Q&A: S.L. Huang | SF/Fantasy Preview 2019

Author, stuntwoman, mathematician, and firearms expert S.L. Huang applies her myriad expertise to sf/fantasy works such as the "Cas Russell" series, which features a mathematical-genius superhero. LJ caught up with the author to talk fighting, math, and writing. 

S.L. Huang is the author of the "Cas Russell" series (Zero Sum Game, Null Set, and the forthcoming Critical Point) featuring a mathematical-genius superhero. Huang herself has a degree in math from MIT. She is also a Hollywood stuntwoman and firearms expert, where she’s appeared on shows such as Battlestar Galactica. LJ caught up with her to find out how her myriad expertise informs her works.

How has your work as a stuntwoman influenced your writing?
When I was living in LA I was writing this series on set because there’s so much downtime. I actually finished Zero Sum Game in long hand on the back of my sides. But since my writing career has taken off, my time stopped: I was working in movies and writing on the side and now I am writing full time and getting back into movies on the side.

Stunts absolutely affect how I write fight scenes, but not how people think. Of course I know how the body moves and works mechanically, but… I don’t think people realize how much fight choreographers and stunt coordinators care about story. What really keeps audiences and readers engaged is not the action; it’s what’s so important to these characters that they are driven to fight.

Your bio says you are a weapons expert and armorer—what weapons?
I started out doing swords more than 15 years ago. If it has a blade, I have probably trained with it. That’s really fun, but [what it means to be called an armorer in Hollywood is] firearms. We bring on the firearms, train the actors, make sure everybody is safe and feels comfortable, and these scenes look cool. I am the first—and, as far as I know, only—female professional armorer in all of film and TV.

Why did you pick math as a superpower? What are the challenges of writing a genius in a way that is accessible and sympathetic to nongenius readers?
I’ve been a math nerd since before I can remember. I majored in it at MIT. It’s my candy. It’s fun, it’s satisfying and cool and elegant; it hits that center in my brain. When I was growing up I would get disgruntled because I know the math exactly for how I should hit this ball to hit a home run but I still can’t do it. I wished I could use my math instantaneously to do the things I want to do. I am hoping to share my joy in mathematics and bring people along for the ride. I love when non-math people like the books.

I think Cas might come out of the archetypes that I really like, the geniuses who are very flawed, like Sherlock Holmes, like House. I love the antihero jerk with a heart of gold. You get very few women in those roles when we accept this so easily in men. I don’t know if people think that it won’t be accepted or just don’t think of it. I was very consciously writing in conversation with that archetype. She’s very flawed.

Why did you originally choose to self-publish your works?
I write very diverse casts. I am a nonwhite queer woman; it’s very important to me that the covers not be whitewashed or oversexualized, and if there are ever going to be any sub rights I wanted to make sure that would never happen.

I didn’t realize [how supportive a traditional publisher could be on those issues]. I trust my editor, Diana Gill, so much; she would never ask me to change these things that are so important to me. I asked my agent Russ Galen all these questions before I signed and I immediately felt like he would have my back and go to the mat for me if it were necessary, but it hasn’t been. My agent picked Diana to pitch this book to. He knows the editors who will have my back on that, and that’s so important in an agent.

How has it been different being traditionally published?
The biggest difference for me is that I really like being part of a team. Self-publishing is very much an island; it can feel very isolating even though I have great a community cheering me on. I love being part of a team of people who are invested in these books as much as I am.

Given your Hollywood background, would you like to see your work adapted for the screen? Would you want to do the stunts? Who would you cast?
I would love to see any of my work adapted for film. Film rights to one piece have been optioned so far. I’m punting on the dream casting question because it has been discussed and I don’t want to privilege one of those names over the others, but I will say anyone that was mentioned, I was thrilled with.

Like everyone else who has lived in LA, I have written a couple of terrible screenplays. I would only want to adapt my books myself if I were working with a much better and more experienced screen writer to mentor me, because I don’t think I could do my own work justice. I would love to be in it like an Easter egg cameo, if I can get blown up somewhere and die and only the true fans know.

What’s next after Critical Point ? Is there more to the series? Something new?
We are expecting there to be more. There are also in-between books. What was book two and three are yet to be released because they aren’t part of the main storyline. There should be
at least one more book in the main arc.—Meredith Schwartz

For LJ's complete sf/fantasy preview, see "Everything Old Is New Again."

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Meredith Schwartz


Meredith Schwartz (mschwartz@mediasourceinc.com) is Editor-in-Chief of Library Journal.

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