AUTHOR INTERVIEW: Angeline B. Adams

"I think what we all have in common as people is that, as we age, campfire stories harden into personal mythology."

Angeline B. Adams is passionate about autistic self advocacy, patient experience, and their intersections. She has written about disability for The Toast and Disability in Kidlit, and she and Remco van Straten have written together about the arts for various publications. Their speculative fiction can be found in several anthologies, most recently Air and Nothingness Press's The Wild Hunt. Angeline and Remco's first collection, The Red Man and Others, is now in print. You can buy or review it, and visit their blog and social media links, via https://linktr.ee/turniplanterns.

Tell me about a recent work you released - a short story, a poem, a book, a game. What one work of yours do you hope readers will go out and read today? What's it about?

The Red Man and Others collects the tales of a found family of con artists. Kaila is a small but tough sell-sword who didn't expect to acquire a protégé and a girlfriend, Sebastien is a teenage thief with a flexible conscience, and Ymke is a disabled scribe who's escaped a war-torn childhood to find love (and trouble) with Kaila. When they fall foul of the Brotherhood of the Wheel, Sebastien's resemblance to the cult's beloved saint offers them a chance for revenge - and to make some money. But bringing the Uncomplaining Child back to life has some unplanned effects on the townspeople, and on the trio. 

I write with my partner, Remco van Straten. We're a disabled/immigrant household, we both come from places affected by religious conflict, experiences which echo in the book. Growing up, we loved Sword and Sorcery heroes who lived by their swords and their wits. In a genre that can be macho to a fault, we're inspired by its more diverse voices, from Tanith Lee to Charles R. Saunders. And we've found that stories of daring, ingenuity and survival resonate with marginalised readers.

What is most difficult for you about writing?

Achieving enough focus to get work done. It's as if my mind has to reach a certain speed, and hit a certain groove. Once it does, then I'm grand, but getting there isn't straightforward. And once I'm there, I find interruptions and distractions very difficult to cope with. I learned the hard way that I need to have writing days and days when I do other tasks - I can't fit writing into quick bursts because I need to take a run-up to it, and if I'm stressing about phone calls I have to make or medical appointments, that's not possible. For someone with so many collaborative projects, I need a lot of autonomy and privacy in order to work effectively - or at all. So I need to set my own routine, which is always in tension with my health issues, and I've never been someone who can get writing done in a coffee shop.

Tell me about a special interest of yours. Have you found yourself incorporating your special interests into your fiction?

My love of folklore and mythology is deeply woven into my writing. It's something I get from my mum, who made sure I grew up with a houseful of books about Greek and Scandinavian myths, and Irish and British ghost stories and folklore. I love the connection it gives me with the deep past, and the sense of continuity that comes from stories being passed down through generations in a particular place. But there's equal fascination in the things that get lost, and in the contradictions between different versions of a story. My dad died before I was born, so I grew up reconstructing him from his belongings, his writing, and people's stories. I learned that memory distills into elements strong enough to survive death, and time. 

Mythology, both personal and communal, is a recurring theme in the stories Remco and I write together, especially in terms of how it feeds into identity. We're interested in the stories our characters tell about themselves - as individuals, and as cultures, and in their inherent tensions and pitfalls: Sebastien's mutability as a con artist, Kaila self-defining through her independence, and Ymke's claiming of agency as a disabled woman, refusing to settle for other people's protection. The series will follow them throughout their lifetimes - we're influenced in that regard by Fritz Leiber's Fafhrd and the Gray Mouser. I think what we all have in common as people is that, as we age, campfire stories harden into personal mythology.

Have you had trouble with the publishing industry because of being autistic, and/or because of being marginalized in another way?

Both. I have Crohn's disease, Short Bowel Syndrome and Intestinal Failure, which derailed my education. By my late 20s I had only basic qualifications and no work experience. This is how you lose ground as an emerging disabled/neurodivergent creative (and while I value my autism, for me it is also a disability). People say, "Later on, nobody'll care where, or even if, you got your degree." But a lack of formal study and career support makes it hard to break into an arts scene where everyone knows each other from uni, and has built confidence from a more conventional path in life. It's a very uneven playing field.

I began by doing arts coverage for local magazines and websites, co-writing with Remco - we've always written together, and have complementary strengths. I learned a lot, but my autism meant I struggled terribly with interviewing people in person, and with phone and email contacts with editors, arts venues etc. Tailored support would've made a world of difference, and this is why adult diagnosis matters so much. Instead, I blamed myself, and maintaining a professional facade distressed me in a way that I couldn't articulate, which other people seemed not to experience. My doubts seemed like impostor syndrome, and I hid them as I felt I'd lose work if I looked uncertain. Essentially, I was feeling the strain of constant masking.

In 2015, the decline of the freelance market gave me a graceful out to focus on my fiction, which took the pressure off. Since my autism diagnosis in 2019, I've learned how common my experiences are, and that I can ask for accommodations. I also find fiction writers are more open about their own learning curves, so it doesn't feel like I'm competing on the basis of my ability to fake being neurotypical - especially in speculative fiction where ND people have profoundly influenced the culture. In 2020, the fact everyone was isolated and getting used to Zoom at the same time encouraged me to do panel and podcast appearances. And we've joined Otherworlds NI, our local group for speculative fiction writers - a lovely, supportive bunch of people. 

Do you have any writing advice for other autistic people?

Writing advice is often couched in absolutes. You'll hear that you must join a critique group - the kind where, in pre-pandemic times, you'd sit in a circle, read your work aloud, and other members could tear strips off it in public. It's seen as a rite of passage, but if you have difficulties with receptive speech, rejection sensitivity or both, that may not be the best way to learn. You do need to know what's working - or not - in your story, but I would suggest exchanging written critiques may work better for many of us. Google Docs is free, and you can absorb the advice at your own pace. Having said that, relationships with other writers are so helpful, even remotely - you'll realise how many shared struggles we have, and how normal your concerns about your work are. Forums can be worth their weight in gold, and help you find critique partners. 

Ignore "rules" like: "If you don't write every day, you're not a real writer." For some people, set rituals or a daily word count allow them to produce. But there are as many ways to write as there are writers. And context affects how well a routine works for you, especially after changes in your health, home life or day job. Harsh productivity comparisons with others, or your past self, can be unhelpful. Sometimes you also need to refill the cup and absorb the work of other writers. And do read other autistic writers, because we need to see our perspectives reflected, both as human beings and in building an autistic literary canon.