The incredible Tanya Huff was the first author I ever met while I was living in Toronto. She was warm and wonderful in person and I am so pleased that she was able to do the following interview for OBS.
You were first published in the 1980s – can you tell us how you’ve seen the contemporary supernatural/paranormal genre evolve?
When my first urban fantasy, Gate of Darkness, Circle of Light was first published in 1989, the genre barely existed (although, there’s some argument that horror is a subset of urban fantasy and if that’s the case it’s been around in that form for a while). Choices for readers tended to be either more like horror where the characters had to survive the fantasy elements (Gate is one these) or they had to interact with the traditional worlds of Fairie overlapping ours (de Lint’s Moonheart or Emma Bull’s War for the Oaks). While there were some examples of writers using the more romantic elements the Victorians added to the vampire mythos, these were the exception not the rule. Mercedes Lackey’s Guardian series, my Blood Series.
Then came Buffy and suddenly vampires got a whole new sexy added on. Because publishers want their books to sell, suddenly the vampire as the brooding Byronic hero a’la Angel came into fashion complete with tragic romance. And romance readers took notice. And romance publishers took notice of that.
While there is still urban fantasy written using fantasy tropes – where the fantastic is the point of the story – more and more “urban fantasy” is paranormal romance where the relationship between the main characters is the significant point – Twilight being the ultimate example.
What did you not expect to see in that evolution?
The domination of the first person view point came as a complete surprise.
Your Blood Series was adapted for television for two seasons – what did you learn about how television and books mix after this experience?
In all honesty, because my degree is in Radio and Television Arts, nothing I didn’t know going in – changes have to be made for a visual media and books don’t suffer from the budget constraints of television. It was, however, an extremely positive experience.
I recently read that your Smoke and Shadow Books featuring Henry Fitzroy and Tony Foster were also optioned for television – is that still a possibility that we might see that happen?
Unfortunately, that particular option on the Smoke books has run out. But there’s always a chance something might happen in the future.
Is there any genre/creature that as a writer you’ve always wanted to sink your teeth into, but haven’t yet had the time/chance to do so?
I’d like to write a mystery series – mostly because I have the titles already and, as I find titles incredibly hard to come up with, I’d hate to waste them. Maybe later…
Does every novel evolve the same way for you?
Most of my novels evolve around an idea – just a little something my brain throws up that I need to find out the story around it. For Gate it was a riff on the old belief that “simple” people could see fairie. For Valor’s Choice, what if Zulu happened in space. For the Quarter books there were specific scenes: Pjorin’s escape, Gyhard takes Bannon, assassins and bards together, the deep kigh. For the Gale girls, Harvest Home with a laugh track. Then I start to work out what story the idea comes from and I start research that lets me build a plot.
So, essentially, the short answer is yes.
The worlds you create for your novels are incredible – how do you approach world-building for your work?
I start with the needs of the story. Does it need cities? Isolation? Upper classes? Lower classes? What’s the tech level? Then I work out the geography – because geography combined with tech level tells you what they’re eating, wearing, and to a certain extent, what they look like (there’s a reason you don’t get pale blondes in equatorial Africa). Then I work out the theology. Theology is very important if you ever want your characters to swear. One “damn it” postulates a theology based on damnation. And I take a lot of notes. Most of the research never actually makes it into the books, it’s just there as a foundation level.
Currently, what book/movie/tv series (anything) brings out your inner fan?
Books: I’m anxiously awaiting the last two books in Michelle West’s House War series. I just finished book four, Skirmish, but book five won’t be out until next January. ARGH! I also really… hmmm, hard to say enjoyed… was enthralled by The Hunger Games. I read all three books in two days.
Movies: I’m looking forward to the Avengers, so desperately friends keep warning me to calm down so I’m not disappointed. When Nick Fury appeared in the tag after the first Iron Man movie, I got into an extended comic book geek fest about a possible Avengers movie with a perfect stranger as we were leaving the theatre. So I’ve been waiting a while… I also think this summer’s Huntsman looks amazing.
Television: I’m so sad that this is Eureka‘s last season because I love the show. Big fan of The Big Bang Theory and of Leverage. And I really love a little Canadian show called Republic of Doyle about a PI in Newfoundland which, thankfully, just got renewed for a 4th season.
Looking back at your career, is there anything you wished you had tried/written and didn’t?
Sometimes I wish that I’d made more of an effort to get into screenwriting and then, having done it, I look at all the nonsense screenwriters have to go through to get their vision through to production as well as the general lack of respect they’re treated with within the industry and I think that I made the right decisions. No regrets.
Can you tell us a little about your interactions with your fans? What was the most unexpected thing you’ve experienced with them?
I loved going to both Germany and Italy and meeting fans from all over Europe. I love that fans are the same all over and that, language issues aside, we can get together and geek out over the books and movies and tv shows we love. It’s kind of strange when fen say they’re so pleased to meet me because I’m so pleased to meet them! When you toss a story out into the world, it’s lovely to know someone’s actually caught it.
I’m always astounded when people come up to me at signings and have everything I’ve ever written as though I’m worth collecting.
And I’ve had two people on separate occasions tell me, through tears, that my books got them through some really bad times in their lives. That without words I’d written they might not be here right now. I don’t tend to write books with BIG IMPORTANT THEMES, I just tell stories, so that was the most amazing and humbling thing that ever happened to me and if that was all I’d ever gotten from my writing, it would have been enough.
Thank you so much for your time, Tanya!