Connie Hampton Connally: Writing of what's Real and Redemptive
(Connie Hampton Connally, author of "The Songs We Hide" and the forthcoming "Fire Music" )
For years I've convinced myself I've needed only male writing mentors since I already know how to think and write from a feminine perspective. While I value the few mentors I have, I've rethought my position on the matter. Connie Hampton Connally may not know it yet, but I've come to regard her as my first consistent female writing mentor. I actually met Connie when she served as a chaperone to my high school's Great Britain tour back in '98 (her son Patrick was a kind and hilarious classmate of mine). Though I remember having an engaging conversation with her about the writing craft then, it wasn't until the last year that I truly connected with her and first read her breathtakingly beautiful debut, "The Songs We Hide." Connie's one of those writers whose prose is so elegant that you sometimes have to stop right where you are and reflect. She also writes vivid characters who are real in all their joys, sorrows, and every human emotion in between.
While our meetings over coffee at Cutters Point are an equal exchange of the writing process, Connie is a writer I've come to respect and admire in such a short time. She works incredibly hard on her historical fiction, and she's someone committed to every step of the process. Here's what she has to say about why she writes and what keeps her dedicated:
Alisa: What inspired "The Songs We Hide"? And since it took extensive research, multiple trips to Hungary, and interviews with many sources, what kept you motivated through all this?
Connie: About fifteen years ago, while I was working as an elementary music teacher, I attended some workshops in a music education system developed in Hungary, under the leadership of the composer Zoltán Kodály. Reading about Kodály’s life and times, I was amazed by how he spread music in Hungary despite two world wars, a failed revolution, Nazism, communism and economic wreckage. How do you do something beautiful in the midst of all that? That idea inspired “The Songs We Hide,” a story of two singers during Hungary’s harshest period of communism.
As for what kept me going . . . wow, huge question. Partly, I began to feel a responsibility to the people who had helped me, like the Hungarians I interviewed, so I kept working. I really value accuracy, so I didn’t want to cut corners and end up getting things wrong. I also came to love the characters, and maybe I felt that I couldn’t abandon them! Mostly, though, I think the story just became part of my life. I didn’t want to quit working on it because it was inside me to complete it.
Alisa: Will you please tell us about your forthcoming second novel and how closely it relates to "The Songs We Hide?"
Connie: I’m in the revision stages of my second novel, titled “Fire Music.” Here’s a synopsis of it:
One August evening in 2006, Antal Varga, an old Hungarian violinist, is approached by a young American stranger. The woman, Lisa Denman, hands him music he himself wrote at age seventeen. Suddenly Varga’s darkest memories are jarred open, for he wrote this during Budapest’s terrible siege of 1945. Lisa, a distant relative, wants to know the music’s story, which her grandparents held back from her. Sensing that the time has come to face old hurts, Varga re-opens the music. The siege and its harrowing aftermath are again laid bare before him. Little by little, Varga deals with Lisa’s questions, as his grandson Kristof translates and begins asking questions of his own. In working through the music together, Varga, Lisa and Kristof each confront their shared and separate pain. They discover that though hurt may extend over generations, love extends further still, and grief can be re-composed as beauty.
“Fire Music” is not a sequel to “The Songs We Hide,” but the two books are related. Antal Varga in “Fire Music” is the older brother of Katalin in “The Songs We Hide.” So in the “Fire Music” chapters that flash back to World War II, Katalin is present. Besides the musical connection, there is a family connection between the two books.
Alisa: Since it's fun to glean insight from fellow writers, please tell us what a writing day might look like for you. (Do you have a go-to drink in the morning, a soundtrack you listen to on repeat, a quiet room or a noisy coffee shop? What helps you enter the creative process?)
Connie: Though it’s sometimes not possible, I try to write for about six hours a day. I used to enjoy taking a walk and ending up in a coffee shop to write. But covid made me get used to doing everything at home. Now I think I actually do my best work in my writing space at home, where I’m surrounded by my research books and pictures of Hungary. While I work I keep a cup of coffee close at hand.
But I’ve really found that writing hour after hour, day after day, can be lonely and tedious. So it’s refreshing when my writing life includes interacting with others. I’m happy that this past month has been like that. A few days ago I interviewed a Hungarian doctor via Zoom, and a couple of weeks ago I gave a presentation for a writing conference. And before that, a writer friend from Chicago came to visit, and we had our own DIY writing retreat in my house. It was such a pleasure! (To read about the mini-retreat on my blog, see https://conniehamptonconnally.com/a-do-it-yourself-writing-retreat/.) For me, interaction with other writers has been vital to my own strength.
Alisa: When you're not writing, what do you enjoy the most in life?
Connie: I love music, reading, talking with interesting people, and spending time with my friends and family. Travel is a big part of my life because all my children and grandchildren live far away. That can be hard, but the time away from home—and especially time out of the U.S.—has broadened my perspective. My son Brendan lives in the mountains of Peru, and I’ve gained a real respect for the people there, whose way of life is so different from my own.
Alisa: What role does your faith play as you write your novels?
Connie: I think that what fills our heart is going to find its way onto the page, whether or not we know it. I’ve been reading the Bible since I was a teenager, and my outlook has been shaped by its words of transcendent love, beauty and justice. Although my stories aren’t “religious,” redemptive themes come through. A few of my characters, especially in “Fire Music,” do have some religious influences in their lives, and I think it deepens the story when I let them think beyond what’s visible to them. Often I use a symbolic image to stand for the eternal, just as art and literature have done for centuries. I want to give my readers transcendent hope, because that is what God has given me.
Connie's an author whose work ethic and delivery on the page motivates others in the midst of their own writing process. For more about Connie's background and inspiration as a writer, please visit her site at Home - Connie Hampton Connally. Since it's that rainy, windy reading season again, you might consider ordering her novel. "The Songs We Hide" is available through her website or Amazon.