Friday, December 20, 2013

Jacqueline Koyanagi sits down with Twinja Book Reviews! Pardon as we blush!

 Her book has given us the biggest book boner! Black woman, dark skin, natural hair? AND sci-fi in one shot? We just had to learn about the author. She was more than happy to sit down and discuss with us, and it's a good thing. She needs to be seen! She has a unique perspective, and interviewing her has been awesome!

1. I am completely in awe of you! Ever since I saw your book, I've kept tabs on you and finally bought your novel "Ascension: A Tangled Axon", but for those first meeting you, why don't you tell us more about yourself.

Thanks so much for the support! Beyond being a writer, I have an obsession with dogs, as well as gems and minerals. I’m diagnosed on the autism spectrum, and I sort of credit that with my tendency since early childhood to pick something that interests me and memorize everything I can find pertaining to that subject. Dogs and gems/minerals fall under that category. 

I probably picked that to talk about because I’m typing this with my sixty-pound Doberman draped over me.

Other than that, most of my non-writing time is spent with people I love. I dedicate a lot of my free time to my current partner and their partner (my metamour); we’re a happy little family. Of course I date on my own as well, and have had a few awesome relationships along the way, but I have yet to find another special someone who wants to stick around for my writerly eccentricities like talking about characters as if they’re real people. ;)

Oh yeah, video games too. I’ve been into them my whole life, though I’ll usually pick one or two to obsess over, and that’s only if I have time.

2. Is there any backstory to how your novel "Ascension: A Tangled Axon" came to be?

Actually, it started out as something completely different, but the idea that helped the book become what it is now was a mental image of the crew of the Tangled Axon. I had Alana in mind already, and the Axon was the missing piece. I wanted to know more about these people and what drives them. Marre, in particular, drove my interest in the ship and its crew. When I realized why she was so important to the functioning of the crew, I knew I had to write the story.

3. I can't ignore your cover! Being Afro-Latino, I've yet to find images in books that remind me of myself physically. I recently retired my marley twists, but the cover of your book looked more like me than most covers of books I own! The publishing industry seems to be notorious for whitewashing book covers. Did you have a say on the outcome of the final cover? Do you think misrepresentation of cover art make a book more marketable?

Actually, I did have a say in the outcome of the final cover, which as I understand it isn’t the norm. The folks at Prime/Masque were fantastic about asking me what I thought about choice of artist, concepts, models, poses. Way more input than I expected. I have lots of love for my publisher.

Before my agent sold the book, I knew the one and only thing I’d raise a stink about would be whitewashing, though I hoped it wouldn’t come up. Fortunately, the folks at Masque never once suggested the cover should feature anyone but Alana, and they certainly never suggested making her something other than who she is.

I can’t say whether whitewashing covers makes a book more marketable. I’ve heard sales are higher for books with white people on their covers, but I don’t know. Even if that’s true, I care about sales as much as the next author, but not more than integrity. I wouldn’t be able to look myself in the mirror if I wrote stories featuring oppressed groups but then didn’t stand against whitewashing if it were to come up.

I’m optimistic that it won’t. Maybe that’s na├»ve, but I’m hopeful.

4. Has there been a piece of particular fan mail, or a comment from a fan that's stood out to you about your writing? Would you mind sharing why it touched you?

I don’t want to single anyone out, but I’ve received a few letters thanking me for writing a book with characters they loved who reminded them of themselves, people they love, people they’ve known. And that’s not just with regard to oppressed groups—I even received a note from someone whose passion is cars, who saw themself reflected in Alana’s connection to starships. They talked about how difficult it can be feeling impassioned by something that’s frequently written off as frivolous, and that reading about Alana was validating for them. I’ve also received a couple of notes from people who appreciated the slightly kinky undertones in the relationship between Alana and Tev, or the way several characters experienced the aftermath of traumatic events.

Knowing the book means something to someone, for any reason, makes all the work that goes into writing worthwhile.

5. What is your writing process like? Do you create characters or plot first? Do you always picture your main protagonists as marginalized groups?

I do always picture my protagonists as members of marginalized groups. It’s not so much, “Oh I need to make sure this character is marginalized,” and more that those are the stories that interest me, that move me, that inspire me to tell a story.

Writing-wise, it depends on the story. Ascension was unique for me in that it started with characters first, and that’s evident in the writing I’m sure. The book focuses heavily on character relationships—it’s a sci-fantasy romance, after all. Normally I begin either with a moment in time—a character or a society in a situation—or a picture of a world, and I move outward in development from there. How did this come to be? Why does it matter? Which characters’ stories would be the most interesting to follow? What’s important about the intersection of this character and her society?

6. Were there any authors or important figures in your life that made you want to write the books you wanted to write?

Most of my friends who are fellow writers. So many of us cheered each other on for years while we all worked on writing publishable novels. Our mutual support and determination was mutually inspiring, and continues to be. It might sound trite or corny to say that my friends and acquaintances inspire me, but I really can’t think of anyone else who had more influence on me feeling empowered to write than the other creative folks in my life.

7. Your heroine Alana Quick seems major bad ass! Who was the last fictional character you felt extremely connected to?

You know, it’s actually very rare for me to feel extremely connected to a character on a personal level. One of the books that really did it for me was Catherynne Valente’s Palimpsest, followed by her Russian fairytale retelling, Deathless. Elements of several different characters in both books resonated with me; I’m reminded of a passage in Palimpsest in which one character talked about her life as reflected in California’s geography, stretched over distances. That spoke to me.

There’s also a strong thread of sexuality running through both books, but coming from a place of transcendent intensity that I find is rare in fiction. At least, it’s rare to find it done well. In the case of Palimpsest, sexuality was literally transcendent—a means to an end—and Deathless… well, just read it. It’s amazing.

(I also might have an enormous crush on both Casimira and Marya Morevna. Just saying.)

That doesn’t really answer your question, though. I suppose I tend to feel connected to ideas more than characters, now that I think about it, which is odd considering I gravitate toward books that focus more on character than plot. Probably because the ideas that move me are those reflected in character dynamics, relationships, decisions. Characters that illuminate something bigger than themselves.

A great example of this would be The Doctor (of Doctor Who), particularly the Tenth Doctor, whose polarized intensity was beautiful to me because of what it said about the way our experiences and decisions shape us. We are a collection of consequences, and the Tenth Doctor’s personality kept those consequences close to the surface.

8. I see that you also create jewelry! Is there anything you cant do? What inspires the design behind your custom jewelry?

Most of my jewelry is pride jewelry in one way or another: queer pride, polyamory pride, trans* pride, for example. They’re both my best sellers and the pieces I love working on the most outside of custom orders. Expressions of individuality matter to me; I enjoy providing one form of expression for the people who want to wear my jewelry.

9. You represent SOOO many forms of diversity in one person. Many either don't get the pleasure to read people of color, disabled, a member of the LGBTQ community or female three dimensional characters in one. What do you think is the biggest issue standing in the way of characters with depth being marketed in the same ways, let's say, a character like Harry Potter is shaped, considering he is white, male,cis-gendered,straight and able bodied?

The biggest issue? Surely systemic racism, sexism, classism, heterosexism, transphobia, you name it. Systemic racism is the reason people supposedly prefer covers with white people on them. No one wants to hear that, but it’s true.

10. Where can anyone tuning in find anything and everything Jacqueline Koyanagi?( This is where you can give me links and possibly an author pic :) I wasnt sure which one you'd prefer, or if you'd prefer one at all, but this is where I would put that!)

My website is

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