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

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.