By Connie Ward
What made you decide to become a fiction writer?
I don’t know that I decided to be a fiction writer so much as acknowledged that a fiction writer is what I am, who I am. Writing is something I always did—stories and poems as creative apologies for whatever trouble found me as a child, extra-credit essays and stories for my teachers all through grade and high school, and a literature minor and fiction workshop in college. I wrote a novel out of boredom during a corporate internship and wrote short stories with a good friend early in my business consulting career. When my good friend, Benita Newton, who unfortunately passed on before I truly acknowledged myself as a writer, encouraged me to think about writing as a career, I fought it, thought I could do it as a hobby, but not so. I quit my consulting gig and moved to Chicago to work full-time on my MFA. It was the only way I knew to make the transition, so maybe that was the decision, that was the acknowledgement. I had to go all in. This ain’t no part-time thing. It’s who I am. I was hard-headed about it, but here I am.
What type of stories do you write? And why?
I write character-driven stories. I love people, meeting people and getting to know people. Characters are people on the page. And I feel like I meet characters the same way I meet people in real life. A character introduces him or herself in a word, a line, a scene, and if I’m open and ready, I get to write it down. I get to know them while I write, and then I look for the opportunity to introduce them to the world.
What do your family/friends think about your writing?
My family and friends love my work, of course! Seriously, I’ve been blessed to have really supportive people in my corner, people who believe in my work and my voice. I consider myself still very early in my career, so I’m just praying that they stay with me and keep supporting me as I push myself to write more challenging, surprising stories.
Where do you get your ideas?
I journal a lot. I write whatever comes to mind, or to heart, and use writing prompts. I’ve recently discovered that being in a new place or an interesting place provides a sort of prompt in itself. Journal prompts while at Saints and Sinners in New Orleans a few years ago is actually where Let the Lover Be came from, so I guess it works.
How do you write; do you plan everything out or just write?
Both. In the beginning stages, I just write. I do different prompts, different scenes, different snatches of dialogue. None of it is connected. I just write what I can, when I can, however it comes out. If it’s looking like I might have something, then I start thinking about structure and plans for getting it into novel or story form. After I have a plan, I try to stick to it, at least to get a good first draft down. But I don’t write in blood or chisel anything into a stone tablet, so anything that changes along the way, I don’t hesitate to change it and see where the characters want to take me.
What makes Let the Lover Be special to you?
Let the Lover Be is special because it’s my first published novel. It represents a very special shift in the way I approach my writing. I mostly work on shorter pieces—short stories and sometimes essays—so writing a novel is a different sort of challenge. Yet, when I thought about the work I would like to produce as a novelist, I knew I had to get to the business of writing. Let the Lover Be was about that business. The business of ass in the chair, fingers on the keyboard, go. Writing without flinching and writing without stopping until the work was done. This novel means that I can go where I need to go to get what I need to do done.
How much of yourself and the people you know are in your characters?
This is a difficult question to answer because I hate to be clichéd and say, “Oh, the characters are a composite…blah, blah, blah.” A cliché is a cliché for a reason though, right? I don’t know how to measure it, mostly because I never know how much of myself or someone I know is going to show up in a character. It’s never a one-to-one, but I do believe that every character comes from someone or something I know, used to know, or wish I knew, and when it comes down to those three instances, it would be difficult not to see someone or something familiar in any character.
Which gay/lesbian authors inspired you the most? Do you have a favorite
of this author(s)?
James Baldwin and Audre Lorde. Both of them wrote about everything at all times. That’s what I love about their work. Politics, relationships, race, tragedy, triumph, sex, and love, always love. I want to write like that. I want to write about everything. And there is an honesty to their work, a brutal, cleansing honesty that cannot be denied. Baldwin and Lorde were always themselves. They always faced the shit, no matter how hard or ugly or uncomfortable. That makes their work beautiful. Honest and beautiful.
Do you have any suggestions for new writers?
As always, write a lot and read even more. Lately, though, I’ve been beating the self-motivation drum like djembe! Writers have got to be proactive in the new world of publishing and marketing. Social media presence, online presence, blogs, reviews, online journals, traditional journals—you’ve got to do it all. Schedule time to write, but also schedule time to manage your career. Put yourself (your work) out there so publishers and readers can see you!
When you’re not writing what do you do for fun?
I have lots of interests and am always looking to add to the list. Lately, I’ve been traveling, spending time in my portable hammock, going for walks, listening to records, and taste-testing ginger beers.
Which is the favorite of the books/stories you’ve written and why?
One of my favorite stories is “I Do All My Own Stunts,” which is a short story from my collection, Once and Future Lovers. I like it because it’s a story that follows a character from childhood to adulthood using bicycles as guideposts. The story is like snapshots to me, a different picture marking these moments in the character’s life that all build upon each other, even if the character doesn’t know it. The reader knows it. We know it. And we come to understand something about our experiences and memories, about the objects and things we remember. A bike is not just a bike in that story, and even in writing it, I didn’t know how much was happening in it even though it doesn’t feel like it.