Interview with Tanya Huff

MICHAEL A. VENTRELLA: I am pleased to be interviewing Tanya Huff today! Tanya Huff lives in rural Ontario, Canada with her partner Fiona Patton and, as of last count, nine cats. Her 26 novels and 68 short stories include horror, heroic fantasy, urban fantasy, comedy, and space opera. She’s written four essays for Ben Bella’s pop culture collections. Her Blood series was turned into the 22 episode BLOOD TIES and writing episode nine allowed her to finally use her degree in Radio & Television Arts. Her latest novel is THE TRUTH OF VALOR (DAW, September 2010). When not writing, she practices her guitar and spends too much time on line.

Tanya, How did you break into the publishing business?

TANYA HUFF: I started by sending out Third Time Lucky to the digests — Asimov didn’t want it and Amazing did. At the same time, I’d finished writing CHILD OF THE GROVE (in about 80% the same shape as the published book) and sent it out as a YA to Terri Windling at one of the Ace imprints I think. It was twenty-five years ago so details are foggy. Terri suggested I submit it as an adult book.

One of the things they suggest when you’re looking for a publisher is to look at what who publishes what you read and I was split about 50/50 between DAW and Del Rey. But I had a friend, S. M. Stirling who’d sold two books to Sheila Gilbert while she was at Signet and now she was at DAW and that seemed like a sign. I was heading to NYC to see some shows and Steve said he’d call Sheila and ask if she had time to see me. Unfortunately, he forgot and when I called Sheila, she said she hadn’t heard from him in a few years but if I could get there right away, she’d just had someone cancel and could see me for about twenty minutes.

Never do this, btw. Never cold call an editor and mention you just happen to be in town. It was barely doable 25 years ago. It’s really isn’t now.

We talked, I left the manuscript for CHILD OF THE GROVE with her, eventually, a year and a rewrite later, she bought it and, in the intervening years, she’s bought another 25.

VENTRELLA: You’ve stated in the past that you decide to write a vampire book because, basically, you knew they were popular now.

HUFF: No, what I said was, I decided to write a vampire book because I was working in a bookstore and had observed that vampire readers were very, very loyal to their genre. That they’d buy anything with fangs on the cover in the desperate hope of finding something decent to read. I figured if I wrote a good vampire book, then I’d give the vampire fans what they were looking for and they’d be that loyal to me. So I did. And they are. But twenty odd years ago when I wrote BLOOD PRICE, vampires were no where near as widely popular as they are now. This was pre-Buffy, remember.

VENTRELLA: This leads to an interesting question in general: How much of writing is about art and how much is about business? Do you think most authors write for the love of writing or because they want to be successful? Are the two incompatible? And is there anything wrong in that?

HUFF: The two are certainly not incompatible. On one level it doesn’t matter what job you do, if you’re just in it for the money, it’ll show and it won’t be pretty. On another, good writing requires a piece of your soul so you’d better love it given that you’re gouging chunks out of yourself to produce it. Also, as I tell the high school kids I occasionally talk to, you’d better love it because the odds are very good you’ll never make much money at it. On the other hand, I’ve never met a writer who doesn’t have a mulitude of ideas floating about and the smart ones will look at what’s selling, try to use that to figure out what’ll be selling in a year to eighteen months when any book you may start now will actually be published, and develop the idea that has the best chance in the market. On yet another hand, sometimes you just want to tell a particular story so badly that the market be damned and it then becomes your agent or editor’s job to reign you in.

So the short answer is, no.

VENTRELLA: You ignored many traditional vampire myths in your books. (I’m doing the same in my next novel, by the way, about a vampire who runs for President.) What led to that decision? Did you get any complaints from the hard core vampire fans?

HUFF: In order for myth to remain alive, it has to grow and change. Once a myth codifies, it dies. I used the parts of vampire myth that were relevant to my story and ignored what wasn’t. So far, no one’s complained. Well, not to me anyway.

VENTRELLA: You’ve been fortunate (and talented) enough to have a TV series based on one of your series. How did that come about?

HUFF: The wonderful guys at Kaleidoscope optioned the Blood series because they loved them and then worked their butts off to bring it to the screen. All I had to do was cash the option check. They did all the work.

VENTRELLA: Were you pleased with the result?

HUFF: I loved the result. Christina Cox was one the actors I saw playing Vicki back in the early 90’s when she was on a show called F/X THE SERIES and I was thrilled when she got the part. Dylan Neal was not how I physically saw Mike — until I saw Dylan play Mike and I loved his interpretation. I’d never been able to cast Henry Fitzroy but now I can only see Kyle Schmid in the part.

VENTRELLA: Did the TV series inspire you to make changes in future books of the series? Did you care about continuity at all, or was that not an issue?

HUFF: I wrote the last Blood book in… I think 1996 so it was totally a non issue. I said at the time that BLOOD DEBT was the last and it has been. There’s been a few short stories since Blood Ties but I have no problem keeping the show mythos and the book mythos straight.

VENTRELLA: What process do you use when preparing a novel? Do you do extensive research? Do you outline?

HUFF: First I have the idea — or, more accurately, separate the idea I’m currently excited about from the herd. Then I write up a pitch for my agent to give my editor — this is a very short outline and has, in the past, actually used the phrase, “And a bunch of stuff happens in the middle.” I always know where I’m starting from and I always know where I’m going, I just don’t always know how I’m going to get there. After the book sells, I research for two to three months until the weight of information tips me over into writing. Then I start at the beginning and tell the story until I finish. Because I edit as I go, my first draft about 95% similar to the book you buy.

VENTRELLA: How do you personally create a new fantasy world, with its own rules? In other words, how much planning and background information do you write?

HUFF: When I create a new fantasy world I need a map so I know the climate, the type of food, the industry, the type of farming, the housing needs. I need to know what time of year it is. I need to know what the religon is, and I need to work out the profanity. Most profanity is very tied to religion and is often the hardest thing to come up with in a created world.

VENTRELLA: What do you bring to the genre that other similar books miss? In other words, what is different about your books?

HUFF: Well, I don’t take myself or the genre (or various) subgenre too seriously while still respecting my readers, but I’m not the only one. I like kick ass women and witty repartee, so that’s going to be included every time. I guess the big thing that’s different about my books, is that I’ve written them…

VENTRELLA: Many aspiring authors get conned by self-publishers who pretend not to be, or by “editors” who do little more than proofreading for a large fee. How does one avoid these scams?

HUFF: They’re not hard to avoid. Publishers and editors pay you — you’re creating the product. If you’re paying them, it’s a scam.

VENTRELLA: Besides “keep writing” what specific advise would you give an aspiring author?

HUFF: Put a third of every check you receive into a separate tax account. Sure, it won’t matter for years but there will come a day when you’re actually making a living wage and the goverment will want a surprising amount of it. If you’re Canadian, you have to pay both halves of the Canada Pension Plan and that’s a surprise when it hits the first time, believe me. It’s best to remember that you’re essentially a small business all year long, not just in April.

Remember that publishers, editors, and agents all talk to each other. They will talk about you. You don’t have to be a saint, but don’t be an ass. If you get a reputation as being unprofessional or hard to work with, it won’t matter if you have all the talent in the world.

And speaking of talent, discipline matters more. I guarentee that more disciplined people with minimal talent are published than talented people with minimal discipline.

Write subjectively. Edit objectively.

Have fun.

4 Responses

  1. Lovely interview, Michael. Covered all the questions I would most like ask over a cup of tea.
    About the Blood Books – I have to agree, now that I’ve seen Henry Fitzroy as played by Kyle SchmidI will always see him in the role, same with Vicki Nelson played by Christina Cox. Loved Dylan Neal as Mike Celluci and thought his portrayal added the right balance to the trio on the screen even if that’s now how you described him physically in the book. Good chemistry.

    Tanya – It is so wonderful to get so much insight into the creative process of someone I admire, and who’s body of work will continue to stand the test of time and inflation. I am anxiously awaiting the next installments of your work.

    Also, hanks for the pearls about setting aside taxes and discipline, I am hoping to need that information soon.

    Blessings to you both,

    Laurel N

  2. This is a great interview (thanks to a member of KSC who brought it to our attention).

    Glad that you asked that question towards the end on/for aspiring writers Mr. Ventrella, and thank you Tanya for that sage bit of advise.

    In a way it’s reassuring to know that even as seasoned an author as Ms. Huff, when going through the process, uses the “And a bunch of stuff happens in the middle.” phrase. LoL!

    As an aspiring author, working on my 1st WiP, it’s been that same trek “know where I’m starting, know where I’m going”… but it’s the stuff in between.

    And yes, as to the Blood Ties tv show, it unanimous by all (and them some) whom have seen it, it was a good show, and the dialogue has been some of the most bitingly witty to date.
    As well there couldn’t have been a better cast… nor now any other person imaginable to play Henry Fitzroy than Kyle Schmid.

    Thank you both,

    ~ Soni

  3. To Tanya:
    I can’t remember when I have enjoyed someone’s writing so much. I enjoy the stories because I like the fantasy/other theme of them but the witty dialogue and the asides are what keep me coming back to your books. Treating the weird, bizarre and just “holy shit” things that happen as commonplace is the most engaging thing about your writing.

    I read parts aloud to my husband and we both guffaw over the clever wording and the reference to the commonplace which makes it the funniest.

    Keep it coming.

    You have at least two fans in my house of two people.

  4. Tanya,
    I love your writing.
    The Blood Books were first and then Gate of Darkness, Circle of Light. G. of D. , C. of L. may have been your third book but have you ever thought of extending it? I was hooked on it as well. Reading until 3 am appears to be a new bedtime for me.
    I am writing and I wish I’d read your comment about editors paying you not the reverse, earlier. He took my money and tore me apart as well.
    I am trying to get the confidence back to send the manuscript to other editors and even publishers. I will follow your suggestion about who to look for; any other suggestions?
    Your heroines are ladies after my own heart as well as my manuscripts. Are you like that personally yourself? Tackle anything and in their face? It appears that way and great for you!
    Your sense of humour is delightful. Reading with a smile on your face is one of the best ways to spend time. I force myself to stop at 3 am because it would be too easy to just keep going.
    Please keep up your great work and the double story book is double the pleasure.
    Take care.

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