By Connie Ward
What made you decide to become a fiction writer?
I make stuff up. I always have, even before the idea of turning things into stories came to me. When I was younger, much of it came out of worrying. For those of you who are or have been worriers, you know those moments when something happens—usually something minor—and the mind takes off with all those what if questions that build on one another and lead you down some crazy, bizarre path to an even crazier and more bizarre outcome.
One time, shortly after my ex-partner and I got together many years ago, she’d gone to her mother’s for the weekend and was late getting home. Probably about fifteen minutes. It was the days before cell phones, so off I went into the land of irrational thought, and before long I’d considered her death, her running off with someone else, even her disappearance into thin air and what would happen if she just vanished and—after a suitable grieving period, of course—I fell in love with someone else and then she came back? Then I thought, Hey, that would be a good book. Hopefully, I’m right since Bold Strokes just accepted that very book. I won’t tell you the ending, but I will tell you the title and release date—Embracing the Dawn, June 2016.
Once I had the idea of instead of just terrorizing myself with my what if scenarios, why not write them down for others’ entertainment and perhaps introspection, I remembered some of my past trips down the path of dark fantasy. One took place when I realized I’m a lesbian and at the time was married to the father of my kids. My mind went wild, running the gamut all the way from stories I’d heard about women in the fifties whose husbands had them locked away in asylums—something that truly would never happen with the players involved in my own life—to just pulling up my big-girl panties, being honest, and living an authentic life. Truthfully, what I did do fell a little short of the latter, but I did get there. The point here is that one of the many scenarios and some of my inner conflict around it seeded one of the three story lines in Threads of the Heart.
My second novel with Bold Strokes, the already mentioned Embracing the Dawn, has its origins in a short journey I took into online dating years ago, during which I online met a woman who, in our third or fourth phone conversation, shared that she had served prison time for bank robbery. We ended up not meeting because she lived in another state and had a lot of family obligations and commitments, but she was sweet and seemed to have worked hard to create a new life, and so, along with everything else that came up for me in my soul-searching and letting my imagination go with it, she became the inspiration for one of the ETD main characters.
These days, I’m not as big a worrier as I used to be—I say not as big because my best friend will probably read this and laugh hysterically if I said I no longer worry—but I still let my imagination run wild with what ifs and diverse scenarios around moments that catch my attention because I’ve learned that stories lurk in every instant, every nook and cranny, every innocent comment. If I just go down the path far enough, I’ll discover them.
What type of stories do you write? And why?
I write stories that explore and deal with how people’s lives are interconnected and how we come together at specific times for specific reasons. The stories I write may vary in terms of genre. They may be general lesbian fiction, romances, intrigue, or erotica, but they will always speak to no one being in one’s life coincidentally or for no reason, and they will delve into the idea of soul connection whether or not that concept is specifically mentioned in the story.
I write this kind of story because this is how I view and live my life. Anyone who’s in it, I believe is here for a reason, is here because we have an agreement on a soul level. For example, the other authors, editors, artists, and staff that have come into my life through fiction writing have done so—and I’ve come into theirs—because we have an agreement to learn from each other, to support one another’s creative self-expression, and to put something out into the world that is bigger than any of us individually, to make a contribution to others who read our finished products and are somehow touched and changed through the experience in ways we will probably never know. But it is what we’ve agreed to do, and that is enough. So, all my stories will have this element running through them whether on the surface or underneath.
What do your family/friends think about your writing?
I am fortunate to have an extremely strong support system for and around my writing. I learned from my mother, who always supported me in literally anything I ever wanted to do or be, to do the same for my kids and anyone else in my life. As a result, those are the kind of people I am surrounded by. My kids, my exes, the rest of my family, and my friends all seem to be just as excited as I am in the countdown for the release in July of my debut novel, Threads of the Heart. I am profoundly Blessed!
I wasn’t sure what else to say on this question, so I asked a few people in my life to answer it for themselves.
My daughter’s response:
“What I love about my mom’s writing is that she spends so much time on character development. It is refreshing to read and be introduced to characters who are deep and complex in their feelings, thoughts, and behaviors. These types of books and characters are much more interesting for me to read and relate to compared to two-dimensional characters who can be characterized as formulaic.”
My best friend had this to say:
“What I love about Jeannie’s writing is the authenticity of her characters. She puts all of herself into each of them and brings them to life so believably that each and every character could be your neighbor, your friend, anyone at all. The depth of her characters amazes me. Each one carries a piece of her with them through the pages. Over the years, I’ve enjoyed watching her grow as a writer, and I am so excited for the world to get the opportunity to experience this gifted storyteller.”
My son-in-law answered:
“Jeannie inspires me. Her dedication to the craft of storytelling exemplifies why so many people fall in love with good writers: readers cherish authors who weave the most important pieces of us into their pages, and Jeannie never fails to express that.”
Where do you get your ideas?
This was answered to some degree in my response to the first question, but I’ll elaborate a little more here. While some story ideas come through letting my mind take off with what if questions, a story doesn’t completely congeal for me until I meet the main characters. The kernel of the idea can come from anywhere, but I am a character-driven writer, so it isn’t until the characters come forward and introduce themselves to me that I know there is an actual full story to be told. And this leads into the next question.
How do you write; do you plan everything out or just write?
Although I do call myself a writer and identify as one, my process feels more like that of a secretary. When I sit down to write, for the most part, it is really my characters telling me their story and me typing it. I used to fight this, thinking that as the writer I should have more say in what happens. What would then take place, more often than not, is I would work really hard—and, believe me, it is work doing it this way—on a chapter and take it to my critique group, only to hear them say, “What is this? It feels forced.” Then I’d start all over again, listening to my characters and end up with a chapter that flowed easily and worked perfectly.
So—yes, I can be taught—now I just listen to begin with. My critique group has become whatever characters whose story is being told, and they let me know right up front if I’m getting a little too full of myself as the writer.
What makes Threads of the Heart special to you?
Threads of the Heart is special to me for a couple of reasons. First, it’s been a long time coming. I started writing it in 1995, shortly after coming out and entering into my first romantically intimate relationship with a woman. At that time, I wrote the first six and a half chapters. Then I stopped working on it for about sixteen years. During that time, I did little writing. I wrote a few erotic short stories that were published, served as editor and wrote articles for a couple of newsletters, but that was about it. I did a lot of emotional and spiritual growth during those years, talked about writing a lot, and struggled with some other story ideas every once in a while. Nothing much came through, though, except more and more of the story lines in Threads of the Heart. The characters were patient with me and simply waited in the background until, finally, in 2013, I pulled it up, read through what I’d written so long ago, and started working on it again. It felt like—and was—a reunion with old, cherished friends. When I finished it, I was so happy, I sat and cried.
The second reason this book is special to me is that over the years while these characters quietly waited for me, I went through a lot of changes in my beliefs, my thinking, and, subsequently, how I show up in the world. The experiences I had and the things I learned enabled me to address some of the elements of the story—in particular, the infidelity—much differently than I would have before and, perhaps, offer to my readers a different way of looking at things. Being shown different perspectives and new ideas is the main reason I love reading fiction so much. It can expose me to new concepts through the eyes and heart of a character’s point of view I might not have thought of or considered while allowing me to spend time with interesting characters in a wide variety of circumstances. I realize infidelity is a delicate subject and not everyone will agree with the way it’s handled in Threads—and that’s okay. This story is just these characters’ story.
How much of yourself and the people you know are in your characters?
In all honesty, every character I write is some aspect of me, whether it is someone who is quite obviously me, or someone I let only those closest to me see, or someone I keep secret, fantasize about being, wish I was, or am afraid I could be. They’re all me. I learned this when I was writing my very first novel, one I wrote for the mainstream market many years ago, and a particularly horrible, mean, and awful character showed up. I had a lot of judgments about him and didn’t want him in the book. It wasn’t until I admitted to myself that yes, I would love to have the kind of power he had and probably would enjoy wielding it over certain people under certain circumstances, that I was able to let him fulfill the role he needed to play to complete the story.
As for people I know—well, there are a couple people who might recognize parts of themselves in Threads of the Heart. While I don’t specifically write about people I know, sometimes those I know are the inspiration for characters or plot points, and they just come through that way. I don’t do this deliberately, though. And I hold to the disclaimer that is printed at the front of every Bold Strokes book that says, “This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents are a product of the author’s imagination…”
Which gay/lesbian authors inspired you the most? Do you have a favorite
of this author(s)?
The very first lesbian novel I ever read was Touchwood by Karin Kallmaker way back in the days of Naiad Press. At the time, I exclusively read mainstream fiction because I didn’t know lesbian fiction even existed until the woman I was involved with gave me that book and a couple others from Naiad. I immediately fell in love with that book in particular, lesbian fiction in general, and the woman.
Later, I stopped reading for quite a few years due to a visual impairment that worsened, and by the time technology had advanced to the point that I could utilize special equipment and enjoy books again through reading machines, audiobooks, and e-book formats, Bold Strokes Books and Bella Books, along with some smaller houses, had created a deep ocean of fabulous lesbian fiction. I’ve been reading it avidly ever since. One of my first discoveries upon having my reading world opened up to me again was Radclyffe’s Provincetown Series and then her Justice Series. These collections strongly fueled my commitment to write again.
While Touchwood will always have a special place in my heart, I’ve been, and continue to be, inspired by many both established and new books and authors. Some of them, but by no means all, are When Dreams Tremble by Radclyffe, Waiting in the Wings by Melissa Brayden, Fingersmith by Sarah Waters, Finding Bluefield by Elan Barnehama, Roller Coaster by Karin Kallmaker, and Olive Oil and White Bread by Georgia Beers.
Do you have any suggestions for new writers?
My suggestion to new writers is to write. If you have a story idea, write it, even if you’ve never written before, even if you “don’t know if it’s good.” If you don’t know grammar, take a grammar class while you write. If you need to learn the elements of fiction, sign up for a workshop or read a book while you write. If you want to find other writers for support, find them—all together now—while you write.
It’s easy to fool ourselves into thinking that if we’re reading a book on writing, or talking about writing, or taking a class on writing, that we’re actually writing. In truth, the only time we’re writing is when we’re sitting at the computer, or in our favorite chair with pen and paper, or in front of a slab of granite with chisel in hand—whatever your preferred method—letting words flow through us into written form. None of those other activities, while interesting and entertaining, will produce something you can share with others that will touch their hearts and make them feel or give them something to think about that they might not have thought about otherwise. That’s the job of a writer, in my opinion. And don’t listen to that nasty little voice in your head that says, “What do I have to say to anyone that would matter?” or “My idea isn’t really profound. It’s just a little fill-in-the-blank.” If you’re called to write—and you know who you are because as you’re reading this, you feel it—then write.
When you’re not writing what do you do for fun?
When I’m not writing, I immensely enjoy reading books of many kinds, going to movies, plays, and musicals, and playing Frisbee in the park with my dog, Dexter. I love sharing time with my family and friends whether we’re eating, having swim parties in the hot months, game nights, or just hanging out talking. My spiritual path is also a high priority in my life, and I enjoy studying, learning, and growing—as well as doing all the afore-mentioned fun stuff—with my spiritual circle.