An interview with author S. H. Pratt / C. K. Brewer

‘“How goes the battle?” Spencer asked as he sat beside her with his own lunch.
“Not bad. Did you know that there is someone famous teaching here?” Rissa smirked.
“You know, I’d heard that rumor. I hope the fame won’t go to everyone’s head.” Spencer teased.
“I think we’re safe. Fame isn’t all it’s cracked up to be. Rumor has it that the famous person left fame and fortune behind because she’d lost all of her marbles and really needed to collect them.” Rissa sighed sadly.
“Oh no, not the lost marble syndrome! I wonder how successful her campaign to collect her marbles is going.” Spencer commiserated.
“Beautifully. She has settled down, found a nice man who kisses her like she’s the only soul he’s ever wanted, reconnected with her family, and found a possible direction for her life away from fame and fortune.” Rissa deadpanned. Spencer chuckled.
“Only soul, huh?” he arched an eyebrow over the frame of his glasses. “How do you know he isn’t kissing her like that because she’s the only soul who ever made him want to kiss that way?”
“I don’t, but that certainly raises some interesting points, doesn’t it?” Rissa snickered.
“Points indeed,” Spencer laughed.’
~ The Artist’s Touch Epic Romance Book 1 by S. H. Pratt

You’ve published a number of novels as S H Pratt. Tell us a little about them and your journey to being a published author.
The romance novels I’ve published are all heavily based in real life headlines and psychology. Many of them have a strong suspense thread woven through them as well as some humor to lighten things up. I began writing semi-seriously as a teen but shelved it in favor of attempting to find ‘a real job’. Turns out my ‘real job’ is being a full-time mom and a full-time writer. I attempted to conform to the standard of Harlequin Romance Publishing but was told that because my writing deals with such intense psychological matter, it was too dark for their readers. Because I love my stories and refuse to dumb them down or soften the subject matter, I chose to research my options which led me to publish my work independently. I love the freedom this choice has afforded me and have left the notion of being with a Big 5 publishing company in the dust.

There are a great number of self published books these days, and a common complaint is that they are not sufficiently edited. Did you edit your own books?
I say I edit my books myself, but this is not entirely true. I have a team of alpha and beta readers who read through each chapter as I write them. Then I read through the entire manuscript from the beginning and then again, starting from the end and reading forward. After that, I have a proofreader/editor who is a friend of mine read through it (we trade our editing services – I read her works and she reads mine) and then before I publish, I still read it through again, this time out loud as though to a group of people. Unfortunately, as a human, misspellings still get through, but I’ve found that I’m more thorough and picky than most editors I’ve come across.

Did you find that you had to bring in experts of any description (eg. cover designers) at all? Or did you do the whole process by yourself?
I began this crazy journey into self-publishing with the notion that a small self-publishing company would be better than me trying to do everything myself. Unfortunately, I found a company that was less than reputable with interests more in my money than my books. Their “editing” was horrendous and I hated the covers they did. Because I don’t use models of any sort on my covers, it seemed to flummox them. After my contracted two books were done, I fired them, took back control of my books and republished them. My husband is a photographer and doesn’t mind when I bring him flowers and an idea for a cover. Between he and I, we create covers that pertain to the story within that are different from the typical “Fabio” style of covers. I also have a fair number of professionals, like medical personnel, peace officers, etc. who willing read parts (or sometimes the entire book) to ensure that the facts I’ve used are correct.

Do you think that different skills are required for writing novels as opposed to short stories?
I do think that you need different skills for writing full length novels than you do for short stories. However, I believe the skills used for the short stories strengthen the ones necessary for novels. I actually use short stories, particularly those with specific word counts, to help me eliminate extraneous words and ideas. This then translates into stronger novels with less ‘fluff” in them.

Like me, you have gifted children. We both know the struggle of finding age-appropriate reading material that challenges our children, and both of us have taken it upon ourselves to ‘fill that gap’ by attempting to write a children’s novel. How have you found writing a novel for gifted children? What were the challenges for you? 
I find writing children’s fiction to be much more challenging, in general, than romance. In romance, my world around me is the world I use and the source of my inspiration. However in my kid’s fantasy work, I have to create the world including its flora, fauna, and details in minutia. Also, as my intention was to give kids around the age of ten and up content that is appropriate while still challenging them, I have to use extra caution to keep the content child friendly. It sounds easy but has presented me with the need to rethink my own thought processes. I love writing the fantasy stories though because it’s a refreshing and invigorating change and challenge from the romance.

‘The monumental stone vibrated, shaking the temple violently. Srÿche stood, bracing himself in the stone archway, struggling to stay upright through the intense quaking. He watched, his black eyes narrowed, as a blue haired imp Shimmered into being in the archway across from him. She was miniscule compared to his six foot height, but he knew she was his equal in power. He felt the Magic radiating off of her across the expanse of the room and it made his bones ache.
Safina stood in her archway, her arms stretched out wide against the stone in an effort to stabilize herself. She nodded politely to Srÿche, her azure blue hair bobbing. He ignored her, turning away with a scowl, and focused his attention back on the stone. Safina rolled her eyes and turned her gaze to the stone as well.
As they watched, the monolithic stone began to glow a warm amber color. Small pieces of the crumbling temple began to fall as the quaking intensified, nearly bringing the pair of Magicians to their knees. Just as the shuddering reached a tempo that threatened to destroy the temple and everything within it, the quaking stone split in two and an unearthly voice echoed through the temple.

“Under Marching Moon afar;
A humble child born;
Noble and Royal hence;
To seek the DragonStar;
Mend the sword t’was torn;
Save Velania from obsolescence.”

As the echoing voice died, the vibrations reached a new pitch that sent a massive shock wave emanating from the broken rock. As if drawing a deep breath, the air seemed to flow rapidly into the fissure. With an earth shattering explosion, a second, stronger shock wave burst from the stone. The entire temple exploded in a mass of stone and dirt leaving only the two archways standing.
Safina and Srÿche, both doubled over from the force of the Magic, fell to their knees and covered their heads as the temple fell around them. The Magical shock wave overcame them, making their bodies scream with pain and their minds spasm in agony. As the Magic ebbed and the quaking slowed, the two Magicians rose slowly. Breathing heavily, exhausted, and aching from the intensity of the Magic, they stood, surrounded by the rubble of what once had been the Temple of the Oracle. Without a word, look, or acknowledgement of each other, they Shimmered and disappeared.’
~ DragonStar by C. K. Brewer (to be released 2018)

Have your kids read your work? What did they think?
Obviously, they don’t read the romance, but yes, my two youngest children have read the first novel of my fantasy series, DragonStar. They were my first beta readers and according to their constant questions as to when the actual book will be in their hands, I believe they enjoyed it. They said they did anyway. *Laugh*

What made you decide to use two different non de plumes?
I write adult romance with extreme subject matter and occasionally strong language as S. H. Pratt. I really, really didn’t want kids of 10+ to pick up one of my romance books and be scarred for life. Therefore, prudence dictated a second name strictly for fantasy and science fiction. *BigSmile*

Is there a reason that neither of your non de plumes use a full first name?
My full name is quite long and I didn’t want to take up half the book cover with it so I shortened it to my initials and that is my romance author name. Also, I didn’t want to worry about privacy should the miracle happen and I suddenly become famous.
As I was pretty much flying by the seat of my pants with the fantasy name but knew I wanted something that could not be confused with my romance author name, I took an old family name (Brewer) and then took my grandmother’s name on that side of the family and my favorite cousin on that side and used their initials rather than sounding weird with “Clara Kyle”.

Do you agree with the old adage ‘write what you know’?
I absolutely do.

Why?
It’s much more comfortable for me to write about things I have some knowledge of rather than trying to put my mind into a dark void of the unknown. Granted, I still heavily research things I know or have experienced because I don’t know everything about it, but I find it’s easier to put a bit of me into the story if my emotions are tied with the subject matter.

What’s the most important writing skill you’ve learned?
I think it’s to accept that writing is fluid. Every day is new and my skills shift ever so subtly. Without that constant change and growth, writing would become a bore and would cease to be a challenge. As a result, my editing skills, plotting skills, and imagination have all improved.

What one piece of advice would you give to an aspiring author?
Don’t give up and don’t stop learning. If you have a story to tell, tell it. Don’t let people tell you that you can’t and understand that in writing that story, you need to let yourself grow with the experience as a writer, editor, proofreader, reader, and person.

You can check out more of S H Pratt’s work here:
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And you can follow C. K. Brewer on Facebook.

Pressure, perfection and parenting

Prompt: ‘We live in a time when science is validating what humans have known throughout the ages: that compassion is not a luxury; it is a necessity for our well-being, resilience, and survival.’ ~ Joan Halifax

A friend of mine recently wrote Sunday Funday — Bad Mum Cooking, about her struggles to be the perfect mother.

Everything I do is to try and be super mum, super business partner, super partner, super ‘Stepmother’ (oh and no one can say that with a tone quite like an 11 year old girl).

The school lunches, the dinners, the healthy treats .. it’s a big part of it. Like if I can just make the gluten free, nut free, low sodium, sugar free crackers that taste just like BBQ Shapes (aka kid crack), then I can take a break. Everyone will be happy and I will be a good mum.

On Sunday I wrote a letter to a friend of mine from Writing.com, who is expecting her first child. I dared to give her advice, even knowing that soon-to-be mothers are inundated with so much advice (and much of it contradictory) that they can’t possibly use or even remember it all. I still couldn’t help myself.

The advice I gave Aly was much the same as I wrote in my comment on my friend’s entry.

There is no such thing as the perfect mother.  That person doesn’t exist. If you persist in trying to be that person, you are setting yourself up to fail. You will exhaust and depress yourself trying to achieve something that simply cannot exist.

I remember my in-laws telling me about a friend of theirs who insisted on making all her own baby food from scratch.  She was exhausted.  And with exhaustion comes stress and depression.  How can you being exhausted, stressed and depressed possibly be good for your child?  It can’t.  I can understand wanting to give your child the best possible start in life.  I’m a mother.  Trust me, I get that.  I’m not immune from the internal pressure.  If you think I haven’t cried because I thought I wasn’t good enough at this motherhood gig, you’re dead fucking wrong.  Maybe that’ll surprise some people.  But it’s true.

I’ve cried after shouting at my kids.  What sort of mother shouts at her children like a fucking fishwife?  A bad one, right?

I’ve cried when I’ve run out of money and my child had to eat sandwiches for dinner for a week because we had no money for hot meals.

I cried when my teenage son told me he’d been suicidal for a while in primary school, thanks to bullying.  I cried because I hadn’t intervened early enough to prevent him going through that anguish.

I cried when I left my three month old daughter with a caregiver and went to work, and then read on Facebook that a friend had written ‘No amount of money is worth more to me than this time with my children’.  Clearly working mums are bad mums.

I still make mistakes.  I always will.  Because no one is perfect.  No one is a perfect mother.  A perfect father.  A perfect wife or husband.  A perfect sibling or child.  My children are not perfect, my husband is not perfect and I am not fucking perfect.  But my children know I love them.  My children know they are important to me.  My children know that I will always do what I think is best for them, even if sometimes I’m wrong and it doesn’t turn out to be best for them.  My children won’t remember the week of sandwiches.  They’ll remember that I fell on my ass trying to ice skate with them.  My children won’t remember that I shouted at them.  They’ll remember how I nearly threw up after going on the scary rides with them at Rainbows End.  My children won’t remember that I wasn’t able to help out on school trips because I was working.  They’ll remember me spending hours helping them make a journal, bake a cake, do homework, draw a picture, do a cartwheel, whistle, or a thousand other things.

Ultimately, I believe that what children truly cherish is your time and attention.  The rest is important, yes.  But only up to a point.  It’s not worth making yourself miserable over. It’s okay to be the fun mum.  Honest.

It’s not true!

Earlier this year I made the decision to make a lot of my writing public. For a long time I kept the majority of my writing visible to Writing.com members only, not the general public, and I decided that it was time for me to make that leap.

Most publishers will not accept submissions that are freely available on the internet, but will accept ones that are restricted-access, such as those only visible to Writing.com members or only to Livejournal members. I decided that publication was not my goal, so why was I maintaining this restriction? Time to go public!

About half of my poetry is autobiographical, which means that I wrote it about experiences and emotions that I personally experienced. The other half are based on observations of other people’s lives, prompts and just plain imagination. Most of my darkest poetry is fictional.

The first thing I noticed was the assumptions. About half of my poetry is autobiographical, which means that I wrote it about experiences and emotions that I personally experienced. The other half are based on observations of other people’s lives, prompts and just plain imagination. Most of my darkest poetry is fictional.

I recently wrote The fight is over which is written from the perspective of someone whose marriage has failed. And I find it incredibly awkward that people assume it is autobiographical. My husband and I are very happily married, and yet family and friends (and random strangers!) assume that we are having serious relationship issues because I write poetry about fictional situations. I always remind myself that it is a compliment that someone thinks I have expressed a fictional situation so well that it rings true. And trust me, I’m honored that they think so, but at the same time, it’s not an assumption I’m comfortable with. Similarly, I wrote a couple of poems from the perspective of someone who had experienced domestic abuse, and found myself having to give disclaimers every time someone read them. I think people are really starting to worry what sort of man I’m married to! Poor Steve.

It is totally fine to make a comment on how a poem makes you feel, what it makes you think of or reminds you of, or why it spoke to you in particular (maybe you’ve been in a similar situation), but be very careful about assuming that the poet has written from personal experience.

I have had a number of reviews of my poetry where the reviewer has made a comment regarding the situation described in the poem, with the most common being sympathy. It is totally fine to make a comment on how a poem makes you feel, what it makes you think of or reminds you of, or why it spoke to you in particular (maybe you’ve been in a similar situation), but be very careful about assuming that the poet has written from personal experience. When I encounter these poems and wish to make a personal comment of sympathy or similar to the poet, I always note it with a disclaimer. ‘I don’t know if this poem is autobiographical or not, but if it is….’ This leaves the door open for the poet to respond without making it awkward.

So, the next time you’re reading a poem, please take a moment to pause and think. Yes, it may be a personal expression of the poet’s thoughts, experience, and emotions. But on the other hand, it might be observational or entirely fictional. And trust me, you can’t always tell just by reading it.