BY CONNIE WARD
What made you decide to become a fiction writer?
I remember the moment so vividly. It was as if I were “literally” struck by lightning. As a child I was serious reader, forever with a book in hand, and then one day, not yet a teen, reading one of Edgar Rice Burroughs’ John Carter of Mars books at the kitchen table in my family’s cabin in North Carolina, the summer sunlight just streaming in, it hit me: “I’m going to do this, too.” I put his book down, grabbed some graph paper, and started mapping out my world.
What type of stories do you write? And why?
I have two settings: weird and dirty. Sometimes, if the mood strikes, I’ll write something primarily erotic. Being gay is a risk and a journey, so exploring the sexual nature of existence is, well, natural to me, but I also know that every story is a story of transformation. And no matter what our intentions or the intentions of others are, alchemy happens, and we either turn into gold or are stuck with bat wings that don’t work, so speculative fiction lets me work that stuff out as well. Often with a shudder.
What do your family/friends think about your writing?
My family is somewhere on the spectrum between intensely horrified to mildly proud. My friends are always extremely delighted whenever I‘m sober and productive. And they’re very supportive. My best friend Kate designed the cover for Night Sweats. My partner Leo has done two of my book covers. My friend and old roommate, Jay, took my author photo, my college buddy Mike has been doing my website for years now…I think that’s New York City. Everyone is not only interested and interesting, but also there to lend a hand. I just hope I’m returning the favor.
Where do you get your ideas?
Drugs were good to me. And that’s not a pithy response, When I was younger I was fortunate enough to get into psychedelics with a reverential yet playful attitude, meaning the first time I tripped, I also read The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, but since the words kept sliding off the page, I went for a bike ride instead. But somewhere in those early experiences, I was able to learn to let my imagination off the leash. I still go for long bike rides, and I often walk across the Manhattan Bridge just before dawn. And sometimes I think about Poe. Didn’t he walk incessantly across a bridge from the Bronx to Manhattan, deep in thought?
How do you write; do you plan everything out or just write?
Oh, all I think about is sex and money. Writing is what happens when I come up for air. So no plotting, no planning, very little research, just a lot of gasping before I sink back down toward the bottom.
What makes Night Sweats special to you?
This is my second collection of short stories, and I remember sitting in a bar in the panhandle of Florida, way before I came out. It was a live show, I think the band playing was Man or Astro Man?—and I’d spent several years working on a horror novel that I’d never shared with anyone. Nothing yet published, and I was telling my friends about this idea I had for a werewolf story, and I caught them looking at each other like “here he goes again.” Honestly, that moment deepened my resolve to become a writer like no other. Getting a book out there is a big fucking deal. And to repeat the process, to return to the mine again and find your own peculiar gems, well, it’s not a fluke then, is it? It’s a passion and a profession, and when you get to combine the two, well, that is a splendid moment, and that’s what Night Sweats is to me, a fantastical event. So you can imagine how thrilled I am that Bold Strokes not only decided to publish this collection, but that everyone has come at the project with such interest and care.
I would like to comment on the title. This book has more horror in it, hence the name, a symptom of the virus that causes AIDS. And that’s purposeful. There’s not one mention of HIV or AIDS in any of these stories, but as a community, we’re still in the midst of an ongoing plague. That horror consistently impacts our lives in ways visible and invisible—queer folk have a daily dread, and the resolve we muster to beat it down, well, maybe that adds that extra bit of sparkle I see in so many of us, and that’s also present in this collection, or so I hope, but most of the work here is dark, and for some of us, that’s the same thing as honest.
How much of yourself and the people you know are in your characters?
Ha! One of my dear friends, John, who is also a great reader, likes to tease me. He says he likes my stories but particularly enjoys the ones that aren’t “Tom-in-disguise.” So, yeah, some stuff is autobiographical, or just me taking the easy route, so I don’t know what triggers it when I jump into someone else’s skin.
Which gay/lesbian authors inspired you the most? Do you have a favorite
of this author(s)?
Tough question! I think I’d like to go at it this way: from childhood through college I was a voracious reader. I’m shocked at how much I absorbed. A small cadre of writers stood out. And before everyone was name-checking Philip K. Dick, he was a huge influence on me in the 80s, like when major books of his were actually out of print and passed around among the acid-heads hanging out in the school parking lot. John Varley was a huge influence, and the fluidity of his characters sexuality was earth-shattering for me. Funny story. A few years ago I got a very nice note from a fan, and I thought, “Well, I should return the favor!” So I looked up John Varley and wrote him an email, telling him how much his work meant to me as a kid struggling with being gay in the age of Reagan, and “boom!” He wrote me back thanking me for thanking him! Like in a few minutes, so I was doubly thrilled. But I digress. Octavia E. Butler, Alasdair Grey, Geoff Ryman, and Kathe Koja, all of them are my pantheon of originality and style. They have inspired me, and I’ve been lucky to interview two of them, befriending Kathe, and I heard Octavia give a warm talk in person, right before she passed. I’ll never forget that night. And I got to drink in a pub in Glasgow where Alasdair Grey worked off a bar tab by painting a fantastic mural. And when it comes to nonfiction, Edmund White is a light. There’s so much focus on his sparkling novels, but man, his nonfiction is immortal, too.
Do you have any suggestions for new writers?
The joy you felt in creating something is not automatically transferred to the reader, much less the editor and publisher. Worse, that joy is an emotional experience, so rejection doesn’t always lead to rational thoughts/decisions, like “I wonder what I could do better,” or “Maybe I just wasn’t a good fit for this publication.” If your goal is to write and improve, rather than just write, chances are you’ll have a better go at it.
In this field, all you have is your talent and your relationships, so how do you treat others? How do you treat yourself? I think these are decent questions to ask.
When you’re not writing what do you do for fun?
I travel whenever I can. There are so many places I want to go.