Interviews With Barbara Hambly Back to the Interviews page

Starhawk of Wrynde speaks to J Rafferty Jones

by Barbara Hambly, taken from the Sou'Wester convention, 1994 program

"Barbara Hambly?" said Starhawk, former mercenary and current heroine of Hambly's Sun Wolf and Starhawk series. "Sure I know Barbara Hambly. And if you talk to her, let her know that I was not real pleased about getting a brain concussion in chapter two and going through nearly the entire latest book of the series with a headache."

"I'm sure there were plot reasons for that," I said diplomatically (the former mercenary lieutenant was armed). "Would you mind talking a little bit about how it is to work for her?"

"Not in the least," said Starhawk. We retreated to the coffee and candy machines in the corner of the Characters' Locker Room, and sat rather uncomfortably on the plastic chairs nearby. The coffee was terrible. "I suppose I brought it on myself," she added, rubbing the back of her head. "I could have gone into Romances. They're less rough than action- adventure, but Holy Mother, have you ever tried to have a conversation with some of the men you meet there? And if I'd gone into straight historicals I suppose I'd have gotten killed. Say what you will about dealing with magic, at least it'll take care of injuries in record time and with no requirement for physical therapy afterwards."

I was fascinated, and forgot all about the author whose name had acted as the password to get into the Locker Room in the first place. "You mean you have a choice?"

"Well, more or less," said the Hawk. "At least coming out on the first book you do. I went into fantasy action-adventure because there was a good chance for it to turn into a series -- another reason to avoid Romances, by the way, if you need any other reason besides those awful Obligatory Rape scenes. If your series is popular they don't dare kill you off. Their publishers won't let them. Not," she added bitterly, "that the pay's any better. Do you realise how small a percentage of the royalties on a book goes to the characters themselves?"

I shook my head. This was all new territory to me.

"It's pitiful. Even people like Sherlock Holmes and Conan don't get that much, though Holmes started investing in real estate right off the bat and after a hundred years the interest does build up. They're the lucky ones, because they're popular enough that when one author dies or quits, their series stays alive and sometimes they can renegotiate. And with a really strong series, secondaries like John Watson and Hikaru Sulu can sometimes get gigs on their own."

She sipped her coffee. "Of course, that's a tricky proposition in itself, because the succeeding authors usually aren't as good as the original. I mean, you should see some of the crap Batman's had to put up with over the years. It's a little frustrating working for Hambly because she's got about five series going, which means my partner and I go a couple years between books, but I suspect that's better than an author who turns 'em out year after year and gets bored. A lot of P.I.s have told me if they have to lose one more girlfriend to a serial killer, they'll send the author a letter-bomb."

"Can they do that?" I asked. Characters don't like to be reminded about virtual vs. actual reality, so I didn't quite know what her reaction would be.

"Sure they can." Starhawk grinned. "See that gal over there?" I looked. She was tall, graceful, Italian-looking with dark, curly hair and a strong face, in desultory conversation with a couple of Navajo tribal police. "After she got two boyfriends, a father, surrogate mother-figure, and a sister all killed off, she paid off the computer-gremlins to crash her author's hard disc. It didn't keep her author from doing terrible things to her, but at least it gave her a couple of weeks' break."

"Oh," I said. "Oh dear." I reconsidered my own adventure series about a stalwart Vietnam vet who opens a detective agency in Miami Beach when all his friends start getting killed.

"P.I.s have it rougher than we do anyway," she went on. "They _have_ to get beat up once per novel -- it's in the standard contract. Sometimes two or three times. And in a long-running series the author keeps trying to top himself and it can get pretty scary -- just ask Alex Delaware or Dave Robichaux. At least in fantasy you have magic to bail you out. Though they get to drive cars and ride airplanes, which makes up for a lot. Believe me, covering four or five hundred miles of territory on horseback while the author goes on about the scenery and the history of the world for the past two thousand years is something you only want to do once. I don't see how Jean Auel's characters stand it."

"I see," I said. There certainly were a lot of big, tough-looking guys over in the Detective Section with band-aids and casts. Holmes wasn't in the locker-room -- I'd been hoping to get a good look at him but, as Starhawk said, he works pretty regularly -- but he had a big locker with his name on it, and I noticed the coffee machine also served several varieties of tea.

"Do you pick which author you work for?" I asked.

"Not exactly," said Starhawk, after a few moments' thought. "I work for Hambly because we've got things in common, though not as many as some people think. For one thing, I happen to know she faints at the sight of blood, and talks baby-talk to her dogs. But she's had martial arts training, so she can, thank God, write a fight-scene without sounding ridiculous. And she's got a good grasp of background, so at least I get beat up in interesting places. That's a big complaint with the sword and sorcery crowd -- all those damn roadside taverns are the same. And she does remember to write in lunch-breaks, which not all authors do. And she has a sense of humour."

"Is that important?"

"You try slogging through a trilogy of hundred-and-twenty-thousand-word novels in which no one cracks a joke or exhibits the smallest trace of irony."

"I have," I said. I used to do reviews for Locus.

"It's worse from the inside."

I believed her. "So on the whole, Hambly's a pretty good author to work for?"

"Pretty much. She's only destroyed a couple of civilisations that I know about -- and one was in a Star Trek, so that doesn't really count -- and she keeps both the sex and the violence within do-able bounds. I mean, no intercourse on galloping horses or anything. Of course, being the main hero's girlfriend is always a risk. You're just setting yourself up to get killed, kidnapped, or turned into a giant white slug like that English fellow did... But weirdly enough, I trust her. Most of her characters do, which is unusual in this business. Things may get a little rough at times, but she does try to have happy endings. Believe me, a happy ending is all any character really wants."

Copyright (c) 1994, Barbara Hambly.

Back to the Interviews page