BY CONNIE WARD
What made you decide to become a fiction writer?
Well, I’ve always wanted to tell stories. Weird stories, fantastic stories, stories that posited an answer to the question “What if. . .?”
From the time I was little, really little, like toddler age, I used to draw and paint and color. And I eventually went to an arts college to pursue my dream of being an artist. But I didn’t realize until well after I graduated from that arts college that my talent for art wasn’t necessarily just that. It was a need to tell a story. Every person I drew from my imagination had a backstory, an adventure they’d gone on or were about to go on, and even a future. And I rarely drew the same people twice.
Anyway, I’d thought my calling in life was to be an artist, an illustrator, and eventually a graphic designer. But my brush with graphic design in college led me to advertising, in the pursuit of which I discovered I was a writer. It was driven home to me that my real talent was in saying things convincingly. All those years in art school to discover I was a writer. . .what irony! I mean, I had begun writing original fiction when I was fourteen, to tell the stories my drawings and paintings couldn’t, but it took almost another ten years and three different majors to discover my true calling.
After I earned my BFA in advertising, I couldn’t get a job. I slowly gave up the fading dream of being a copywriter, but around this time a friend of mine introduced me to fan fiction and told me about slash, another thing I’d never heard about.
I started writing slash fan fiction and still do, to this day, alongside original fiction. Through writing fan fiction, my writing has improved tremendously. Writing it taught me about characterization, pacing, prose, plot, and detail. Penning those first novels at fourteen and fifteen, and then novel-length fan fiction pieces in my twenties, prepared me for writing Dyre: By Moon’s Light and my other novels.
I wanted to be a fiction writer to tell the stories that pictures—with their thousand-word worth—simply could not. Every picture is worth a million possibilities, and when I see people, or get a picture in my mind, I choose one to explore, then do so. Rather it chooses me and speaks through me. I mostly sit at my computer and try to stay out of the story’s way.
What type of stories do you write? And why?
When I have my druthers, I tend to write LGBTQIA stories featuring people of color, often with a magical-realism bent. The fantastic has always, well, fascinated me, especially when paired with the life and times of someone who was basically an ordinary person—in the case of Ruby Knudsen, from Dyre: By Moon’s Light, an HR person for a small college. I like taking the unsuspecting “regular Jo” and dropping her in a situation where she has to adapt to the strange and possibly magical to survive. Perhaps it’s wishful thinking, the hope that someday this would happen to me. Or the wish that it had happened when I was a bit more adventure-ready. I’ve been wanting to be plucked out of my ordinary life and dropped into a magical adventure since I was old enough to know the difference between those two lives. When I was seven, I convinced myself that I was a werewolf and that, on one full moon or another, I would change. It was more than a year before I finally admitted to myself the unlikelihood of that being true.
But even now, every full moon, I still gaze upward and hope.
What do your family/friends think about your writing?
They’re one hundred percent behind me! The ones who’ve read Dyre: By Moon’s Light seem to have enjoyed it, though my mom thought the beginning was creepy—which was exactly what it was supposed to be. They’ve provided me with feedback, advice, suggestions, praise, cheerleading, and more. I couldn’t have asked for better friends and family during this process. They keep using phrases like “When you’re rich and famous. . .remember how supportive I was.”
So, they at least have faith that I’ll be successful, ha ha. And not a single one of them has, even after reading my stories, discouraged me from pursuing writing as a career. That’s extremely encouraging.
Where do you get your ideas?
I get ideas from everything. Everyone. Everywhere. From prompts, which my first three (completed) novels were: prompt-fic. But I’ve gotten ideas from words, phrases, sounds, colors, feelings, thoughts (“what if. . . ?”), characters I see in movies, read about in books, hear about in songs, poetry, quotes, and real people I know or pretend that I might know, etc.
Though, as I’ve said, I believe the story chooses the writer, and I think that when I see a prompt of some kind that really catches me, and makes me sit down and write, that’s because a story that wants to be told just walked up to me and introduced itself through that prompt, whatever the prompt might be. Just came up to me, introduced itself, shook my hand, and sized me up. And when we’ve both decided we suit each other, I sit down and start writing.
How do you write; do you plan everything out or just write?
Oh, I’m definitely a pantser. I fly by the seat of my pants. I’m not a story architect. I have writer friends who are amazing, who plan every bit of their story, down to the last punctuation mark. I am not one of those people. I’ve tried being an architect, but for me, it never works. I don’t really plan my stories, especially short stories. Novels are different, slightly, in that there has to be some planning, like I have to be at least five steps ahead of what I’m actually writing, or else I’ll write myself into a corner I can’t get out of (basically I get in my own way and lose touch with what the story demands of me), which actually happened with Dyre: By Moon’s Light. So even as I was completing my first non-fan fiction, grown-up novel, I was learning important lessons. And I probably will for as long as I’m writing, something that fills me with joy and anticipation.
So, yeah, I just write. I’m a strong believer and practitioner of write hot, edit cold. Although I’ve been known to edit while hot, too. Sometimes, that’s the only way for me to have the impetus and cajones to go back and do what needs to be done, in terms of killing off a character or making a bad guy do something really bad.
What makes Dyre: By Moon’s Light special to you?
Wow, so many things. It was the first novel I ever completed that was—in my humble opinion—a real contender, publishable. It was the first in the Dyre series. Probably the first piece of work I gave my friends and family to read, in part and in whole. It’s my first novel to actually be published. It was novel-writing boot camp for me. It taught me so much about not only writing, but about perseverance and stick-to-it-iveness. I learned how to follow through with a project on Dyre: By Moon’s Light, even though at times I gave up on it as unsalvageable because I was blocked, because I was trying to impose my own will on the story, because I didn’t know where to end it or how, etc. But Dyre: By Moon’s Light was also one of my first loves, as far as my writing went. I was too attached to it to let it go forever, and when the time came to finish it, I came through.
How much of yourself and the people you know are in your characters?
Soooooo much, ha ha. The characters Ruby Knudsen and Jennifer “Des” Desiderio are based on two of my closest friends, after a fashion. Ruby has the sweetness, humility, and generosity of spirit of the woman on whom she’s loosely based. And Des has the wise-ass, kick-ass, heart-of-gold qualities of the woman on whom she’s loosely based.
As for me, I try not to Mary Sue myself. On the occasions I do, it’s always a very conscious addition, a small part, tongue-in-cheek observer or deus ex machina. Or just some random person in the story with something interesting or funny to say.
Which gay/lesbian authors inspired you the most? Do you have a favorite
of this author(s)?
I can name some authors I’ve enjoyed who’ve tackled LGBTQIA themes in their writing, though I don’t know for sure about their sexuality, in some cases.
- Robin Wayne Bailey (Shadowdance blew my mind)
- Octavia E. Butler (everything she touched was golden, loved the Oankali in her Xenogenesis series)
- Clive Barker (visceral and powerful writing, loved Imajica)
- Mercedes Lackey (pretty sure she’s straight, but she definitely adds LGBTQIA themes to her novels)
- Judith Tarr
- Delia Sherman
- Nicola Griffith
- Kelley Eskridge
- Tanya Huff
- Nalo Hopkinson
- Sarah Monette
- Sheri S. Tepper (The True Game series is phenomenal)
- Rosa Guy
- Rita Mae Brown
- Mary Renault
- Anne Rice (of course)
Of these authors, it’d be nearly impossible for me to name a favorite. Though Mercedes Lackey was my first experience, as I recall, with a gay main character in her Magic’s Promise. Mary Renault and Robin Wayne Bailey were the second writers of gay fiction, historical and speculative, respectively, that I can remember reading after Ms. Lackey.
Do you have any suggestions for new writers?
Sure. READ. A LOT. Read what you like, read what you don’t like, read what you want to write. If only so you know what the conventions of the genre are. Get used to using the tools of the trade, then throw them away, if you dare. Invent new tools, if you can.
Don’t be afraid to copy other authors’ style and technique. When it comes to artistic endeavors, it’s “When you know better, you’ll do better.” Or “Imitation is the sincerest form of flattery.” Which isn’t to say you should plagiarize. That would be wrong and, even worse than wrong, unhelpful to you as a developing writer. What I’m suggesting is, do you like Edgar Allan Poe? Don’t copy his work with a thin veneer of modernism. Instead, make a note of what he does well. Details and descriptions? Strong. Characterization? Solid. Prose? Rapturous. Take what you like about what Poe wrote and try to write like that. Keep doing it till you have a set of skills, and then find your own technique. Experiment.
So, you can write like Poe, now, eh? Big whoop. What would happen if you threw some Hemingway up in that piece? Poe’s descriptiveness meets Hemingway’s starkness. Play around, mix and match, jump between styles in the same story, the same paragraph, the same sentence, even. Have fun. Style, technique, and mode of expression are, really, the only things you have a choice about when it comes to writing. All else is, for lack of a better term, divine intervention. Concept is the cake. Execution is the icing.
If you’re a pantser, like me, remember: it’s not about you or what you want. All you can do is tell the story that wants to be told. You’re a conduit. Maybe you want your protagonist to live, when they’re supposed to die, or an antagonist to die when they’re supposed to live. But you don’t get that choice. The story will tell itself. Chances are, if you’re blocked, it’s because you won’t be quiet and still, and listen for the story to tell itself to you. When you do that, you can never be blocked on a story. Try to stay open, and you’ll always have inspiration and the words will always be waiting for you. (Which isn’t to say you won’t have periods when the words aren’t coming because you’ve temporarily exhausted them. But you’ll find that given a break of a few hours or a day, you’ll have them clamoring to spill out of your fingertips once again.)
To the architects. . .I don’t know how you do what you do, with outlines and whatnot. I suspect that you’re the true visionaries, who really do make up stories, as opposed to being a conduit for a story that already exists and just needs to be written. I wouldn’t presume to know how to tell you to do what you do. Just keep at it, and maybe some of the same advice I’d give to pantsers applies to you, too. Get out of your own way and stay there, and let the story tell itself. If the words aren’t coming, it may be time to revise or overhaul your outline/script/whatever. Or it may be time to call it a day and try again tomorrow. The trick is knowing which of those it actually is. I wish you luck.
But to all writers, new and old, pantser or architect, I say: Keep trying. Never give up. Write the story you want to read, even if no one else seems to want to read it. I guarantee you, once you’ve polished it, there’ll be plenty who do.
When you’re not writing what do you do for fun?
Ha ha, read, of course! Novels, short stories, fan fiction—lots of fan fiction—and I watch movies, listen to music, and absorb cartoons. I’m a kid at heart. But mostly, I write, when I’m awake. With occasional pit stops for other, less important things, like eating. Sometimes I hang out with my mother, my friends, my girlfriend, all of whom are very understanding when it comes to my need for solitude and GET-OUT-I’M-WRITING! alone time. Writing is pretty much my be-all/end-all. I do it for fun, for catharsis, for my sanity and health. Except for the need to socialize, writing and getting feedback for my writing fulfill most of my emotional/mental needs. I’m basically a one-trick pony, a one-note song. I write. With breaks for reading, eating, sleeping, and attempts at extroversion, I write. And when that happens, “I” cease to exist. There’s just writing. It’s the best, most addictive state ever. When I write, I am writing, in every sense of the phrase. That’s my fun.