Interview: Yamila Abraham

yamila_abraham

We would like to thank Ms. Yamila herself for giving us this interview. She runs two publishing companies (Yaoi Press and Yaoi Prose) as well as an online store Everything Yaoi. (Original Interview : July 2009).

BA: Where did your writing start? Was it always BL/Yaoi or did you start with a different Genre and slowly evolve?

YA: I’m the cliche writer. I was drawing stories on the kitchen floor with a crayon before I knew how to write words. As soon as I could write, I did it compulsively. I say I’m a cliche writer because I hear the same anecdotes from many other writers out there. We have to write. It’s not a choice. I’ve written all over my arms more than once when I was in a motel without paper. I’ve also written on napkins and toilet paper before.

When I’m writing I go into a trance. I start talking in my characters voices without being aware of it. I lose time, meaning I think only an hour has passed but it’s actually been 12 hours. A few other writers have told me they experience the same thing.

All serious attempts at writing I’ve ever made have always had male/male relationships. I was a BL fan before the genre had a name in Japan. I wrote stories about pretty emotional men falling in love with controlling semes. However, I didn’t know the word seme then. This is in the 1980s. I didn’t know about slash or any female-oriented male/male genre. I just knew that I was obsessed with a kind of romance story that no one else liked or understood. I fantasized about Lotor/Keith from the old Voltron cartoon. I loved Isaac Asimov’s Robots and Empire novel series because the robots Daneel and Giskard held hands once, the same with The Neverending Story when Atreyu held hands with Bastian. My favorite comic book was Donna Barr’s Desert Peach series because at age 13 Peach/Rosen was the only thing remotely close to yaoi in my world.

In my high school art class I created a picture book called ‘Spears’ that would later evolve into the Dark Prince series I created and published with M.A. Sambre. I remember how my art teacher couldn’t understand why I wanted to write about a romance between two men. It would still be seven years before I discovered yaoi on the internet in 1999. As you can imagine I had an epiphany. By 2004 I had the resources to start Yaoi Press. Yaoi has been my obsession my entire life. I don’t think I found yaoi as much as yaoi found me. By the time I discovered it I’d been a fan for over 20 years.

I love creating yaoi stories. I’m never at a loss for new ideas. It’s always swirling in my mind and pouring out of my soul in different ways. I love that people have enjoyed my writing through Yaoi Press (Winter Demon, Dark Prince, et. al.). It’s incredibly validating. If I didn’t have some talent for this stuff my life would be such a frustrating failure.

BA: Why did you start Yaoi Press? And now, at AX you announced Yaoi Prose, what drew to you to start a new division?

YA: My dream career was to write and draw comic books. By the time I could seriously pursue this the comic book market had crashed. I found myself in a situation where I had the money to start a publishing company, but no market to publish for. Publishing is no small investment. I’ve seen one publisher go into it with $25,000. The truth is you need to double that and add another zero. For me to put that amount of capital into a new venture I needed to see a market (book store, comic shops, what have you) willing to sell my product. Graphic novels were gaining in popularity at that time. I would have loved to publish them, but it seemed that the market was all Japanese imports.

In late 2003 I found a copy of Shutterbox in a Borders book store. It was the first graphic novel I’d seen that didn’t have a Japanese name on the spine. It was published by Tokyopop who had a whole shelf of their books in the store. There was someone blazing a trail for me. I created a business plan for Yaoi Press (then called Gaijin Manga) modeled after Tokyopop. I wanted to make my living through yaoi. This publishing company would give me a venue for my writing, and allow me to publish other creators of this genre I loved.

As you probably know the subgenre Shutterbox represented bottomed-out just like my comics had in the 1990s. Yaoi Press still publishes OEL graphic novels, but we survive because we put out quality yaoi. We’re not trying to win over manga fans, just yaoi fans. Since we’ve proven ourselves over the last 5 years we’re fortunate enough to still be thriving.

I don’t think the OEL crash harmed us. I do feel the economy has. We were very negatively affected by the problems Borders Books are having, the same as many other publishers. Yaoi Prose is one of many ventures we’re pursing to stay strong, along with merchandising and iTunes.

The ebook market for male/male romance is very well established. I’ve made a name for myself as a writer. My fans will purchase ebooks I write, as well as male/male ebook fans in general. The same can be said for Studio Kosen, who is launching the business with us. They are continuing their seminal Saihoshi manga in illustrated ebook form. I will start with stories based on Winter Demon, my most popular work. My first novel, Incubus Master, is well underway.

Yaoi Prose allows us to deliver the stories fans are asking for without incurring the enormous expenses we endure with print books. We will still put out graphic novels, but in this economy it’s not feasible to put out 12 to 18 books a year. People don’t have that much extra spending money anymore. We are tightly focusing on efforts on relatively few new graphic novel releases. This strategy worked great for Happy Yaoi Yum Yum. It usually takes 18 months to sell as many copies as we had on preorder for this title.

BA: You seem to gather a lot of unseen talent from across the world, how do you find your Artists, how do you know that they are right for Yaoi Press?

YA: Before we published our first title we hunted for creators on Deviant Art and other forums. We haven’t had to look for talent since 2005. Artists an writers submit to us using information on our web site. We have around 100 submissions a month. This has been pretty steady since 2006.

When one yaoi creator in a country works for us we start getting a slew of submissions from the same region. This started with Indonesia, then Spain, then Italy, and lately South America. I think we get good references from the first artists who break-in with us.

There are some creators, like Studio Kosen, who just blow you away. I immediately knew they were right for Yaoi Press because they would have been right for any graphic novel publisher. Their work is amazing. The same can be said for a lot of the studios that came after them. We had a break-neck publishing schedule 2006 through 2008. Over 50 creators were given projects with us. We found some really amazing gems out there. We had very few problems with creators. There’s no story or picture I regret publishing. It all has merit to me.

Right now I have creators like Irene Diaz, Anne Cain, Rhea Silvan, and so many others who I want to offer contracts, but don’t have the resources to publish new titles right now. This is so frustrating for me. I feel like a lot of great talent is languishing due to the economic realities of the market. I have trouble going through submissions lately because I don’t have any openings in our publishing schedule.

BA: You yourself are a writer, a business woman, a editor, a publisher, and promoter, do you have any spare time? What do you do when you can sneak away.?

YA: I don’t think anyone will be surprised to hear I work seven days a week, usually 16 hours a day. There’s at least one publisher I know of who works even longer hours. I love yaoi, so work is a pleasure. I like to butcher a Tiger Woods quote about golfing and apply it to my work: When I wake up, my work is yaoi. When I’m not working on yaoi I’m reading it for fun. When I’m not working or reading yaoi, I’m thinking about yaoi. At night, when I go to bed, I dream of yaoi.

I’m not as embarrassed as I used to be to admit how much of the work at Yaoi Press is done by me personally. Some writing, some lettering, some graphic design, even some inking once. I know from my publishing peers that it’s the same way at a lot of companies. The person in charge is always working. If we did 9 to 5 the company would sink.

I consider some of my goofy Twitter and Facebook posts to be non-work, even though I justify them as social marketing. I also have many cats who demand my attention. I don’t eat at the computer, so meals are turned into TiVo time. There’s also things I do in the community now and then that gets me out of the house. I did some manga drawing workshops at a few libraries in Las Vegas. I spend a few hours a week keeping a neighbor whose fighting cancer in good spirits, and helping his wife however I can. Mostly I just work though.

BA: What are your goals for the next few years? Do you feel that you are on the right track?
YA: Over the next two years I’d like to shore up Yaoi Press’ finances and be able to remain strong throughout the recession. I do feel we’re on the right track for this.

BA: What would you say was the first BL/Yaoi books to influence you? How did you find the Genre?

YA: The thing that changed my life was an anime actually, Ai No Kusabi. It was such an emotional experience for me I haven’t been able to watch it again since 1999. It was the thing that proved to me that yaoi had been what I was searching for my entire life. It was so deja vu watching it. I felt like I was seeing one of my stories on the screen. I don’t think it’s the first yaoi thing I discovered, but it was what had the most profound effect on me.

BA: Having so many hats must be exaughsting in all the good ways, is there a particular road you walk that you feel is your favorite?

YA: I think I’m equally split between publisher and writer. I love to write yaoi, but I also love to read it and discover work that no one has seen before. I really click with some of our creators. I love Dany&Dany’s writing. I feel their writing skill is equal to mine (some thing my bloated ego makes hard to admit). We have similar histories, and all had the same reaction to Ai No Kusabi. Their stories are coming out of a similar place that mine are. I feel a kinship with them. It’s a strange, intangible kind of bond I’ve seen with my fans too. Something has conditioned our brains to be drawn to the same kind of taboo story. When we find it, it really resonates.

BA: What would you say to new Artists that come to you with a portfolio? What is it that you look for in new Talent?

Sadly I’m telling them that we don’t have the resources for new graphic novels right now. If they’re what I’ve been looking for I have no choice but to file them for the future. They should keep shopping their work to other publishers (especially for online distribution with Netcomics and with the yaoi publishers in Germany). For the time being we are keeping promising creators in our file for future consideration.

When that time comes to add books to the schedule we are looking for artists who can draw exceptionally well. They have to be better than many of the creators we’ve already published, because those creators are standing in line for work too. They can jump the line by selling us on an incredible story. Research us. We don’t publish the same stuff the publishers licensing from Japan do. We have our own sub-niche in the yaoi genre. Don’t submit stories about schoolboys or Japanese businessmen. Those categories are already very well served. Submit something really good that fans have never seen before. Read our books, not just yaoi in general. We want quality, beauty, and originality.

BA: Whats your favorite Anime? Whats your favorite BL/Yaoi if that is different.

YA: Ai No Kusabi is my favorite anime. I also love Inuyasha and Samurai Seven. My list of favorites is out of date because I never have time to watch anime anymore. (I really should cancel my Netflix subscription…)

BA: All artists, Writers included, have tools of the trade. What do you do to prepare yourself to write?

YA: I put the story down in a stream-of-consciousness type outline and leave it. The story gestates for a month or two. When I start writing in earnest it’s a volcano eruption of inspiration. For Incubus Master I wrote the first 5,000 words in one sitting, then had to leave for Otakon. I filled a notebook over the plane ride there.

Overcoming the blank page is a huge hurdle. I do that ‘wish’ thing where you place quotes and images in your field of vision where you work so you can be motivated subconsciously. One of the quotes is: “The distance is nothing, it is only the first step that is difficult.” Once I get started the project flies. I’m writing Incubus Master compulsively right now. There’s nothing better than this kind of momentum.

BA: Who’s your favorite Bishie, is there someone you think of when you think about your heroes or your villians when you write?

YA: I will resist being conceited and naming one of my own characters. I like Sessomaru from Inuyasha. (Especially when he’s on top of him).

It’s usually situations that inspire me, and then the characters are built around it. My characters rule the pages. I don’t feel like I’m creating them so much as channeling their spirit through to my keyboard. They take over the story.

Reading the Death Note manga really helped me get through the scripting for Dark Prince. That was a complicated story. Death Note oiled the gears of my brain. The Red Dragon movie where Hannibal had that murderous/yaoi-ish relationship with the FBI agent inspired me to write Offered to a Demon. I really liked the idea of a dangerous relationship with someone evil. This shows up a lot in my stories.

A lot of the time I can come up with a story by answering this question: how can you work in a satisfying sex scene between the uke and seme before they’ve fallen in love? In Winter Demon volume 1 Hakuin was given a sex potion by a demon who wanted to rape him. If he didn’t climax in an hour he’d die, so Fuyu had no choice but to save him. In Modern Vampire, a story I wrote for the Desire of the Gods graphic novel, the vampire bewitched the uke with his vampire magic. The uke decided to give in to his mind control, so was still satisfying to me. In ‘Offered to a Demon’ General Caine took out the celibacy chip that kept the uke from being a nymphomaniac. This made him an easy lay later.

BA: You deal with several artists from many other countries, How do you deal with the language barriers? Do you consider Art a universal language in ways?

Alas, no. Some artists from China, Indonesia, and Spain work with translators. Most of the rest speak English. Either myself or another editor will go through their writing to make sure the English is smooth. When someone is writing a script for a non-native English speaker they’re instructed to keep their language simple and use lots of reference pictures.

Working with so many countries helps you learn how ethnocentric you are. I didn’t think I needed to put in a reference picture for a can of soda for an artist from Indonesia. It turns out that the flip top can isn’t used there. They have those plastic shiny pull-off tabs you sometimes see on metal juice cans. Once a script indicated that there was salt and pepper on the table. The Chinese artist drew a ziplock baggie full of salt and a bell pepper.

BA: Deadlines can pull out your hair on their own sometimes. However, you are both the Artist and the Admins, do you find it hard to throw the hammer down if they are behind? How about motivating yourself, do you find it hard to be your own angry editor?

YA: I demand that creators make their deadlines. I have no problem tearing someone a new asshole when they’re late. I would reach through my computer and strangle them if I could. This is probably not productive, but we lose hundreds of sales when the books ship late. (Fair warning, everyone).

As for myself, there are times when the artist is drawing the manga faster than I write the script, but I’ve never had a book ship late because of me. It’s more important to me than anyone else that they ship on time. The buck stops at my desk. I’m the one who loses the most money when preorders are canceled. There is no silent investor behind Yaoi Press. It’s all coming out of my pocket.

BA: How big of a fan are you? Do you have plushies and collectables everywhere in your office? Is there anyone that you particularily go “fangirl” over?

YA: I’m very obsessed with yaoi, but there isn’t enough time for me to be an Otaku in general. I’m happy to sell my yaoi manga after I read it. I don’t have fan items for particular series (unless Hello Kitty counts). I love this stuff because it’s girly male/male romance, not because I particularly love anime, manga, Japanese stuff, etc. I originally wanted to teach English in Japan as a career, but the Japanese economy tanked close to my graduation from college. A Japanese girl set me straight on the realities of being a fat gaijin working outside of Tokyo also. I’m more in love with Korean and Indonesian culture right now.

I did give a glass-shattering squeal at the 2009 Anime Expo. This was when I saw those amazing Winter Demon cosplayers. I also squealed during the ‘live yaoi show’ we set up where we got two cute guys to kiss for an audience of yaoi fans.

My office has copies of Yaoi Press books published in different languages, like the German version of Winter Demon and the Italian version of Saihoshi, etc. There’s also about 1,000 copies of manga and anime here for us to take or ship to conventions. File cabinets, banker boxes, piles of unopened mail, it’s kind of dismal. There’s lots of Hello Kitty stickers all over the place, as well as my Hello Kitty mug, mouse, mousepad, clock, calculator, tape dispenser…um, actually, listing everything Hello Kitty here would take up the whole interview.

BA: If you were to tell your fans out there anything that you wanted to, what would it be?

YA: It would be a lecture on piracy. How about I just tellthem all how much I love them instead? Don’t be scared to say hi to me at a convention. You’re the reason I’m there.

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