From Modern Mythcraft to Magical Surrealism

Chris Howard, author of Seaborn

Chris HowardChris Howard loves to create, primarily with words. As an army brat, he grew up all over: Fort Belvoir, Virginia, Indiana, Presidio of San Francisco, France, Germany, and Japan. He’s now settled in coastal New Hampshire with his wife and two wonderful kids. He’s a writer who also paints, working in pen and ink, watercolor, and digital formats. Chris has blogged steadily since 2004, mostly on writing, art, Aristotle and technology. Seaborn is his first novel.

Where do you get your ideas?

Dreaming and traveling; and I couldn’t write without my journal to record ideas. I’d forget it all if I didn’t write every idea down and sort out the good ideas from the crappy ones later. I do more plotting at four in the morning, half awake, with a scene and characters tumbling around my head. But I have to get up, sort it out and write it down, or I’ll lose it.

Traveling is also great for people watching and what-if-ing. I’ll fill pages of my journal while on a coast to coast flight, catching bits of conversation in airport restaurants, at the gate, on the plane. A couple examples: orange juice bombs and carnivorous accordion doors. Here are two journal entries from a business trip, which may or may not ever be put into fiction. Not sure that they’re that good, but these really happened, and are the kinds of things I record to spark story ideas.

The first, a flight attendant, after take-off, pulls out a three-quarters full bottle of orange juice from a storage closet and walks down the aisle asking if it belongs to anyone. No one fesses up. My brain jumps right to someone purposefully left it onboard from the prior flight with some sort of substance in slow-dissolve capsules that react explosively with the acid in orange juice. Boom, and we’re scattered over three states–someone call the FAA. Even as I was writing this in my journal, I’m wondering what Homeland Security will think if they ever saw these words. Keeping in mind that if it’s good enough to worry DHS, then it’s in and worth keeping.

Example two: a gentleman in a crisp white shirt, flowery tie, exits the airplane lavatory. He’s just washed his hands, and while he takes a moment to fix his cuffs, the accordion door slaps closed behind him, catching his sleeve and maybe the back of his shirt from behind. He doesn’t notice at first, and then–in horror–realizes that he’s trapped, seized in the jaws of the door. He looks around to see if anyone’s noticed him. I look down and start writing. He worked awkwardly with his elbows at the door, but I think he finally got a flight attendant to release him. I didn’t look up to see how it ended, because I was already running with the idea that the plane was alive, and wouldn’t it be cool if every once in a while the number of passengers who get off the plane was less than the number who got on?

What author do you admire and hope to be compared to someday?

Neil Gaiman. He does it all: novelist, short fiction, non-fiction, screenwriting, graphic novels. He’s a storyteller without media or genre limitation, comfortable with any pen or brush, with access to an unlimited palette, available on bookstore shelves covering SF/fantasy, graphic/comics, mainstream fiction, children’s, YA, audio, video, and more. It just doesn’t get better than that…in one author. My ideal would be a comparison to Neil Gaiman, Connie Willis, and Caitlin Kiernan all rolled into one.

What author do you admire yet hope never to be compared to?

Victor Hugo. Two of my all time favorite books are Toilers of the Sea and The Man Who Laughs. For style comparisons, absolutely, since Hugo’s up there with a handful of incomparably good stylists. But I could do without the long literate essays on farming methods, obscure political movements, and the Battle of Waterloo. I just don’t want to hear, “he reads like Hugo.”

Your favorite historical era?

4th Century BC Athens. I’d jump back in a heartbeat if I had the chance–no running water, no plumbing, no problem. Find me at the Lykeion chatting Prime Movers, Sophoclean esthetics, and the friskiness of cephalopods with Aristoteles and his bud, Theophrastos.

Your favorite names?

Hard to pronounce Greek names like Thukydides, Aigyptoucha, Pseromandros, and Klytemnestra.

What natural talent would you like to have that you don’t?

Easy: breathing underwater. Being able to dive into the abyss and explore chemosynthesis at ultra high pressures first hand without annoying physical laws getting in the way. If I can’t have that, I’ll take dancing as a distant second–although it’s probably easier to negotiate getting the underwater breathing thing worked out.

When you first get an idea for a book, where does it start? Do you first get a character, or an image of a place, an object, an indefinable thing? Or is it theme, a line, or a scene? Or something else?

It depends, but I think most of the time I’ll start with an idea to explore, and the characters, scenes, images all grow out of that. SEABORN started with me thinking about different ways to express the loss of freedom. On one hand, the character Corina Lairsey has lost all physical control and has to bargain with her captor–with evil–to get anything, doing what she has to do to get her freedom back. Kassandra, on the other, has what appears to be all the power in the world, but she can’t trust that any particular thought in her head is her own. There are powers inside her with their own agendas, something else’s ideas that slip into her decision making and direct her do things she wouldn’t dream of doing on her own–and she spends a lot of energy fighting to be certain that she’s doing what she wants to do.

Why the sea? Why does the ocean play such an important role in your work?

Hurricane Agnes. I was nine or ten years old. I think the storm barely reached hurricane strength while we were vacationing in Cape Hatteras. It tore some shingles off the roof, but the next day was super clear and blue and there were mounds of seaweed thrown across the sand, horseshoe crabs making their way back to Atlantic, things from the deep tossed on the shore that I had never seen before. I wanted to be a marine biologist from that day. It didn’t work out, but the dream’s still there, just channeled into other activities, like writing.


Visit The Saltwater Witch, Seaborn’s official website, and buy the book directly from Juno or your local bookstore.

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