by Connie Ward
What made you decide to become a fiction writer?
I’ve always wanted to write, but when I was younger all I could manage was bad poetry. Then, you know, life happened and I put all that aside. About five years ago I lucked into a combination of circumstances—a kind of perfect storm of opportunity and inspiration. I retired from the full-time job I’d had for thirty-plus years, so the time and energy were there. A few months later I attended a marvelous weekend at a women’s music camp, where I gave myself permission to open up that creative box in my head and see what came out. And when I had a (most uncommon) period of time alone in the mountains of Colorado, the story presented itself to me in that quiet solitude. Now since I’ve started writing, I haven’t been able to stop.
What type of stories do you write? And why?
My debut novel, Basic Training of the Heart, is a historical romance. It is the first in a series, which seems appropriate to me, since I’ve always viewed history as a really long story. As to the why, I think it’s important for us in the LGBTQ community to be aware of the tremendous courage of those who came before us. In today’s connected world, it might be hard to imagine the isolation that many of these folks experienced, but if you read their stories, you hear over and over again, “I thought I was the only one who felt that way.” I chose World War II because the contrasts of the period are fascinating. Even though it was a time of death and destruction on an unimaginable scale, socially, it was also an unprecedented period of opportunity for women and, to a lesser extent, minorities. For the most part, the country was strongly unified in a way that we might find hard to believe, but civil rights were deeply curtailed, and individuals willingly sacrificed in ways hard to envision today. Maybe that’s why I ended up with such dissimilar characters.
I do have a murder mystery in my mind and would love to try my hand at sci-fi someday.
What do your family/friends think about your writing?
My wife has been incredibly patient as I played with my imaginary friends until the wee hours on more than one occasion. She’s always been willing to listen as I babble on about some plot issue and has started assuming that when I get really quiet I’m probably running dialogue in my head. Two of my long-time friends were my first beta readers, and without their encouragement I would never have submitted my book to Bold Strokes. One advantage of having stayed in the same place for so many years is that I am fortunate to have a really special, tight group of friends who have been absolutely wonderful. My mom is a former librarian, and she’s also been very supportive, although I think she secretly wishes I were a little more “mainstream” so she could brag to her friends. My only sibling is a younger sister who is much more conservative, but whatever we may disagree on, we know we love each other, and that’s the most important thing. I’m giving both of them a book this weekend, so we’ll see…
Where do you get your ideas?
I didn’t try to write fiction before because I wasn’t confident that I had a compelling story to tell. But one night in Colorado, the characters and a very broad arc of a long story, of which Basic Training of the Heart is the first part, came to me in a dream. I remember seeing something about the WACs on the Internet the previous evening, but beyond that, the plot and characters just came from my subconscious. Since then I’ve often found that I solve problems in my writing or come up with that perfect line of dialogue just before I actually wake up. The challenge is to remember all those great ideas.
How do you write; do you plan everything out or just write?
When I start out each day, I have a vague destination in mind, but nothing I’d really call a plan. I mostly just try to get into the characters’ heads and let them tell me the story. I can recall at least once, though, that I had to back them out of someplace they’d gotten themselves into and re-direct. Later, when I edit, I try to be more sequential and make sure that when I said “the next day” it wasn’t actually two weeks later.
What makes Basic Training of the Heart special to you?
Besides the fact that it’s my first—and you always remember your first, right?—I so much admire women who have served and are serving in the military. The barrier-breakers bring us all along with them, don’t they? I also tremendously respect the Native American community and their attitudes toward the earth and their place on it. It’s hard to imagine a group of people treated worse by our government, yet they’ve survived and continue to lead in many ways. What’s happening right now at Standing Rock is absolutely inspirational.
How much of yourself and the people you know are in your characters?
Initially, I identified more with Rains—solid, steady, somewhat stoic—but my wife tells me that when we met, I flirted with her exactly the way Bett flirts. I definitely use parts of people’s personalities when I write other characters. This is especially therapeutic when you’re mad at someone and you write them as a villain. But I haven’t killed anyone…yet.
Which gay/lesbian authors inspired you the most? Do you have a favorite of this author(s)?
The first lesbian fiction I remember reading was I am a Woman by Ann Bannon—one of the Beebo Brinker Chronicles. (I think I was in my mid-teens, as I recall being both shocked and delighted.) But Katherine V. Forrest’s An Emergence of Green really resonated with me and gave me a much more positive sense of self later in my coming-out process. Today there are so many remarkable lesbian writers, and they all inspire me.
Do you have any suggestions for new writers?
When I first started writing what became Basic Training of the Heart, I had the luxury of working on it for several hours every day. During that time, I didn’t read much—especially anything that was close to my genre. I didn’t watch many movies or TV shows either, until I was sure I could recognize my characters’ voices above the daily clatter of the world and that I could reliably find my pacing as the author each day. I’m not saying that everyone needs to do that, but it certainly helped me. And just at the point where I was about to let someone else read my work for the first time, I went to a workshop where I came away thinking that I had done a great many things wrong. I was pretty depressed for a couple of days, but then my rebellious side took over, and I decided that the things I liked about my story were more important than someone else’s guidelines. So I’d advise new writers to strive to be authentic and let everything else fall into place on its own. Don’t give up and don’t force yourself into someone else’s mold. You will compromise down the line, but if you do the work with passion, you’ll please yourself.
When you’re not writing what do you do for fun?
I like to play guitar and sing harmony. I have an ATV and get to appreciate the beautiful Colorado countryside when I ride. I enjoy cooking when I have the time to play with new recipes. And of course, I love to read.