Today I am interviewing Ash Gray, author of the new science fiction humor novel, The Harvest, second book of The Prince of Qorlec series.
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DJ: Hey Ash! Thanks for agreeing to do this interview!
For readers who aren’t familiar with you, could you tell us a little about yourself?
Ash Gray: Thanks for having me for this interview. I was unhappy the other day, thinking I might lay low for a while and stop talking about my books. But talking about them actually makes me happy, so I’m glad for the opportunity.
When asked personal questions, I usually insist I’m a dragon and roll off into the dragon routine, but since I’m not in a joking disposition, I’ll answer honestly.
There’s a lot about me. There’s a lot of sadness and madness. If people want know me (lol, why?) I suggest reading my books. There I am on the page, bare for inspection.
DJ: What is The Harvest about?
Ash: The Harvest is the second book in my humorous science fiction series The Prince of Qorlec. There are six books planned for the entire series, two are published, and the third I’m currently writing. I plan to write the first four by the end of the summer, then switch over to a different series for a while. Doesn’t mean I’m giving up on the series (I always try to finish the things I start) this is just my m.o.
I was inspired to write Project Mothership, the first book in the series, back in March when I was watching alien documentaries late one night. One documentary was about a woman who told the story of getting abducted by aliens and impregnated with alien fetuses all her life and how it ruined her any chance of a marriage. I thought –somewhat guiltily – to myself, “Man, this would make a great story!”
So I started writing The Prince of Qorlec, which is a humorous series about the last princess of an alien planet. Quinn’s planet is under siege and she is placed inside a human surrogate in order to save her. The human (Rose) raises Quinn on Earth for four years, until the alien enemies of her home planet finally catch up to her.
The first book is about Quinn and her mother trying to escape Quinn’s alien enemies. It’s a very silly, nearly campy novella that somewhat lampoons Terminator, Men in Black, and a mix of my favorite sci-fi films.
The rest of the series is about how Quinn discovers she is alien royalty and rises against the zonbiri in a campaign to drive them from Qorlec, her homeworld.
The series is called The Prince of Qorlec because the many aliens featured (there are barely any humans) have a different view on sex, gender, and sexuality than humans. So while hiding, Quinn often has to pretend to be a boy, but a “boy” means different things to different aliens. For example, zonbiri women all have penises.
I’m not doing anything groundbreaking by using aliens to explore gender and sexuality (it’s been done many, many times before), so I’m often confused when people think I must be transgender or queergender myself. No. I’m a cisgender queer woman completely comfortable with exploring these themes and – not only that – but exploring them as inoffensively and responsibly as possible. Whether or not I have managed this remains to be seen.
DJ: I understand that despite The Harvest being the second book, this can actually be read as a stand-alone?
Ash: After writing a few series free online over the last ten years, I quickly learned how people hate trying to jump into a huge series. Personally, I myself don’t mind it. If anything, I love a huge fantasy series and the longer the books, the better. Or at least I used to back when I read more often. But since getting emails where people were confused about where to start reading my huge, sprawling stories, I have since learned to at least try writing each book as a stand alone story.
The Harvest introduces Quinn and glances over the events of Project Mothership just enough (hopefully) that someone could read it without having read the first book. Long answer short: . . . yes.
DJ: What were some of your influences for The Harvest?
Ash: There aren’t any, actually. We’re all influenced by something, but I like to think The Harvest was purely Ash Gray. It’s not the greatest story ever told or anything, but I had fun writing it. For me, writing The Prince of Qorlec has been like awaking from a ten-year coma. It’s been several years since I had so much fun writing anything. I love developing the characters and mulling over plots and lore. I love writing point of view chapters where different characters have their turn telling the story – though not in first person. I don’t like writing first person.
Project Mothership, on the other hand, was influenced by Terminator and Men in Black. At least, there are jokes about those movies in there. Growing up as a kid, I loved Terminator II the most. That morphing robot that melted into silver goo was pretty awesome. Just the terror of it chasing the main characters was exciting all on its own, forget the plot. I won’t comment on how the rest of the film series turned out, however.
DJ: Could you briefly tell us a little about your main characters? Do they have any cool quirks or habits, or any reason why readers with sympathize with them?
Ash: This was something I struggled with while writing the series, and since it’s going to be six books, I suspect it’s something I’ll continue to struggle with.
I’ll compare and contrast Quinn (the main character and the princess of Qorlec) and her best friend/side kick Varzo, a zonbiri farm girl who gets wrapped up in Quinn’s adventures.
Quinn and Varzo are both depicted as soldiers and great fighters but in different ways.
After Project Mothership, Quinn is abducted by the zonbiri and tortured and humiliated for twelve years but still comes out of it with her compassion and decency intact. She never hates the zonbiri as an entire race, even though they have treated her like a dog for twelve years, leading her around on a leash and humiliating her. She never stoops to hating the world. I don’t know if this is admirable, though. Probably because most people would not relate to remaining above racism and hate. Racism and hate is very human and very common and something people can relate to. It might have been realistic to make Quinn hate someone but I like to think her strength is in her ability to look past her own feelings and still see that people are just people on both sides of the war.
We see Quinn breaking her neck to protect Earth in the second book, because she doesn’t want to see humans abducted and turned into mutants. What makes her sympathetic right now is knowing all the torture and abuse she went through. What hopefully makes her likeable is the fact that no one ever stole her joy. No one. She still laughs, she still cracks quips, etcetera. She is not funny to cope but simply because she’s funny. The zonbiri tried to break her and they failed.
Varzo is the exact opposite. Varzo hasn’t endured half the things Quinn has endured and yet still manages to turn out a hateful, racist, hot-headed brat. She actually despises Quinn in The Harvest and has her racism constantly checked by Mercy, an alien whose homeworld was destroyed by people who thought like Varzo.
Varzo grows and learns and starts seeing the world in less terms of black and white. By The Suns of Anarchy (the upcoming third book), she is less racist, has become Quinn’s friend, and finally sees the entirian (Quinn’s alien race) as people and not the scary other. But Varzo is still full of anger and hate and thrives on it like air. At one point in The Suns of Anarchy, Quinn says something to Varzo like, “You thrive on hating everything. It must be exhausting.” And Varzo pretty much answers, “It is.”
These two are black and white, ying and yang. Where Quinn is open-minded and compassionate, Varzo is racist and loud and hot-headed and rude. They work as good foils for each other (hopefully), highlighting each other’s weaknesses and strengths.
DJ: What is the world and setting of The Harvest like?
Ash: It’s our world/galaxy set in the future. There are a lot of jokes about how humans have barely progressed scientifically except to make weapons and social media. Other people in the galaxy have been fighting over different planets for thousands of years while humans haven’t even left their solar system and are still colonizing Mars. Also, queer people still can’t marry on Earth, which is stupid to the aliens, who see sexuality differently.
The entire series isn’t even about humans, though. It’s about aliens and their eerily beautiful planets. The third book doesn’t even take place on Earth but on the misty purple planet Anarchy, which is a desert planet and very hot due to its two suns. It is a second homeworld for the entirian, whose main homeworld Qorlec is currently under siege by the zonbiri (little blue seahorse/mermaid/squid people).
Entirian society was meant to be the flip reverse of Earth. Earth is a patriarchy but Qorlec is a matriarchy, where entirian men are small and feminine and are treated like garbage. Instead of having separate sexualities, the entirian are all pansexual (gender blind) which is supposed to make it ironic that they would then oppress their men just for being smaller and weaker.
Zonbiri society, meanwhile, is like . . . an inverse of both entirian and human society. Zonbiri men have vaginas and zonbiri women have penises, no breasts, because these are amphibious people from a water planet. I actually based their sexes and breeding methods on seahorses just to make them ultimately alien. So to the zonbiri, Quinn is actually a boy because she doesn’t have a penis. They see her as “the prince of Qorlec.”
Also, zonbiri men oppress their women. All three depicted societies so far have some kind of crappy oppression going on, the only difference is who is oppressing who. It’s all crappy and wrong, though.
In the fourth book, a new alien race and society is introduced, and I look forward to expanding the lore to play with their society, which right now I am thinking will ultimately be an equalitarian one, where no one is actually oppressed.
DJ: What are the Qorlec?
Ash: Qorlec is the red desert planet of the entirian, a reptilian-mammalian species of Amazonian women and feminine men.
DJ: What was your favorite part about writing The Harvest?
Ash: Exploring the characters. I think that I’m an actor deep-down. I love theatre and I love musicals and drama and comedy. I never became an actor because I was just too shy (and in hindsight, I’m glad it never happened for me).
I was actually chosen for Sesame Street when I was a kid. I was smart and I could read . . . but I was so, so shy. I hated being in front of all those people, and the cast and crew and my mother didn’t want to torture me, so I quit.
What’s hilarious is that I was comfortable being around muppets and fuzzy monsters but not people.
So writing The Harvest (and any book with point of view chapters) is always a blast to me because it means putting on different masks and becoming different people. I wear a different voice for Quinn, Varzo, and Thalcu. The challenge was trying to make each voice distinct. I’m still struggling with that, especially in regards to Quinn.
DJ: What do you think readers will be talking about most once they finish it?
Ash: I don’t know. I have no idea what The Harvest has that might interest people. I suspect people who want to see more strong female characters (as in women who are depicted as human and real and not simply masculine and tough) will come away talking about that. It’s a hot issue right now, sexism in the literary world, so that’s what I expect people to notice and address in my books: my female characters.
All the books feature females (usually queer) in lead roles, too. I usually have a few token (lol) male characters in every book because I love men and it makes no sense that they wouldn’t be more than background characters. It’s their galaxy too.
In The Suns of Anarchy, Quinn’s husband-to-be Ckylar plays a prominent role in teaching Quinn (and the audience) about entirian culture.
DJ: What was your goal when you began writing The Harvest? Is there a particular message or meaning you are hoping to get across when readers finish it? Or is there perhaps a certain theme to the story?
Ash: As I mentioned earlier, The Prince of Qorlec is the first thing I’ve had this much fun writing in, man, several years.
I’ve been having a very crappy life. Especially these last ten years. Writing was always my catharsis. It went from being something I loved to do when I was a kid to being something I did to survive emotionally in a world that would rather see me dead. The Prince of Qorlec was like coming alive again. I have written it purely for my amusement, with no agenda and no real purpose (not that any of my books have an agenda – they don’t). And I have never put it in front of an agent, so there is no bitterness attached to the book.
I simply enjoy being in this world, talking from the mouths of these characters, and building this lore. I expect it will make me happy for the next couple months to come (I doubt it will take me long to finish the series, but tweaking and revising is another matter entirely).
I promote the series and ask people to read it because I miss having other people come along for the ride. I had a following on a website for about ten years, and I miss that excitement of going, “Look, guys, another chapter!” and then everyone reads it and they hate it or love it but it’s talked about, the story grows and improves. I miss having a readership. (I don’t miss talking to people though because again – shy.)
People who sneer on self-publishing say that any self-respecting writer will go through their “apprenticeship” and then get traditionally published. As if this were something that could not be done online, at home, without the approval or consent of the gatekeepers.
I have been through my “apprenticeship.” First, I read a crap-ton of books, which taught me more about writing than any college course ever did. Then I went to college for six years and majored in English Lit, where my teachers were more concerned with being prejudiced, humiliating me, and putting me in my place than actually teaching me to write and nurturing my abilities. Then I had a readership on the web for ten years that helped me evolve and grow (hopefully) into a better writer.
I understand and appreciate the craft. That I have chosen to self-publish doesn’t mean I do not. So when I fail to write something to standard, I do take it very hard. I think self-doubt is the one thing that often holds me back, to be honest. It’s a scar that will be there forever, thanks to people (college professors) who decided I was inferior and wanted to stop me writing.
I actually had two bigoted college professors conspire to give me poor grades to keep me out of the literary world. This is not a joke. It is the painful reality for marginalized voices.
Thankfully, I went on to a different college and found teachers who didn’t feel the need to give me unfair grades due to their personal biases.
DJ: When I read, I love to collect quotes – whether it be because they’re funny, foodie, or have a personal meaning to me. Do you have any favorite quotes from The Harvest that you can share with us?
Ash: I love quotes too. I love sharing them on Goodreads. The Harvest has a lot of things I loved writing. Here are some quotes:
1) Quinn dropped her hand and avoided Thalcu’s eye. “I . . . I don’t want to kill you,” she said to the floor. “Not if I could save you.”
The woman smiled gently at Quinn, her lips curling behind her oxygen mask. “I will not really die,” she said, drawing Quinn’s surprised gaze. She looked at Quinn contently a moment and went on, “Do you know how worlds are born? From the first breath of a star. We are made of starlight. We can not bear to look into the sun, into the thing that birthed us, anymore than we can bear to look upon our parents in the throes of passion. It is our point of origin, and to it, we must all return.”
(accidentally misquoted on Goodreads)
2) Quinn tensed at the triumphant look in his eyes. “. . .what have you done?”
“I have entered launch codes in the computer. In exactly ten minutes, Alpha Star 9 will be a black stain in the middle of Utah.”
Quinn’s lips parted in shock.
“Yes,” said. Dr. Zorgone in amusement. “Dramatic gasp!”
3) Thalcu coughed again and smiled at Quinn through the dirt smearing her face. “The universe is held together with gum, you know,” she said.
Quinn laughed suddenly and loudly in relief. “Yeah? I heard it was duct tape.” She gently helped Thalcu to her feet and stared at her, silently grateful. Whatever Thalcu had done to the door had likely saved her life. She wanted to thank her and didn’t know how, so she took her hand and swung it in a charmingly juvenile display of affection.
Yeah, I love romance so it’s always there in my books somewhere, god forbid. Thalcu is Quinn’s “great love” and continues to be for the rest of the series. Even though Quinn has other lovers, she never forgets Thalcu. What’s a pseudo-space-opera without romance?
DJ: Now that The Harvest is released, what is next for you?
Ash: Finishing the third book The Suns of Anarchy (which is currently frustrating me badly. Think I need a break). Then completing and publishing the first book in my new series, which is – like The Prince of Qorlec – a humorous thing, only it’s an epic fantasy and not science fiction.
DJ: Where can readers find out more about you?
Amazon Author Page: http://author.to/AshGray
DJ: Before we go, what is that one thing you’d like readers to know about The Harvest that we haven’t talked about yet?
Ash: The first book in The Prince of Qorlec is going to be permafree one of these days. Unfortunately, I accidentally managed to enroll Project Mothership in Kindle Select (kdp), which prohibits authors from sharing their books anywhere else for 90 days. Eventually, I intend that Project Mothership and all the first books in my various series will be free so that people can easily hop onboard and have fun on the journey with me. This also goes for my series A Time of Darkness (if I decide to continue it) and my new and upcoming humorous fantasy series, the first book of which will be free across various websites, such as my Wattpad.
DJ: Is there anything else you would like add? (Or add your own question).
Ash: Nope. Thanks for interviewing me. It’s tough out there for indie authors. Most of the time when I come to a blog, there’s a sign telling me to please go away, even while the blogger is posting long rambling speeches about the importance of diversity. It’s pretty ironic considering most indie authors are the marginalized voice they claim to champion. They want to see more of our writing . . . but then they shut us out.
I knocked on your door with my hat in my hand and you did not spray me with water and hiss at me.
Thanks for not shutting me out.
DJ: Thank you so much for taking time out of your day to answer my questions!
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*** The Harvest is available TODAY!!! ***
Buy the Book:
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Quinn and Zita are back, this time in a race to save Earth from the human-harvesting zonbiri, who are using humans to create horrific super soldiers that will give them a sinister advantage in their war against Qorlec. Teenage Quinn is determined to protect Earth, but aside from the trokians (bald alien dogs), giant human mutants, and her own recklessness, the one big scary thing standing in her way is her severe and severely brutal aunt, General Miora, the leader of the entirian rebel forces. General Miora cares more about protecting her niece than protecting Earth and is overcompensating and overbearing. With the help of her friends – Zita the space marine with a joke and a cigarette, the three blue zonbiri kids who started it all, and an orange drasian with cool head spikes – Quinn sets out to save Earth anyway, discovering her own strength, mastering her own powers, and even falling in love. Can General Miora be convinced to help her? And . . . where is Quinn’s mother Rose?
Ash Gray is actually a dragon, writing her stories on a minuscule laptop in the murky dark of a silent, wet, cold, comfortable cave. Having quite large claws, she goes through laptops like tissue paper within the span of a week, but it is worth the effort, time, and money to share her stories with an audience as in-love with fiction as she.