by Connie Ward
What made you decide to become a fiction writer?
I’ve been writing fiction for almost as far back as I can remember. In grade school, I made picture books, and when I started reading mysteries and fantasy, I used to make up my own stories.
But I kept my writing pretty private for a long time. Creative-writing courses in college kind of kicked me in the gut. I was also really interested in social work and the LGBT community specifically, so I made a career in that. When my life settled down career-wise and personally in my thirties, I felt freer to take up writing seriously. Connecting with other writers built my confidence, and I started sending out my work for publication. Now I proudly tell people that I’m a fiction writer.
What type of stories do you write? And why?
Mostly I write fantasy, and every now and then I write short fiction that’s more contemporary and realistic. I’m drawn to legend and mythology. What motivates me the most is taking a story that people know and retelling it the way I’d like it to be. I love myths, fairy tales, and legends, but I also have a cynical, anti-authority streak that tends to make me think: what was the storyteller’s agenda? what was the real story here? and where were the queer people when this was going on? I’m turned on creatively by subverting heroes and villains, or even the whole moral of a story, to make it more complex and satisfying.
What do your family/friends think about your writing?
My husband is tremendously supportive, which makes him a candidate for sainthood. I definitely fall into that stereotype of the absent-minded, moody, withdrawn writer at times. He pulls me out of that when I’m neglecting important things, like him or having some semblance of a social life. On the other hand, he doesn’t stand for complaining or procrastinating, so when I have a writing deadline to meet, he pushes me along there as well.
A funny thing about telling people you’re a writer is that they assume you’re much more intelligent than you are. So my family and friends probably give me too much credit for all the time I spend holed up at the computer. My mom has always thought that everything I write is golden, so I also try not to let that go to my head.
Where do you get your ideas?
I guess I steal them, to an extent. I tend to start with a myth or a legend, and I reimagine the characters and storylines, and invent new characters, to make a story that grabs my fascination. Writing fantasy requires a lot of research. My two main projects deal with shifter mythology and the story of Atlantis respectively, so I read a lot about ancient cultures and traditions to get ideas about the setting, the religious or spiritual beliefs, and ways to create fantasy elements.
How do you write; do you plan everything out or just write?
I’ve become more of a plotter than a “pantser” over the years because I don’t have the kind of brain that can keep track of character and story trajectories after I’ve written, say, sixty pages. I use plot outlines and chapter outlines most of the time.
What makesThe Seventh Pleiade special to you?
TSP is my first novel. It took me five years to write so you can bet it’s special to me. Now that says a lot more about the steep learning curve for me in writing a novel versus the content of the story. I think writing a first novel is a lot like parenting one’s first child. You can study the subject and talk to other people who have done it, but there’s a lot of trial and error in the execution.
Getting the story right felt impossible at times. I did multiple rewrites, and I frequently despaired that the manuscript was intractable. But I kept going back to it because I loved it so much. It took me a long time to send it out for publication because I wanted it to be perfect.
That was unrealistic (obviously). Even now, after the manuscript has been edited multiple times, when I reread it, I think about little things I could have done differently. Overall though, I’m hugely proud of what I accomplished. I think the book is sweet and tragic and honest.
How much of yourself and the people you know are in your characters?
You’re asking someone trained in psychology, and I’m convinced that authors who say their stories are no reflection of themselves are lacking in self-awareness. The biographical elements aren’t necessarily transparent or direct, but everything that comes out of our brain is a product of our unique experience, or worldview, and the people and places that surround us.
Going a little deeper on that subject, writing a story is a way to work out our own emotional struggles—family issues, identity issues, relationship issues, or whatever. I’m not saying that goal is on the surface when you start writing, but I think it influences the story we choose to tell, the characters, their conflicts, etc.
Having said that, I think writing fantasy is a little different in that the story is far from my day-to-day life. I read some books by Edgar Cayce in researching Atlantis, but I don’t believe that I possess an ancestral connection to Atlanteans. The internal lives of the characters, particularly the main character of Aerander, reflect some of my own feelings about growing up as a gay man, falling in love, and having my heart broken. Traditions and beliefs about sexuality are different in Aerander’s world, but I wanted to explore how a gay boy would have dealt with his identity in a fiercely patriarchal culture. I think there’s an overlap with some contemporary issues for gay men in terms of how we view masculinity and femininity.
Which gay/lesbian authors inspired you the most? Do you have a favorite of this author(s)?
I read a lot of gay fiction. A short list of my favorite authors includes Michael Nava, Christopher Bram, Peter Cameron, Greg Herren, and Josh Lanyon.
My work in fantasy has been inspired by two authors who aren’t especially known for gay fiction or being gay themselves. I read absolutely everything by Gregory Maguire. His Wicked series fueled my interest in retold legends. Similarly, I was blown away when I discovered Douglas Clegg’s Mordred, Bastard Son, which takes the loathsome character from the King Arthur legend from a beautifully sympathetic angle.
Do you have any suggestions for new writers?
Some of the advice that helped me the most was this: don’t give up, keep to a writing routine, and grow a thick skin. We tend to be sensitive creatures, we writers. When you get a rejection or a bad review, I think it’s fine, helpful even, to cry and scream and curse the world with all its heartless injustice. But when you wake up the next day, sit your ass down and get back to writing. Take what you can use from the negative criticism. Leave the rest behind, and by all means don’t argue with it. Build relationships with other writers. Their feedback is a gift, and we all need collegial support.
When you’re not writing what do you do for fun?
Since I work full-time, writing takes a good portion of my leisure time. A nice night out for dinner with some close friends, a movie, a Broadway show—those are the little things I enjoy the most. My husband and I also do a fair amount of traveling. I especially like visiting ancient places. We’ve been to archeological sites in Europe and the Middle East. The Canary Islands and Peru are on my bucket list.