Today we’re joined by Tanya Huff, whose writing career spans more than two decades and a good handful of subgenres. Whether urban fantasy (her Vicki Nelson series was adapted for television in Canada) or epic, or space opera, she writes really entertaining novels. Her latest, An Ancient Peace, is a space operatic adventure involving tomb robbery and explosions. It’s out from DAW in the US and Titan Books in the UK, and it’s a hell of a lot of fun.
And she’s agreed to answer a few questions for us, so let’s get to them!
Liz Bourke: Let me start rather generally, as usual, by asking your opinion of how women—whether as authors, as characters, or as fans and commenters—are received within the SFF genre community. What has been your experience?
Tanya Huff: While listening to other women, I sometimes get the feeling that my experience in the SFF community has been unique. I have never felt that my work has been judged, or not judged, specifically because it was written by a woman. Now one of the reasons that might be because in my 30 year career I’ve had only two editors and both of them were women—once DAW began publishing me, I’ve never tried to sell my work anywhere else and TSR came looking for me. It could be because 30 years ago we might not have quite hit the tipping point where there were enough women in the genre to make the power group nervous. Or, and this is more likely, I’m actually pretty clueless about this sort of thing.
I’m writing what I like, I’m making a living, I don’t read reviews or blogs—I just don’t pay that much attention. I’m aware of the statistics about women’s books being ignored by marketing, reviewers, and blogs and that definitely has to change but I honestly can’t apply any of those statistics to my career.
I was a fan for years before I was published. I went to my first SFF convention in 1976 and for a while in the early ’80s went to a convention pretty much every other weekend from March to October. I don’t remember ever having been made uncomfortable because of my gender. And I used to wear a rabbit skin costume. I checked with a friend and she says the odds were high I was hit on during that time, I just never considered it a problem. I was tall and athletic and had just finished a Class C in the Naval Reserve and as long as a guy took no for an answer, we were cool. I have no memory of anyone who didn’t take no for an answer. Although, to be fair, my memory is terrible.
Times were… maybe not simpler but certainly less complex.
As an older woman, attending significantly fewer conventions, I don’t take any shit. Provided I notice shit is happening. Which I don’t always.
I realize other women have had entirely different experiences and from their stories am aware there’s a certain male subculture with the genre that needs to get the hell over itself as well as a few who are truly dangerous. Over the years, however, I seem to have only met the good guys.
As far as the treatment of female characters are concerned… well, that’s a different story. I’m so tired of the male gaze—trust me, no woman thinks about her boobs moving against a slik vest while walking to the stable, although she may think that without decent support she’s about to go on an incredibly painful ride. AS a result, I mostly read female authors. Fortunately, there’s a lot of amazing books in every classification of SFF being written by women right now. The male authors I read are the ones who treat women like people and, also fortunately, more and more of them are emerging.
LB: Can you tell us a bit about some of those amazing books? Is there any recent one or two in particular you’d recommend?
TH: Well, only one or two might be tricky but… Michelle Sagara is working on three series that I’m following, an epic fantasy (The House Wars) a heroic fantasy (The Chronicles of Elantra—which everyone calls “the Cast books”) and a YA series (The Queen of the Dead). I’m also reading Seanan McGuire’s Toby Daye series (A Red-Rose Chain is the latest) and her InCryptid series, both urban fantasy, as well her SF/Horror under Mira Grant. Julie Czerneda is currently writing both a fantasy and an SF series—the fantasy series is called “Night’s Edge” and the SF one is “The Clan Chronicles, and there’s a new book in the SF series out in November. I loved Kate Elliot’s Spiritwalker trilogy and am waiting for The Black Wolves. Loved N. K. Jemisin’s Hundred Thousand Kingdoms and her Fifth Season is almost to the top of my tbr pile but I just bought Jo Walton’s My Real Children and that may have jumped the queue.
LB: As far back as SING THE FOUR QUARTERS, your work has featured characters who have nontraditional family arrangements and relationships. Has it got easier, do you think, for SFF novels to include a wider range of possible relationships? What do you think of the large amount of recent discussion that suggests SFF novels that contain such nontraditional arrangements are a new development, or an attempt to cash in on a “SJW” audience?
TH: I’ve been nontraditional further back than SING (out in 1994). In GATE OF DARKNESS, CIRCLE OF LIGHT, out in ’89, I have a bisexual angel who ends up in a relationship with a developmentally disabled avatar of the Goddess—which definitely sounds a little more on the edge typed out like that than I ever thought it was while writing the book. In THE FIRE’S STONE (1990), a gay man, a bisexual man, and a woman who is for all intents and purposes asexual, have adventures and get married. (and that’s possibly the worst cover blurb ever) Not to mention there were definitely books dealing with non-traditional relationships before mine. In some respects the ’70s and ’80s were all about exploring alternatives and it was a lot easier to do so before George Lucas proved you could make serious money off SFF and the genre as a whole became more market driven (Parts of it always were, of course, but the millions Star Wars raked in cranked the dial up to eleven.) As to what I think of those who seem to believe that nontraditional arrangements are a new development and/or a chance to cash in on a “SJW” audience, well, after editing out the eye roll and the weary profanity, I think those who believe that have no concept of the history of their genre. If I’ve been doing it for thirty years, then it’s clearly not new. I don’t seem to be cashing in, by the way, but I wouldn’t be adverse to it.
LB: Your latest novel, AN ANCIENT PEACE, stars the same main character as your Valor series – the now-former Gunnery Sergeant Torin Kerr. What has changed for Torin since the last Valor novel? What new challenges are in store for her?
TH: In AN ANCIENT PEACE, Torin is looking for a new sense of purpose. She’s spent her entire adult life in the Confederation Marine Corps, fighting in a war where the hostilities had been manipulated by an outside source from the beginning and when she finds this out, she’s feeling more than a little betrayed. She can’t be in the military any longer but neither can she just toss aside everything—the experience, the competence, the sense of responsibility—that made her so good at her job. So between TRUTH OF VALOR and AN ANCIENT PEACE, she created a new job. Freelance ass-kicking on the side of right. I started out calling this book, Torin’s version of the A-Team and intended it to be a romp and that lasted right up until I realized I have five main—and many minor—characters with PTSD and a destabilized political system, partially although not entirely, because of a horde of combat trained veterans being dumped back into civilian life. Torin didn’t want to get involved in politics but she can’t not step up when things are falling apart. Unfortunately, Torin works best within a clearly defined structure and with definitions shifting within the military and the Confederation as a whole, she needs to find a new set of parameters to contain her. Also, she’s now leading people who are with her by choice and that’s a entirely new balancing act.
Looking at it from a broader viewpoint, Torin’s story parallels how the Younger Races are maturing within the Confederation—no longer willing to do as they’re told, struggling to work out where they belong in the system, and discovering things that the Elder Races had intended to keep hidden. Neither Torin nor the Younger Races much enjoy being patronised.
LB: It sounds like she’s in for an interesting time. Should we expect to see sequels to AN ANCIENT PEACE?
TH: There’s two more books coming in the Peacekeeper series. A PEACE DIVIDED will be out next fall, gods willing, and book three—which probably won’t get a title until production starts nagging Sheila Gilbert, my editor at DAW, and we spend two hours on the phone throwing words at each other—will be the fall after that. Like the Valor series, each book has an individual plot with progressive character arcs and an underlying plot
LB: You’ve written in a wide range of subgenres. What drew, and draws, you to SFF? What (or who) do you consider to be your influences as a writer?
TH: I pretty much tick all the cliché boxes when it comes to what drew me to SFF back in the day—I was the definitive outsider, my life nothing like any of my classmates, so I tended to live inside my own head. When I started to read, I wanted to go places that were nothing like the places I had to go every day. Places where anything was possible. Although my memory is notoriously bad, I can remember the first two books I ever took out of a library back in grade two: Greek Gods and Goddesses, and The Water Babies. Later that year I found Narnia and have been trying to get through the wardrobe ever since.
I’m still trying. There’s a negligible difference between why I read SFF and why I write it.
The library in my senior public school—weird Canadian system, essentially grade seven and eight—had all the Andre Norton available at the time and all the Heinlein juveniles. I read and reread them. Norton and Heinlein, definitely early influences. (STRANGER IN A STRANGE LAND was huge with the weird gang when I was in high school). A little later, Anne McCaffery, Zenna Henderson, C J Cherryh, Tanith Lee, and Georgette Heyer. A little later than that, Dianna Wynne Jones, Charles de Lint, and Terry Pratchett.
Just to prove that what goes around comes around, the first story I ever had published (the 2nd sold, but timing…) was to Andre Norton for Magic In Ithkar 3.
Oh, and a few years ago, I bought an identical copy of Greek Gods and Goddesses. I’ve owned The Water Babies for years.
LB: Final question! Apart from the sequels to AN ANCIENT PEACE, are you working on anything else at the moment? Should we expect more from you in the near future?
TH: Well, besides A PEACE DIVIDED, the sequel to AN ANCIENT PEACE out next fall (gods willing), I’m trying to get the short fiction in the Quarters ‘verse up as an e-collection before Christmas—seemed like a good idea since the four Quarters novels has just come out as ebooks for the first time—but other than that, nothing much. Oh, and we’re rebuilding the house so I’m working on taping and mudding a truly intimidating amount of drywall, but I suspect that’s not what you were asking about… :)