REVIEW: “We All Have to Start Somewhere: Finding Your Process and Making it Work For You” by Tina Connolly and Caroline M. Yoachim

Review of Tina Connolly and Caroline M. Yoachim, “We All Have to Start Somewhere: Finding Your Process and Making it Work for You”, in Tod McCoy and M. Huw Evans, eds., Pocket Workshop: Essays on Living as a Writer (Hydra House Clarion West Writers Workshop, 2021): 17-22 — Purchase here. Reviewed by Sara L. Uckelman. (Read the review of the anthology.)

What I loved about this co-written piece was the way the authors compared their own differences in process, using these as an illustration of how other writers can go about figuring out their own processes: What works for them, what doesn’t. Honestly, one of the most useful thing I’ve ever found, for my own writing, is listening to other people describe what they do, as it helps me understand the different ways the same building blocks can be put together, an invaluable skill when you’re sitting in a pile of bricks that keeps falling down around you. Watching some else build something out of their bricks can sometimes show you what you can do with your own bricks that you might never have thought of. And that’s what I got out of this piece — more ways to put my bricks together — but more than that, they also talk about what the bricks themselves can be, so now not only do I have more ways of building things, I have more things to build with.

If “we all have to start from somewhere”, where is that? Connolly discusses how she identified herself as a “character-driven” writer, and how this diagnosis helps her to troubleshoot blocks when they occur. Yoachim describes herself as “idea-driven”, and how much of the advice that is aimed at character-driven writers like Connolly doesn’t work for her. If your inspiration comes in the form “what if X were the case?”, then talk of character motivation is going to see irrelevant. Yoachim astutely diagnoses certain drawbacks that can accompany this sort of process, and provides advise on how to counteract them. But whether you are character-driven or idea-driven or something else altogether, their most important piece of advice works for everyone: The process of figuring out what type of writing process you use is itself invaluable.

REVIEW: “Twenty-Nine Responses to Inquiries About My CraigsList Post: Alien Spaceship for Sale. $200, you Haul.” by Tina Connolly

Review of Tina Connolly, “Twenty-Nine Responses to Inquiries About my CraigsList Post: Alien Spaceship for Sale. $200, you Haul.”, Unidentified Funny Objects 6, 2017.  pp. 64-67. Purchase here. Review by Ben Serna-Grey.

This one is pretty funny overall. Personally stories have a high chance of growing old quickly when it’s a clever/funny epistolary story, especially in the form of a quippy instruction manual or the like. But this one developed fairly well, pulled some genuine laughs from me, and didn’t overstay its welcome.

With Tina Connolly having the pedigree she does, I’m not surprised she pulled this one off so well. Recommended.

REVIEW: “Pipecleaner Sculptures and Other Necessary Work” by Tina Connolly

Review of Tina Connolly’s, “Pipecleaner Sculptures and Other Necessary Work”, Uncanny Magazine Volume, 19 (2017): Read Online. Reviewed by Jodie Baker.

“Pipecleaner Sculptures and Other Necessary Work” takes place aboard a generation ship where every resource must be carefully hoarded, and recycled, in order to ensure survival. In the midst of this scarcity, one robot caretaker has fought for the importance of art. Her name is Ninah, and you’re going to be heartbroken by the end of her simple, economically told story.

Ninah has gathered together pipecleaners, beads, and other scant resources so that the children she looks after can make sculptures and other artwork. While some on board the ship see these art projects as a trivial luxury she considers it a necessity: ‘Everyone needed work. Humans, children—androids.’ This line reflects the fact that ‘work’ can be defined as the need for a personal purpose as well as a type of production. Ninah has made sure that the children are stimulated and given the chance to be more than just a ship grown generation of colonists or soldiers. And in doing so, she has turned a mandatory care taking assignment into her own purpose.

Although the reader spends a very short time with Ninah, the story quickly builds a vivid sense of her history and her character. So, it is gutting to learn that when the ship lands in three months, Ninah, like the art projects the children make, will be re-purposed. It is even more heart-wrenching because caring, vibrant Ninah will become a military bot, and ‘she would not care. They would still call her Ninah, and she would still love her work.’ Ninah’s fate is an example of what happens when an identity is overridden by the practicalities of the state.

Tina Connolly’s story does soften this devastating blow slightly. In the end, a desire for a legacy, a sense of permanence, however small, wins out. And, while the ending is undeniably tragic, as there is no reprieve for Ninah, there is at least a bittersweet sense of triumph and defiance. Ninah will resonate with anyone caught in the grip of a society that values people for what, and how much, they produce rather than who they are. Or, y’know readers who just love crying about robots. They’ll like this story too. Definitely recommended to everyone who loved “Fandom for Robots“, for example.