Let’s start with an introduction: Who is Ada Hoffmann?
I’m an autistic computer scientist from Canada and a speculative fiction author. I’ve been publishing short stories since 2010, and I’ve been longlisted for the BSFA and Rhysling awards for my short work. I recently received my PhD from the University of Waterloo and now I’m adjuncting while living with a happy polyamorous family and a very good black cat. When I’m not writing or working, I like music, LARP, and autism self-advocacy.
Your debut novel, The Outside, was published this month by Angry Robot. It looks really interesting: How would you introduce it to a potential reader? Is it part of a series?
The Outside is a space opera with AI Gods, cyborg angels, cosmic horrors, multiple factions of compelling villains, and an autistic scientist named Yasira who’s caught in the middle of it all. It stands on its own with a complete plot, but I’d love to expand it into a series if the publisher permits.
What inspired you to write the novel? And where do you draw your inspiration from in general?
The Outside‘s inspiration actually comes from a weird place. I had a D&D game I really liked, and I had a crush on one of my friends’ characters, a Lawful Evil changeling sorcerer named Akavi. I liked him so much that I wanted to keep writing about him after the game ended, but I didn’t want it to be generic D&D fiction, so I filed the serial numbers off so hard that he ended up in space. Akavi is now one of the cyborg angels and a viewpoint character.
For short fiction, I can draw inspiration from almost anywhere – an image, a setting, a situation in real life. But for longer work — judging from this and other unpublished attempts — I really need to start with a deep connection to a character. Everything else gels and builds around how I feel about that person.
How were you introduced to genre fiction?
I grew up with it! My parents are fans, and when I was little there was no sense of “genre fiction” being distinct from other kinds of books. I just went from Dr. Seuss and The Paper Bag Princess to middle-grade books about aliens and dragons, to C.S. Lewis and Lloyd Alexander (among others). I was very perplexed when I discovered there are people who look down on it or don’t consider it “real” fiction; that way of viewing genres is foreign to me.
Do you have any specific working, writing, researching practices?
I find I need to adapt my practices to my individual projects and my life situation. What worked two years ago might not work now or for a different kind of writing. I almost always need quiet and privacy, but everything else changes over time, including the amount that I can induce myself to write and how I go about it. Lately I’ve been playing 4thewords, which I’m finding really helpful for dividing the work up into chunks and providing micro-rewards along the way. Eventually, I’m sure that will change, too.
When did you realize you wanted to be an author, and what was your first foray into writing? Do you still look back on it fondly?
I’ve always been writing in one form or another; when I was five I announced that the word processor was my favorite computer game. The actual first story I wrote is lost to the mists of time, but it might have been an account of how kittens arrived at my house, or it might have been one of the large pile of one-paragraph-long stories about dinosaurs that I found in a drawer, years later, while I was cleaning up.
I didn’t decide to write for publication was midway through undergrad. Most of what I’d written as a teen and young adult had been fanfiction or game fiction of various types, but one summer I took a break and wrote something original. It was a YA novelette about magical mail-order plants, tense family dynamics, and Discordianism. And although this sounds unforgivably melodramatic, I remember looking at this odd thing I’d written and thinking to myself, with the weight of a prophecy, “I need to keep doing this if I want to live.”
What’s your opinion of the genre today, and where do you see your work fitting into it?
Honestly I struggle to describe something as big as the speculative fiction community in a single opinion. I think there are multiple movements, factions, and tensions within speculative fiction, some directly opposed to each other, others doing different but complementary work, some blending into each other at the edges diffusely, merging and separating. I think there is an increased interest in social justice in speculative fiction over the past ten years, but we can all disagree very sharply on what that means, and some are opposed to it entirely.
I think my work, like most successful work, fits more than one faction. For The Outside, it’s people looking for #ownvoices queer and neurodiverse representation, but also people looking for thought-provoking space opera and for new developments in Weird Fiction, to name a few.
Do you have any other projects in the pipeline, and what are you working on at the moment?
I’m waiting with bated breath to see if the publisher greenlights a sequel! But I’m also working on a new novel about dragon palaeontology, so that should be fun either way.
What are you reading at the moment (fiction, non-fiction)?
At this very moment, I’m reading D is for Dinosaur, an anthology by Rhonda Parrish. Totally a comfort read since I love dinosaurs. For my Autistic Book Party review project, I’m also reading a science fiction romance called Ghost in the Machine by C.E. Kilgore, who is an autistic author.
If you could recommend only one novel or book to someone, what would it be?
This is so impossible to answer without knowing the person! What do they like? What have they read before? Are they into science fiction? Is there a gap in their existing reading habits? So many questions.
What’s something readers might be surprised to learn about you?
I used to sing semi-professionally; I’m a classically trained soprano and I got paid to help lead a choir in a local cathedral. One day I’d like to return to that and weave musical themes into a novel-length work more closely.
What are you most looking forward to in the next twelve months?
Honestly, the previous year has been such a roller coaster — I’ve completed my PhD thesis, defended it, moved to a new living situation (and in with a romantic partner for the first time), started a new job, graduated, and released my debut novel. In the next twelve months I’m hoping things are going to quiet down a bit!
Ada Hoffmann’s The Outside is out now, published by Angry Robot Books in North America and in the UK.