Fashion Tip From The Bartender: An Interview with Ankhesen Mie

Ankhesen portrait

It’s no secret that I’ve got nothing but love for exquisite ladies behind Middle Child Press, case in point. As much as I’m promoting their projects each time we do these roundtables and interviews, the truth is I get just as much out of these one on ones because if for nothing else, I get to pick the brains of some of my favorite people. Ankhesen Mie is no exception.

Mie is a woman on the move and you’re welcome to join her, if you can keep up. After the success of the re-release of the critically acclaimed Folklore & Other Stories, Mie is flexing her muscles with some new fanfic series and an ongoing serial: Selo & Inya.

And lucky for me, I get to be front row for all the awesome. And lucky for you, you get to join me. See what happens when you hang with the cool kids?

DRU: Ankhesen, thank you so much for sitting down to do this interview. We got a lot to cover but I promise this’ll be fun. Okay, first question I gotta ask. In addition to your new series Selo & Inya, you’re also writing the fanfic series Gaya’s Astronomy, Orias, Soldiers of the Empire, Hotel, your blogs: At the Bar, Middle Child Press, Dark & Twisty, Blasian Narrative, The Black Girls Club. First question: WOMAN, WHEN DO YOU SLEEP?

AM: I don’t.  *wink*  Next question.

DRU: Okay, fine, next question, when do you find the time?

AM: I make the time.  I check emails, comments, and blog stats first thing in the morning.  Literally.  I roll over in bed, silence the alarm on my phone and start skimming.  I check on my lunch and breaks at work, and then when I come home, I start scribbling with a vengeance.  It drives some of my relatives crazy.

DRU: Now when we last chatted, you were looking at some titles set in the Hirosawa universe before shifting focus. Tell us what space you were in and what made you change directions which obviously was the right call for you.

AM: Sometimes a writer tries to do one thing when what they really want (and need) to do is something totally different.  The problem is, we don’t always realize right away where it is we need to go.

When I die, those who’ve read me are most likely going to remember the Hirosawa/d’Auvigne volumes the most.  They are the overarching monster projects which are going to take the most time and planning.  They are my most serious creations, and they require extensive consultations.  While I’ve harassed you about my intended story for Nathaniel Hirosawa, I’ve harassed my uncle about my intended story for Trent Hirosawa.  And all these Hirosawa-laden roads will lead to the d’Auvignes, whom I hope readers will thoroughly enjoy.

In the meantime, I’m not worthy of scribbling these characters just yet.  I still need to hone my skills, get more practice, and more feedback before I can properly delve into that world and do it justice.

DRU: Before we get to your new material, I have to talk about one of the best books I read last year. Folklore, and Other Stories. What prompted the re-release?

AM: The first issue was thoroughly flawed and published on a budget while I was still in graduate school.  Yet it received actual critical acclaim, I sold autographed copies like hot cakes, and that was just the abridged version.  So I figured I should edit and expand it, and then re-release the real version in digital form.

DRU: What has been the response to Folklore?

AM: I’m amazed.  When I was first drafting the story, I knew it was a bit different and experimental, but I didn’t realize just how different and experimental until I got the response.  Everyone seems to really love it, and to my surprise, it did exactly what I intended it to do.  It triggered people’s imaginations and let them roam; they were enchanted and spellbound and it was all because I started writing an anthology on a whim while listening to “Desert Rose” by Sting.

DRU: Congrats once again on Folklore. Okay so switching gears, you decided to embark on penning a fanfiction series set in the Star Trek universe which has taken on a life of its own in terms of scope. Tell us how Gaya’s Astronomy came to be.

AM: *chuckles* Okay, so “Gaya’s Astronomy” is a play on the TV show “Grey’s Anatomy.”  While talking about Grey’s Anatonomy on my blog, I remember a commenter being disappointed with how all the fun, flirty adventures were reserved for the white girls on the show, namely Meredith Grey.  So I thought I’d do a fanfic which focused on women of color, but I didn’t want to do a medical series.  In fact, I racked my brain for ages on where to set it and what to call it.

I don’t know I decided upon “Gaya’s Astronomy”, but once I did, Star Trek just stepped in and took over.

DRU:  Did you ever expect Gaya’s Astronomy to become the epic saga that it is today?

AM: I don’t know about “epic”, but no.  I didn’t expect to do all those trailers and teasers; I didn’t think anyone would that of a much a nerd to get into it.  Like Folkore, I’m surprised by the following it’s garnered.

DRU: Has the story progressed anywhere near what you expected or intended?

AM: No.  I expected it to be a semi-parody of the show.  I matched the characters up with Grey’s Anatomy’s characters the best I could, even matching their initials and original personalities (at first).  But my lead character is a Bajoran, her best friend is a Trill, her other best friend is a Human raised on Risa, etc and the complexities of Star Trek led it in a total differently direction.

DRU: When you launched the series, where did you initially see the characters headed?

AM: I was going to let the follow similar storylines to the original show, but it wasn’t happening.  Star Trek is a very dominant fandom with decades on Grey’s Anatomy.  The alien cultures and familiar Trek themes immediately took over.  The next thing I knew, I was redoing the lineup and adding all these new characters to accommodate the Trek mythos.  I also realized that I couldn’t keep Gaya Mylanti modeled after Meredith Grey for too long; I don’t like Meredith Grey and would’ve gotten fed up halfway through the first volume had I stayed faithful to her characterization.

DRU: How has the prose surprised you?

AM: Gaya’s Astronomy gets surprisingly emotional in some spots.  Sure, when I’m tired or in a hurry, it lags in some places, but when I have ideas and energy, I almost forget it’s a fanfic and try to push myself as far as possible.

The epilogue of the first volume is still emotional for me.  When Gaya lies in sickbay recovering from a near death experience, she emotionlessly confesses her mother was a Bajoran comfort woman who married a Cardassian Gul.  In a leaden tone, she calls her mother a whore and talks about how she ran away and hadn’t spoken to her mother in years.  But after almost dying, Gaya realizes the worst thing she could ever do to her mother was to go die somewhere without her mother ever knowing what happened.

It kills me every time.

DRU: What about the journey of the characters?

AM: I’m proud of the girls.  They’ve really grown up into a diverse group of mature people.  Love them or hate them, they’re grown, and whenever I get around to writing Volume 5, I hope to show more of that growth and maturity.

Gaya in particular has been very fleshed out; she’s gone from being a bitter, immature Ensign with mother issues to a natural born operative whose mind is totally on the job.  She has to fight, to spy, even abduct a Vorta sometimes, not to mention outthink operatives far more experienced than she.

DRU: Now you’re a woman with a plan and there are a number of themes that resonate in Gaya’s Astronomy. Let’s first begin with the casting. The cast is predominantly POC which, even in fanfiction isn’t particularly common. Why the decision to have a POC cast and why is this still an important issue?

AM: I haven’t owned a television in years, and I rarely go to a movie theater.  When I first noticed this, I thought it was a bit odd, but then I realized it was because I was tired of not seeing enough people of color.  Not angry, not bitter, just tired.  It gets exhausting—literally exhausting—to have to look for a character of color, hope they get lines and adequate character development, and then be disappointed Every Single Time.  I’m always yawning or my mind is wandering, drafting my own damn stories in my head.

When my mother moved in with me last year, she brought her giant flat-screen TV and her cable.  I use that TV for two things: watching DVDs and Scandal.  The rest of the time, I’m online watching and re-watching webshows written and starring POC—Between Women, The Peculuar Kind, Awkward Black Girl, David So Comedy, RoomieLoverFriends, The Unwritten Rules, The Number—and I could go on and on.  Not to mention Julie, my partner in crime, and I are obsessively watching palace dramas, fantasy epics, steampunk, and action adventures from Asia.

It invigorates us, brings us laughter, makes us whole.  We’re reminded more than ever that we’re people, not token best friends or canon fodder.  Mainstream media tells us this and reality bends to its will.  Case in point: when I was in West Virginia, all these white girls wanted me to be their “best friend”.  They wanted me to listen to their woes and be their designated drivers.  They wanted my world to entirely revolve around them.  But if I needed something or had a problem, I was on my own.  I remember crying about something once, and a shocked white “friend” described it as hell having frozen over.

I wasn’t meant to be emotional, or attractive, or interesting.  I was supposed to be as flat and one-dimensional as every token best friend of color on TV.

Even worse, when I worked with kids, I came into contact with some seriously disturbed families.  One of my coworkers was a willowy blonde beauty.  And while she was a wonderful person, everyone rushed to protect her but never me.  When we had to deal with a particularly toxic client, the school principal had the gall to go on and on about how unsafe it was for her, how dangerous the father was, how he had a thing for young women, and how she was afraid my blonde coworker might come to harm.

“Send her instead,” she added hastily, pointing at me.

DRU:  Holy………wow. Now, as always, the Blasian theme is running strong. Tell us why this theme is important to you and why this phenomenon is explored in your work?

AM: The Afro-Asiatic experience is my life, and for those who don’t read the Blasian Narrative, understand that when I say “Blasian”, I’m referring to Indigenous Americans, Polynesians, etc in addition to Asians and Africans.  There’s so much shared history and culture between the two continents which most American POC don’t realize and don’t understand because we live under the boot heel of a Eurocentric narrative.  We don’t realize the significance or implications it will have on our future because we’re told to focus on the black/white dynamic.

But the reality is, Afro-Asiatic relations are part of that “wholeness” we need to fortify our identities.  I mean, everyone comes from Africa, this is true, but while that tells us everything, it also tells us nothing.  We have to explore the human connection much more deeply if we truly want to learn about who we are.

From a writing standpoint, the Blasian aspect adds new dimensions to characters and familiar plots, and caters to a thoroughly ignored market.  It also presents a unique exciting challenge.

DRU: Now with Blasian Themes, it’s often Asian male and black female. Is there a possibility that we may see a black male/Asian female, Asian male/black male, Asian woman/black woman, etc?

AM: Oh, hon…yes.  With me, that’s a given.

DRU: You wrote a piece last year that hit me to the core. It was about how you were done with the Heterosexist Narrative. Tell us what inspired that post and how has this affected your writing in your opinion?

AM: The epic fail of Zoe Saldana portraying Nina Simone in a fauxmance with a man who was gay in real life was the last straw for me.

The Heterosexist Narrative tries to tell us the couples we see in film and on television are normal, healthy, happy people in love and we should all try to be like them.  Bullshit.  Do you fall in love with every stranger who buys you ONE beer or goes out for coffee with you?  How many of your one-night stands have ended in romantic waterworks and a wedding?  And where are all these charming, good-looking, gold-hearted strangers with money anyway?  I get stalked by weirdoes and losers.  Last I checked, it was called being female and living during a recession.

Hollywood has become one long-winded, airbrushed commercial for heterosexuality, and like every other commercial in existence, it’s a big fat lie.

So to answer your question, being done with that Narrative has prompted me to start drafting more and more gay characters, plain and simple.  I consider it being the change I want to see in the world.

DRU: I personally want to thank you as a queer reader for practicing what you preach. You’ve proven that in Gaya’s Astronomy with characters Isi, Cillia, and Rindy. You developed these characters and show them with respect. Something most writers seem incapable of doing. Tell us what is your secret?

AM: Thank you.  I was once asked a similar question about the Asian men in my stories.  I explained that I wrote them as men first, and Asian second.  Sexuality is no different.  Isi, Cillia, and Rindy are strong, proud, capable women first.  Being attracted to women is not who they are.  It’s a part of who they are.

DRU: Interestingly enough, Isi and Rindy are two of your most popular characters. Thoughts?

AM: Rindy was added on a whim.  She was only meant to appear two or three times but I felt there was something going on between those two that they weren’t telling us.  So I kept writing and sure enough, they turned out to be a very emotionally charged, complicated, passionate couple.

I want to thank everyone who’s supported “Risi”.  When I get around to penning Volume 5, the fireworks will continue.

DRU: Another thing I noted is that this story is refreshingly female-centric and woman positive. There’s a cast of diverse women. Gaya’s Astronomy almost reads like a love letter to women. Was this a conscious choice or something that naturally manifested?

AM: Definitely conscious.  We need more female-centric projects; my goal is to attempt to write as many as possible.  In Gaya’s Astronomy, the characters keep bringing up the Ovarian Rule of not compromising yourself for another person.  I want to bring the Ovarian Rule from the 24th Century into the 21st Century —no more compromising.

DRU: Dreamcasting. Tell the readers what it is, why it helps you as a writer and why it’s one of our favorite hobbies as we’ve discussed in the past.

AM: Dreamcasting—which you got me into—involves compiling your dream cast of real life actors for either an established project or a hypothetical one.  I’ve been known to redo the entire cast of Trek shows, for example, with predominantly POC actors.

But once I do, original ideas start surfacing and what starts out as a laugh on a blog turns into a project of its own.

Gaya’s Astronomy involves dreamcasting; every main character and almost every guest character is “played” by a real-life actor.  For example, Gaya Mylanti is Megalyn Echikunwoke.  Isi Soyinka is Rutina Wesley, and Rindy Ruçi is Eliza Dushku.  By giving characters faces and voices, they become a lot easier to write.

DRU: You’re an accomplished author, publisher, prolific blogger and fan-fiction writer. Some people would think being a published writer, the last thing you would do is pen fanfics. What are your thoughts on fan-fiction and the common opinions associated with it. Why do you write it? 

AM: Fanfiction is essential.  When studied, it tells you a lot about the society you live in.  Anyone who’s paid attention to the rampant fail in the Spock/Uhura fandom or Swangate knows what I’m talking about.

Aspiring writers who look down on fanfiction need to get off their high horses.  That’s how you learn.  Fanfiction is great way to hone your talent and get regular feedback.  When you dreamcast and organize your work into volume, you can watch yourself grow and learn from your mistakes.  It helps with writer’s block and is a great way to reward fans who are nice enough to buy your books.

I will know that I’ve truly arrived when people are writing fanfiction based on my original characters.

DRU: The site has gotten a massive surge since the launch of Gaya’s Astronomy. No doubt you’re excited about the series’ success.

AM: I am!  I’m still a little surprised that it developed a following, though.  I wasn’t sure anybody would go for it.

DRU: Any other fandoms you’re looking at penning fanfics for?

AM: I’ve actually opened up a poll and a thread on my fanfiction blog for people to vote and make suggestions.  So far, I’m considering a fanfiction focusing on Kendra the Vampire Slayer.  And since I regard J.K. Rowling a master storyteller whom I could learn a lot from in terms of prose and whimsy, I’m thinking of penning a Harry Potter fanfiction set in the future with an all new cast.

I’m also considering penning a fanfiction starring the Fox Demon from the Painted Skin films, and having Gabrielle Union reprise her role as Perri Reed from Night Stalker.


DRU: You’ve launched a new series: Selo & Inya. First and foremost, congratulations. I loved Book 1.  For those who haven’t read it yet, what is the series about?

AM: Selo & Inya are about two women who meet and decide to travel a fictional, ancient world together.  Selo is a tall, dark-skinned warrior from the all-female Queendom of Tiy.  She doesn’t have much experience traveling in a mixed society.  She’s young, and though she’s tough, she’s a bit naïve and driven mostly by curiosity.

Inya is a short nomad and a skilled herbalist from the Kingdom of Oon Sati.  She’s grown up in a mixed society and often acts as Selo’s guide as they travel, but the truth is, Inya needs some serious guidance herself.  Inya has a colorful past, and doesn’t show the best judgment.

DRU: What inspired the series?

AM: The usual. Watching shows like Xena and waiting for a brown girl—any brown girl—to show up.

DRU: With this being and ongoing serial, can you give us a glimpse of what you have planned for our two heroines?

AM: Comedy, mostly; the two are going to learn about each other’s society and each other.  Book 2’s about to be released for publication; in Hunter, they agree to assist an old friend of Selo’s who is a bounty hunter.  Unfortunately, the fugitive in question has more than just a bounty on his head.

DRU: Between Selo & Inya and Tainted from your partner in crime, Amaya Radjani, it appears as if 2013 is going to be the year of Middle Child Press. Was this coincidence that all of these titles are coming out this year or is this merely an elaborate plot for world domination?

AM: Coincidence. Amaya and I just try to keep writing and get to know our readers…but I wouldn’t count out world domination just yet.  Amaya has a Warrior Princess Complex.

DRU: Indeed she does. LOL! Because you know I have to ask, do you know if we’ll be seeing the Hirosawas again?

AM: Definitely.

DRU:  So what else lies ahead for Ankhesen Mie?

AM: Finding time to write all this stuff down.  *crosses fingers*  Wish me luck.

DRU: Any parting shots?

AM: I just want to give a shout out to our other partner in crime, JNguyen.  The beautiful and talented Julie does artwork for Amaya and me and I don’t know where we’d be without her.  She’s responsible for all the covers of Selo & Inya and I owe her so much.

Indeed. JNguyen is awesome indeed. See for yourself.

For more excellent reading, you can find Ankhesen’s other titles here.