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The Barnes and Noble Pre-Interview Interview - July, 1997

Special note: This is a copy of the transcript on the Barnes & Noble server - in case they delete it, it's here on mine now. I am not sure about the copyright rules on something like this, so consider the contents of the interview the property of Barnes and Noble.

A  U  T  H  O  R      B  I  O  G  R  A  P  H  Y
~ Tuesday, July 22, 1997 8 PM ~
Barbara Hambly: A FREE MAN OF COLOR

Benjamin January has lately returned to New Orleans from Paris, where he's made his home for the last sixteen years. In Paris, January was a surgeon; in New Orleans, his life is constrained by a rigid set of rules which control his every move. He is known as a "free man of color," but in 1833, that freedom is tenuous at best.

January has found a position playing piano at the Salle d'Orleans, where the Blue Ribbon Ball of this year's Carnival caps the season's revelry. The Blue Ribbon Ball, in New Orleans's strict caste system, is the quadroon ball, where the light-skinned, beautiful daughters of colored society dance with their white "protectors" -- while their protectors' wives and families are at the subscription ball in the Théâtre next door. From the safety of his piano bench, January is able to watch and comment upon the goings-on. But that detachment doesn't last.

The most beautiful -- and the most poisonous -- belle of the ball, the infamous Angelique Crozat, has infuriated everyone present, from the young suitor whose stutter she has publicly mocked, to the girls whose dresses she has purposefully made somewhat less than beautiful -- including the widow of her late protector, who has violated every caste rule in order to confront her.

When Angelique is discovered, in a parlor of the Salle, strangled to death, January becomes embroiled in a pursuit of the killer -- only to discover that the authorities are investigating him. Now he must run for his life, and find the culprit before he is caught and enslaved -- or hung.

About the Author

Barbara Hambly Barbara Hambly attended the University of California and spent a year at the University of Bordeaux, France, obtaining a masters degree in medieval history. She has worked as a teacher and a technical editor, in addition to being the prolific author of bestselling novels ranging from sword-and-sworcery fantasies to vampire thrillers. She has been nominated for multiple Nebula Awards and is the past president of the Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America.

Hambly, a black belt in Shotokan karate, lives in New Orleans and Los Angeles with two Pekingese, a cat, and another writer. FEVER SEASON, the second Benjamin January mystery, will be published in 1998.

In the meantime, she agreed to answer some of our questions: Whew. Says here that you live in Los Angeles and New Orleans. Having lived in both places myself, I can't imagine two more different cities. What draws you to each of them?

Barbara Hambly: New Orleans and Los Angeles. Very different towns. The true is, of course, that all the people I love live in Los Angeles with one exception -- the one I love most -- and though he now travels with me between both cities, New Orleans is his great and deep love. Oddly enough, even before I met him I was considering living part-time in New Orleans because one visit had convinced me that I loved the city: the history, the strange funky beauty, the feel of the air, the age of the French Quarter, the sense of time standing still. Since it's inextricably tied up with the series of books I'm writing I'll always be a part time resident now, though the configuration of the system may change. Los Angeles grows on one. It's got a lot of the "big city" trappings that New Orleans doesn't -- from a major league ball-team to wider variety of movies to a livelier local economy to Venice Beach. I love the weather there (I live within a few miles of the beach -- I might feel differently if I lived in the San Fernando Valley), but though everyone gripes about the heat and humidity of New Orleans, I don't find them objectionable.

Neither city is what it's caricatured to be, Los Angeles is as different from its egg-whites-and-cell-phones image as New Orleans is from the iron-lace-and-magnolias nonsense that gets printed about it. I like being a "local" in both places.

And, neither place has snow.

BN: You've written such a wide range of novels, from high fantasy to vampire tales, to literary suspense in A FREE MAN OF COLOR. Is one city more conducive to a certain type of novel than the other?

BH: Actually, I've written high fantasies in New Orleans and New Orleans murder mysteries in L.A. The way I work I'm always working on one thing or another wherever I am. (I wrote about half of CHILDREN OF THE JEDI in longhand while on airplanes). If everyone has one superpower, mine is -- thank God and knock on wood -- that so far I seem to have a cast-iron Muse; I seem to be able to work under just about any conditions.

BN: Here's a little loyalty test: which is the better way to eat fish -- as sushi or in a courtbouillon?

BH: Since I have a lot of dietary restrictions involving fat, shellfish, and dairy products, there isn't much choice: I can eat sushi.

BN: Part two: caffe latte or café au lait?

BH: I can't really eat courtbullion, and the only coffee I'm able to drink is black, and decaffeinated, and not very much of that.

BN: Okay, okay -- enough New Orleans versus L.A. stuff. I'll change the subject entirely: what books do you give as gifts?

BH: What books do I give as gifts? That entirely depends on who I'm giving them to. Joke books sometimes; mostly reference books, since most of my friends are writers or have eclectic interests or both. Film buff friends get things like Hallwell's and Katz's; my beloved often gets histories of and price-guides to collectible Barbie dolls. Odd compilations, like NEWS OF THE WEIRD or THE STRAIGHT DOPE, stuff you can read in tiny pieces in the bathroom. Some people have gotten ASIMOV'S GUIDE TO THE BIBLE. Others have gotten books about the Valley of the Kings, or new translations of the Pentateuch, or growing up in a Moroccan harem. It really does all depend.

BN: And what's your favorite day of the year?

BH: What's my favorite day of the year? My birthday. I have such treasure-box memories of various birthday celebrations, from eating oysters at a sidewalk cafe on my first night in Paris (my twentieth) to getting engaged (my forty-fifth). My friends are very precious to me and it's on my birthday that they seem especially close and dear.

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