Interview: Tanya Huff
by Gayle Surrette
SFRevu.com Interview ISBN/ITEM#: INTTH0606
Date: June 2006 / Show Official Info /
SFRevu: I love the way Tony Foster has grown since he first showed up as a minor character in the Blood books. Now as a central character, he really shines. Had you planned all along to have him be a leading character in several books or did this surprise you?
Tanya Huff: By the time I got to Blood Pact, the last of the Blood books, Tony had gone from being a bit character to a having a supporting role. I think that was when I started considering him for a series of his own. He'd changed so much and I found myself wanting to explore that.
SFRevu: One of the things that I've consistently enjoyed in your books is the off-beat dry sense of humor displayed in the writing. The humor is there in the Blood books, and Smoke and... books but even more so in the Summoning books. Do you have to consciously strive for that touch of humor or does it just appear as you write?
Huff: Actually, I more often have to be careful I don't give in to the inappropriate humour urge. Sometimes, when I'm writing an emotional scene some smart ass comment occurs to me that's funny but really doesn't belong. It's why I love characters like Vicki because they can make the smart ass comments for me and it'll be completely in character for them. (Vicki's a little emotionally damaged and deflects closeness with humour.)
That said, the three Summoning books were written specifically as humour so I was able to ask myself questions like, "Is this preposition funnier than that preposition?"
SFRevu: You've written fantasy, vampire, and military sf successfully. Do you have one particular genre that you prefer to write in? If so, what is it and why?
Huff: I just tell the stories I have to tell and let the sub-genres fall where they may.
SFRevu: When you're writing, would you call yourself a visual writer just writing down the scenes and acts you see in your internal movie screen or do you have to build each scene word by word?
Huff: Sometimes one, sometimes the other. The writing goes a lot faster if I'm writing off my internal movie screen but then I have to make sure I include all the necessary context since the reader isn't watching while I am. Things may seem perfectly obvious to me because I'm seeing them but to the reader, not so much. While initially more frustrating, constructing a scene word by word results in perhaps a clearer sense of intent for the reader -- evoking a more specific response.
SFRevu: What is a typical day of writing for you? Do you have a schedule or do you write when the mood strikes?
Huff: I write every afternoon from one to six. I mostly started that because it was the best way to keep people from calling when I'm working -- everyone I know is terrified to call during those five hours. And when I say "I write", I mean that I check my email and play one heck of a lot of spider solitaire as well.
SFRevu: What do you have in the pipeline for the readers now?
Huff: I'm currently working on the third of the Valor books, Valor's Trial. Staff Sergeant Kerr has been promoted to Gunnery Sergeant and ends up accompanying a platoon of recruits on a training mission where things, of course, go very wrong.
I'm also working on Blood Ties, the television series based on my Blood books. It's going into production this summer in Vancouver and I've been enormously lucky in having been asked to write one of the episodes. Script writing requires a completely different skill set from writing either novels or short stories and I've been incredibly fortunate that the show's writers have been willing to teach me as we go.
SFRevu: Do you attend many sf/f conventions? Which conventions do you like to keep on your schedule?
Huff: Because the professional commitments at conventions take an enormous bite out of writing time, I tend to only go to general sf/f where I'm asked to attend as a guest. There are a few local exceptions -- if I have the time in any given year I might go to Toronto's Ad Astra or Toronto Trek.
Personally, I'm very fond of filk -- which is fan created music based on science fiction or fantasy -- and will go, not as a writer but just as a fan, to two or three filk conventions over the course of a year.
SFRevu: What books do you have on your "To be read" pile right now and why is it there?
Huff: Oh dear...
Well, let's see, I'm in the middle of Drawing the Line by Richard Whelan which is a terrific deconstruction of the causes and effects of the Korean War. Then there's...
A Walk Along the Wall by Hunter Davies: My partner and I are planning a walking trip along Hadrian's Wall. It may take us a few years to get there but we like to be prepared.
All My Road Before Me, the Diary of C.S. Lewis: I read his journals about two months ago and needed to take a break before starting another book so similar. I just love C.S. Lewis' writings.
The Victorian Vision edited by John M. Mackenzie: The Victorian era was a time of enormous change and thus fascinating.
Dextra by C.J. Ryan: I picked this up at Eeriecon a few weeks ago based on the back cover copy.
To Ride Hell's Chasm by Janny Wurts: The guys at MeishaMerlin (who also publish my short story collections) sent me this a while ago. I just haven't gotten around to reading it yet.
Anansi Boys by Neil Gaiman: I know I won't be able to put this down once I start so I'm saving it for when I have a large enough chunk of time to make it worth my while to pick up.
Tainted Trail by Wen Spencer: Ukiah Oregon book two -- this was hard to get for a while and so I read book three while I was waiting which kind of took the immediacy off reading book two. But I will because I love the way Wen Spencer tells a story.
SFRevu: When you're not reading or writing what are your hobbies, your passions, your pursuits?
Huff: I try to spend at least a half an hour a day practicing on the guitar -- I've got nothing approaching natural talent so I really have to work at it. In the summer I garden -- mostly vegetables. This year I added a gooseberry bush. My great grandfather planted the original bush that I got my bit of root from back in 1927. I also watch an embarrassing amount of television -- but no reality shows.
SFRevu: What advice would you give to a beginning writer?
Huff: 1. Get a life -- seriously, you'll likely live into your nineties so don't worry about having your first book published before you're out of university. Go out and do some things. Don't do necessarily do what I did, because some of that was pretty stupid, but do things. It's not so much a case of 'you write what you've experienced' as 'it's all grist for the mill'.
2. Read a lot and read eclectically and go to primary source material as often as possible.
3. Finish what you start. Everyone has ideas for stories, the trick is actually writing them down with a beginning, a middle, and an end. Especially the end. Writing, like everything else, improves with objective practice so don't keep practicing beginnings.
4. Learn the rules of style and grammar before you start breaking them.
5. Listen to your critics. Even when you disagree with them, and you usually will, you may learn things from what they've said. You many only learn that they don't have a clue but that's something.
6. If you're getting paid for your work, the person paying you has the right to require that you fulfill the terms of your contract. Artistic temperament just doesn't cut it here. You, in turn, have the right not to take their money.
7. Enjoy what you're writing. Celebrate the particular nifty bits of prose. Be your own harshest critic sure, but also be your own biggest fan. Trust me, the odds are very good you'll never be paid enough to keep doing this if you don't enjoy it.
SFRevu: What question do you wish interviewers would ask you? And, what would your answer be?
Huff: Do you enjoy what you do?
Are you kidding? I have one of the best jobs in the world; storytelling has a pedigree that predates agriculture. It may not be the world's oldest profession but I'm betting it's a close second.
SFRevu: Thank you.