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"Once Chang Chou dreamt he was a butterfly, a butterfly flitting and fluttering around, happy with himself and doing as he pleased. He didn't know he was Chang Chou in the dream. Suddenly he woke up and there he was, solid and unmistakably, Chang Chou. But he didn't know if he was Chang Chou who had dreamt he was a butterfly, or a butterfly dreaming he was Chang Chou."    Chuang Chou Tze

 

"I've always felt that this meant that a man is what he thinks he is. If he thinks he is a man, dreaming he is a butterfly...then that's what he'll be. If he truly thinks of himself as a butterfly, dreaming he is a man...then that is what he will be. If you think you are a failure, then you will be, but if you think of yourself as successful...eventually, you will be."   LJMaas

  


 

(The following interview was conducted using a messenger program and has been edited for clarity)

 

Fanlaw (Maria Cohen): : Welcome LJ. Thank you for agreeing to this interview.

LJMaas: No problem.

 

Fanlaw (Maria Cohen): : Rumor has it that you are a writer, artist and a professor, sounds like quite the renaissance woman - how did you come to be all three?

LJMaas: Well, I guess because I like doing all of them. I've been drawing since I was a kid, copying the Sunday comics that came with the newspaper. Writing...well, I have a box of half finished novels that I wrote when I was in my teens...which was a while back. LOL Teaching is something I never saw myself doing. I was working on a second degree, this time in computer science & one of my teachers asked me if I was interested. It snowballed from there. I still teach part-time...I admit, for the money.

 

Fanlaw (Maria Cohen): : Your Xena: Warrior Princess fan-fiction has made you one of the few success stories in the fan-fiction community; you have published several books (none dealing directly with characters from Xena, rather Ubers).  What do you think of the publishing successes of the "Xenaverse" and how that relates to mainstream publishing?

LJMaas: Well, of course I think the successes are great!

 

Fanlaw (Maria Cohen): : You are one of the few true successes within the fan-fiction community, in that you have been able to make the leap from writing fan-fiction (based on someone else's characters) to writing your own material.  How do you think you made the transition so well, where others have not?

LJMaas: I think already being a writer helped. I've been doing this for a while, but the show's characters gave me something to sink my teeth into, so to speak. My stories are very character-driven, so three-dimensional characters (like ones based on Xena & Gabrielle's TV characters) are important to me.

 

Fanlaw (Maria Cohen): : Rob Tapert encouraged fans of Xena: Warrior Princess to become active, encouraging a mass of websites, which in turn aided in the creation of a loyal fan base that in some areas rival the mass of Star Trek fans out there. How do you think this affected fan-fiction? Do you think fans would have written thousands of stories had it not been for Rob's acceptance and almost encouragement of it?

LJMaas: I think Rob is a smart guy in that respect. He saw what Gene Roddenberry did with Star Trek...specifically, allowing the fans to use the characters in their own ways. I think Star Trek's fan fiction is a big reason why the conventions are packed with fans after...what...30 years?

 

LJMaas: I think Xena may go on in much the same way. It's a little too soon to tell, though. I think it's been great of him to allow us to use these characters. You have...I think it's Chris Carter, with X-Files & they frown upon it, which doesn't stop people, though. It's just that X-Files fan fiction can't be as open about their work as we have been. There's good and bad in the fact that some of us from the online Xenaverse have been publishing, too.

 

Fanlaw (Maria Cohen): : Could you elaborate on that?

LJMaas: I've seen a definite switch...not that folks aren't still writing, but it's almost as though a big chunk of writers online have gone to Ubers, or original fiction in the hopes of getting their break, perhaps like we did. I get folks now who send me stuff all the time thinking I can get it published for them. It's a shame because we wrote Xena fan fiction for the love of the show, characters, etc. Now, not everyone, but a decent number are just trying to get published. So, the online postings of stories seem different.

 

Fanlaw (Maria Cohen): : Do you see that as a good development? In that people are writing, or do you see it as the fears of TPTB coming true in that people are now creating work, arguably, based on copyrighted material?

LJMaas: First, I think if you are serious about writing, writing anything is good. The downside is that the Xenaverse suffers in a way from lack of those good X&G stories. I think there is a fine line when you speak of copyrighted material regarding original fiction, or Ubers, if you will.

 

LJMaas: Copyrights apply to the X&G characters, certainly, but not to the description of two women. Especially since lesbian fiction has used the tall dark woman vs. short blonde before we started calling it a Xena/Gabrielle archetype.

 

LJMaas: I think of Katherine Forrest's "Emergence of Green" as an example...and that book's been around for some time.

 

Fanlaw (Maria Cohen): : So, this is what you think of as the fine line between copyrighted material, such as Xena and Gabrielle, and Uber's...

Fanlaw (Maria Cohen): : Some of your stories contain love scenes that are quite descriptive. What do you think is a good means of protecting younger viewers from reading such material online? Do you think something akin to movie ratings in the U.S. or perhaps something else?

LJMaas: I have to say up front that I don't have children, so I may come off as one of those folks who have no sympathy for parents...not true. I don't envy parents the job of protecting their children from online trouble. On the other hand...

 

LJMaas: I think that adults ought to be allowed their space. I worry over "ratings" set on writing. It certainly doesn't seem to work for movies. LOL

 

Fanlaw (Maria Cohen): : LOL

LJMaas: I constantly see parents bringing their underage kids to see movies that I would never even let a kid see. If the parents don't care, are we supposed to care for them?

 

LJMaas: That's a generalization, I know.

 

Fanlaw (Maria Cohen): : Perhaps, but parents bring the kids to the movies. This is quite different from kids/adolescents finding mature material on the Internet without their parent's knowing.

Fanlaw (Maria Cohen): : <playing devils advocate>

LJMaas: True, but I don't think anyone has an answer as to how to protect kids from all the stuff they shouldn't see online. It's a hard one. Then again...kids will find a way to get what their not supposed to. I think of my own childhood for that! LOL

 

Fanlaw (Maria Cohen): : LOL

LJMaas: Then again, there's the whole idea of the sex in my books. I know I'm in the minority in having them in my novels and fan fiction, but I think it's important that I never use violence and sex in a negative way, the love scene always has to be integral to the plot, and my scenes are usually about love...not just sex.

 

Fanlaw (Maria Cohen): : Why do you have sex scenes in your books? Where other authors may not.

Fanlaw (Maria Cohen): : Is it because you think adults want to read good adult material? Etc?

LJMaas: It's there in reality...why skip over it? Actually, I bet half the fan mail I receive from any number of my stories was to tell me that the sex scenes were great, or well written, etc. So, even though good-girls may tell you they don't read it...they do, 'cause they're writing to me! LOL

 

Fanlaw (Maria Cohen): : LOL

LJMaas: I think you bring up a good point...it's well written. I try to work as hard, if not harder, at writing these love scenes so people won't think of it as the next trashy sex scene they saw on the internet. Actually, in my love scenes, you learn more about the characters than any amount of dialogue could tell you.

 

Fanlaw (Maria Cohen): : What do you think of the phenomenon of online communities and to some extent fandoms?

LJMaas: I can really only answer regarding the Xena community, or writing in general...

 

LJMaas: I think it has become a great asset as well as a dangerous place. It's like real life, but scarier sometimes because anyone can be anyone, if you know what I mean.

 

LJMaas: The good side is great...meeting new people, sharing interests and loves, but the downside...it can be devastating, sometimes worse than RL.

 

Fanlaw (Maria Cohen): : Do you think that communities online need to have a set of "laws" that are similar to those in the "real world?"

LJMaas: Absolutely. I'm one of those nuts that reads the sign that says to keep off the grass, and guess what? I do. LOL

 

LJMaas: I think our society has laws for good reasons. I may not always agree with them, but I try to follow them or do what I can to change them. I think online communities need to run the same way as RL or it becomes chaotic and people get hurt.

 

Fanlaw (Maria Cohen): : Aahh, that brings us to one of the main reasons why I asked you for this interview.

LJMaas: I knew there was an ulterior motive. LOL

 

Fanlaw (Maria Cohen): : An ulterior motive? Me? <Innocent look> LOL

LJMaas: LOL

 

Fanlaw (Maria Cohen): : You are one of the few people who are not just a writer, but you have also been a list owner and list moderator. As a list owner, you have been known to create a set of rules that some argue rival that of the US tax code, LOL.  Why so many rules?

LJMaas: Mostly for a lot of the reasons I've already stated.  First, I'm a rule kind of person...that's me.  I think society functions better with them, and I have always treated the online societies just like the real world ones.

 

LJMaas: Then, unfortunately, you have a big reason for rules...the people who are not nice in RL...well, they aren't any better online.

 

LJMaas: Sadly, when people are not able to see one another, to confront directly, we tend to say a lot more, in a worse sort of way, than we normally would. Basically, running a list can be a lot like dealing with a room full of kindergarten children. That's being awfully broad. There are great, normal people on mail lists & newsgroups, but it's almost like we have to play teacher, or cop for the others on the list...the ones who love trouble, or can't get along.

 

Fanlaw (Maria Cohen): : As an online persona, you have not been without your detractors. There was a time when libelous statements were made about you, how did overcome them?

LJMaas: I think I had to take a step back...maybe even take the high road about some things. I admit I went ballistic at first. If you're a decent person and you're misunderstood, then it can be frustrating and sad to not be liked. I would do any number of things differently now. In the beginning, I tried to confront folks, or fight them one on one...you know, to show people that what was being written was not true. Geez, I realized too late that doing that would make you crazy.

 

LJMaas: In the online world people can be whatever they want to be...the same with what they write. The last straw was when some people started sending me emails that someone had sent them, but it was supposed to have been an email I wrote. I looked at them & realized that no matter what I did or said, there would be people who would doctor emails, send them around, and say I wrote them. That's when I gave up. I had to deal with a couple of stalkers online at the same time. I realized that I had to pull back from the online world and become less of a presence. It's sad, but it's worked...for the most part. There will always be nuts out there that are jealous of what you have. I try to ignore them now.

 

Fanlaw (Maria Cohen): : Although you recovered well, what do you think of others pursuing more traditional legal remedies (lawsuits) when libeled online?

LJMaas: It's interesting, to say the least. I think until we come up with a set of laws specifically governing the Internet, then we'll use the laws we have to fight it. I think it's unfortunate that some people can't find a way to work together...and that some people have so much time on their hands that they could go around carrying these sorts of grudges.

 

LJMaas: Of course...there is always education, too. I think so many folks, myself included, misunderstand laws regarding libel and slander. Some folks get into it & don't realize that is what they're doing.

 

Fanlaw (Maria Cohen): : There are a lot of misconceptions about you. What do you think is the greatest?

LJMaas: greatest misconception? That I'm a bitch! LOL

 

Fanlaw (Maria Cohen): : LOL

LJMaas: LOL...I'm serious. I ran a list of creative people...700-800 of them. We are not the easiest people in the world to deal with. So, I was a different person than I am in reality. People meet me at Cons and book events & they get to see the real me. I haven't had anyone walk away from me, after meeting me in person, and say, "what a bitch!" LOL Well, not that I could hear, anyway.

 

Fanlaw (Maria Cohen): : Why do you think you have developed such a loyal fan base?

LJMaas: Hhmm...that's a tough one...

 

LJMaas: I think a number of things come into play...the Xenaverse has been very good to me...they're the first folks who read my stuff.  It's interesting to read fan mail from people who bought my book in the store and have no clue what Xena is/was. In general writing terms, I believe I create characters that people care about. They see themselves, or someone they know in them...even if it's just a tiny bit.  I think some of it is that people know they'll get a happy ending out of my stories...although Meridio's Daughter scares them a bit.  LOL, I was always looking for a romance novel where the gals walked off into the sunset. Too many books didn't end that way. I get enough real life in my day-to-day existence...I don't need it in my entertainment.

 

Fanlaw (Maria Cohen): : Why do you think more "traditional" publishing houses have ignored the types of stories posted online?

LJMaas: I wish I knew. There is some good stuff and some great writers out there. Small presses have picked up where the larger houses don't go and they seem to be doing well at it. Then again, there's a lot online (in any fan fiction genre) that isn't any good, too. This medium allows anyone with a computer to think they are a writer and the hard truth of it is that everyone can't be. I wish I could dance, but the truth is...it just ain't happening!

 

LJMaas: I think our sales records surely show that the larger publishers are missing something. Whether it's our writing or our stories in general, I don't know, but people buy our books. I was one of a number of female authors that recorded a television show...sort of a documentary almost, when I was recently in Atlanta for Dragon Con. We all talked about the fact that since about 1999/2000 (I know because Tumbleweed Fever was the first one on there) one of the online Xenaverse authors has been on the Lambda Book Report's top ten-seller list just about every issue since then. That means people buy our books. Those figures are based on sales. However, that same magazine has never reviewed any of our books. To my knowledge, no national magazine has reviewed any of my novels.

 

Fanlaw (Maria Cohen): : Do you think the fact that you write lesbian fiction may have something to do with that?

LJMaas: Not in this case. The magazines I'm talking about are all Gay & Lesbian. I'm sorry I didn't add that. Aside from the Lambda Book Report, I'm talking about Curve, Girlfriends, Advocate, etc.

 

Fanlaw (Maria Cohen): : So, what do you think may be the reason, if any?

LJMaas: I think small presses still have a bad reputation to these folks. They get my book in the mail, same as any author from a larger gay and lesbian press. Plus, they see POD (print-on-demand) in my press kit and that could have something to do with it. There's still a huge stigma attached to POD books. They are still thought of as something that vanity presses use. What they're not educated about is that smaller presses use the technology now in order to cut costs. Unfortunately, poor editing and book quality are what most large houses still associate with POD.

 

Fanlaw (Maria Cohen): : Of the books that you have written, do you have a favorite?

LJMaas: The next one is always my favorite. LOL

 

LJMaas: Just kidding.

 

Fanlaw (Maria Cohen): : LOL

LJMaas: I love None So Blind.  Mostly because it was the first novel I wrote where nothing happens. LOL It's a love story...no war, no killing, and no action sequences. I thought it would flop badly & it's turned into my bestseller. Prairie Fire, I'm the most proud of for the Native American aspect. I put a lot of my own beliefs in that one. I think that Rebecca's Cove (doesn't come out until March 2003) is close to my heart. I started it after 9/11 because I just didn't think I could write anything with angst or death in it. I needed to laugh & so I came up with a romantic comedy. Kind of like the old Rock Hudson / Doris Day pictures, but where both the leads are women. It's funny, it makes you laugh, and I think we can all see a little of ourselves in Baylor, one of the lead characters

 

Fanlaw (Maria Cohen): : Sounds great!

LJMaas: The folks on my discussion mail list get to read a first draft & I've received some very good feedback. If someone emails me and tells me it made them laugh...it's been worth it.

 

Fanlaw (Maria Cohen): : Could you tell us about some of the highlights of your career? (Projects, people you have met, etc, it need not be related to your online career)

LJMaas: I think as a Xena fan, it was going to Pasadena last year & seeing Lucy & Renee onstage together. That was such a great time. A lot was due to the fact that I went there with my "misfits" from Chicago. We're kind of the original ya-ya sisters. LOL My publishing career has been great and it's led to a lot of interesting things and people. I'm giving screenwriting a try now & have a project coming up where I've been asked to do some screenplay work, so that is very exciting.

 

LJMaas: Simply said, I think the highlights are definitely from being a part of people's lives because of the stories I write. I've had people write to me...one woman finally found the courage to have the back surgery she needed from reading my fan fiction about the Conqueror. She caught the underlying theme that we could change if we really wanted to...she decided not to be afraid & went for it. Another gal wrote to me about loving her friend for so many years in silence, just as Taylor & Torrey did in None So Blind. The book gave her the courage to say something...and thank goodness it worked out. I've also had a number of people in substance abuse recovery write to me regarding the same novel. They read it and something in the characters facing the same ordeals inspired them. Those are major high points for a writer.

 

Fanlaw (Maria Cohen): : When I posted that the next interview for Who's Who on Fanlaw was you, I received a lot of e-mail. Mostly fans with questions, some of these I couldn't resist asking.

LJMaas: Go for it!

 

Fanlaw (Maria Cohen): : The most requested question was -- What does LJ stand for?

LJMaas: What? LJ??? I think we have a bad connection???

 

Fanlaw (Maria Cohen): : LOL

Fanlaw (Maria Cohen): : I guess that is a No ladies and gentlemen. LOL

LJMaas: They are initials and it is my real name. I've used it for years and years. I could tell you, of course, but then I'd have to kill you. LOL

 

Fanlaw (Maria Cohen): :  Where do you get your ideas for your love scenes? Is there a lucky person whom you try them out on?

LJMaas: LOL

 

LJMaas: I do have a partner of 6 years. I think the love scenes boil down to 1/3 what we do, 1/3 what we'd like to do, and 1/3 my rich fantasy life. I think the readers will have to figure out which third is which.

 

Fanlaw (Maria Cohen): : I'm certain that they already enjoy thinking about it.

LJMaas: I am always surprised at what women will actually come out and say in an email. LOL I even had one woman propose marriage!

 

Fanlaw (Maria Cohen): : And your partner said?

Fanlaw (Maria Cohen): : LOL

LJMaas: She has become used to them! She knows I'm not going anywhere. LOL

 

Fanlaw (Maria Cohen): : Lucky woman!

LJMaas: That's what I tell her! LOL

 

Fanlaw (Maria Cohen): : I have spoken to several of your friends and they say you have a wicked sense of humor.

LJMaas: LOL...I like to think so...

 

Fanlaw (Maria Cohen): : Do you see a difference between the humor of your online persona and that which your friends in "real life" see? Or do you think you are the same all around?

LJMaas: I think there's a definite difference. It's too easy to misconstrue the typed word. Besides, I try to be more sedate...upstanding online.

 

LJMaas: I'm a one-liner person...my best friend and I can shoot them at each other & we know, even when typed, what the person is saying and how they're saying it. You can't do that with strangers, or people you've never met in real life.

 

Fanlaw (Maria Cohen): : What do your family and friends think of your online persona and/or activities?

LJMaas: My partner puts up with me. LOL She doesn't get the whole Xena thing, but she is special enough to know that if it's important to me, she is behind me.

 

LJMaas: My friends...well, I've converted all of them, too! LOL They love fan fiction now, but I'm still just LJ to them.

 

Fanlaw (Maria Cohen): : Which brings us to the Cubs, Bears and the White Sox...LOL

LJMaas: White who? Are they a team somewhere?

 

Fanlaw (Maria Cohen): : LOL

LJMaas: It's well documented that I am a hometown girl. I love the Bears and the Cubs and continue to watch them from Oklahoma. I got a satellite dish just to get the games! LOL I also enjoy throwing those references in my writings. I'm just an overall sport nut. Starting in September, my partner knows that Saturdays are college football, Sundays are NFL...and in April we do preseason baseball. LOL

 

Fanlaw (Maria Cohen): : LOL

Fanlaw (Maria Cohen): : You currently sell some of the artwork you have done (they are on mugs, t-shirts, etc). What most people don't know is that you also do stained glass work. Do you see yourself selling that as well? Or is that more for personal pleasure?

LJMaas: When I first moved to Oklahoma, I had a stained glass studio. I had a catalog online and had decent sales. I started writing, and computer graphics, and the glass had to take a back seat. It's time consuming and you really have to have a place to work. Now, it's just for personal gifts. I still teach a class in it every semester at the local junior college, though. I do love it, but it's one of the things I had to give up.

 

Fanlaw (Maria Cohen): : Do you regret giving it up?

LJMaas: Definitely. I regret having to put anything aside, but I had to take a more realistic look at my time. I love working with glass, but I don't think I was ever as good with that as I am with my writing and my computer art.

 

Fanlaw (Maria Cohen): : Lastly, what would people be surprised to learn about you?

LJMaas: That I do not look anything like Renee O'Connor!

 

Fanlaw (Maria Cohen): : LOL

Fanlaw (Maria Cohen): : I know what surprised me - a writer who doesn't type very fast! LOL

Fanlaw (Maria Cohen): : Where do you see yourself in 5 years?

LJMaas: New York Times Bestseller list. Sandra Scoppettone has been the only lesbian author, I believe, to ever get there. That's my goal.

 

LJMaas: Either that...or to be filthy rich! LOL

 

Fanlaw (Maria Cohen): : LOL

Fanlaw (Maria Cohen): : Do you have any parting thoughts you would like to leave Fanlaw readers with?

LJMaas: I think that a thank you is in order for the folks who have been around the online Xenaverse since the beginning...the ones who have read my stuff since then. The stories are online, and yet they support me by buying my books. I will always be grateful and in their debt.

 

Fanlaw (Maria Cohen): : Well, it has been a pleasure to chat with you LJ. One of the funniest interviews I have had the pleasure of having.

LJMaas: It's been great fun. Thanks!

 

 

 

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