I met up with Laura Anne Gilman shortly after her essay on the lasting appeal of urban fantasy had appeared on this website, and I asked to elaborate on the appeal of stories that integrate the fantastic into our everyday realities…
“I think [my books] are more modern contemporary fantasy than ‘urban fantasy,’” she’d told me earlier. “Thankfully my editor has never asked, ‘Could you make it more like X or Y?’ Because I don’t think I could. I suppose that makes me sound like a terrible diva. But I’m not! I’m very amenable to doing all sorts of things when it comes to the marketing of the books. But the writing, not so much.”
She’s just kicked off a new series, Paranormal Scene Investigations, starring a character who had a recurring background role in a previous series set in the world of the “Cosa Nostradamus,” a community where humans with magical talents intermingle with other supernatural beings. Bonnie Torres is a twentysomething Talent recruited into an agency that’s working to develop what amounts to forensic magic in order to investigate crimes of a supernatural nature; in the first PSI book, Hard Magic, she and her coworkers are not only trying to solve their first case, but must deal with outside pressure from those who don’t want an organization like theirs to even exist.
“Bonnie was simply a character who came in to do a job during the series,” Laura Anne recalled. “The moment I brought her forward, though, more information kept coming forward.” Then, after she’d brought the Retrievers storyline to a close, her editor at LUNA asked for more books; a short story that she’d sold to an anthology became the springboard for the Hard Magic proposal. (The first three PSI novels take place concurrently with the Retrievers storyline, although the fourth book will be set after the events of the last book in that sequence, Blood from Stone.)
Bonnie may be a first in urban fantasy; at least, Laura Anne and I couldn’t think of another book published by Harlequin (LUNA’s corporate parent) to star a bisexual female protagonist who openly appraises, and gets hit on by, other women, and makes reference to previous girlfriends. “I got absolutely no gruff on that at all, though,” she said, “from my editor or from readers.” Maybe that’s because of her deft handling of Bonnie’s sexuality, which informs the character’s decisions without defining her. It’s simply part of who Bonnie is. “Maybe it’s because I grew up in fandom, where alternative relationships were the norm I saw around me,” Laura Anne mused. “Bonnie is pretty much about not hurting anyone. She’s possibly the sweetest character I’ve ever written.”
As our conversation drew to a close, I touched upon the multiple books in multiple series Laura Anne has on her to-do list, and asked if she ever gets her wires crossed when she’s transitioning from the contemporary fantasy world of Bonnie and the Retrievers to the historical fantasy realm of the Vineart War, which began last year with the Nebula-nominated Flesh and Fire and resumes this fall with Weight of Stone…
She also explained how Bonnie’s story had extended the Cosa Nostradamus stories far beyond her original expectations; once the Paranormal Scene Investigations series is done, she added off-camera, she has another spin-off on deck. This time, though, she’s making sure that the new series directly follows the events in the PSI books: “I’m not making that mistake again,” she laughed.