March 11, 2008

The Maya Kaathryn Bohnhoff Interview, Part 4

Maya's had a lot of experience, even collaborating with Emmy-winning writer, Michael Reaves. But, how does that affect the writer's work? What changes? What's more difficult? And how is it to write about Batman? Find out in the continuation of Maya's interview. And, if you haven't yet, there's still parts one, two, and three!

JS: The Meri and Batman: Fear Itself are easily contrasted and very different. Which story did you find more challenging to tell?

MKB: The Meri was my first novel, so it was a big challenge. I'd written other novel-length works, but they weren't ready for prime time, so this was the first one I'd written after I'd had some success with short fiction and half knew what I was doing.

The challenge for me was that I hadn't read that much fantasy (just Tolkien, really) and I was only writing the story because I'd dreamed it. I intentionally didn't go out and read a bunch of fantasy because I really didn't want to even be tempted to model on someone else's work. As I said, I had to make up the world, so it was tremendously challenging. I had never built an alternate world civilization from the ground up and I wanted it to be complete and realistic. In books Two and Three in the series I used the bulk of that research in the real world; in The Meri the challenge was building the magical system and religion. I've studied religion and religious history avidly, but magic wasn't something I'd dealt with before.

In Batman: Fear Itself, the challenge was in telling the story we wanted to tell without violating the publisher's sensibilities about the character. There were a number of "thou shalt nots" that I had to keep in mind as I worked. And I had to research the Batman universe. I think the best training for meeting that challenge is being an avid reader. If you can immerse yourself in someone else's universe then turn around and write in it as if it were your own, media tie-ins and shared worlds can be lots of fun.

JS: How did you prepare to write Batman: Fear Itself? Was there a lot of pressure on you to write a compelling story featuring such a famous protagonist?

MKB: Fortunately with Batman, my collaborator, Michael (Reaves), had a good first draft of an outline and has written so much in the Batman Universe (he has an Emmy for the animated series) that he's an expert. He also had written a prologue and some material for a first chapter. So my job was to learn the "language" of Batman, familiarize myself with the characters and "the story so far", and to absorb Michael's writing style.

The last one was a piece of cake—I'd already done one collaboration with him—but I did notice that there was a different ambience to the writing and I knew I'd have to adjust my style to fit it. I read a wonderful book on the forensics techniques used in Batman stories, which was of immense help, and did some additional science research on things like mass spectrometers and ballistics and neurotoxins. The next step was to nail down the outline. We brainstormed it and I committed it to paper, and then parsed the outline to get an idea of how the chapters would lay out and where key plot developments would occur.

I felt less pressure than I would have if I hadn't tried this before, but I had the benefit of having written a Riddick novel that will never see the light of day since the Chronicles of Riddick tanked. I learned a lot about working with an iconic character and discovered sneaky ways to develop new facets to a character that seemed to be set in stone.

JS: Fans have become very familiar with Batman. They’ve seen him in movies, on TV, and in the original comic books. Does that change the way you approach the writing?

MKB: Of course. As I said, you have to respect that. BUT—here's the cool thing—most people are familiar with Batman from a visual media. This means they're looking at him from the outside. Also cartoons and comics and movies are "short hand." That means I can flesh out what's behind the fa├žade and in between the frames of cartoon or movie. I can write what the audience can't see—the thoughts inside Batman's head. So, I'll make sure he still looks the same on the outside, but inside his head I have some latitude. The fans seem to accept a certain amount of diversity of view and I think to some extent they realize that Batman and Bruce Wayne can't be on the inside what they present to the world. That would be boring. It's a challenge: How do you develop a character without seeming to change him?

There are just a couple more posts focused on Maya's interview. In the next few we'll see what inspires her, what she's working on, and where you can find her current works (and just in case you want to go buy them right now, they're on Amazon!). Don't forget to add the RSS feed for this blog!

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