Urban fantasy author Gilman shifts to epic fantasy for Flesh and Fire, the first of the Vineart War series, wherein young slave Jerzy discovers his rare and extraordinary ability to create magical wines.
Flesh and Fire is a coming-of-age story. What influenced your decision to avoid the usual heroic quest plot line?
A reviewer once commented that my urban fantasy novels were paced more like epic fantasy, in that they relied on complex world-building and a gradual immersion in the lives of the characters. Maybe my epic fantasies are paced like contemporaries: there are multiple agendas at play, and I approached my storytelling with the idea that they were all of equal importance and weight. Despite the trappings, the story is less about Jerzy himself than about the Vinearts, the group of magicians he finds himself part of, and how the world changes around them and because of them. The classic epic fantasy is good versus evil, underdog against power. I wanted to play more with cultures in conflict, and equal power in flux.
What difficulties arose from turning the routine of winemaking into an exciting, adventurous tale?
Winemakers have to adapt to what they're given by nature: the vines, the fruit, the soil and the weather. They're artisans and alchemists, and transforming winemakers into magicians really flowed quite smoothly. I had the advantage, of course, of working with 14th and 15th century techniques. Modern winemaking, while still amazing, has a little less romance to it.
Flesh and Fire has no sweeping epic battles and very few fight scenes. What did you do to keep it exciting?
I love a bloodied sword as much as the next historical fantasy reader, but I wanted to do something different with this story. I drew heavily on the suspense genre in my plotting. There's lots of political intrigue and battles of wit, and the action is ratcheted up by deceit and desires that lead people into disaster.
As an oenophile, what wine do you recommend readers drink when reading Flesh and Fire?
If you wanted to do a direct correlation, then scenes with Jerzy and Malech take a Burgundian red, scenes with Giordano a crisp Italian white, and Mahault I think deserves a Tannat or Cabernet Franc. Ao is a pint of lager. But the best wine is the wine you like best, so readers should open a bottle of what puts them in a good mood, what stimulates their senses and satisfies their palate. While writing the book, I did find that I would be craving a wine in the style of what I had been describing... hey, any wine distributor want to do a tie-in? My agent and I are willing to talk!