A few weeks ago, I discovered that it was a lot of fun to hand people some casual interview questions and see what they had to say. This is the fourth interview I’m putting on the blog.
I met Tina Connolly in 2006 when she went to the Clarion West Writers Workshop where I’d gone the year before. Weirdly, I can’t tell you a single thing about the first time I met her 10(I wonder if she remembers? Tina, perhaps you’ll enlighten me later), but I’m sure I instantly liked her–she’s warm, smart, and a great storyteller, in person and on paper.
I published Tina several times during my run as editor at PodCastle. I’m not sure what my favorite piece was, but here’s one that’s fun — “The Goats Are Going Places.” She’s also a smart, funny narrator who read a lot of stories for us. As a narrator, she eventually started her own podcast, Toasted Cake (unfortunatey now retired), which used to run flash fiction reprints. Here she is reading one of my stories, “Again and Again and Again,” on Toasted Cake.
Tina doesn’t always write humor–her Ironskin trilogy, for instance, is a mix of steampunk, Jane Eyre, and malevolent fairies (check it out if that sounds interesting to you)–but, for me at least, her fiction always has a core of warmth like the one she radiates in person.
Tina also recently took a turn into writing young adult novels, starting with the recently published Seriously Wicked.
I love the humor in your writing. You have a natural, quirky voice when you write humor that doesn’t seem cliche or affected. How did you come into writing humor, and how do you approach it?
Thanks, Rachel! I love writing humor. This kind of goes with your next question, but I’m sure I started writing humor from the same reason that I loved performing. I used to say that my favorite role was the be the comedic lead in a drama. Because you get so much juicy stuff to do, and because the audience is so glad to see you. I loved being comic relief.
And I suppose also that this is my favorite kind of story—where comedy and drama are blended. Even my darker stories tend to have funny bits sneak in, and my funny stories are generally grounded by more serious themes.
On a micro level, I’m not sure if I have any advice on how I approach humor – I have a tendency to go for the joke and I indulge that. (And then, sadly, sometimes you do have to cut jokes that are dragging down the pacing.) On a macro level, I used to do a lot of farces, and I found that the sort of fast-paced plot of Seriously Wicked worked on an intuitive level for me. First you get all the plates spinning, and then you run back and forth opening and slamming the doors….eventually someone gets a pie in the face.
I know you’ve spent time on the stage. When I’m writing, I find that the comedic timing I learned from playing comedic roles helps with figuring out how to write and land humor. Do you draw on those skills?
YES. Timing is very important to me. I often write by rhythm – like, I’m not sure what is going to go in the second half of this witty banter but it needs to have a specific number of beats. My first drafts are littered with “X”s as placeholders.
In general, my time in theatre has been helpful – when I started writing I had no clue about plot, but I spent a lot of time thinking about characters – what they would and wouldn’t do. One thing that was challenging for me at the beginning is that I would leave too much unsaid, because it was always clear to me what complex things the characters were thinking! And then I slowly figured out how to get more of that out of my head and on the page.
Lately I’ve been doing playwriting and thinking about this stuff all over again. For example, there’s a good reason you’re told not to do a ‘as you know Bob” infodump in prose. And you think, sure, that’s good advice, but if you’re a beginning writer you might not understand why. But boy, when you see it on stage – one character monologuing with no purpose behind it except to infodump – you can feel the energy drop like a rock. Dialogue must be persuasive.
You recently began publishing young adult fiction as well as books for us grown-ups. What are you finding inspiring and wonderful about YA?
Even with my adult fiction, I tend to write about younger characters just starting to figure things out. I think the thing that’s wonderful about the young adult / early adulthood time period is that there’s so much you do need to figure out, and it makes for many dramatic life choices and learning arcs.
Face painting. You do it. Tell me an awesome story about face painting.
I took my face paints to Clarion West in 2006, and again to Kij Johnson’s novel workshop at KU in 2012. Great fun. Vernor Vinge was our teacher that week at CW and he let me paint a goldfish on his cheek (something about the singularity…) And Kij picked a praying mantis, and Vylar Kaftan picked a Cthulhu. It wasn’t a very good Cthulhu, but I’ve been practicing. The next one will be better.
Lovecraft, Marie Antoinette, and President Obama are all clamoring for face paint at your booth at the fair. You’ve asked them what they want, but they trust your artistic instincts. So, what are you going to paint?
Lovecraft obviously gets the improved Cthulhu. Antoinette… well, I do have a cute cupcake arm. But I think she would be happiest with the delicate swirlies around the eye, with the sparkles. Obama – well, I have to take into account the fact that I would be simultaneously super nervous and really really wanting to do a good job, so it would not be a good time to attempt something new and ridiculous. I’ve got a nice standby of an American flag with fireworks arm painting (July 4th is a popular time to hire a face painter) so I’d probably suggest that. I think his media relations people would approve that one, too.
The projects question. What are you working on, and what’s coming out?
I just turned in Seriously #2 (which is titled Seriously Shifted, and involves a whole quartet of wicked witches), and that’s due out November 2016 from Tor Teen. I’m just starting in on Seriously #3, which will be out November 2017. In the meantime, I also have my debut collection (On the Eyeball Floor and Other Stories) coming from Fairwood Press in August 2016 – there’ll be a release party at WorldCon in Kansas City!
Source: Rachel Swirsky’s blog