MONSTERS IN MY MIND: story notes, part 1 and 2

  1. You Have to Follow the Rules

Where I come from, you can rock or cover your ears or run away from people and no one will tell you that you’re bad.

This story was my first full-length pro sale (though I had a pro flash sale or two before it). That, and the neurodiversity themes, and the hopeful tone, make it a wonderful opener. It’s also an opener that you can read for free online – like a free appetizer for the full book. It’s here in Strange Horizons.

“You Have to Follow the Rules” is the tale of Annalee, an autistic child at a science fiction convention, who discovers doors to an alternate dimension full of strange, fey-like children – children who are, she suspects, like her.

The inspiration for the story came from an exchange that A. Merc Rustad and Ursula Vernon had on Twitter. Merc had had a dream which framed itself as an Ursula Vernon story, called “Children of the Con”, in which strange, white-eyed children lived year-round in a convention center. They told Ursula Vernon that she should write the story; Vernon replied that Merc should do it themselves. I asked Merc if I could yoink the story idea, and they said yes. (Merc and I borrow from each other a lot.) Then I threw in the autism angle because, well, at that point, why not.

The editors at Strange Horizons, particularly An Owomoyela, helped me deepen and polish the story in several respects – most notably, giving the mother character a little bit more depth than she had in the first draft (though she’s still awful), and developing a more playful and allusive narrative voice for Annalee.

“You Have to Follow the Rules” was long-listed for a BSFA award.

Song Pairing: I don’t write to music the way many authors do, but I do make playlists and form associations between songs and things very easily. Each full-length or flash story from MONSTERS IN MY MIND (but not poetry or micro-fic) will be paired with a song that I associate with it.

The song for “You Have to Follow the Rules” is Mike Scott’s “Sensitive Children” – one of the few song pairings here that’s obscure enough I can’t link you to it on YouTube. It’s not perfect – for one thing, it’s from a bystander’s perspective, not Annalee’s – but the association stuck, so here it is.

2. Self-Portrait as Bilbo Baggins

Over casserole you explain
that hobbits are three feet tall, like me.
I want to stay this size forever.

This is a poem about my father, told through the lens of the classic fantasy he read to me. (The scene in the first three stanzas, in which I act out “The Hobbit” with a horde of teddy bears and so on, are things that actually happened.) Autism runs in families, and mine comes mostly from my father’s side – as, very likely, do risk factors for other mental illness.

“Self-Portrait as Bilbo Baggins” is available for free online, in the first issue of Liminality. It and “You Have to Follow the Rules” are also what you’ll see if you use the Look Inside feature on Amazon: a childhood-themed preview for the rest of the book.

In the next post, we’ll get into a couple of stories about young adults.

MONSTERS IN MY MIND is available for purchase on Amazon, Kobo, Indigo, and Barnes and Noble.

MONSTERS IN MY MIND is up on Amazon!

It’s a real thing! It’s available for purchase! It’s here! (And, according to the page, has been here since October 2, although I did not notice it until Bogi Takács pointed it out on Twitter.) You can buy it for US $20 paperback or, apparently, $8.01 for the Kindle edition.

It isn’t up yet on the publisher’s website, for some reason, but I expect that this (and perhaps other online retailers) will happen soon.

I had a great book launch party on Friday night with some great loyal readers who were very understanding about the physical books not quite being here yet, and very entertained by the readings. I had a great time at Can*Con this weekend in general, for that matter. More updates soon!

MONSTERS IN MY MIND: TOC reveal

The table of contents for MONSTERS IN MY MIND is now up: here!

Over the next couple of months, I’ll be posting more information about each story and poem, and making the titles in the TOC into links to where you can learn more. (Including links to free versions of the stories/poems, where available – although, if you’re eager, you can already find those links in my general Bibliography.)

Can*Con Schedule

The official schedule for Can*Con is out. Here’s what I’ll be doing in Ottawa this weekend:

7:00 PM, Friday. Book Launch: Monsters In My Mind. (Ada Hoffmann) – Con Suite

Ada Hoffmann’s debut collection, Monsters in My Mind, features non-neurotypical fairies, apocalypse velociraptors, soul-eating lamprey people, and Mothers of All Squid – among many other acclaimed stories and award-nominated poetry. The book launch will include a short reading and signing, delicious home-baked desserts for all, and loads of monstery door prizes.

6:00 PM, Saturday. Benefits and challenges of #ownvoices writing. (Elizabeth Hirst, Ada Hoffmann, Talia Johnson, Tonya Liburd, Waubgeshig Rice,  Dominik Parisien) – Salon F

#Ownvoices fiction was coined by author Corinne Duyvis to describe stories “about diverse characters written by authors from that same diverse group” — and has filled a major gap in the young adult reading landscape. As well as its unique joys and perspectives, writing #ownvoices fiction means working with a unique set of craft and marketing challenges. Join authors writing #ownvoices work for a practical discussion of the creative, personal, and business aspects of writing people like you — and how the process differs from handling other kinds of fiction.

That’s all – just the two events. It should be a nice light convention, which is good, because October this year has become a big travel month. Feel free to catch me anytime at the convention and say hi!

 

Autistic Book Party, Episode 38: Libriomancer

Today’s Book: “Libriomancer” by Jim C. Hines

The Plot: Sparkling vampires are running amok in Michigan, and it’s up to Isaac – a “libriomancer” who can pull fictional items out of books – to stop them. But the vampires may only be the tip of the iceberg…

Autistic Character(s): Nicola Pallas, the Regional Master of the Porters (a magical organization including libriomancers and other magicians).

So, I will say this up front. Nicola Pallas is cool. She’s also hardly in this book at all. She shows up for a few scenes, and they’re good scenes, but that’s about it. Her role in this book is to be the trope of the authority figure who tries to pull Isaac off the case when things get out of hand. She does play that role well, and her decisions are ones that make good logical sense based on the information and concerns that she has.

What we do see of Pallas, in terms of her characterization, is fun. She’s a bard who does magic by using music, and who keeps an inordinate number of magical creatures as pets. She has a rather flat affect, but Hines never confuses this with actually having no feelings; it’s clear that she is, at times, fearful and concerned and having other appropriate emotions about the plot, even if she expresses them differently than others. I will admit I have a weakness for steely, cool-headed women in positions of power, and Pallas’s snarkily logical messages to Isaac play right into that:

“Deb said someone had hacked our communications,” I said warily. “I’ve already had one Porter try to kill me this week.”
“This connection is now secure. We’ve heard nothing further from Mrs. DeGeorge [the Porter who tried to kill Isaac]. Her apartment was empty, and she appears to have gone underground. Perhaps literally. As for myself, either I’ve been turned by our enemy and therefore already know any information you might share, or else I remain human and Regional Master of the Porters, in which case I would appreciate your report.”
That certainly sounded like Pallas.

Aside from this speaking style, Pallas’s autism also comes across in small gestures, such as the fidgeting she constantly does with her jewelry. Isaac as a narrator isn’t very well-informed about autism, but his adventuring partner, Lena, is able to fill him in:

“How exactly did Pallas react when you told her I had found the other libriomancer, and the thing that came through the book after us?”
“I have a harder time reading autistics, but-”
“What?”
She blinked. “You didn’t know?”
“I don’t have access to her files.”
“Neither do I,” Lena said sharply. “But I’ve learned a thing or two living with Nidhi. I’ve been here for four days, long enough to get a sense of Nicola Pallas. She doesn’t express her emotions the same way you or I do. I think she’s frightened, though. When I first described what happened, she walked away from me in midsentence and started making phone calls. When she finished, she was playing with her bracelets and moving around like she wanted to run but didn’t know where.”
“She knows something,” I muttered. “Why wouldn’t she tell me?”
“Maybe because she knows how close you came to dying,” Lena said sharply.
I had no answer to that.

That’s pretty much all that happens, though. “Libriomancer” is a fun book, but readers who want a story specifically about Nicola Pallas should instead read Hines’s short story, “Chupacabra’s Song“.

The Verdict: Marginal

Ethics Statement: I have occasionally corresponded with Jim C. Hines. I read his book by checking out a physical copy from my local library. All opinions expressed here are my own.

This book was chosen by my Patreon backers. If these reviews are valuable to you, consider becoming a backer; for as little as $1, you can help choose the next autistic book.

For a list of past/future/possible Autistic Book Party books, click here.

New Story: “Minor Heresies”

My new short story, “Minor Heresies”, is out in Ride the Star Wind by Broken Eye Books.

Ride the Star Wind is an anthology of Lovecraftian space opera, which, coincidentally, is also more or less the genre of my novel, FALSE GODS (currently being shopped around by my agent; *crosses fingers*). The story I ended up writing is set in the same universe as my novel, but about 200 years earlier and in a very different neck of the woods.

In “Minor Heresies”, I wanted to explore a bit about the origins of Vaurians. FALSE GODS contains a major character who is Vaurian – not an alien, but a shapeshifting human-like being, bred for espionage by the supercomputer-Gods.  There’s a lot of prejudice against Vaurians in this fictional universe. The character in the novel plays into a lot of the in-world stereotypes: suave, manipulative, sinister, highly attractive, and fanatically devoted to the Gods (at least as long as it suits him). I like him a lot, for Reasons. But I also wanted space to break the stereotypes and write a Vaurian who wasn’t like that at all. So I ended up with Mimoru, the protagonist of “Minor Heresies” – a hapless little nerd from the days when Vaurians were still a new thing and mortals didn’t know what to do with them. He struggles to fit in with either Vaurians or mortals, struggles to find a place in his galaxy, and stumbles on to problems much bigger than he knows how to handle – problems which, ultimately, are as much about the repressive theocracy that created him as they are about the Lovecraftian horrors he sees.

Mimoru is also explicitly on the autism spectrum, although this was a part of his character that kind of crept up on me while I wrote. The story isn’t constructed to make any grand statement about autism, in particular. It also fleshes out a little about the non-human parts of the FALSE GODS galaxy, and how humans (cautiously) trade and communicate with aliens who don’t share their computer-religion.

Ride the Star Wind’s lineup looks pretty cool (including a story by Bogi Takács involving EVIL TRIANGLES!) so I hope some of you will go check it out.

MONSTERS IN MY MIND – Cover Reveal

Monsters In My Mind cover art

Here is my gorgeous cover for MONSTERS IN MY MIND – designed by Chris Robert Bell.

NeuroQueer Books already has some great covers for their existing titles, but as a newbie to the world of book publishing, I really wasn’t sure what to expect. I was blown away when my editor sent me SIX amazing looking cover mockups to choose from – they were all so good, it was really hard to choose.

(I tried to post this yesterday night, but was Le Tired, got mixed up trying to fix the image size, and deleted the post. It should be better now!)

Cool stories from July and August

Late, and short – the last month or so seems to have gotten away from me, as months often do – but here are my favorite short works that I read over the summer.

Caroline M. Yoachim, “Carnival Nine” (Beneath Ceaseless Skies, Issue #228, May 11). A story about a world of wind-up toys who only have a certain number of “turns” per day. The metaphor for disability is so apt that at first it almost feels too on-the-nose, but by the time the story settles into the complexities and difficulties of its characters’ adult lives, it’s become compelling and really good.

Maddie Phelps, “Ocean Heart” (Strange Horizons, July 3). I have trouble expressing what I think about this one – a poem about boundaries and pressure, about choosing what we make of ourselves, about knowing one’s own depths. It’s good.

JY Yang, “Waiting on a Bright Moon” (Novelette, Tor.com, July 12). Gorgeous and vicious, this is the story of a rebellion against a space-empire that turns queer women into magical transportation devices. There is magical singing, and space wizards, and characters in desparate circumstances finding love where they can. (And – be warned – the most grisly execution scene I’ve read in a while.) A story of the risks people take and the meaning they find for themselves in the face of intense oppression.

Announcing MONSTERS IN MY MIND

I’ve kept this under wraps a little too long, but it’s definitely happening.

In mid-October I will be launching my debut collection, MONSTERS IN MY MIND, with NeuroQueer Books.

This will be my first book-length published work. (My agent assures me that, for the purposes of publishing novels, my first novel will still be considered a debut work. I made this deal before I signed with her.) It will contain dozens of the short stories, flash stories, and poems that I’ve published since I first began to write for publication, as well as four new full-length short stories, one very scary new microfic. and six new poems.

NeuroQueer Books is a very small outfit, but there are some very good people there who really “get” me as an author. MONSTERS IN MY MIND is, accordingly, a small project – I have no illusions that it will make me wealthy, etc – but one with a lot of love in it, and one that I am tremendously excited to be about to share with my friends and fans.

There will be a book launch party during Can*Con 2017 in Ottawa – exact time TBD as Can*Con finalizes their schedule – with a reading, delicious baked goods, and some awesome monster-plushie and stim-toy door prizes, so if you are in the area or were considering going there for Can*Con already, please do stop by.

The launch date is only a month away, and so very soon you will be seeing more on this topic, including a TOC reveal, a cover reveal, more about the launch party, notes on the stories and poems in the collection, as well as a song pairing for (at least) each full-length story. When pre-order and/or plain normal order options are available, I’ll be posting here about that as well.

Autistic Book Party, Episode 37: Mirror Project

Today’s Book: “Mirror Project” by Michael Scott Monje, Jr.

The Plot: A wealthy businessman tries to build a robot body in which to resurrect his dead wife. But the AI consciousness that arises is not his wife, and is horrified by his coercive attempts at making her into something she isn’t.

Autistic Character(s): The author.

Let me just say this up front. This is a friggin’ terrifying book. It’s a book from the point of view of a protagonist who spends almost the entire book imprisoned by people who control her so completely that they can turn off her limbs, consciousness, and senses at will – and who don’t at all have her best interests at heart.

Just how terrifying and potentially triggering this book is will be obvious to anyone who reads the blurb. It’s important to note that it’s actually less awful than I was afraid it would be. It’s not written exploitatively, for shock value or titillation. It’s actually written quite well, and with a constant focus on what the protagonist is thinking and planning, how she is using the limited agency allowed to her to cope and push back against her situation. There are no rape scenes (although the threat of rape, and other violations, hangs constantly over the protagonist’s head). There is no tropey, SFnal mind control of the type that often happens in stories where a person can be reprogrammed (although the protagonist IS gaslit, constantly, by everyone). We know that the protagonist is eventually going to escape, because the book opens with a framing story in which she is narrating her origins to someone who downloaded a program of hers. These are small mercies that made “Mirror Project” a lot easier to get through than it could have been. It is still a TERRIFYING BOOK. I cannot stress this enough. I had a slow and difficult time getting through it, because AAAAAAAAA.

Yeah. So.

If we put aside these emotional concerns then there is a lot to admire about “Mirror Project”. There is a calm, unflinching groundedness to the way the book describes the protagonist’s situation, the options available to her, the reactions she has, and the choices she makes.

(I am having intense difficulty describing the protagonist with a name. The author refers to this series as the “Lynn Vargas universe”, but Lynn is the name of the dead wife that the protagonist is built to resemble, not the protagonist herself, so I cannot bring myself to refer to her that way. I am also not convinced that she/her pronouns are correct for this protagonist, but alternate pronouns are never mentioned or used in the book, so here we are.)

The author has obviously put thought and research into situations of imprisonment and isolation and their psychological effects. The people who the protagonist encounters during her imprisonment are also interestingly portrayed. Some are completely unreasonable; some have some sympathy and do some kindnesses for her, but still ultimately aren’t on her side; at least one is clearly unaware of the scope of what’s been done to her, and is manipulated into actions that harm her anyway.

Interestingly, there is one, small, blink-and-you-miss-it mention of autism in the book. This is in a scene where two characters are intensely gaslighting the protagonist and telling her that she does not have real volition and her actions are not real actions; they are “autism-like” behaviors. This small mention, I think, is very telling of where this kind of story might be coming from, and what it might mean for its author. Autistic people are not generally put into robot bodies and told that they are someone’s wife, but institutionalization and dehumanizing medical control is something that happens to a lot of autistic people, and abusive relationships are another thing that often happens. If you somehow merged those two nightmares together, “Mirror Project” is probably what you’d get. I don’t know much about the author or their history and don’t want to presume, but “Mirror Project” reads to me like the kind of book that is by and for survivors. It’s also an interesting angle on the ethics of strong AI, of the kind that an autistic author might be uniquely positioned to make.

Anyway, this book is going to be intensely triggering for many readers. But it does what it does very well. If you’re the kind of reader who likes reading respectful depictions of intense trauma, who feels seen and understood by that kind of story instead of wanting to run to the hills, then this book is for you. I’m glad that it’s out there. And now I’m going to go hide under a blanket and try to never think about it again.

The Verdict: YMMV

Ethics Statement: I have never interacted with Michael Scott Monje Jr. I bought an e-copy of this book and read it on my Kindle app. All opinions expressed here are my own.

This book was chosen by my Patreon backers. If these reviews are valuable to you, consider becoming a backer; for as little as $1, you can help choose the next autistic book.

For a list of past/future/possible Autistic Book Party books, click here.