It's a beautiful day.
Author Interview: Autumn Nicole Bradley
2015-10-29 · by Devi Acharya
Autumn Nicole Bradley is a mercurial mixture of equal parts speculative fiction writer, game creator, and incorrigible polymath. Her Twine game “Player 2” appeared in Video Games for Humans, and her serial queer love story, Trash Romance, is available at trashmance.com. Follow her on Twitter @lifeinneon.
This interview was conducted by email in October 2015.
Devi Acharya: To begin, tell me a bit about yourself. Where are you from, what do you do?
Autumn Nicole Bradley: I’m from Wisconsin. I’ve spent most of my life here aside from a few years living in Chicago and a study abroad semester living in Beppu, Japan. At the moment I am a graduate student in Professional Counseling with a Clinical Mental Health emphasis. I’m also working with the University of California San Francisco’s Young Adult and Family Center on developing a mental health website targeted at young adults.
Devi: On your site you describe yourself as a “mercurial mixture of equal parts speculative fiction author, game creator, spoken word artist, incorrigible polymath, aspiring neurobiologist, and queer, hard-femme transfeminist.” Wow! How do you do it all?
Autumn: Well, the hard part is I don’t anymore! At least not as actively now that I have a steady job and I’m back in school full time. I won’t ever lose touch with being a writer and creator—those parts are a little too central to abandon them completely—but right now I’m channeling those energies into another focus. Namely this UCSF project. They recruited me based on my other interactive fiction game, Player 2 (which is sort of a real life conflict resolution tool), and wanted me to bring that same design sensibility and tone to the work. Thanks for tipping me off about the neurobiologist part of my bio! That’s a bit outdated. I received an offer for a Ph.D. program, but the program wasn’t a good fit for me. These days I’m taking my neurobiology knowledge and applying it to mental health counseling. Considering the emphasis on neuroscience research in the field right now, my background is serving me better than I would have anticipated.
Sometimes it feels like there’s a mindset out there that the brain is an inscrutable black box we’ll never understand, and what’s amazing is that it simply isn’t the case! That may have been true in the 90s, but the last decade and a half has changed so much of what we know, and shed light on the biological implications of stress, trauma, sleep, you name it. My hope is to be part of a new generation of practitioners putting that knowledge to work in the field.
I’ll always be an incorrigible polymath. What I love about my job with UCSF is that it makes use of so many of my seemingly disconnected and unrelated areas of experience and education. I’ve done enough programming to be able to translate between the clinical team and the site developers; through games and modding, I’ve done enough user interface work that I can help iron out the playful and interactive elements of the site; my neuroscience background helps me write content, as well as work with the site team’s neuroscience researcher on integrating her insights. And since the project is the brain child of university faculty, they’ve been incredibly gracious and flexible around my school schedule since they understand how the semester can get. It doesn’t hurt that I’m going into the same field!
Devi: What do you want people to know about you and your work?
Autumn: With my writing and interactive fiction, I try to let my queer feminist convictions inform my work by how I do it and what I choose to focus on, rather than try to lecture readers. Others can do that. I think that stuff is better suited to essays or books. With my work, I try to do the better job we all look for from media producers of all kinds: tell better stories, limit sexist tropes or at least complicate and question them, tell more stories with marginalized characters.
That last one is important. Probably the most important. Otherwise you get into a trap where the one or two stories that feature a particular identity become the One True Story of that identity. The trouble is that it won’t reflect all or most people’s lived experience, but no single story ever can. We need a plurality of these works to shake that up, and I try my best to be a part of that process.
Devi: In Reset, you tackle ideas of human-machine interaction. Is this just a mind experiment, or what you think could / shouldn’t happen?
Autumn: If you mean is it a cautionary tale, not at all. I run in some pretty interesting circles and while there’s a lot of latent anxiety about the kind of control explored in Reset (say, if it were to be abused by a government or corporation), the point was to dream of bigger and better things than the crushingly cynical banality promised to us in 80s/90s cyberpunk. Reset actually was an outgrowth of my interest in brain-computer interfaces, the field I was aiming for until I realized I wasn’t well suited to the lab environment. Neuroprosthetics already exist. Cochlear implants are a good example of a current application. But with things like optogenetics (a highly invasive technique) or transcranial magnetic stimulation (noninvasive), there’s whole new worlds of possibilities. Do I think it will be as advanced and near-seamless as I portray in Reset? Possibly, eventually, but I don’t anticipate it being within my lifetime, short of some radical life extension breakthrough.
Devi: What has been your favorite experience within the interactive fiction community?
Autumn: There was something of a golden era among queer interactive fiction writers a few years ago, and I was sad it came to an end so abruptly, but I also understand why it had to in the wake of certain things. It’s not really my place to discuss the end, and I totally understand if others aren’t as sanguine about that era as a result. But while it was going on, it was a truly magical time of experimentation. I remember the time for the friends I made during it, and those friendships have meant a lot in the years since. It was also a time when I reclaimed my writing and game creating voice after a several year hiatus. Lots of mixed feelings but I’ll always have what and who I gained in that time.
Devi: Was there anything else you wanted to talk about?
Autumn: For any Trash Romance readers seeing this, sorry I haven’t been available to finish the last chapters! March turned my life upside down in the best way possible, but I know what you all want is an ending to a story! <3
Devi: Where should people go who want to learn more about your work?