The 4-foot-9 author exudes an air of confidence much higher than her height. With long, wavy hair framing her face as she views the world from behind red cat-eye glasses, she speaks of literary devices as if they are just basic concepts.
Ward has lived in McMinn County, near Etowah, for about 37 years. She is highly involved in the arts, serving as president of Athens’ local arts group, the Community Artists League. She has won awards as an artist experienced in drawing and oil painting.
She is also know as a writer, but that is just one side. Her friends and family call her by Susan, rather than by her pen name, Ector. She and her husband, Steve, are the parents of 10 children ranging in age from 12 to 34 and a 120-pound Rottweiler named Genevieve.
The stay-at-home mom never attended college and describes herself as a “self-educated” writer, reading books by people like Leo Tolstoy and J.R.R. Tolkien in her spare time. She recently wrote her very first book, “The Two Sons Diptych: A Satire and a Parable.” But writing is not a new love.
“I’ve written all my life — even from a child,” Ward said. “I’ve done a lot more as an adult.”
Ward was the author of numerous newsletter articles, poems and short writings before she wrote her debut book. “The Two Sons Diptych” stemmed from finding that she really wanted to share some of her thoughts after she had been studying the issues of faith, justice and forgiveness. She discovered that writing a book was the best way she could do that.
“I never really considered writing a book of fiction,” she said. “I went into a time of a personal need for study. Through my need to study, I found the need to express it.”
The book is inspired in part by a sermon by Scottish preacher George MacDonald that questions what justice means for Christians. He wondered if justice means punishing those who have done wrong or if forgiveness is an act of justice in its own right. Ward wondered that as well.
“I didn’t have answers for his questions,” Ward said. “I’m a Christian. I’ve been taught to forgive. I’ve been taught about the forgiveness Jesus offers. What does that mean?”
What sets the book apart from many other modern-day books on a shelf is its style. It is written as a diptych, a book that uses two very different stories to explore different sides of the same theme.
“The Two Sons Diptych” recounts the stories of two families from totally different times and places. One story follows a family in a medieval kingdom and the other a family in 1950s Soviet Russia. But both families deal with some of the same problems. “At first, I was writing one story, then I realized it needed a contrast,” Ward said. “As an artist, I recognized the use of that form to share a theme.”
She said painters will often use two pieces of canvas as part of the same painting to give those who see it a sense of contrast. She had done that with her own art and wanted to add that idea to her writing style. The characters in the book’s two stories deal with delicate subjects like incest, rape and murder. Ward said she expects readers will be disturbed by those accounts but that it is to question what justice and forgiveness mean in tough situations. Both stories involve sacrifice, yet the two narratives end differently. “It’s deeply emotional — the struggle within the families,” Ward said. “We’re dealing with forgiveness and justice. Can justice be served in both vengeance and forgiveness?”
Ward said the material in her books is meant to spur on questions rather than to give answers because she is still searching for them herself. She welcomes her readers to send comments to her on her website, www.ectorward.com, and hopes to be able to give dramatic readings of the book in the future.
She said the book lends itself to being read aloud because it is written in a style that uses the rhythm of poetry to tell the two stories. Ward originally wrote the book as a long poem because it helped her share her ideas more easily, and her publisher preferred that form over more traditional fiction book writing. Personal questions inspired Ward to write her first book, and she said might write more in the future. But first, she needs more pressing questions. “I have to have a purpose,” Ward said.
As a busy mother with some of her children still living at home, she sees writing as a different side to her life. She chose to write her books under a pen name because she wanted to separate her personal and professional lives. Ector, her first name as an author, was her last name before she got married. “I’m not trying to be a man, even though it does sound masculine,” Ward said. “I’m happy to be known by the names of the two men who impacted me the most.”
Ward’s own life is kind of like a diptych because of the different hats she wears as leader in her local arts community and at home. To 10 people in the world, she is a mother who likes to paint, draw and write. To the rest, she is an artist and writer who can speak with authority about both roles. The one thing that stays the same in both parts of her story is her love of writing.
“I think you can hardly call it a hobby,” Ward said. “It’s such a part of my life.”