by Connie Ward
What made you decide to become a fiction writer?
There was never a decision about becoming a writer. I just started writing a different reality for myself, a daydream to transport myself from my present intolerable life. I found I really liked this alternate reality, looked forward throughout the day until I could be there again. So, writing became a survival tool that enabled me to change my life into the reality I wanted.
What type of stories do you write, and why?
An essay by Alice Walker galvanized me. She said something to this effect: “If you can’t find what you want to read, then write it.” I was living in Vermont and longing to be back in the West, where I grew up. I wrote Staying The Distance as a dream to live within, bringing together my love of the West and riding horses long distance, across land with no fences or roads and, of course, peopled with lesbians.
I think the key element here is “stories.” I want a story that takes the reader into it, has suspense and depth, with romance that develops from the characters, and has sex that feels real.
What do your family/friends think about your writing?
There’s a strange phenomena about girls who love horses and lesbians. Both are often seen by straights as having arrested development since they haven’t evolved to making men central to their lives. Both of my parents died before I began writing. My sister doesn’t take my writing seriously. My friends are enthusiastic, and I count among them some of my very best manuscript readers and commenters.
Where do you get your ideas?
Damned if I know. Usually real events are the catalyst.
How do you write; do you plan everything out or just write?
A story will percolate around in my head until I am ready to sit down with it. I don’t plan everything out because often the characters will take hold of a story and lead it in a new direction, and I like for them to go onto new ground. If I have writer’s block I know it is because I need to work through something in the story, or that I am taking my characters in a direction they don’t want to go. Once a new path is chosen they roar along hell-bent for leather and I’m challenged to keep up with them.
How much of yourself and people you know are in your characters?
I’d say everything. It is like dreaming; everything in a dream comes out of your depths. For instance when I write about separation of lovers in a story, every breakup I’ve ever experienced comes into play. In a love scene I remember the elements of that time that resonated like a cello.
Do you have any suggestions for new writers?
Yes, sit down and do it. Many people seem to want to be a writer, but until you type The End and then revise it five times, listen to comments, and then revise again you will be one of the many writers with a manuscript in your drawer. Be cautious about the ease of self-publishing because doing so deprives you of the experience of working with a good editor and the valuable advice of professional publishers.
What lesbian and gay authors inspired you most? Do you have a favorite of these author(s).
The first book to make me laugh was Rita Mae Brown’s Rubyfruit Jungle. June Arnold’s The Cook and the Carpenter and all of Sarah Waters. Nicola Griffith’s The Blue Place. Joan Nestle, Lee Lynch, Lucy Jane Bledsoe’s Working Parts, and Katherine V. Forrest. The poetry of Becky Birtha, Olga Broumas, and Melissa Kwasney. There are so many, I am happy to say, because I remember the first few lesbian feminist books.
What is your favorite among the books/stories you’ve written and why?
Staying the Distance was my love affair with Montana and my introduction to creative writing. Night Mare and the sequel White Horse in Winter took me in a whole new direction, into suspense, and with both of these I enrolled in graduate studies. I lost count of how many revisions I went through, many of them in-depth. I am aware that I’ve mentioned three books here, but they, and the experiences and learning each gave me, were significant.
When you’re not writing what do you do for fun?
There is nothing in the world like being on the back of a good horse, moving through the grass and sagebrush with the mountains as a framework. Even the slow, methodical trailing behind cows going to summer pasture, with dust and flies in your face, cannot be duplicated in joy. I also fly-fish the streams in Montana, that quiet meditation between me and the outdoors. I enjoy kayaking on lakes or slow meandering rivers, but not the white-water thrills. Classical music has been central to me since a child. My father was a violinist. And I love Patsy Cline. I tend to my fruit trees, each year an amazing abundance. I gather cut flowers into lovely vases all summer, whether from my tame garden or the wilds. I swim a lot and walk my dog. And, of course, I read. On those cold winter nights I may have a single malt whiskey in my hand.