Kelly: The Hunter Kiss series grabbed me from the first sentence of The Iron Hunt: “When I was eight, my mother lost me to zombies in a one-card draw.” I love that line, and I’ve been wondering ever since… how did that sentence first come to you?
Marjorie M. Liu: My mom was the inspiration, actually. She doesn’t play cards, she’s not into zombies, she would certainly never gamble away her child. — but when I was a kid, my mom and I would go for long drives and have ‘big adventures’ together, which I suppose influenced the opening prologue — this idea of a mom and daughter in the car, on the open road. And I was sitting there, thinking about that, thinking and thinking — about the book I wanted to write, which did have zombies in it — and what would be the worst, weirdest thing that could happen to a mother and her child. Losing a kid to zombies, in a game of cards, just came to me.
Kelly: One of the things I love about the Hunter Kiss series is the relationship between Maxine and Grant. I’ve seen a lot of urban fantasy novels where romantic tension is generated by the frequent addition of new partners. I can’t help but think that you’ve taken a more difficult route — but also a more emotionally moving one. What’s your secret to keeping the spark in a fictional relationship?
Marjorie: It’s not that I don’t like romantic triangles — when they’re done right, there’s nothing better. But it seems to me that not every woman, and not every man, is going to always be pulled emotionally in different directions. Sometimes you just meet someone, and it’s good, and right, and you don’t mess with it. That’s how I feel about Maxine and Grant. Of course she’s going to feel emotional ties to others — but emotional ties aren’t the same as romantic love. Maxine loves Grant. Grant loves Maxine. It wouldn’t make sense to write them any differently.
But you’re right — it is more difficult to maintain. Romantic tension is one of the things I love about writing romance novels, but in that genre, there’s a new couple in each book. Nothing really has to be maintained — just generated. In the Hunter Kiss series, which follows the same couple through multiple stories, you have to find ways to create that slow burn that just gets hotter and brighter as time goes on. I don’t have a secret for doing it — I just really get into the characters, and try to imagine what would make them afraid, what would turn them on, all the little gestures that carry that love and tension between them.
Marjorie: It’s not an exaggeration to say that everything changes in this book. For Maxine, for others. Readers will learn more about the prison veil, the demonic army, the Avatars… and Maxine herself. What is she, exactly? Who is she supposed to be? And can she handle what she discovers about herself? All those questions will be answered — mostly.
Kelly: I can’t wait! … Okay, let’s talk about your comics. How does writing novels differ from writing comics? How are they similar? How does your work in comics affect your novels, and vice versa?
Marjorie: I say this all the time, but it’s true: the difference isn’t all that huge, because it’s still storytelling. Writing novels is harder, because they’re longer, and you don’t have an artist to rely on when you need to convey emotion, a scene, the world itself. I have to spell that out. But writing novels is more satisfying, too — because you’re fully immersed. You’re there.
When writing comics, the emphasis weighs more heavily on dialogue (at least, for me it does). That’s where I try to start, and then I fill in the visuals, and break down the pages. Each comic is only 22 pages long, so it’s like writing a short story each time — every word and scene counts.
But what I love best, besides getting to write Wolverine and Daken, and the Black Widow — and hey, for a brief time, the Fantastic Four — is the art. Oh, man. It is a crazy beautiful thing working with such talented artists, who just take those words and then spill them out in such lovely ways. I never get tired of it.
Do the comics influence the novels, and vice versa? I’m not sure. I would say, in a way, that the novels influence the comics more so than the other way around, but it’s hard for me to say at this point. Ask me again in a couple years and I might be able to give you a better answer.
Marjorie: Too many to name. I’m a firm believer that everything I read influences me to some degree. But I remember the writers who made me look at words and stories differently: Isabel Allende, Jorge Luis Borges, Pablo Neruda, Charles de Lint, Frank Miller, Kelly Link, Sara Donati. I’ll remember others later, I’m certain, but those are the ones who come to mind, first.
I have to add, though, that I had a professor in undergrad — Peter Fritzell — who also changed the way I looked at writing. He taught a course in non-fiction essays, and I learned more under his tutelage than at any other time in my education.
Kelly: Okay, we talked about novels and comics, so on to games: In April, Passionfruit Games is releasing the game Tiger Eye: Curse of the Riddle Box, based on your romance novel Tiger Eye. I’ve been a fan of adventure/puzzle games for some time, and the ones I like best are the ones that combine the mystery with character development and emotion. Between that and the fact that I thought the novel was lots of fun, Tiger Eye sounds right up my alley! What can you tell our readers about the game?
Marjorie: First of all, thanks! The game follows the novel very closely — which means it’s about psychic Delilah Reese, who purchases an ancient riddle box in Beijing’s dirt market, and discovers that it contains a (gorgeous) shape-shifting warrior, Hari, who has been cursed to exist in the box, and serve as a slave to whomever opens it. Dela, of course, isn’t interested in making Hari serve her, and the two set out to break his curse — and stop the people who are hunting them for the box, to obtain its power.
The game designers (an award winning team) did have to tweak some sections here and there, in order to fit the game structure — but if you’ve read the novel, you’ll recognize the scenes — and if you haven’t read the book, you’ll still know exactly what’s going on, and hopefully, you’ll be drawn in by the romance. We really worked hard to keep Hari and Dela’s relationship a central part of the game — but having said that, this is for all ages. Mostly. I think there might be some naked ass.
The game itself is structured around puzzles, hidden objects, thought-games — literally, in some cases, as every time Dela uses her psychic gifts, the player plays a “psi” mini-game. The designers (to steal their words for a moment) mapped out scenes that took place in the book, and then translated those events into game form — so that when Dela buys the box from another character in the novel, there are puzzles that the player has to solve first before continuing onward.
It’s been wonderful fun. If folks want to learn more, they should head over to the Passion Fruit website.
Kelly: That sounds like tons of fun and I will definitely be checking out Tiger Eye! Okay, one last thing I’d like your opinion on: Where do you see the urban fantasy genre going in the next few years?
Marjorie: My only expectation is to be surprised. I’ve given up trying to predict anything — except that there will be great books published. I know this. And great books sometimes create their own trends.
Thanks to Marjorie M Liu for taking some time to chat with us! And speaking of zombies, comment below for a chance to win David Dunwoody’s Empire: A Zombie Novel. If you don’t want that book, you can pick something else from our stacks.