Interview with Ais

Published 2015-09-30.
Where did you grow up, and how did this influence your writing?
I grew up in what, to me, was THE BIG CITY but in the grand scheme of things is probably considered a pretty small town by anyone else's context. I also had extended family who lived in a legit small town (like, I think around 400 residents when I was a kid and maybe it's up to 700-something now?) with a family farm that was on the rural roads near it. There are a lot of ways I think this affected me, but honestly the farm was probably the most influential. I had a bajillion and one family members there, and as a kid a lot of things felt quite idyllic that now, in retrospect, I understand were not. Still, I loved having a chance to view the world at a different pace, to feel connected to nature and animals and family in an entirely different way than I was used to in the more urban area I otherwise lived. I think that farm made me love nature and the art of general living; the way the same life can feel so different in different settings. And then the state I grew up in made me come to adore the sky, and the immensity it represented in all its beauty and, at times, danger.

These all probably sound like simple things, but these are the sort of things that made me love fantasy because it let me explore new worlds: new lives in different contexts, the beauty of an unfamiliar setting, and learning the meaning of a world that may feel different from our own but is still connected in the feeling of humanity.
What do your fans mean to you?
Ok so this also probably seems weird for me to be saying all this on smashwords where I don't have any books posted, but I do have the In the Company of Shadows series my friend Santino Hassell and I wrote and we've had a lot of interaction with people all over the internet because of that series. I don't think of it like fans, honestly. I just think of it like super awesome people who are friendly and nice and amazing, who took the time to read something I wrote, and who are so freaking nice that they took even more time to reach out and say something to me.

I've met some people who are now great friends because of ICoS. I've met so many people all around the world, had a glimpse into so many lives, learned new languages, learned pieces of other cultures or other countries or other histories, all because of ICoS. I've had the amazing opportunity to see the same world through so many eyes by people giving ideas for our ICoS playlist, and telling me how this or that song had this or that meaning, and when I listen to the song it's like, for that moment, I can experience that story with them. I can feel the emotional meaning to this character or that plot point, based on what song they chose to represent it. I've even had something I never believed was possible: people who have tattoos from our book series, and people who made original music based on the story or characters.

I've heard so many amazing stories from so many people from so many places and it's all so incredible to me that honestly I don't really understand it. I kind of just think of it like I have all these friends all over the world who happen to meet me because they happened to see something I wrote with a friend. When someone writes a long email to me saying how the story meant something to them, or they tweet some quick comment about a character, or they draw amazing artwork and tag our series on tumblr, or anything else-- they become a friend in my mind.

So, I can't really ever use the term 'fans' in my mind without it making no sense to me. It's more like everyone's my friend, and the variation comes in for how well I know them based on how much I have or haven't talked to them. So, my friends mean a lot to me because they are amazing, wonderful, lovely, awesome people who gave up a small space of their life for something a friend and I created, and that is astounding to me, and I could not possibly wish all of them any more of the best than I already do. I'm so thankful to every person who's ever taken the time to read anything I wrote, even if they hated it, because that was a conscious decision on their part to pick up that story and start reading it. And that was time out of their life they didn't have to spend on that, which makes it very meaningful and amazing to me.

It's because everyone is so kind that I want to keep writing and I want to publish stories, because I want to be able to give more back. I want to be able to answer curious questions people have, or draw stupid little comics for jokes people make, or be able to give away a bonus piece of a story, or any other fun extra piece I could do. I really want to be able to give something fun and meaningful to people for all the meaning they've brought to me with every interaction I've had, no matter how big or small it may be.
When did you first start writing?
I honestly don't remember a time in my life when I didn't write. I have a story from second grade that I wrote for our little class "newspaper," in which I wrote some sort of story about a kitten and a locket. That's the earliest piece of writing I have that I know for sure I wrote, but I think I probably was writing even before then. I've always loved stories, and I've always loved reading. And my whole life I knew that the one thing I wanted to be more than anything else was a writer.
What's the story behind your latest book?
The one I'm working on the most right now is called Incarnations, and you can find a bit about it here: This actually has a kind of interesting story, which I will go in more detail on in the future when it's finished and released.

But the short version is this: when I was 12-14 (I don't remember exactly how old I was but I think maybe 13), I had an idea for a fantasy book. So I sat down on our little crappy old computer that had super limited program options, probably 4GB of space for EVERYTHING which at that time was massive, and even had the old school printer with the paper that was connected to each other and had the little holes on the side you had to bend and pull off. I sat at that computer and wrote 150 pages in a book. It was probably about 75% of the story I wanted to tell, but I got that far and thought to myself, "This book sucks."

So I stopped, started over, didn't love what I was doing, stopped, started over, and so on in cycles for a bit until I set it aside and didn't think about it for, literally, years. Over the course of the next almost-two-decades, I would sometimes pull out the story and work more on the world and magic system and more, or create characters and new ideas and new settings, and then set it aside for another several years. Finally, I am making a concerted effort to finish it.

What's interesting is that the story that's being told now is much more complex than what I envisioned as a 13 year old, but the magic system is still very much the same. Just expanded. I think the most interesting part of it is that the character who was the sort of archetypal hero in the 13-year-old-me-version is still in this over-30-year-old-me-version, and her story has largely remained the same; but she is no longer the main character. She's now a side character who is technically a bad guy. Her story hasn't changed; just the context from which it's viewed. I think that's something that will be interesting and fun for me to write, and might be interesting for people to read when it's done.
What motivated you to become an indie author?
I wrote a post for Queer Romance Month that will be coming out late October 2015 that goes into this more (if you're reading this after October 2015, check for The Equality of Differences) but tl;dr answer is I've always been different, and it's been a source of.. hmm. Well, it's just one of those things I've had to deal with a lot.

I used to love escaping into fictional worlds because they were so fascinating and majestic and I loved seeing all these lives of all these characters. But the thing was, I had a hard time finding stories that felt like they represented me. I read voraciously (like seriously, I mean I'm not even joking when I say that as a kid the WORST PUNISHMENT my parents had for me was that I wasn't allowed to go to the library, and that I used to get in trouble from my dad in the summer when he found me staying up too late reading) -- but despite it being super common for me to check out 14 books at a time at the library and have finished them all in 2-3 weeks, I just couldn't find the stories I wanted to read. I found stories I liked reading, but I couldn't ever find the PERFECT story. The story that made me feel like I was in it, too. Like someone like me was on the page.

So I thought to myself, "Well, I guess if I can't find the stories then I'll write them myself." And that's sort of what put me on more of a concerted effort to be a writer: I wanted to be able to offer to readers like me the sort of stories I wished I'd been able to find as a reader, myself.
What is the greatest joy of writing for you?
Finding out the stories of the characters, and how they fit into their world. Whenever I make a new character I feel like they're a real person, and they can surprise me as I'm telling their story because sometimes they do or say something I wasn't planning to happen. But I always think of it like, if it feels right for that character then it's right for them as a person and I have to stay out of it as a writer. I don't want to stifle anyone's story the way I felt like my story was stifled as a kid looking for representation. That probably sounds really stupid but, hey. Characters are like actual people to me-- they may be fictional but they should still be treated like people who are complex. Because when it gets down to it, books can genuinely be meaningful to people in reality; characters can genuinely make a difference for someone's life. I say that because I feel like there are characters who have genuinely had some sort of meaning to me as a person at various points in my life. There are stories that really make me push myself beyond my complacency because I feel inspired by that world or that character or that thought.

That's how it feels to me as a reader, and that's how I feel as a writer, and that's why I love continually being surprised by the stories I feel like the characters are trying to tell, just using me as a medium.
When you're not writing, how do you spend your time?
On youtube. Seriously. It's ridiculous. I now know youtubers by name and community and have favorite people and have bought merchandise from my favorite people and yes. It's possibly a little out of control but mostly not.

Incidentally, if you are also a youtube viewer and want to know my favorites, you will probably not be surprised to know I particularly love these people (in no particular order):

Dan, Phil, and Dan & Phil (danisnotonfire, amazingphil, danandphilgames, and danandphil anything ever)
Jenna Marbles and Julien Solomita
Bunny (Grav3yardgirl)
Lex (MadeULook and MadeYewLook)
Hank and John Green (vlogbrothers or anything DFTBA/Nerdfighteria, including Crash Course, Sci Show, and more)
Hannah Hart
Ingrid Nilsen is a new favorite of mine (also, GO HANGRID cutest couple ever!)
Corrine Leigh, Rob Czar, and Threadbangers
Donal Skehan
Vet Ranch
How To Cook That with Ann Reardon
Dulce Delight with Raiza Costa
Rhett and Link (and Good Mythical Morning)
My Cupcake Addiction with Elise Strachan
Kandee Johnson
Julia Wycliff (SimpleDIYs)
Rosanna Pansino (Nerdy Nummies)

And you know what... I'm not even done but I'm ending it there because I will very quickly seem completely out of control, if I don't already.

If I had to choose only three people from this list of my top favorites, it would be Phil Lester/amazingphil, Dan Howell/danisnotonfire, and Bunny/grav3yardgirl. So if you haven't ever gotten into youtube and you're wondering what I'm on about, check out those three. You will probably understand why I heart these people once you start to see how awesome, funny, entertaining, and caring they are.
Describe your desk
A MESS. My general way of living is chaos mixed with organization. My desk is basically my space where I watch youtube and Netflix on my computer screen, and when I can focus I write. It's a black desk that always accumulates random things in the course of me just living my life. Case in point, among other things right now on my desk there's: a tv that stopped working ages ago that I now use to tape up maps/reminders for current stories, 3 kinds of chapstick, 2 eye drop bottles, facial moisturizers, an ICoS mug with (appropriately) jasmine tea in it, a bunch of colorful pens of various sizes I am using with a cool vintage-ish notebook I got at an antique store which I am currently using to plan the SUPER NERDY One Piece manifesto I want to add to my site, a watch, random drawings and notes, a little teapot-shaped ceramic dish I use to hold used tea bags, a little ceramic dish with hair clips and a necklace on it, and my dog's dental treats and little dental wipes. It may sound like this thing must be an utter mess but it isn't; or at least, I don't feel like it is because I can find everything I need lol
Who are your favorite authors?
Ok, my favorite creator ever forever in any medium is Eiichiro Oda, who is the creator/artist behind One Piece, a Japanese manga series. One Piece is my favorite series ever in any medium, and Eiichiro Oda is the best storyteller I've seen anywhere in any context. This is why I want to write a One Piece manifesto on my site, going more in depth on why I love the everloving hell out of the series, analyzing parts of it, breaking it down by sections of the story so people can really control the spoiler level, and all around enthusing about why I love this series SO MUCH and why it's so meaningful to me and why I think everyone else should love it too.

But I know a lot of people don't consider manga or mangaka to be part of the "favorite authors" scene, so:

In more "normal" terms I have a number of favorite authors... Generally, I love most things Neil Gaiman does. I also love almost every book Simon Singh has written, and I've been a big fan of the books I've read so far by Erik Larson (although I've only read 2.25 so far). I remember loving Emma Bull's book Finder but honestly I haven't read it in forever so I might need to double check that. I like Terry Pratchett's Sam Vimes books, and I know I loved pretty much everything I read of Tad Williams in the past (been a while since I read them so I can't say anything now, but I CAN vouch that he's a SUPER NICE GUY because when I was a teenager I wrote him a message and he actually wrote me a really long, super nice, super encouraging email back).

In m/m, I of course love my friend Santino Hassell's writing. I also love Nora Sakavic's All for the Game series (first book: Foxhole Court), and W.A. Hoffman's series Raised by Wolves (first book: Brethren).
What inspires you to get out of bed each day?
My dog lol. She's so freaking cute. Although actually, she's lazy and not a morning person (which is appropriate since I am not at all either), so she sort of makes me want to not get out of bed too haha Every morning we're both like UGGGGH WHY I GOTTA GET UP NOW. But I have to because that's the way things are. And, like I said. She's adorable.
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