By Connie Ward
What made you decide to become a fiction writer?
I’ve always been a writer and storyteller type. I entered writing contests from elementary school through college. I’ve kept a journal since ninth grade. I wrote for high-school and college newspapers. In college and grad school, it was all about academic writing. In higher education, I write reports, proposals, and assessments all the time. So writing is natural to me.
But fiction writing is what I always gravitated toward. There’s something about the freedom that comes from having an idea and then expanding it with twists, turns, and “what if’s” that I get to make up is so gratifying.
I’ve always had this thing for wanting people to know what I’m doing and working on, so the idea of being a public fiction writer was always a goal of mine. I don’t write with an audience in mind, but I do write knowing that I want an audience for my writing.
What type of stories do you write? And why?
I like writing the kinds of stories that I like to read. I like writing about characters’ identities, struggles, and navigating life when mainstream society doesn’t validate or care about those identities. I write contemporary stories of black and brown people, some middle-class and degree-educated and some not, and people living lives that don’t make the six o’clock news.
With the current #Ferguson, #HandsUpDontShoot, #BlackLivesMatter movements happening across the U.S., people are finally realizing that people live and experience life differently in the U.S. I write stories about people whose stories aren’t often validated or seen as reality by many people in the U.S.—people of color, queer, working-class, etc… It’s important and personal to me, this fiction writing aspect of my life.
What do your family/friends think about your writing?
Everyone loves it and treats me like I’m some kind of genius or hot-shot because I’ve written works that have been published. I’m flattered but not ego-driven by their accolades. I do love it, though, when someone pulls me aside and goes, “So, this book of yours…” Best feeling ever.
Where do you get your ideas?
I’m nosy. I’m a good listener. And I’m a good observer of life around me and of people’s social-media posts. So like a conversation with a stranger or a friend, seeing something that someone writes online or watching the news can be a jump-off point for a writing idea or story. I think my academic life causes me to always ask “what if?” or “why?” or “what causes this?” And those same questions I apply to fiction-writing ideas. I especially like it when I hear a student, co-worker, or friend say something funny—a phrase, something that happened to them, etc…—and that can give me an idea for a scene or character interaction for something I’m working on.
How do you write; do you plan everything out or just write?
For fiction, I usually plan the beginnings a little more than the middles and ends of stories. I usually know my main character and have that person planned out. To me, beginnings are everything—they’re what draws readers in and gets them situated in the story you’re going to tell. Everything and everyone else comes in as needed and as the story unfolds—especially backstory details. I wish I was one of those “outline everything” kind of fiction writers, but that method works better for writing papers than writing novels for me.
For me, writing in the early morning works best. And when I say early morning, I’m talking pre-dawn, like 4 or 5 am. It’s when my head is less cluttered with life and to-do lists, and I can focus clearly on my characters and stories. I get and jot down ideas during the day, but my most productive writing time is early morning.
What makes Play It Forward special to you?
Play it Forward is my special “surprise baby” because it’s been a few years since my last published novel came out. I’m really grateful to Bold Strokes Books for taking a chance on my work; the BSB family has been wonderfully supportive. That support makes this publication process very special to me.
This novel is also special because it speaks to a lot of the current social issues and community needs that exist for the Black & Queer communities (and the intersection of those identities). My characters discuss the idea of #BlackLivesMatter, not in terms of the current movement around police brutality/murders of innocent and unarmed young Black people, but in terms of mainstream society ignoring, not being aware of, not even thinking about Black and Black Queer people and their lives and experiences. Play it Forward is very much centered in grassroots, community issues, which is a reflection of the work and life I lead in my day job. I hope you find Play it Forward as special as I do.
How much of yourself and the people you know are in your characters?
None of these characters are friends, family, or me in the literal sense. I don’t use my writing for personal therapy, though I find journals helpful for working through issues. But, in the sense that my characters are unapologetically and empowered Black, Latino, Queer, or regular everyday people…my characters represent the people I’m around everyday. I live in Los Angeles, so my works are always set here. I’m also originally from the Midwest, so I always create a character or two who is a West Coast transplant from the Midwest as a way to mirror what’s a major L.A. theme—
that L.A. is a place of transplants who’ve moved here to seek some kind of dream.
Which gay/lesbian authors inspired you the most? Do you have a favorite
of this author(s)?
- Lynn Harris and James Earl Hardy were the first two Black Queer authors whose books I read. I love their work, and knowing their work existed spoke volumes to me. They’re the pioneers. Of course, James Baldwin is the major pioneer whose work opened doors, mind, and thought about the intersections of ethnicity, sexual orientation, and class in his fiction and non-fiction. Those three are inspirations to me.
In 2005-2009, there was a wonderful Black Queer Renaissance of films, novels, blogs, websites devoted to the Black Queer experience, and many of those artists are my friends and circle. And they’re still producing work that’s relevant to the Black Queer community. Keith Boykin, Rashid Darden, Fiona Zedde, Sheree L. Greer, Brian Banks, Dayne Avery, Rebekah Weatherspoon, Daniel Black, Trent Jackson, Skyy, Quincy LeNear, Deondray Gossett, Nathan Hale Williams, and many more come to mind as contemporary inspirations and favorites.
Do you have any suggestions for new writers?
My main suggestion is finding a supportive circle of people who share the same dream of writing and/or publishing wherever you are. So that could be joining writer’s groups, enrolling in creative-writing classes, or finding a supportive online writing community (though with online writing communities, I’d offer some caution—you don’t really know people and their motives for feed-backing or critiquing or hating on your work). For me, when I knew I wanted to realize being a published writer, I knew I had to be strategic and get into/around a circle of writers. Taking a creative-writing class at a local University was the door that opened to improving my writing and to publication.
Everything else is really on you as a new writer—when you write, how much you write, what you write. But I always say it’s important to let people know what you’re working on, what’s coming up, creating a brand or image that represents your body of work.
When you’re not writing what do you do for fun?
So my life’s theme is Work After Work. I’m a workaholic, a busy body, and I’m always thinking about what I need and want to do. Being busy is my fun. I can’t stay still and do nothing. It feels weird.
Before work, I write, blog, or do social-media work. After my day job at the University, and a quick gym trip—a must—I start my evening work—
working on my author brand, publicity, keeping an online presence related to my novels; and the other work is my academic life—reading and writing related to Student Affairs, Cultural and Gender Centers, and student life in Higher Education. I’m also applying to doctoral programs in Educational Leadership in Higher Education, and that is a fun and busy process.
I make time on Saturday and Sunday mornings for the Melissa Harris Perry Show on MSNBC and the related #Nerdland community that live tweets during the show. That’s a fun, progressive, and forward-thinking community. Yep, I geek out on my Saturday and Sunday mornings with #Nerdland.
With Work After Work, I can usually find a sliver of fun time on Saturday evenings—dancing or dinners with friends. I like to cook, work out, go to the mall, watch independent films and documentaries, and I love talking social-justice and equity issues with my circle of friends and academics. And as readers will see, social justice and equity are themes that weave through Play It Forward and all my novels.