Gwen works at the Institute, the source of all knowledge production in the world. The Institute’s rectilinear stone columns and thin white cutstone steps fill her imagination, and her work fills her days. Slowly her orderly, linear world begins to crack at the edges. In the oldest part of the Institute, a woman in white stands in a room no one else sees, staring down in yearning over a stone balcony ledge into an open place far below, at the back of the world where nothing could possibly exist. At the market where Gwen eats lunch, dark-haired girls on wooden push scooters flash by in peripheral vision, gone the second Gwen turns her head. Seen a second too late, the image is always the same: a lush bundle of greens in a cornucopia nodding over a girl’s narrow shoulder, dark hair flying, a strange quality of light.

Under the dangerous watch of Institute bureaucrats, Gwen slips back again and again to the room at the back of the Institute, to stand next to the woman in white and look down into the open, impossible place beyond the edge of the world. With the help of her trusted friend Doran who soon joins her at this task, she begins to make out more and more detail of the open green world below. Slowly, Gwen puzzles out the secrets of her world until she finds she can no longer be part of it. The unexpected death of a rogue colleague, and an ensuing chase, bring Gwen and Doran tumbling over the balcony’s edge into the green world, where in a new, whole form, Gwen heals her spirit and body, learns the work of the green world girls, and discovers what her part can be in the world that is to come.

Why ‘Cipher’? A cipher is a secret or disguised way of writing; it is a text with encoded meaning that calls to be deciphered. ‘Cipher’ can also mean a stand-in, a person or image standing in for something greater, the way a zero stands in as a place holder in arithmetic, or the way the woman in white stands in for the green world. Cipher invites the reader to unfold levels of meaning that are not predetermined or ever fully known. In this way, Cipher mirrors the ways we must struggle to see beyond the edges of naturalized systems of power that cause dissociation and are rendered unthinkable. Bringing together analyses informed by radical mental health, antiracist, feminist, anarchist, and antiauthoritarian impulses in a creative, intuitive form, Cipher sings the love and wholeness that is growing on the planet, a cellular reorganization of life that is slowly emerging right in the belly of our time of chaos and fear.


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(cover illustration by Aleks Besan)

Cipher is currently open to an agent, publisher, illustrators, and other unforeseen forms of magic. Do you know things about how a book like this gets out into the world?

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