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Author Interview: Ada Hoffmann Discusses Monsters in My Mind and Other Projects

We sat down with Ada Hoffmann, author of Monsters in My Mind, to talk about speculative fiction, the state of the writing world, and what’s next.

AutPress: Why MONSTERS IN MY MIND? Why speculative fiction generally, and why this collection?

Ada: I grew up around speculative fiction. It’s a childhood love, and one of those things that was always there. Literary realism never felt grounded to me – it felt small, stifled. Consciously cut off from all the realms of imagination that could have been.

I’ve been publishing short speculative fiction and poetry since 2010. Short fiction is a delight to me – I probably read more of it than novels. I’ve also written a lot, and I wanted to make that writing tangible. A physical object that I could hold in my hands and give to people.

I organized MONSTERS IN MY MIND around a loose theme appropriate to NeuroQueer Books – the theme of being different, monstrous, or out of place, and hoping to somehow be accepted that way. I grouped stories and poems so that they moved through different ways of engaging with that theme in a way that felt, in a very abstract sense, like its own story. A few short works I loved didn’t make the cut, not because there was anything wrong with them, but because they didn’t fit into that “story”. Maybe they’ll go into a future book!

As for the title, I don’t remember where I got it, but it happened fairly late in production. I’m not the first person to have used the phrase. If you want to assume cryptamnesia, then it probably comes from the song “Happy Hurts,” by Icon For Hire.

AutPress: What are some of your favorite sources of inspiration? What/Who else do you read or recommend?

Ada: Sometimes ideas just happen. It isn’t glamorous. “You Have to Follow the Rules” was based on a dream that my friend A. Merc Rustad had. “The Chartreuse Monster” came partly from a random number generator. “Centipede Girl” was inspired by an actual centipede that crawled on my keyboard, and “The Mother of All Squid Builds a Library” was based on a list of tropes that another friend of mine liked. One of my best ways to generate ideas is by going to a classical music concert, where I’m forced to sit in a chair for two hours, listen to pleasant noises, and let my mind wander. And my go-to method for coming up with more poetry is just to binge-read any poetry at hand until my mind starts automatically arranging its thoughts into verse.

In terms of other authors who inspire me, Catherynne M. Valente’s collection “A Guide to Folktales in Fragile Dialects” was the reason I got serious about poetry. Meda Kahn’s short story “Difference of Opinion” pushed me to be better and braver about autism representation. I would love one day to build worlds like China Miéville, develop characters like Lois McMaster Bujold, dispense careful wisdom like Rose Lemberg, build up a sense of scale like Robert Charles Wilson, quip and twist the plot like Joss Whedon on a good day, and tap into the depths of my id like Tanith Lee. Anybody wanting more of the queer and neurodivergent themes from MONSTERS IN MY MIND should check out A. Merc Rustad and Bogi Takács, among many others.

AutPress: What’s the most unexpected thing that happened while you were working on this collection (or any particular part of it)?

Ada: Once I had all the stories, putting the collection together was pretty straightforward. Though – one unexpected thing that happened while the collection came together was that I landed an agent for a novel I’d written. That was very distracting, in a good way.

[Full Disclosure: The interviewer was a beta reader for this novel, which fully deserves all the love an agent can give it.]

AutPress: Where is spec fic/dark fic/weird fiction headed? What does it need more of?

Ada: I don’t think spec fic will ever go in just one direction. It’s a big tent with a huge number of things going on.

It’s clear, though, that at least some parts of spec fic are moving towards more diversity and better representation. There’s an increased interest in diverse characters, in diverse authors, in concepts like #ownvoices – and also in the range of new ideas, not just writing about themselves, that marginalized authors bring to the table. I’m really enjoying all the recent counter-Lovecraftian fiction, for instance. Silvia Moreno-Garcia’s Innsmouth Free Press was doing this for years, but now it’s been joined by some higher-profile friends: Ruthanna Emrys’s “Innsmouth Legacy” series and Victor LaValle’s “The Ballad of Black Tom”, to name two.

Of course, this trend comes with pushback; you don’t need me to tell you the story of the Sad Puppies. It would be naive, especially in 2017, to say that things will clearly keep changing for the better. But we’ll see what happens.

AutPress: What are you currently working on, and what’s next?

Ada: Well, my agent is shopping my novel around, and I’m replenishing my store of short fiction and poetry. I’ve written some really daring short pieces that I’m very excited to share when they find a home. Two collaborations that I love are coming out in the next year or so – one with Jacqueline Flay in Persistent Visions, the other with A. Merc Rustad in Lightspeed. I’m also working on a collection of dinosaur poetry called “Million-Year Elegies”. That’s about 75% done, and a few early pieces from that series are already published online, if you want a teaser. Of course, I’m also still working on my PhD research, in which I teach computers to write their own poetry. My biggest challenge is finding time for all these projects and book promo, too!

Visit Ada Hoffmann online at http://www.ada-hoffmann.com. Pick up a copy of Monsters in My Mind on Amazon or via the AutPress store.

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Author Marketing 101, Part 1: Why Every Author Needs to Do Their Own Marketing

Very few writers daydream about becoming their own marketing point person. On the list of exciting things that might happen after you complete your manuscript, “author marketing” might rank near the bottom.

In order to succeed, though, you need to do what every successful author does: take the lead on your own marketing.

Over the next few weeks, we’re going to show you how to do just that. First, though, we’re going to answer a burning question: Why do you need to promote your own book?

1. No one knows your book like you do.

You’ve lived with the world of your book for months or even years. You understand what’s going on, why it exists, and how it operates. While a professional promoter or your publisher can help you place promotional materials in front of the right audiences, the most compelling promotions are going to come from you.

2. People like to put their money where their friendships are.

“Author marketing” isn’t just about an author promoting their own book (although that’s a lot of it). It’s also about promoting yourself: as an author, as a source of fun and creative ideas, and as a person.

About 350,000 books get published each year in the U.S. alone. Most of us only hear about a fraction of them, but we definitely hear about the ones our friends and acquaintances write. By building a strong following, you expand your “friends and acquaintances” circle – thus expanding the circle of people who will line up to buy your book.

3. Promoting your book will make you a better writer.

Try this writing exercise: Imagine someone else wrote your book. Generate 3-5 one-sentence descriptions of it that would make you pick it up and read it.

Not easy, right? But a lot of fun. Marketing your book gives you a different perspective on the work. It demands that you write in different ways. And in doing so, it sharpens your own writing skills.

If author marketing feels like a total mystery, don’t fret. As a publisher who markets our writers and teaches them to market themselves, we’re going to break down the details for you over the next several weeks. Stay tuned!

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Mental Monsters and Snapshot Mindscapes

Short fiction has gotten the short end of the stick for much of its existence, despite the fact that it is perennially popular with critics and prize committees. While there are a number of short story artists who have forged a career in the form, many publishers shy away from volumes of short tales unless they come from an established writer. Fans of weird fiction, slipstream, speculative fiction, and horror realize the problem with this, though. So do fans. In an age where a number of writers are choosing to make their careers in short ebooks first, publishers need to sit up and take notice.

That’s why Autonomous Press has worked to invest in poetry and short fiction. We want to help a large number of fresh new voices find their audiences, and we want to connect the ways that readers and writers interact in this digital age to the distribution that makes it accessible to a wider reading community. That’s why we started the Spoon Knife series, and it’s why we started cultivating short works from individual artists.

We’re still just starting out as a company, but we have already managed to bring a couple of wonderful books by individual writers to the market, including Fable the Poet’s initially self-published chapbook. Fable is currently the poet laureate of his hometown, Grand Rapids, Michigan, and his insightful characterization and frank discussion of topics like trauma, race, and mental health provide readers and listeners with a unique point of view that flows like music.

For those in traditional genres looking to devour short tales that are a little less directly reflective of everyday life, we have Ada Hoffmann’s Monsters in My Mind, which brings together over 40 strange tales that span horror, fantasy, science fiction, speculative fiction, and more. These are never before published works, and you can find more notes about each one on her blog.

Whether you are looking into our anthology series, the collection of work curated through Barking Sycamores, or these individually authored books, you are going to find that AutPress has taken steps to make NeuroQueer Books a place for unique points of view. We’re looking forward to bringing you more of that in the new year with additional volumes of Barking Sycamores and Spoon Knife. Until then, check out Ada’s book, as well as the new novel by Verity Reynolds.

Dear Sir or Madam, Will You Read My Book? How to Get Editors to Read (and Love) Your Manuscript

As experienced editors, the team at Autonomous Press is often amused by the Beatles’ “Paperback Writer.” Querying editors the way the song’s main character does is no way to get paid for writing fiction – and yet it happens every day.

Yet some of us also admit that in our early days as aspiring writers, we loved this song. So how did we get from first time writers to experienced authors and editors? Certainly not by following in the “Paperback Writer”’s footsteps! Here’s what the poor narrator gets wrong:

Dear sir or madam, will you read my book?

Already, the editor’s toes are curling. Always address your query to the editor by name. Ours are listed as “senior editor” under their respective imprints – that’s who you need to write to.

And I need a job, so I want to be a paperback writer….

Editors assume that writers who query us want to get paid for writing fiction. We want to get paid for publishing it! Pay for everyone!

But your (and our) desire to get paid isn’t enough – you (and we) also have to produce things people want to give us money for. Skip this line in favor of telling us why your book is engaging and important to publish right now.

It’s a dirty story of a dirty man, and his clinging wife doesn’t understand.

We try not to judge your manuscript too heavily on its description in the query. At that point, we’re only checking to see if what you describe is the kind of thing we publish. Hint: the Paperback Writer’s description is not.

If it’s not the kind of thing we publish, we’ll pass. Not because you haven’t written an outstanding book – you probably have! We’re just not the right place to help it shine like it deserves.

It’s a thousand pages, give or take a few. I’ll be writing more in a week or two. I could make it longer if you like the style, I can change it ‘round….

Where to start? This person certainly wants to get paid for writing fiction – they’re producing enough of it – but this is an editor’s nightmare.

  1. A thousand pages is far too long. Aim for closer to 150, double-spaced. Better yet, use word counts, not page counts – 60k to 70k is a solid length for a first novel.
  2. Writing more in a week or two? You mean you didn’t send us a completed manuscript? Pass.
  3. Offering to “change it ‘round” when you submit it indicates that you aren’t confident that you’ve written a cohesive, engaging story. And if you’re not confident, we’re not.

Overall, this Paperback Writer gets an A for enthusiasm, but an F for effort. Fortunately, you now know how to do better.

Books About Autism: What’s Out There?

Autism is one of the most talked-about subjects in recent years, and it’s one of the hottest topics for books, as well. Autistic writers are increasingly getting involved in publishing, resulting in books from a wide range of perspectives – including titles written by autistic people specifically for the parents of autistic children.

Like books on any topic, however, not all books on autism are created equally. When you read, it’s important to consider what type of book you’re reading, who its audience is, and what it’s trying to convince you.

Here are the most common types of books about autism:

  1. Personal Narratives

Also known as “I am autistic and I wrote about it,” these books may simply be sharing the author’s experiences, or they may be seeking to convey important information about autism and being autistic. The latter are often aimed at a more specific audience, including other autistic people, non-autistic professionals who work in the field, and parents of autistic children.

  1. Secondhand or “Viewer” Narratives

A fair number of parents and professionals, not themselves autistic, have written about autism and autistic people in their lives, as well. These range from books in which non-autistic parents write about their children to books in which professionals with decades of experience in the classroom or laboratory share their perspective. It’s wisest to weigh credentials against tone here: even the most decorated academic or researcher may write about the humans they “study” as if they’re lab rats, not people.

  1. Examinations

This category includes both heavy academic tomes on autism and creative works, like The US Book. While non-autistic parents of autistic children may pick up these books if they’re looking for deeper ways to understand their child’s perspective, these books are more frequently read by other researchers and professionals. Unlike first- or secondhand narrative-type works, their central argument and agenda is often much clearer.

Have you written a book in which autism or autistic perspectives play a key role? Keep these categories in mind as well. When you query publishers, you’ll want to specify how your book fits in to the books already out there – both how it’s similar to others and how it fills a role that no other book can currently fill.

What to Read to Get Into the Halloween Spirit

Tired of the ordinary Halloween horror film fest? It’s time to get weird.

“Weird fiction” is a genre that blends the macabre with the supernatural, the mythical, the scientific…and the just plain weird. Since the Halloween season is a chance to let your imagination roam, don’t limit it to the usual ghosts, goblins, and axe-wielding murderers. Here’s what to read to get weird.

Monsters in My Mind

Ada Hoffmann’s short fiction and poetry anthology, Monsters in My Mind, appears in mid-October from NeuroQueer Books. Ada is a master of the weird, and the pieces in this collection encompass everything from mermaids to extradimensional worlds to sentient AI. The format makes them great for a quick dose of weirdness in your day – but once you pick this anthology up, good luck putting it down.

Weird Luck

Part of weird fiction’s weirdness is its refusal to stay politely within the bounds of any one format. The Weird Luck universe is an example: there’s a webcomic, a serialized novel on Patreon, multiple short stories hidden in various publications, and multiple novels, which will be re-released shortly. The Weird Luck universe has many entry points, and it’s a delight no matter which way you look at it.

Spoon Knife

Some folks read weird literature to step outside their daily existence and sense of self; others read it to step further in. If you’re in the latter category, the Spoon Knife anthology series is your weird fiction home. Blending fiction, memoir, and poetry with themes ranging from the technological to the mythic, the series just keeps getting weirder…and, for some readers, more relatable. Spoon Knife 3: Incursions comes out in 2018, so spend this fall getting caught up!

Whether your house is already decked out in skeletons and pumpkin spice or you’re still trying to decide what to do for Halloween, some weird reading can get you into the spirit and provide a cozy hobby for the fall.

 

 

F*ck You, Pay Me: Why Publishers Need to Pay Their Writers

“We can’t afford to pay, but it’ll be great exposure!”

This statement, from so many publishing outlets that aren’t offering payment in exchange for writing (but who want good writing anyway), is so cliché it’s become a joke among writers. Yet it’s not funny. Paying outlets for writers shouldn’t be rare or magical; they should be the norm. Here’s why.

  1. Writing is work.

Every writer, whether published or not, knows that writing takes effort. Writing is a skill that can be learned and taught, but like any skill, it takes practice and patience to master. The act of writing is mentally and often physically laborious. Add research, interviews, or reviewing materials for context? That’s more work.

Fiction and poetry are fun to read, but that doesn’t make them not hard work to write. Regardless of the genre, labor goes into its creation—and that labor deserves compensation.

  1. Publishers get value from publishing written work.

Why would publishers ask for written work to publish if that work was worthless?

Trick question—they wouldn’t. Whether the goal is to gain ad revenue through online page clicks or to release an on-paper literary anthology, publishers seek writers and their work because they want to make money. Writing has value, and publication outlets know it. Failing to share that value with the writer—say, by being a paying outlet for writers—isn’t just selfish, it’s disingenuous.

  1. “Exposure” is (a bit of) a sham.

“We can’t afford to pay.”

“We offer great exposure.”

Do these two statements seem to contradict one another? That’s because they do.

A website, journal, or press that truly cannot afford to pay its writers (or to offer a fair royalty agreement to them) might be a startup. It might be run on a shoestring. It might be an editor’s hobby or labor of love. All of those are noble, but none of them are likely to be big enough to offer the exposure your hard work deserves.

Is the outlet big enough to offer substantial exposure? Look up its financials in your favorite search engine. Chances are good it’s got the cash to be able to pay its writers—and that its profit margins are as large as they are because it’s making that money off its unpaid contributors’ backs.

Publishers’ goals and focuses are as vast and divergent as publishing houses themselves. That’s a good thing—it means there’s a place for every writer. When deciding where to publish, don’t sell yourself short: the best outlet for your work is (like AutPress) a paying outlet for writers.

AutPress Just Made Your Gift Giving Easier. You’re Welcome.

Chances are, you’ve got a bibliophile or two (or perhaps 15) on your gift list. Thankfully, AutPress has rolled out four new gift bundles for the book lovers in your life. (Or, you know, you could gift them to yourself.) Just in time for your gift-giving (or book hoarding) needs, we’ve put together these bundles and discount deals, each available in both paperback and ebook format. These themed collections were crafted so you can easily select the perfect one for your intended recipients in mind.

activist-bundle

First, we’d like to introduce our Autistic Activist Bundle. As one of our gift bundles containing some of the press’ most groundbreaking releases, it features three books that are great introductory texts for anyone seeking to understand the realities of Autistic people. The ABCs of Autism Acceptance by Sparrow R. Jones is an excellent guide, discussing and expanding on topics that change the ways in which autism is perceived. Also included is Typed Words Loud Voices, one of our debut books featuring work by a coalition of writers who type to communicate. Finally, The Real Experts is one of our top sellers, containing insider wisdom on autism written by Autistic adults.

shaping-clay

Next among our bundles and discount deals is Shaping Clay: The Elementary Trilogy. This gift bundle contains three works in the Shaping Clay series: Nothing is Right, the Lambda Literary Finalist title Defiant, and the epic Imaginary Friends. If you have yet to read Clay Dillon’s saga, you’ll want to start with this collection of books. And with the next book in the series Gaslight Village soon on the horizon, you’ll want to grab this bundle now to catch up on the story. By the way: if you want to support Gaslight Village and read it as a serial subscriber, visit Michael’s Patreon.

nq-poetry

Poetry lovers will want to snag our NeuroQueer Poetry Bundle, which contains all three of our poetry releases this year at a substantial discount. This gift bundle includes Adrift in a Sea of M&Ms, the Summer 2016 collection released by Michigan spoken-word artist and activist Fable the Poet. Also in this collection is The US Book by Michael Scott Monje, Jr., which provides the backstory for both Clay Dillon’s and Lynn Vargas’ universes. Finally, Barking Sycamores: Year One pulls together the poetry, short fiction and artwork published in Barking Sycamores’ first year of publication.

nq-horizons

Explore new worlds in which neuroqueer voices are centered with the NeuroQueer Horizons bundle. Before our NeuroQueer Horizons chapbook series launches, you’ll want to immerse yourself in this collection of neuroqueer fiction, memoir, and poetry. Included in this gift bundle are the first Spoon Knife anthology, the science fiction thriller Mirror Project, and Monje’s Imaginary Friends, a surreal exploration of Clay Dillon’s childhood from the Shaping Clay series.

We’re proud to offer these bundles and discount deals as both paperbacks and ebooks. Whether you’re seeking to treat yourself or you want to put smiles on the faces of your book-loving friend, you don’t want to pass up these generously discounted collections containing our landmark releases, engaging fiction works, and pioneering poetry. Happy gifting!

Special Deal on AutPress Books for CCCC Attendees

Autonomous Press is delighted to announce a special deal only for attendees of the 2016 Conference on College Composition and Communication.

While Autonomous Press will not be selling books at this year’s conference, three founding partners of Autonomous Press, Elizabeth J. (Ibby) Grace, Michael Scott Monje, Jr., and Bridget Allen will be in attendance.

If you order any of our books online between now and 12:00pm CDT, Friday, April 8, and enter the coupon code HOTELDELIVERY, you get $3.25 off (the cost of economy shipping), and AutPress partners will deliver your books to you in person. Just enter your room number in the shipping information, or meet us during our “lobby hours” at a public location at the CCCC hotel or conference area.

Copies of Fading Scars and Defiant will have limited edition Lambda Literary Awards finalist stickers. Any books purchased with writings by Grace, Monje, or Allen will be signed by the authors. As always, your print books come with a free instant download ebook copy.

To recap:

  • Coupon code: HOTELDELIVERY
  • Discount $3.25
  • Code works one time per email address. You can order multiple books, but make sure to buy them all at the same time/checkout.
  • Offer is only for attendees of the 2016 Conference on College Composition and Communication in Houston.
  • Offer expires 12:00pm CDT, Friday, April 8

We look forward to meeting you at CCCC.