Interview with Ada Hoffmann
Three weeks left in the 2015 Friends of the Merril Short Story Contest! Have you sent in your stories yet? Not only would we love your support, but this is a great opportunity for writers at any stage of their careers. Over the next few posts, we will be presenting interviews with past winners of the contests, from hobbyists to now-established pro writers of short stories!
Today we are pleased to re-introduce you to 2013’s winner, Ada Hoffmann!
Your story, “The Mother of All Squid Builds a Library,” won the 2013 Friends of the Merril Short Story Contest. It went on to appear in Strange Horizons. Can you tell us a little about the publication and the journey from contest winner to sale?
“The Mother of All Squid Builds a Library” was written as a birthday present for Bogi Takács, who had requested stories for eir birthday and listed cephalopods, hive minds that aren’t presented as a bad thing, and other things among eir favourite themes. I’m not sure where the library came from, but once I had the title with all of those elements, the rest of the story coalesced immediately. It was meant to be short, simple, and delightfully weird. There was editing, of course, but mostly just to tighten up sentences and paragraphs; much less than I need to do with many other stories. Once I sent it to Bogi on the appropriate day and confirmed that e liked it, I was then free to try to sell it somewhere.
I don’t really differentiate strongly between contests and publication venues when I submit my work. (Though I should note as a corollary that I rarely submit to contests at all.) The Friends of the Merrill Collection Contest was, I believe, the second place I sent this story. Strange Horizons was the third.
I suppose it’s a story that’s led a charmed life. The route from idea to publication rarely runs as smoothly for my other work.
Tell us a little about your writing history. What you are working on now?
I’ve written stories ever since I learned to use a computer keyboard, but I have been writing for publication only since 2008, when I examined myself and realized that writing was vital enough to my wellbeing to be worth it. I found online critique groups very helpful at first in helping me hone my craft, though I have since moved on and use a more selective, informal group of beta readers. My first sale was “The Chartreuse Monster”, to Expanded Horizons, in July 2010. It was a token-paying sale, but a very positive one for me, as it resulted in several years of friendship with an editor who was passionate about some of the themes in my story and introduced me to important new ideas.
2013 was a breakout year for me, and the year in which I had my first pro sales. Two of these, including “The Mother of All Squid Builds a Library”, appeared in Strange Horizons; another five (!) appeared in various other places. I also began to be successful with speculative poetry. Writing and getting published began to feel easy; I got cocky. Then 2014 happened and almost all of that vanished; due to immense health and personal upheavals, my writing ability dwindled to nearly nothing. 2015 has been spent trying to inch my way back towards making up that lost ground. I’ve done work throughout the year, and produced things – largely things that are not yet published or publishable, and thus not visible – but it’s only in the past few months that I’ve begun to feel like a real writer again, in the sense that I can spend time working on my writing on a fairly reliable basis and feel that I have something to show for it. It will still be a while, if ever, before I can reach 2013’s levels of visible productivity again.
The project I am most exicted about currently is a novel draft which was recently sent out to my beta readers. This is a story I’ve been working on, on and off, with a great number of setbacks – some unavoidable, some due to my own poor planning – since 2012. I am also working on a series of dinosaur poems, and many other small drifting projects, many of which I hope I can share in the new year.
What would you like to accomplish in your creative life? What are your goals as a writer and an artist?
I believe that writing, even rather non-realistic writing like “The Mother of All Squid Builds a Library”, is an important tool for learning about and exploring ourselves. I believe that the building blocks of stories, like the building blocks of dreams, are fundamental parts of us and that they say things about us even when we intend to say nothing in particular. I want to express a full range of human emotion and experience in my works – not necessarily in each individual work, but in my artistic practice as a whole. I want to express great joy, great despair, great hilarity, great seriousness, everything. In particular, I am interested in finding ways to express those things which are not expressible in realistic fiction, because our conscious account of how the world works does not make room for them.
As an autistic writer, I also have a keen interest in the representation of autism in speculative fiction. At the moment I engage with this more in my criticism and blogging than in my creative writing, but I have written (and sometimes published) several stories which I hope portray autistic protagonists as something other than tragedies, “inspirations”, or burdens. I hope to write many more.
If you could have one thing – realistic or completely insane – to help you achieve these goals, what would it be?
Unlimited time and energy. But then, don’t we all?
Thanks to Ada for her time and wisdom this week!
Ada Hoffmann lives in southern Ontario, where she routinely sings too many high notes for the neighbors’ comfort, talks to invisible people, and makes blood sacrifices to the Elder Gods in her fuzzy pajamas. She is a graduate student at a major Canadian university and spends her working hours trying to teach computers to write poetry. When not absorbed or this or in writing, she likes to LARP, to take care of her cat, and to rant about autism on her blog. You can find her online at http://ada-hoffmann.com/ or as @xasymptote on Twitter.