Bethany Maines is a successful writer, world traveler, mom, and martial arts expert. In short, she kicks ass, literally.
I felt like an idiot for asking Bethany Maines how she felt about being a “woman writer” in a male-dominated industry (or at least society), because for one thing, it was posed as a matter of sheer laziness. I often ask female writers this question because I can’t think of anything else to say. It’s unoriginal and overused.
And yet, the subject of sexism is still timely and relevant, especially given today’s increasingly contentious national debate about the role of women’s issues in a seemingly fatally fractured society
Bethany Maines is an avowed feminist, but that fact doesn’t consume or dominate her work as a writer. She writes for general audiences, and when I say general, I mean she targets a lot of demographics by nimbly crisscrossing across multiple genres, expanding both her wheelhouse and her appeal.
She also knows martial arts, and is an avid traveler. These elements factor more into her artistic makeup than her gender. Oops, did I say “makeup”? Sorry…
You are a true Renaissance Woman, prolific in several genres, including mysteries, romance, fantasy, and science fiction. Do you have a preference as reader and writer, or are you equally drawn to each field?
Heh. This makes it sound like I have a plan. I really don’t. I finished out a deal with Atria Press and came away feeling like I’d been robbed of the ability to write what I wanted to write. I didn’t want the joy I found in storytelling to dry up because of the publishing system, so I promised myself that at least for a while I would write the story I found interesting no matter what it was. I read a lot of sci-fi and fantasy as a kid, so that genre actually feels really natural to me. Same goes for mystery. Romance is an entirely different beast that I wanted to experiment in. I love the dedication and craft that Romance authors put into their books and for sheer compact, hit the beats, and keep running stories they can produce with the best. That being said, I probably won’t pursue Romance too much in the future for the same reason that I’m not cut out to do “women’s fiction” (whatever the hell that is)—I have a really hard time sticking to straight genre.
For example, the romance novel I worked on, Wild Waters, probably could only have been independently published—it’s a Vietnam/WW II, Navy SEAL/mermaid story with sex and a dash of horror thrown in. (Did I mention I was on a “write what I want” kick?) My most recent project is the Shark Santoyo Crime Series, which is a little more straight thriller, but it is still a bit on the off-beat side with a teenage fixer and a motley crew of gangsters who work out of a suburban bowling alley. So after all of my experimenting, it turns out that what I really write is action-adventure with a through-line of humor and feminism. All of the stories I write, regardless of genre, contain those elements.
For someone so prolific, you are an avid traveler. How do these real world exploits inform and inspire your work as a whole?
You mean, how much of my bullshit is real? Some. As my father says, my stories are based on events that could have actually happened. I’ve used entire actual events from my experiences for scenes (and stolen a few from other people) and let travel inspire plots that I would otherwise never have considered. From getting myself in and out of untenable situations (I will never forget those giant catfish) to simply experiencing a different culture, I cannot emphasize enough how inspiring, educational and mind-expanding travel is. My traveling has slowed down since having a kid (dang it, those suckers are expensive), but I would say that traveling has helped inform my world view and writing immensely. Also, if done correctly, it can be tax deductible for a writer.
Among your many attributes, you are a karate expert, which means you kick ass on and off the page. Given our patriarchal culture, do you identify, either intentionally or involuntarily, as a “woman writer” whether working or networking?
Well, let’s see… (checks down shirt) Yup, boobs, got ‘em. And typing, check. Got that in spades. So I must be a woman writer. This question makes me laugh. I don’t face a lot of overt sexism in my day to day life, so I don’t spend a lot of time pondering my woman-ness. I know many people who have found karate schools where the patriarchy exists in full force, but mine is really egalitarian. Train hard, work hard, show up to spar and you’ll succeed. My family is also pretty feminist and my day job is graphic design, so I never took all of the MFA classes and got forced to read Salinger and the other dead white men. It was really only once I got into publishing proper that I discovered the bizarre politics of writing while female and realized that being a woman could be a disadvantage. But my gender is female, so in many ways I can only identify as a woman. Identifying as a writer is the optional portion (and, believe me, sometimes I don't tell anyone in the room). I absolutely support and encourage other women writers, but just as I’m willing to help men in karate or in graphic design, I hope I encourage men in writing as well. So yes, I intentionally identify as a woman writer. But I think, more to the point, I identify as a feminist, which is a political stance on equality, not a product of biology.
What are your influences, literary or otherwise?
M.M. Kaye, Dick Francis, Terry Pratchett, Anne McCaffery and Jackie Chan. Not necessarily in that order. If you don’t know one of those, I recommend looking up the following: Death in Kenya, Straight, Guards! Guards!, Dragonsong, and First Strike (specifically the ladder fight scene). Although, honestly, just watch all Jackie Chan movies. They’re hilarious and his fight scene construction is perfection.
What’s next for you?
I’ve got another sci-fi fairy tale adaption, The Seventh Swan, that’s in the can and will be released next February (Moon bases and giant alligator men, yes!). And I’ve got my two series which both have to have the next one written – the Shark Santoyo Crime Series (An enforcer, an FBI agent, and a high-school girl? I’m sure this will end well.) and the San Juan Islands Murder Mysteries (An ex-actress and a 78 year old ex-CIA agent solve murders. It’s Matlock with waaaaay more sarcasm.). But the one that’s sitting on my desk now is a literary thriller, which is knocking me on my ass. It’s multi-points of view, including one of the villains, and figuring out when to reveal what and how… sheesh, I set myself up for a technical nightmare. But… challenges are good, right?
Right! I don’t argue with super-smart and multi-talented feminists, because for one thing, I’m married to one. I also don’t argue with martial artists…cheers!
Bethany Maines is the author of the Carrie Mae Mystery Series, Tales From the City of Destiny, San Juan Islands Mysteries, Shark Santoyo Crime Series, and numerous short stories. When she's not traveling to exotic lands, or kicking some serious butt with her fourth degree black belt in karate, she can be found chasing her daughter or glued to the computer working on her next novel.
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New Orleans, LA