Welcome back to The Pop Quiz at the End of the Universe, a recurring series here on Tor.com featuring some of our favorite science fiction and fantasy authors, artists, and others!
Today we’re joined by author Tina Connolly, who lives with her family in Portland, Oregon, in a house that came with a dragon in the basement and blackberry vines in the attic. Her stories have appeared all over, including in Strange Horizons, Lightspeed, and Beneath Ceaseless Skies. She is also a frequent reader for Podcastle, and narrates the Parsec-winning flash fiction podcast Toasted Cake. Connolly’s historical fantasy series Ironskin continues with Silverblind, available now from Tor Books. Read an excerpt here, and check out Connolly’s stand alone short story “Old Dead Futures”—a Tor.com exclusive!
Connolly brings up an excellent point below: why aren’t there any art supply stores in the wizarding world?
What is your favorite short story?
Oh, this changes every week, but right this very second it’s James Tiptree Jr’s “The Screwfly Solution,” which I just helped narrate for a full-cast recording for Pseudopod’s 400th episode. I love Tiptree’s work, and every time I re-read this story I find new horrible layers in it.
I can’t play favorites with my Toasted Cake Podcast stories, but I will mention just one – for the 100th episode, I ran Erica L. Satifka’s “Thirty-Six Interrogatories Propounded by the Human-Powered Plasma Bomb in the Moments Before Her Imminent Detonation,” which first appeared at Daily SF in 2013. I love interesting structures, and this had a great one—as well as being a powerful piece of flash.
Describe your favorite place to read or write.
To write? With my teensy laptop on the couch.
To edit? At my desktop, next to the lovely (distracting) window.
To read? Mmm, outside on a perfect day (70s, sunny, breezy), ideally in a chair so comfy I can also take a nap in the middle of my reading, and then wake up and read some more. (Given that I have two small children I will admit this hasn’t happened for awhile, but hope springs eternal.)
What’s your favorite sandwich?
BLT. The bread should be fresh, the lettuce abundant, the tomatoes from the backyard, and the bacon crispy. Also I’m not a purist and it’s pretty darn good with basil or avocado.
So, after finding Dragonsong, I was really sold on the fire lizards of McCaffrey’s novel. (C’mon, guys, Menolly imprints nine fire lizards and gets to go to music boarding school. This is The Best.) I think that’s why when I was working on Silverblind last year, I seized the chance to slip a tiny dragon into my work. Dorie is supposed to be hunting wyvern eggs—everyone is—but she accidentally ends up with tiny wyvern that won’t leave her alone. Now of course my wyverns aren’t telepathic, they like to yodel at hugely inconvenient times, and they’re not too fond of being stuffed in a purse so no one will see them. But. Tiny Dragon Pet.
What was your gateway to SF/Fantasy, as a child or young adult?
I don’t remember a time when I was NOT reading fantasy as a kid, but I very specifically remember the moment (or rather, two moments) when I found adult F/SF. It started by finding McCaffrey’s Dragonsong in the kids’ section of the Bookmobile when we were living in California. And then, trying to figure out where they shelved the rest of her dragon books landed me in adult SF where it turned out people had been keeping a HUGE SECRET from me all my life about the existence of MOAR FANTASY BOOKS.
If you could open a new shop in Diagon Alley, what would you sell?
Is there a magical art supplies store in Diagon Alley yet? That, then.
If you could find one previously undiscovered book by a non-living author, who would it be? Why?
Now? I would instantly say Jane Austen. Like, I would pay ridiculously good money for that.
As a kid, I would have said another Oz book from Baum or Thompson. I used to have fairly regular dreams about browsing an old bookshop and finding a new Oz book I hadn’t read. (There’s some justification to this—as a pre-internet kid reader, I remember being shocked and giddy to discover first Oz #2 in my Scholastic mailer, then #3-14 in the old Adventure Bookstore in Lawrence (and saving up for those, one at a time), then, randomly going to the Topeka Library once with my dad and finding a whole bunch more from Ruth Plumly Thompson just casually sitting out on a spinny rack… It always seemed like such a good shock might still happen yet again.) (IT STILL MIGHT.)
What’s your favorite fairy tale, or fairy tale retelling?
So, since it took me so long to discover the adult F/SF section (to be fair, in my hometown library in Lawrence it was in the basement) I read my way through the entire kids’ section. And the Lawrence Public Library did have a huge fairy tale collection, so I went through all those, multiple times. One of my favorite things was not a specific fairy tale, but rather that there were multiple iterations of so many fairy tales. That really informed my love of worlds where, either, Rashomon-style, you see different interpretations of the same events, or where, you flat-out see same events occurring different ways, like Diana Wynne Jones’ Hexwood. (There is a lot of this multiplicity in the Ironskin series, and especially in Silverblind.)
One that really stuck with me was the strange curse laid on the narrator in “Kisa the Cat” (I eventually wrote a short story about this, “One Ear Back,” that’s in Beneath Ceaseless Skies), and another was the deception and impersonation in “The Goose-girl” (not to mention the horrifying ending.) I’ve been noodling around on an idea from that story for years—perhaps someday it’ll crystallize into a novel…