Interview: Tina Connolly, author of Ironskin and Copperhead

I adored IRONSKIN, Tina Connolly’s debut novel, and the followup, COPPERHEAD is out next week, so I was thrilled that Tina stopped by to talk about both books! Please give her a warm welcome and also, send some congrats and good wishes her way, because she’s got a new baby on the way any day now!


Tina_Connolly-author-headshot1-colorTina, will you tell us a bit about yourself and your background? Have you always wanted to be a writer?
Actually when I was little I wanted to be on Broadway! But I’ve always been a fanatic reader, and occasionally wrote little things for fun—funny poems for birthdays, parodies for class, that kind of thing. (I wrote a whole play in junior high for my friends and I to do, called “Who Stole the Cookies from the Cookie Jar?” A serious whodunit, obviously. We played caricatures of ourselves.)

Anyway, after college I ended up in a call center with night shift hours. Theatre was right out, but suddenly I had all this time where I was getting paid to be available to answer the phone, but no one was likely to call in. A couple friends at the call center felt the same way, and we started a writing group, with a story due every week.

I remember writing was amazingly hard at first—nothing matched my idea of what a good story should look like. I had no clue how to create a plot. But I’m stubborn. We relaxed our story-a-week pace after a couple months, and the group persisted another year or so beyond that. Eventually I moved out to Portland (where there were TONS of writers!), and went to Clarion West (where I learned that there were things like SF cons that you could actually go to and meet other SF writers, at all levels! This was very exciting.)

Short story writer to novelist was another hard transition for me, as I naturally write short. But I stubbornly kicked away at that too—finally broke through my barrier by writing several successively longer novels—a 20K MG, a 30K MG, a 50K YA (that one is called Seriously Wicked and is due to come out in 2015) and finally Ironskin, which was barely 60K in its initial draft form, but finally clocked in at around 82K or so.

Your novel, Ironskin, is wonderful and it was also nominated for a Nebula Award! How did you celebrate when you found out it would be published?
Thank you so much! You know, I got the offer from my wonderful editor at Tor about a month before our first baby was due. So I was kind of limited in my options – no celebratory rounds of martinis, and I was too exhausted to even go out to dinner. I think I took an extra nap. I found out about the Nebula nomination this year on my birthday! of all things, and I called my parents and babbled hysterically at them.

copperheadThe sequel, Copperhead, will be out next week, and we get to know Jane’s sister, Helen, quite a bit better. What can readers expect from this installment?
When I sold Ironskin to my editor, she wanted to know of any plans for a sequel. I immediately knew I wanted to tell Helen’s story. Helen is Jane’s younger sister, and she kind of gets a bit of short shrift in Ironskin, because Jane doesn’t always understand her. I love books like Gregory Maguire’s Wicked where we get to see a different side of the characters we thought we knew. So this is Helen’s chance to come into her own and really shine.

And then, Copperhead is set in the city. So I got to explore a different side of the world. Helen is trying to help a hundred women who are in danger of being taken over by the fey. So she gets to meet women from all walks of life, and several are from the theatre/music world. So I got to have theatre people in this book! One in particular, a flamboyant actress named Frye, was supposed to have a relatively small part, but she came in and waltzed away with the storyline.

What do you enjoy most about writing Jane and Helen, and why do you think readers will connect with them?
I love writing about family relationships, and exploring the ways in which people who are very close can still have gaps between them. You can love someone and still fail to understand them. Or you might interpret a shared family history very differently. So I love writing about them as sisters, and then I’ve really enjoyed writing about two such different characters, and watching each of them come into their own.

Jane starts Ironskin as very prickly and angry—but very stubborn, too! She’s determined to help her young charge Dorie. And Helen starts Copperhead as fairly uncertain of herself, and in a terrible relationship. But she has a tremendously warm heart, and she wants to do right. I like reading and writing about people who have to overcome their internal battles at the same time that they’re trying to make things better in the world. So I hope other readers will feel the same way. Helen in particular has been a lot of fun to write, and I really fell in love with her over the course of working on Copperhead.

What have you enjoyed the most about writing this series?
The world was really fun and complex to write about. It’s not exactly a historical fantasy, but I took a lot of cues from a sort of post-WWI era. It’s got a mixture of magic and technology—before the events of Ironskin, humans traded with fey for a sort of clean energy called “bluepacks” that took the place of a lot of human invention. After The Great War, they were left stranded and struggling to reinvent things. And then I wanted to write about the tension between beauty and power and where these things fit into women’s roles, and the setting gave me a lot of opportunity to do that.

Another thing I enjoyed was that I’d never written a trilogy before—even a loosely connected one like this, where each book shifts to a different protagonist. It was really nice to spend so much time with these characters and watch them grow and change. Jane is the star of Ironskin, Helen of Copperhead, and a grown-up Dorie takes the lead in the third book, but we see each of them in smaller roles in the other books, through the other characters’ eyes.

ironskinJane Eyre is an obvious (and wonderful ) influence on your work, but what other writers or novels have been big influences for you?
Well, I love both Charlotte and Anne Bronte, obviously! I’m never sure where the line is between “authors I love” and “authors that influenced me”, but some random other longtime favorite authors of mine are Diana Wynne Jones, Jane Austen, Roald Dahl, Robin McKinley, and Noel Streatfeild. A few books I’ve really enjoyed just in the past year include Graham Joyce’s Some Kind of Fairy Tale, S. M. Wheeler’s Sea Change, Rachel Hartman’s Seraphina, and Alethea Kontis’s Enchanted. The latter three are all debuts and I’m looking forward to more by those authors.

What are you reading now?
I am actually re-reading every single Anne McCaffrey book on my shelf. I really truly whole-heartedly love re-reading—I try to be reasonable about it because there’s so much else I want to read too! But there’s two reasons for the current binge. One, apparently part of my writing process is that I can’t read any fiction while writing the first draft of something. Non-fiction, sure! Fiction, no. And then, when I finally reach the end of draft 1, I’m too braindead to read something new. I want something old, something comforting. I’ve been working on Ironskin 3 most of this year, and when I got to the end of the first draft on it in August, I picked up McCaffrey’s Rowan series.

As I write this, it’s the beginning of October and I have just a couple days ago sent off the second draft of Ironskin 3 to my editor. (YAY!) Normally my brain would be returning to normal. But the other thing that’s happening is that I’m having our second baby in a couple weeks. So, I’m brain-dead from that, and therefore RE-READING. I’ve just started in at the beginning of Pern.

If you could experience one book again for the very first time, which one would it be?
Oh, good question. It would probably be something that blew me away the first time with all the turns and reveals (like Byatt’s Possession or Atwood’s The Blind Assassin, perhaps), or just the books by my favorite authors who are no longer around to give me new ones (like Diana Wynne Jones or Roald Dahl, for example.) If I had time travel I would go pluck Jane Austen out of time and get her good medical care so she could write . . . well, let’s not be greedy. But at least six more books. That’s a fair number, isn’t it? (Also I should write that time travel story.)

When you’re not working on your next project, how do you like to spend your free time?
Haha, free time? You know, I had some of that once . . . turns out having your first baby and your first book deal about a month apart will kind of put the kibosh on free time for awhile. NOT that I’m complaining, mind you. In addition to writing and toddler-wrangling, I also work seasonally as a face painter, which is a ton of fun, and I run a flash fiction podcast called Toasted Cake (toastedcake.com).

Free time things that I USED to do that I am looking forward to doing again (probably around the time the second one goes to kindergarten) include auditioning for plays and painting on canvases other than children’s faces. (I love painting on faces, mind you, but it would be fun to do something permanent again. The children tend to complain when you want to take them home and frame them.) I used to play piano, I had just started to learn fiddle, and I’ve been wanting to learn Spanish for awhile now. So all those things are on my kindergarten bucket list. Also as the kids get older I can’t wait to take them on more hikes and explorations around Oregon—it’s such a gorgeous state.

What’s your favorite ale?
Oh, what a good and also heartbreaking question for the 9-month pregnant lady! I particularly love pale ales. Also stouts and red ales. Some of my favorite local breweries around Portland include Widmer, Laurelwood, and Full Sail, and I’m REALLY loving a newish local brewery in my neighborhood called Sasquatch.

I have to say, and this is really true and not made up, that one of my absolute favorite all-time ales is called Copperhead. Yes. Really. It’s from the Free State Brewery in my hometown of Lawrence, KS, and I get one every time I go home (along with cheddar ale soup, and a basket of some seriously amazing fries.)

What’s next for you, this year and beyond?
Well, back in February when I found out about the Nebula nomination for Ironskin, I also found out that my editor wanted two more books from me, and that we were going to have our second child. (Exciting month, to say the least.) One of the two books is Ironskin 3, so I’ve been racing against the clock all year to get that turned in before the baby comes. And . . . I made it with about two weeks to spare. (Nothing like cutting it close!)

And then, ever so thankfully, the other book that Tor picked up is the YA I wrote just before Ironskin, called
Seriously Wicked. So next year I can TAKE IT EASY. HaHA! But seriously, the fact that SW is already written is the only thing that will allow me to have a 2015 book, so I am very glad about how that worked out.

I am also just flat-out excited to see Seriously Wicked come out at last. It is completely different than the Ironskin trilogy. It’s a standalone about a high school girl who lives with a *seriously wicked* witch who’s always trying to take over the world. It’s got pixies that look like frogs, a dragon who lives in an RV garage, a demon that sometimes imitates Elvis . . .it was tremendous fun to write.

Many thanks for having me on the blog, Kristin! And thanks all, for reading!

Keep up with Tina: Website | Twitter

copperheadAbout COPPERHEAD:
Set in an alternate version of early 1900s England, Copperhead is the sequel to Tina Connolly’s stunning historical fantasy debut.

Helen Huntingdon is beautiful—so beautiful she has to wear an iron mask.

Six months ago her sister Jane uncovered a fey plot to take over the city. Too late for Helen, who opted for fey beauty in her face—and now has to cover her face with iron so she won’t be taken over, her personality erased by the bodiless fey.

Not that Helen would mind that some days. Stuck in a marriage with the wealthy and controlling Alistair, she lives at the edges of her life, secretly helping Jane remove the dangerous fey beauty from the wealthy society women who paid for it. But when the chancy procedure turns deadly, Jane goes missing—and is implicated in a murder.

Meanwhile, Alistair’s influential clique Copperhead—whose emblem is the poisonous copperhead hydra—is out to restore humans to their “rightful” place, even to the point of destroying the dwarvven who have always been allies.

Helen is determined to find her missing sister, as well as continue the good fight against the fey. But when that pits her against her own husband—and when she meets an enigmatic young revolutionary—she’s pushed to discover how far she’ll bend society’s rules to do what’s right. It may be more than her beauty at stake. It may be her honor…and her heart.

ironskinAbout IRONSKIN:
Jane Eliot wears an iron mask.

It’s the only way to contain the fey curse that scars her cheek. The Great War is five years gone, but its scattered victims remain—the ironskin.

When a carefully worded listing appears for a governess to assist with a “delicate situation”—a child born during the Great War—Jane is certain the child is fey-cursed, and that she can help.

Teaching the unruly Dorie to suppress her curse is hard enough; she certainly didn’t expect to fall for the girl’s father, the enigmatic artist Edward Rochart. But her blossoming crush is stifled by her scars and by his parade of women. Ugly women, who enter his closed studio…and come out as beautiful as the fey.

Jane knows Rochart cannot love her, just as she knows that she must wear iron for the rest of her life. But what if neither of these things are true? Step by step Jane unlocks the secrets of a new life—and discovers just how far she will go to become whole again.

2 Comments:

  1. Yeah, I think I need to read these

  2. I have both of these books on my wish list/to buy list.

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