by Connie Ward
What made you decide to become a fiction writer?
Bull-headedness, I suppose. I know that sounds flip, but I think stubbornness and persistence have a lot to do with it. When I was deciding what to study in college and I said I wanted to be a writer, my parents told me, “Well, if you want to do that, do something practical like journalism.” Go ahead, laugh. I know how ridiculous that sounds now, but it was 1987 and nobody really had a clue how much the media landscape would shift.
I kept writing fiction off and on during that time though, and after about twenty years (practically overnight!) I started getting stories published in anthologies. One thing led to another, which led to Detours, my first novel.
What type of stories do you write? And, why?
Fun stories, I hope. I tend not to stick to one particular genre—which probably makes me tough to market! I’ve written science fiction, romance, erotica, nonfiction, and probably a few genres I’m forgetting. I also write straight-on literary fiction, but I do tend to enjoy a bit of the weird and more than a touch of the gay. I like mashing up genres because it makes me look at the usual in a different way. At the most basic level I hope that someone reads what I write and is entertained. If they’re moved on a deeper level, then I’ve really done my job.
What do your family/friends think about your writing?
Everyone’s been really supportive. My friends and family are some of my biggest boosters, cheerleaders, and all-around pep squad. Probably the most meaningful review I’ve gotten of my writing was from my dad when he read Detours and told my mother, “Wow, the kid can write.”
Where do you get your ideas?
The produce section. I try to buy in bulk.
But seriously, they come from all over the place—random bits of conversation, things I read in passing, eavesdropping. I just tend to jot them down to have them on hand for future reference. I’ve also written stories based on parameters in calls for submission—I think the question on what types of stories I write has some bearing on this. I try not to limit myself; as long as it’s a topic or a genre I’m interested in, I’ll give it a go. And if I say to myself, “Oh, I can’t write that; I’ve never tried” I try to follow it up with, “Well then, how do you know?”
Also, it’s a well-known fact that ideas will come to you at the least opportune moments: in the shower, right before bed, or when you’re in the middle of a run and have nothing to write on. The notes app on a phone can be handy on a run, but electronics and showers don’t mix well, and writing in the dark is simply impossible.
How do you write; do you plan everything out or just write?
A little of both. If it’s a book, I usually start by the seat of my pants until I know it’s got legs, and then I pause and start working out a plan. This usually happens after about fifty pages. I’m not sure why it seems to happen in that range, but it does. If it’s a short story, I may just seat-of-the-pants it all the way through.
When I revise, I like to work on a hard copy. One sort of idea I got from writer Alexander Chee, when I’m revising, I lay out as many pages as I can on a big table so I can see the story, this big thing that it’s become. It makes it easier to see where things are too long or too short, and to start shuffling things around and making connections that aren’t as evident when it’s viewed linearly, one page at a time.
Sadly, it means I use up a lot of dead trees. This is why I try to always buy recycled printer paper.
I don’t always write on a computer either. Back home, I have a Remington Quiet-Riter (yes, that’s how the model name’s spelled) typewriter. My partner bought it for me years ago, and I start writing on it when I need to slow down. If I need to really slow down, I grab a pen and paper. I’ve also been known to peck out a story draft on my phone. Writing on buses is a thing, I tell you.
What makes The Unwanted special to you?
It’s odd, I don’t remember when or how I set out to write a YA novel, but now it feels like the most natural thing. I had it in mind when I started writing “The Trouble with Billy,” which was in the anthology Speaking Out. I wanted to get to know the characters a little better, and that story was the result. I think they’ve changed a bit in the transition from that story to the novel, but they’re no less special to me.
When I was a teenager back in the ’80s, there weren’t a lot of options when I looked hesitantly for books with queer characters that I could relate to. I found writers like Alan Hollinghurst and Armistead Maupin, but they were writing about (wonderful) characters at a significant remove from my own age and experience. There just wasn’t a lot of queer YA; Edmund White’s A Boy’s Own Story was probably the closest, but that felt more like an adult book to me too.
Plus, I loved reading fantasy and science fiction as a kid, and finding a book in those genres with queer characters just wasn’t happening. The Unwanted is the sort of thing I wanted to read when I was a teenager.
How much of yourself and the people you know are in your characters?
That’s a tricky one, isn’t it? When I was doing readings for Detours, someone asked how my mother felt about being in my book. “Well, she’s not in it” was my answer, and it’s true. Rachel, the mother in Detours, is nothing like my mother, who is far more formidable and very much alive (and has never, to my knowledge, worn a peach silk robe).
At the same time, I would be lying if I said my characters were completely devoid of traits from people I’ve known in real life. It’s never a conscious thing, but you assemble characters from the raw materials of your memory, and there’s no telling where those things came from. There is no one in my stories or novels who is cut whole cloth from someone I know. Besides, where’s the fun in that?
Which gay/lesbian authors inspired you the most? Do you have a favorite of this author(s)?
My friends and peers who write inspire me: Rob Byrnes, Greg Herren, Carsen Taite, Tom Mendicino. ’Nathan Burgoine in particular, because we both published out first short stories in the same anthology (Fool for Love: New Gay Fiction). My favorite author is actually straight (and dead): F. Scott Fitzgerald.
Do you have any suggestions for new writers?
Don’t listen too much to the advice given by other writers. :) Just write, don’t stop writing, and you’ll figure out what works for you.
When you’re not writing what do you do for fun?
Sleep. I also work out regularly: running, weightlifting, yoga. I just took up climbing, which I’m still terrible at, but it’s a lot of fun. And painful. You’d think I’d be in better shape doing all this stuff, but unfortunately I have an inordinate love of cheese. My partner and I watch movies a lot. At the moment I’m in grad school getting my MFA in creative writing, and when I’m not writing I’m exploring Vancouver, which is an amazing, beautiful place.
And I read. I read a lot.
Which is the favorite of the books/stories you’ve written and why?
That’s like asking a parent which is your favorite kid. For my writing, it’s always the most recent thing I’ve finished. Seriously, if someone asked me a question about a story I wrote even a couple years ago, I’d probably have a hard time remembering the characters’ names, much less the details. I have a terrible memory, which is why I write everything down. The project I’m working on at the moment is the one that commands my attention and my interest.
I guess that makes me sound pretty fickle, doesn’t it?