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Why do I ask authors about discrimination?

A few comments over on Tanya Huff’s Livejournal brought something to my mind. Some of her fans seemed concerned with the types of questions I asked her in our recent interview, mainly those dealing with whether Ms. Huff has experienced discrimination based on gender and sexual orientation, both of herself and her characters. These are questions I have posed to every author I’ve interviewed so far, either based around race, gender, or orientation.

Why do I ask such prying questions? Why don’t I stick to the fan favorite questions about writing, storytelling, and their beloved characters? For one thing, many of these authors have been interviewed at least a few times before, so the answers to those tried and true questions are already out there. I do try to cover some of those bases in my interviews, because I find those topics interesting myself. However, as fascinating as I find the writing process of any author and as much as I enjoy talking about it with these great writers, what my blog is focused on is feminism, anti-racism, and LGBT issues. So yes, I do ask questions related to those topics, because that’s what I, and my readers, are interested in.

I’ve written before that there are still large prejudices contained within the Speculative Fiction genre. You can read my thoughts on this in my “Speculative Fiction is Still for Children” article. It was basically my call to action for lovers of great and diverse fiction. I can’t not respond to my own rallying call. If I ask uncomfortable questions, it’s because there are sometimes uncomfortable truths that people don’t like to talk about. So far, most of my questions on discrimination have been answered in the negative. Ms. Huff, for instance, did not feel that her gender and sexuality, and those of her characters, made it difficult for her to get published. She has enjoyed a very long and successful career as a writer.

And I could not be happier. I’m ecstatic that some of my favorite authors found it (relatively speaking) painless getting published. It has not always been so. There are real reasons why some of spec fic’s first female authors worked under male-sounding pseudonyms. There are still very few well known authors of color within the genre, and still few characters of color in published stories. It’s a treasure to find LGBT characters within a science fiction or fantasy story, because they are still so rare.

I ask because I want to know, and I ask because I think it’s important for well-known public figures to be seen talking about these topics. Enough people have come to the blog for just the interviews that I know I’m reaching people I haven’t before. If even one or two of them starts thinking about things in a way they never have before, it’s worth it to me, even if I make some people uncomfortable. I give the authors every opportunity to not answer my questions, and it makes me very happy that every one so far has been willing to discuss these difficult subjects.

If my questions make you uncomfortable, or my topics make you squeamish, maybe you should examine your own thoughts on these subjects. I’m not out to prove anything, negatively or positively, but I am out to bring the situation to others’ attention. That’s important to me, and it’s the point of my blog. I’m out to make people think and examine their own feelings. That’s why I ask these questions.

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Tanya Huff

Tanya Huff is a prolific science fiction and fantasy author. Her best known works include the Blood series featuring cop-turned-vampire Vicki Nelson. Ms. Huff also writes the Valor series, a military science fiction series based around Staff Sergeant Torin Kerr and her kick ass, take charge attitude. Many of her fantasy works feature big and small cities in Canada, bringing a fresh perspective to readers tired of reading one more series set in New York or Chicago. She currently lives in Canada with her partner and fellow author, Fiona Patton.

Q1: What draws you to write Speculative Fiction?

TH: People tend to write what they like to read. The very first book I ever took out of a library — I think I was seven — was about the Greek Gods and Goddess. And then lightly older cousin started lending me the Narnia books and I’ve been remarkably consistent in my taste ever since.

Q2: What was the first piece you ever had published?

TH: Well, if we’re not counting the two poems I had published in the Picton Gazette when I was ten (they paid me $5 a poem) it was THIRD TIME LUCKY, the first of the Magdelene stories in Amazing Stories November 1986.

Q3: What did it feel like?

TH: It felt like a beginning.

Q4: What was the defining moment that made you say “Yes I’m a writer”?

TH: I suspect it was the first time I wrote it on a tax form. If you can defend the position in an audit, it must be true.

Q5: How long have you been writing? What keeps you writing?

TH: I was always a storyteller. I have a copy of a letter my grandmother sent to my father — he was at sea — when I was three with a story I told her about a spider who lived in the garden and made doilies. (I suspect that came from the intricate doilies my grandfather crocheted.) When I was ten, I had a cousin who spent the summer in a body cast and I spent the summer with her, telling her stories to keep her from being bored. Now I write the stories down but it’s much the same thing.

As to what keeps me writing… well, it’s what buys the groceries.

Q6: Who are some of your influences? (Authors, Personal Friends, Teachers, etc.)

TH: I’m not sure you could call it an influence — possibly it influenced me less than it should have — but the best advice I ever got was from my sixth grade teacher, Mr. Purcell. He said, “You’re likely to go far Tanya, if you remember one important thing: Brain first, mouth second.”

Q7: What’s your favorite speculative fiction work?

TH: Hmmm… I wouldn’t say I have one favourite but I’m very, very fond of Bridge of Birds by Barry Hughart, Good Omens by Terry Pratchett and Neil Gaiman (actually I love pretty much anything by Terry Pratchett) Fire and Hemlock by Diana Wynne Jones and The October Country by Ray Bradbury. I love a lot of books but these are the books (and people) I tend to reread.

Q8: Are there plans for more books within The Enchantment Emporium series? If so, any idea when?

TH: There’s tentative plans. No idea when.

Q9: The characters in The Enchantment Emporium are very diverse, with at least one gay character and a few bisexual ones. Do you think that made it harder to get it published, even as a very well established author? Why or why not?

TH: No, not at all. Tell a good story with three dimensional, believable characters and their sexual preferences are moot.

Q10: Do you find yourself consciously choosing to write about LGBT characters, or do they just spring forth?

TH: All of my characters are bisexual unless I specifically tell you otherwise. Because that’s just the way I roll…

Q11: Have you ever had any negative reactions to the characters you write?

TH: Because of their sexuality? No. Because of something they may have done in the story? Well, there’s a whole lot of people out there who disagree with Vicki’s final choice. I’m not sure that’s negative exactly…

Q12: What’s the best positive reaction you’ve received?

TH: Best ever is an email I got from a USMC Staff Sergeant serving in Gulf about the first Valor book. The entire email read: “You got it right.”

But a very close second is that Randy Zalken and Paul McConvey at Kaleidoscope Entertainment were willing to do so much work and take so much risk to bring Blood Ties to the screen only because they really liked the books. It was an amazing compliment.

Q13: Is Alysha Gayle based off of anyone in real life? What about any of the Aunties or Cousins?

TH: Alysha, no. As for the Aunties… well, everyone has at least one Auntie…

Q14: Many of your book settings are based in Canada, where you live. What are some of your favorite places in Canada?

TH: I’m very fond of both coasts. And the middle bit is pretty cool too.

Prince George in the fall when the trees are gold. CFB Shearwater at 5:30 am in a fog so heavy you have to keep one foot on the driveway and the other on the grass to find the door to the Wardroom. Downtown Toronto on a Friday night and this little Japanese lunch place on Queen Street the rest of the time. The river run in Guelph. Quebec City during winter carnival. The Dartmouth ferry. Nose Hill Park in Calgary. The Forks area in Winnipeg. Vancouver — pretty much all of Vancouver actually. My garden in the spring when the ground first thaws and it’s all potential…

Q15: Who are some of your favorite Canadian authors?

TH: Charles de Lint would be top of the list but there isn’t a Canadian author who isn’t on it.

Q16: In Valor’s Choice, we meet Staff Sergeant Torin Kerr, a completely capable military woman in a combat position. Do you think that today’s military will eventually be completely co-ed? Why or why not?

TH: “In february 1989 a Canadian human rights tribunal ordered all obstacles be removed to the integration of women into all military occupations and roles. …”

In this, as with gay rights, Canadians are waiting for Americans to catch up.

Q17: What sort of research did you do for Valor’s Choice and the three books that followed? Did you speak with any military personnel?

TH: My family is military, I spent some time in the Canadian Naval Reserve, and I have a number of friends who serve or have served. So, yes to your second question. I also spent a lot of time reading solider’s blogs as well as tech research as needed. You can find pretty much anything on line and I’ve done some very weird searches.

Q18: The last book in the series so far is Valor’s Trial. Any plans for more books featuring Torin Kerr?

TH: I’m working on one right now. And, I really like the universe so I hope to go back with other characters. Following a Recon group perhaps.

Q19: Do you find writing in one genre easier than the other? Science fiction versus fantasy.

TH: It’s all story telling. And, fortunately, I have good support to help me get the science right.

Q20: Do you think that being a woman author has made getting published harder or easier for you?

TH: Hasn’t made the slightest bit of difference.

Q21: What about being a lesbian?

TH: Also, hasn’t made the slightest bit of difference. Unless your publisher wants to sleep with you, I can’t see why sexual preferences would even come up. It ALL comes down to writing a good book that there’s a perceivable market for. Granted your ability to maintain a professional relationship with both your publisher and your readers helps but again, that has nothing to do with sexual preferences.

Q22: Where do you think the future of speculative fiction is going? More inclusive of diverse characters, or more exclusive?

TH: I have no idea where speculative fiction is going. As society goes, I expect. Hopefully more inclusive. I type with my fingers crossed…

Q23: What are you working on right now? Any other series or stories in the works?

TH: Over the summer, I’ve written three Vicki Nelson stories and one Tony Foster story (that’s from the Smoke books) — don’t know for sure when they’ll see the light of day — although the first Vicki story is in Evolve which is debuting at the British Horror convention — but they’ll all show up eventually I expect. I’m also doing a story for the next Valdemar anthology and am working on a fifth Valor book, untitled as yet.

Q24: Finally, do you have anything else you’d like to add?

TH: If you haven’t had enough of me yet, you can follow me on twitter at TanyaHuff or on lj at http://andpuff.livejournal.com or myspace at http://www.myspace.com/tanyahuff

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For more information about Tanya Huff and her writing visit the sites she listed above or follow her on Twitter @TanyaHuff

You can purchase The Enchantment Emporium, Valor’s Choice, and the rest of Ms. Huff’s works through Amazon, Borders, and Powell’s Books.

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valors choiceValor’s Choice by Tanya Huff
Mass Market Paperback: 409 pages
Publisher: DAW; 1St Edition edition (April 10, 2000)
ISBN-13: 978-0886778965

Staff Sergeant Torin Kerr is a proud member of the Confederation interstellar military. She travels to far off planets and fights against The Others, a race bent on destroying or conquering every other sentient species in the universe. When the Others bumped up against the peaceful aliens of the Confederation, the Confederation realized they needed troops to help fight them off. As they themselves had lost the art of war centuries ago, they recruited the still mostly planet bound human species to be their shock troops. That was about a hundred years ago, and the humans, along with the di’Taykans and the Krai, have created a military force to be reckoned with. Staff Sergeant Kerr is one of their finest products.

When Torin and her company are tapped for ceremonial duties on a new planet the Confederation is hoping to recruit, she knows things won’t go as planned. The Silsviss are a lizard-like race that weeds their excessive number of males out by sending them into battle against each other. And Torin and her Sh’quo Company of Marines are there to convince them that the Confederation is a powerful force that would be a worthy ally for the Silsviss planet. Of course, nobody told Torin or her Marines that this would involve being shot down in a game preserve and fighting off scores of hormone-crazed adolescent Silsviss males.

Torin is a Staff Sergeant’s Staff Sergeant. She is the balancing point between the enlisted men and women on the ground and the officers in charge of her people. She must be seen to know all, see all, and be psychic besides. Staff Sergeants don’t make mistakes, at least not where their Marines can see them do it. When Torin wakes up in bed next to her company’s new Second Lieutenant, nobody will hear about it from her. It’s up to her to make sure Sh’quo gets through this ceremonial duty without too many people dying and no one finding out she’s actually human and not infallible.

The Staff Sergeant is an utterly confident woman. She knows what needs doing and she’s not afraid to get dirty doing it. She can shoot, march, and strategize as well or better than anyone, and with her eyes closed. At least, that’s the picture she must present in order to keep her people confident and unflappable. As a leader Torin is charged with upholding morale and getting them through even the most dire situations as intact as possible. What this means as she is unable to show any weakness, even that of normal emotions, for fear of letting her people down. We only learn about her emotions through her inner monologues, but that is more than enough to admire Torin for. She truly cares deeply for everyone under her command, and for the officers who depend on her. She just doesn’t let that get in the way of her job.

Valor’s Choice is a fantastic example of Military Science Fiction. You’ve got guns, troops, aliens, and lots of gore. Huff manages to instill a very human or at least human-like quality, to all of her species. They are thinking and feeling people, not just killing machines. Even as they are cutting their enemies to pieces, they retain those aspects that make good soldiers and good people. Dignity, respect, loyalty. There are three more books in the Valor series, and I suggest you go out and read every one. War isn’t pretty or heroic. Most of the time, it’s just soldiers out there doing their jobs. Staff Sergeant Torin Kerr does hers better than anyone else.
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Check out Tanya Huff’s website or follow her on Twitter @TanyaHuff

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The Enchantment Emporium coverThe Enchantment Emporium by Tanya Huff
Hardcover: 368 pages
Publisher: DAW Hardcover; 1 edition (June 2, 2009)
ISBN-13: 978-0756405557

Alysha Gale leads a double life. On the public surface, she’s just lost her job as a museum assistant and she’s moved back home until something else comes along. But the real story is…she lost her job, and she’s moved back home to her family coven of super powerful, super nosey witches. The Gale family is enormous, with ever-increasing rings of cousins and multiplying children. And they all have the power, some little, some big, to affect the world around them. Alysha is at loose ends right now, thanks to her job loss, and it falls to her to investigate her Grandmother’s death when the family suddenly gets the call that she’s passed away under mysterious circumstances.

When she heads out to Calgary to find what happened to her Gran, Alysha also discovers that she is now the proud owner of a junk shop called The Enchantment Emporium. She soon learns that the shop is much more than a giant bin for ratty old antiques. It has become the center of the magical community in Calgary, with her Gran giving aid and succor to magical creatures in need. Now her Gran is gone, and it’s up to Alysha to find out what happened, organize the shop, help all the strange and dangerous customers, and find out why there are dragons flying over Calgary and what they have to do with an evil wizard and the Gale family. She’ll learn the answers to these questions, and some she didn’t even know to ask.

This is a complicated book, but Tanya Huff does a great job of casually working in important information without info-dumping. You’ve got to pay close attention to catch all the pertinent details of the Gale family witches circles and the mess going on in Calgary, but that serves to immerse you even more in the story. Alysha has been a little knocked around by life lately and it’s made her wary. She’s an interesting character coming from a strange family dynamic. In the Gale coven, boys are prized like precious gold, and girls are a dime a dozen. But it’s the women, the Aunties, who eventually run the family when they grow up. This makes for a large group of nosey, bossy old women hovering over Alysha and her investigation, waiting for her to mess up spectacularly.

Luckily, Alysha is not without friends. There’s her favorite cousin and lover Charlie, who has the special gift of being able to travel anywhere through a mystical plain instead of taking the bus; she’s also a practiced musician. Alysha’s unrequited love interest, Michael, also comes to help after breaking up dramatically with his boyfriend. She makes more friends through the shop, including an ornery leprechaun. Alysha has an organized mind, letting her take a chaotic situation and bring order to it. She also has the ability to ask for help when she needs it, without making herself sound lost. Alysha comes across as strong and powerful, once she starts getting past the bumps and bruises life has seen fit to give her. She learns a lot about herself and what’s she capable of, and manages to grow quite a bit as a character from start of book to end.

My favorite part about this book, though, is the indiscriminate bed hopping. In the Gale family, they like to keep their power within their own bloodlines. This means that you may eventually marry a distantly related cousin to keep the magic going. It sounds odd, but think of it more as a community of witches who all happen to have the same last name then of a closely related family. There are so many Gales at this point, the only ones who can keep track are the Aunties. There is lots of enthusiastic experimentation among the young witches of the family, since they know that they could someday be marrying their playmate. And it isn’t relegated to boys and girls. Alysha and Charlie are hardly the only girls to pair up. The openness and casual but warm feeling they all seem to hold towards sex is refreshing and at times very funny. More people should take notes from the Gale family.

The Enchantment Emporium is a wild ride from start to finish. With so many characters and concepts to introduce, it would be easy for a lesser author to lose her audience. Huff has a deft touch and never gives you more than you can handle. With the revelations and resolutions at the end of this book, I can only hope that we will be seeing lots more of the Gale family, and Alysha in particular.

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Check out Tanya Huff’s website or follow her on Twitter @TanyaHuff

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Author of the WeekNext week’s Author of the Week will be science fiction and fantasy author Tanya Huff. Don’t miss it on Monday, November 16th! Two reviews will cover her newest book, The Enchantment Emporium, and the first book in her best selling science fiction series, Valor’s Choice.

Tanya Huff is a prolific writer and a really neat lady, so I hope to see you all back here next Monday to read some great interview questions.

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Author of the WeekStarting next Monday, November 2nd, I will be interviewing a science fiction/fantasy author every week, as well as reviewing one or two pieces of their work. There will be questions about their pieces, getting published, the experience of being an author and a writer, how they choose their characters and why, along with many other topics.

There will also be some book giveaways, for those who might be interested.

I’m looking for suggestions on your favorite science fiction and fantasy authors who you might like to see interviewed. I love talking to the big name authors, but I think an interview and review event such as this would most benefit the less well known authors, those authors just getting started. I’m hoping that the draw of the bigger names will help bring attention to the smaller authors.

And of course, I’m hoping that everyone who stops by will learn something about what being an author means, and what science fiction and fantasy mean to readers and authors alike.

My first guest author will be Tobias Buckell, Caribbean science fiction writer. I’ll be reviewing Crystal Rain, the first book in his science fiction series, and Tides From the New Worlds, his short story collection.

For a full list of the authors already signed up and scheduled, visit the AOTW page tab at the top.

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