Guest Post: Simon Berman and Problem Glyphs

When last I blogged on this hallowed page, Aeryn had invited me to promote my then-current project The Book of Starry Wisdom. I know for a fact a number of Rejectomancy readers backed the Kickstarter, so let me first say thank you! Aeryn and I go way back at Privateer Press where we worked together on a number of projects, and it’s a pleasure to see he’s gaining a loyal and adoring audience—even if they seem to be tuned in mostly to see his rejections—but I digress!

Since last I blogged here, my own career has taken a path somewhat parallel to Aeryn’s as an independent author. The success of The Book of Starry Wisdom resulted in a number of other projects falling in my lap, and I’ve subsequently launched a publishing company to support them. Strix Publishing is my new baby, and while I’m currently neck-deep in getting it off the ground, I’ll be blogging about my experiences as an independent publisher later this summer.

At the moment, my current endeavor is in support of an art book for Eliza Gauger’s Problem Glyphs project. Gauger is an established and prolific author who has collaborated with numerous high-profile creators, including Warren Ellis and Jhonen Vasquez. You may remember the original “baby head” logo for iO9, which was one of her earliest commercial works. I’ve had the pleasure of working with Gauger for several years on a not-quite-ready-for-prime-time comic book Black Hole Wizard and the gasmask-chic role-playing game of neo-Victorian horror Unhallowed Metropolis, about which I will have more news soon, but again, I digress.



Problem Glyphs is a project I’ve had the privilege of observing since its earliest nights as something of a whimsical experiment with illustration software in the autumn of 2013. Since then, Gauger has crafted over two hundred sigils in response to the deepest, darkest problems submitted anonymously online by thousands of individuals. Drawing upon her background in fine art, mythology, and the occult, Gauger responds to these problems by creating intricate, symbol-laden glyphs that are published online with an accompanying descriptive title, free of charge

Gauger approached me about working on an art book sometime ago, but it was only after founding Strix Publishing that I felt confident I could produce a book to the standards required by a project that is not just illustratively beautiful but also emotionally important to thousands of people.

After months of discussion, mockup layouts, and printer samples, we settled on a format we think will do the project justice.

The Problem Glyphs art book contains 100 glyphs and their associated submissions, accompanied by an introduction by Eliza Gauger and a foreword by award-winning writer Warren Ellis. Problem Glyphs will be a premium edition, display-worthy art book, measuring 10″ x 12″ and featuring a Smyth-sewn, genuine clothbound hard cover with gold foil-stamped cover illustrations. The estimated 220 interior pages will be printed on beautiful matte coated art paper. Tremendous care has gone into every aspect of the book, from its binding to its typography, the beautiful and storied Doves Type. The choice of Doves Type was particularly special due to the strange circumstances in which the Type was thought lost in the depths of the Thames only to resurface nearly a decade later.  I’ve blogged about it elsewhere, but it may be of interest to anyone fascinated by typography or just stories that could come straight out of an Edgar Allen Poe tale.



As a thanks to Aeryn for letting me shamelessly promote here, and as a thanks to Rejectomancy’s readers for their support of my previous project, I’m happy to end this blog with the first excerpt from Gauger’s introduction to the Problem Glyphs art book. I hope you enjoy it and perhaps take a look at our Kickstarter.


—Simon Berman

Introduction from Problem Glyphs by Eliza Gauger

“I don’t know how to explain Problem Glyphs.

Usually I tell people I’m a career illustrator, and that I’m running a project where I “make drawings in response to problems sent in by the audience.” It started November 2013, making it my longest continual project. As of this writing, there are over 200 glyphs, each with a name and origin, almost all of which have accompanying problems submitted by the audience. That’s roughly twice the size of a standard tarot deck. The first glyph, [I STAND MY GROUND], was posted to the blogging platform/social network Tumblr on November 3rd, 2013. That’s about two glyphs per week. Each glyph takes between 5 minutes (the very earliest, simplest ones) and 5 hours (the most recent, complex ones), including research and an artist’s obligatory staring-into-space time. I use a specialized, free drawing program called Alchemy, and sometimes Photoshop. That’s the nitty-gritty. There’s a tutorial on the Problem Glyphs site if you want to know more.



Although you’re holding a book in your hands, my long term plan is to make the glyphs into a deck of cards, something like a tarot. To this end, they have five “humours”, like suits, for which I owe entire credit to my friend Ada Darwin, who writes a lot of music I listen to while drawing glyphs. She suggested humours as a system of classification and contributed the majority of the grunt work towards determining what those humors should be.

So every time I get the next glyph request, I start research. Here’s the one I’m working on now:

I am mildly manic-depressive, and I regularly fuck up my relationships by being incredibly sweet one minute and then sinking into a depression the next. When depressed I tend to start ring emails to my girlfriend blaming her for my problems. I always regret it: she’s great at helping me face my moods in person, but she’s devastated when she gets my angry email tirades. I need a reminder that it is wise to take a breath, take time out, and stay away from the keyboard when I feel like shit.

—Anonymous, July 9th 2014, 6:43:00 pm

This is how glyphs start: I mull over my own experience with the problem, and recall how it feels. How it feels to fuck up, or to be fucked up. To be frustrated enough to ask for help. In this situation I always feel “radioactive”, as if my presence was enough to sicken and wither the people I loved. And it is, sometimes. I have learned to avoid people, or excuse myself, when I feel it coming on. I opened four or five tabs about radiation sickness, radioactive half-life, Chernobyl, and Fukushima. Nuclear fiction is a passion of mine, Fallout 2 being one of my earliest obsessions. I remembered a PDF I read once about a think tank that had to come up with a way to warn intelligent beings, 12,000 years in the future, to stay away from the nuclear waste we are burying now. I looked that up. I spent hours reading the PDFs on the Waste Isolation Pilot Project and Yucca Mountain websites. I looked at official biohazard and radioactivity warning insignia, clicked through dozens of Wikipedia articles, sifted through forums and official archives. Then I sat still, and thought about it for a few hours.

Warren Ellis calls this the “compost heap” method of writing: You shovel enough garbage into a midden and it’ll start to stew; come back a few weeks later and something useful will be there. He’s right, although in my case it’s more like a garbage fire . The finished glyphs are the last pulsing coals, raked over and ready to be walked across.

I don’t agree with platitudes much, particularly “it’s going to be okay” or “this too shall pass”. Sometimes—most of the time, you could argue—it’s not going to be okay. It won’t pass. It stays exactly the same, or it gets worse. Medications don’t work sometimes, or they stop working. Sometimes we can’t afford them in the first place. People change, or die, or stop talking to us. We break up, we divorce, or, best case scenario, we get to watch the person we love most in the world die of old age.



There’s a lot of gloom in Problem Glyphs, which is an odd admission from someone who’s more or less running an advice column. I’m not prescribing despair, though, nor resignation. “Acceptance” also doesn’t feel like the right word, although it’s close. My message is more berzerk than zen. What I want to convey is that pain and illness, and realism, even fatalism, are not incompatible with ambition, success, love, or happiness.

I was eleven years old when I accidentally told an adult I was thinking about killing myself. Sent to a child psychologist, I learned two things: that people who really wanted to help me (and were qualified to do so) sometimes couldn’t, and to stop bothering people with my problems. I tried therapy, and a variety of different medications , during various times in my life. They simply weren’t effective, or the toll was too high; in one of medical science’s cruel little jokes, many antidepressants cause a total loss of creativity. For someone with a typical job, that feeling of numbness or “zombification” with which some people react to SSRIs can sometimes be tolerable, or even a relief. But for someone who trades off their ability to draw from imagination on demand, the loss is catastrophic. It is, without hyperbole, my entire life. The compost heap won’t digest, the fire won’t light. Eventually, I aged out of my family’s insurance coverage and stopped having access to medical treatment at all. If I wanted to survive (and I did, usually), I had to try something else.

That “solution” was to own suicide – keep it like an ace up my sleeve.

Decades later, I still think about suicide a lot. But I’m still here, and will be until I decide otherwise. There are a few glyphs about that. [FORGIVENESS OF DEATH URGE], [LET’S DIE ALONE TOGETHER], and especially [DEATH WAITS WITHOUT RANCOR], which was one of the earliest glyphs that got “popular”.

If Problem Glyphs has any kind of agenda, it’s to meet Doom with eyes, arms, and mouths wide open. Legs, too.

Eliza Gauger

Simon Berman is the owner and founder of Strix Publishing. He has worked as a staff writer for Privateer Press on the award-winning miniatures war games, WARMACHINE and HORDES, and the Iron Kingdoms Full Metal Fantasy Roleplaying Game, winner of 4 ENnies awards, as well as the ENnies nominated roleplaying game, Unhallowed Metropolis. He has also worked as a social media manager on Kickstarter projects for WARMACHINE: Tactics, Widower’s Wood, and The Book of Starry Wisdom. He currently lives in Seattle, Washington.

Eliza Gauger is an established freelance artist who has produced illustrations and flavor text for magazines, books, and role playing games. She has collaborated as an illustrator with Jhonen Vasquez and writer Warren Ellis, and has written for WiredKotaku, and Destructoid. She has taken part in solo and collaborative fine art shows in Berlin and Munich, including STROKE festival, and her work is in the permanent collection of the Hatch Gallery Berlin.

May 2016 Submission Statement

May is over, and it was a good month, if not an overly productive one. I spent much of May working on the final edits of my novel Flashpoint, so there wasn’t as much time to submit short stories as I would have liked. In fact, I managed only a single submission. That said, a few of the submissions I sent out in months previous bore some fruit.

March Report Card

  • Submissions Sent: 1
  • Rejections: 3
  • Acceptances: 2
  • Other: 1
  • Publications: 1


Let’s eat our rejection vegetables before we get to the tasty acceptance dessert, shall we?

Rejection 1: 5/5/16

Thank you for submitting “XXX” to XXX, but it’s not quite what we’re looking for and we’ve decided to pass on this one. Best of luck with your work.

This is just a standard form rejection, which, at this point, hardly registers on my woe-is-me meter, but this one was a little disappointing. You see, I had gotten a very nice referral rejection in April that suggested I submit the story to this publication. So, I got my hopes up a bit that I might get an acceptance here. Alas, it was not to be. What’s the lesson here, boys and girls? Don’t hope. Hope sucks.

Rejection 2: 5/14/16

Thank you for submitting work to our Flash Felon contest. The judging process seems to get more and more difficult each time. Some truly imaginative stories this time around.

Unfortunately, “XXX” didn’t make it into our Top 10. However, this entry did make it through several rounds of cuts and was ultimately very close. As a result, we gave you a shout-out on our results page as a “close-but-no-cigar.” If you’re so inclined, we would encourage you to submit this piece for consideration in our regular issues (free to submit). We’ve published a handful of close-but-no-cigar contest entries in our regular issues in the past.

Thanks so much for your participation. We couldn’t do these contests without you. 

I don’t normally list the names of the publications in my rejections, but since I also got an acceptance from this publisher for the same contest AND it was published in May, it’s kind of hard to avoid. Josh Goller, the editor-in-chief at The Molotov Cocktail is a great guy, and I know he won’t mind. I’ve got nothing but great things to say about Molotov, and they’re one of my favorite publications.

Anyway, this was a rejection, but it fell into their close-but-no-cigar category for the Flash Felon contest, which means the story might have legs in their regular monthly issues. I might just submit it there.    

Rejection 3: 5/31/16

Thank you for sending us “Story X”. We appreciated the chance to read it. Unfortunately, this piece is not a good fit for us. Best of luck with this in other markets.

This innocuous little form letter is actually the death knell for “Story X.” Yep, this was the tenth and final rejection. As promised, I revealed the story in its entirety when I posted the final rejection. You can read that here.


Two acceptances in May, both good ‘uns.

Acceptance 1: 5/14/16

Congratulations! Your Flash Felon entry, “The Sitting Room,” has been selected as an honorable mention. This means that it will be published in our upcoming Flash Felon mega-issue (to run on Monday, May 16th) and it will be included in our second annual Prize Winners Anthology print edition in October.

Thanks so much for your participation in the Flash Felon contest and for writing such a kick-ass story. We’re honored to be able to feature it.

Yep, one of my stories landed an honorable mention in The Molotov Cocktails Flash Felon contest. Again, I don’t mind letting you know who the publisher is here because I’m going to reveal it anyway when I get to the publications section. You should totally read my story, but, please, please, please make sure you also read the winner of the Flash Felon contest “The London Umbrella Company” by Jan Kaneen. It’s just one of the best goddamn pieces of flash fiction you’re likely to encounter in this world or the next.

Acceptance 2: 5/28/16

Thank you for choosing to submit your work to XXX. The staff enjoyed your story “XXX” very much, and we’d like to publish it as our feature story for issue #1 due in JUL.

What that means is we’d run your story as the headliner and interview you for our “Author Spotlight” section. We do this once per issue.

I’m sending a contract with electronic signatures. Please review the contract and sign.

Let me know if you have questions or concerns or if you do not receive the contract.

Okay, this one was especially sweet. Why? Because the story this market accepted is my most rejected story of all time; it’s also one of my favorite stories. It received a bunch of close-but-no-cigar rejections, but after many, many tries, it failed to find a home. Finally, the story has found its way to someone who liked it as much as I do. In other words, sometimes you have to just keep plugging away and go with your gut on a story, despite the rejections. Why? Because rejections don’t always mean “bad story,” they often mean just what the rejection letter says: not right for us, doesn’t meet our needs at this time, and so on, and so on.

Anyway, I’m pretty excited about this one, and I will, of course, give you all the details once its published.


One letter that is neither a rejection nor an acceptance this month.

Further Consideration/Short list Letter 1: 5/12/16

Thank you for submitting “XXX” to XXX. One of our first readers has read your story and believes it deserves a closer look. We would like to hold it for further consideration. Good luck!

What we have here is a further consideration letter from one of the top markets in the speculative fiction industry. From this magazine come Hugo, Nebula, Shirley Jackson, and Bram Stoker Award nominees and winners (among others). This is the first time I’ve gotten anything but a form rejection from them, so, yeah, that’s pretty damn cool. I will not allow myself to get my hopes up here, though. The competition at a market like this is fucking fierce. I am, however, happy to have at least gotten through the front door, so to speak.


One of my stories was published this month.

Publication 1: 5/16/16

As I noted earlier, my flash story the “The Sitting Room” was awarded an honorable mention in The Molotov Cocktail’s Flash Felon contest. Give it a read if the mood strikes.

And that’s how my May shook out. What did yours look like?