by Connie Ward
What made you decide to become a fiction writer?
I don’t recall making a decision to write. I pretty much always did it. Even when I was a kid I would fold pages over and make a “book,” and I thought I had to write enough “book” to fill however many pages I folded over. I don’t think I ever finished one of those.
What type of stories do you write? And why?
If I’m writing fiction that’s usually when I’ll do it from the heart. Lately the stories are often about a gay man trying to find his way in a difficult world, often trying to overcome his own demons. It’s usually when I look back on things that I see a common theme. One is people who have love “this close” but can’t seem to cross that one small hurdle to make it last. Another is people who won’t give up on love when they should, and therefore things go all sort of wrong. There’s a lot of this in The Prophecy, as you can see from the short blurb on the cover. Then there’s the rescuer, the person who tries to fix everything and everyone’s life, but creates more problems than he solves. I think sometimes getting to know the people in the stories, versus what they actually do, is where my head’s at. I write a lot of stories about race relations and other social issues too, and I think I have a realistic perspective on that sort of thing.
A lot of the plays I write for teenagers to perform have to do with self-esteem. Though they aren’t LGBT pieces, I often write about the outcast trying to fit in, or the person who has to “do the right thing” even if it’s unpopular. I write a lot of comedies and make fun of stupid behavior. Plus since more girls act in high school than boys, I have a lot of plays with strong female protagonists.
What do your family/friends think about your writing?
My family and friends are mostly supportive, but when you write a lot they don’t necessarily read it all. That’s understandable. I have friends who write horror, for example, and I wish them well but it’s not my bag. My father was an English teacher and critical of some of my early efforts (he was right), but I know that when he likes it, he really likes it. I’m getting to a point where I want people to read my writing or hear my music because they want to versus doing me a favor.
Where do you get your ideas?
I get my ideas from a lot of places; it depends. A lot of it comes from the past and things I went though and people and situations I’ve known. I can always pull from that. Sometimes just from things that happen during the day. I can be in line at a store and something happens and I get an idea. Sometimes people tell me a story about their life and I can use part of that. If I’m writing a play I’ll often try a parody of some popular show, or just take some normal event like ordering French fries and see how I can blow it up.
A lot of times the character comes first. I’ll create someone in my mind, then figure out what he’s about and what happens to him. Like “you’re an interesting guy, let’s see what we can do with you.” If I find someone I want to write about, that’s a good start.
The Prophecy came about when a college professor assigned us to write a short story based on a dream. Without giving too much away, the characters that became Lex and Fergo were in it, and they had escaped prison several times. The woman that became Baelu was there also. The dream was set in an ancient civilization, and there was a cave where the former ruling queens were buried.
How do you write; do you plan everything out or just write?
Sometimes I do plan what I want to write, but not always. Sometimes I don’t know how something is going to end until I get there. When I wrote Star Bryan I came up with the main character one day, and the next day I started writing his story. By the end of a week I had ninety pages done. I’d write one scene, and then the next few scenes would come to mind based on what just happened. I knew how it was going to end more or less, but not necessarily how I was going to get there.
With The Prophecy I knew how it ended because the dream I had became the end of the book, but I had to plan the other 220 pages to reach that end.
I wrote a play called Seeking Asylum, where I had a cast of characters given to me by a theater director and just kept going until it finally came to an end. It’s my most successful full-length play, and I wrote the first draft in a day.
What makes The Prophecy special to you?
It’s, for me, the most unique thing I’ve ever done. It’s more “epic” than other stories I’ve written. I created a civilization and its outlying countries, three religions, various dialects: all the things you need for putting together your own world. I tried also to make it unique in that just because the Romans believed something doesn’t mean my civilization has to.
I like the flashy characters in it, the city they live in, and the overall storyline. It’s been very vivid to me for a long time, and I’m excited to share it with people after so long!
Plus, I started writing the book in 1982 so it’s been with me a long time, and it’s one of those “dreams come true” things to finally see it in print. I wrote myself into a corner back then and put it away for about twelve years. I briefly dated someone who kept insisting I read Lord of the Rings, and I got though about eighty percent of it, but it inspired me to take out The Prophecy, of which there were maybe two copies in existence. I’m glad I didn’t lose it. I had typed it on the back of some scrap flyers I got from my college job and put it in a drawer. I kept the story basically the same, but expanded it and rewrote and improved most of the narrative. Plus I figured out how to get out of the fix I wrote myself into and finished it. Then over the years I’d go back and edit and spruce it up again from time to time until I finally submitted it.
How much of yourself and the people you know are in your characters?
As a playwright I used to say, “Piss me off and I’ll put you on stage,” and people have noticed I made good on the threat. But I do notice that my own issues—the “rescue” issue I mentioned above and the “not knowing when enough of someone is enough” issue play out a lot in my stories. It makes sense you’ll write from your own experiences with yourself or other people. But I don’t think I write autobiographically.
Which gay/lesbian authors inspired you the most? Do you have a favorite of this author(s)?
I can tell a story. When I was younger I kept seeing Andrew Holleran’s Dancer From the Dance for sale at a bookstore, but I was afraid to buy it because of course we’re talking 1980 or something and the sales clerk might know I’m gay (like she would care), so I didn’t buy it. But shortly afterward a friend of mine gave it to me as a gift, and I was like “Wow, how did you even know?” So that was the first gay novel I read, and so it was cool to meet him and have him compliment my short story in the Saints and Sinners 2015 anthology last year.
What is your favorite of the books you have written and why?
I don’t have a lot of current novels because I spent a lot of time writing plays; I had a theater company for about twelve years and wrote for production. I wrote four or five novels before I was twenty-five but am not sure what to make of them now. So I have this one and Star Bryan that are published. I like them both and they’re very different. I think The Prophecy is special to me because I’m a history buff, and at the time I felt at home in what’s more or less the First Century C.E. I have a soft spot for my first novel, called Dreams, which I wrote when I was seventeen. I need to redo the whole thing because looking back…well…issues. One was that the main character needs to be gay, because he sort of was, but I didn’t want to go there at the time. But that might be my next project.
Do you have any suggestions for new writers?
For one, you’re not the greatest writer the world has ever known. I might have thought I was, but looking back, no. You might be a prodigy, you might grow into the world’s greatest writer, but most likely you need to write and practice writing. For two, write whatever you can. I make a living writing about paint. I decided early on if that was what I was doing, I would do it the best I could.
If you’re going to get paid, you need to write what people will pay you to write, and then from that you can support yourself in writing what you really want to write. If someone says “don’t write swear words,” then don’t. Write your swear words in something else. For me it’s most rewarding to get something published like The Prophecy, which I wanted to write. But I’ve written a lot of things “for hire” that came out well and have made a difference to a lot of people.
I call it the string-quartet theory, which is, if someone asks you to write a string quartet, you do it to the best of your ability and don’t complain they didn’t give you an orchestra. Do it from the heart as much as you can, no matter what it is.
Read, and read good stuff. Read good writers and, more importantly, read great writers. Read The House of the Seven Gables. Every sentence is like finely crafted furniture. Seriously, read it.
Don’t write one book and expect the world to be at your feet. Plus, find an editor; that’s important. Also don’t let people talk you out of writing. Even if your first attempts aren’t so good, you will most likely improve. Plus, someone might just be hating you. So if this is your calling, keep answering.
When you’re not writing what do you do for fun?
I am a musician and songwriter; I’ve got a band and I play music either solo or with the band. We’re bringing back a lot of music from 1900-1920. I like spending time with my partner, traveling a bit, puttering around the house. I have a thing for coffee houses and diners and pancakes. Speaking of pancakes, it’s time to hit the gym.
And as a final word, I’d like to thank the staff at Bold Strokes Books for their faith in me and all their hard work in getting this together.