It’s May, and in honor of Asian Pacific American Heritage Month we wanted to feature one of our authors with Asian heritage within the Furry Writers’ Guild. We interviewed Allison Thai who has been featured in publications such as Zooscape, Infurno: The Nine Circles of Hell, and ROAR Volume 8. Without further ado, let’s get to the interview.
FWG: Tell the guild and our readers a bit about yourself.
Allison: I am the oldest daughter of Vietnam War refugees. My first taste in animal stories came from the Redwall and Warriors series. Though my fursona is a husky, according to Vietnamese myth I’m actually a fairy-dragon hybrid. No, I didn’t make that up. The Vietnamese creation story claims that the Vietnamese people are descended from a dragon lord and a fairy queen—con rồng cháu tiên: children of the dragon, grandchildren of gods. Pretty rad, huh?
FWG: What is your favorite work that you have written?
Allison: “In the Name of Science,” featured in Thurston Howl Publication’s Infurno anthology. It’s historical fiction set in WWII Japan, based on Unit 731 and written in the form of logs from a young ermine surgeon, who gradually becomes disillusioned and disgusted by the work she’s doing. Writing this story let me grapple with the horrifying reality that Japan had conducted covert human experiments upon other Asian groups. Giving this dark piece of our history an anthro twist doesn’t make the inhumanity of it any less.
On a lighter note, I absolutely love how THP went all out with the presentation of this hellish-themed anthology: black pages, white font, interludes to show the fates of characters who’ve committed sins. THP took a step further with my story: using cursive and courier fonts to reflect the alternation between my protagonist’s personal writings and her more objective, detached recordings of atrocities she took part in.
This was certainly no joy ride to write, and I came out disturbed by this story that I had pulled from the darkest, deepest recess of my mind. Still, I’m proud and grateful to have written it. What I hope to achieve with “In the Name of Science” is to raise awareness of an event sometimes known as the Asian Holocaust—not talked about as much as its Western counterpart—and share with the reader what scares me the most: not fictional monstrosities, but how man is capable of being the cruelest creature.
FWG: What do you think makes a good story?
Allison: I need to have characters who are grounded in reality, and a character arc I can resonate with and root for. Readers can suspend their disbelief and accept fantastical things like sentient spaceships, schools of wizardry, superhero societies, talking animals, etc., but if there are no believable, relatable characters, that’s when a reader like me puts down the book. The protagonist doesn’t have to be necessarily likeable, but plausibility and authenticity in the voice, personality, and drive is a must for me. I’m also a sucker for beautiful style, poetic prose, and poignant, succinct turns of phrase.
FWG: How long have you been in the guild, and what changes have you seen with regards to how writing is handled since joining?
Allison: I have been in the guild since 2016. Since then, I’ve learned a lot from being among other furry writers on how to approach worldbuilding and characterization specifically for furry stories. I appreciate that aspect of the guild and the furry writing community very much. Though I’m not entrenched in guild management, nor have I been at the helm of any anthro project, I’ve seen attempts to advocate the recognition and merit of furry literature, from the existence of things like Furry Book Review to the much-needed arrival of Zooscape, a new anthro magazine created and run by Mary E. Lowd. (I have a story there, by the way, a novelette on Arctic foxes in Iceland, and had the most fun writing it!)
As someone who has one foot in the furry writing community, and the other in the genre/SFF/speculative fiction community, I’m seeing the gap between them grow smaller and smaller as, for example, my fellow writers who normally stay behind the spec fic circle begin submitting and publishing their work in Zooscape. I look forward to a future of more overlap among the writing communities, and building enough readership and resources to get furry literature sold and published at professional paying rates.
FWG: What does your Asian Heritage mean to you?
Allison: It’s an important part of me, and will always be a part of me, but my awareness and acknowledgement of it comes and goes like a tidal wave. Sometimes, like when I go about my Americanized daily life, or I’m too occupied with studying or working, I don’t think much of it. Other times, though, thrust it from the periphery to the forefront. Those other times have been, among other things, Lunar New Year, or attending Vietnamese church with my parents, or the surge in anti-Asian sentiment during the coronavirus pandemic.
Being born and raised in Houston, I take it for granted that I had grown up in the largest Vietnamese-American population outside of California. Only when I travel outside of Texas, outside of Houston even, do I become very aware of how scarce Asians are in many other areas. I’m comfortable with my identity and wouldn’t want to trade it for anything else. While my Asian heritage is an important part of me, that’s not all there is to me.
FWG: Do you feel like the issues that affect the outside world affect your writing within the fandom or not?
Allison: COVID-19 is the prevailing issue I’m sure that’s on everyone’s minds lately! So far I haven’t written anything in response to the pandemic. I did, however, write a (non-furry) Russian plague doctor story 2 years before this COVID-19 mess came down. As someone studying to join the medical profession, this issue is close to my heart. The clinical setting, the people who work there, and the kind of work they do are familiar elements that I often return to in my stories. Given my experience of working in the ER, sometimes I wonder what an ER run by animals for animals would look like. Currently I have my sights set on writing a long-ish furry ER story this summer.
FWG: Do you have favorite Asian authors and has their literature affected your writing in the fandom?
Allison: Ken Liu, who’s Chinese-American, and Aliette de Bodard, who’s Vietnamese-French. What I admire most about their work is the incredible range they explore. Ken Liu is a versatile writer whose prose shines in whatever genre and topic he dabbles in. In addition to stories inspired by Vietnamese and Chinese culture, Aliette de Bodard has written Aztec alternative history.
All of that gives me inspiration and courage not to pigeon-hole myself into writing only Asian stories. I know that choice to write only from your background or not is a very, intensely personal and meaningful one for POCs, and there’s no right or wrong in going about it. Again, it’s a choice. But for me? I’d find writing only what I know to be restrictive, and quite frankly, boring. I don’t want to write about Vietnam and Vietnamese characters ALL the time. I wouldn’t enjoy that. I’m a highly curious creature and fascinated by all sorts of things. Norse mythology and Russian history are among those interests. I like that writing gives me the freedom to explore lands, cultures, and stories beyond my own experience.
FWG: If you could convince everyone to read a single book, what would it be?
Allison: I’d probably have to point to the book that most recently made me cry: The Tsar of Love and Techno by Anthony Marra. No, it’s not furry, not even speculative fiction, but I recommend that writers should have a wide range and balance in their reading, and I recommend this book nonetheless. Lifting words from a review I had written for it a while ago: “Anthony Marra has a way with words and storytelling that frames and captures a vivid, bleak landscape of northern industrial Russia, and paints in a cast of characters whose triumphs and tragedies I resonated with as if they were my own. A myriad of relationships are explored, strengthened, and broken. Brotherhood transcends time, space, and the ruthless oppression of the Soviet Union. Romances spark, ignite, flicker, and fade.
Regardless of your preference for novels or short stories, I believe The Tsar of Love and Techno is the best of both worlds by delivering the poignant snapshots of short stories while interconnecting them to impart the satisfaction of a full-fledged novel. Characters come back in ways you don’t expect and their arcs come in full circle, all revolving around a mysterious, obscure Russian painting. This is definitely a book you’d want to revisit to connect the dots and pick up details you had missed before.”
Tell the guild where it can find you, to follow you and read your works!
I had dug out a neat little den for myself on Twitter as @ThaiSibir. As for my list of published short fiction (many of them in furry anthologies), you can find that on my website:
FWG: Any last words for our readers and guild members?
Hold on to your love and passion for writing. When the payments and publications have great chances of not coming your way (because, let’s be real here, rejection’s the name of the writing game), what else do you have? To keep at this writing business, remember to have fun and write for yourself first. Everything else comes second.
You can find a list of Allison’s published short fiction on her website as well as follow her on Twitter @ThaiSibir. We hope you found this interview exciting and informative! If you have suggestions for future highlights and interviews, please contact our public relations officer here. Until next time: may your words flow like water.