by Connie Ward
What made you decide to become a fiction writer?
Fiction has always been a big part of my life. I read a lot as a kid, but it didn’t really matter what format the stories took—books, plays, movies, games, etc. I wrote scripts and fan fiction when I was younger, but didn’t really start writing my own prose until my mid-teens. In the end, it was where I felt most comfortable and the most immersed in the story. I also find that intimacy, between you and the reader, to be very satisfying, and it’s kind of lost through the collaborative process that a film or play goes through. One of the characters in Puppet Boy challenges Eric on this point, since Eric, who wants to be a filmmaker, isn’t really the kind of person you’d expect to collaborate well. But Eric is a collaborator in his own unique way, more so than me.
What type of stories do you write? And why?
“Antihero’s journey” is probably as good a label as any. I like all genres, both for reading and writing. I like urban fantasy and horror. I like psych thrillers and crime. I like some types of romance. I like mixing them. It just depends what’s grabbing me at the time. Puppet Boy is a dark comic satire. Because I do genre-hop, I try to keep a consistent tone, which is dark, surprising, and funny. I’ll take conflicted characters with serious flaws any day over traditional good guys. I find a story much more affecting when it explores the darkness within its leads and forces them to make tough moral choices, rather than surrounding them with external darkness. It gives them clear potential for growth that may or may not be realised. I also enjoy playing the long game and keeping readers guessing. Humour is a must though. No matter how dark or violent the story gets, it has to retain that sense of fun. In the end, people love to laugh, even when the joke is just plain wrong.
What do your family/friends think about your writing?
They’ve been really supportive. My mum is one of my biggest cheerleaders and my friends have been wonderful, particularly with supporting my readings and getting word of mouth out. Most of my friends are culture geeks who aren’t easily impressed, so their endorsement of an individual story means a lot.
Where do you get your ideas?
Everywhere. People I meet, places I visit, news events, other stories…just being curious. A lot of the elements in Puppet Boy were things that intrigued me when I lived in Sydney. The city’s moneyed elite. The upper-middle-class culture of the North Shore. The insecurity and self-doubt that hangs over Australia and its arts industries. The gay culture. The odd stranglehold the church has over the city and the weird conservatism that creates. Then on top of all that is this obsession with money, property, and status. Most countries have their hyper-competitive “status” city, but in Sydney, it’s up against Australia’s self-professed “laid-back” lifestyle. It was really interesting to explore that area, particularly through the eyes of a seventeen-year-old who already feels he doesn’t fit in.
How do you write; do you plan everything out or just write?
A bit of both. I usually map out about two-thirds of the story with rough scene descriptions, then revise, re-order, and so on. The fantasy stories set in The Arcadia Trust universe are more complicated, because there’s continuity to consider. Building blocks for later books, and that all takes planning. At the same time, each novel needs to stand on its own. How do you work in just enough exposition to catch up new readers without boring your familiar audience? Those questions are important. Puppet Boy was written with its own plan, which covered about three-quarters of the story. It didn’t have an ending I was happy with until about a month or so before submission.
What makes Puppet Boy special to you?
It’s possibly the most fun I’ve had writing a story. I love Sydney, but like everywhere else, it comes with its frustrations. Puppet Boy gave me an outlet to deal with them in a way that amused me, because with a lot of these things, it’s either laugh or go crazy. Movies and Shakespeare both feature prominently, so my inner nerd had a great time dropping subtle winks and nods. You don’t have to know anything about either Shakespeare or movies to get everything you need from the story, but the Easter eggs are there if you’re keen. Besides that, it’s my second book. I’m not sure how many other writers agree, but for me it was a massive progression. Promoting my first novel taught me so much about writing and publishing and introduced me to a whole range of amazing people. Puppet Boy benefitted from all that. So it’s a coming-of-age book for me, in more ways than one.
How much of yourself and the people you know are in your characters?
I really, really try not to base characters on people I know. I might take an element here or there, but I try to pre-warn someone if I think they’re going to recognise themselves. Of course I use elements of myself as well, though I wish I’d had half of Eric’s confidence at seventeen. On second thought, maybe it’s a good thing I didn’t.
Which gay/lesbian authors inspired you the most? Do you have a favorite
of this author(s)?
There are two, neither of whom are specifically identified as ‘”ay lit.” Clive Barker, more for the overall aesthetic and the way he treats sexuality and humanity than a specific book or books. The other is Bret Easton Ellis, and again, there’s no single book, though I do find Glamorama particularly scathing, over-the-top, and wonderful. That deadpan, satirical tone he brings to all his work resonates with me. He’s completely apathetic to whether you like his characters or not, and of course, most of his characters are horrible people, so perversely, we do like them, at least enough to keep coming back. Filmmakers inspire me just as much. Gregg Araki’s The Living End completely changed my ideas about what a gay love story could be. Then if you go back to the 30s, James Whale’s horror films have that impish sense of black humour that still holds up so well.
When you’re not writing what do you do for fun?
Travel! An expensive thing to “do for fun,” I know, but very few things make me happier than immersing myself in a new country, culture, and language. A few days exploring a strange city is my ideal vacation. I’m the same culture nerd I was as a kid, so movies, books, and theatre are still a big part of my life. Cooking relaxes me as well, provided I don’t have to share my kitchen. You might, might persuade me to collaborate on my stories, but in the kitchen? Forget it!