Monday, April 19, 2010

Hard Magic, Tough Choices

posted by Nancy

Our regulars may remember Laura Anne Gilman from last fall, when she made her debut in the Lair with Flesh and Fire, the first book in the Vineart Wars. She joins us again today with a new series, and here's a brief bio.

Laura Anne started her professional life as a book editor for a major NYC house, fitting her writing into the remaining available hours. In 2004 she switched that around, becoming a full-time writer and freelance editor for Carina Press. Laura Anne is the author of the popular Cosa Nostradamus books for Luna (the "Retrievers" and "Paranormal Scene Investigations" urban fantasy series), and the award-nominated The Vineart War trilogy from Pocket. She is a member of the on-line writers consortium BookView Cafe, and continues to write and sell short fiction. She also writes paranormal romances as Anna Leonard.

Today, she's going to tell us about Hard Magic, the first book in the Paranormal Scene Investigations series. It's set in the world of the Cosa Nostradamus that so captivated Jeanne and me via the Retrievers series. Welcome, Laura Anne!

The title for Hard Magic, unlike most of my books, came without any problem whatsoever, and not only because the main plot is about making magic -- that ephemeral, seemingly mystical energy into a scientific tool, a "hard science." It was also because this book -- indeed, this series -- is about hard lessons.

Unlike The Wren, whom many of you met in the Retrievers series, Bonnie Torres is just starting out, a smart, eager young Talent, fresh out of college and ready to take the world on... except she has no idea what she wants to do, or who she wants to become. In other words, she's very much like most 21-year-olds, with or without magic. So when she's handed what looks like the opportunity of a lifetime -- to become part of a group that will turn magic from an excuse to behave badly into a way to track down those who behave badly, and prove their responsibility -- she falls on it with both hands...

and then discovers that every gift comes with a cost. In Bonnie's case, the cost that she is very much attracted to a man -- that, in fact, they have a connection that brings them together -- emotionally, sexually, magically.

The only problem is, he's her boss. And both of them love their job too much to risk screwing with that, quite literally. Bonnie is a passionate woman, but her passion extends to work, and justice, as much as it does her personal life. And the potential man in her life, Benjamin Venec, is exactly the same - with an added dose of caution, because he's older, and in a position of responsibility. They respect each other, and what they have as a team, too much to risk it.

So how do you balance the career chance of a lifetime, the hard knocks that come with being out in the real world, on your own, for the first time, and an overpowering urge to be with the one person you really can't be with?

In short, what I'm playing with in this book - in the entire series, actually - is the dual 'real world' problems of career vs personal life, and the romantic fantasy trope of "a destined or fated love." What happens when you tell Fate/Destiny to go to hell?

(now you begin to understand why my beta-readers often refer to me as "you evil woman")

In a romance, the reader would know the answer at the beginning. The joy (and, I admit, the evil glee) of writing romantic fantasy is that you-the-reader (and even me-the-writer) have no such assurance. The only thing we know is that Bonnie and Venec are going to have to fight it out, honestly and fairly, because that's the only way they know how to do it.

(And if any of you are starting to wonder if I was influenced at all by the Lord Peter/Harriet Vane love story... 'at's a fair cop.)

So what's your favorite story that deals realistically with "romantic" standbys like forbidden or fated love?

A copy of either Staying Dead or Hard Magic (winner's choice) will go to one commenter today.

For more information about Laura Anne Gilman and her work, visit her website, which also includes an excerpt from Hard Magic.


mariska said...


Helen said...

Well done Mariska have fun with him


This sounds really good I haven't read very many urban fantasy books but I really think I need to start this genre.
I have probably read lots with this but the mind is blank at the moment I will be back later hopefully thinking right.

Have Fun

Anna Campbell said...

Hey, Mariska! Congrats on the chook!

Laura and Nancy, what a great blog. Nancy, you bring us such interesting people all the time. Laura, huge congratulations on the release of your latest book! Sounds fabulous!

Laurie said...

Congratulations, Laura, on the release of Hard Magic. I like romantic fanasy, and the issue of career vs personal life is one that many young women face. Sounds like a good read!

Laura Anne said...

Helen -- the great thing about urban fantasy is that it's such a wide-open category [contemporary setting + magic], you're almost sure to find something you enjoy!
(much like romance itself, actually..)

Laura Anne said...

Laurie -- I have to admit, I've always been somewhat irritated by the "true love conquers all" trope, especially since love, while grand, is also often A Major PITA when it smacks up against your plans. What if Happily Ever After isn't what you're looking for?

Thankfully, my characters, while stubborn, refuse to be stupid about it. :-)

King Edward VIII and Wallis Simpson said...

We very much enjoyed your article. We are a modern day King Edward VIII and Wallis Simpson.

Duke of Windsor

Nancy said...

Laura Anne, after I posted this, I thought of a "forbidden love" story I haven't read in years. There's a series of historical novels, by Elswyth Thane, set mostly in Williamsburg and spanning the period from the American Revolution to World War II, all about the same two families.

In the Civil War one, Yankee Stranger, two cousins, St. John and Susannah love each other madly, but they're not just cousins. They're double first cousins. Two brothers married two sisters, and these are their children, too close in blood to marry. So while Eden and Cabot, her Yankee, get their HEA after much trial and pain, St. John and Susannah never will.

There's this incredibly moving scene where Susanna goes out on the battlefield to search for St. John among the fallen. She finds him and nurses him back to health, and they stay close but never intimate for the rest of their lives. Very heart-wrenching.

Mariska, congrats on the rooster.

Nancy said...

Helen, you might like urban fantasy. You seem open to magic and adventure, and you read contemporaries, don't you?

I loved the Retrievers novels and am eager to read Hard Magic. It wasn't out when I went book-shopping last week, but I'm going out to look for it today.

Nancy said...

Anna C., thanks for popping in. Glad you're enjoying our guest. :-)

Nancy said...

Hi, Laurie--I was lucky enough not to meet the dh until my thirties, so I didn't have to choose where to focus, but my friends who married early had a lot of juggling to do.

jo robertson said...

Hi, Laura Anne, welcome back to the Lair. Congrats on the new series; it sounds fabulous and very intriguing.

Like Helen, I haven't read much urban fantasy and magic books, but clearly this is a venue I must try!

Nancy said...

Laura Anne, I agree with you that true love does not conquer all. It conquers a lot, but any relationship is going to hit bumps from time to time.

There's a song that fits that theme, "Hey Cinderella" by Suzy Bogguss about Cinderella's life after the prince restored her glass slipper. It's not all moonlight and roses, and as much as I enjoy a good fairy tale, I also like that song.

Nancy said...

Duke of Windsor, thanks for stopping by. Glad you enjoyed Laura Anne's post.

Nancy said...

Jo, I think you would like urban fantasy, too. You like action and are open to magic and contemporary settings.

The Retrievers series had lots of action and a truly heart-ripping climax. I read the last book, then read the last third again. And again. I don't want to spoil it, but the heroine is risking everything in a rescue, the hero is frantic to reach her in time, and a fire truck is involved. With firemen. And magic and guns.

Truly, something for everyone in the Lair, and book 1 of that series is Staying Dead.

Donna MacMeans said...

Hi Laura Ann -

Sounds like a great read. I haven't read a lot of Urban Fantasy, does it always involve magic? Congrats on the new release.

Laura Anne said...

Nancy -- *laughs* I had a lot of fun writing the fire engine scene. New York's Bravest came off well in that book, I must say...

HARD MAGIC is shipping from some on-line retailers, but it's technically not supposed to be out until the 1st, so stores mat not have it juuuuust yet.

Nancy said...

We've actually had a couple of other guests, as well as several banditas, with a forbidden love angle. Lisa Shearin has Raine involved with both Tam, a goblin prince, and Mychael, the paladin mage and head of law enforcement on the island. Their three-way magical bond is forbidden to Mychael, but he's done it anyway, for her. Oooh, and later this month, we find out which one Raine picks.

Stephanie Bond's Carlotta, in the Body Movers series, is deeply involved with the police detective pursuing her father.

And of course our own Anna Campbell has had two--not one, but two--of her dukes marry courtesans in Tempt the Devil and Claiming the Courtesan.

And Beth's A Not So Perfect Past had a smalltown girl fall in love with an ex-convict.

And, reaching back a way, Debra Dixon's Bad to the Bone features a hero who's a police detective and a heroine who's an assassin.

In Christine's Wicked Little Game, the hero has loved the heroine from afar for years and has a night with her arranged by her husband, who's murdered in the meantime.

Laura Anne said...

Donna -- urban, or contemporary fantasy always involves some sort of magic, yes, but the range is wide -- the magic of the Cosa Nostradamus is purely scientific, based on electricity, so it has a biological as well as a supernatural element (our bodies are already built to handle it, just ask anyone with a pacemaker!).

Other urban fantasy focuses on AmerIndian shamanism, or traditional witchcraft, or shapeshifting... the trick is blending a world that's familiar to the reader (urban/contemporary) with the fantastic elements, so that they create a believable whole.

The difference between paranormal romance and romantic fantasy can boil down to the thought that romantic fantasy is about the adventure/fantasy, and there's a romantic element, rather than the other way around.

Bonnie loves love (and sex, oh yes), but she's living the adventure. :-)

Nancy said...

Laura Anne, thanks for saving me a probably futile trip to the store today!

Seriously, don't you enjoy knowing you suck people in that way?

I know you may want to play your cards close to your chest, but if you'd like to give us a hint about Wren and Sergei, several of us here would be open to that. *g*

Nancy said...

Laura Anne, thanks for that great explanation--spoken like an editor as well as a writer!

I've discovered that I really want some romantic element in my reading. Doesn't have to be the main storyline, but I like the depth and layering the romantic arc gives to a character.

Isn't Bonnie Wren's neighbor in the Retrievers books?

Nancy said...

Aunty Cindy's The Wild Sight had a h/h who were afraid their were brother and siwter but fortunately turned out not to be!

Nancy said...

Uh, that's afraid "they" were, not "their" were. Geez, sorry!

Kirsten said...

Hi Laura,

I definitely like knowing that there's a HEA hard-wired into the end of a romance, but I also like reading a good fantasy or suspense where nothing's certain. Except the heroine and hero can't die. I'm definitely NOT okay with that. KWIM? :-)

I love the idea of working through this career/love dilemma through a fantasy novel. Very cool! I'll have to make sure to add it to the TBR pile! :-)

Nancy said...

Kirsten, I think it was the uncertainty that so pulled me in at the end of Blood From Stone, the last book of Retrievers series to date.

Laura Anne did a great job of establishing that Wren and Sergei loved each other and then creating situations that forced them apart through all 6 books.

Laura Anne said...


Oh, absolutely. Main characters can't die. Except when they do. *looks innocent* But I'd have to have an incredibly solid story-reason to break hearts like that.

Nancy -- yes, eventually Bonnie and Wren end up living in the same apartment building -- and in this series you find out how/why! And yes, this does mean you get to see Wren, at least, during the PSI series -- as well as a few other familiar (and furry) faces...

-- Laura Anne

Nancy said...

Laura Anne, I'm glad to know I'll be seeing Wren.

Did you actually get to ride in a fire engine for that scene?

Laura Anne said...

Amusingly enough, over in my Livejournal, someone asked me what the PSI series theme song would be (as opposed to the CSI series relying on The Who.)

My answer:

INXS's "Kick."

-- Laura Anne

Nancy said...

Now must go listen to "Kick." If you'd like to post your livejournal link, people might check that out, too.

Laura Anne said...

*shuffles, embarrassed*

You can also find me on Twitter, as @LAGilman.

And now I am off to pick up the timeshare puppy for a playdate. Will be back in a bit!

-- Laura Anne

Becke Davis said...

Oh, you mentioned one of my favorite books, GAUDY NIGHT! That book turned me on to Dorothy L. Sayers, mainly because it had a romance where the others I'd read of hers didn't.

I want my HEA but at least with urban fantasy I know it may take a full series story arc to get it. At least, I hope so! Still, I enjoy reading about potential lovers trying to work it out, so this definitely sounds like a book/series I want to read.

Thanks for telling us about it - because I don't read as much urban fantasy as romance and paranormal, I sometimes miss out on good ones.

Nancy said...

Becke, I loved Gaudy Night. It's my favorite Sayers. Lord Peter was a little too silly for my taste in the earlier books Whose Body and The Unpleasantness at the Belladonna Club.

I got into Strong Poison, though I didn't quite understand why Lord Peter was so nuts over Harriet at first. I also liked Murder Must Advertise and Busman's Honeymoon. In the later books, he's not silly.

I got the Lord Peter short stories from the London Spectator (published during WWII) on interlibrary loan, and they were great.

I don't like timetable mysteries as much and so didn't find The Five Red Herrings as engaging as some other readers did.

Christie Kelley said...

Hi Laura, your books sound great. Like Helen, I've never read Urban fantasy but I've been meaning to try it.

Loucinda McGary aka Aunty Cindy said...

Welcome back to the Lair, Laura! And BIG THANX to Nancy for hosting you.

I'm another one who has just dabbled in urban fantasy. But Hard Magic sounds like a great read, as does your other series, so I'll have to get on the bandwagon!

Nancy, thanx for mentioning The Wild Sight as it does indeed have a bit of 'forbidden love' aspect to it. Of course, we KNOW they can't be siblings, but it was lots of fun figuring out why they are NOT related. ;-)


Jeanne (AKA The Duchesse) said...

*Fan girl squeeee* Hi Laura Anne! Welcome back to the LAIR!

Nancy, thanks for having Laura back to visit for this new series. I'm looking forward to reading Vineart and this, now that I'm out of the cave-shackles. Grins.

I love the sound of this story, and had to LOL about your comment about love sometimes being a PITA. It really IS sometimes, isn't it? Ha!

Jeanne (AKA The Duchesse) said...

Hey Nancy, I have Yankee Stranger among my long loved keepers. What a heart wrencher! :> Really well written too. Sigh....

Hey Mariska, forgot to say congrats!

Jeanne (AKA The Duchesse) said...

Hey Nancy, I just YouTubed the Hey, Cinderella song. Really a good one! Thanks for putting me onto that.

Jeanne (AKA The Duchesse) said...

Nancy said: I read the last book, then read the last third again. And again. I don't want to spoil it, but the heroine is risking everything in a rescue, the hero is frantic to reach her in time, and a fire truck is involved. With firemen. And magic and guns.

Ahhh, its FAB! I read it, then realized I'd blazed through it so fast I knew I'd missed stuff. So I read it again. Grins.

Jeanne (AKA The Duchesse) said...

Nancy said: if you'd like to give us a hint about Wren and Sergei, several of us here would be open to that. *g*

Me! Me! *waves hand in air like schoolgirl*

Jeanne (AKA The Duchesse) said...

Laura Anne, do we want to know what a timeshare puppy is? Grins.

Loved that INXS Kick is the theme song. Perfect.

Laura Anne said...

Jeanne --

the time-share puppy is my parents' almost-2-year-old Shih-tzu Mei-Chan. When they're traveling, I get custody. She's a delight but, unlike my cats, requires significant active care. So the work suffers a little.

I don't care. She's adorkable. :-)

Nancy said...

Hi, Christie--Just picked up Something Scandalous, and I'm looking forward to diving in.

Nancy said...

Hi, AC--I loved the Irish setting in The Wild Sight. And yes, we knew they weren't really siblings, but they didn't know that for a while.

Nancy said...

Jeanne, glad you're out of the cave. I'm really looking forward to this story!

Nancy said...

I hit "publish" by accident. By "this story," I meant Hard Magic, but I'm also looking forward to the one you just turned in.

Nancy said...

Newsflash--Laura Anne is giving away a copy of either Hard Magic or the first Retrievers book, Staying Dead (winner's choice) to one commenter today. I'm going to take the blog down for a sec to add that in.

Nancy said...

Jeanne, I'm glad to know that video is on YouTube. I liked that song and many of Suzy Bogguss' others.

Beth said...

Welcome back, Laura Anne! Congrats on your latest release - Hard Magic sounds fabulous *g*

I'm just now starting to read more romantic fantasy/urban fantasy and darker paranormal stories and I'm loving them! Can't wait to read Hard Magic :-)

Thanks for the great interview, ladies!

Helen said...

Yes Nancy I read all genres these days I have come a long way since the days when I would only read historical LOL. So I will be keeping my eye out for Hard Magic it really sounds great I have read a lot of books with magic and shapeshifters and have loved those ones.

Have Fun

Jeanne (AKA The Duchesse) said...

Laura Anne said: I don't care. She's adorkable. :-)

Aww. There's a shih-tzu that comes to the dog park where I take my big dogs. He just flies all over and under and through the big dogs, havin' a blast. Really cute, so I can empathize.

Jeanne (AKA The Duchesse) said...

Nancy, I'm looking forward to both Hard Magic and the first of the Vineart wars books. I've been saving that one for a special treat once I finished the book I just turned in. *looks heavenward, thankful the book is in*

Now I can gorge myself on great books for a bit! Yippeeeee!

Cassondra said...

Hi Laura!

Congrats on the release of Hard Magic!

Hmmm....tough question you've asked about the favorite series dealing realistically with forbidden love. I guess...there isn't one.

I'm very demanding about motivation and conflict and my favorite authors, like you, put the characters through the worst levels of hell to get the HEA, but in the end, I still read primarily for the promise of the happily ever after. It doesn't always have to be at the end of the first book, but I guess I do need the belief that if I stick with the series to its end, the trials of the protagonists and my faith in them will be rewarded with what feels like "should" be.

I think it's why I read within this genre, primarily. The reality of world we all walk through--that's another thing--and I can't trust it. But in my fiction, I guess I want to be able to trust. Part of the beauty of the genre is that guarantee I think.

I have come to love love LOVE series which take the protagonists through more than one book--a longer hell-- to get there though. I love the opportunity for a more prolonged arc for each of the characters, and for the relationship. It makes the end more real, more believable, and more satisfying for me.

Books which include magick, whatever the genre, are always a good choice for me also. And the development of THAT world is also much better, IMO, over a few books than just one. I like the premise for this series a lot!

Laura Anne said...

Cassondra -

Yeah -- we read fiction [especially genre!] for some sense of structure and confidence in things working themselves out. Otherwise, we might as well be watching the news, or reality television(ack), and feeling horrible about the human race...

My job as writer is to leave the reader somewhere better at the end. If I can also make you look at the world differently, and challenge some of your assumptions along the way (or, ideally, make YOU challenge them), then so much the better. But first and foremost, fiction should satisfy.

IMO and YMMV, of course.

-- Laura Anne

Nancy said...

Hi, Beth--Glad you enjoyed the interview!

Nancy said...

Helen, it's so nice to know that we have contributed to the expansion of your TBR pile. Have fun, yourself. :-)

Nancy said...

Jeanne, I think you'll like Vineart. It's way cool.

Glad you're able to read again!

Nancy said...

Cassondra, you know I love the longer arc of multiple books. For me, it makes the end payoff that much bigger. But I do want to come away from the book happy.

Or else I'd just watch the news.

Nancy said...

Laura Anne, you and Cassondra have hit on the reasons I seldom read mainstream or literary fiction. Gloom and doom endings, albeit with character growth of some kind, seem frequent in those genres, and I really want something upbeat. I don't trust the book going into it blind.

Of course, the advantage to being a history geek is that I already have an idea how an English historical novel will resolve its plot and can make my purchasing choices accordingly. So I don't usually hit gloomy surprises at the ends of those novels.

Karyn Gerrard AKA~Drew said...

This all sounds wonderful, I have not really read any urban fantasy, but your books sound like a fab read!

I do love paranormal, so this is not much of a step to make.( to Urban fantasy) I love those dark, tortured creatures of twilight (vamps, werewolves etc) that to me epitomizes that 'forbidden or fated ' love~

Nancy said...

Hi, Karryn--You make a good point about all the dark elements in paranormal romance that also have elements of the forbidden. I hadn't thought about it that way.

Cassondra said...

Laura Anne said:

My job as writer is to leave the reader somewhere better at the end. If I can also make you look at the world differently, and challenge some of your assumptions along the way (or, ideally, make YOU challenge them), then so much the better. But first and foremost, fiction should satisfy.

I really do feel that way and think that way not just as a reader, but as a writer as well. It's an interesting dynamic to me. There is, deep inside me, thise sense of "what SHOULD happen, SHOULD HAPPEN!!!!!" I have wondered if it's some inner need we have (as romance readers/writers) to make the world right--to fix the broken--to create, by means of our stories, the world which was meant to be before...I dunno...the "fall" maybe?

If we take that proverbial "fall"--and yeah, I guess I mean some version of that garden of Eden fall, in whatever mythology one chooses to view it--and think about how would it have been had those who fell actually never fallen, the funny thing is that none of us knows what that world would have been like. What vagaries of human behavior and emotion would simply not be there? Cruelty? Hatred? Injustice?

I have no clue, of course, but I have wondered if our need for an HEA at the end of things is one of those wishes for "what should have been."

I know that not everybody needs the HEA--a satisfying end--for the ending to feel "Right" in their fiction, but an awful lot of us do. For that couple who are "fated to be" or "meant to be" --we romance readers are gonna damn well make certain they get to "be!" (grin)

Nancy said...

Cassondra wrote: to make the world right--to fix the broken--to create, by means of our stories, the world which was meant to be . . .

I think this is a strong motivator, at least for some of us. I want to feel the characters get what they deserve, or at least what I think they deserve, at the end of the book.

mariska said...

Hi Laura !
i'm back with the rooster, after our night time sleep :)

I haven't heard and read about you and your books before, honestly !
And i'm feeling great when i'm here, coz i'm believe all these Nice And Lovely authors will introduce me to another new Author (for me ^_^)

And Congrats on your New Release !

Nancy said...

Mariska, we're always glad to add to your TBR pile. Congrats on the rooster.

Cassondra said...

I'm just getting around to reading through all of the comments and Nancy said:

Laura Anne, I agree with you that true love does not conquer all. It conquers a lot, but any relationship is going to hit bumps from time to time.

There's a song that fits that theme, "Hey Cinderella" by Suzy Bogguss about Cinderella's life after the prince restored her glass slipper. It's not all moonlight and roses, and as much as I enjoy a good fairy tale, I also like that song.

OH Nancy, that's a GREAT SONG!

The last line of that song, which I think is SO perfect for most of us, is Does the shoe fit you now?

And quite often as we grow and mature, the fairy tale shoe no longer fits us. I know I've gone through that.

Jeanne (AKA The Duchesse) said...

Cassondra said: And quite often as we grow and mature, the fairy tale shoe no longer fits us. I know I've gone through that.

Alas, so true. Good if you recognize it and part friends though, with your former-prince-charming. Grins.

Nancy said...

Cassondra and Jeanne, I've also gone through the phase when I realized the glass slipper no longer fit me. Fairy tales are great, and I love my HEA, but the h/h who clashed so thoroughly are still who they were, even if they've grown together, and the elements of the clashes are still there.

Laura Anne said...

Great comments, everyone! (and some new titles for me to check out!. Thanks for having me back to the Lair!

And I see the new topic is about Leverage, which is one of my major addictions, so I'll be over there d/r/o/o/l/i/n/g/ /o/v/e/r/ t/h/e/ p/i/c/s er, discussing Nate's hero-savior complex vs his Control Freak Issues with regard to his alpha male status, yeah, that's it...