Today I’m interviewing Ash Gray. I didn’t know anything about Ash until I started poking around on her Goodreads page and website, and I was surprised to discover she’s a dragon! This is going to be an interesting interview.
Welcome Ash! Thanks for joining us.
So I’ve never interviewed a self-proclaimed dragon before. Tell us a little about yourself. Do you have a human alter ego? Did you always want to be a writer? How does a dragon type?
AG: Hahaha. That made me laugh . . . which set my drapes on fire. But I can always get new drapes.
I have always been a dragon. The problem was being unaware of it, crushing wee houses and not understanding how it was happening, or sticking my head through Mom’s window for supper and wondering why I was the only one with a charred dead lamb in a giant bowl. For a long time, I wondered if the world was just small or if I was just really big. I’ve since discovered the world is just small. I’d leave it if I could and maybe find other dragons, but there are holes in my wings.
Sometimes I kidnap humans and make them type for me. Then, of course, I have to eat them so my cave isn’t discovered. So for every book that appears on Amazon, someone had to be eaten. Would be a shame if those books were never read and those people died in vain.
And it’s not like I have much choice. I have to eat people to survive. I mean . . . we don’t shame lions for hunting gazelles, do we?
To be serious (for five minutes), no, I didn’t always want to be a writer. I’ve always loved stories since before I could talk. TV, movies, books, story time at school . . . I devoured them. I loved them. I read everything I could get my hands on, and there was many a time when I was caught at Mass with a science fiction novel hidden inside my bible. I was always caught because kids seldom read the bible during Mass with such seat-wiggling excitement and concentration
I never wanted to be a writer, though. It never crossed my mind. I wasn’t one of those seven-year-olds who sat down scribbling fantasies. When I was twelve, two of my family members died very close to each other. My mother decided that the best way for us children to express ourselves was to write about it. So she bought all the kids journals and told us to write. I never wrote about my aunt’s death or how it made me feel. Instead, I wrote stories about fairies and dragons and pirates. The birth of my escapism began with the death of a loved one. If she hadn’t died, I wonder if I would be a writer today. Or if I would have adopted the method of making crap up to cope with emotional pain. I wonder. I would rather have her than all the stories in the world, though.
Your first book, The Thieves of Nottica, was just recently published. Tell us about it.
AG: Have you ever shopped a book around so much that you just die a little inside when you think about it? That’s The Thieves of Nottica for me. I have had so many doors slammed in my face in regards to that book, it’s a wonder my nose hasn’t broken.
But let’s see. Back in 2011 (I think), I was playing Final Fantasy 12 (I haven’t played a FF game since, to be honest) and I was really, really enjoying the world. I think I was in a castle dungeon randomly running around to level up, and it occurred to me that it would be great to write a story like a role playing video game, with each character having a classical rpg role.
So we have Rigg the thief. Morganith the warrior. Hari the “mage.” And Lisa the robot, who is a cross between mage and warrior. They are a group of professional thieves known as the Keymasters who live in a sort of totalitarian government where everyone is being watched with cameras. They are very famous for the many “jobs” they’ve pulled stealing from people. The story is basically about the one time they got caught and how they got out of it alive (or not alive, as the case may be).
In the original draft, Rigg and Hari were magical elves and Morganith was human and Lisa was some sort of demon creature who shed its skin. In that scene where the Keymasters find Lisa covered in blood, she had actually shed her skin and was going through a transformation. In the final draft that is published right now, Lisa was covered in blood because . . . Robot reasons. Violent robot reasons.
Later, around 2014, I decided to overhaul the story and make it steampunk. It began when I realized that Hari being a healer mage made everyone’s lives way too easy. Also, Morganith had always fought with a shotgun – even back when this was an epic fantasy story — and her gun didn’t really fit into a elves, monster, and magic type setting. I did not want to get rid of Morganith’s gun, and it occurred to me how much I love steampunk and that – by golly! – this should be a steampunk novel. The elves then became “demons,” which are really just aliens living on a planet invaded by humans. Humans started calling them “demons” as a sort of slur that was later embraced.
I was pretty happy with the change, as the whole elves/humans thing is so, sooooo overdone. And honestly, I really love steampunk, robots, demons, and supernatural creatures and aliens (god, I love aliens). So I was a lot happier with the end result. And the original version of Nottica was just . . . Let’s just say I’m happier with it now. . . haha.
You have a novella out now as well, The Seaglass Stair. Is it set in the same world as Nottica?
AG: No. All my stories are usually standalone. It’s rare for me to do a series because doing a series well is really hard (for me anyway).
The Seaglass Stair is something I wrote ten years ago. Heck, maybe more than that. I think I wrote it 2004ish. It was written when I was attending my first college as an escapist fantasy about a girl and her horse, who can talk to each other telepathically and go on a journey to save the world. At the time I was reading Mercedes Lackey, so her Herald trilogy and the horse Companions in it were direct influences on the story, as well as Michael Ende’s The Neverending Story and Ursula K. Le Guin’s A Wizard of Earthsea.
As I mentioned on my blog, The Seaglass Stair is for me what The Eldest series is for Chris Paolini: derivative escapist fantasy written by a young and inexperienced writer. Paolini will have matured as a writer by now, but he will always be able to look back somewhat nostalgically at his Eldest series and think “This is where I began” while looking at his current work and thinking, “and this is the better thing I became.”
It is (hopefully) the same for me.
What do you do for fun when you aren’t writing?
AG: When I’m not writing, I’m counting coins in my treasure hoard or demanding virgin sacrifices from the local village. I need one every two centuries or so or I will die (don’t tell the villagers that).
What inspires you to get out of bed each day?
AG: Writing. This is a very . . . somber question for me. Because if I didn’t have writing, I honestly don’t think I would get up. There would be nothing to get up for.
Everyday I get up because there’s another book to finish. Or a book blogger to contact. Or an interview to do. Or a blog post to write. And before I was self-publishing, I got up each day because there was another agent’s figurative door to knock on. . . . which would promptly and politely be slammed in my face.
Writing is my life. For most people it’s just a fun hobby. For me, it’s what I live to do and no one can take it from me nor stop me from doing it (though many have tried). I do it because I love it and because I have nothing else. That’s it.
Today I found myself reading articles by editors and book reviewers who think all indie writers – I’m sorry, all “self-published writers” (we aren’t allowed to call ourselves “indie”) — are bad, and I almost didn’t want to get out of bed. I wanted to just . . . give up. There are so many odds against as a writer, it’s ridiculous. This is why so many people eventually turn to self-publishing. If I didn’t self-publish, I doubt my voice would ever, ever be heard, simply because one group of people doesn’t believe it worth hearing.
That’s enough to make anyone want to stay in bed.
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.
The Thieves of Nottica
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.
Available on Amazon
“Scanning,” Lisa repeated. “Scanning Complete.” Her eyes clicked, turning golden again as the red mesh of light dissipated. Beams of yellow light reached from her eyes instead, creating a circular spotlight that glared over the trees directly in front of them. The creature came faster, Lisa’s glowing eyes having pinpointed their location for it.
“Well?” Morganith demanded of Lisa.
A tree somewhere fell with a groan in the darkness. The four of them leapt as it slammed down, shaking the world in a riot of dust.
“What is it?!” Hari begged.
“It is . . .” began Lisa, but she needn’t have finished. A giant mechanical frog rolled out of the darkness and into Lisa’s light; round, blank eyes gleaming like yellow headlights as it came to a smooth, rattling stop. Rigg glanced beyond it and could see it had trampled its eager way to them, leaving a path of destruction its wake. In place of legs, it had been fitted with the rolling tracks of a tank. Its rusty metal body was peeling with green paint, and its great, wide, toothless mouth was open to reveal a red synthetic tongue. Its yellow throat, made of withered cloth, ballooned out when it croaked, regarding them with the greedy, hungry expression of a predator.
Hari took a stumbling step back, pushing her welding goggles back from her eyes to regard the creature in disbelief. “You gotta be kiddin’ me,” she said. “Who would waste their scrap makin’ somethin’ like this?”
“You?” Morganith suggested.
“Proto-Frog Unit 365,” said Lisa factually. “Prototype Age: One Hundred and Nine. Designated Perimeter: Purva Forest. Function: To Cull The Population Of Wild Spiders –”
“Hmm. That makes sense, actually,” said Hari, shrugging contently.
The proto-frog gave a croaking, creaking scream and opened its mouth, raising the hairs on Rigg’s neck.
“Great, things make sense,” said Morganith sarcastically. “Now that Hari’s comfortable, can we fight for our lives?”