
Answer the question: who are you writing the story for? If you want to be a professional writer, then write for the reader, tell the best story you know how to tell and pay attention to every criticism you get on the book. If you’re writing as an exercise in self-expression, or whatever, then you aren’t being a “professional” writer. If you are truly wanting to write this for a public audience, then check your ego and the need for “feint praise” at the door to your office. This is where I had a problem with Tolkien. In my not so humble opinion, he was writing for himself. He didn’t write tight. Every paragraph of his books goes on and on with lengthy description, so that the reader loses the story for all the lovely bits of description. (Mind you, when I can watch the story instead of read it, think he was a fantastic storyteller, he just needed to tighten up his prose. And I say this when I have a tendency to be loquacious in my fictional storytelling and responses to the questions. ) I enjoy the various productions of his work immensely, I just can’t slog through the novels as a reader.
7) What do you want to read that you wish someone would write?
I enjoy the H*ll out of Urban/Fantasy Mysteries. I’ve recently been fixated on the series about Stacy Justice, witch extraordinaire, by Barbra Anino and then there is Jax Daniel’s just plain CRAZY in her first release The Dead Man’s Deal! Both excellent fiction writers. There is also anything by Tanya Huff (I’m currently reading The Silvered) or Irene Radford. I guess that if I wanted anything written it would be more books by and and all of these talented women, ready to read right after I ended my “discussion” with you. Anything else, I’d add it to my queue and write it myself eventually.
All of these books and my first two are currently available on Amazon (www.amazon.com). All of the other people’s books can be found in Kindle Format. I’m hoping that when I turn in the third book, DAW will provide electronic options for readers.
8) Writing takes a lot of skills, discipline, etc. How did you cultivate this?
This may seem strange to you and your readers, but I can’t remember a time when I wasn’t trying to write. My mother’s favorite memory from my childhood was when I told a visiting relative that I was going “to make books” when I grew up. I’ve always had this commanding drive to write … until recently.
If you look at the dates of when the books come out, you’ll discover it has been 20 years since my first two novels came out. I had a stroke when I was 30 and then a second when I was 33. The only thing I lost from the strokes was Sovereign Silk. I struggled for years to reclaim my Muses and then re-create the third book. After a number of really crappy efforts, I recently re-read what I’d already written in the series and, by then, I had my notes and multimedia resources and so I worked at redeveloping my writing muscles. I ended up writing a short SF story and got that sold, then returned to my novel. Since Memorial Day weekend (9/1/2014), I have written 430 pages of Sovereign Silk recreated, much of it all brand new text, contacted my editor at DAW Books to warn her that the book was soon to be crossing her desk. I’ve had family, fans and friends asking me about the new book for years. Now I have an answer for them, that they like to hear!
Anyway, since I’ve always been writing and learning things as they occurred to me this recourse has kept my mind facile, especially during those long dry years when I couldn’t actually face the computer. That’s a must, keep learning something new everyday — whether it directly affects your writing, or not. One of my “talents” has become dyeing, painting and playing with silk so I had that intrinsic feel of silk, when describing Gypsy Silk.
9) What advice do you have to upcoming writers?
There are any number of things I could suggest to new, or “upcoming” writers. I’ve already mentioned learning something new everyday; and I’ve shown some of the ways you can learn different things through a multimedia approach. Do your own research! You learn more in the process than just the simple answer to your initial question. If someone else is doing your research for you, then, you can be guaranteed, that there are facts which may have been easily tied into your novel and made it more of a believable story line and given your world multiple dimensional. Even though considered will be facts left out in their report because it did not directly answer your question.
Other points to be consider:
Lastly, the one thing a writer needs is patience. You wait for the right library books for research and you’ll have to wait for the editorial process, so research the publishers and decide where you’ll send your manuscript first. Even if you sell your book tomorrow, it won’t be released until at least 18 months to two years. Get used to it now. Patience is a virtue best adopted right now.
Get your butt in the chair, everyday, and write something, anything. There will be times when you wish you can’t get to the computer and you’ll find that you miss it. 1,000 words a day is two novels in a year. When I’m having problems coming up with fiction, I’ve been known to type 10 pages full of “peanut butter peanut butter” and eventually other words start falling out because you’re so bored with typing “peanut butter.”
10) So what’s next for you on your convention visits?
Well, having gotten back into the pool again after several years away from it all is very exciting. I’ve contacted BayCon, WorldCon and ConVolition. I might even contact the Utah convention again. I intend to be quite busy, between writing and making public appearances. BayCon will be my next convention.
Steven Savage is a Geek 2.0 writer, speaker, blogger, and job coach. He blogs on careers at http://www.musehack.com/, publishes books on career and culture at http://www.informotron.com/, and does a site of creative tools at http://www.seventhsanctum.com/. He can be reached at http://www.stevensavage.com/.