Author Interview with Ash Gray

1) How long have you been writing?

Since I was twelve.

You usually hear people say “Yeah, I always wanted to be a writer! Since I was three!!!” But I never wanted to be a writer and never imagined I would be. I was a very avid reader growing up. I loved stories in all their mediums but never imagined I was going to ever tell my own. When I was six, I wanted to be a doctor and play the saxophone.

Then when I was twelve, my aunt died. She was very young – in fact, she was sixteen when I was born, because my grandmother had her late in life, so she was like an older sister to me. I was very quiet (still am) and would not talk about her death, so my mother handed me a journal and told me to write about.

I did. And I never stopped.

2) What is your favorite genre to write?

Growing up, I always loved epic fantasy. I would watch and read anything with dragons, pirates, swords, and elves. I still love epic fantasy and science fiction both, though I’ve been leaning more toward writing science fiction lately. I will always love epic fantasy the most, to be honest.

3) Which genre have you never tried before, but would you like to try out?

Bizarro, absurd fiction would be cool to write. I just don’t think I’m bizarre enough to do it but I would love to try.

4) Please tell us about your book.

I never know which book to talk about when I’m asked, as I currently have seven on Amazon. I guess I could talk about my series A Time of Darkness since I plan to spend some time working on it soon.

A Time of Darkness is the story of a female dragon slayer and her rise to fame – followed immediately by her downward spiral. The first book serves to set up the lore and gives you a good idea of how the people in the future view Nineveh Dragon Fall, so called because dragons were always falling where she walked.

In the first book, we see that people in the future venerate Nineveh as a great hero and something like a holy warrior, who vanquished the “wicked” dragons in the name of their various gods. But as the series continues, we go back to the past and discover how typically wrong history was. Nineveh wasn’t a hero, she wasn’t by any means perfect, and she only deserved maybe some of the praise she got.

I decided to go this way with the character because I’ve never tried writing an anti-hero before, and I love challenging myself. And because I don’t mind falling on my face – even publicly – I’m willing to use an entire series to experiment. It feels like a great deal of pressure to pull this off even half-way successfully, but the hilarious thing is that I don’t even really have an audience for the series yet. So I suppose I can just fumble and bumble under the impression that no one is really watching. Or . . . I could imagine the audience is just naked. That works too.

5) Which character was your favorite, and why? Which character was your least favorite, and why?

Owllwin is currently my favorite character in the A Time of Darkness series. He is mentioned in book 1, and appears for the first time in book 2, and is Cricket’s (Nineveh Dragon Fall’s) best friend growing up. He is a clumsy, goofy dork who is actually in love with Cricket, to the point that he is blind to her faults and puts her on a pedestal. Eventually, he grows up and realizes she is not perfect but he still goes on loving her.

What I love about Owllwin is that he isn’t a jerk. We like to act as if making our characters be toxic jerks is “realistic” and “relatable” but some people really are just nice. Owllwin expressed his feelings for Cricket at a festival while he was slightly intoxicated, and when she gently turned him down, he did not hold it against her, call her vicious slurs, threaten sexual assault, attack the man she did love or otherwise punish her for being a stupid stupid woman for – gasp! – having a sexuality and agency and not being attracted to a nice guy.

Owllwin sees Cricket as a person, not a slot machine that hands out sex-candy-bars when niceness is put into it. That isn’t to say that his feelings aren’t hurt when she rejects him, and because he has every right to be hurt, he goes off, takes time to heal, and stops talking to her for a while. But eventually, they go on being friends and he never punishes her for not falling love with him in return.

Later, when he has adjusted and moved on from the rejection, they are together in a sense. But not really, as Cricket only loves him as a friend.

My least favorite character in A Time of Darkness right now is probably . . . Actually, I can’t think of one. I love all my characters, even the villains. Kimaria from the first book is actually one of my favorites.

6) What was the hardest part about writing your book?

The hardest part of writing Time’s Arrow was getting the opening just right. When I wrote the first book back in 2014, the opening was vastly different and did not impress the many agents I sent it too. I kept rewriting it and rewriting it to emphasize Neferre’s grossness (and Cricket’s grossness) as a sort of hook, and even though agents liked it, they still . . . said no. Incidentally, Neferre and Cricket were always gross, I just emphasized it to grab the reader’s attention.

The hardest part about writing the second book Infinite Athenaeum was trying to handle Cricket’s sexuality. At one point I forgot her age, and I regret not embellishing on the ages of the characters, because from an outside perspective, all of it looks really, really wrong. But by the end of the second book, Cricket is eighteen, while Halima is still mentally a teenager even though she is an elf over a hundred years old, and Owllwin is only mentally nineteen or twenty even though he’s only, like . . . nine. I mean, Owllwin has the body and mind of an adult because his race grows up fast, but he is actually quite young in human years.

Yeah, writing about these three characters having sex was difficult. I don’t like writing about teenagers and young adults (sorry teens and young adults) in sexual situations but I felt it was necessary to explore. Because all too often, women are not allowed to celebrate their sexuality or to embrace it. Cricket does. Defiantly. And no one ever shames her for it (unless they’re a jerk – at one point, someone does call her a slur, I think).

7) What is your writing routine? Are there things you absolutely need to start writing?

Whenever I’m asked this, I usually say I don’t have a writing routine, but the reality is I do. I just didn’t realize it until recently. I love listening to Peter Gundry, the composer. Some of his music is amazing, and it really gets me focused into creating fictional worlds. I also love listening to rain sounds because it helps me focus. And I like having a nice smell in the room, like a candle or incense. It all puts me in a relaxed and focused state, so that the rest of the world is tuned out and I’m there with my characters. It especially helps to write in the dark, as the cliché goes.

8) How long did it take you to write your book from start to finish?

I wrote my first full-length novel when I was fourteen? Fifteen? And I think it took me a couple weeks because I wrote a little after school everyday. I don’t really count that embarrassing heap as a novel, though.

My first real attempt at a novel – not a novella — was when I was an early twenty-something. It was a huge, sprawling mess of a thing. Like 500 pages or something. I remember sharing it on the internet and sending it to agents, under the naïve belief that anyone would want to read that tripe. Some people liked it, but I mostly got mocked, derided, and bigotry on all sides. Young talent is so often anything but nurtured if it doesn’t belong to the right voice. People especially hated that one of the characters was – gasp! – brown and that yet another character was – gasp! – queer. It . . . was debilitating. It’s a novel I actually plan to revise and publish on kindle one day, if not out of nostalgia. But it’ll be a while because the story was so, so long and it needs a lot of work.

. . . I didn’t even answer the question. I don’t remember how long it took to write. That was over ten years ago.

9) Can you tell us about your editing process?

Write the first draft in a crazy rush, getting out all ideas. Go back, slowly look for mistakes, and cut out ridiculous chapters and unnecessary crap. Rinse and repeat fifty more times. And if you can afford it, get an editor.

10) Is this book part of a series? If so, how many installments do you have planned?

A Time of Darkness currently has seven books planned. I’m knee-deep in number three right now. Before I started publishing on kindle, I actually had the first two books in the series written (so, no, I didn’t just write them) and was trying to start the third. I gave up and shoved the series in a drawer after being told over and over that my story had no audience or no place at so-and-so’s agency.

Also, hearing that you have potential is such a backhanded compliment. Especially when you’ve been writing almost twenty years.

11) Do you have any advice for aspiring authors?

No. I have no right to be dishing out advice. I’m a slushpile reject trying to eek out her own measly existence in the corners of the literary world. In fact, I’m living this existence because no one listens to people like me in the first place. Our voices have no value. So what value could my advice possibly have to anyone?

12) Why should everyone read your book?

If you love a good laugh, adventure, and romance, then read my books. That’s basically what all my books are. I’ve recently discovered that many, many people hate romance (silly me for not knowing that) and thanks to my unisex name – which is my actual name, not a pen name – people often assume I’m a guy. So they go into my story thinking it’s written by a man, realize that there is romance involved, and scream, “Nooooo! Fweelings are for girlssss! I’m meltingggg! Meltinggggg! Oh what a worldddd!”

Like, how dare I write about romance, even as a sub plot! We women are such dumb dumb heads. It’s not like romance is how half the planet got here or anything. . . .

So yeah. If you don’t like romance, laughter, adventure, and women in important roles, then I guess my books aren’t for you. Everyone else, however, is welcome aboard.

13) If you could meet three authors, dead or alive, which authors would you choose?

I don’t want to meet any authors. Because over the years – and especially while I majored in English lit in college – I have slowly been discovering that just about every author I love is some kind of jerk. It’s wearing me thin. I’m scared that if I ever met Mercedes Lackey, she’d turn out to have some vile personality trait. Just . . . I can’t take anymore.

14) What inspired you to write your book?

I read The Witcher series a while back and had a love-hate reaction to it. He can write some amazing fight scenes, but the context is . . . unfortunate. I was then inspired to write my own series (A Time of Darkness) where queer women are not dehumanized and punished with death for being queer. Where women aren’t a collection of prejudices and stereotypes.

The women in Sapkowski’s books are all in two categories: the good women are straight and want to be mothers, the bad women are queer (Triss the date rapist and emotional manipulator, Philippa), bad mothers (Geralt’s mom), and hate children or don’t want them (Philippa). Ciri goes on a journey to learn that being queer is bad, is punished by witnessing her girlfriend Mistle’s brutal death, and ends the story by making the correct choice to love a man and fulfill the prophecy by becoming a mother. Because that’s what women are: we are broodmares. We exist to have sex with men and have their sons. That’s it. We can’t be good people and at the same time be queer. Oh nooooo. And not wanting to be a mother is the end-all of evil! Abortion is evil!!!! But spermicide, that’s okay.

Meanwhile, every woman in the book worships Geralt and either wants to sleep with him or be his mother/ daughter. I was especially annoyed when Milva the archer couldn’t make a decision about her own pregnancy and had to curl up like a little child and ask the men folk what she should do. They all make the choice for her that she should not abort her fetus. It was . . . infuriating. And the sexist belief that women are too stupid, childlike, fickle, and inferior to make their own healthcare decisions is why men make our healthcare decisions right now.

So yeah. Long rant short, A Time of Darkness was born out of my disgust for Sapkowski’s depiction of women. You don’t have to actively hate women to depict them in a sexist manner, and he was very sexist. Whether this is something he was taunt and subconsciously embraced or he actually just harbors these sexist ideals consciously is something that remains to be seen, as I don’t personally know the man. I only know that he sees women as his idea of what women are and not fully fleshed nuanced individuals, who can make decisions for themselves and who serve a function higher than supporting men (figuratively and literally). If you don’t want to be a mother, you’re evilllll because women are supposed to want that. It’s all we exist for. Right? Right????

And the lodge of sorceresses was about as anti-woman as you can get, upholding the old fairy tale trope of women meddling in politics and the disaster there of.

People can hate me for my opinion. I really don’t care. Not when I have to see queer women and women in general constantly patronized and dehumanized in fiction. Eff that.

15) Are you working on something at the moment? If so, can you tell us more about it?

I’m working on A Time of Darkness, but I just blathered about that nonstop, so I’ll be happy to tell you about my science fiction series The Prince of Qorlec.

It’s actually about the lost princess of planet Qorlec, which is under siege by another planet. To escape her enemies, the princess spends several books actually pretending to be a boy. The first book (which I recently published) is sort of like a goofy cross between Men in Black and Terminator II and all my favorite science fiction movies – except the gun-toting, cursing, smoking action hero is a woman, though she’s not the protagonist. There are dual protagonists in the first book, both of which are the princess of Qorlec – Quinn – and her mother Rose.

The first book is really short and funny because it’s just an introduction to a longer series. The comedy is supposed to be a hook. I’m not saying the rest of the series isn’t funny, but it’s a bit more serious. Or at least, I intend for it to be.

About the Book

Rose, a sweet and kind librarian, is on her honeymoon with her goofy gym teacher husband when the trip takes a turn for the worst and she is abducted by aliens. When the spacecraft is attacked by the enemies of Empress Nashal, Rose makes it back to Earth freshly impregnated by alien royalty with said enemies on her heels. Now faced with running for her life, she is joined by Zita, a cheerful alien marine, and must make the choice between her unborn alien child and her baffled husband, who believes the child is his.

Author Bio

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.

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