By Connie Ward
What made you decide to become a fiction writer?
In all honesty, I really don’t know. I’m pretty sure I didn’t consciously decide. It’s just something that came, something I have to do. I love stories. People’s stories run through my head, everyone speaking in their unique rhythm of the English language and its various accents and corruptions. They find places in what I write.
And in a way, writing is the fruition of everything else I’ve done in my life, particularly my youth in theater, and later through most of my adult life, as a curator and exhibition designer. Those professions are about creating worlds, creating environments based on a narrative. (Even art shows, when they’re good, have a narrative thread). So I’ve always created worlds. Now I create them with words instead of physical contexts.
What type of stories do you write? And why?
I write crime and mystery fiction. The genre suits me, it gets right to the meat of things. I like digging around to find the humanity of the denizens who exist on the bad side of the Law. Despite the evils they must overcome or even perpetrate, they either have to clutch tight to whatever shred of humanity they have left or let go of their humanity altogether. Some of my characters choose the former, some the latter, but at some point in their lives, they’ve faced that decision. I find that fascinating.
Also, there’s a certain lure to the outlaw life. The freedom of it, even though it’s a dangerous freedom, is seductive. After all, doesn’t everyone love the legend of Jesse James? ☺ For my protagonist, Cantor Gold, an art smuggler and very out, very dapper butch, this dangerous freedom is important. In mid-century America (Criminal Gold is set in 1949; the series will continue through the 1950s), LGBTQ people had no civil rights. They were criminals just for being who they were. To counter this, Cantor doesn’t even think in terms of “rights.” She thinks in terms of freedom, which she claims for herself, despite the dangers of arrest for being a smuggler and a lesbian. “Rights” and “Freedom” are not the same thing, though of course, the one can confer the other. And that’s the problem: “Rights” are bestowed, “Freedom” can be taken.
What do your family/friends think about your writing?
Very supportive. I have a rather complicated family history, too long and involved to go into here. But suffice to say my sister makes me feel proud to be me. And my friends provide a support network of warmth and concern without which…well, I don’t even want to think about what my life would be like without this incredible group of people.
Where do you get your ideas?
Everywhere. And living in New York City provides a lot of material. There used to be an old TV show about New York called Naked City, based on the great movie from 1948, and at the end of the show, the announcer would say, “There are eight million stories in the Naked City. This has been one of them.” Well, there are still over eight million stories in New York City. I see those stories played out every day. The subway at rush hour, when it’s crowded and people get on in groups from the office or wherever, and they’re gossiping, is a great place to overhear speech patterns, hear personal dramas. I’m very nosy on the subway.
And since Criminal Gold is a mid-twentieth-century historical, I get ideas for time, place, character, mood, etc., from reading newspapers from the time (I spend a lot of time at the New York Public Library’s microfilm room). The tabloids like the Daily News and the Daily Mirror splashed crime stories and pictures across their front pages, and the stories didn’t spare any of the lurid details. Plus, New York City had seven papers in those days. Seven! Every possible political and cultural point of view was represented. Add to that, the scores of weeklies that catered to the city’s various ethnic and racial communities—all of them great sources for ideas!
I also talk to people who were around then, who were kids or teens at the time, and also to the now quickly passing World War Two generation who remember the post-war years well. And now there’s YouTube, which has lots of mid-twentieth-century stuff: old TV and radio shows and commercials, news clips, all kinds of great stuff.
Most of all, though, ideas spring from my head.
How do you write; do you plan everything out or just write?
A bit of both. I start with what I hear in my head, what I see behind my eyes, and just write, which actually goes on for quite a while. About halfway through the first draft, I need to keep track of things, of who did what, who said what, so I write a bare-bones outline for action or character issues going forward. But in truth, that outline usually gets forgotten, buried somewhere on my desk, and the writing just takes over again.
What makes Criminal Gold special to you?
Since Criminal Gold is my debut novel, I suppose it’s a little bit like watching your child grow up and go out into the world.
But writing about Cantor Gold is special to me, too. She’s an expression of defiance and courage. But she’s more than just an anarchic billboard; she’s deeply human, flawed (she can be a cad), even frightened. But she presses on, as we all must do.
How much of yourself and the people you know are in your characters?
Though I certainly don’t live the life of any of my characters, I suppose I’m in all of them. They pass through me, after all, and they take parts of me with them into the story.
Some of the characters are based on people I’ve known, sometimes as physical types, sometimes as personalities.
Which gay/lesbian authors inspired you the most? Do you have a favorite
of this author(s)?
I love groundbreakers, so I’m partial to the work of our forebears: Djuna Barnes, Oscar Wilde, Virginia Woolf, Radclyffe Hall, Ann Bannon, etc. But since the question is one of “inspiration” I’d have to go with the publication of Violet Trefusis’s letters to Vita Sackville West. Violet’s letters to Vita knock me out. They’re not just outpourings of love and heartbreak, but a plea for a way of life, a life of romantic freedom, sexual freedom, creative freedom. Violet envisioned a thrilling partnership where she and Vita would define life on their own terms, where civil society and even the Law had nothing to do with it. She didn’t get it, but her romantic vision is breathtaking.
Do you have any suggestions for new writers?
Trust yourself most of all. Yes, beta readers and all that are helpful, they can point out mistakes or weak spots, but know when to tune them out and trust the voices in your own head. It’s your story, not theirs. Tell it your way. Break rules.
And write. Then write some more. And when you’re not writing, listen. Listen very hard to the world around you. If the world around you is too small, too tight, with the same voices over and over again, break out and listen to the voices of the larger world. Write it all down.
When you’re not writing what do you do for fun?
Reading. Movies (thank god for Netflix). Theater, when I can afford it. Stream a TV show or two. Take very long walks through the city. And, of course, my friends.