Author Interview: Ai Jiang
Ai explores landing her first book agent, her upcoming novella, and organically growing an online following.
Ai Jiang is a Chinese-Canadian writer and an immigrant from Fujian. She is a member of HWA, SFWA, and Codex. Her work has appeared or is forthcoming in F&SF, The Dark, Uncanny, The Masters Review, among others. Her debut novella Linghun(April 2023) is forthcoming with Dark Matter INK. Find her on Twitter @AiJiang_ and online at her website www.aijiang.ca.
Ai is also the author of the short story “Return Policy” from Radon Issue 1.
How has your writing developed from your first publication to today?
I think my writing can now execute the ideas I have for my stories (though not by much admittedly), and my writing itself has gotten more refined. But my writing process is just as chaotic as when I first started short stories. I’ve been trying to organize the chaos and draw on it for idea formation and the need for unrefined creativity. I try to box in the chaos when it’s time to structure and write. I’ve been better about leaving too much of the theme and intentions of the piece within subtext, so that my work might be more accessible.
What appealed to you about Radon that led you to submit to us soon after we launched?
A few of the things I’ve noticed about my work, particularly my science fiction stories (or pieces of its subgenres) is that it leans heavily into themes of political, social, and cultural satire. I find myself commenting on the ways society often fails us such as the rigidity of social constructs and the way that culture may restrict rather than promote growth. What I love most about Radon is how the magazine’s mission is exactly these issues and themes I explore in my own work—current injustices and also how they might persist in our future if we allow them to continue.
What can you tell us about your upcoming debut novella, LINGHUN?
It is a child born from death. A child of grief, and loss, and mourning; a child born from the fear of being left behind. It never occurred to me just how much it draws on the deaths I’ve experienced throughout my life, the ways they have impacted me, the way they manifest as something in disguise yet something I should have realized is so apparent on the page. But in the briefest essence, the novella is about a neighborhood called HOME where people purchase/fight for houses to get a chance to be reunited with the ghosts of their dead loved ones. It is wild, and it is messy, but I hope readers take a chance on it.
What was the process like landing your first book agent?
To be completely honest, I had little luck pitching things during previous pitch events. Though back then, I was trying to sell a literary non-spec novella, and that is one of the hardest things to sell. So this year, when PitDark came around, a few friends in a writing group I’m a part of threw out the idea of pitching a collection. That’s quite uncommon for these events as most try to shop novels. At the time, I had all the stories, but I didn’t have a collection put together. There were less than a handful of hours left in the event (usually runs 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. for a select day), but I decided to tweet out a pitch anyhow without any expectations given the number of tweets already circulating throughout the day.
It surprised and touched me how many people helped boost and retweet the post, and I couldn’t be more thankful for it. The pitch ended up being my most successful one with four publisher likes and three agent likes. I reached out to everyone after frantically scrambling to put together the collection in two days in fear that the people who liked the tweet might forget about me if I had taken any longer, then sent it out. I advanced it to a couple of other agents I had been meaning to query as well.
I was extremely lucky to have all the small presses extend an offer both on the day I had sent the collection to them and also the day after, so I informed all the agents that had my collection on hand about the offers. Some agents got back to me with kind passes given time restraints, and there were a few I didn’t receive responses from until after I’d accepted the offer from my current agent—Lisa Abellera from KC&A. Lisa had requested the full manuscript the day I informed her of the small press offers and had read it and asked to schedule a call to offer rep a few days after!
You've amassed quite a following on Twitter and are a regular content creator online. Do you have any advice for writers just starting to establish their online presence?
It’s a wild thing to think that from late 2020 until today my Twitter has accumulated over 6,000 followers. I used to run a foodie account on Instagram with my sister, and we had organically grown the follower count from 0 to about 1000 or so in one summer—it’s at around 3000+ now, but we haven’t been very active. I think what worked best for us was to be ourselves and speak as we would on a daily basis, but with specific topics catered to the account in mind.
In the case of the food account, it would be the food adventures me and my sister had together, focusing on our thoughts on the cuisine and the restaurants. For Twitter, I wanted to focus mainly on writing, but I also wanted to focus on me as a person (my philosophical musings, daily life, family relationships, relationship and thoughts about the world, things that every person have or will experience in some form that they could connect to—and of course, cats) and building a positive community with my feed. So one advice I’d have would be to be yourself and to find others who have shared interests and who you will get along with. From there, others will find you as well.
Looking at your impressive portfolio, which piece was the most rewarding to write?
I would say “Give Me English”—not just because it has been receiving a lot of support, but because it’s a story that I felt the most passionate for before writing it, as I was writing it, and long after I had written it. It’s encapsulating everything I find frightening, unfair, confusing about the world, about people, about immigration, and about the function of language and the significant ways in which it fundamentally changes so completely how we experience the world and connect with people.
When inspiration strikes and you begin writing, what aspect of the story do you begin with?
The concept. I’m a big fan of strange concepts. The stranger the better, and it’s always the concepts that I get most excited about when I begin a story. But I’m also keen to meet my characters and discover more about who they are, because they are the ones who will bring my world to life.
Last we saw, you were close to becoming an SFWA member. How is that journey moving?
Since then, I have become a full SFWA member and an active HWA member. And one of the wildest things for me has been to see goals become realities.
You’ve mentioned the human body’s weakness and the pains that come with biological existence. Have you developed any techniques to stay fit while writing for long stints?
I used to play competitive badminton, but I knew I was never going to become professional. I play a few times a week now to destress and remain active! But outside of that, my habits are quite poor. I write best during late nights, but it’s not always sustainable. Since getting married, it’s not a routine I can easily mesh with my spouse’s. I find myself often skipping meals and being dehydrated (curse my dislike for the taste of water, which I’m not sure why). Recently, I’ve been trying to slip into a better sleeping routine, but my writing mind is trying to adjust to working during the day. Usually if I’m writing at length, I’ll have snacks and beverages on my table. I’ll write for a couple of hours and take an hour or two break to heat up a proper meal and watch something that is either mindless or in the same genre as what I’m writing so I don’t break concentration, and then return to writing a couple of more hours. With this routine, I mostly end up writing every other day rather than every day. I try to do something else writing-related such as editing or answering emails on the “off days” to reset.
You recently finished your master's degree. What is next for you and your writing life?
The plan is to continue my long-form projects and move away from shorts unless there’s one that calls to me and won’t let go. (Or if there happens to be any solicited projects). I have in mind to work on a couple of stand-alone sci-fi novels (-punk subgenres), an epic fantasy mixed-genre series, along with a horror novella and novel. I have a novelette project in the works with Shortwave Publishing that will be announced in January which I’m very excited about!
I believe these might take a while to complete, though the current plan is to finish them in the next three years or so. Outside of the above, I’ll have to wait until the time comes to see what awaits!