There’s little to say by way of introduction except that (1.) Barbara Hambly writes the way I’ve always wanted to write, (2.) she personally maintains an endlessly amusing Facebook fan page, and (3.) she is surprisingly gracious about interview requests from strangers with dubious journalistic credentials. (You should subscribe to that Facebook page, by the way, even if you’re not a devoted reader, just for the spectacle of her cosplay photos.)
So without further adieu, here is Barbara Hambly on overwriting, infodumps, and crossovers.
SRM: It seems to me that fantasy is more open to female authors and stories about female protagonists than other types of genre fiction. At least, I can name more fantasy by and for women than I can, for instance, hard sci-fi. Do you, as an industry insider, concur with that assessment, and if so, why do you think that’s the case?
BH: First, I’d hardly call myself an “industry insider.” Fantasy as a genre has been caught up in the general implosion of the publishing business over the past ten years, and the rules have completely changed. One thing that has affected the demographic greatly is the fact that most genre writing has become—to one extent or another—amateurized. Because advances are so low, I think that only the very topmost crust of writers can be completely self-supporting: most of those I know have spouses, day-jobs, or both. There is also the issue of digital self-publication, which complicates the definition of “writer.”
So, do more women than men write fantasy, and if so, why? I’d guess that people write what they like to read. A lot of women read (and write) fantasy because it’s more adaptable to character-based, emotionally complicated stories. In hard s-f—of which I read very little—I suspect that the mechanics of the science tend to dominate the plot. My impression also is that as Real Life science expands and becomes more complicated, those who choose to write hard s-f find themselves juggling a LOT of data.
But all this is only a guess.
SRM: Speaking of juggling a lot of data…you’re known for dense description, which was a real affirmation to me as a young writer. I was prone to overwriting but didn’t want to forsake sensory richness for tighter plotting. Your books were proof that one could negotiate a compromise. How do you balance those two propensities, and more generally, what do you think is the basis for the suspense in your books? That is, what makes them such fast reads despite the density of your prose?