by Connie Ward, Publicist
What made you decide to become a fiction writer?
I grew up in love with the story.
I was the kid who read under the covers by flashlight until Mom inevitably busted me. I was the pre-teen who walked around with a journal sticking out of my back pocket. I was the teenager who stashed my journal in my purse when folded-up notebooks in back pockets became “uncool.”
Somewhere in my twenties, I figured I should grow up and get a real job. Because, you know, the kid. And the mortgage. So I put away my dream of being a writer, stowed my journal in my hope chest, and told myself that I would write that book someday.
Know what? Waiting for someday really sucks.
I spent all of my twenties and thirties and half of my forties knowing intuitively that I was not walking the intended path for my life.
So at forty-five, I dusted off my journal and discovered it had transformed into a MacBook Pro over the years! But even that change was good. It meant I couldn’t possibly tuck it away in a purse or a pocket, no matter how hard the writing process got.
I guess I became a fiction writer for the same reason I read under the covers as a kid and carried a journal all throughout my childhood. I’m still in love with the story.
What type of stories do you write? And why?
I love, love, love young-adult fiction. It’s a form of literature that asks all the important questions and has the best darn time coming up with the most unexpected of answers. I am particularly drawn to stories about characters in the midst of a great cathartic change when everything once believed to be true is suddenly thrown into doubt. Struggles like those strip away all the impressive layers we wear, and the truest self emerges. Man, I love the privilege of witnessing that moment.
What do your family/friends think about your writing?
My family and friends are incredibly supportive. My husband, my son, and my close friends are my greatest cheerleaders. I lost my dad and only sibling many years ago so Mom is the only one remaining in my family of origin, but she also bursts with pride when she talks about my writing. This is a huge statement because what I write often differs from her worldview, but that doesn’t stop her from being supportive of me or understanding how important what I do is to me.
Where do you get your ideas?
It’s odd, but I frequently dream my characters. I now keep a notebook next to my bed. It certainly makes for entertaining nights, though by morning light the plots I’ve jotted down frequently read like an SNL skit and make me laugh just as hard. But the characters are often there, fairly fleshed out and with something compelling to say.
This doesn’t change when I’m actively drafting, by the way. In fact, it happens more often, and most of my best writing comes to me in the middle of the night. Sleep, I’ve decided, is something I’m willing to sacrifice when the words are bubbling up.
How do you write; do you plan everything out or just write?
I’ve tried both methods. In drafting Caught in the Crossfire, I was too inexperienced to know how to plot a book so I pantsed it like crazy and got lucky. I stumbled over a self-contained world and a set time frame and didn’t even have to think about those things. In revision I learned a ton about plotting and thought I would apply that to my second book, so I had every scene figured out before I wrote the first word.
Guess what? It didn’t work!
I missed the spontaneity of allowing my characters to surprise me. I even missed those middle-of-the-night writing binges (sort of) and wound up scrapping my plot and going back in blind.
Now, in my third book, I’ve learned what I think is the best method for me. I do have the major turning points figured out, as well as the destination for the book, but I invite my characters to influence how we get there. I think of this as holding my book lightly in my hands. Then, once the first draft is complete, I examine the plot and book structure with an analytical eye and apply everything I’ve learned about book structure.
What makes Caught in the Crossfire special to you?
Caught in the Crossfire is, I think, my heart story. As the affirming mom of a gay son and as the daughter of evangelical-Christian parents, I’ve lived inside this world and loved people on both side of this complex issue.
In fact, that’s why I originally wrote this book at all! After six years of painful arguments that were rending my family, I decided to take a gamble on my mother’s heart. I believed that if she could, even through the pages of a book, see the world through a young gay Christian’s eyes and hear the impact of phrases like pray the gay away, she would view this topic differently. So I wrote my story and shared it with her. Believe me when I say I paced holes in my living-room floor while I waited for her verdict.
She did read an early draft of Caught in the Crossfire and immediately called me to tell me that it had moved her to tears. In fact, she wanted to have a heart-to-heart conversation with my son, and this time, she wanted to hear what he had to say.
Initially I had no intention of my little story going beyond my family, but a teacher at the Loft Literary Center, Megan Atwood, encouraged me. “There are more moms, more sons out there, Juliann,” she said. So I queried agents.
I knew the odds. I’d read the blogs that quoted the statistics. So no one was more surprised than I to find an agent who loved my story and who ultimately found the best possible home for it at Bold Strokes Books.
Sharing a story I wrote for my family with the world is indescribable. Forty percent terror. What if it flops? This is my heart on the page here. Eighty-five percent hope. What if it touches someone? What if it helps even one kid, one family? And if those numbers are greater than one hundred percent, that’s simply because my love for this story is as well.
How much of yourself and the people you know are in your characters?
Such a good question! I appreciate the opportunity to say this: Jonathan Cooper, my main character in Caught in the Crossfire, is not my son. In fact, there couldn’t be two more different guys! Yet quite a few people think that Jonathan must be some reflection of my own child, and that’s simply not the case.
However—spoiler alert—it wouldn’t be too big of a stretch for me to see myself in Simon and my husband’s good heart and love of Native American spirituality in Dawn.
That said, it is true that I grew up immersed in the Christian community, and I suppose that all the people I’ve known from that world are, to some degree, sitting somewhere along the shore of Spirit Lake.
Which gay/lesbian authors inspired you the most? Do you have a favorite
of this author(s)?
The very first book I read with a gay character was James Baldwin’s Giovanni’s Room. Talk about diving in deep, right? I bawled for the better part of a month over that book. But it sparked a deep love of the characters, the conflicts, and the courage that can be found in LGBTQ literature. I have since fallen in love with many other authors of GLBTQ literature: David Levithan, Radclyffe, Malinda Lo, Ellen Hart, Joan Drury, David-Matthew Barnes, Julie Anne Peters, James Klise, Rachel Gold, Kirstin Cronn-Mills, Brian Farrey-Latz, Andy Peters, Greg Herren, Lynda Sandoval, Jeremy Jordan King, Jennifer LaVoie, and KE Payne. The list is too long to name, but I have to say this: Alex Sanchez’s The God Box, perhaps more than any other book, showed me how to affirm my child while retaining my faith. To have Alex write an advanced review blurb for Caught in the Crossfire is a dream come true.
Do you have any suggestions for new writers?
Yes, I do, though specifically for authors of young-adult literature:
Write what you love.
Write what you’re passionate about.
Write for the one reader who is closest to your heart.
Write whatever you need to write so that kid’s voice is heard.
Do that, and you’ll achieve the truest definition of success.
When you’re not writing what do you do for fun?
Well…if I’m being honest…I squeeze my rear into pants that aren’t A) pajama bottoms or B) made of spandex. Then I venture forth into the world where I try to remember how to talk to the people who live outside my head. Many of them are adults so I frequently embarrass myself by saying things like “snotsicles are craptastic,” but they love me and understand it’s an occupational hazard for a Minnesota author of young-adult lit.
Three days per week, I go to my part-time job at a clinic where I remember that life is best when it’s spent in service to others.
On a far too infrequent basis, I go on dates with my husband, have lunch with my friends, spend an afternoon with my mother, or take my son out for a movie and Thai food.
Quite often, in the in-between moments of my very full life, I cuddle my dogs, Sherlock and Bella. They don’t mind if I’m sporting stretchy pants and have forgotten to shower in my quest for the written word, so that’s always a plus.