This month, I am proud to present an interview with Chris Howard, author of Seaborn.
It’s a pleasure to have this opportunity to interview you, Chris. Please tell us a bit about your writing background.
My mother was a writer and an artist, and growing up I had no concept of a “real job” versus an artistic pursuit–no pressure to take one over the other. (I ended up studying philosophy in school, and have spent the last twenty years developing software). I think, more than anything else, the idea of the arts as a valid career path opened up the world of writing and painting for me. My mother also made it pretty clear that if you don’t submit anything, you’re never going to get published. My first rejections were from F&SF and Dragon Magazine in the early ’80s, and my first publication was a short story, “Diminisher of Peace” in The Harrow in 2006. So, twenty-something years of writing on-and-off before an editor accepted something. I used to collect rejects, stick them in a folder, to go through every once in a while. I don’t bother anymore. I know I have well over a hundred and fifty.
That’s a lot of rejections, but you’ve already proven that a writer should never give up. Tell us about your latest publication?
Seaborn, which came out last July, is my latest novel. I’m also an illustrator with some pen and ink work in the last issue of Shimmer (came out a few months ago). Seaborn is actually the middle book in a series that begins with Saltwater Witch (young adult) and ends with Sea Throne. Both of these are complete, the first with a publisher. No idea when they’ll see the light of day, though. Sea Throne is presently a victim of the recent shifts in the publishing world, with Juno Books becoming an imprint of Simon & Schuster’s Pocket Books division, and with a tighter focus on the popular and key elements of urban fantasy–that’s werewolves and vampires, and with people from the sea–any way you define “urban fantasy”–being on the fringe. So, Sea Throne’s sort of in limbo at the moment. Time to work on the next series!
I wish you the best of luck with Sea Throne. What project are you working on at the moment?
I have a new fantasy series going. It’s quite a bit different than the Seaborn books. It’s in the future, so you have nanotech, self-cleaning clothes, and my main character’s a dryad–an SF background with magic and demons and forest deities. I like the mix. I think readers will too. Instead of a loose 3rd person POV I used in Seaborn and Sea Throne, the new series, starting with the book I just completed–Winterdim, is all in first person POV, with each book from a different character’s perspective.
That does sound like an interesting mix. Do you know how the story will end when you first start writing it?
Depends how broadly you’re interpreting “how.” I certainly have a good idea of who’s going to come out the other end of the story alive, and whether they’re going to succeed or fail. I don’t have protags fail often–never completely. On the other hand, they never step out of the last chapter unchanged, undamaged, or not without a whole new set of problems.
As far as writing process goes, I typically begin writing the ending before I hit the middle of the story. This works to plant a stake in the ground and gives me a pretty clear direction to move the story. By the time I’m three-quarters done, I may have the ending complete–with minor tweaks when the rest of the writing catches up and then a few more after a post-complete edit pass.
I believe in having a concrete ending and often write the last scene at the beginning of the process. Do you work on more than one story at a time? If so, how do you manage it?
Usually. I may complete a short story or two in the time I write a novel, but I never get into another novel length work. That doesn’t mean I’m not thinking one or two books ahead, or even the next series. I’m always doing that. For me at least, it’s never the lack of ideas, it’s always about the lack of time to pursue them. I keep a journal–I use Moleskine notebooks, unlined so I can draw in them, too. I go through one of these a year, and by the time I’ve finished one book, I have enough notes, plot ideas, conclusions to get me started on another. I also draw and paint, and I’m usually way ahead of what I’m currently writing. As part of my writing process, I picture scenes from the next book or series and paint them.
I have always been interested in how other writers go about their business so thank you for sharing that part of your writing routine. Do you believe in writer’s block? Why?
I’m not sure I do. If we’re talking about writer’s block being the state writers run into when they don’t understand enough about a particular scene, plot direction, character motivation, and can’t continue without getting a better handle on these things, then I do believe. Everyone gets that, and the response is to sit back and think about those things that feel fuzzy, that don’t make sense, take time to put yourself into a character and play around, try to understand what they’re feeling, what they see when they step into that scene. Sometimes it works to try something unexpected. People aren’t robots–unless your character actually is a robot. They don’t always follow a script–they certainly don’t in real life. Why would readers expect a fictional character to behave that way?
I don’t think I’ve ever just sat in front of a blank sheet of paper, pen in hand, or in front of the screen, fingers hovering over the keyboard, waiting for the words to come. Maybe a long time ago, and the cure for that is to put the pen down and go read a book. Get some inspiration, look at some art, photographs, listen to some music. I’m still a newb at this writing thing. I’ve just completed my fifth novel (worth publishing–have a bunch that aren’t), and if I had to give some advice on this: A lot of the writing process relies on trusting yourself to tell the story–and not getting hung up on a particular scene. It could be that you’re just not ready to tell that part yet. Move on to the next. Pick a scene later in your story that you’ve been dying to write. Who says you have to have everything written prior to that scene? Skip ahead and start writing. You can always come back and fill in chapters, and when you do, you’ll have a better understanding of your story and characters.
What are your writing goals for the future?
Simple. Novel a year. That’s the plan. Do some painting and drawing during and in between–maybe sell a few. Near term I want to pursue this future fantasy thing to the limit. I’ve plotted three books, but I can take it to more. Beyond that? I have a hundred stories to tell, worlds to build, characters to create and their shoes to step into. I’ve written two YA novels, Nanowhere and Saltwater Witch. I may come back to writing more YA at some point, and when I do it’ll probably be historical fiction.
Thank you, Chris, for a very interesting interview. I’m sure visitors to this site will be as grateful as I am for the time you’ve given us today.
If you would like to know more about Chris and his writing (and even his artwork) be sure to visit his website – https://saltwaterwitch.com/