Hello readers and welcome to the first of many Furry Writers’ Guild spotlights for Pride Month! Today we’ll be interviewing Al Song! His pronouns are he/him/his. He has been published in such anthologies as Fang 8, Roar 9, Tales from the Guild: World Tour, The Furry Cookbook, Foxers or Beariefs, Sensory De-Tails, Howloween, and Difursity. As it was also Asian Pacific American Heritage Month just a few days prior, we want to present this interview as an intersectional look a Pride alongside Asian Heritage. So what are we waiting for, let’s dive in!
FWG: Tell the guild and our readers a bit about yourself.
Al Song: I’m a gay red kangaroo living near the caffeine-fueled city of Seattle. My parents are refugees from Laos, and they had me while they lived in Hawaii. I majored in German Studies and Comparative Literature when I was in college. I also took some French, Japanese, and Italian courses, since I fell in love with learning new languages. Culturally speaking, I’m a vegetarian charcuterie board of various foods that seem like they typically shouldn’t belong together. At least it always gives me something new to write about. I typically write and read queer slice of life romance and am editor or such works at Thurston Howl Publications. My other artistic love is music, which is another topic I truly enjoy writing about. Between fretboards and keyboards my fingers probably don’t like me very much.
Off topic, but I love escape rooms. I’ve done forty of them, and they never get tiring.
FWG: What is your favorite work that you have written?
Al Song: “Rekindling” in Difursity is definitely a story I hold close to my heart. I put a lot of my identities and struggles into that short story. The protagonist is a gay, Laotian-American college student, and the story discusses the intersectionality of being both gay and Asian-American along with some issues my family and I have been through.
“Serenity in Blue” in Fang volume 8 is another story I’m proud of, since it’s the first story I ever published, and Fang is the first furry anthology I read when I was in college. This story discusses the struggles of life after graduating from college in the modern world, along with the big topics of queerness and mental health, which are subjects that unfortunately are not often discussed in Lao culture.
When it comes to both of these stories I wanted to bring up things that are rarely discussed and brought to light. Despite all the heaviness, these stories also contain romance and love. I’ve set out to expose audiences to new perspectives identities, while also trying to show those who have been pushed down that there can be hope out there.
FWG: What do you think makes a good story?
Al Song: If a story makes a lasting impact (typically a positive one) in my mind, then it’s usually a pretty good one. I’ve read short comics, poems and have listened to songs with concise stories that have left me with more profound thoughts and emotions than some novel series or even shows that lasted multiple seasons. If it’s been a few years, and I’m still thinking about a story, then it’s done something right. I’m not talking about stories that have left me with a bad impression or have triggered me and won’t leave my memory banks. I typically read YA, romance, and slice of life novels that take place in the present, so when a book or short story can stand out amongst all the other books in a positive manner, then I’ll know it was worth my time. If it can also give me a smile when I think about it, then it gets bonus points.
FWG: How long have you been in the guild, and what changes have you seen with regards to how writing is handled since joining?
Al Song: I’ve been in the guild for about two years or so, but I’ve been following it for much longer, since I have friends and peers in within the guild. It feels like there are more opportunities and places to submit stories, and there are more and more diverse voices in the guild itself, which is definitely important. It also seems like there are even more opportunities to learn from one another in the guild.
FWG: What does your Asian Heritage mean to you?
Al Song: It means a lot to me, since it’s shaped my life and its experiences in so many different ways. Being born and raised in the US with a Laotian background has its challenges, but I would never trade my ability to speak Lao for another language or trade my culture in for another one. When I grew up I wished that I could just be like everyone else, but I realized that my identities are incredibly important. I’ve been exposed to so much good food, music, and people who have built me up and helped me through life. It also seems like many people within the US don’t know anything about Laos. I recently had to explain to someone where Laos is located and that Lao is a language. It gives me a chance to teach people something new about the world and broaden their horizons.
Unfortunately, being both gay and Lao-American can make things more difficult than they need to be. I don’t feel like very many people in queer circles can understand what I go through as an Asian-American, and in Lao spheres queerness is usually a taboo topic, so it feels like I can’t really discuss it with my family. The toughest thing is that I usually don’t feel like I have a place where I can truly belong. Despite all of this I think my identities have helped me become more empathetic with others and what they go through, since I’m always a fish out of water.
FWG: How has being gay affected or inspired the stories you write? Have you written gay characters into your stories?
Al Song: So far I’ve exclusively written queer characters as protagonists, since I’m gay, and there are just so many stories featuring straight protagonists and characters out there, and I want my readers to be able to see parts of themselves within my characters and what they go through, and I want them to be able to ship characters without having to make them queer, since they’re already queer characters. There have been so many times I wished a series or a novel I really enjoyed had more queer representation, so I wanted go out and make that happen.
FWG: How about your heritage? Does it and your gay identity ever mix in terms of inspiration for your stories?
Al Song: Most of my protagonists are Lao-American and Gay. This intersection is probably one of the biggest topics I talk about. Not many people will know what it’s like, and I definitely want to get that experience out there, especially through such a fun medium. Furry editors I’ve worked with have mostly reacted positively to this less common perspective. It’s not often you read about queer Asian-Americans in literature, and whenever I see these characters portrayed positively it definitely brings a smile to my face. Even though I’m focused on creating stories for other queer folk and people of color, I also want my stories to resonate with those who don’t share my identities as well. I write about universal things like rejection, creative struggles, and love, but giving the stories a gay and Asian twist seems to help them show a unique perspective. I’ve taken a lot of my personal experiences as a gay man along with my Laotian heritage and have put them into my stories, because I do want to make a positive impact and to show others like me that we’re not alone in this world.
FWG: Do you feel like the issues that affect the outside world involving your identity or heritage affect your writing within the fandom or not?
Al Song: Definitely, the mainstream media could really do a better job with representation of both Asian-Americans and queer characters, since there’s a huge lack of both identities in TV and film, and as much as I love YA novels it’s not that often that I get to see queer people of color as protagonists. Sometimes we do see a character who is gay or Asian, then they end up becoming a side character and it makes me even sadder when they get all the stereotypes applied to them. In my stories I want to undo this and to show off characters who share my identities in a positive manner.
FWG: What kinds of intersectional issues have you had to deal with while being a gay Asian author? What would you like people to know about these issues and how could they help to improve to make these less to deal with?
Al Song: I’ve been around a lot of authors who think they can just write whatever they want about a marginalized group or identity that the author doesn’t share without any consultations. I understand that this is a heated topic, so let’s talk about music for a second. It’s very cringeworthy to see an actor play an instrument incorrectly on the screen, and if you’re going to write technical aspects of a musical performance or the life of a musician, then please do your research and reach out to some musicians and have them look over your work. Violin bows need to be rosined, and fretboards and fingerboards are different things. There have been times when I’ve read a musical description and felt a lot disappointment and realized the author probably wasn’t a musician. If you’re going to talk about a group of people who don’t share your identities, and you don’t want to look foolish, then maybe you should reach out.
Unfortunately, within the fandom I’ve seen Asian characters not always presented in a great light. I’ve read stories where we’ve been heavily stereotyped and speak in broken English, ones where we become exoticized and fetishized, and at times we get shown in a negative light as the antagonist. Sometimes it’s a combination of these things. It’s definitely disheartening to see this happen within the fandom, since it’s a place I love so much. For some reason explaining to people that I don’t want someone to be attracted to me because of my race is more confusing than an AP Calculus class. It would be nice to have more writers and editors who are cognizant of this when they’re crafting stories and are publishing them. Telling someone that their lived experience is incorrect is definitely not helpful. The same thing applies to straight people who write queer characters. At least reach out to someone.
FWG: Do you have favorite Asian and/or queer authors and has their literature affected your writing in the fandom?
Al Song: Shawn Wong is probably my favorite Asian author, since he was also my intermediate prose instructor at the University of Washington. He taught me so much about the importance of writing a story with a message, along with his own struggles as an Asian-American writer with immigrant parents. He really shaped my understanding of what stories are along with how to have a more critical view of them. He also helped me realize that writing about my issues and experiences is extremely crucial, and that those things shouldn’t be hidden. One of my favorite gay authors is David Levithan. After reading Will Grayson, Will Grayson during my senior year of high school I was inspired to write similar slice of life gay romance stories that also dealt with mental health. The novel was so sad and funny, and it just made me so happy. This made me want to create joy in the hearts of those who read my stories.
FWG: If you could convince everyone to read a single book, what would it be?
Al Song: “Tell Me Again How a Crush Should Feel,” by Sara Farizan. It’s a smart and hilarious YA novel about being a nerdy, young, queer, person of color, with immigrant parents in modern day America. I got to meet the author while I was a student librarian at the Q Center of the University of Washington. She gave me some of the best advice that I continue to follow today when it comes to writing. This was during a time when I had some people tell me that I was writing too much about music and romance, so she pretty much told me to keep writing about those things if it’s what I love doing. Thanks to her advice I’ve been published in multiple anthologies.
FWG: Any last words for our readers and guild members?
Al Song: Honest art is something I really enjoy, and it’s been the thing that’s helped me garner a modicum of success when it comes to writing in the fandom. I definitely write what I know, and I’m sure most people know a good amount about themselves along with the issues they’ve been through. Every person is different and unique, so when we each put ourselves into our art it allows us to shine and stand out. It’s definitely understandable that vulnerability is a tough and scary thing, but between putting ourselves and our works out there, dealing with rejection, and facing heart-rending critiques; vulnerability is at the forefront of all of this. It can be used to strengthen us and our creativity. As cliché as it sounds, maybe you should just be your true self.
We would like to thank Al once again for this interview! If you’d like to follow him or his works you can do so on Twitter @song_roo, or on his FurAffinity page or SoFurry page. Stay tuned for next week when we feature another member of the guild for pride! Until we meet again, may your words flow like water.