Weird Luck Interview Part 2

Greetings, readers! If you’ve read the first part of this four-part Weird Luck interview with our press partners Andrew M. Reichart and Nick Walker, you’ve read a little bit about the origins of the concept. (And if you haven’t, you can go read it in last week’s post.) In this week’s installment, they discuss worldbuilding, the expansiveness of the WL multiverse, and collaborative possibilities.

— N.I. Nicholson


Ian: I’ve read various materials and guides to world-building, including more recently N.K. Jemisin’s Worldbuilding 101 seminar notes. With that in mind, what approaches did you take to world building when it came to Weird Luck?

Andrew: Well, I reckon our story’s not typical. Our shared multiverse has continuity going all the way back to the tabletop roleplaying games and stories we collaborated on in high school. In fact, I can trace narrative continuity back to the first D&D game I ran when I was 12. It all ties in, and we’ve invented dozens of worlds along the way.

I was interested in alternate worlds ever since I read the Narnia books and Michael Moorcock’s Eternal Champion stuff. So that sort of interdimensional travel was a staple of my RPGs in junior high and high school. We co-created the Reality Patrol in high school. Characters have appeared who go back that far — I won’t name names, but Nick might want to. In any event, our world-building has been an organic process over decades, drawing inspiration from innumerable sources.

To point to a few specific sources: my City of the Watcher trilogy is a bit of a satire of portal fantasy, indicting it as a colonialist trope. “Ooh, primitive world in crisis, I the White Man from Earth will set things right for you and reign over your poor primitive selves!” As we say in California, “Yeah no.”

What we see of the magical world of Kaios is awful. An oppressive military dictatorship, a racist class hierarchy, a genocidal war against tribal peoples, and a blatantly complicit middle class (this last item being a critique we don’t see nearly enough of in world-building, IMHO). A hierarchy well deserving of destruction.

However, there’s also an indictment of revolution in the trilogy, insofar as (spoiler) everything goes fucking awry. This isn’t because I oppose, per se, militant self-defense against the status quo up to and including its violent destruction. I just think it’s realistic to acknowledge that, unlike the heroic battles of good vs. evil in epic fantasy, in real life this is always an awful process, likely to fail, and almost certain to instate a new status quo that is also awful.

Changing gears to our most recent example of worldbuilding: many of my contributions to the city of Tal Sharnis are rooted in recent real-world political concerns of mine. Patterns of gentrification & displacement, abetted by capital, city government, and police violence. The dehumanization that underlies policing, incarceration, and punitive models of “justice.” Pitfalls of grassroots organizing, including disorganization, infighting, co-opting, scenesterism, bad strategy, and ineffective tactics. Organizing against small-scale fascist groups which on the one hand may pose credible and growing threats, yet whose ratio of “spectacle” to “actual harmfulness” is the inverse of the dull yet massively deadly status quo. Etc.

Things like these get morphed in their translation from our world into Tal Sharnis, taking on a flavor and a life of their own as they draw influence from the local conditions. So, as an example, the True Guardians of Bifrost are earthling-supremacist, not white-supremacist. Which has its own unique implications, since the two are not deeply analogous. My intent is not to create direct satire of things in our world, as a simplistic 1:1 substitution. On the contrary, I present analogies as tools for thinking about how power operates, how the status quo preserves itself, and what sort of political effort actually results in substantive change, rather than just tokens.

Nick: Yeah, we’re definitely atypical. We’ve been collaborating on the shared worldbuilding project that evolved into the Weird Luck saga since we met in the Princeton High School art room when we were both fifteen. And, as Andrew said, it all ties in — every single bit of fiction and art and gaming we’ve done, since we met and in some cases since before we met. Andrew can trace narrative continuity back to his first D&D game, and I can trace the genesis of Agent Sojac back to a peculiar recurring daydream I had when I was in elementary school.

We ran some epic roleplaying games in our late teens and on and off through our twenties. Running roleplaying games — the old-school, tabletop, pencil & paper kind — is something I highly recommend for anyone doing worldbuilding. Readers are going to poke at your fictional worlds to see if they have real depth and coherence, and one of the best possible ways to prepare for that is to invite a gang of roleplaying gamers into your world as beta-testers, to poke at it first.

I don’t recall any moment where either of us said, “Hey, wouldn’t it be cool if all these game worlds and stories and stuff we’re creating all interconnected as part of one intricate multiverse.” It was just somehow obvious from the start that that’s what we were going to do, that anything we created should be integrated into a single ever-more-complex canon. The more interconnections, the more it suited our synchronicity-oriented aesthetic.

Andrew and I think very differently from one another. Not in the sense of disagreeing, because we largely agree as far as opinions and whatnot go, but in the sense that his mind works very differently than mine. Or mine works very differently than his? At least one of those statements is true. And that’s an asset, because each of us tends to focus on different aspects of the worlds and settings and characters and stories we’re building.

Andrew’s got a strong focus on the sociopolitical, and I’ve got a strong focus on the psychological. Andrew has a cinematic imagination —his books really demand to be made into high-budget action movies. I have a mind that can keep track of enormously complex continuity and how it all fits together, and I get fascinated by the intrigues and chemistry between characters.

So Andrew will come to me with a vision of some story he wants us to tell, something that sounds like a pitch for a really interesting action movie. And I’ll immediately see how it can be tweaked to make it fit in perfectly with all of our existing narrative continuity, and a dozen ways that we can create connections between this story and other stories. And so the canon grows, ever more rich and complex and ever more cohesive and intricate in its interconnections.

Readers are going to poke at your fictional worlds to see if they have real depth and coherence, and one of the best possible ways to prepare for that is to invite a gang of roleplaying gamers into your world as beta-testers, to poke at it first.
— Nick Walker

In our collaborative novel, Insurgent Otherworld — which we recently finished publishing in serial form on Patreon, and which we’re about to start re-serializing in weekly installments on the Weird Luck website so everyone can read it — you can really see our styles interacting and complementing one another. Andrew’s parts of the book are full of the street-level politics of Tal Sharnis: the warfare between fringe groups like the True Guardians of Bifrost and the Unravelers Curse-Coven, the police brutality of the Monster Hunters, the grassroots resistance to a gentrification plan by a predatory development company. My parts of the book deal mostly with the way the leadership of the local bureau of the Reality Patrol responds to these events in the city, and how Cordy and Bianca each find ways to fit in once they’re transferred to that bureau to help respond to those events, and the contrast between Cordy’s naive enthusiasm and Bianca’s devious manipulations. And by the end of the story, Andrew’s threads of it and mine come together seamlessly.

I may have drifted more into talking about our collaborative synergy than about worldbuilding, but for us those may not be clearly separable.

Ian: Wow. When I started reading the Insurgent Otherworld installments on Patreon, I could maybe sense a little bit that what was happening with Weird Luck was a sort of long-term collaborative synergy that’s been in the works for several years. As an outside observer, it seems to me like a rather organic process. I also loved how RPing, particularly D&D, factored into Weird Luck’s backstory and love your suggestion to writers to allow roleplaying gamers to beta-test their fictional worlds. 

Here’s my next question: How does your creation/expansion of the Weird Luck universe encourage crossovers/linkages between Weird Luck and other universes (Verity Reynolds’ Non-Compliant Space, for example)? In other words, how do you foresee that Weird Luck’s structure and artifacts might allow like-minded authors to forge stories that take place in its universe? 

Andrew: Well, the simple answer is: there’s a hypothetically infinite multiverse, with an unlimited number of ways to get from one world to another. There’s tech and sorcery and magical beings — in fact, somewhere there could very well be any tech or magic that anyone might wanna come up with. Does some new idea destabilize the status who? Not a problem; there is no real interdimensional status quo. Even the Reality Patrol varies from one place to another, sometimes so much so that branches may be at odds or even unrecognizable. The multiverse is a chaotic mess.

So, anything can be “canon.” And frankly Nick and I can probably integrate anything… ’cause we’ve been doing exactly that for decades. We’re masters of retcon (especially Nick truth be told). Hell, the party in my eighth grade D&D game had a frickin’ spaceship. That’s… not exactly in the rules, haha.

Nick: We’re excited about other authors and comic creators and such referencing and playing with the Weird Luck canon, as long as they check in with us about it first and become collaborators rather than appropriators.

At present, Verity Reynolds, Athena Lynn Michaels-Dillon, and some mysterious person named N.I. Nicholson all have open invitations to explicitly tie their stories in with the Weird Luck canon. That might happen in a small way — just small mentions and references, like if a character in a story by one of those authors says, “Don’t do that, you’ll bring the Reality Patrol down on us” — or it might involve more elaborate crossovers. Either way, we have understandings with all three of those authors that their fictional universes and ours are part of the same big multiverse and canon. We’re looking forward to bringing even more creators into this conspiracy.

Verity Reynolds is the first author with whom we’ve started collaborating on significant crossover stuff, where characters from her stories come into ours and vice-versa. I love that sort of thing. It definitely requires some discussion in advance — but that’s a feature, not a bug, because discussions of that sort are fun and tend to generate all sorts of story and character ideas for all the authors involved.

We’ve already referenced Reynolds’ Non-Compliant Space canon in small ways in Weird Luck stories, like Cordy’s brief mention of Niralans in one of the letters she writes in Insurgent Otherworld. Very soon, Autonomous Press will publish Spoon Knife 3: Incursions, the third volume of the annual Spoon Knife literary anthology. Andrew and I are the editors of this volume, and we’re each contributing a Weird Luck story to it. Verity Reynolds’ short story in Spoon Knife 3, entitled “Kill Your Darlings,” features a Reality Patrol agent as one of the central characters and is the first major crossover story between her Non-Compliant Space stories and the Weird Luck saga.

I also have a Weird Luck novel in the works, featuring Bianca, which because of my other writing commitments probably won’t be completed and published for another six or seven years. But when it finally appears, it will include an appearance by Aqharan Bereth, one of the major antagonists in the Non-Compliant Space stories. My conversations with Reynolds about Bereth’s history with Bianca generated all sorts of fun ideas about both characters. So we’re looking forward to more of that sort of thing, with Reynolds and other authors.

Definitely important to check in with creators if you’re going to use any of their actual characters. But the Reality Patrol is huge   — one could put Reality Patrol agents into any story and they might be from a branch of the Patrol that operates somewhat differently from the branches you see in the stories by me and Andrew.

Somewhere down the road, I’d love to produce some anthologies where we invite a bunch of authors we know to write stories explicitly set in the Weird Luck universe —say, a book of Reality Patrol short stories written by half a dozen different authors. But we’ll want to publish a lot more of our own work first, so that potential contributors and collaborators have a better sense of the Weird Luck universe. Because so far, the bits of the saga that we’ve published are only a tiny tip of the iceberg.


Stay tuned for part three, where Andrew and Nick discuss how all the pieces in Weird Luck fit together. To make sure you don’t miss a post, like AutPress on Facebook and follow us on Twitter. While you’re at it, don’t forget to follow the Weird Luck Facebook page for even more WL updates!

Weird Luck Interview Part 1

If you’ve been reading the AutPress blog, the Facebook page, you’ve seen some news and shares about the Weird Luck webcomic written by our partners Nick Walker and Andrew M. Reichart and illustrated by Mike Bennewitz. Perhaps you’ve also followed the Weird Luck FB page and you’ve read the webcomics.

Either way, you’ve been exposed to a just few slices of a massive, complex multiverse with a potentially infinite time span. What’s more: Nick and Andrew have been developing it for at least 30 years.

April is a big month for both the press and the Weird Luck fictional multiverse. For one, Argawarga Press is relaunching as an imprint of AutPress. Also, many more Weird Luck stories are headed your way.

With that in mind, I had the opportunity to chat with Nick and Andrew over email during late February and early March about the vast multiverse they’ve created, the Argawarga relaunch, and what the future holds for both. This is a four-part interview series, with a new post going live over the next several Wednesdays. Enjoy part one, and stay tuned for parts two, three, and four.

  — N. I. Nicholson


Ian: From what I’ve seen, one central idea to Weird Luck is Chronic Synchronicity Syndrome. A brief explanation of what this is can be found in this AutPress blog post from March 14. I’m curious to know: where and how did you come up with the idea for CSS, aka, “weird luck”?

Nick: Andrew’s the one who first started using the term weird luck, so I’ll leave it to him to talk about how he developed it. But the concept was brewing in our private mythos for a long time before we had a term for it.

The collaborative mythos that eventually evolved into the Weird Luck saga has its roots in our teen years. It was shaped by the usual geekery like roleplaying games (of the non-computer variety), comics, music, and that sort of thing — but also by heavy use of LSD. We had this hybrid of geek culture, punk culture, stoner/headbanger culture, and psychedelic mystic culture going on.

Nick Walker

Nick Walker

There’s this thing that happens on LSD where synchronicity seems to be everywhere. And not just while you’re actually on an LSD trip, either: if you’re doing LSD regularly, and using it to tap into the levels of consciousness where archetypal forces dwell, synchronicity has a way of accelerating in your life in general, even on the days you’re not on any drugs. Carl Jung talked about that, about how tapping into the realm of the archetypal correlates with increased synchronicity in one’s life.

So that was our reality, back in those formative years when we were first collaborating and laying the groundwork for what would grow into the Weird Luck saga. We were fascinated with synchronicity, immersed in it and finding aesthetic delight in the ways in which it manifested. And this came to inform our whole creative style. From very early on, from our late teens onward, our work was full of, and shaped by, this delight in synchronicity and in the phenomenon that we eventually came to call weird luck. 

Andrew: I came up with the term “weird luck” during those acid days of the late ‘80s, not just as a description of the experience of synchronicity, but as a fanciful attribute we possessed as individuals. “Not necessarily good, not necessarily bad, but always weird.”

Outcasts pervade our work. Deviation from norms, struggles against one sort of status quo or other — these are underlying concepts that manifest all over the place.
— Andrew M. Reichart

Over the years this idea stuck with me. While I was working on what eventually became my first finished book, I reflected on various improbable narrative conventions we tend to accept — not just the blatant things like the deus ex machina, but lesser coincidences that pepper ordinary tales, especially genre stories. It occurred to me: why not explicitly use Weird Luck, the cosmic trait that bends probability around an individual, as an in-system explanation for this sort of unlikely turn of events?

Since I knew the Reality Patrol would make an appearance at the end of this book, and since they’d presumably be aware of this phenomenon (and suitably wary of it), I went ahead and came up with their nomenclature for it: Chronic Synchronicity Syndrome (both Common and Extreme varieties).

Although this started as a small throwaway idea, I ended up liking it so much that I ended up naming the book Weird Luck in the City of the Watcher when I finished it in 2004.

Occasionally I notice a story by someone else that’s especially thick with such improbabilities, presumably because the writer is deliberately playing with these tropes in some fashion. (Kiss Kiss Bang Bang being a brilliant example — though I can’t mention that film, as much as I like it, without giving a thumbs-down to its mediocre gender politics, bleh.) Of course, such characters have Weird Luck in my headcanon.

Andrew M. Reichart

Andrew M. Reichart

Nick: Yeah, Weird Luck is a great concept to have as part of one’s headcanon. When I’m enjoying any work of fiction, in any medium, I’m always noticing which characters register as queer to me, which characters register as neurodivergent to me, and which characters register to me as having Weird Luck.

I love the whole idea of the Reality Patrol having this medical-sounding term for it, Chronic Synchronicity Syndrome, because it references the way that phenomena like queerness and neurodivergence have been medicalized within cultures and social institutions in our own world.

Every authoritarian system tries to enforce certain norms, and has stigmatizing ways of categorizing the modes of being that deviate from those norms. The Reality Patrol can give the illusion of being enlightened in a Starfleet kind of way, because they’re cool with some forms of diversity that the dominant culture in our world is still definitely not cool with. But they’re still very much an authoritarian organization, so they’re inevitably going to be identifying some group or another as deviant and problematic. On an institutional policy level, the Reality Patrol is really good about gender diversity and racial diversity. But they’re definitely not cool with… whatever you want to call the spectrum of diversity that Weird Luck is a manifestation of. Karmic diversity?

And speaking of that spectrum of karmic diversity, one thing you’ll notice over time in the Weird Luck saga is that Weird Luck, like autism, definitely manifests differently in each individual. That’s something we play with a lot. It’s not just about how extreme a given individual’s Weird Luck is, or how good or bad, but also about each individual’s unique style of Weird Luck. What kind of weird synchronicities or improbable events keep recurring in their lives? It’s different for every character who has Weird Luck.

Ian: Oh! Nick’s last reply made me wonder about something. Since you’ve drawn parallels between how both autism and Weird Luck manifest differently in each individual and how both WL and queerness or neurodivergence have been medicalized, I’m curious about if/when such parallels actively impacted Weird Luck concepts at any point in their development.

Andrew: Well, outcasts pervade our work. Deviation from norms, struggles against one sort of status quo or other — these are underlying concepts that manifest all over the place.

Nick: Yep. We don’t do a lot of deliberately contrived parallels or analogies, because didactic fiction generally sucks ass. And apart from the parallels we’ve already mentioned, having Weird Luck isn’t really like being a member of an oppressed or marginalized group. The parallel breaks down if one attempts to force it to go anywhere. I mean, it’s not like people who don’t have Weird Luck have “Unexceptional Luck privilege.”

More interesting than the minor parallels, I think, are the intersections of Weird Luck with phenomena like queerness and neurodivergence. There’s a lot of that in our work.

One thing that particularly fascinates me is how Weird Luck can cause neurodivergence or alterations to the psyche.

Think about it: our psyches and personalities are shaped by experience. So are our brains — neuroplasticity is a thing; experiences create neural pathways; our perspectives and personas are physically manifest as webs of neural connectivity in the brain.

If you have Weird Luck, it affects your experience of reality. In particular, your experience of causality.

In other words, what does it do to a person’s perceptions of reality, and their personality, if throughout their entire lives they’ve experienced causality as less stable and predictable than most people experience it? Because weird shit happens no matter what they do, and it’s a common experience for them to have their actions produce results that could never have been reasonably predicted?

My academic work is mostly in psychology, so that’s the kind of question that intrigues me and that shapes how I write our characters. When a character has Weird Luck, I’m always asking: How has this particular character adapted to — or had their worldview shaped by — the experience of having causality be less reliable for them than it is for most people?

We can see this in the contrast between Agent Sojac and Smiley, for example. Two central characters who are vastly different from one another — and some of their core differences boil down to how they’ve responded in more or less opposite ways to growing up with Weird Luck.

Agent Sojac’s like, “Weird and wildly unpredictable things happen all the time, so you’ve got to be vigilant, well-disciplined, and well-prepared.” Which of course is a very Reality Patrol attitude and makes her a great agent. Whereas Smiley’s like, “Weird and wildly unpredictable things happen all the time, so what’s a fellow to do? Hope for the best and improvise, I suppose.” Agent Sojac survives despite her Weird Luck; Smiley has arguably only survived this long because of his Weird Luck.

Of course, it’s not just the characters who have Weird Luck who can be outcasts or divergent or queer or struggling against the status quo. Bianca, who’s one of my favorite characters and who’s definitely queer and neurodivergent, doesn’t have Weird Luck.


Stay tuned for part two of this interview in which Nick and Andrew discuss worldbuilding and collaborations with other creators. To make sure you don’t miss a post, like AutPress on Facebook and follow us on Twitter. While you’re at it, don’t forget to follow the Weird Luck Facebook page for even more WL updates!

Strap in for New Weird Fiction This Spring

If you’ve read this blog or followed us on social media, then you already know that our weird fiction titles include Verity Reynolds’ novel Nantais, Ada Hoffman’s collection Monsters in My Mind, and Michael Scott Monje, Jr.’s thriller Mirror Project. As devoted lovers of science fiction and fantasy novels, video games with open world elements, groundbreaking television series, and well-written comic book series, it should be no surprise that we’re also science fiction publishers interested in work that defies standard conventions and immerses readers in rich and complex worlds while also touching on themes of neurodivergence, queerness, and how these intersect. We’re happy to talk about an upcoming major development here at the press that’s going to help put even more weird fiction into your hot little hands (or onto your Kindles).

Argawarga Press Joins the AP Family

If you’ve been following the weekly Weird Luck webcomic written by Nick Walker and Andrew M. Reichart and illustrated by Mike Bennewitz, you might have already heard about Argawarga Press, the original publisher of Andrew’s City of the Watcher trilogy and other works. The good news is that Argawarga will re-launch as an Autonomous Press imprint in Spring 2018! The imprint’s first titles will include Dora Raymaker’s debut novel Hoshi and the Red City Circuit, as well as a new edition of Andrew’s Weird Luck novel Wallflower Assassin.

After that, more weird fiction is planned for this imprint, thanks to the re-issue of Andrew’s City of the Watcher trilogy and a paperback version of Insurgent Otherworld. Followers of Weird Luck on Facebook or Patreon may have already read portions of Otherworld in serialized weekly posts, but Argawarga’s release of these titles in the immediate future means that you’ll enjoy Otherworld in its entirety, plus the City of the Watcher trilogy, which is set just prior to the beginning of the Weird Luck webcomic.

So, What Is Weird Luck, Anyway?

One basic premise of Weird Luck, as explained by its creators, is this: there are multiple alternate realities or parallel universes, and parallel versions of you exist that are native to each realm. In Weird Luck, these parallel versions are called “cognates.” Interdimensional travel happens, whether by deliberate intention or accidental occurrence. Strange events involving interdimensional weirdness, jumping between realities, or running into your cognates are all different types of “Chronic Synchronicity Syndrome,” also known as…you guessed it…Weird Luck.

Stay Tuned for More News

Dora Raymaker’s work will also appear Spoon Knife 3: Incursions, edited by Nick and Andrew, this coming spring. This volume features short fiction, poetry, and short memoir focusing on what happens when one reality intrudes into another. Watch for more book release announcements, and get your weird fic on at the AutPress store.

 

The Spoon Knife Anthologies: Groundbreaking Neurodivergent, Queer, and Mad Lit

[Pictured above: the cover of Spoon Knife 2: Test Chamber]

You might already know how integral the Spoon Knife anthology is to AutPress’ mission. More to the point, it offers writers an opportunity to explore themes that intersect with neurodivergence and queerness, or neuroqueer existence. From the annual series’ debut in Spring 2016 to the upcoming third volume, our goals include publishing authors writing radical transformative work, uplifting voices that are generally marginalized by the mainstream, and being one of the paying outlets for writers that values work and compensates its authors.

Thoughts on Compliance, Defiance, and Resistance

Released in Spring 2016, our first Spoon Knife volume featured poetry, fiction, and memoir from more than 25 neurodivergent authors. That first anthology, edited by Michael Scott Monje, Jr. and N.I. Nicholson, collected a body of work in which contributors spoke to how they navigated compliance, defiance, and consent and in many cases, formed their own strategies of resistance. It was also one of the first wave of titles on the NeuroQueer Books imprint, the beginning of books that focus on queer issues, queering, sexuality, gender, and the intersections of gender, neurodivergence, and other aspects of identity.

Spoon Knife 2: Test Chamber

The second collection reached out to both new talent and established writers to push literary boundaries and reveal neuroqueer experiences from within. Edited by Dani Alexis Ryskamp and Sam Harvey, the Spoon Knife 2: Test Chamber anthology asked contributors to consider a question: What happens when experience itself becomes a series of tests that must be successfully navigated? This volume gathered work from authors from many marginalized groups, resulting in a volume of stunning, innovative neurodivergent, Queer, and Mad literature.

Spoon Knife 3: Incursions

Coming this spring: the series’ third volume, Spoon Knife 3: Incursions. This edition was edited by Nick Walker and Andrew M. Reichart, the co-creators of the Weird Luck universe of novels and webcomics with interconnected stories about interdimensional travel, alternate realities, and improbabilities becoming probable. Stories from Weird Luck have appeared in both the first anthology and the second edition and will also feature in this third collection. Expect more weird fiction, memoir, poetry in Incursions, which asked authors to consider the myriads of possibilities when one reality intrudes into another.

In 2019: A Neurodivergent Guide to Spacetime

The series continues in early 2019 with its fourth volume, Spoon Knife 4: A Neurodivergent Guide to Spacetime. N.I. Nicholson is editing this collection, so expect a full volume of neurodivergent spacetime weirdness. Its submissions call is pretty fresh, so you have plenty of time to submit your own work. And while you’re at it, don’t forget to check out the first two volumes and stay tuned for Spoon Knife 3 later this spring.

Barking Sycamores: Breakthrough Neurodivergent Lit

[Pictured: a portion of Barking Sycamores’ Issue 14 cover.] 

This spring, Barking Sycamores approaches two major milestones. For one, the journal celebrates its fourth anniversary on April 1! Also, March marks two years since it joined the AutPress family. In that time, this literary journal centering neurodivergent voices has published 13 issues to date, with number 14 slated to roll out on March 1. We’ve released two annual anthologies, with a third coming this fall. Right now, we’d like to talk a little bit about Sycamores and each anthology.

Year One: Debuting Poetry and Artwork

Barking Sycamores said “Hello, world!” in April 2014, with one primary mission: to change the public discourse about autism by centering autistic creators and publishing their poetry and artwork. The journal later expanded to include short fiction and to welcome writers with all forms of neurodivergence. Although disability literature has a rich history, Sycamores was the first journal of its kind to focus solely on neurodivergent authors and artists.

Naturally, this focus meshed well with our mission, both with the primary imprint and NeuroQueer Books. We published the Barking Sycamores: Year One anthology in Spring 2016 and brought the journal on board, along with its founder N.I. Nicholson (who’s now the NeuroQueer Books imprint editor). This volume includes work by the Puzzlebox Collective, Thomas Park, Heather Dorn, and more than 35 other contributors.

Year Two: Expanding a Literary Mission

Barking Sycamores: Year Two continues the journal’s mission while expanding into newer literary territory. Issue 8 saw the addition of creative non-fiction, and it’s reflected in this second volume packed with first-hand neurodivergent narratives, poems, short stories, and artwork. Year Two includes work by more than 30 contributors such as Erin Human, Amy Sequenzia, Sean J. Mahoney, and Matthew Robb Brown.

The Story Behind the Name

The journal’s name was deliberately chosen to sound strange but also characterizes the American sycamore tree without its bark: symbolic of what fellow AutPress editor Nick Walker called the “intense and chaotic nature of autistic sensory and cognitive experience” in his well-known essay, “What Is Autism?”. It was also originally meant to poke fun at the idea that autistic artistic communication is a fluke, a savant ability, or meaningless gibberish.

You certainly won’t forget the journal’s name or the work from neurodivergent contributors publishing in the online journal and in the yearly anthology. If you haven’t read Sycamores, pick up Year One, Year Two, or get both volumes with the Barking Sycamores Collection available in the AutPress store.

 

Call for Submissions: Spoon Knife 4

The Basics

Autonomous Press seeks submissions of poetry, short fiction, and short memoir pieces for an upcoming anthology, Spoon Knife 4: A Neurodivergent Guide to Spacetime.

Scheduled for publication in Fall 2019, this fourth volume of the Spoon Knife Anthology series follows The Spoon Knife Anthology: Tales of Compliance, Defiance, and Resistance (2016), Spoon Knife 2: Test Chamber (2017), and Spoon Knife 3: Incursions (2018).

Please contact Andrew for updates on this project, and you may wish to see the call for submissions for Spoon Knife 5: Liminal as well.

Sign up for the email list to receive news on these and other projects.

What We’re Looking For

As people, we’re drawn to both telling stories and listening to the stories of others. Navigating life can be joyous, frustrating, frightening, sorrowful, and complex. Among all these realities we usually find one truth that always remains: the unknown. And what do we do when confronted with the unknown? We might fear it, try to avoid it entirely, or charge towards it with aplomb or gusto.

Speculative fiction has long dealt with themes surrounding the unknown. Sci-fi and fantasy themes have allowed their creators to conceptualize how space and time can exist, merge, warp, or even disappear in strange and terrifying ways. How in the hell do you map a black hole? Can you really kill your own grandfather? And what happens if your past self travels forward and meets the present iteration of you? What do past, present, and future even mean?

Those are just a few thoughts, but we’re basically looking for work that examines and explores two fundamental ideas: time and space. Moreover, we want work that engages with themes of neurodivergence, queerness, and/or the intersections of neurodivergence and queerness. These might include, but are not limited to, themes such as:

  • Travel through time and space via technological methods (vortex manipulators, star ships, big blue boxes, etc.)
  • Involuntary acts of time travel through PTSD-related mental/emotional trauma
  • Deliberately journeying/revisiting through memories in one’s own timeline
  • “Slipping” through time and/or space via astral projection, quantum jumping, or other non-tech means (such as in Octavia Butler’s Kindred)
  • Outcomes and consequences of changing past events
  • Meeting one’s past/future selves

Spoon Knife 4: A Neurodivergent Guide to Spacetime will be edited by Andrew Reichart and B. Allen. You can contact Andrew here.

Format and Length

Fiction and Memoir: We’re looking 10,000 words or less of fully-polished prose, submitted in standard manuscript format (title page with contact info, double-spaced Times New Roman 12-point font, pages numbered with either title or author’s name in the header.)

Poetry: You may submit up 5 pieces of any length and style, provided they fit the theme of this collection.

All submissions must be in a Word-compatible format (.doc, .docx, .odt).

When and How to Submit

Email all submissions to Andrew@autpress.com.

Authors will be notified of their acceptance or rejection during the first half of 2019.

Payment for accepted submissions will be 1 cent per word, to be sent by check.

When submitting your work, please put in the subject line one of the following:

  • “Spoon Knife 4 Submission – Fiction”
  • “Spoon Knife 4 Submission – Memoir”
  • “Spoon Knife 4 Submission – Poetry”

Also, please include a cover letter that clearly specifies the name under which you want to be credited, along with a 3-4 sentence bio written in the third person. The name and bio should be typed exactly as you want them to appear in the book.

Need Pointers on Worldbuilding? Here’s Some Advice From N.K. Jemisin

[Featured image: The city of Gujareeh, from the cover of The Killing Moon by N.K. Jemisin]

Whether you’re writing a single novel or you’re constructing an expansive science fiction or fantasy epic contained in several volumes, you’re engaging in worldbuilding of some kind. Lacking a well-developed culture doesn’t just rob your weird fiction of strong settings in which it can unfold. Storytelling doesn’t just rely on plot, but also requires multidimensional characters and settings to create a self-contained universe for your narratives. We’re happy to review some sage advice about worldbuilding from award-winning author N.K. Jemisin, whom you remember we discussed in our Black sci-fi authors roundup this past November.

Immersing Readers in Your Fictional World

In a 2015 Writer’s Digest Online Workshop presentation, Jemisin addressed the common adage that only 10% of your worldbuilding should be apparent in your writing with the remaining 90% beneath the surface like an iceberg. She challenges that assertion when it comes to creating settings in your weird fiction, suggesting that it promotes the view of the “hidden” 90% as scary.

Moreover, she reveals that this “rule” can be skillfully broken and leaves us with sound advice for immersing readers into our fictional worlds. She proposes an “immersion pyramid” with three levels of absorption into your novel’s native culture:

  • High immersion, in which the world’s bizarre qualities are conveyed via context as opposed to direct explanations in the narrative
  • Moderate immersion, which includes occasional breaks for the narrator to explain aspects of the culture
  • Low immersion, in which the narrator frequently stops to explain details about your fictional world

She cautions weird fiction writers that deciding on an appropriate level of immersion can be tricky, since each person needs to strike a balance that keeps readers invested in their stories. Her own advice is to increase the level of immersion as the amount of difference between the “primary world” (the world most of us live in) and your distinctive fictional secondary world increases.

Don’t “Reinvent the Wheel”

Jemisin is herself a master when it comes to creating original and unique universes, but what’s notable is that she repeatedly defies the usual trope of making magical and supernatural worlds based on medieval northern Europe. Her first series of weird fiction novels, The Inheritance Trilogy, depicts a realm in which gods and mortals frequently intermingle within a collection of multicultural societies that regard race and social ranking as important. Bustle writer Charlotte Ahlin cites Gujaareh from Jemisin’s The Killing Moon as one example of a non-European fantasy world in a 2016 article, noting that it was roughly based on ancient Egypt and calling it “a complex and multi-cultural desert society.”

Jemisin also pointed to a “fear of worldbuilding” in her workshop, citing it as one possible reason why many fantasy realms tend to be based on medieval northern Europe. Writers of weird fiction set in distant-future societies may want to take a hard look at the cultures they create as well and consider building distinctive alternatives of their own, avoiding the trap of borrowing heavily from space navy-style tropes such as what’s present in Star Trek and similar works. Of course, if you’re going to borrow, you may choose to go the path of clever subversion — but that’s for another post.

Infrastructure, Environment, and Culture Support Your Story

We already know that setting is a critical component of crafting literature, but Jemisin calls attention to how your speculative fictional worlds impact your plot and characters. In her workshop, she mentions that inhabitants of your imaginary cultures will adapt to the climate, land, water, flora, and fauna present in their environments. Io9 writer Charlie Jane Anders supports Jemisin’s arguments by listing a lack of consideration about basic infrastructure and failing to account for how unusual technology or magic affects a society as just a couple of her “7 deadly sins” of worldbuilding.

Furthermore, Jemisin’s own Broken Earth novels prove these points abundantly. Stillness is wracked with daily deadly earthquakes and other destructive climate events. Without this setting, there would be no need for the series’ orogenes, the class of individuals with seemingly magical abilities who can control these forces. So the Stillness’ inhabitants fear of orogenes, thanks to their fantastic powers that can both heal and destroy, is no surprise.

AutPress Loves Weird, Wonderful Fiction

We’ve discussed some of the major points that Jemisin makes, but her full Worldbuilding 101 workshop outline is available on her own blog for your own reading. As you’re writing, don’t forget to feed your need to read. Check out the AutPress store for great suggestions like Verity Reynolds’ debut novel Nantais and Ada Hoffman’s collection, Monsters in My Mind.

 

 

Into the Wormhole: Weird Fiction to Read in 2018

How does a speculative fictional work leave its mark on you? You might read or watch it repeatedly, or reference it in your day-to-day life. If you’re a content creator, you might even find that elements from the original inspire you and influence your own creative output. Whether you’re a spectator, a creator, or both, venturing into the realm of weird fiction makes you delve into the depths of your own consciousness and emerge with treasures that coruscate like distant glittering constellations, or horrify and fascinate like the captivating void of a black hole.

That, friends, is what Autonomous Press offers in 2018. Keep reading to find out more about our new science fiction titles, some re-releases planned in the coming months, and a groundbreaking webcomic publishing weekly content.

Nantais: A Non-Compliant Space Opera

Author Verity Reynolds describes her newest novel Nantais as a space opera that’s not just a space opera. Sure, it’s full of intergalactic intrigue and action along with a cast of compelling characters. But it’s also weird fiction that does a few key things you might not expect.

You remember all those sci-fi works featuring monolithic alien civilizations with only one universal culture and language for their entire planet, right? Not to mention those human-centered narratives, heteronormativity, and diversity that isn’t really diversity? (Looking at you, ST: TOS.)

Thankfully, you won’t find any of that nonsense in Nantais.

Instead, you’ll meet the Niralans, a people with rich multifaceted cultures and intricate methods of nonverbal communication. You’ll also encounter a multiverse full of queerness, watch as protagonists deal language barriers and cultural differences, and enjoy witty satirical moments in this immersive weird fiction saga. That’s along with the rogue computer virus, space pirates, and a scramble to solve a complex mystery in deep space. All of that, packed into 231 pages.

Monsters in My Mind, Weird Luck, and More

Before we sign off, we wanted to mention a couple of other things. We just released a spectacular collection by Ada Hoffman, Monsters in My Mind. Filled with over 40 pieces of speculative fiction and poetry, Hoffman shows readers a multiverse full of reimaged fairy tales, artificial intelligence, queerness, velociraptors, and more. Two AP partners, Nick Walker and Andrew Reichart, are the mastermind writers behind the weekly Weird Luck webcomic series illustrated by Mike Bennewitz. Speaking of which, Argawarga Press will relaunch this spring as an AP imprint. Upcoming releases include Dora Raymaker’s debut novel Hoshi and the Red City Circuit as well as an updated edition of Andrew Reichart’s Weird Luck novel, Wallflower Assassin.

More details forthcoming in a future post, but in the meantime, be sure to visit the AutPress store for more great reads.

Unsticking Your Brain: Or, Writing Poems When You Haven’t Been Writing Poems

Let’s face it. If you write poetry, your craft depends just as much on practicum as it does on ideas. When you’re lacking one or both these elements, attempting to generate a new poem can feel a little Sisyphean…or like moving through a swimming pool full of cement…or…well, pick any metaphor you like, but you get our point. Remember when we told you to ignore the well-intentioned “your first drafts are crap” advice and to temporarily send your inner critic packing? Both points are always salient when creating new material, but in this post, we’re offering a couple of tips to help you get your poetry brain unstuck.

Do You Need to Shift Gears?

You might rely on a few writing prompt sources. Maybe it’s a high-profile author’s blog, or you and your friends give each other jump-off points for writing. They’re all great resources, but what if you’re staring at your chosen prompt and no words come out? You could have one or more of these common problems going on:

  1. The pesky editor in your brain
  2. You’re legit tired, stressed out or feeling a lack of focus
  3. Your mind is stuck in “logic” mode

Neurodivergent brains all operate in unique ways, but your mental processes to create poetry might drastically differ from your fiction-crafting methods. If you’ve been focusing on short stories or a novel, it may just be a matter of “shifting” into poetic mode. Keep in mind, however, that lines between genres can easily blur. You may reread a 300-word piece you just finished and wonder whether it’s a long micro-fic or a prose poem. That’s a grey area, one in which you’ll make the final call when it comes to genres and classification.

Stop Making Sense

If you don’t write every day or you’re a professional writer generating specialized types of content, you may not be creating poetry on a daily basis. Rather than stare at a blank page and struggle, now may be the time to suspend your “logic brain” and stop making sense. Try freewriting sans prompt, letting whatever is in your mind leak out. You’ve probably heard of “stream of consciousness” writing, and yes, that’s the idea here. Also, this isn’t the time to worry about subject-verb agreement or whether your first draft even makes sense. In fact, if it doesn’t make sense at first, that could open a door to fashioning a new work you might not have otherwise created.

Don’t Forget to Read

You’ve heard the oft-repeated advice that writers need to read. Of course, we at AutPress are happy to help with some suggestions. If you love genre-blending or hopping between genres, Ada Hoffman’s Monsters in My Mind is a great addition to your collection. It’s packed with 49 pieces that include short stories, flash fiction, microfiction, poetry, and prose poems, spanning universes of speculative fiction and plunging deep into the human imagination. We’ve also got more poetry, weird fiction, and more in the AutPress store.

Frustrated by Parent-Centered Books About Autism? AutPress Is Your Solution

Autistic readers perennially find themselves encountering literature that isn’t crafted from an autistic-centered point of view. On a yearly basis, we’re continually bombarded by books about autism written by parents of autistic children that either perpetuate harmful beliefs or disrespect their children in horrifying ways, failing to recognize their rights to privacy and personal agency. “To Siri with Love” by Judith Newman is the latest offender to make the rounds, but even books by so-called “experts” and journalists, such as “In a Different Key” don’t do the topic justice. Fortunately, Autonomous Press is committed to offering solid alternatives written by autistic people.

The Real Experts Lives Up to Its Name

Who better than autistic individuals to talk about their brand of neurodivergence? The Real Experts is an anthology about autism, with essays written by autistic folks from a wide range of backgrounds. The collection includes words of wisdom from respected activists like Kassiane Sibley and Amy Sequenzia, educators such as Nick Walker and autistic parents like Morénike Giwa Onaiwu. As one of the first wave of books released by AutPress, it’s evidence of one of our core fundamental beliefs: neurodivergent people should be the ones to craft and control the narratives of their lives.

Nantais: Autistic Space Adventures

 Author Verity Reynolds describes their debut science fiction novel Nantais as “autistic as heck,” but the real genius behind the book is that the word “autism” never appears anywhere in its text. Instead, Reynolds shows rather than tells (which one of the fundamental tenets of masterful storytelling, after all) characters “interfacing autistically with a non-autistic world,” as they put it. Want to know the best part? Besides Nantais being an action-packed space opera full of slavers, biologically-evolved assassins and the dark underbelly of a supposedly legitimate organization being exposed, it turns the typical tropes on their heads, giving us a universe in which non-autistics are the ones “suffering mind-altering self-consciousness over their own vague-meaning, innuendo-stuffing” style of communication.

Need some post-holiday reading to curl up with? With our 101-style books like The Real Experts and science fiction thrillers such as Nantais, AutPress has exactly what you’re looking for. Feed your need to read by shopping for these and our other great titles in our AutPress store.