Today, on Skiffy and Fanty, we have an interview with author S.L. Huang.
SL Huang is an Amazon-bestselling author whose debut novel, Zero Sum Game, is recently out from Tor. Her short fiction has sold to Strange Horizons, Analog, and The Best American Science Fiction & Fantasy 2016. She is also an MIT graduate, stuntwoman, and firearms expert. She consented to an interview to talk about Zero Sum Game.
1. I’m very excited to see Zero Sum Game come out from Tor. What was the process like in changing and editing it from its original publication to its new release?
It’s been pretty intense. I owe a huge amount of thanks to my agent, Russell Galen, and my editor, Diana Gill, for taking this book to such new heights.
In particular, what I love about working with Diana is that she very much wants to help me make the books more of what I want them to be. She’s not telling me to rewrite them in a way that changes them so much as she wants me to make the books even more what they already are. I’m very excited about what we’re doing with the novels, and I think readers are going to find them stronger than ever!
Going from self-publishing to working with a publisher has of course been a huge adjustment as well, but for me, it’s been a good adjustment. I’ve found it surprisingly creatively stimulating to be part of a team and to be working to deadlines, and the support, promotion, and opportunities both Tor and my agency are able to offer me are unfolding my career in ways that are exciting and, frankly, totally unexpected. When I was going it alone, publishing my books was the endgame—with a big publisher, it feels like just the beginning. I don’t think I would have realized that difference until I experienced it!
So I have no regrets. Meanwhile, the self-publishing world is unfortunately trending in directions opposite to everything I liked about it—it’s becoming more and more of a monopoly dictated by Amazon and ad buys, with a big concentration on constant output. I think I’m finding more freedom working with a publisher now than I would be if I were still in self-publishing at the moment. That all makes me sad—I’ve always been very enthusiastic about having self-publishing as an option, and the fact that it’s starting to feel more creatively and financially restricted than having a publisher is quite depressing to me. I hope it swings back the other way.
2. Your own background in Math is breathtaking and amazing. How did you jump from that to that as a superpower for your hero?
To be honest, I’ve had this idea in some form since somewhere around middle school. I’ve always been a math dork, and I’ve always thought it rather unfair that knowing how to do the word problems didn’t automatically make me able to do any athletic move under the sun! When I was younger, I would do things like stand at bat on the softball field and lament why the heck I could calculate the precise angle and momentum transfer needed for a home run but I couldn’t actually do it. So Cas’s abilities are definitely some level of wish fulfillment for me.
All her violent tendencies are definitely not my own wish fulfillment, though! I promise.
3. Who and what were your inspirations for Cas’ personality and character growth?
I’ve always loved the prickly, brilliant, and arrogant (but extremely flawed) antihero archetype. It’s like my catnip.
So there are definitely many elements of that character type in Cas. But as you might notice, nearly 100% of those characters in existing media are dudes—so I was very excited about writing a woman who fulfills some of those oft-masculine traits.
I also work to subvert and interrogate some of the more problematic elements of such a character. Thus, Cas is both inspired by this type of classic, flawed protagonist and my own twist on it.
4. Cas’ physical conflict scenes and the action beats of the novel are excellent and pulse pounding. What kinds of action do you enjoy yourself in print and other media?
Why, thank you.
I think for me as a reader or viewer, the most important part of any action scene is the emotional stakes. Let’s face it, a fight scene that’s a list of blow-by-blow choreography is usually boring. Instead, what makes action riveting to me is what’s going on between the characters. What kind of relationship do the opponents have with each other? What goals are they fighting for? What internal battles are they struggling with at the same time they’re busting it up externally? Those are the questions that make a fight scene interesting to me.
And that’s definitely something I’ve tried to implement in the Cas books, that the action scenes aren’t just lists of moves, but are engrossing scenes in their own right with high emotional stakes.
5. Outside of the novel and in general, what is your favorite “Wait, really?! cool math bit” that you can simply explain to laypeople?
Infinities! Did you know there are different “sizes” of infinity, and that some infinities are “bigger” than others? I can explain the difference between a countable infinity and an uncountable one on a napkin, and it’s my favorite cocktail party proof. It’s relatively easy for me to show a set like the natural numbers (1, 2, 3…) can be written down in a list—a “countable infinity”—but a set like the real numbers (.3, 0, -5, π, ½..) cannot ever be put in any sort of ordered list, thus making them an “uncountable infinity.”
Catch me at a con sometime and I’ll show you!
6. What’s coming next for you?
The next Cas Russell book, Null Set, is coming out in the summer of next year!
Between now and then, I’m also part of a collaboration for Serial Box with Yoon Ha Lee, Becky Chambers, and Rivers Solomon. We’ve written a space opera called The Vela about a dying solar system, starring a very diverse cast, and it’s available for preorder now!
7. Where can readers find out more about you and your work? Where can readers meet you?
I try to keep my website updated at www.slhuang.com, and I’m pretty active on Twitter as @sl_huang. I’ve also started doing quite a lot of cons—I’ve been at ten different cons and events this year and hopefully a lot more in the future! My next scheduled appearance is at Boskone in Boston in February, and I keep an updated list of my in-person appearances here: https://www.slhuang.com/2019-appearances/
Hope to see some of you there!
Thank you so much!