by CONNIE WARD
What made you decide to become a fiction writer?
Many years ago, I went to a movie with a friend, and afterward, over drinks, I was complaining about how a scene had played out, how it felt like a total cliché to me. She looked at me over her glass and said, “Okay, smart guy, if you think you can do better, go write it.” So, I did. And it was terrible. What I thought was a story was nothing more than a scene. In my utter naiveté, I actually submitted it. I still have the thirty-year-old rejection letter in my files. After that, I caught the bug and wrote a novel based on some superhero characters I had designed myself. It was marginally less terrible, so I kept on going and have been writing ever since.
What type of stories do you write? And why?
I write science fiction. I’ve had a deep love of the genre for years, going to back to my first visits to the library with my dad on weekends. He’d go upstairs where the books for grown-ups were and send me downstairs to the children’s section. Somewhere in that time, I discovered Edgar Rice Burroughs’ Venus series, and they transported me. Shortly after that, the original Star Trek series began playing on TV in the afternoon, right after I came home from school, and I was hooked and made sure I watched it every afternoon.
I love the genre on two levels, really. A part of me just adores spaceships and ray guns and aliens, the physical trappings. I used to pore over designs and photos and soak it all in. On another level, I love how we can explore who we are as a people by projecting ourselves into the future, into alternative histories, into far-flung scenarios that we couldn’t experience in the here and now. And I’ve always wanted to explore those themes and trappings from a queer context. I wanted us to be the heroes, to shoot the ray guns and fly the ships.
What do your family/friends think about your writing?
They’ve always been hugely supportive, reading everything I’ve offered them. They’ve proofread and offered suggestions; they’ve talked my books up to their friends and just always believed in me, even when I forget to believe in myself. I’ve had some amazing feedback from good friends who write too. Some of the best advice and criticism has come from them, and even though it sometimes stung, It made my work better.
I even remember once, when working on the original draft of Gatecrasher, which is the follow-up to Soul’s Blood, I sat a couple of friends down (they were hardcore geeks too) with a diagram and explained a scenario. “This is your objective. How do you achieve it?” Their input was fantastic! Almost all of their ideas have survived into the current draft.
Where do you get your ideas?
Everywhere. I firmly believe that writers are thieves. We steal from every source at our disposal. It’s always been a very instinctive, unconscious process for me. I’ll be going on about my business, and then suddenly, something will pop up and there’s an idea. Sometimes, it’s a character or a name or a place. Sometimes, it’s a jumping-off point, a “What if…?” question that leads to a story.
A friend described it to me once as a little office in the back of your head with a couple of people working even when you’re not. All of the information and clues and thoughts go into the office, and the staff works away at it when you’re out buying groceries or at your day job or eating dinner. And then, when it’s ready, the idea pops back out.
How do you write; do you plan everything out or just write?
I tend to write sequentially. Start at the beginning and then the plot unfolds, incident by incident. Once a draft is done, I have now learned to jump around in the edits, because the ideas can come randomly. When I wrote Chasing Cold, it was very much a sequential, chapter-by-chapter thing, though I kept a file of notes and thoughts that I’d jotted things down that I wanted to weave into the story later. And then, at some point, I realized what the ending was, and even what the last line needed to be, and then wrote toward that point. I’m gestating an idea for the third Keene and Lexa-Blue book right now, and it’s really all just random ideas and broad, blurry strokes, though I have the first line and know what happens in the opening scene.
What makes Soul’s Blood special to you?
The first draft of what has become Soul’s Blood has been with me for more than twenty-five years. It was actually my second attempt at novel writing. As I’ve grown and changed, so has this story. The story wasn’t ready then, nor was I. It took a lot of living and growing and learning before I was able to do the story justice. It took some strong, thoughtful criticism from readers that I trust before I could break some of my bad writing habits. So, this book is like an old friend, really, one that has stuck by me through a lot of living. And these characters are very close to my heart. They’re people I’d want to hang out with.
How much of yourself and the people you know are in your characters?
I think I’m a huge part of anything I write. I write the kind of things I would want to read and inject bits of my own personality, and the personalities of the people in my life, into every character. Sometimes, it’s as simple as a name or a physical characteristic. Other times it’s an attitude or something they’ve said. It goes back to writers being thieves. We take little bits of everything, and they go into the creative juicer and get mixed up with a bunch of other things and then come out in a very different way.
Which gay/lesbian authors inspired you the most? Do you have a favorite
of this author(s)?
Oh, there are so many! I love Shyam Selvadurai. His books take me into a culture that is both foreign to me yet, underneath, is so familiar. My friend, ‘Nathan Burgoine, is a constant source of inspiration. Light was an absolute delight to read, and he’s one of the most dedicated and supportive writers I’ve ever met. Armistead Maupin’s Tales of the City books were some of the first gay literature I ever read, and they changed how I looked at fiction. Samuel R. Delaney is a queer master of the genre. His book Nova got me into Tarot. David Leavit’s Lost Language of Cranes is just beautiful. Tony Kushner. Angels in America blew my mind when I first read it and then again when I saw it on stage for the first time. Rita Mae Brown. Rubyfruit Jungle is an absolute classic, and I still have her book about writing, Starting from Scratch, right on my desk within arm’s reach.
Do you have any suggestions for new writers?
Write. Just write. Whenever you can, as much as you can, and don’t beat yourself up if it’s not as much or as good as you’d like. Just keep writing. Write the story that’s burning inside you. Write the story that you think is missing from the landscape. Don’t worry about writing what’s trendy or what fits the market. Write the story you need to share. Seek out thoughtful criticism and examine it. Some you’ll keep and some you’ll ignore, but examine it all and use it as a tool to make yourself better at the craft.
When you’re not writing what do you do for fun?
I dabble in a lot of things. I paint. The walls of my apartment are covered with my own works. I’ve actually run out of space and have to rotate them around. I’ve been experimenting with photography a bit too. I’m also a big fan of board games. I love Mah Jongg, Scrabble, and Othello: games that make my brain work a bit. I’m a big fan of movies and TV too. I’ve been known to binge-watch an entire season of a favorite show in a weekend. I’ve also been getting more into cooking the last few years, trying out new cuisines and sharing them with my friends.