By Connie Ward
1) What made you decide to become a fiction writer?
Fiction writing decided on me and I’m so glad it did. In the wake of being reintroduced to lesbian fiction a few years ago and overdosing on it for months, characters and stories started showing up in my head. I know that sounds crazy so I’m thankful E.L. Doctorow once said, “Writing is a socially acceptable form of schizophrenia.” Phew. In the spirit of “I wonder if I can do what my favorite lesfic authors can do,” and in self-defense because characters were waking me up in the middle of the night with snippets of dialogue or ideas for scenes, I started writing them down, longhand at first. It’s the most exhilarating, fun, surprising, at times infuriatingly frustrating thing I’ve done, and I can’t imagine my life without writing.
2) What type of stories do you write? And why?
So far stories choose me as much as I choose them. I write character-driven stories more than plot-driven stories because I love to see a character grow and transform in response to the story events. I write about things or places that interest me or about things I want to research since I’m going to be spending months or years with a story. Never Too Late involves chiropractic, softball, and Melissa Etheridge. Making a Comeback is set in Carmel and involves jazz and blindness. I like writing about emotionally wounded characters and chronicling their journey to wholeness. I love writing romance because I’m fascinated with the agony and ecstasy that often accompany falling in love and I believe strongly in the healing and redemptive powers of love.
3) What do your family/friends think about your writing?
I wrote in private the first couple of years and only started telling people after I’d submitted my first book. I’m not known for being surprising so it was fun to hear all the “you’re writing??…books??” comments and then to share the excitement of Radclyffe wanting to publish Never Too Late. Without exception my circle of friends and family has been over-the-top supportive and excited for me. Being “public” is hard for me, and several close friends have become trusted advisors on how to handle it. Two friends have become beta and proofreaders. It’s been wonderful to deepen these relationships because of writing.
4) Where do you get your ideas?
So far, the inspiration for all my stories has come from books, movies, music, or life issues I want to explore. Sometimes I get curious about a secondary character or story line in a book or movie and my own characters come to life. Sometimes a single descriptive sentence or line of dialogue sprouts a new story. Sometimes an image or song creates a certain mood and a story develops out of that. A Melissa Etheridge song, The Wanting of You, inspired Never Too Late. It was one of those songs I fell in love with and played obsessively. The song is about a straight woman’s remembrance of a night with a lesbian. It made me want to explore how that night affected her lesbian lover and what the outcome of that night might have been. I combined those questions with circumstances and struggles from my own life and voila…a story. My love of jazz and Carmel, my lifelong interest in blindness, and wanting to look at the intersection of love and grief, an issue from my own life, inspired Making a Comeback.
5) How do you write; do you plan everything out or just write?
My writing process is constantly evolving as I study the craft. I wrote three novels purely by the seat of my pants before I’d studied anything about writing or even knew what “pantser” meant. That’s still my favorite way to write and how I do first drafts. It makes the rewrite process longer and uglier, but it feeds me in a way I’m not willing to part with. So much of what we do in life is structured or planned or has to be done the right or the way someone else wants it done. Writing from that place of “anything can go on the page” and “I wonder what’s going to happen next” gives me such delicious freedom to play and explore. I love those moments when my characters surprise me or I look back at what I’ve written and wonder, “Where did that come from?” For the first rewrite I’ll take the story apart and rework it into good story structure—plot, conflict, character development, thematic issues. That first rewrite is the hardest. After that I’ll rewrite for clarity, crisper dialogue, deeper characters, better sensory and descriptive detail. I like having a long, intimate relationship with a story and letting it deepen and evolve over time—like the well-aged wines I love.
6) What makes Never Too Late special to you?
It’s my first published book. Do we ever forget our firsts? It’s personal to me because writing it helped me work through midlife issues. It was a way for me to look at my disappointment that where I was in my fifties was not where I thought I’d be. What happened to the dreams of my twenty-year-old self and were new dreams possible at my age? One of the remarkable things that came out of it was that having it accepted for publication by Bold Strokes Books gave me a new dream to pursue. It’s also special because some of my real-life circumstances are in it and it was fun to fictionalize those. I’m a chiropractor, as is Jamie (the story’s protagonist), and it was fun to write Jamie’s practice as the polar-opposite high-volume practice to my small practice. I was a softball pitcher, like Jamie, and graduated from the same chiropractic school, and I really did go to the Southern Women’s Music Festival a year before Jamie, although I did not meet a Carly there or go to a Melissa concert. And yes, my characters do feel like real people to me.
7) How much of yourself and the people you know are in your characters?
There’s a fair amount of me or who I’d like to be in all my main characters. Writing fiction seems to be a cathartic way for me to explore things that have happened or are happening in my life or in the world at large. I think fiction is a powerful way to look at the big questions in life, and I hope my stories have something to say about it. It’s also fun to write characters who are smarter, sexier, braver, or more talented than I am and to live vicariously through them. As for people I know, several have made it into stories as well-disguised villains—a bit of anonymous revenge.
8) Which gay/lesbian authors inspired you the most? Do you have a favorite of this author(s)?
I read my first gay-themed book in high school—Patricia Nell Warren’s The Front Runner. Because I was an athlete and already aware I liked girls, it was eye opening. The campus bookstore at Sacramento State had several whole shelves of gay (before we were LGBTQ) books—what a find! Rita Mae Brown’s Rubyfruit Jungle was the first lesbian-themed book I read…and reread and reread. Jane Rule’s Desert of the Heart and Isabel Miller’s Patience and Sarah were also early and validating reads. In the eighties I read lesbian fiction voraciously—the whole one or two new books a month we got back then. I read Katherine Forrest’s Curious Wine and Daughters of a Coral Dawn so many times I wore them out. Chiropractic school interrupted all pleasure reading, and I’m not sure why I didn’t get back to reading lesbian fiction until a few years ago, but when I did, the quality and quantity overwhelmed me. I devoured Radclyffe’s entire inventory within a month. Tomorrow’s Promise and the Honor Series are my favorites of hers. I still read as much lesbian fiction as I can, and every single book inspires me. Seeing what lesbian fiction has grown up to be makes me so happy and proud. I’m thrilled to be able to make a tiny contribution.
9) Do you have any suggestions for new writers?
I could write pages on that question. As a new writer I’m still in the throes of finding my way through trying to get better at the craft and through the world of publishing. Everyone says “write,” and that’s true as far as it goes. You can’t get good at anything without doing the activity. But you also need a way to get better and, even more importantly, find a way to see where you need to get better. In sports I always knew what skills I wanted to improve and how to go about that. With writing I’m often unsure what’s not working or where I need to improve, let alone how to accomplish that. I think you need people outside the writing who can offer effective and tactful commentary and guidance, but those people need to be carefully selected. I was lucky to find a writing coach early on who’s helped me improve quicker than if I’d fumbled along on my own. I was very fortunate to be assigned to Bold Strokes editor Shelley Thrasher—she’s a brilliant and patient teacher. There are so many resources out there for writers, and you have to find what supports your creative spirit and your skill development. I’m not a fan of critique groups, but they work for some writers. I read books on writing all the time, and I read a lot of fiction across all genres. I follow a number of writing-related blogs and take workshops from teachers I respect. Writing is endlessly fascinating, and every day I find something new to learn or discover.
10) When you’re not writing what do you do for fun?
I hate this question because to answer it honestly makes me sound dull and boring. Writing is what I do for fun—pure escapism. I live a quiet life by choice, and going out into the world too much is taxing for me. My two Labradors, Magic and Mandy, are a big part of my life, and spending time walking or playing with them is fun. I enjoy dinner out with friends, gardening, cooking, jigsaw puzzles, reading, movies, and music. I love wandering through art galleries. I love going to my friends’ cabin in the Sierras, and I’m having fun learning to fly fish (of course it’s also story research). All in all not a very exciting life by most standards but it works for me.