Ai Jiang: thoughtful writing & selling stories

Ai Jiang: thoughtful writing & selling stories

By Angelique Fawns


Ai Jiang is no stranger to the world of speculative short story writing. Her tales can be found in some of the most respected markets in our industry including: The Magazine of Fantasy & Science Fiction, Uncanny, The Dark Magazine, Pseudopod, The Deadlands, and Dark Matter. She mixes the literary with speculative elements and her writing has a unique, vibrant flavor. Jiang is studying her craft by pursuing a Master’s in Creative Writing at the University of Edinburgh and works as a fiction editor at Orion’s Belt. (A pro-paying market for flash fiction.)  

 I discovered this prolific Canadian-Chinese writer through our very own Horrortree newsletter written by Holley Cornetto. She featured Ai Jiang’s story For Viporis” at Flashpoint Science Fiction, and I loved it so much I contacted Jiang to find out more about her.

AF: When did you first decide that you wanted to become a writer? 

AI: Rather than a specific instance, I think the thought has come and gone throughout my life, but because writer as an occupation isn’t one acknowledged by my family; I’d never thought to pursue it fully until September 2020. In a sense, you could say that was when I had the courage to become a writer.  


AF: You are a prolific short story writer, tell us about your process? 

AI: That’s kind of you to say! I think it often depends on the story. For some stories, the characters come to me first, for others, it might be the larger concept, emotions, or themes. I do find that I’m often influenced by what is happening in the world, the social and political injustices, challenges in my life or the lives of those around me, lingering “What If” questions. But I’d say I spend far more time thinking about a story than I do in the actual writing of it, and the ease of the prose is also influenced by how well-thought out each story idea is before I start. During writing sprints, I usually work on outlines or jotting down plot points and character arcs rather than writing an actual story—unless I’ve already jotted down what I need to write the thing. There are some stories that come to me fully fleshed out during random times of the day, some take longer—weeks or months—coming in snippets which I jot down before I start the story/novella/novel. I do find that bouncing ideas off my spouse really helps because he often asks me follow-up questions about plot/logic holes in my story concepts, prodding me to dig deeper to unearth what it is truly that I want to say with a piece.  


AF: Why speculative fiction? 

AI: I feel like speculative fiction offers room to explore aspects of society and people that might not necessarily be possible through realist fiction—to exaggerate, amplify, and emphasize inequalities, the failures of society—or sometimes human nature. I can explore how the world might be like if things were different from what we know and understand, what we’re familiar with and used it. With horror, I find it helps with digging deep into existing anxieties, stressors, fears, and how it might differ from person to person, and what it might reveal about not only myself but also the people around me. I’d like to think that horror helps build empathy and an acceptance and understanding of others. For fantasy and science fiction, I’d like to think it offers a view into a world outside of our own, how we might be able to improve our world, and how we might be able to avoid potential dark futures. Often fantasy and science fiction might also comment on particular aspects of our reality—things we might be aware of but don’t fully understand or know how to tackle.  


AF: You recently landed sales at some of the most esteemed pro-markets in the business. What is the secret to your success? 

AI: I do find that the stories that have landed at these markets are ones that are closest to my heart. The stories are ones I felt most when writing, ones I’ve thought most about before writing, and ones I continue to think about long after they’re done. The emotionality of these pieces, I think, rings most true to me—and I think it shows through when someone outside of the story looks in.  


AF: Your first novel is in the works. Can you tell us about it? 

 AI: Often the things I write don’t quite fit neatly into a genre—at least in my mind when I’m trying to sort them. The novel I’m working on is a blending of elements from gothic dark fantasy, steampunk, fairy tale, cli-fi, and cyberpunk. I was thinking a lot about the environment, the way industrialism has impacted both nature and our lives, and in doing so began conjuring a world to explore these issues: the morally grey aspect of development— both its necessity and consequences.  


But to give a brief summary: 

 Rather than preparing to be next in line to become the leading Elder for the people of Feng, Lufeng finds herself preparing to become the Emperor’s next bride after both her mother and sisters disappeared after becoming the same. Lufeng sacrifices herself to halt the industrial growth of the Emperor and vows to take his life, while attempting to unearth the truth about her missing family before she suffers the same fate.  


There will be technology, materialism, the destruction and reparation of nature, and perhaps what is seldom seen in my short fiction—love.  


AF: You are a fiction editor at Orion’s Belt, a new venue for flash fiction writers. Can you tell me more about it? 

AI: I think what Orion’s Belt is often known for is being more open to experimental forms of fiction, ways of storytelling that might stray away from traditionally used perspectives, structures/formats, and narrative progressions. We enjoy pieces that are bold and take risks, and are thought-provoking and philosophical.  


AF: You’ve also worked at Strange Horizons, Orca Literary, Velvet Fields Magazine, Reedsy, and Maudlin House. What did you learn?  

 AI: All of these were volunteer positions, though Orca Literary pays their readers a stipend for each issue. I find myself becoming a more careful reader of a variety of genres and types of writing after working at these magazines because of their vastly different aesthetics and the pieces that come in through their slush pile. I would highly recommend newer writers in particular to volunteer at a magazine, particularly one specific to the type of writing they do themselves, to learn what makes a piece work well.  


AF: If a reader would like to sample your work, what piece of your own writing is your favorite? 


AI: It’s hard to name one specific one as my favorite, so I’ll list one in each of the genres I write in! 

Horror: “Fisheyes” 

Fantasy: “Yongshi” 

Science Fiction: “Give Me English” 

Realist: “Waves and Seesaws”  


AF: Who are your influences? 

AI: Virginia Woolf, Ted Chiang, Kazuo Ishiguro, Ursula K. LeGuin, Margaret Atwood, Toni Morrison, Shirley Jackson, Hayao Miyazaki, Ruth Ozeki, Ken Liu, Junot Díaz, Don DeLillo, Jhumpa Lahiri, Octavia Butler, Bram Stoker, Shakespeare.  


AF: Do you have any advice/tips for writers who wish to make sales to pro-speculative markets? 

 AI: Know what the markets want, whether it is through reading many of the works the market publishes or submitting a ton to the market and making note of what they seem to be responding more positively to, but don’t try to change your writing in attempts to fit what they’re looking for. Write what speaks to you most, and people will slowly gather to listen.  


AF: Finally, what is the ultimate goal/career for Ai Jiang? 

 AI: To have my work be recognized for its artistic merits but also celebrated by a more general audience. To have writing become a full-time career would be ideal, but to also achieve this without having to significantly change the way I write to make it more commercial—a dream perhaps, but one can hope! As much as we might often say having our work read is enough, which it truly is a great honour already, many of us writers seek validation of some form—awards, being part of lists, making sales. I, too, seek recognition for the thing I pour my love and time into—what many of us in the community do. It’s like seeing one’s own child succeed, and I think that would be the ultimate goal for me: to see my writing succeed.  


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