An interview with author S Jade Castleton

You describe yourself as ‘a novelist who is yet to finish a novel’. What’s stopping you?
Honestly, I’ve been trying to figure this out for YEARS. I think it comes down to three main things:

  1. I have this irrational fear that once I finish and/or publish something I’ll never be able to modify or add anything, and I hate that thought (generally because of point 2 below)
  2. I like writing my characters’ lives, so I just keep going. Generally each novel has a plot but I’m in no hurry to actually bring it to an end. And I can be found adding on short stories even while the novel itself is languishing.
  3. I write for myself. Means I’m not all hot and bothered about actually publishing anything and therefore I don’t have any pressure on me to finish.

Having said all that I’ve got one novel in the process of being finished so that it can be published. It’s been with a writing coach who is the only other person to have read it in its 21 years of life. Great feedback, and good tips. Does mean huge amounts of extra ‘life’ being cut, but I’ve almost come to terms with that. The published story is for the public, but I’ve still got the ‘real’ story for me.

A lot of authors publish extra chapters or short stories to accompany a novel, usually as freebies on their websites. This can be appreciated by fans. Have you considered doing this with your related short stories and/or cut content? It might help you accept that the story doesn’t really need to end with being published. Also, some authors publish novellas that are like extended epilogues, especially where there are multiple books set in the same world and the characters from multiple books can be featured in a single novella.
Ah yes, I’ve kind of done that. I have a piece from Watching Clouds and a piece from another novel linked under the Characters part of my website, and I’ve actually got Fire Red Leaf there too – under Snippets. I suspect I will put other things up there, almost like ‘cutting room floor’ pieces. I really should add a few more things but I have been entirely slack with the website (and even the blog).

Where do you get the ideas for your novels and short stories?
Dreams, mostly—for novels anyway. And, given some of the contents of my novels, that probably should worry me a bit. News items or even a single name have also inspired stories. Lately, I’ve been saving prompts on Pinterest but none yet has grown into something.

I generally only do short stories when I’m writing for a contest and, in that case, it’s the prompt that gives me the starting framework. But, I’ll only write if some sort of inspiration comes to me.

How much research do you do for your writing? 
Starting out? None. I need to get the story out before I figure out what might be wrong or right in terms of reality. However, for a story I’m serious about (as in publishing serious) then I’ll research – places, laws, food, weather facts. And in fact I love doing research; I’m a knowledge/trivia geek. I’m even learning Welsh via Duolingo.com because I’ve a story set in Wales! And I’ve been learning about famous Japanese swords lately because of a story that’s sort of set there but also isn’t. A lot of my novels are set in vague places and/or times so that lets me be lazy with regards to research. However, the novel I’m looking to publish is set in Chicago and talks a lot about the city. There’s no way that I can’t be serious about getting information right. I’m actually spending a month there early next year to write and research.

You’re a self-titled ‘pantser’, yet you do research. Do you store your information online or are you old school and have binders or notebooks filled with handwritten notes? How do you organise all the details and ideas?
Oh man, notebooks, notebooks, notebooks. One in every bag/handbag, one on my bedside table, one in drawers beside my couch etc. Can get a little messy when I’ve got sequential notes but in multiple notebooks! And the one in the bag I take to work is often filled out while on the train, so the handwriting can get tough to read. I also use little pieces of paper (often when at work when I daren’t bring out my notebook). I shove those in my glasses case so they can safely get home. Sometimes they get transferred to a notebook, sometimes they just get stuff in the notebook. Early on I used to use hardcover 1B5s to write my notes – though more for a particular novel than just general notes. I do like that way of keeping things together but I’ve not really kept it up. Sometimes notes are just on A4 and put into the binder that carries the rest of the story. For Watching Clouds I do actually have a research/notes binder that was split into notes, ideas, stuff for characters, dates etc. But no matter the notes these days, they’re pretty much always handwritten.

Of course, none of that means I plan. I don’t, though I love the idea of planning and I have tried several times but never really pulled it off.

Why did you choose to set your novel in Chicago? Why not a New Zealand city that would have been far easier and cheaper for you to research?
Because I fell in love with Chicago when I was there as an exchange student in 1993. And back then I probably also thought it would be a little more vague. You know, things can happen there that never make the news but which would here. I didn’t want to deal with all that. Also…. Owen’s age is a key factor in the story. 16 is the legal age here for sex whereas it’s 17 in Illinois. I could have made Owen even younger but thought that he’d be able to handle things at 16 (and get away with them) but not at 15. 15 was too young.

When I returned to Chicago in 2011 and then again in 2014 the city was so much more awesome, so I also didn’t have any trouble making my story leap forward from actually being set in the 90s.

Home will always be home, but Chicago has a big chunk of my heart.

As a New Zealander, what are the difficulties of writing for an international audience?
Well, when I read about the huge successes of New Zealand authors with international audiences (mostly the US, admittedly) I come to the conclusion there aren’t many difficulties. And definitely not with the rise of self-publishing.

However, language can be an issue. I know that my story set in Chicago will need to get the ‘u’ removed from ‘colour’ etc so as to be ‘truly’ set in the US, and of course the slang in that story is all very much Kiwi at the moment. My writing coach asked where my MC was from because he’s obviously not American, due to his speech/slang. Well, at that time he was only from Arizona but obviously that wasn’t going to wash. Fortunately, with a major plot black-hole now fixed I actually can get him to have lived in New Zealand much of his life and so I won’t have to change the slang. Kind of relieved about that, but I’ll still need to change the spelling.

Tell me about your passion for reading and writing gay characters.
I don’t consciously think of my characters as gay and I don’t write them as that. They’re just normal guys who happen to love other guys. Actually, I wonder why it’s even considered a genre.

My passion, though? When I look back over all the stories I’ve written with gay characters, it all seems to have started in about 1995. This was the year I met Antinous in Roman Art at university. Aside from the statue we were shown being so amazingly beautiful, the tragic tale of his life with the Emperor Hadrian really got my attention. I started looking for gay fiction (they were kept separate back then!) and read what I could. They tended to swap between being fantasy (female writers) and about the serious AIDS issues of the 80s and 90s (male writers). I don’t really remember any of them being simply about a guy who loved another guy. There was always something else.

Anyway, I just started writing gay characters (and my own version of Antinous’ life with Hadrian) and kept going. I do have some f/m stories but 90% now are with gay characters. It’s just what I write. But it wasn’t until I joined Writing.com a few years ago and found that people liked my stories and found others who wrote them that I really felt like I wasn’t doing something weird.

I like that gay fiction now (most of the time, in any case) treats the characters as normal, just going about their lives. If only some people didn’t think ‘porn’ when hearing I write gay fiction!

‘What caught your attention?’

Gale turned. ‘Huh?’

‘Josh,’ Eric clarified. ‘I guess he was cute but were the others ugly?’

‘You’re seriously asking?’ Gale got out. ‘Looks aren’t everything.’

‘Aren’t they, beauty queen?’

‘Shut up,’ Gale growled and glared out the passenger window.

Eric grinned and remained quiet.

‘His smile actually,’ Gale muttered at the glass.

‘Not the crap bowling?’

Gale turned his gaze on his friend. ‘If I was attracted by crap bowling I’d have gotten myself a harem.’

Eric snorted. ‘Well, worked in your favour, didn’t it? And the fact it was something you could correct… Though,’ he added in a drawl, ‘I didn’t notice you offering advice to anyone else.’

Gale simply kept up the glare.

Eric bit the inside of his cheek. ‘His smile, huh?’

Gale sighed, leaned his head back. ‘Yeah. I just happened to look up when he was smiling at something or someone.’ He closed his eyes. ‘Bugger, I’m screwed.’

He felt a hand touch his arm briefly. ‘Hardly the first or last, mate,’ Eric told him.

‘Great pep talk, cheers.’

Eric laughed. ‘And so the smile egged you on?’

‘No, it was the bowling that did that.’ Gale smiled briefly. ‘Like you said, worked in my favour.’

‘Helped by your own bowling.’

Gale snorted. ‘Made me legit, I guess.’

Eric cracked more laughter. ‘You made his legit.’

‘Well, as I told you, he listened to me,’ Gale said.

‘Ah so… a cute smile and a pair of ears.’

‘Do you know how dirty you just made that sound?’ Gale grinned as he saw the flush rise. ‘And look at this, home. We can stop the inquisition.’

‘Fucking A,’ Eric said with a grin. He applied the handbrake. ‘You know I’ve got your back.’

‘Jesus, Eric, I’m not gonna do anything stupid.’

‘Yeah well,’ Eric said. ‘That’s debatable but I meant the boyfriend. Now I know there is one, I really don’t think things are fully right there.’

Gale considered his friend, was pretty darn sure Eric wasn’t joking about this. Damn, had he really missed something? He swallowed. ‘I’m not going to steal anyone from anyone,’ he said. ‘That’s not my intention. If I contact him that’ll be clear.’

‘I hope so,’ Eric said. ‘But I meant what I said, you know.’

‘I know and I’m grateful.’ Gale got out of the car, then leaned back in. ‘You know you’re just like Morgan.’

‘Yeah, that thought crossed my mind too,’ Eric said wryly. ‘Wing man for the gay guy.’

Gale snorted and swung the door closed, but Eric saw him grin as he walked to the front door.

– Love is Complicated by S Jade Castleton

Many of your characters are male, yet you are female. What are the challenges of writing from a perspective you’re not familiar with?
I’ve never really thought of challenges, to be honest. I write my characters almost without specific thought to their gender, even though I know what it is. I do sometimes pick up where a response or action may be too ‘girly’ but it doesn’t happen much. If I need to check something then I go to my friend, the Internet, mostly to online manga. I’ve found that ‘seeing’ helps clarify things I might be struggling to write correctly. But, I’ve been writing male characters all my life so I don’t feel weird doing so. Even if I have a dream where the character is female, when the idea is fleshed out the character invariably becomes male.

Do you have a favourite author? Or perhaps an author you view as an inspiration?
Well, I collect series. Does that make those authors favourites? If so, I have a whole lot of them across many genres! I’m more likely to admit to favourite books, than authors, but I do consider S.E. Hinton as an inspiring author. I read The Outsiders back in about 1988 and ever since I’ve been addicted to first person narrators. But I also loved the way she told that tale, both serious and funny. There’s one particular section of the book that can still make me instantly tear up.

What is your purpose in writing?
My purpose is selfish: I write to keep calm and sane. I write only when inspired but if I haven’t written anything fresh in a fortnight or so I get anxious.

I do aspire to be published, despite what I’ve said. But I’m not really sure why. It’s definitely not to make money and it’s not even really to have others read my things. I guess it’s more so I can say ‘I’ve published a book. See, writing isn’t a waste of time.’ I want to feel vindicated for all those years people’s eyes have glazed over when I’ve told them that I write.

You mention in your blog that none of your family have read your work. Do you think you’ll ever break that barrier between real life and your pseudonym? If so, when? What about friends and other people in real life?
Eek, I need to update that particular bit obviously as my parents and brother/sister know at least know I write gay fiction. My brother’s read a (non gay fiction) short story and my mum has in fact read a couple of my gay fiction short stories. No one’s batted an eye lid about it, and mum’s been good on editing too. Has never read my novels though and may not until they’re published. Could be because they’re darker, they have sex etc. It’s probably just me. I do have one friend who has read short stories and with whom I’ve talked about Watching Clouds. Was great to chat to but she has just retired so that link has been cut just a little. However, I’m writing a YA paranormal novel (parts thereof are actually on WDC) which she is keen to read the entirety of and so eggs me to finish.

As for breaking the barrier between real-life and pseudonym. No, not really. As daft as it is, all my gay fiction will be under the pseudonym. I don’t want it linked with ‘me’ and my friends who may just all freak out. Silly fear, I guess, but I also want to publish non gay fiction and I don’t want the two mixed up.

You can read more of Jade’s work, and her blog, at her website: www.sjadecastleton.com

Author: Elle

Hi, I'm Elle. I'm based in Auckland, New Zealand. I'm a moderator at Writing.com, the mother of two gifted children, the wife of a Twitch gaming streamer and the Queen of Unfinished Projects. I've been reading since I was 4 years old, writing poems (badly) since 1994, blogging since 2001 and I started studying photography in 2010. This blog will contain poems, short stories, photos, book reviews and my thoughts on a variety of topics. Hope you enjoy it.

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