Monthly Archives: January 2018

Ursula K. Le Guin: Into the Space Ship, Granny

Because it’s January and my brain is currently soupy, when I made my list of literary ancestry I somehow missed Ursula K. Le Guin, which was a huge oversight on my part.

I don’t know how I could have missed her. Much like A Wrinkle in Time, Le Guin’s The Dispossessed left an indelible mark on me. I don’t think it was the first thing of hers I read, but it’s the first thing of hers I remember.

The Dispossessed

Like Wrinkle, it turned my world inside out. It fundamentally changed how I thought of the world, how governments and societies functioned and how they could function. I learned about anarcho-syndicalism here. The following year I would write an essay for the local Optimist Club on the topic, “Freedom, Our Most Precious Heritage.” I remember writing about three freedoms, and how limited they were depending on who you were (this was my attempt at a proto-feminist analysis). I concluded my essay with a statement about things ending in anarchy, which in my mind meant an egalitarian, non-hierarchical society. My father read it as chaos, which is the general reading. Somehow I got second or third place in the contest, which meant I had to read the essay out loud, to the Optimists. The only women/girls in the room were me, my teacher, and the mothers of the two other winners (both boys). After the event I think I had to shake the hands of the Optimists, and many of them told me I was brave. I couldn’t figure out why until I went home and re-read my essay. I had talked about economic inequity and women getting paid 73 cents to every dollar a man earned, among other things, to a room full of white men.

I would go on to read many of her books, including The Left Hand of Darkness, which did a similar thing to my worldview except for gender. I avoided the Earthsea books in my teens, because I thought I was too good for fantasy. It wasn’t until I was in college that I finally got around to reading them, and maybe it was better that I had waited, because I’m not sure I would have been open to them earlier. Also, the fourth book, Tehanu, didn’t get published until 1990, only a couple of years before I read them. Like the other literary ancestors, Le Guin’s girls and women have stayed with me, especially Tenar. I copied this out by hand when I read it:

“It seems to me we make up most the differences, and then complain about ‘em. I don’t see why the Art Magic, why power, should be different for a man with and a woman witch. Unless the power itself is different. Or the art.”
“A man gives out, dearie. A woman takes in.”
Tenar sat silent, but unsatisfied.
“Ours is only a little power, seems like, next to theirs,” Moss said. “But it goes down deep. It’s all roots. It’s like an old blackberry thicket. And a wizard’s power’s like a fir tree, maybe, great and tall and grand, but it’ll blow right down in a storm. Nothing kills a blackberry bramble.”

At a time when it felt like men had a lot of power, and honestly, still do, I found and find comfort in Le Guin’s visions. I also see her humor, which I had missed when I was younger. Only a resident of the Pacific Northwest could venerate the blackberry bramble in this manner.

Her nonfiction has been equally powerful, most notably the essays contained in Dancing at the Edge of the World. I want to make a short digression by noting that the image below contains a book of stories written by her mother, The Inland Whale. Additionally, she did her own translation of the Tao Te Ching, which I studied as part of my major in college. Her work runs like rivulets throughout my own life, as I meander and wander and time and again come across her work. Also not pictured, because I keep forgetting I have yet another book, is Steering the Craft. You can listen to her talk about it in the podcast Between the Covers. David Naimon interviews her, and it is wonderful. I kept wanting to stop and write things down. There are two other interviews he did with her that you can also find on his site.

Le Guin shelfie

“The Space Crone” was written in 1976. It’s in Dancing at the Edge of the World, and is another brick in my self-conception. I read it on the cusp of adulthood, in my early 20s. She addresses menopause in the piece. In reference to women experiencing a third stage of life, she says, “Why borrow poverty?” (as opposed to men, who once they go through puberty don’t get a second transition). She ends the essay with these words:

She knows, though she won’t admit it, that Dr. Kissinger has not gone and will never go where she has gone, that the scientists and the shamans have not done what she has done. Into the space ship, Granny.

She created space for women and gender minorities, and she did this work in so many ways throughout her life. I’ll end with this speech she gave upon receiving the National Book Foundation’s Medal for Distinguished Contribution to American Letters at the 65th National Book Awards on November 19, 2014.

I encourage you to watch the whole thing. It’s six minutes. I will leave you with this line:

We live in capitalism, its power seems inescapable – but then, so did the divine right of kings. Any human power can be resisted and changed by human beings. Resistance and change often begin in art. Very often in our art, the art of words”.


Interview with Ada Hoffmann

I know Ada Hoffmann through a group of spec fic writers. I don’t know Ada super well, so I thought this could be an opportunity to get know her better AND introduce her to many of you.

1 – Will you introduce yourself to us? What do you think we should know about you?

Hi! I’m Ada Hoffmann. I’m a writer of speculative fiction and poetry. My first collection, MONSTERS IN MY MIND, came out late last year from NeuroQueer books. I’m Canadian, queer, and autistic, and I like to review books with autistic characters or authors. In real life, I’m a graduate student, and I’m teaching computers to write their own poems.

Monsters In My Mind

2 – How do you feel your identities influence your writing?

That’s a complicated question. I feel like some of it is obvious, and some of it is so subtle that I might not even be aware of it myself.

The obvious part is that I write characters I can relate to. I write a lot of female protagonists, because I was assigned female at birth and I usually find women more relatable. I write a fair number of queer characters, especially lesbian characters, which is basically a sort of wish fulfillment, because I find women more attractive than men on average but in real life I seem to keep mostly dating men somehow. I often try to write autistic characters, which was actually the hardest one to figure out how to do, and I still struggle with aspects of it, but after all the reviewing I’ve done, I also know exactly why it’s so important. Of course, then I run off and write stories about sentient squid or centipede-people or women who are shacked up with anthropomorphic wolves, because whatever.

That brings us to the subtle part, which is that growing up with different experiences can make us interested in different emotional and social experiences in our writing. I often write characters who are different from most of the people around them. That’s the theme of MONSTERS IN MY MIND, and I doubt it’s a theme I’d be as attached to if not for my disability and my sexuality and who knows how many other things. It’s hard to say how I’d feel about almost any theme, in any story, if my identities were different; identity and privilege are so pervasive, and influence everything, whether you realize it or not.

3 – I know that you participate in LARP (live-action role playing). Can you tell us how you got started and how LARPing influences what you write?

I got dragged into LARPing by a former dating partner and then fell in love with it. I’m very shy, so I wasn’t sure how I would take to a hobby that involves a lot of interaction face to face in a big group. The social aspect – and the sheer exhaustion of keeping it up for a whole weekend – still presents challenges. But I love LARPing. I love how it’s basically a grown-up version of the pretend games we played as children. I love that it’s structured and based on rules. I love the costumes. I love the combination of social roleplay and very visceral, physical challenges (I get to hit people with fake foam swords!) Most of all, I love how everyone there, in one way or another, is about as weird as I am.

I’m not sure if LARPing influences my writing very much. I keep trying to think of a really good crossover (a story about LARPers! A thinly disguised story about someone’s LARP character! A story about post-apocalyptic LARPers who have turned their LARP into an entire functioning commune!!) but it never seems to work right. Mainly, I’m afraid that LARPing functions as a distraction from writing. But it’s a distraction that gives me a social support network and gets me out of the house, both of which are incredibly important for my mental health, so I’ll take it!

4 – In October I went to Sirens, and V.E. Schwab told us about her literary ancestry. Who are the people who influenced you and who do you find reaching for as you write?

I mean, I’ve been writing since I was five, and telling stories for longer than that. The earliest things I can remember writing were imitations of the children’s stories that I read and watched at the time. “Star Wars” and “The Lion King,” in particular, are childhood loves that remain etched on my psyche today. And for all its faults, I learned what plots were from a “Land Before Time” sequel. (I vividly remember acting out a part of the movie to myself, at the age of seven or eight, and then stopping in the middle of the hall, and thinking, “Wait – if they hadn’t done X then Y wouldn’t have happened, and without Y, Z wouldn’t have… It’s all connected!”)

In high school, I was consuming a lot of Terry Pratchett and Joss Whedon, which meant that most of what I wrote was very dryly silly and then I would horrifically kill everybody. I was also getting into tabletop roleplaying and wrote lengthy fanfiction about all my friends’ characters, much of which was never finished. That wasn’t wasted time: it taught me how to structure longer work and get deeply into characters’ minds, which I’d always struggled with. The decision to write for publication, in college, wasn’t inspired by a single influence, but was something that came organically out of my growing confidence at these silly roleplaying stories, and my growing sense that they were doing something wildly important for me.

These days, as I said in another interview recently, I would love to build worlds like China Miéville, develop characters like Lois McMaster Bujold, build up a sense of scale like Robert Charles Wilson, and tap into the depths of my id like Tanith Lee. I’m also inspired and challenged by other autistic writers, including friends of mine (particularly Rose Lemberg and A. Merc Rustad) and people I’ve never met except through their writing (Meda Kahn’s story “Difference of Opinion” completely blew my mind).

5 – In the last five years, what new belief, behavior, or habit has most improved your life?

Learning to look at personal situations carefully and make judgments about them by considering the available evidence. No one ever knows 100% of the things about everything, and it is possible my judgment could be revised if new evidence comes in – and that that’s okay. I am still allowed to analyze and act on the situation based on my current understanding.

That sounds very dry and scientific, but it’s been important to me. For a long time I would panic whenever anything seemed bad, and either push it away temporarily without any understanding of why I was doing so, or force myself to ignore the panic, tell myself it was just crazy brain stuff, stay happy, and do what was expected. This meant I stayed in bad situations because I couldn’t stay calm long enough to process what was bad about them and why. Working hard on this cognitive skill allowed me to sort out a lot of crap relatively fast. It’s related to the mindfulness skill where you work to view things as things that are, rather than leaping to judge them as good or bad.

6 – When you feel overwhelmed or unfocused, or have lost your focus temporarily, what do you do? (If helpful: What questions do you ask yourself?)

First, I temporarily remove myself from the situation so I can calm down. If I’m very overwhelmed, this might involve needing to sit in a quiet place for a while with something safe and distracting, and maybe eat a snack. (Yes, I comfort eat. I never said this was going to be GOOD advice.)

When I’m good and calm, I try to assess where the problem came from. Sometimes it was a momentary thing and I can sail back in. Sometimes a task in my life just seems too big, in which case I can break it down into subtasks that are as small as possible. Sometimes I can ask for help. Occasionally, especially if I woke up with low spoons, none of this stuff helps and I am just done for the day. In that case, as annoying as it is, I try to listen to my body and rest up so I can try again tomorrow.

7 – What is the book (or books) you’ve given most as a gift, and why? Or what are one to three books that have greatly influenced your life?

You know the thing where you’re talking to a dude? And he seems intelligent, well-read, funny, he’s into the same things you are. It’s going well. Then you ask about his favorite SFF authors, and he comes out with a list that’s 100% old white dudes.

When this happens, I don’t get mad. I just quietly hand them a copy of “Ancillary Justice” by Ann Leckie. For some reason, I’ve found this book works well as a gateway drug to contemporary women’s and feminist SF. It’s a rollicking space opera with cool technology and it questions gender stereotypes very gently, but in a way that’s impossible to ignore.

For non-fiction, I’ve had good results lending out “Aspergirls” by Rudy Simone. It’s not a perfect book, but it packs a lot of useful information into a small space, especially for people who are newly questioning their neurotype or who don’t know anything about autism apart from the stereotypes. It’s accessible for a general audience and not too academic or technical, and it’s also not too political, which is good for beginners. You need to know what a thing IS before you can really engage with the politics around it, I figure.

8 – Finally, in the style of Cameron Esposito, at the end of her Queery podcast, she asks people to tell her a queero. Do you have a writing hero? Someone who you feel showed you it was possible for you to write?

For fiction, I never needed to be shown it was possible for me to write. I was already doing it long before I understood I was disabled or queer.

For poetry, though, I have one big queero. I had dabbled in poetry and song lyrics before reading Catherynne M. Valente’s “A Guide to Folktales in Fragile Dialects,” but that collection turned a light on in me that I hadn’t known was there. I put it down and said “I want to learn to do THIS, dammit.” I’ve discovered more speculative poets since then, but Valente still is one of my faves.

Ada, thanks for answering all my questions so thoughtfully. I really appreciate the time and care you gave in your responses.

Go check out Ada’s book, Monsters in My Mind:

Parallel universes, fantasy quests, leather-clad mantises, velociraptors, merfolk, and the occasional cephalopod: Ada Hoffmann’s literary anthology collects the author’s best works from 2010 to 2017, including ten never-before-seen pieces of fiction and poetry. This richly-textured speculative fiction collection explores deeply human experiences like loss, grief, love, and courage within multitudinous universes, making it essential reading for anyone with a love of weird literature, queer theory, or monster studies.


Literary Ancestry

world book

Last October I attended Sirens, a conference about women in fantasy (and science fiction). Each day a different author talked to us. V.E. Schwab talked about her literary ancestry and it was something that resonated for me, so I thought I would share those who have influenced me.

Going back to my wee days, the stories I remember first have to be Beverly Cleary – especially her wild child, Ramona. I haven’t read any Ramona books in decades, but my memory of her is a very unruly child. No, not just child, GIRL. She was willful. She was smart. She was brave. From Ramona the Brave to Ramona the Pest, she was always moving forward and tackling what she wanted.

Next came Judy Blume – from Starring Sally J Friedman as Herself to Then Again Maybe I Won’t to Are You There God? It’s Me, Margaret – all the messy girls who were smart and worried because they weren’t cool, they didn’t fit in, they were different in some way that set them apart, and they made ME feel less alone.

In between Cleary and Blume was Madeleine L’Engle, whose Time books shattered my worldview in the best possible way. I am BEYOND thrilled and can’t wait to see what Ava Duvernay is going to do with A Wrinkle in Time. L’Engle was the first science fiction I read and it blew my little mind. It was so different from the fairy tales. Not to mention Meg, a smart, capable girl. I would read and re-read her books every few years, each time finding something I had forgotten or not noticed in the previous reading. As an adult, what really stands out is how she writes about family, loving families – parents and children who all love each other.

In my teens I read a lot of science fiction, but mostly what I remember is Anne McCaffrey’s dragon riders. She, like L’Engle, turned fantasy into something that felt rooted in reality (the distinction between fantasy and science fiction is for another time).

I don’t remember reading any queer characters until I got to Rubyfruit Jungle. So thank you, Rita Mae Brown, for sharing your happy gay ladies. It wasn’t until I discovered Nicola Griffith that I found queer women whose sexuality wasn’t driving the plot. (Aside: I discovered it on the shelf at my public library. THANK YOU PUBLIC LIBRARIES.) I have written about writing queer characters, so I’m not going to go into it here. Needless to say, Nicola turned my world upside down, much like L’Engle had two decades earlier. The idea that a queer character could BE without having their sexuality commented on in the text was revolutionary.

Where does that bring us? To me, currently flailing around and thwacking things as I try to wrap my mind around this system called story. I hold these girls and women tightly in my memory, and they help one another break down structures that no longer serve. They work to build more inclusive spaces. They go on adventures. They fall in love, they fall out of love, they try and fall down and get back up, or they fall down and ask for help, and they get help or they don’t get the help they think they need but they learn something. They fail. They hurt people. They learn and grow or they don’t. They are flawed like we are all flawed. We try and fail. We make mistakes. We learn and apologize (hopefully).

I don’t know how to write the stories I want to write, YET. I am learning and trying and stumbling around. In the meantime, I keep these characters and authors in my back pocket and in my heart. I am descended from them and hope to honor them as best I can.



For the past several years I’ve chosen a word to be my focus for the year. They’ve all been variations on trying. Last year was iterate.

Riot of pink

This year I want to try something different. I find working on my own to be incredibly difficult. In some ways, all art is collaboration. There is a conversation that is happening, between the artist and the world. I am constantly having conversations in my mind, and when I can engage with someone else, there is a synergy that catalyzes the process. Collaboration gives me the structure I’m constantly seeking, something to push against and respond to.

In the spirit of this intent, I was also given the word LOUD by my friend Andrea. So I am considering what that means for me, and the irony that I don’t have much to say on it right now is not lost on me.

So in 2018, my challenge to myself and invitation to you is to collaborate with other artists. If you are interested in collaborating with me, please let me know. Likewise, I will challenge myself to reach out to artists I want to collaborate with!

What are your intentions for 2018?