News Ticker

[GUEST POST] Special Needs in Strange Worlds: Tina Connolly on Special Needs in the IRONSKIN Series

NOTE: This installment of Special Needs In Strange Worlds features a guest post from author Tina Connolly! – Sarah Chorn

Tina Connolly lives in Portland, Oregon with her family, 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. Her debut fantasy novel IRONSKIN wasd released by Tor Books in 2012. The sequel COPPERHEAD was reelased in 2013. Her latest book is SILVERBLIND. She is a frequent reader for Podcastle, and narrates the Parsec-winning flash fiction podcast Toasted Cake. In the summer she works as a face painter, which means a glitter-filled house is an occupational hazard. Her website is

Special Needs in the IRONSKIN Series

by Tina Connolly

This post is kind of a melange of issues as I thought through what had been important to me over the course of writing my trilogy. In the world of the Ironskin series, some people were hit by fey shrapnel in the Great War five years earlier-the ironskin. Each person hit by fey shrapnel has to deal with both the physical effects of the injury-grotesque scarring-and the mental effects-a sort of emotional curse. The ironskin must cover their scars with iron, or the curses will affect all those around them with rage, or fear, or depression, or…

In Ironskin, it was important to me that Jane’s difficulties should not be easily washed away at the end. Jane has scarring over half of her face, and the curse of rage. (Of course, she has reason to be angry anyway…) Ironskin is partly a book about war, and the after-effects of war. I cannot erase everything that Jane’s been through and have her magically be cured. Her journey is that of trying to heal herself and come to a different place, so although I wanted her to achieve some of her goals, I also wanted to find an ending for her that did not wave a wand and make everything fixed. Because that is not how life works.

Copperhead expanded the scope to look at a hundred women. The women who have chosen to be fey-beautiful are in danger from the fey. Jane’s sister, Helen, is trying to find Jane, but to stay safe, she and the rest of The Hundred always have to have their iron masks to leave the house. This makes Helen, and the other women, vulnerable not just physically from the fey, but vulnerable within society because they can so easily be deprived of their freedom. There are many strong women in this book, and yet they are dependent on a piece of technology that can be taken away.

Silverblind is the newest one, so I’ll stay away from spoilers, but I would like to mention a couple minor but important characters, both of whom are ironskin. Silverblind is set 18 years after the first two books, so both Colin and Moira have been dealing with their curses a long time.

Colin has hunger as his curse, and he talks about all his coping strategies. I had really unfun pregnancies that included severe morning sickness, and I thought about my coping strategies while writing Colin. Is this a day when I can drive; if so, do I have my water/almonds/nausea pills; how far can I walk once I’m there; how far away is the nearest bench if I get dizzy; can I still eat almonds; oh dear, no; can I still drive home; can I wear out my two-year-old before he wears me out; can I meet any of my deadlines; well, which one can slide a little more; et cetera. This is not a world where you can medicate for fey curses, and Dorie muses that the ironskin who have not come up with a suite of coping skills over the last 18 years are the ones who are no longer around.

The other ironskin I want to mention is a physician named Moira, who has depression. In early chapters of Ironskin, Jane’s original curse was depression. (It turns out it is really hard to have a driving force to your book, if your protagonist, who is supposed to propel the plot, is depressed.) But it was something I wanted to talk about-not so much in the rational sense of “oh, I have a plan to talk about this,” and more in the sense of, it was something from my subconscious that kept working its way in.

Moira was an intriguing character for me because she is someone who has depression, but also someone who has lasted two decades with it. So clearly she does have coping skills. In her case, it is her work as a women’s doctor in a poor area of town that gives her a purpose to continue, even though the depression is there every single day. (Of course, I’m not asserting that in our world, someone should soldier on for two decades without treatment-Moira was working with what she had.) I drew on my experiences again to describe her feeling: The metaphor I like, she says, is a wet wool blanket. And every day, you have to tell yourself that the blanket is imaginary. That it doesn’t belong to you; that it’s not your job to carry it…

About John DeNardo (13012 Articles)
John DeNardo is the Managing Editor at SF Signal and a columnist at Kirkus Reviews. He also likes bagels. So there.

1 Comment on [GUEST POST] Special Needs in Strange Worlds: Tina Connolly on Special Needs in the IRONSKIN Series

  1. Paul Weimer // October 7, 2014 at 5:00 am //

    Thanks for sharing this, especially about Moira. Especially.

Comments are closed.

%d bloggers like this: