Interview with Author Tina Connolly

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Tina Connolly is the author of the Ironskin trilogy from Tor Books, and the Seriously Wicked series, from Tor Teen. Ironskin, her first fantasy novel, was a Nebula finalist. Her stories have appeared in Women Destroy SF, Lightspeed, Tor.com, Strange Horizons, Beneath Ceaseless Skies, and many more. Tina is a graduate of the speculative fiction writing workshop Clarion West and the CSSF Novel Workshop with Kij Johnson, and has taught at the Cascade Writers Workshop. Her narrations have appeared in audiobooks and podcasts including Podcastle, Beneath Ceaseless Skies, John Joseph Adams’ The End is Nigh series, and more. She runs the Parsec-winning flash fiction podcast Toasted Cake. Tina lives with her family in Portland, Oregon.

Q&A

Iulian: Hi Tina! Thank you for agreeing to this interview. It’s really cool to have you here!

Tina: Hi Iulian! Thanks so much for inviting me over for this interview!

What do you consider to be the defining moment in your writing career, the moment when you knew that this is what you will be doing for the rest of your life?

I was going to say I don’t have one of those—when I look back it feels like a long process of writing the first story—mostly on a whim—shortly after college, and then slowly buckling down (ratcheting, I think of it) and, step by step, moving to writing and away from theatre. But actually I do have one.

In 2005 I applied to Clarion West and was waitlisted as one of the two alternates. I ratcheted down some more and in 2006 I was accepted.

The workshop was amazing. I know, I know, workshops aren’t for everyone; not everyone goes and has an amazing experience. I did. I studied Literature in college, not Creative Writing, so this was really my first experience with that sort of class. And I like bootcamps (which it is!)—I like the immersion. So for me it might have been more revelatory than someone who’s gone through the whole MFA process, for example.

Week after week my brain broke open and exploded and I rebuilt it and put more things in it and it exploded some more.

Halfway through my husband came up and we took a weekend trip up to the San Juan Islands, north of Seattle. Amazing, beautiful place. You have to take a ferry to get out to the islands.

Now Eric is a coder, and he’d always have his laptop with him to work, whenever we took a trip anywhere. It seems funny to me now, looking back on it, but I generally did not bother bringing a laptop anywhere. I still primarily thought of myself as an actor, and sadly, you cannot simultaneously be on vacation and in a rehearsal, so I was always casting around for something else to do or explore while he did his work.

But that trip. I sat down outside our hotel and watched the harbor; the ferries docking, the way the sun cut through the clouds and made stripes of orange on the blue water. I often bring my watercolors with me on trips and sketch, but I had deliberately left those at home during Clarion West. So now I had to sketch with words.

In Clarion West you write a story every week. I had turned last week’s story in early (“Moon at the Starry Diner”, which involved shapeshifting bears and a giant squid), but obviously next week’s deadline was trundling right along up to me.

I had no idea what the plot was yet. But I wrote pages and pages of notes about the harbor. A character slowly emerged—a woman who loved the island fiercely, but who was always going to be an outsider.

That woman stood at the harbor and thought how the world and her life were falling apart around her; I sat on the harbor and suddenly realized that I could always take a notebook with me, and sketch with words for the rest of my life.

You graduated from Clarion West and the CSSF Novel Workshop. How important were these workshops for you and why would they benefit a junior writer?

So obviously I found Clarion West transformative. I went to Kij Johnson’s CSSF Novel workshop in 2012, after I had already sold Ironskin and Copperhead. So that workshop wasn’t a watershed moment in the same way for me, only because I’d already had my transformation and was farther along as a writer. But it is an excellent workshop where you really look at how to structure a novel, which is exactly what I needed at the time.

The process, at least as it was in 2012, is that you take an outline and 10 pages or so of a brand-new novel idea. Then, with help from the class and Kij, you break down that outline and rebuild it several times. I took a novel idea that I had been banging at for a while, which turned out to be perfect, because I had a lot of various and interesting ideas about what it could be, but I wasn’t wedded to any one particular thing and was perfectly happy to smash it up and rebuild it. I’d still like to write that novel! One of these days when I catch up on everything else…

At any rate, unless you know you’re not a workshop person (which a few folks have emphatically told me) then YES, I highly recommend both of these.

You started novel writing on a really strong foot—your first novel, Ironskin, was nominated for a Nebula in 2012. How did this make you feel and how did this event influence your future work?

Well, it was a tremendous honor, certainly. Rachel Swirsky was the one to phone me with the news. It was also my birthday, and I ran around screaming in poor Rachel’s ear.

I don’t know if nominations influence the actual writing so much, but they can help with opportunities. I was gratified to win the Parsec for best new podcast for Toasted Cake the first year I was doing that, and that was a deciding factor in me choosing to continue Toasted Cake, rather than just make it a one-year project (as I had originally intended).

You’ve published a lot of great short stories in professional markets over the years. How do you balance your writing between short and long fiction? With four novels out and two pending, is there even time for short works?

Thank you for the kind words on my stories! The same thing has happened to me that happens to every other short story-ist turned novelist, sadly—I’ve run out of time. In my case, I’d say I wrote short stories for so many years partly because I didn’t know how to write longer. I went through that learning process in 2008 when I intentionally wrote several successively longer story arcs just to break through my roadblocks in this regard. That’s a long digression though so I’ll skip the rest of that story for now!

I do have a few short stories here and there forthcoming—a novelette collaboration I wrote with Caroline M. Yoachim is forthcoming in Analog (we’ve been working on that for about five years, because we each have two little kids), and I have a short story coming out later this year which will be set in the world of Seriously Wicked. It was my first time trying to write a specific short story on command like that, and it turned out to be a lot of fun.

Other than that, I do still write flash, as often as I can (still not often enough). I’ve decided that my two natural lengths are novels and flash. <g>

Let’s talk about podcasting for a bit. How did you get into it? I love Toasted Cake and I’ve listened to your voice on other podcasts as well. When I read out loud, I always pretend like I’m reading the story to my kids, and imagining their response drives my tone and pacing. Do you use a method like that, or is it all just natural to you? For podcast enthusiasts, would you share your podcasting gear (hardware and software)? Also, I’ve read recently on your Facebook page that you are planning to suspend the podcast for a while, during your work for the next two novels. Was this a difficult decision and what are the chances you’d go back to podcasting?

Thank you so much for the kind words on Toasted Cake! I love narrating stories, and I am sorry to set Toasted Cake down. I actually do have another podcast in the works (a friend pitched me the idea of doing something similar to Toasted Cake, but splitting the work) so, I promise, we will either see that new project come to life this fall/winter, or I will bring Toasted Cake back a year from now when I’ve turned in my next two novels. So it won’t be forever. And in the meantime, you can continue to hear me on Escape Artists and Beneath Ceaseless Skies and so on!

As for my gear—I use Audacity for the software (it’s free!) and I have a Snowball USB mic for the hardware. Oh, and a quilt tent for the recording-studio-ware. <g>. I’ve been happy with all of it as reasonably good and affordable options. I would like to do a mic upgrade again at some point, but first I want to upgrade the quilt tent to an actual closet, far away from the street window. (Currently I stop whenever a car goes by, although the quilt tent does help quite a lot.) We have a lovely 1940’s fixer with a sad lack of useful closets. But someday!

You are also a poet and theater buff. What can you tell us about these lesser known passions of yours?

Heh. I have written a few poems, but I admit to only knowing a teensy bit about poetry (I can point you to the amazing CSE Cooney if you want to read some great current stuff though!)

Theatre, now! I spent a long time acting before I moved over to writing, and I still head back over there whenever I get the rare chance. I spent last fall co-writing a SF play with my theatre producer friend Matt Haynes, called Box, and it was an amazing experience. We wrote it as a trilogy—you had to come back 3 successive Mondays to see the whole thing—and it was a YA SF dystopia set inside a VR chamber… it was hugely fun and I learned so much. I can’t wait to have the time to work on another one.

What is your advice for today’s young writers who are trying to break through an increasingly difficult market? Will you teach for the Cascade Writers Workshop again? If so, perhaps you can mention how that particular workshop would help young writers?

Well, patience and persistence, certainly. I did teach at the CWW a couple different times and very much enjoyed myself. I had great students and it seemed like a supportive environment (at least, from my perspective). I like those small workshops where you can really get to know your fellow workshoppees and your teacher/s. And CWW is a weekend, which means it can be a good alternative if you don’t have the 2 weeks for CSSF or 6 weeks for Clarion/Clarion West/Odyssey.

Your website lists Seriously Wicked #2 and #3 being in works. Tell us a bit about where the series is going and if you have plans to continue with it beyond trilogy. Any other works in progress?

I have SW 2 & 3 due within the next year, so I’m working very hard on them and I also cannot say very much due to jinxing what I’m working on. I will say that each book is meant to be a standalone adventure with Cam having to foil another scheme from the wicked witch. Also, that short story set in the SW world is forthcoming (about a seriously disastrous witch pool party), so I’m looking forward to that.

When I’m deep in the middle of a project, I sometimes have a hard time seeing beyond the end of it. Vague plans for after I turn in these two books include noodling around on some new funny YA ideas, and maybe looking at another adult high fantasy project that’s been simmering (the one I was bashing away on at CSSF). I also am hoping to co-write another play with Matt at some point.

Oh, and I’m putting together a full-length short story collection for publication in what will probably be Summer 2016! I’m very excited about that, but we’re in the middle of finalizing the details, so I can’t say much more yet.

What’s next for you? Is there anything else you’d like to add?

Let’s see, in the next 15-18 months or so, look for the Seriously story, the novelette at Analog co-written with Caroline M. Yoachim, Seriously #2, and the as-yet-untitled collection! Also, some narrations here and there (probably that secret podcast project), and most likely a few more things that turn up that I can’t say no to. (If you can’t tell, I have a really hard time saying No to things that I want to do. 😉

Appearances! (http://www.tinaconnolly.com/about/events) You can find me on book tour in the next month in OR, WA, CA, and KS, and I’m also planning on WorldCon, WFC, and OryCon, the Campbell Conference and guest-lecturing at the Willamette Writers Conference, so come say hi at any one of those.

Soooooo yeah. If I look a little sleepless in the next year, you’ll know why.

Thanks so much for this interview, Iulian!

Thank you, Tina for the interview and good luck with all your projects!

Find below a selection of works by Tina Connolly:

end article

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Iulian Ionescu

About Iulian Ionescu

Iulian is the Editor-in-Chief and publisher of Fantasy Scroll Mag. He is a science fiction and fantasy writer who enjoys blogging and technology. He runs the fiction writing blog Fantasy Scroll and if you want to know more about his works, check out his author page.