The Vampires Of: Tanya Huff
By Jean Marie Ward
What do you get when you mix a tough former cop with Retinitis Pigmentosa, her ex-partner/ex-lover who’s still on the force, and the vampire bastard of Henry VIII? A romantic triangle potent enough to inspire a Lifetime Channel series called Blood Ties. But Tanya Huff’s six-volume Vicki Nelson series was only the beginning. Her Smoke Books, the second series featuring romance writing vampire Henry Fitzroy, has been optioned for television, too.
Buzzy: You’ve said-and you’ve said that other people have told you this-you’ve never met a genre you couldn’t skewer. How did you skewer the vampire genre?
Tanya Huff: Well, I wrote the Blood books [the Vicki Nelson series] specifically because I wanted a mortgage. I worked at Bakka Books, which is a science fiction and fantasy bookstore in Toronto, and I saw that vampire readers are extraordinarily loyal to their genre. They’ll buy anything with fangs on the cover in the desperate hope of getting a decent book. So I thought, well, if I write a good vampire book, I’ll have a built-in readership.
I wrote the first chapter-and what I was doing was writing a vampire book-and I gave it to my wife to read. She said, “You know, honey, I hate to say this, but it’s not very good. How about don’t write a vampire book, write a Tanya Huff book with a vampire in it?”
So that’s what I did instead. I stuck with some of the traditional vampire tropes-with the passing out at dawn-because part of the problem is when you have someone who is so powerful, you have to give them equivalent weaknesses in order to make them believable or it’s completely unbalanced. But I also had [Henry Fitzroy] riffing off Bram Stoker on you have to be invited in, because I had him say the line: “Bram Stoker was a hack.” Part of that is I was willing to bend the biology to fit, but I wouldn’t bend the laws of physics. You could still see his reflection in the mirror.
I think, mostly it was I didn’t treat it like a vampire book. I didn’t use the vampire book tropes; I just used my tropes. Henry [Fitzroy] isn’t even the main character in the book. Vicki is the main character. The emphasis is actually on her.
Buzzy: A lot of vampire writers use vampires as metaphors. Did you see Henry Fitzroy as a metaphor?
Oh hell no. All I do is I tell stories. I don’t think metaphor. I don’t even think theme. I just sit down and think: “Have I got enough story that will keep people interested for three hundred, four hundred pages, and not make them resent the money they spent on the book?” That’s really as far as I go with that.
Vampires become metaphors by virtue of what they are. In Henry’s case, he became a metaphor for Vicki’s inability to trust in that Henry, with what he was, trusted easier than Vicki did. But that was more analyzing what I did after the fact, not as I was doing it.
Buzzy: What do you want people to take away from the books, and what do you want them to take away from the TV series?
Tanya Huff: I don’t ask much more than I want people to think they got their money’s out of the books. I want them to think: “Yeah, that was totally worth it! I didn’t waste my money. I didn’t waste my time.” On a more metaphoric level, I suppose I would like women and girls reading it to recognize that you don’t have to wait for the boys to rescue you, that you can rescue yourself. I like to think Vicki is a good example of a strong woman for younger girls coming up and reading in the genre.
What do I want them to take away from the series…
Buzzy: The shot of you in costume?
Tanya Huff: [Laughs.] I enjoyed the series so much. I thought they did an excellent job. I would like people to realize that when things are adapted to another medium-when books are adapted to television or movies-it doesn’t change the books. You don’t have to defend the books. You don’t have to say, “Oh my God, how dare they change this?” The books are exactly the way they were. They’re still sitting on the shelf. The books haven’t changed. They’ve just grown and evolved. When myth stops changing, it dies. The way for your work to stay out there and to keep moving and to find new audiences is to allow it to change.
By Jean Marie Ward