Chatting with Tanya Huff

Tanya Huff  was a featured author at Comic-con this year and her Spotlight panel ended much too soon. As she was inundated with questions about her Blood series (among the things I learned – the infamous puddle outside Vicky’s apartment is real and still there in Toronto, despite multiple re-pavings), time ran out before she could talk about her Valor series. Luckily Tanya was willing to let me pepper her with questions a little more on the SF side (though I did throw in one UF question =).

Byrt: First off, what did you think of the Comic-con experience?

Tanya: People tell you how big Comic-Con is, how many people are crammed into the space, but it’s hard to believe until you’re actually there. I swear I found new sections of the main room every day. Not to mention new halls of function space. Once, an actual empty woman’s washroom. And one thing I realized listening to the guy in front of me talk on his phone while we were in line on Saturday morning for Leverage, is that everyone goes to an entirely different convention. There’s just so much going on that no two people have the same experience.

Byrt: You were writing the Blood series before Urban Fantasy was even a genre category – did you ever think you were at the forefront of a trend? What do you think of this whole UF/vampire phenomenon? Has it affected you or your writing in any way?

Tanya: Yeah, that’s me… ahead of the wave. *g* The thing is, I wrote an urban fantasy, Gate of Darkness, Circle of Light, two years before the Blood books started so even I predate myself. And there were plenty before that. Emma Bull, Charles de Lint, Mercedes Lackey… all had UF books out before I did. And that’s just off the top of my head. The current vampire phenomenon, though, I find that fascinating. I suspect social media is at least a little to blame for the frenzy and I’m sure older vampire readers — because vampire books have always had a loyal, if much smaller, following — are wondering what’s going on. Since the last Blood book came out in ’97, it hasn’t so much effected my writing as my sales. There’s definitely new readers finding the books and from where I’m looking at it, that can only be a good thing.

Byrt: I love how so many of your books have characters in non-traditional relationships. Have you ever gotten blowback on this, or been pressured to go in a more traditional direction? Do you like to challenge people’s perceptions?

Tanya: I just tell the stories I have to tell. So far, my editor has let me tell them and enough people want to read them to allow me to make a living. I don’t ever set out to challenge people’s perceptions but I’m certainly happy if they get challenged on the way. I’m often a little surprised when people point out things I never thought would be that big a deal. I had a reviewer express surprise at the “bisexual orgy” that starts The Enchantment Emporium and I thought, “I’m pretty sure I’d remember writing that.” Turns out he was extrapolating a little…

Byrt: Your Valor series is rife with military detail – how much was the series shaped by your own military experience? Was there a particular NCO that inspired Sergeant Torin Kerr? And as someone who worked for the Navy, do you ever get any flak for writing a Marine? *grin*

Tanya: I’d say that the attitudes — and not only Torin’s — were shaped not only by my time in the reserves but by all the members of my family who’ve been in the military. Throughout multiple generations, we’ve never had a commissioned officer. Other than that, it’s mostly research and a lot of that is listening to people who’ve served. It’s funny, I’ve never gotten any flak for being Navy and writing Marines but it might be because I’m Canadian and we don’t actually have a Marine Corps.

Byrt: Wait, there are no Marines in Canada? So who is first in, last out?

Tanya: As near as I can figure, Tim Hortons.

Byrt: LOL. Then does the Canadian Army and Navy actually work well together? (In the U.S., that’s anathema!)

Tanya: For a brief while back in the ’70s, the Canadian government, in a move that still defies rational explanation, merged the three branches and instead of having an Army, a Navy, and an Air Force, we had The Canadian Armed Forces. Morale plumetted — only partially based on the hideous uniforms that made everyone look like garbage collectors (and clearly the designer had never actually tried to march in that stupid skirt). Although it didn’t last long, the memory lingers and while there is some inter-branch rivalry, a “what the hell is the governement up to now?” attitude seems to keep it from becoming anything more.

Byrt: Why did you choose to write Marines instead of Navy?

Tanya: I needed Marines for the story. They needed to be transported by ship, then fight planetside — that says Marines to me. I was planning on using the Royal Marines but the USMC has such a great web presence that I went with them instead.

Byrt: And I love “pain in the brass” – is that a common saying or all yours?

Tanya: I honestly don’t know. I don’t think it’s common but there’s a chance I heard it somewhere else. There’s an equal chance I made it up.

Byrt: Overall what inspired you to write a space/alien story? Were there any particular books or movies that influenced you?

Tanya: I pitched the first Valor book as “It’s ZULU, with space marines and giant intelligent lizards!” And my editor said, “You’ll have to give me a bit more to go on than that.” *g* I’m also very fond of James Cameron’s Aliens.

Byrt: Lately it seems that space dramas are few and far between. Is military sci-fi a harder sell in today’s market? Have you ever been pressured to go back to writing vampires instead?

Tanya: I am blessed in that both my editor and my agent, while advising me of market trends, want me to write what I want to write. Given the current market, I suspect they’d be happy if I wrote another vampire book but they know that if your heart isn’t in what you’re writing, it shows. And the readers know it, too. I honestly can’t say if military sf is a harder sell, I’m not having any trouble selling mine and David Webber and Elizabeth Moon are both doing even better.

Byrt: Though you, David and Elizabeth are all hugely popular, well established authors in your own right – have you read any new military/space sci-fi recently that you’d recommend? Any up and coming authors you like?

Tanya: While I’m writing in a particular sub-genre, I don’t actually read in it so I’m way behind on new military sf/space opera but I’m really looking forward to discovering new authors over the next couple of years while I’m away from Torin and company.

Byrt: The Truth of Valor comes out next month – can you tease what’s coming up next for Torin? Will she stay retired?

Tanya: All I can say is PIRATES! Oh, and as her Corps appointed lawyer points out, “The Corps allows there is no such thing as an ex Gunnery Sergeant.”

Byrt: What’s next for you? Are there more books to come in the Valor series? Are there other books/series we can look forward to? (I believe you mentioned werewolves and the Napoleonic wars at Comic-con…? =)

Tanya: The next book was going to be the created fantasy I was not to call the Napoleonic werewolf book (because we didn’t want people to expect Napoleon) but it’s now going to be a second book in The Enchantment Emporium series. I sold them at the same time and when Emporium started selling really well, my agent, my editor and I decided it might be best to have only a one book break between them rather than two. So now, it’s the second Emporium book — Charlie’s story — then the (not!)Napoleonic werewovles, then probably back to Torin.

I can’t wait! Thanks again to Tanya for taking the time to chat with me. Tanya’s latest, The Truth of Valor, is out September 7.

Book Jacket:

Former Marine Gunnery Sergeant Torin Kerr is attempting to build a new life with salvage operator Craig Ryder on his ship, the Promise. Turns out civilian life is a lot rougher than she’d imagined -salvage operators are losing both cargo and lives to pirates. And when they attack the Promise, Craig is taken prisoner and Torin is left for dead.

When Torin finds out why the pirates needed Craig, she calls in the Marines to get him back and to stop the pirates from changing the balance of power in known space.