Maya Kaathryn Bohnhoff is a science fiction renaissance woman who performs music, writes everything from short stories to full length novels and still finds time to help promote science fiction authorship through sites like Book View Café.
Q) What got you started in liking the genre of science fiction?
A) When I was about six, my mom worked nights and Dad would let me watch stuff on TV that Mom never would have approved. He let me stay up and watch “The Day the Earth Stood Still” (the original with Michael Rennie and Patricia Neal) and “Outer Limits” which was an SF series like Twilight Zone. I was terrified and fascinated. Later, I got addicted to shows like “Lost in Space” and “Star Trek” and started creating little SF comic books with animal characters because they were easier to draw than people. That led to writing little SF stories based on my comics and that led to me reading Andre Norton, Ray Bradbury and other SF writers.
Q) I saw that you had been involved in the founding of Book view Café, can you explain what the site is and how it came about?
A) Book View Café started on the SF-FFW list serve which is a group of female SF writers who are members of SFWA (Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America). A group of us were puzzling over the trends in publishing—why we were more and more being asked to come up with our own marketing ideas, promotions, and do all sorts of things outside our areas of expertise (Dammit, Jim, I’m a writer, not a marketing maven!). A number of us were toying with the idea of putting samples of our fiction on our own websites, but wondered how effective that would be. I wistfully commented that individually our efforts were probably futile, but if we joined together, we probably had all the skills we needed to package and promote our work. So Sarah Zettel said, “I have an MBA. I can do business.” Sue Lange said. “I can do promotions.” Vonda McIntyre and I volunteered to do tech work and Sarah knew a web programmer who was willing to work with us. We started with a core of women writers including Ursula LeGuin, Pati Nagle, Jennifer Stevenson, Brenda Clough and Phyllis Irene Radford, and rolled out a website in November of 2008 that we wanted to be a way of establishing a relationship with our readers. We posted our fiction, short and long—mostly backlist and out of print work, but then it occurred to us that we could sell fiction too. That led to the creation of Book View Press and the release of a series of short fiction anthologies, and then out of print and original novel-length fiction that the reader can purchase in any number of formats. We also have a strong sense of community and have done fund drives for needy writers and other causes, done Twitter fiction contests to publicize the release of new eBooks.
A)The first month of our existence we were picked as website of the week by the Guardian newspaper (UK) and we were asked to discuss our model with the Library of Congress. We’ve got several thousand subscribers and have grown to about 35 professional members. We have a presence on Amazon.com and Smashwords as well as a partnership with Powell’s in Portland.
A)Our goal is to be constantly innovating and we listen to our readers with great attentiveness. One of our innovations is that if you buy a novel for Nook, say, and then buy a Kindle, you also have purchased the right to go out and download the mobipocket version of the book.
Q) Your star wars novel SHADOW GAMES with Michael Reaves was just released in paperback, what was it like writing something that had such a place in pop culture, were you two given strict guidelines in writing the characters?
A) The strictest guidelines in the GFFA (the Galaxy Far, Far Away) have to do with technology and the Jedi and Sith codes. The characters, especially characters with very little established back story, are a bit more negotiable as long as we don’t do things that violate or compromise canon. The timeline is probably the tightest area. SHADOW GAMES takes place in the months leading up to A New Hope (Episode 4) and so we did have to be careful not to put people places where they couldn’t be. Especially since we were working with Han Solo and Dash Rendar. The main female protagonist was Michael’s invention and I gave her a backstory, so we had free rein with her.
Writing a character like Han Solo is exhilarating and a little scary at the same time—sort of like riding a rollercoaster or tightrope walking. One of the most enjoyable aspects of the book was framing the relationship between Han and Dash. And one of the scariest was waiting for reader reaction to how well they thought we’d gotten Han’s “voice.” I worked with Michael on PATTERNS OF FORCE (Book Three of the Coruscant Nights series) and we took some heat from a few fans for our portrayal of Darth Vader as being a bit careless and capable of being swept up in hubris. Some fans wanted Vader to be the seemingly rock-like character from A NEW HOPE, but in the time period that the CORUSCANT NIGHTS books unfold, Anakin/Vader is about 26 or 27 years old and still relatively new to his Vader persona. He’s still young, wounded and scarred. I wanted some of that to come through in the portrayal.
Q) A lot of your fiction have religious overtones or subtext; was it a strong element when you were growing up?
A) It’s still a strong element. I was raised in a devoutly Christian home by parents who lived their faith, and became a Bahá’i when I was eighteen, which gave me a new perspective on my Christian faith and on religion as a force in human history. I’ve always been fascinated by the history of religion and the recurring themes—the sacrifices the Prophet makes, the abuse he accepts, the power of his words and life, the way a tiny core of believers becomes a cross-cultural force that unites people across racial or cultural boundaries. I mean, when you look at the Founders of the world’s revealed religions (Krishna, Moses, Buddha, Jesus, Muhammad, Bahá’u’lláh, for example), it’s amazing that anywhere from thousands to hundreds of years later, there are communities of people devoted to their teachings. Yet most people would be hard-pressed to remember the names of the men who wielded political or economic power at the time. The life-cycle of religion is both fascinating and sad and it was something that I dealt with in my first three novels (THE MERI, TAMINY, THE CRYSTAL ROSE) in which I wanted to take a fictional look at what happens when the prior expression of religion has run its course and become dogmatic and hidebound and a new Avatar appears that is, in some way, unexpected.
That’s one of the things I love about writing SF and fantasy—I can take long, sideways looks at real life situations and explore them in ways that bring new perspectives.
Q) I saw that you also write and perform your own songs, which material do you find easier to produce?
A) We actually do two different styles of music: original and parody (filk) music. My husband, Jeff, is the mastermind behind that endeavor. I come up with melodies and harmonies, perform and record, but he does most of the writing. I find it easier to write a good story than a good song and parody is easier for me to write than original music because I have someone else’s song as a starting point. Writing fiction has become my main avenue of expression as well as my “day job” but I do occasionally write lyrics.
By the way, Star Wars fans might want to check out our music videos on YouTube. Look for the MysticFig channel. We have several Star Wars related parodies out there including “Wastin’ Away on Tatooine” (a parody of Jimmy Buffett’s “Margaritaville”) and “Midichlorian Rhapsody” (a parody of Queen’s “Bohemian Rhapsody”).
Q) What projects are you currently working on?
A) I’m currently working on the fourth novel in the Star Wars: Coruscant Nights series. Also a supernatural detective series, a mainstream detective series and some short fiction ideas that I’m toying with. Well, that and editing a couple of novels for other folks.
Q) If people want more info about you or your writing where should they go?
A) There are two websites that I can direct people to: www.mayabohnhoff.com and www.bookviewcafe.com. I especially recommend Book View Café because I’ve got lots of short fiction (previously published in such magazines as Analog and Amazing Stories) that people can sample. I also have three eBooks released through Book View Café.
Final four (questions we ask all interviewees)
When the zombies take over the world where will you be?
In Middle Earth. I’m pretty sure there will be no zombies there,
Jedi, Ninja, vampire, were-wolf, pirate, fairy or Spartan?
Definitely a Jedi. Or maybe a Jedi vampire fairy.
What one piece of art, be it music, book, film or picture, do you think people must experience before they die?
Ouch. That’s tough since those are such different art forms. I think everyone should read Ray Bradbury’s “Something Wicked This Way Comes”. They will never look at life or the English language the same way again.
Give one fact that most people would not believe about you?
I am intensely shy and monkish. I can perform or even speak in front of an auditorium full of people, but get the shakes if I have to make a phone call or make small talk at a party.