Today I’m interviewing Ada Hoffmann, who recently published the poetry and short story collection MONSTERS IN MY MIND.
Elizabeth: The pieces in MONSTERS IN MY MIND cover a period from 2010 to 2017. Since 2012, you’ve reviewed books and short stories with autistic characters or autistic authors in your Autistic Book Party review series. Has your experience reviewing changed how you write or think about writing?
Ada: Yes, definitely. When I started Autistic Book Party, I assumed I knew as much as I needed to about autism. I was autistic myself and had read a great deal about it. But most of what I’d read was from the medical model. I quickly realized that I needed to research the voices of #actuallyautistic people. I have read much more widely online now and am much more familiar with the neurodiversity activist movement. I am much more politically aware than I was when I started.
Being politically aware is a good thing; it pushes me to be more nuanced and to try more difficult things. Some of my earlier stories, like “Moon Laws, Dream Laws,” have portrayals of autism that are a bit naive. They aren’t inaccurate or unsympathetic, but they rely more on stereotypes in the kinds of characters they portray and the kinds of description they use. Being more politically aware has pushed me to get more complex.
At the same time, there are pitfalls to being politically aware. I can be tempted to see myself as a sort of autism ambassador, to think that my work only has value when it Teaches People Lessons about autism. I can be tempted to over-think it and quash dark or difficult story ideas out of fear they’ll hurt people, even though my creativity is most powerful in the dark. These things are creative poison; they lead to panic and paralysis. I have to constantly work on trusting my voice as an artist and following my heart. Nobody’s immune to fucking up, but it’s better to write what your heart tells you to write, and trust that if you do fuck up, it can be fixed in revisions.
Elizabeth: A number of your pieces center on human-monster familial or romantic relationships, in ways that subvert tropes. For example, “The Siren of Mayberry Crescent” is a retelling of The Little Mermaid that explores a siren’s experience of a siren-human romantic relationship; in “And All the Fathomless Crowds,” the protagonist’s mother, now a monster, is central to the story; and “The Screech Owl Shall Also Rest There” features relationships between a vampire and a tribe of hunter-gatherers, with some incisive commentary on what, exactly, we want from monsters. What do you think makes familial and romantic relationships such good ground for trope subversion?
Ada: Familial and romantic relationships are such common human experiences, and at the same time, so diverse. Not everybody has a family or a romantic partner(s) – and it’s completely okay to be aromantic – but most of us do have these relationships at some point. They tend to be very intense, complex, deep things to have. And because humans are all so different from each other, we can experience these relationships in all sorts of different ways.
Paradoxically, mainstream media has relationships all over it, but we often only see a tiny sliver of the ways these relationships can be. It’s not just about queer erasure (although that’s part of it) but about subtler things, the emotions, the ways the people involved look at each other, the day-to-day and minute-by-minute rhythms of them. Romance authors can be very good at exploring these details and rhythms, but in other genres, we often see romances and families tacked on to the main plot in a very samey, perfunctory, cookie-cutter way.
So when it comes to writing about families and romantic relationships subversively, there is just a ton of low-hanging fruit. Stuff that happens all the time, but that we don’t see happening in our stories. I put monsters in the stories mainly because I like monsters. But putting monsters into relationships makes room for the relationship themes to get bigger and meaner. It gives them more teeth. And that makes it easier to explore some of the darker and more unpleasant emotions that can happen in human relationships.
Elizabeth: Do you think neurodivergence affects your writing process, or its outcome?
Ada: I don’t really know what my writing process would be like if I was NT. But Rose Lemberg, another autistic SF author and a friend of mine, has been writing a really amazing blog series called “Writing While Autistic“. I identify with a lot in that series, and if you’re curious about how neurodivergence can affect writing, you should check it out.
Elizabeth: What are some of your favorite fictional monsters? Any genre or media.
Ada: The dinosaurs from Jurassic Park. Really, any dinosaurs. Dragons and krakens. Fae of all kinds. The Sarlacc from Star Wars, which managed to existentially terrify tiny Ada without even moving or doing anything. Darth Vader and the Phantom of the Opera, if disabled humans who are treated as monsters count. Sirens and succubi. Flying horses and just about anything else you can fly on. Deep sea life, which is not fictional, but is freakin’ weird and amazing. On the same note, extremophile bacteria, and anything you can find in the Burgess Shale. Any sea monster big enough to swallow people. Tiamat, Cipactli, and other monsters so enormous that their bodies were used to create the earth. Any monster that is also partly a cat. Probably others that are slipping my mind.
You can view the table of contents or purchase a copy of MONSTERS IN MY MIND via the links at Ada’s site.