Personal Essay: Tina Connolly
Podcasting connects people. I really believe this. You take a story, a strong story, one that was already going to affect its reader. And you deliver it through a new medium, one that is even more intimate than eyeballs on a page—words in your ear. A good narrator, one that fits the story, gets to jump into the middle of the author-reader connection and form two more bonds—narrator-listener, and author-narrator. Beyond that, the spoken word can connect both narrator and listener more strongly to the story itself.
I’ve been lucky enough to experience all points of this triangle—author, narrator, and listener. And every time, I come away with new connections.
Author. My friendship with Norm Sherman started because of his brilliant reading of my story “On the Eyeball Floor” for Escape Pod. It made me aware of Drabblecast, and afterwards, I both wrote and narrated for them, and then Norm asked me to co-host Escape Pod earlier this year, so here we are full circle.
Listener. (Okay, and narrator too. But this counts; you’ll see—) I was thrilled to get to read the part of Anne in James Tiptree Jr.’s “The Screwfly Solution” for the full cast 400th episode of Pseudopod. Tiptree is obviously brilliant, and this is my favorite of her stories. Completely chilling—completely believable. Using a full cast brought out all the contrasts—the two lone women’s voices against the sea of men—the newspaper clippings, the congressional report—it was incredibly effective in illustrating Tiptree’s clear-eyed depiction of how quickly violence against women can escalate, and how little is often done to stop it. I have listened to this recording multiple times, and each time I go in and quickly forget my part in it. I fall into the multiplicity of voices that make up this narration. I am connected more wholly to the story, forced to listen to every terrifying word.
Narrator. It’s a wonderful thing, to be entrusted with someone’s work. I’ve narrated about 30 stories for Escape Artists at this point, but the very first stories I ever narrated for anyone, ever, were for Rachel Swirsky at Podcastle. For my second story, she sent me a piece by Eugie Foster, whose work I already admired.
Okay. Segue here.
When I was in college, I studied abroad in Paris. I make no apologies for how hipster this next bit sounds, but I decided I would not take any photos. No, I was going to take my pen and watercolors instead, and sketch anything I really wanted to remember. That way I might actually remember it.
Hipster. Yeah. Okay. But I gotta say, sitting down to really study something for a half-hour actually did make me remember those places I captured. I clipped the pictures out of my journal when I got home and framed them for my mother and grandmother, who helped me go on the trip. I look at those paintings now and I remember sitting at the Parc de la Villette, and the French kid who asked to borrow some matches, and I carefully replied that I only had a shepherdess in my backpack.
It’s the same thing when you sit down to narrate a story. At least for me, anyway. I have to stop and think about what I really love about the story. What makes it unique. I read it silently, then aloud. It forces me to slow down and appreciate the text, the subtext, the work that the author put in. I cannot gloss when I am reading each word.
I thought hard about “The Tanuki-Kettle”, the first story I narrated for Eugie. And though I listen to it now and am dubious about some of my beginner’s choices, I remember how much thought I put into it at the time.
I never got to meet Eugie, but from that point on, I felt a distant connection with her. I had read her words aloud. I had thought hard about her choices.
I was deeply honored to narrate her last, lovely story, “When It Ends, He Catches Her.” In some way, I felt that these two stories outlined my arc from very beginning narrator, to someone who could be entrusted with her final story. I will always be grateful to Pseudopod for giving me that chance, and that honor. That connection.
Tina Connolly is the author of the Ironskin fantasy trilogy from Tor Books, and the Seriously Wicked YA series from Tor Teen. Her novels have been finalists for the Nebula and the Norton. Check out the short story that helps establish the Seriously Wicked series “That Seriously Obnoxious Time I Was Stuck At Witch Rimelda’s One Hundredth Birthday Party.”
Her stories have appeared on all Escape Artists’ podcasts, and are now collected in “On the Eyeball Floor and Other Stories” from Fairwood Press. She co-hosts at Escape Pod, runs the Parsec-winning flash fiction podcast Toasted Cake, narrates stories at Beneath Ceaseless Skies, and at all Escape Artists podcasts, and you can find her at tinaconnolly.com.