You can find this blog post at Sonny’s site as well at http://www.santinohassell.com/.
SONNY: Recently, Susan interviewed Ais and me for the new blog Boys in Our Books. The interview got super long so some cuts had to be made to keep the focus on the series, but we thought one of the questions was excellent and is one that comes up from time to time about how we interact, communicate and how we’ve stayed friends for so long
If you’re interested, our original answers are below with several additions. We broke the question down and answered bit by bit in more depth to take into consideration other questions we’ve been asked over the years.
How did you meet?
AIS: Sonny and I met through a mutual friend named Nitid, back in our Gundam Wing days. He was volunteering for a GW yaoi review site she owned and Nitid had recommended one of my fics. I think she knew we might click. Most people had taken the fic seriously when it was supposed to be satirical, but one of the first things Sonny said to me was how funny it was. I realized at that moment that he was on my wavelength, which I appreciated since I’m used to being the odd one out. When she had to leave, Sonny and I were left alone in the chat room and talked for hours. I still remember one of the first questions I asked, lol. It was a research question for a story I planned to write. I knew the dude for like 10 minutes and was like “HEY SO CAN A GUY GET OFF WITH ONE NUT?” and he didn’t even question how weird that was.
Pretty much from then on, we became really good friends. That right there is the power of gay sex.
SONNY: Yeah, I’m pretty sure I’ve known Ais since… 2001? So, basically since we were kids. I’m pretty sure she was either a freshman or sophomore in college and I was like 22 or 23 and generally a hot mess, so I don’t even remember what I was doing. It was either when I was a bike messenger or working in this adult novelty store in Greenwich Village. I’d gotten into the fandom through my ex-wife who used to write yaoi fanfiction. She was the one who introduced me to fandom and yaoi or slash, and then I got a little involved and made friends of my own including Ais. I have a couple of people I met from that fandom that I still have today, almost 13 years later.
Are you REALLY friends? How close are you?
AIS: It’s been probably about a decade since we met but for most of those years we’ve been in daily contact online. We know each others’ friends and family by name, and track life events. For example, I know and have talked to Sonny’s ex-wife and his cousin who’s partial Vega inspiration. And I tell Sonny about what’s happening with my friends and family.
SONNY: Yeah, my ex-wife, my crazy cousin, and roommates all know Ais by her real name (and she knows my government :p). We’ve always exchanged stuff around Christmas and birthdays, and now she’s known as the person who sends the really good tea because she has this super wide range of types of tea, so my roommates will ask if she’s sent any in a package. It’s pretty funny. We’ve also exchanged contact info for family/friends in case of emergencies or whatever.
AIS: I always felt guilty sending something ONLY to Sonny since I felt like I knew the other people in his life. So practically from the beginning, I sent presents to everyone when I sent him something. They were usually smaller, like tea, but then I felt like everyone had something when he opened the package. The funniest was probably to his crazy cousin, who once saw a photo of a friend and me in high school, sitting in a car about to embark on a road trip. We had what looked like cigarettes in our mouths. When Sonny’s cousin saw that, he wondered who I was, and when I told Sonny they were candy cigarettes (because I was always that kid that never drank, smoked, used drugs, or really have ever had many vices outside of tea, sugar, and stories), Sonny’s cousin was really confused as he’d never heard of them. So I embarked on a mission to find some and I sent him some in the next package. Sonny later told me his cousin said they tasted kind of weird but he munched on them anyway.
There have been a few scary points where we really wanted to contact the other. Sonny was unreachable for days during Superstorm Sandy, and that was alarming because he was right in the midst of it. Without power, he couldn’t let anyone know he was okay. There have been some events near me that Sonny learned about, too; like tornadoes or other incidents. In one of the cases, I wasn’t able to get back to him for days, which was long enough for him to worry that something terrible had happened. But ultimately, we know the other person will contact us as soon as they are able.
Do you trust each other with things other than characters and plotlines?
SONNY: Definitely. Like I said I was really young when we met, and just coming out of a really bad time in my life so I had totally immersed myself in reading and writing and online stuff to forget about any real world issues I was going through. So, at that point is when I met Ais and my good friend Heather and really got into being in this online community where I could talk to people who wouldn’t judge me and shit even if I was a weird kid. Ais knew me when I had drinking problems, when I first got married, when my kids were born, through the disaster of my divorce, all through my struggle to become a functional adult and figure out what the fuck I’m doing with my life, and when I found out about being sick and had to start getting treatment, she was one of the first people I told.
AIS: Similarly, there are some genetic bullshit things I’ve been dealing with for years and Sonny was one of the first people i told as well as the ongoing developments. From the start, Sonny was also the main person, and sometimes the only person, I told when I was truly upset or depressed about something. I have always hated burdening people with my problems, so in the beginning, I felt safer talking to someone online. But over time I came to value his responses as well. He always made me feel like it was possible to cut through all the things that were vying for my attention and focus on the important parts.
I think for both of us, we came to know we could say just about anything and it wouldn’t endanger our friendship. And knowing so much about each other but having a relatively objective view due to being miles apart, has lent each of us the ability to help find a solution for the other if a problem is overrunning them. Because of our careers, both of us are pretty private people, but we probably know each other better than most people know us.
Why haven’t you met in person?
SONNY: I think there’s something special about making friends online that leads to these long-lasting and really intense friendships. For most of us, we’re online daily. Every night or day. So you talk to those friends every day and for hours. It was always like that in fandom and original slash.
I know M/M is a lot different and everyone has the push to network in person and do all of this stuff, but aside from google hangouts, voice chat, chatting and exchanging videos and pictures (she has seen my progression through the years in various awkward pictures including my way-back-when HS prom picture and various drunken bar photos, and I have seen all of her elaborate Halloween costumes through the years, although this year’s pirate costume topped the ninja one), it’s never come up about us traveling the distance.
AIS: (probably because it would be me having to scrounge up money to fly out to NYC since most people don’t go out of their way to visit the Midwest lolz) Someday I actually DO want to visit NYC/East Coast. If that ever happens, I’d probably let Sonny know so we could figure out whether or not we’re going to try to meet in person or just leave it the way it is. I’ve never felt that it’s imperative to meet. I know who Sonny is, he knows who I am, we function perfectly well as friends the way we are now, plus in person I’d have to crane my neck to look up the foot difference we have between us ;P
Have you ever argued or had big disagreements about writing or otherwise?
SONNY: We’ve gotten in like 87897 arguments over the years and always come back from it. I won’t get into the details but we’ve had some pretty serious disagreements that caused major tension and even though it wound up being in large part due to miscommunication (SOUND FAMILIAR? LAWLAWLAWLAWL), we eventually talked it out bluntly and got over it without drama.
A couple of people have observed that it’s amazing we’re still friends because sometimes co-writers turn on each other or stop getting along. I think that doesn’t happen because even if we DO get mad, we still know ultimately we can be blunt with each other and work it out even if it takes some time or even if we get frustrated with each other. Also, we don’t involve other people in our arguments. I’m not saying we’ve never vented to friends because venting is natural in ANY relationship, but we have never tried to turn others against each other or gossiped about each other. That kind of stuff is what ruins relationships.
How do you work together/organize things?
AIS: The way we work together is basically the same whether we’re working on plot or just talking about real life. With ICoS, we planned plots together, but we were both always also in charge of our own characters. Sometimes that meant one of us would say, “I think so-and-so is going to do such-and-such” and we’d discuss it to see if it worked in story, but other times it was a firm, “This character is going to do XYZ.” We would then have to adjust the story accordingly.
For example, if you were to look at our VERY first outline (and if you find it, let me know because I’m pretty sure it was lost over the years ;p), it mostly covered the major points of Evenfall, skipped to a piece or two of Interludes, and then jumped to the second half of Fade. That was going to be just one book. But as we wrote the story, it expanded and became more layered because the characters went in directions we didn’t anticipate from the start when we were just writing the story for the hell of it. Afterimage wasn’t part of the plan, but when we got to the end of Evenfall, we realized that the characters were set on paths that led to that book.
One of the things we’ve both always been pretty committed to is letting the plot follow the characters rather than force the characters into the plot. Even if it made it a messier, longer, more emotionally charged story, it was their story and that was the way it needed to be told.
What are the main differences between you two?
AIS: For the most part, we’re very much in line in the way we write and plan a story. There are just a few differences in the way we go about things, and that’s something that endlessly amuses me because it mostly ties back to our different personalities.
For instance, I am a packrat. I keep EVERYTHING. I have a minimum of two copies of every chapter of the whole series because I always preferred to write my replies in a separate document and paste it over into the shared document, rather than write directly into the shared. That allowed me to also keep the research I did for each chapter in line with the secondary document itself. Also, I kept discarded wording for scenes, or if I wrote a chapter/scene multiple times I always kept every version. I almost never just delete something.
Sonny, meanwhile, is much more streamlined about things. In the early days, he used to delete the bullet points on our shared outlines after we had passed that part of the story. The funniest thing is, as we were starting this document to write this FAQ/blog, there was a case in point right there XD We had a shared document where we had our interview for Boys In Our Books with all the answers. Then this conversation happened:
Ais: that works
Santino: ill delete the rest of the questions from the doc
lets make a new doc
i dont want to lose our answers if we ever need that whole thing later
I was watching him change things in the document, futilely trying to tell him to stop and knowing he couldn’t see what I was saying because he was busy, and that made me laugh because it was a perfect example of our different approaches.
SONNY: Yeah some other differences are that I tend to be really confrontational and she’s a lot calmer or backs off from a situation. I’m more stoic/terse while she’s more playful/talkative. She’s better at abstract plotting, and I’m good at synthesizing complex ideas. In the beginning, I was really standoffish about talking to readers because I didn’t know what to say, but she was always the one interacting on the ICoS forum and kind of handling our joint email account.
AIS: It’s always been easy for me to interact with people, and anyone who has spent like two seconds around me knows I like to talk, so when it became apparent that our natural personalities meant Sonny was a bit uncertain with how to interact with others, I just automatically assumed that role.
Other than that, there aren’t THAT many differences (aside from the obvious: gender, our very different backgrounds, etc). Our reading preferences often align but not always. We both have a sense of humor but the way we go about it is a bit different. But overall, even in writing it gets right back to that very first moment when we met: we’re naturally on the same wavelength, and anything else is different shades of the same grey.