by Connie Ward
What made you decide to become a fiction writer?
I was extremely interested in adventure stories and monster movies as early as elementary school. When I was in the sixth grade I was a big fan of the adventure novels of Edgar Rice Burroughs, his Tarzan books, the John Carter stories set on Mars, and the Pellucidar books that took readers to a strange world at the Earth’s core. I started writing my own story, entitled Expedition into the Unknown, a highly derivative work that took some men in a giant Devil Drill to the Earth’s core for adventures among strange people and monsters. It was not terribly good but I had fun with it. When I got to junior high school I said, “This is awful” and abandoned it. Since then I have been preoccupied with making my own stories.
What type of stories do you write? And why?
After the science-fiction adventure novel I have mentioned above, which was never finished, I tried to write another one set in a remote valley in Africa, filled with strange creatures and primitive people. This was another Edgar Rice Burroughs rip-off, with elements of Tarzan. I worked on it in seventh and eighth grades and abandoned it as well. My high-school attempt at a novel was an Agatha Christie type murder mystery, large weekend party at a house in the country, etc. Also left unfinished.
My first finished novel was a short realistic children’s book about a bully and a bright boy’s attempt to organize an army to fight him. I wrote it during the first year I was out of grad school and working in the real world as a children’s librarian. It had problems with its tone and the voice of the narrator, and my attempts to get it published did not succeed.
After quite a few years of directing my creative energy into acting, as opposed to writing, I returned to my scribbling and wrote a heroic fantasy/swords-and-sorcery adventure, a mélange of Michael Moorcock, Peter S. Beagle, and early Ursula K. LeGuin, entitled Feasting With Panthers. This is notable for two reasons. It was my first published novel, and it was my first work featuring major characters who were gay and gay romantic and sexual relationships. It came out in 2012. Since then, my ideas and themes have centered around fantasy with gay aspects and elements. These are the subjects that fascinate me and make me want to write about them.
What do your family/friends think about your writing?
They are tremendously supportive and proud of me, but I think some of the gay content in my writing bewilders them. It’s not that it disturbs them, but I don’t think they fully relate to it. I do gravitate toward some very strange scenes and kinky elements now and then, particularly in the scenes in my new book involving the sex drug, which increases the male orgasm but can only be triggered in a somewhat unconventional form of caressing or stroking. Check out Death by Sin for the sordid details. Ha.
Where do you get your ideas?
I read a great deal and rather widely across a variety of genres and enjoy different kinds of narrative. I also run across a lot of weird things on the Internet. When I stumble onto some interesting fact, I make a note of it. Death by Sin has bits of Irish folklore, Greek mythology, details about the Santa Ana winds, quotes from Gilbert and Sullivan, inside jokes from conversations with friends, and little bits of parody/homage to two of my favorite writers, Rex Stout (of the Nero Wolfe mysteries) and Sax Rohmer (creator of the evil genius Fu Manchu).
How do you write; do you plan everything out or just write?
I am mainly a pantser, flying by the seat of my pants and making up a lot of it as I go along, although I have a basic idea of what major events are going to happen. Filling in the blank spaces between these major peaks of action is where I get to surprise myself. I love it when a character suddenly takes over and starts doing and saying things I had not planned.
What makes Death by Sin special to you?
It is a blend of dark fantasy, New Weird, and urban detective noir. A little China Mieville, a little Jeff Vandermeer, a little Philip K. Dick, a little Raymond Chandler, in a realistic, complex, real-world setting combining elements of both science fiction and fantasy.
As an urban fantasy narrated by a Philip Marlowe-Sam Spade type of private detective from a noir film or novel, who happens to be a supernatural being, it is a substantial departure from the heroic fantasy that was my first book. It contains plot elements that have been in my mind for a long time: the sex drug, the mystery-thriller played out in a speculative-fiction frame, the criminally insane super-villain who is reminiscent of Fu Manchu. I’ve wanted to use all these ideas for decades and never got around to putting them together. Injecting a healthy dose of gay stuff into the mix seemed to do the trick.
How much of yourself and the people you know are in your characters?
Friends who have read both Feasting With Panthers and Death by Sin say that the hero/main narrator is obviously me. I agree. I like to base physical descriptions of minor characters on people I know. My friends are invited to get the book and look for themselves in its pages.
Which gay/lesbian authors inspired you the most? Do you have a favorite of this author(s)?
Tennessee Williams, for his poetic language, and Storm Constantine for the way she weaves together mood and vivid imagery and the sexual fluidity of her characters (see the Wraeththu trilogy).
Do you have any suggestions for new writers?
The standard exhortations to write, write, and write some more, and to read widely and a great deal. Find your own voice and make your own magic.
When you’re not writing what do you do for fun?
When I’m not among the books, I am onstage performing. I started in local community theater, which here in D.C. is of unusually high quality, and somewhere along the way I made the jump to professional theater that actually pays me something. Right now I can be seen as servants in Chekhov’s Uncle Vanya and Oscar Wilde’s Importance of Being Earnest, which we are alternating in repertory at a theater in downtown Baltimore.