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New Fantasy & Science Fiction

Wizards, Vampires & a Cat: From the Imagination of Tanya Huff

Here is our complete interview with Tanya Huff. It also appears in Challenging Destiny Number 4.

interview by James Schellenberg & David M. Switzer

CD: What inspired you to write, and how did you get started writing?

TH: I've always love George Carlin's response to "Did you always want to be a comedian?" -- "Not in the womb, but right after that." That's sort of how I feel about wanting to be a writer. It's not so much that I wanted to do it, I just always did it.

Then, when I was ten, the Picton Gazette paid me $10 for two poems. People would pay me to do something I was going to do anyway? Hot damn. It took me almost 18 years to get paid again but that was the beginning.

CD: Why do you write fantasy?

TH: I keep trying to come up with a mythic and important type answer to this question but, truth be told, I write fantasy because those are the stories I've chosen to tell. I have other stories, I just haven't told them yet. I tend to view the world with this slightly skewed sense of wonder and, so far, the fantasy parameters have fit that the best.

CD: Are there particular writers you consider major influences on your writing?

TH: I'd have to say the two general influences are Andre Norton for an incredibly varied body of work that can be read and enjoyed by both adults and twelve year olds and Robert Heinlein for the clarity of his short fiction and for the pleasure of arguing over his longer works. Which pretty much dates when I started reading in the genre, doesn't it?

There's also one other, specific influence. There's a short story by Orson Scott Card called "A Thousand Deaths," originally published in Omni and collected in Maps in a Mirror. I won't go into the plot -- which is pretty much incidental to what I took out of it -- but what is says, essentially, is that when you tell the truth, people notice.

This is a very important thing for a writer to be aware of.

CD: What authors do you read these days?

TH: I read pretty broadly but there are two authors whose new releases I grab the moment they come out. The first is Charles de Lint. I wrote my first and only fan letter to him, way back when Riddle of the Wren came out, and have been avidly reading him ever since. I love what he writes, I love how he writes it, and I hope that someday I'll write something that touches someone the way his work touches me. The second is Terry Pratchett and I can't say it better than a cut line I read in an advertisement for one of his books. "If you can't laugh at Pratchett, you're probably dead."

CD: What do you do when you're not writing?

TH: When I'm not writing I read, garden, watch tv, read, watch videos, go to movies, read, quilt, sew doll clothes, read, shop, talk, work on the doll house, read, answer my email, surf the net (although only in the shallow end), bake, and read. Occasionally, I even do housework.

CD: Are you working on a new novel now?

TH: I just handed in The Quartered Sea, a new novel in the Quarters mythos that happens eight years after the events of No Quarter. Although it stands alone, a number of the characters are carried over from the earlier books.

Once I get a couple of short stories finished, I'll be starting my first space opera.

CD: What's your target audience?

TH: I like to think I write books for adults (defined by mental state not chronological age -- we all know both forty year old adolescents and remarkably mature teenagers), with a sense of humour.

CD: Where would you like to see the fantasy field go?

TH: I really have no idea where the field is going; I have a hard enough time keeping track of where I'm going. I just hope we get there together...

CD: What's your opinion on UFOs?

TH: I'm open to extreme possibilities. And I'd love another chance to pitch an X-Files book to Chris Carter.

CD: Is Vicki Nelson based on someone you know?

TH: Although Vicki is more me than a lot of my characters, she's still very definitely herself.

CD: Would you trade places with her if you could?

TH: Are you out of your mind?

CD: Will you write more books about her?

TH: No. Blood Debt is the last. When I got to the end of it, I realized that I'd said all I have to say about these three characters -- because you can't have Vicki at novel length without Mike and Henry. There will, however, be more short stories and will, in fact be a new short story, "The Monster of Lake Nepeakea," in a Miesha Merlin collection called What Ho, Magic! coming out in March of '99.

CD: Of all the fantastic worlds you've described, would you like to live in any of them?

TH: As fond as I am of all my worlds, I'm fonder still of socialized medicine, TVO, and living with a reasonable certainty that the things going bump in the night are probably the cats. They may be a nice place to visit, but, realistically...

CD: All of your urban fantasy books are set somewhere in southern Ontario. Would you write about any other real world locale? Or is there enough magic here?

TH: Blood Debt is set in Vancouver but other than that, you're right, I've haven't left southern Ontario. I'm sure I will, I just haven't yet.

CD: Summon the Keeper has a cat named Austin as a main character -- do you have a cat that inspired you to write Austin as such a sardonic persona?

TH: Austin is the oldest of the four cats currently in residence. He's pretty much exactly as described in the book although I will admit that the literary Austin has a slightly larger vocabulary. The cat on the cover, is the actual Austin and I think Mark Hess did a terrific job.

CD: Summon the Keeper is a very funny book. Does it take you longer to write funny passages than serious?

TH: When I started this book, I had no idea how hard it was to write something that was more than just occasionally funny. How hard is it? It's damned difficult. Humour layers all sorts of new parameters on top of all the usual considerations like plot and characterization. Summon the Keeper was the hardest of all of my books to write. It caused not only the greatest amount of stress but I've never been so insecure about anything else I've done. I'm just so incredibly thrilled that readers think it's funny.

Now smack me upside the head because I've been thinking about possibly doing it again...

CD: What's your opinion of genre divisions?

TH: I actually have two opposing opinions. I think that genre divisions are useful the way that labels on cans are useful. It's nice to know when you go into a bookstore looking for cream of mushroom soup which books have the cream of mushroom soup in them. On the other hand, I think that genre divisions can be confining for both the reader and the writer, making it more difficult to try something new and broaden your world view.

CD: Do you set out to write a book that is urban fantasy, high fantasy, etc.?

TH: If you mean, do I pick my division before I start writing, not per se. With the Blood series, I decided to write vampire books and then sat down to come up with a storyline. Usually, I come up with a story and allow it to find its own niche.

CD: Would you ever write a science fiction book?

TH: For me, science fiction must involve science as a primary plot point and frankly, my knowledge of science just isn't strong enough to carry a novel. Bad science can kill a science fiction book just as dead as bad writing.

CD: Do you consider yourself a feminist writer? Or do you use mainly female protagonists as a matter of course?

TH: I consider myself a feminist and I consider myself a writer but I do not consider myself a "feminist writer." I think when combined like that, you've layered an agenda onto the writing -- which, I hasten to add, is not necessarily a bad thing, it's just not what I do.

I use mainly female protagonists because I have a better connection to them and because I think there's a distinct lack of female protagonists who are actually women and not men with tits and hips. I use male protagonists when that's what the story calls for and I try very hard to remember that changing a gender viewpoint means more than changing the pronouns.

CD: Tell us about your thinking on the use of violence in fiction.

TH: Violence in fiction is like sex in fiction. I find the lead up and the results are much more interesting than the squishy bits.

CD: Have you seen any good movies lately?

TH: I've seen movies I liked but whether they were good movies or not depends on how much validity you give to my personal taste. Because we live out in the middle of no where, I don't see anything in the theatre that I'm not at least 80% convinced I'm going to like. So far this summer, I've only seen The X-Files, Mulan, and The Mask of Zorro. I don't ever watch horror movies. Not even on video.

Of the actual SF movies that have come out in the last couple of years, I've only seen Starship Troopers -- which I liked for the most part although it had very little to do with the book. I'm not sure you could call Godzilla sf, regardless of nuclear rationalizations, but I thought the last half was fun (rip-off of Jurassic Park though it was) although I had hoped the lizard would eat the screaming blonde bimbo.

CD: Would you like to have one of your books made into a movie?

TH: I'd like the money that I'd get for having one of my books made into a movie but I think I could pass on seeing something I'd created, something that was a part of me, vivisected for the viewing public.

CD: Why do you think there are so many more science fiction movies than fantasy?

TH: Finally, an easy question! Science fiction makes better movies because in sf the plots are externally driven. What would happen if we sent a squad of space marines in to battle a nearly indestructible alien? What would happen if we were attacked by giant insectlike aliens for no apparent reason? What would happen if aliens sent us a plan for a space ship? What would happen if we built a computer that turned out to be smarter than we are? What would happen if Mulder and Scully started acting like real FBI agents? Oops, sorry, free associating...

Fantasy on the other hand, is driven by internal conflict. Even in the longest running series with the highest page count and the most epic battles, it all comes down to individuals making archetypal choices of good and evil. This far I go, and no farther.

Last modified: August 19, 1998

Copyright © 1998 by Tanya Huff

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