Category Archives: words

Seaborn Books Timeline

Several readers have asked for details on how the “seaborn books” are connected, and in what ways. Most of the books and stories I have written over the last ten years are tied together in one timeline, sharing characters, a couple of them extending over a generation. A few clearly share the same setting–our near-future world, with seaborn characters, but without Kassandra making much of an appearance–or not at all (Salvage).

You may have noticed that there’s a genre mix, from what would neatly fall into fantasy, urban fantasy, dark fantasy, etc. to stories that could legitimately be categorized as science fiction or tech-thriller (Nanowhere, Salvage), to stories that may not clearly fall into any bucket (Winterdim). Futuristic fantasy?

You may have noticed that most of these stories take place in the future. That’s on purpose. You could also look at the stories in this timeline and see the advance of technology from one to the next–especially when you get twenty or ninety years into the future, from Nanowhere to Teller and finally to Winterdim. I am a software engineer and technologist, so I am always interested in the progress of technology, where it will lead us, and where it will be applied in the fields of health, culture, military, and–very important to me–in or on the ocean, in support of preserving ocean wildlife as well as how we will continue to provide enough seafood for the world’s every growing market for it.

Want to print out the timeline, or get a closer look?

Let me know if you see typos, problems with the order or dates. I threw this together quickly, a lot of of it coming out of long email discussions with Georg (, Lorena (, and others. Also, I mention characters, plot direction for future books, and other details that you may consider spoilers, so read some of the longer blocks of fine print at your own risk!


Writer Tools

WritingIf you’re writing short stories or books—and let’s face it,
who’s not?—I have a few tools for you, character name generators (contemporary
and Seaborn names) and a word pair list generator, all of which I use for my
own work.   One of the greatest things
about fantasy and science fiction as a genre is that so many F&SF readers
are also writers.  I don't think you'll find that in
thrillers, murder mysteries, romance, or anywhere else.

The contemporary name generator lets you create a list of male or
female names.  Same goes for the Seaborn Name generators, except that they're all ancient Greek names, male and female.

The word pair list is a way to spark ideas. Sometimes when
I'm stuck in a plot I will pull random words out of the dictionary–usually
nouns–and play with the ideas, see how the story would change if I introduced
poison, or make one of the characters a really good cook, or take a word like
"chronograph" and it makes me wonder what would happen to the plot if
there was a "ticking clock"–a count-down timer on a bomb, or the bad
guys are going to kill someone at a particular time and the protagonist has to
do something extraordinary in order to prevent it. The words are there to feed
the story with new and unexpected ideas. 
It's not quite the same, but think of it as something like Brian Eno's
Oblique Strategies, except for writing instead of music. (
There was a cool "Oblique Strategies for Authors" panel at the last Readercon
led by Glenn Grant with panelists Gavin Grant, Eric Van, Jo Walton, and others).


Check it all out here:

Writer Tools



Wing Girl – character study

I did some sketching in my journal this morning, including this one of a character in an old idea for a story of mine–I was telling my son the story.  Scanned this one in tonight and did some shading in Art Rage.  I'm 35k words into my current book, the first in a new series.  It's a near-future thriller, and I've been saying I don't think I'll write fantasy again.  I've moved on–to the future. (I think I said those exact words several times at Boskone).  But you know how it is, a good story grabs you and won't let you go, demanding to be written. So, I'd put money on seeing this character in a book in the…near-future.


Category: art, steampunk, words, Writing, ya

Captain’s Mistake

I wrote "Captain's Mistake" for the first science fiction and fantasy writing workshop Jeffrey A. Carver and Craig Shaw Gardner hold every year in Boston.  Go UltimateSF! This was–and is still–the ice-breaking exercise for the class, writing a short piece about a character with some kind of superpower.

Here's KJ's story Surface Tension for the same exercise.  I will post more links as others post their stories.

Captain's Mistake


      Lieutenant Thedford's fingers slipped along the quarterdeck rail, the rain drumming on his shoulders, pasting his collar to the back of his neck.  He fought the urge to turn around, to look at the candle's glow coming through the panes of the captain's cabin and the thing—her—behind them.  He heard her singing, long sorrow-notes, like something sharp sliding slow through the storm and wind.  A sound at home in so much water.
      He bit down hard, and pushed his face into the storm, releasing his clenched teeth to shout, "Soundings, Mr. Rawlings!"  
      The wind whipped the words away, rain running into his mouth.  He ducked his head and squinted against a gust, one hand holding his hat, no sign of the longboat in the roil of black water pounding the starboard gun ports, no sign of anything beyond a stone's throw.
      Thedford let his gaze drift along the swells under him, and then shoved half his body over the rail, snapping brass buttons onto the deck.    
      "Where are my damned soundings!"
      His fingers were white on the oak, his voice thin, and his words were swallowed by the wind and rain.  
      The deck lurched and he took the rail harder in both hands.  The hum of the wind in the lines made him look up, rainwater rolling off his face.  A foremast spar had already caught Captain Evans, and he didn't want another coming down on him.  
      Thedford scanned the dark for the longboat and his shallows gang, and failed to notice Livesey shouting past him until the midshipman grabbed his shoulder and leaned into his ear.
      "We're before it, sir!  She's going into the cliffs if we don't claw off." 
      Thedford stuck his nose up indignantly.  "Cliffs?  We're a league off the cape!"  He shoved Livesey away.  It was shallows on the approach he'd been worried about—enough to send out Rawlings to measure the depth.  "What bloody cliffs?"  
      A bright bar of lightning flashed and Thedford's gaze darted up, chasing it across the sky.  
      He saw them ahead, towers of pointed stone, looming over the topgallants, shorter lumps of jagged ship killers breaking surf at their feet.
      "Holy god."  The next half second felt like an hour passing, stalling for air, blinking, and clearing his eyes before he got the orders passed his teeth.  "Lee anchor, Mr. Livesey, and bring her head into the wind!"
      The midshipman jumped the stairs, running fore, shouting orders to the bosuns and mates.  "Drop anchor.  When she falls to lee, cut us free."  He waved madly at the loose mainsail, his screaming going high to compete with the wind.
      Shadows and men huddling around the fore lines, a muddy wash of human motion in the darkness at the bow.
      Thedford felt her—the sea—take Delphi's hastily dropped offering.
      The anchor hooked an outcrop ten fathoms under her, and the Delphi, a beamy frigate with thirty guns, lunged into a deep trough, her bow pinned down, a pivot in the raging sea.  Her stern swung up a steep slope of water.  The deck tilted and Thedford, leaning back to keep his feet, found his chin level with the quarterdeck railing, looking over his shoes along the waist of the ship, the forecastle hidden in a tangle of lines and debris and storm darkness.  
      Half of Delphi's cloth was on the deck or in the water, her foremast stripped of yards when the top came crashing down, taking the three spars with it, down onto Captain Evans and half the fore mates.  
      Thedford's eyes lifted to the dim shapes of men scrambling aloft to work the mainsail and topsail, smears of motion and ghostly blocks of gray loose against the black sky.
      "Rotten fucking voyage," he grumbled. 
      One of the cook's boys climbed the stair, saluting comically, his voice squeaky as a bird's against the storm's roar.  "Lieutenant Thedford, sir!  Mr. Livesey sent me.  The longboat's lost.  Took water off the starboard quarter.  The sea took all hands but one.  Mr. Livesey has pulled Mr. Rawlings aboard."
      Thedford glared down at the little scoundrel, his stomach climbing into his throat as Delphi's stern dropped into the trough with the bow.  "With my bloody soundings I hope to god."  They wouldn't do him a bit of good, but it was the only thing he could think to say.
      The boy fled, nodding vigorously.
      Thedford looked up at another figure fighting the stairs, and puffed out his cheeks at one more nail in his coffin.  The surgeon, a thumb-streak of blood across his forehead, climbed to the quarter one handed, something sharp and metallic in the other, catching another shred of lightning with a glint of red.
      Thedford frowned at his approach and made an effort to put the surgeon off.  "Whole night's gone to hell, Michael.  The captain.  The thing in the captain's cabin.  Abysmal time for news."
      "Better now than spoil a finer moment, sir."
      Thedford sighed.  "Dead?"
      "Four, including the chaplain.  Billy's lost his leg."  He paused.  "Captain's dead, sir."  He pointed midships with the bone saw, blood and rain drooling off the teeth.  "The foresail spar caught him crosswise the pelvis, split him near in half."
      Thedford had the presence to pull off his hat and let the rain
run through his thinning hair, off his nose and chin.  

      He nodded at the surgeon and jammed it back on his head as Livesey and—what was left of his soundings gang—Rawlings, salt-soaked to his bones, came up the stairs.  
      "Apologies, sir."  Rawlings half bowed.
      "The longboat?"
      "She's gone.  Granite, like rutting Satan's teeth, sir, come out of the waves in front of me.  Another right behind me, right through the boards.  Caught Harry Weel under the chin and took his head off."
      The Delphi rocked savagely and Rawlings choked off his report, grabbing madly for the rails.  
      Timber squealed.  The hull shuddered, shaking men from the rigging, and Lieutenant Thedford found himself skidding on his chest, face first across the quarter for the portside.  
      A shaft of stone fired out of the depths, drove through the sea's surface at an angle, catching Delphi midway through the upper deck between the main and fore.  An ugly splintery wound opened in the ship's side above the waterline.     
      Thedford crawled to his feet on the opposite side of the deck, his face bone white, brows arched and angry as if his orders hadn't been carried out.  "Get us away, Mr. Livesey!"  
      The midshipman jumped into action, then stopped at the stair, and gave Thedford a mutinous look.  "I think it'd be wise to let her go, sir."
      The lieutenant fixed his hat, face stiff with rage.  "Are you mad?  She's still sound.  I told you to get us away from these rocks.  Deeper water's all she needs.  I've timber and carpenters."
      Livesey stared back with a look that made it clear that he'd always considered the lieutenant a bit slow.  "Not the Delphi, sir, but her.  Captain's mistake."  He pointed at the candle's shuddery glow from the captain's cabin.  "Never should've hauled her aboard.  She don't belong above the waves.  Nothing but trouble—sea-trouble, if you know what I mean, sir—since we brought her into the air.  It's time to put her over the side, time to send her home."     


Category: UltimateSF, words, Writing

Licensing Options When You’re Giving Away Books

CcOr, promotional sharing, licensing your way to more readers, and other well-trodden paths that nevertheless may get you where you want to go.

I’m only here for readers—for the most part.  Of course there’s always a part of me that’s writing for myself.  (If you’re not in love with your own work—at least a little—then how can you expect others to fall for it?  That’s fall for it in a good way).  I love to get into stories, love to create characters and worlds, and writing a story is as exciting to me as reading one.  But without the ability to share my work—without readers—it suddenly becomes much less exciting. One thing I will not do is write books that collect dust for more than a year or two, or let a published book or short story fade away, especially if I have all the rights back.

Rights and sharing are very important to me.  The works I create are mine—the books, the short stories, the paintings and sketches.  I created them, and I do sell them—ebooks, limited edition illustrations, and occasionally the rights to art and stories.

I also share quite a bit of the work I create.  I have a blog and web site full of it (  and ).  Years full of it. I have a couple hundred pages of the Saltwater Witch graphic novel live on my site, and have published it online since 2008.  I have free mobile apps, art tutorials, writing observations.  Some of it I am sharing with all rights reserved, mainly because I want people to come back to my site.  Sometimes it’s because I don’t want them to use it without my approval (and that’s usually because I’m not done with it yet.  Works in evolution can be like bread dough rising, where the baker hasn’t decided if it’s going to become dinner rolls or sourdough pizza).

When I want to share my writing or art I post it, and when I want readers to share my work I use Creative Commons licensing.  I have a variety of work, including art, novels, and short stories licensed under several different Creative Commons licenses.

I love Creative Commons.  I love the idea of a free and uncomplicated method for stamping my creative work with clear, easy to understand, and explicit terms of use.  Creative Commons is a way to tell everyone in the world what can or cannot be done with my books and art. 

So much of the copyright world is not clear—by nature, by design, legal erosion, through cultural or technological change, or even ignorance.  Licensing is complex, there’s no denying it.  I have friends who are lawyers—even copyright attorneys, but I’m not one.  Even so Creative Commons allows me to be comfortable managing my own rights.  CC allows me to offer my work to the world without fear of contractual misunderstandings.  It allows others to re-use my work without wading through legal thickets and murky restrictions.  Most importantly Creative Commons allows me to promote my creative work by sharing it with the world. It works for me, and it clearly works for millions of other creators.

The question is why do I think it works? Because it means more books in the hands of readers.  This has worked for me and may work for you.  

I’ll give you some real numbers in a bit, but I want to take a quick look at my motives for releasing work under one of the Creative Commons licenses.   I don’t think there’s anything new here, but I’ll walk through it.  As part of the process of writing this article I went back through some of Cory Doctorow’s essays and posts around the web, in Locus, and other mags—on the subject of why, and I saw the recurring idea of using CC to expand reach beyond the channels already supplied by established print publishing, whether big six, indie, or anywhere in between.  For example, when Little Brother was released in hardcover by Tor, Cory also released the full text of the book on his web site ( in several formats (txt, html, pdf) under a Creative Commons license, which allowed his fans and fellow creators to reformat the book, translate it, build on it, create new book covers, make derivative works (e.g. movies) under similar licensing arrangements—attribution, non-commercial, share-alike.

But is this true for the new “indies”, the self-publishers, those DIY authors who are taking on most or all of the roles beyond the actual writing of the book?  I think it is.  Can today’s authors use Creative Commons licensing as a promotional tool? I think we can.  When I say things like I’m only in this for the readers, I’m talking about extending the awareness of me as an author and my books as something science fiction, thriller, and fantasy readers might like to read.  Making money off my work is certainly a good thing, and all creators should expect to be paid in some way for their work.  How we are paid can depend on circumstance, newness in the market, fanbase, access to sales channels, and many other factors.  Recognition is a high value for me.  Just getting onto the book shelves, devices, e-libraries of readers is important.  

Creative Commons licensing as a promotional tool works for me.  It’s one tool in the toolbox, along with turning off DRM, going to SF conventions, using Amazon’s KDP Select features, participating in ebook and indie pub forums, posting to my web site, entering art shows, offering my books in as many channels as I can reasonably get into, offering my books in as many formats as I can reasonably manage.

The established sellers are just as valuable. Amazon does a fair amount promotion for KDP authors, unlike the current state of things at Barnes & Noble and Apple’s iBooks store.  My impression of Apple is that, being a solid, powerful, latecomer to the ebook party, they are still progressing rapidly, adding features, and already offer pricing aspects (free, timed sales campaigns) and territorial reach beyond anyone else.  My impression of Barnes & Noble is that they are trying very hard to do everything they can to push the books coming through PubIt into a second or third class position behind print books and the ebooks from the big six publishers—sort of a literary caste system.  “Indie” ebooks aren’t categorized as any old books but are specifically separated out as “pubit”, unlike say The Hunger Games, which B&N appears to grant a higher status.  Not that this is necessarily a bad thing.  For Barnes and the author, it’s the typical balance of the hand that feeds you on one side and looking a gift horse in the mouth on the other. I certainly wouldn’t cut off any channel to readers because they don’t seem to care about a nobody author like me.  I just wanted to point out that my experience with B&N and Apple is that you have to do far more in outside promotion if you want to do well there, while Amazon appears to do more for authors without a big pub contract.

What does doing well mean?  For me, it means that I’m selling 400 – 500 books per month.  I had rights revert on my first novel Seaborn early last year, and toward the end of March I released it along with the other two books in the Seaborn Trilogy, Saltwater Witch and Sea Throne. Over the course of the next nine months of 2011 I released a book per month—either a novel, graphic novel chapter, or short story collection.  Some of them had been published before, some of them hadn’t.  Sales since April gradually increased and I ended 2011 selling more than 4,200 books, mostly through and, but I also did quite well at Barnes & Noble and Apple’s iBooks store.  So, what does doing well mean?  The answer for me is forty-two…hundred.

What does doing well mean in regard to Creative Commons?  Here’s my own experience: I released my SF thriller Nanowhere under a Creative Commons license in the spring of 2006, downloadable and sharable from my web site. I had hundreds of downloads, which is all I could have asked for. Cory Doctorow was nice enough to blog about it on BoingBoing, and things really took off. I stopped keeping track after 10,000 downloads.

I was good with hundreds because that’s better than zero.  I’m even better with thousands.  And what does all of this add up to? People finding my books who may like them and come back for more.  Like I said, that’s pretty much why I’m here.

But wait, there’s more…

If you’re ready to choose a Creative Commons license for one of your creative works here’s the CC home,  Click the Choose a License button.

If you’re new to CC I want to point you to the very thorough and helpful Creative Commons FAQ here: –especially the section for licensors (the rightsholder or those authorized to license a creative work).

You really should check out the FAQ, but here are four points I think anyone looking into Creative Commons licensing should understand:

1. You have to own the rights to the work and have the authorization to apply a Creative Commons license to it.  You might think those mean the same thing, but some countries have statutory licensing restrictions on works created by their own citizens, while others have voluntary membership in collective licensing which may contain some level of exclusivity. See the point on collecting agencies in the FAQ to see if this applies to you.

2. Creative Commons licenses are non-revocable, which means once you publish a work under a CC license and release it to the world you cannot take the license back from the copies already shared or used.  You can certainly remove the links and copies from your web site, but the copies you shared with the world under the CC license you specified will remain with those copies.   Again, this may seem obvious.  You can’t allow someone to use your creative work—possibly in their own work—and then take it back when you feel like it.  I think the main concern here is commercial use.  My answer to this is if you’re really worried about someone else profiting off your work, then specify non-commercial use and even share-alike, which means that anyone using your work can only share it under the same licensing terms you’ve placed on your own work.

3. There’s helpful code behind the Creative Commons image.  When you generate a license at you will get a block of HTML with links back to the license terms and other clearly defined rules for use, but you will also get details in that block of HTML—“machine readable” details, which means there are standard codes and definitions that search engines like Google can identify and present to users. This helps everyone find your stuff.

4. And finally you should be explicit about what you mean by the Creative Commons license you apply to your work.  Tell your readers, your fans, and the world the rules, and even better let them know what you would like to see—new formats, an audio version, illustrations to go along with your story, anything. It doesn’t mean it’s going to happen, but you should make things clear.  It might give someone a good idea.

Here’s an example for my book Nanowhere:

This edition of Nanowhere, including the cover art and illustrations, is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-ShareAlike license, which means you can share it, remix it (for example, you can reformat it or translate it), and you can share the works you make from this one, but you cannot make money from the things you do with Nanowhere, and everything you derive from it has to be sharable and usable in a non-commercial way that observes everything that’s allowed or not allowed under this license.  Details on this Creative Commons license here:

Go create something!

Creative Commons License
"Licensing Options When You’re Giving Away Books" by Chris Howard is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported License. Based on a work at Permissions beyond the scope of this license may be available at

I just found this link on Guy Kawasaki's G+ stream.  Everything you need to know about starting and operating a street food business in NYC, and I was thinking there's no end to the stories that can come out of being a street vendor in the City. Meeting hundreds of people every day, some of them regulars. The protag—the owner of the food truck or pushcart–can be a retired private investigator, an alien, a vampire, an impatient classically trained chef with a love for yakitori. Think what you can do with humor, information gathering, a front for crime or the CIA, horror–a street food vendor on Sept. 11.  What if we turn this vampire/undead thing on its head and suddenly every book and magazine publisher is getting dozens of stories centered on the street food business in NYC?  That would be worth writing and submitting a couple stories itself.

Who's with me?

Start here:

Go write something!

Okay, it’s official… It’s a trilogy

With Saltwater Witch (the novel) going live, it's now three books, "The Seaborn Trilogy". New cover art (see below), new book (Saltwater Witch), and an even newer (still in the works) omnibus edition with all three books in one, with transitional stories, journal entries, and other good oceany stuff.



What do you think of the new covers?


Writing process at a high level

I sent off the final manuscript today.  I can't tell you the title…because it's a secret.   I can tell you this is my sixth novel, it took me a little over three months to write, it's YA contemporary fantasy, set mostly in California–and it's very California.  Except for that bit in Nova Scotia. 

I finished this book in June, put it away for a couple weeks, and then picked it up again for an edit pass in the middle of July, handing out copies to a few readers, including my daughter Chloe, who is like a reading machine. She reads twice as a fast as I can, with complete comprehension.  So, when I give her a book, she'll have it done in one day with feedback the following day.  Crazy.  I think she should be an editor.  Or a lawyer.  She's pretty good at arguing her points and suggestions. 

I wrote this book almost entirely in the Pages app on my iPad, using the dockable keyboard.  (Yes, the on screen keyboard is impressive for what it is, but it would be torture to have to write a book on it).  This was an experiment, and I have to say it was completely successful.

At a high level, here are the steps I take to write a book. 

1. Idea.  We all have story ideas, and they can spring into our heads at any time.  I keep a journal so I don't lose them.  Story ideas are all around us.  Look at this (Mystery trader buys all Europe's cocoa beans) and this (Man detained at airport with 18 monkeys) and you try to convince me the news isn't full of stories.  You don't even have to look very hard.

2. Characters.  I always–always–draw or paint my main characters at least once (See my painting at the end of this post for a typical character study).  I think it's necessary to see what your characters look like.  If you don't want to draw them, find people in the world who look like your characters, and use those–cut them out of magazines, do a google images search and print them out.  I also interviewed my primary characters in this book, which really helps to nail down personality and motive–which then drive the plot. Here's
a tip: if you're stuck on a particular scene, stop writing the story
and interview the characters involved in the scene, pretend you're the
director of a movie and you've said "cut" to take dinner break. Even better, pretend you're an outsider who's wandered onto the set and doesn't know anything about the story. Write it all down. Ask
them questions, and answer in the characters' voices–why do you have blood on
your hands, what's with that ridiculous t-shirt–don't you ever wear
anything nice?

3. Plotting.  I usually write my query at this phase of the process–and I always write a query, at least a paragraph in language that sells the story.  Even if you have an agent who will do his or her own pitching, or you're writing this for a proposal that's already signed, it's important to give everyone including yourself the means to briefly tell your story to someone else. 

4. Writing.  This also includes some plotting because unless you're an outline god who can document every footstep of every character before the first line goes on the paper, there's just no way the concrete of your plot is entirely dry when you start writing.  (At least that's the case with me).  I always leave some sea room to maneuver in the outline.  That said, I started this book with a mostly clear and complete plot, with less room to wiggle than I've ever left before. 

5. Put the manuscript away for a little while.  Go off and write a short story or two.

6. Do an edit pass.  Read your story all the way through, make corrections, cut, move, expand scenes, scratch your head over that paragraph that makes no sense.  Every book I've written has at least one of these.

7. Print out some reading copies.  Get some feedback on plot, characters, everything.  Print out the book because you will see and read your words differently on paper.  My standard reading format is two columns per page.  I usually do this in Word.  I'll format the whole thing into two columns with a .2 inch gutter, Times Roman, italics, no underlining.  I guarantee that you will find textual problems that would go right by on the screen.

8. Read aloud.  To yourself, or even better to your friends, spouse, kids, complete strangers.

9. Second edit pass. 

10. Format the manuscript.

11. Send to your agent, editor, submit query to publisher, all that other good stuff.

12.  Go back to step one.

Here's the original sketch and painting I did for this book, with my POV character in the middle:


Go tell a story!


You really want to know what kicks ass about our world?  When you get people together who are passionate about something, there's always magic, sometimes there are temporal anomalies, sometimes there's even free stuff.

Check this out. Say it with me:

What the world needs is a smart, fun, interactive "blog, resource, and community dedicated to the art & craft of storytelling" that looks inviting, prompts you to write more, and gives away books every Friday. 

This is some weird shit…because it's already here. Told you. Temporal anomalies.

Julia from LitDrift emailed me for some spread-the-word linking.  I like the name LitDrift, like the look, like both the concept and what's already running on the site. You will, too.

Browse LitDrift. If you like what you see, spread the word.


Category: Blogging, Books, words, Writing

Lost Dogs and Fireplace Archeology

And I thought it was a damn good day already…now it's perfect.

One of several short stories–both fantasy and sf–I have sub'd all over the place, "Lost Dogs and Fireplace Archeology" is going to Fantasy Magazine!  So happy about this.  I received an official acceptance email this morning, contract to follow, but it's just so cool to see this on Sean Wallace's journal:

Here's Cat Rambo's post on the same, 1400 emails to sort?  Hundreds of stories to wade through every month? Oh, the life of an editor. I don't think I could handle it. 


Category: words, Wow!, Writing