Today I’m interviewing author Ash Gray as part of the blog tour for her new book The Thieves of Nottica
Are you a full-time author or do you have another job as well and if so how do either or these fit in with writing time?
I am a full-time author and always have been, I feel. Even when I actually had a job, even when I was busy with college, I was always writing. Writing always came first.
I majored in various things in college. I think I changed my major three times before I settled on English Lit, and then I realized I would rather be writing than actually studying about other people’s writing.
People think you need a degree to learn to write. You don’t, and that’s not why I studied English Lit. I studied English Lit because I love stories more than anything in the world and I thought it would be fun (boy, I was wrong).
All you need to do to learn how to write is to study the masters of writing. Read. Read lots and lots and lots of books. I’ve read hundreds of books – not to learn to write but simply because, like any bookworm, I just love books. By reading so many books, I was learning to write and didn’t even realize it. That’s all you need.
College courses can help. I’m not pretending like they can’t. In fact, I learned a great deal about writing and the publishing world through some courses I took, but at the same time . . . I could have learned that from a blog post on the internet.
Do you write on your novel daily or do you try to have days off?
I’m a bit of a workaholic. I write all day, everyday, every minute I can get, sometimes to the point that I just don’t eat or sleep. It’s actually an awful, awful habit of mine because it screws me over in really bad ways. I often try to do things when I’m tired and wind up paying for it dearly.
Like a couple months ago, I was trying to find people who might be interested in reading The Seaglass Stair. That book now has a bad reputation because I did most of its marketing late at night when I was really tired. First, the formatting was bad and it had typos because it was a book that had to be reformatted from a print version and I did this while I was half-dead to the world. Then I accidentally sent out the wrong copy of the book, so people who read it probably spread the word that it was crap, and no one will touch it anymore, even with those two semi-positive reviews there. It’s been revised and polished for months, but no one will look at it.
And what was my take from this? Stop working so hard when I’m tired.
When I saw this question, I laughed to myself. A day off? Why? I have way too much to do. I can’t rest until I’m dead. And I feel this way because I actually nearly died three years ago. Now I have this urgency about me. I understand how precious time is. I don’t want to waste it.
Do you go back to published books and want to change them in any way?
Well, since I’m self-published, I can change my book any time I want. That’s the beauty of being self-published: full creative control. I never go back and change anything huge like names or anything. I feel like once a book is published, the lore is set in stone, and it would be crappy to change huge things and confuse the audience.
But I do go back sometimes and remove things that I feel are unnecessary. Like in The Thieves of Nottica, Rigg has this whole inner monologue about demon sexuality within their culture, and when I read that I thought, “This has no reason to be here because this was already kinda explained” and I just cut the whole thing out. And I’m sure readers would agree that the paragraph just didn’t need to be there.
What do you think is the most effective marketing is for your books?
The greatest thing you can do as a writer is know your audience and find them. People who love your books will talk about them, advertising for you through word of mouth, and the rest takes care of itself. Okay, not really, but having a readership is very, very important.
The entire point of writing books is having someone read them and enjoy your world with you. I’m still struggling to find my readership. I’m starting to wonder if all the agents were right and if I really don’t have an audience for my books, haha.
If you have a ‘baddy’ in your book, can you tell us a little about this character?
Alright, I’ve got eight books out right now. Which villain to discuss?
Because Qorth was a very short story told from first person perspective, the baddy makes a very brief cameo. I always regretted that – especially after all the build up I did in regards to her badness – but that’s the price you pay when you write in first person.
There are two antagonists in The Thieves of Nottica. Both are racist misogynists, and I guess it would make sense that I would write about these sorts of people as villains because I have to deal with being dehumanized by these sorts of people everyday.
Pirayo is a racist and a misogynist and something of an extreme radical in that regard (even some the heroes are racists – Morganith is against robots, for instance. But she learns better, which is what makes her a hero. Pirayo never learns). He believes women and demons (the indigenous aliens of Nottica) are inferior. He runs an underground rebellion against the Hand, the oppressive human government, and is basically jealous of the Keymasters (the main characters) who are a very successful rebel group who manage to spite the Hand and defy them usually without hurting people.
Pirayo thinks he needs to take the Keymasters down a peg and put them in their place, so he basically sets out to destroy them in every way he can. They get caught during one job to steal from Governor Evrard (the other antagonist) because Pirayo set them up to get caught. The Keymasters have never been caught before, so the story is basically how they dealt with it and how they got out alive. And of course they dealt with it through the power of friendship and loooooove.
Pirayo exists as an antithesis (aka a foil) to the Keymasters. He and his rebels (demons and humans alike) are everything the Keymasters aren’t. While he does produce results, he often goes about defying the Hand in such a destructive way that it usually results in pointless, bloody death. Pirayo doesn’t care who he hurts because he’s not fighting the Hand to liberate the oppressed demons/aliens and robots. He’s fighting the Hand simply because the government has finally extended their wrath to humans. He doesn’t care about the demons who follow him. They are just tools. And women are property.
Governor Evrard is pretty much the same, just on the opposite end of the economic scale. While Pirayo is a poorer human who wishes to elevate himself above impoverished demons, Evrard is already rich and views anyone who isn’t as beneath him. Like Pirayo, he is a misogynist and a racist and sees the Keymasters (alien women) as mere tools in his war against Pirayo and his rebels.
Both villains attempt to manipulate and use the Keymasters, who in the end wind up screwing them both out of what they wanted the most. For Evrard, that was Lisa the robot. For Pirayo, it was his grand scheme to make all humans equal through blood and fire and force (again, he cares nothing about robots and demons).
Is there any romance in your story and if so can you tell us a little about this?
I think just about all my stories have some element of romance, even if it’s going on in the background. And I hesitate to talk about it, because I have to ask myself if I’m just opening myself up to prejudice. I guess I already did that when I published these books, but these are the sorts of things you have to think about as a marginalized person. And you have to think of it constantly.
In my series, The Prince of Qorlec, gender and sexuality is explored a lot because this is a story about aliens who have a different biology than humans and a different attitude in regards to gender, and I find those sorts of things fascinating. Thus, it’s called The Prince of Qorlec because Quinn, the lost princess of Qorlec, has to pretend to be a boy for most of the series and has to figure out what it means to be a boy to various cultures as she does so. It’s . . . very challenging. I tend to have lovely ideas that I’m not talented enough to execute, but I t still try.
In the first book, Project Mothership, Zita has to explain entirian sexuality to Rose. It’s basically pansexual (aka gender blind), but Rose is confused when Zita explains that regardless of this, there is still inequality between the genders. Entirian men are still treated like inferiors on Qorlec, simply because they are physically weaker than the women.
I’m currently knee-deep in writing the second book, which is called The Harvest (right now), and there’s a funny scene where Quinn, the main character, is talking to her future love interest and realizes that all zonbiri women actually have penises because the zonbiri are like seahorses. Needless to say, it’s been amusing to write so far, and I look forward to writing that first very awkward scene where they try to be intimate later on.
If you have to write any fighting scenes, what are your best tips of how you create them?
I think I’m actually very bad at writing fight scenes, mostly because I don’t read those sorts of books. As I said above, people learn to write by reading. I’ve learned to write flowery prose because I read flowery prose (think Brian Jacques’ Redwall series). If I read more action-packed books, my action scenes would be better, because then I’d been learning form my masters.
I said in another interview that, while Sapkowski’s sexist depiction of women is unfortunate, he’s really good at writing fight scenes. (And yeah, it was sexist. All the “good” women wanted to be mothers – so one-dimensional — and all the “bad” women were queer or gave their children away or didn’t want to be mothers in the first place. Good women only existed to pop out kids, act motherly, or worship Geralt in some way, and just about every straight woman Geralt met fell in love with him, which was obnoxious.)
I learned a very valuable lesson from Sapkowski and it was this: to really make your character look like a badass, you have to write about them fighting from the perspective of their enemies. There are two really cool fight scenes in the Witcher novels, and they’re cool because they were written from the horrified perspective of the fumbling minions who see Ciri and Geralt as scary badasses.
One scene is the ice skating scene – which never would have worked from Ciri’s perspective because the entire scene hinged on the men not knowing from which direction she was coming in the fog.
The second good fight scene was when Geralt is trying to protect Ciri and has to fight off an entire mob of elves. Elves are supposed to be about on the level of a witcher in skill, but one injured guy on the ground watched in astonishment as Geralt casually cut his way through them, chopping them up like dandelions.
Some of the fight scenes in the book were truly magnificent. It’s just a shame Sapkowski couldn’t keep his personal prejudice out of it.
Do you ever write sad scenes and do you feel the sadness as you write it?
I write sad scenes all the time, but the sadness doesn’t really hit me until I go back and revise. In the first book of The Prince of Qorlec, Project Mothership, there’s a scene where Rose has to leave her husband in order to protect him. It didn’t make me sad when I was writing it, but when I went back to revise the scene, it made me very sad.
As far as breakups go, theirs was pretty good, though. Oliver respected Rose unwaveringly and Rose respected him. She didn’t dump him through a text or scream at him on the phone or just “ghost” him and stop talking to him. She broke up with him to his face. She had enough respect to do that. And when she dumped him, Oliver didn’t call her slurs or accuse her of cheating or try to dig the knife in one last time by insulting her. She made the choice to leave him and he respected that like an adult.
Later, he stalks her believing her baby is his, but I feel that even that is something people can sympathize with because he doesn’t keep knocking on her door or something. He drives by her house trying to see what he believes is his child because he loves Quinn without even knowing her simply because he believes she is his daughter. For me, that makes his last scene at the end of the book even more poignant.
Did you write as a child or did you come into your talent as an adult?
What talent? Self-deprecation aside, I started writing when I was twelve. So I been writing over two decades. And knowing that, knowing that I worked so hard and wrote so many stories, it’s really annoying to be patronized by people who think that just because I recently published a book that I just started writing.
Most indie authors have been writing for years and I guarantee they are not publishing those crappy first novels they wrote when they were five. They are publishing the polished, finished works that sat quietly in a dark drawer for years while agent after agent told them no, no, no.
I have published eight novels in a span of three months. I didn’t just write those books. Some of them I just wrote, but not all of them. Some of my books are five years old and older. And I’ve still got more to publish. The challenge will be finding an audience for them.
So yeah. I’m not terribly old – I’m middle aged – but I been writing a long time and it’s annoying when people talk down to me. “Keep writing!” I been writing over twenty years. I’m not going to stop now. But thanks for the encouragement . . .
No one should talk down to anyone anyway. It’s condescending no matter who you’re doing it to.
Can you give us a little insight into any fantasy characters in your latest book?
Sure. I could talk about the recent book I published, Wicked Witch Boy, which is a young adult novel about gothic gay kids. Can’t have too many of those.
All the characters in Wicked Witch Boy are actually based on a bunch of dolls I made. I’ve always been very artsy, and around 2007-08ish I got into the hobby of buying doll kits and painting dolls and sewing little clothes for them.
The first doll I made was Francesca and because the clothes I had for her were all mismatched (I didn’t have much at the time) I decided she was utterly mad. I made her a brother I named Tobias and decided he was her caretaker of sorts and that they were orphans whose parents had mysteriously died. I kept making dolls (the third one I made was Eldon, Tobias’ boyfriend) and a story grew out of this.
I was sharing a lot of my writing online at the time, so I shared Wicked Witch Boy. One of my readers – typically, a teenage boy – criticized me for making Tobias cry after his evil aunt basically threatened to kill him. It’s pretty disheartening to see that we live in world where men and young boys still think it’s wrong for them to cry and express emotion because emotion is only for girls and girls are weak and inferior, right?
Well, I started making Tobias cry more and more out of sheer defiance. He cries pretty solemnly. He doesn’t have any scenes where he’s bawling and sobbing with a contorted face (he’s not Toby Maguire in Spiderman, thankfully) because it would just be out of character. He’s actually a very cold, almost emotionless person because – like the rest of his family – he is batcrap insane and his emotionlessness is not something that is celebrated as macho and good, but something that is acknowledged as needing to change. Through Eldon, Tobias learns to let his walls down and express himself. We discover that he’s emotionless in the first place because he’s harboring a terrible secret and the terrible guilt that comes with it.
But point is, I made Tobias cry a lot more. Because he wasn’t written to appeal to men who have decided to quietly, mindlessly believe that they are not allowed to show emotion and frequently refer to their emotions as “man tears.”
Tobias was written for people who understand that emotions are for everyone to express. Similarly, Eldon was written for people who understand that there is nothing wrong with being feminine – whether you’re a man or a woman. Eldon is a little boy who wears makeup and nail polish and does it defiantly. He loves himself and doesn’t care what anyone thinks. Seriously, hating femininity is tiresome and stupid.
Tobias and Eldon were written for people who understand that. People who don’t understand will complain, whine, and tear down my characters. But they aren’t the sort of people I want reading my books away, so it doesn’t matter.
Is your the world in your book like earth or is it a fantasy world?
Because I love making stuff up, I’m more likely to write epic fantasy, where I can just create any world that I want. To be honest, I don’t like the real world much, and it’s given me a lot of reasons to want to escape from it and not have to think about it.
The Prince of Qorlec books take place on Earth a few times (the first two books do, anyway) and are based in places I’ve actually lived. But there are some made up places as well (Santoosa, California) simply because I just love making stuff up more than writing about real things.
What is the time period setting of your latest book?
The Prince of Qorlec series takes place in the future. About 200 or 300 years from now, I think. I can’t remember right now (because I might be confusing it with Qorth). But one on-going joke is that Earth has barely advanced in their technology. There’s a joke about cell phones and the fact that we are still only colonizing Mars while other aliens are busy invading entire planets. Also, Earth has crappy weapons compared to aliens, and because Earth is frightened of falling behind in the race, they have signed up with the zonbiri – the same aliens who are invading them behind their back and doing horrible things to their people.
Do you prefer to write as a series or one off books?
About ten years ago, I started sharing free stories on this one website, and I developed a taste for writing long, rambling series. And it wasn’t just one series by series after series all about this one world. And then I created another world and started again. It was tiring, thankless work, but it was fun and I learned a lot about writing from the experience. At the same time, I think I developed a distaste for writing a series because of all the work involved.
Obviously, I got over it, because I’m now writing two series .The epic fantasy one is A Time of Darkness and the science fiction one is The Prince of Qorlec. And I’m writing them both at the same time. I alternate between writing a book in each series. So after I finish The Harvest for The Prince of Qorlec, I will go back to writing Shadow Sorceress for A Time of Darkness.
I expect to be exhausted when I’m finally finished. Maybe I’ll nap for five years.
Do you like to use lots of subplots or do you think just confuses?
Well, I’m a young writer. I’m still honing my craft, so I think I actually suck at subplots and I hate writing them. I gave it a try back when I was still publishing free stories online and my readers did not like it . . . and neither did I. I’m not good at it. Maybe one day I will be, but right now I suck.
Can you tell us a little about one of your sub plots in your latest book?
The events of The Prince of Qorlec: The Harvest are actually a subplot, when I think about it. The main plot is that of Quinn taking back her home planet and driving out the zonbiri. But during the second book, she uncovers this plan by the zonbiri to invade Earth and use humans for genetic experiments to enhance their soldiers. She sets out to stop this because she was raised on Earth by a human woman and feels the need to protect the planet – even though the entirian rebels sheltering her could care less and don’t want her to get involved.
Can you tell us a little about your protagonist and your antagonist and how they relate to each other?
I can’t tell you about General Phorott, the main antagonist of The Prince of Qorlec, because I haven’t written him yet. He’s going to appear in the second book, but I haven’t sat down and written him out as a character. Right now, I’ve been focusing on Quinn, who I would describe as selfless, heroic, compassionate, and naïve so far.
The main antagonist of A Time of Darkness is the dragon empress, who serves as a foil for Cricket/Nineveh Dragon Fall, the protagonist. She first appears in book 3 Shadow Sorceress, and the true question is: who is the shadow sorceress? The empress or Nineveh? Was the dragon empress really evil? Or was Nineveh Dragon Fall a racist who committed genocide against the dragons, a sentient people? That is the question that is posed in the first book, and the rest of the series answers it. The second book, The Infinite Athenaeum, shows us how and why Nineveh started down her path of indiscriminate dragon slaying. The rest of the series shows us what happened after she did.
I feel kind of depressed just talking about it, though. As I said, I tend to have lovely ideas but not enough talent to carry them out. I feel like the series isn’t going to be as good as I would like it to be, but all I can do is try.
How do you think you would feel if you received a really bad review that seemed justified?
I’ve already received one. I’ve received them for years and worse even before I was publishing on Kindle. For me it just confirms that I still have a lot to learn and a long way to go as a writer.
Do you think all readers should do reviews to help the writers improve?
No. Reviews aren’t for writers, they’re for other readers. Reviews exist to help other readers decide if your book is worth the measly three dollars. People don’t like wasting their time and money on crap, and I understand how that feels because I’m a reader too. I currently have some books (I won’t mention, don’t worry, no more rants) that I hate and wish I’d never bought. If only I’d read some of those reviews before buying them, I could have saved myself the heartache of opening yet another pile of anti-woman drivel – written by a woman, no less.
If a reader really wants to help a writer improve, they will send a private message telling them they suck and how to do better. I’ve had some really nice, thoughtful people do this for me, and it did help improve my writing. People who actually care about you as a person with feelings will praise you in public when you deserve it and tear you apart in private when you need it.
When you receive reviews do you find yourself influenced to make changes?
No. I don’t read reviews. As I said, they aren’t for me. They’re for other readers. If I get private constructive feedback, I might make changes if I agree with their opinions. But only if I agree, of course.
Blog Tour ~ The Thieves of Nottica
Author: Ash Gray
Genre: Science Fiction/Steampunk
Tour Dates: 3rd – 7th of April
Hosted by: Ultimate Fantasy Book Tours
In a world where humans are evil, invading aliens, Rigg is the youngest member of the Keymasters, a band of professional thieves who use their skills to defy an overbearing government known as the Hand. It is a world full of pollution, intrusive surveillance cameras, and injustice, where any who “give the finger to the Hand” are punished with death. The Keymasters are hired to steal a highly sought after treasure, but when one of their number is lost during the job, they find themselves the tools in a power play for said treasure — a mysterious lockbox that no one can open. To ultimately survive in the end, the Keymasters must battle their way through mechanical monsters, airships, and politics, literally going through shit (they travel through a sewage pipe) to make it out alive.
Ash Gray is a dragon with minuscule spectacles perched on her nose, living in a wonderfully dank, musty cave far away in an alternate universe. She types her stories with gigantic claws on a ridiculously small typewriter before sending them through a membrane and into your dimension for your enjoyment.
I am the scariest thing you’ll find in the dark, forsaken places, with breath of fire and claws that shred. “Dragon!” they scream as I rip them red.
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