by Connie Ward
What made you decide to become a fiction writer?
I’ve had stories going on inside my head for as long as I can remember. As a kid, they were mainly what-would-happen vignettes exploring what life would be like if I were a boy. As a young girl, I didn’t know what a lesbian was, so I would get lost in elaborate daydreams about being a boy to try to reconcile why I felt different from other girls. Years later, in my late teens and early twenties, I dabbled at writing screenplays, but it wasn’t until I went back for my B.S. in English Education in 2003 that I started taking short-fiction writing seriously. The drafting and revising process was magical to me—to take a raw idea and cultivate it, step by step, into something cohesive and meaningful is the ultimate form of expression. After my first publication in Folio, SCSU’s undergrad literary journal, I was hooked.
What type of stories do you write? And why?
I mainly write lesbian romance, often interweaving identity and how the lesbian facet of a woman’s identity influences her life. The romance factor is easy to explain. I’m a romantic at heart, a sucker for a good love story, especially one I can relate to. Growing up, I found virtually no story-telling mediums that featured lesbian characters, so I experienced that part of adolescent development feeling like an outsider. Yes, I had a big crush on Rob Lowe in the ’80s, but I’d often wondered what it would like to be Rob Lowe and share an on-screen kiss with one of his beautiful female co-stars. When I began taking writing seriously, I became empowered to create the stories and characters I’d always wanted to see. The publication of my first lesbian-themed story, “Andy’s Riddle,” in the The First Line, was a profound experience. From that moment on, my writing had a genre. And let’s face it—once I’d discovered Doris Day movies and music in my teens, the romance thing was a lock!
What do your family/friends think about your writing?
My family and friends have been wonderfully supportive. Although most of my friends are straight (not that there’s anything wrong with it), they are all so encouraging and excited about every new writing milestone I reach. My parents have also been wonderfully supportive, even though my mother, bless her heart, has asked on several occasions, “Are you ever going to write any stories that aren’t about gay people?” My response is always something like, “Why on earth would I want to do that?”
Where do you get your ideas?
That’s a question for the ages. I wish I knew where. Then I could go there like it’s a Costco and stockpile a whole bunch of ideas in anticipation of that next, inevitable dry spell. Seriously, most of my stories start out as conversations in my head about various topics that I’ve seen or heard or mused about. If they’re interesting ones, I’ll pay closer attention and then decide if I can do something with the characters. Other times, situations that I’ve experienced will inspire the premise of a draft.
How do you write; do you plan everything out or just write?
I haven’t a tried-and-true system for writing, but I often wish I did. Maybe the task of beginning something new wouldn’t feel as daunting. For short stories, I’ll sometimes start by writing down a scene of dialogue between characters and see where it goes. If I like the characters, their stories will unfold on their own, if I’m patient and disciplined enough to facilitate them with a dedicated block of time in front of my laptop. Like most writers, I struggle to balance real-life obligations with giving my mind a chance to go idle long enough to be imaginative. When I’m working on a novel manuscript, it’s chaos in the beginning. I’m all over creation until I get enough of the plot down to make an organized timeline and chapter breakdown.
What makes The Revelation of Beatrice Darby special to you?
It’s special, first and foremost, because it’s my debut novel. It’s like my firstborn, and it’s finally coming into the world on April 21st! Finishing the manuscript and getting it published was indeed a labor of love, and a long one. Beatrice’s fictional journey began almost ten years ago as a short story, then became my master’s thesis novella, then a 330-page manuscript, and finally arrived at the pared-down 230-page novel that BSB chose to publish. The novel is also special because it represents the silent struggles that I and so many gays and lesbians endured until 2013 A.E., or “After Edith,” as I like to call this new era of LGBT equality that began when the Supreme Court struck down DOMA, thanks to one of my heroes, Edith Windsor, a little old lesbian with a great big lawsuit.
During the two decades I spent in the closet, I had no voice, so it was both freeing and validating to write Beatrice’s story and see it through to publication. I like to think of this novel as my homage to the previous generations of brave women who were forced to make impossible decisions and face harsh consequences just so they could be themselves. This last notion was recently validated by a 73-year-old woman, Anita, who read an advance e-copy of my novel and then emailed me to thank me for writing what she had lived through a half century ago.
How much of yourself and the people you know are in your characters?
A lot. While my characters’ lives are much more interesting than mine, their minds, hearts and souls are often composites of me and people I know. I round them out with about a third of pure imagination. Beatrice Darby is a lot like me, but she’s an idealized version. She has a stronger sense of self and is more determined and indignant than I ever was. The wicked side of me enjoys teasing my friends with the threat that if they’re not careful around me, they may end up recognizing themselves in a future story.
Which gay/lesbian authors inspired you the most? Do you have a favorite of this author(s)?
Sarah Waters, Tipping the Velvet. It was the first lesbian novel I read, and I devoured it! In a weird way it gave me license to start moving my writing fully into the genre of lesbian fiction. It was a wonderfully liberating experience, knowing there’s a big, beautiful market out there for our stories. I hadn’t felt that free since I’d discovered women can still have careers even if they refuse to wear pantyhose. Patricia Cornwell is another of my favorites. She’s fiercely brilliant and knows her crime fiction. Although the Kay Scarpetta character isn’t a lesbian, she’s got a bomb niece Lucy that is. I’ve read a lot of the Scarpetta novels, and it’s hard to pick a favorite.
Do you have any suggestions for new writers?
Yes, two. First, be fearless. Write what burns inside you, without fear of judgment. Self-censoring is the most effective way not to be all that you can be as a writer. I learned this immediately as a new writer years ago when I intentionally avoided writing lesbian fiction thinking it wasn’t “publishable enough.” You know what’s not publishable? Half-hearted stories written by someone afraid of her own truth. Tell your story like it should be told. Ultimately, it’s your name on the piece. Secondly, listen to constructive criticism. I’ve found it invaluable to my growth as a writer. Don’t let the mistaken belief that “my work is perfect just way it is” prevent you from reaching your writing goals. BSB rejected my original manuscript for Beatrice, suggesting I make major revisions from the middle on. If I hadn’t been open to the editor’s spot-on critique, my novel would still be just a Word file on my computer instead of a novel I can be proud of from cover to cover. Oh, and go ahead and “like” The Writer’s Circle page on Facebook. Everyday you’ll crack up at quotes about the joys and frustrations of writing.
When you’re not writing what do you do for fun?
Watch cat videos on Facebook, fantasize about meeting Doris Day, or brainstorm ways to repair America’s faulty political process with friends over grogs of craft beer.