Tina Connolly lives with her family in Portland, Oregon. Her first fantasy novel, Ironskin, was a Nebula finalist, and the sequels Copperhead and Silverblind are now out from Tor. Her stories have appeared in Lightspeed, Tor.com, Strange Horizons, and Beneath Ceaseless Skies. She narrates for Podcastle and Beneath Ceaseless Skies, runs the Parsec-winning flash fiction podcast Toasted Cake, and her website is tinaconnolly.com.
There’s a trope, it seems to me, of the friendless woman. The one who soldiers on through her story with no support, no network. There’s a valid writing reason to this-make your character alone and friendless and they are in a more dire position. Sometimes it comes out of the Smurfette problem (if there’s only one girl in a story, she’s not going to have the opportunity to form a relationship with any other girls.) Sometimes, I think, it’s an exceptionalism problem. This girl, this girl we’re writing about, is different from all those other girls. (The mean girls, the makeup girls, the whatever girls.) Of course she couldn’t possibly be friends with those sorts of ordinary girls! She’s as good as a man! (Something my grandfather on my dad’s side once said to my feminist grandmother on my mom’s side. She was not amused.)
In Ironskin, Jane is, in fact, friendless. In part this is because Ironskin follows the Jane Eyre storyline-Jane is cut off at her employer’s house, alone. Additionally, my Jane is dealing with her fey curse of rage, which has driven everyone away from her. Her only real support is her sister Helen, and the two do not understand each other. This was all a deliberate choice, but I was glad that in Copperhead I could start exploring friendships.
In Copperhead, Helen also starts off friendless. Again, this is part of the sisters’ past-the after-effects of dealing with the Great War between the humans and the fey that shattered their family and left the young girls orphaned. And it is also part of her journey. Helen has made a new life for herself, by marrying into a much higher social position than the one she was born into. It is a bit precarious, and she stays there in part by playing the game. She has loads of social skills, loads of “friends”, but no actual friends. And in the course of her story, she begins to make some real friends for the first time in her life. I get to poke at how friendships begin. She meets a flamboyant theatre actress named Frye, a strong-willed musician named Alberta. Even a friendship with another woman from her new, higher-status group of acquaintances, Calendula, promises to develop into something real this time.
Silverblind is set 18 years later, and it’s about Dorie-Jane’s young charge in Ironskin. Dorie is half-fey, and in the political climate, it has to be kept dead secret, or she would be locked away. So I knew she would be hiding something, and I knew that would make her standoffish sometimes-but I also knew that I very much wanted her to have made friends over the years. And she did, she does. She has two-her best friend, Jack (short for Jacqueline), who knows her secret, and her next closest friend, Stella, who does not. (Jack is actually the niece of one of the close friends Helen makes in Copperhead, Alberta.) Their relationships are not perfect, of course! But they are strong. Jack and Dorie butt heads over long-standing annoyances, they make little mistakes, they make big mistakes. They pick up and make up and keep going on.
I always say I love writing about sibling and familial relationships (dear god I do), but really I love writing about all the different ways people bond or do not, and how those bonds strengthen or break. The back of my head keeps telling me that someday I’m going to work on a book that will be my Great! Friendship! Novel! The back of my head has not yet told me anything else about this book, but I’m looking forward to it.