March 10, 2008

The Maya Kaathryn Bohnhoff Interview, Part 3

In part three of our interview, Maya talks about her craft, something she's very passionate about. I love her advice on metaphors. If you haven't yet, please check out parts one and two!

JS: You’ve mentioned that you’re quite a “craft monkey.” When reading The Meri, I immediately noticed your exceptional choice and use of metaphor. Many writers (including myself) struggle with appropriate use of metaphor. How did you develop a talent for it?

MKB: I have no idea. The little suckers just roll off the tip of my pen. But it may have something to do with the fact that I also write poetry and lyrics, which are metaphor intensive. And my favorite writers are Ray Bradbury and WP Kinsella, who can sling metaphors like nobody's business. I do try to observe some guidelines (rules, whatever) for metaphors:

First, I choose a metaphor that has more than one element that works with my subject. Let's say I want to create a metaphor for an orator's speaking style. It's bombastic. He roars out his words and pounds the podium, growing red in the face. The obvious choice for voice is "roar." But now I get to the pounding the podium part and no leonine images come to mind. Okay, no roaring then. But what if I realize the guy is a windbag? What if I say "He was a storm in full gale—hurricane voice howling above the erratic thunder of his fist striking the podium again, again, again, his sharp, icy words falling like hailstones over the crowd." That's going overboard, but the point is a good metaphor is one that gives you all the parallels you need. What doesn't work is if you grab "roar" and, lacking animal metaphors that work, change partners in mid-dance. Or, to use a mixed metaphor, change partners in mid-stream. Then "He was a lion—voice roaring above the hammer of his fist striking the podium like an anvil, while he sprayed the crowd with word-bullets." Conjures images of a lion packing heat and wearing a combo-holster tool-belt.

Second, I try not to succumb to the temptation to go for something that's different but not apt in an attempt to avoid clichés. If a cliché is best, do something to make it fresh or just don't use a metaphor.

Third, I ration my metaphors and similes. Rather than use one in every descriptive sentence or paragraph, I try to use them when I especially want to create a strong image with emotional overtones—a moment for the characters and reader to inhabit. A lot of "young" writers just load them up—sentence after sentence. Metaphors are like perfume—a little can create a lovely ambience; a lot can overwhelm.

JS: What other elements of the writing craft do you enjoy? What do you struggle with?

MKB: I love writing dialogue. Writing good dialogue is like riding a roller coaster (which I also love). When I'm doing it I feel exhilarated, tuned in, in synch with the universe. That's true of writing in general, but dialogue is especially exciting to me because it's where the characters come to life, where they reveal themselves.

I'm told I write very good action sequences, but that didn't come naturally to me. That was a struggle to learn. I had to think about it. I also struggle with holding a whole novel in my head while I'm trying to work out plot developments. Mostly this is because with my freelance work and all, I'm trying to hold four or five plot lines in my head all at once. I've only got so much room for information in my user-friendly warmware (brain) so I keep lots of notes.

JS: What writers have influenced you? What writers do you respect and enjoy reading? What are you reading now?

MKB: I have probably been most influenced by Ray Bradbury (especially Something Wicked This Way Comes) and WP Kinsella (Shoeless Joe Jackson Comes to Iowa, which became the movie Field of Dreams) and Tim Powers (Declare and a raft of other amazing books). These are writers who do amazing things with words and who have, shall we say, unique ways of looking at things.

I enjoy reading Lois McMaster Bujold—especially her fantasy—Laurie R. King, Elizabeth Peters, and Mary Stewart. I'm a sucker for mysteries and detective novels and really wish that Mary Willis Walker would write something—anything. I also read a lot of non-fiction of all kinds. Mostly history and religion and the history of religions. Science is fun to read about, too.

Right now I'm reading Star Wars novels in preparation for maybe writing one. My last "joy read" was Son of a Witch by Gregory MaGuire. My non-fic reading currently is Jews, God and History by Max Dimont, Hidden Gospels: How the Search for Jesus Lost Its Way by Philip Jenkins and The Secret of Divine Civilization by Abdu'l-Bahá Abbas.

Tomorrow, the interview with Maya continues. I asked her a little bit more about Batman: Fear Itself and what writing a novel about such a famous detective was like. Drop back by tomorrow!


Anonymous said...

Great advice on metaphors. Initially they almost seem too abstract to give "rules" to, but those points make perfect sense. When heeded, they'll definitely keep you from sinking under the ever-widening maw of metaphoric subjectivity.

Anonymous said...

Hahahahaha, Nathan...