Tag Archives: novel

Progress in some ways, not in other ways

First, my collaborator Chloe (my fifteen-year-old daughter) has abandoned me, citing–if I boil it down–too much work.  I am the sort who will live, breath, draw, and dream the story once I dive in.  There's no looking back, there's only forward and a story to tell. 

I also didn't want to push Chloe, told her I'd be perfectly happy with her being a reader, doing critiques, and participating in plotting exercises.   I think that's really what she wanted to do from the beginning–that's the fun part, as she sees it, going to coffee shops and SF conventions to talk stories and characters and whole new worlds. 

She thinks the writing part is too much like work.  I guess I can see that, but in another sense that's a problem that can be solved: you do enough of it, and it won't be.  The story's already in my head.  I just need to be awake and have access to a keyboard to write it, and I can even get pretty far without waking.

So, Chloe and I will definitely collaborate on a book at some point.  She's an amazing reader, she has a gift for writing dialogue.  It won't be long.  And this is only book 8.  I still have 92 stories to tell! (probably more, but I'll start out with an even hundred).

As far as progress goes, I busted through 15k words, with a planned total of 60+ thousand.  This is YA, and I'm going to stay inside the typical word count range.  So, I'm a quarter done, and sailing for the halfway point. 

Who's got the damn tiller?  And who's making coffee?

Character Studies

Here's my latest character study, along with two priors.  I'm not very far away from completing the first book in a series, and books 2 and 3 are well into planning, so I don't want to give much away.  Okay, just a little:  It's near-future SF, but with a lot of fantastical elements.  All six of these characters are in the first book–the woman with the vines growing out of her head is the POV character.  I will say that I write far more in 3rd person, but these books will all be in first, and each book's POV character is one of the characters in each of these studies.  I've had gay and lesbian characters in stories and books (e.g., Seaborn, Sea Throne, "Hammers and Snails").  Next book will be the first novel I'm writing from a gay character's point of view. 

I did these in digital, Wacom tablet, CS, fairly normal brush set.  Click the images for the full view.

WDCharacterStudy3  WDCharacterStudy1

Must… Keep… Typing…

I'm in heads-down storytelling mode right now, trying to get out at least 1000 words a day in my attempt to complete this book–the first in a series of three (can't say more right now) sometime in May.  I'm still doing character studies, mostly quick digital work that I'll post soon.


Category: Writing | Tags: , ,

Some thoughts on reading and why readers read books

Every book isn't for everyone–every author knows that.  In part, an editor's–or editorial team's–job is to select books that a lot of people will want to read.  At the same time–and publishers of course should and do take every advantage of this–there are pressures on readers to read a particular book. Readers can be compelled to read simply by the fame of the author, pressures of friends, media, "everyone's reading title X –don't be left out."

Every reader is an investor.

Books aren't like paintings, or even like short stories, in that there's usually a significant amount of time a reader has to invest in the process, paying in time and running against an anticipated enjoyment.  In most cases a reader has a sense of what's going to take place during the reading,  a projected pleasure in the experience.    You know how it is.  You read books.  Books are very intimate devices for conveying the story, and you're so close to these characters, you're in their world, sometimes in their heads, and you share in their successes and failures.  There's a rush in their triumph, and tears in their despair–don't tell me you've never cried, or at least felt that tug at your eyes while reading a book.  Come on, a sniffle?  What are you, a zombie?  There has to be a sense of "this is going to be good" (good covers a lot of ground, so I won't focus on that) or most of us would never pick up a book over fifty pages.  It just wouldn't be worth it.

Paintings aren't exactly like that.  You can–and in many cases should–spend more than a few minutes exploring an illustration or painting to see what you can pull out of it.  No art is completely passive.  With short stories, it's the same, but a little closer to books.  In some ways, short stories are more like poetry in their mode of conveying the story or an idea.  (I don't know if this analogy works, but in the same way that children are certainly not little adults–thinking of the way kids are sometimes treated in school or in sports–short stories are not little books.  It's not even a matter of growth or seriousness or whatever makes the difference.  Children are sharp and bright (sometimes sharper and brighter than many adults) and have a different way of looking at the world.  We read short stories in a different mode than novels.  Anyway, not going to drag this analogy out, some other post, maybe).

Books aren't like movies in that they aren't as passive a medium.  Your brain not only has to take in the words, it has to seriously get involved in creating, rendering, imagining the scene, characters, and action the author has created.  Books are demanding. 

Now there are a couple connections I can think of between books and movies.  One, if a book has been made into a movie, book sales spike.  A publisher will often release a tie-in edition, not only targeting people who want to read the book before the movie, but those who see the movie, love the characters, the world, and want to go back into it at their own time, at a more leisurely pace.  Almost like holiday in…pick your favorite world. 

Another connection is audio books.  There is the notion of a captive audience with a movie.  You've paid your $8 dollars to get in, you got your popcorn and a comfy chair.  You're going to sit there and watch just about whatever comes your way.  A printed book doesn't have a captive audience, or only has one in limited senses  (e.g., huge fan, I'll read anything by this author, I'm totally into their worlds).  An audio book on the other hand, appears to me, to be similar to a movie in this way.  I don't know about your take on audio books.  I listen to them while driving, because, well, that's the only safe way to "read" with both hands on the wheel and eyes on the road.  I spend a couple hours driving to and from work every weekday, and that's where I do it.  I can't listen to a book outside of a car, however.  In fact, many times I've gone out Friday night to buy the particular book I have going in the car, because I've been dumped, edge of my car seat, at some pivotal point in the story, and I can't wait for Monday to pick it up again.  (I'm usually done by Monday in these cases as well).  I do think there is a captive audience feature to audio books that makes them something like a movie, but again, not really part of this post, and something to explore some other time.

How about different kinds of reading?  This sort of goes back to the differences between novels and short stories and poetry.  There are different kinds of reading because there are different kinds of writing.  Even within a particular form of the medium.  A novel can be a rollercoaster  (starts off steep and fast and never seems to stop plummeting), a piece of chocolate (slowly savored), a thick rich stew, a cutting ocean storm, and sometimes you're not sure what it is, even after the last page.  Books can be subtle, they can make you bleed.  Many times, you just don't know what you're in for with a book.

This ties in to how you read a book, and the suspension of judgment on the part of a reader.  To start a book you need a certain sense of "let this author's words roll in like scenery on the other side of the car window" –just take them in, render them in your head, and follow the story.  It's almost like a willed blindness, the ability to turn your reading faculty over to the author, and letting the story take over.  No reader will get far in any story if dreading the next word is part of the experience.

The suspension of judgment isn't just about belief in a made up world–a world with no solid core with floating cities–or aspects of it like breathing underwater, it's about getting into the story, accepting it as real, taking in words that would normally appear absurd in a real setting, and letting them into your head without a snicker.  It's about taking the fantastic seriously.  (Nothing absurd ever happens in the real world, right?)

I think this suspension of judgment is less trouble for typical SF and fantasy readers, because we've already trained our minds in reading process mode to perform this, we have the habit, but even within the genres it's still an issue–and will always be.  It even depends on the reader's mood, level of immunity to distraction, and the fact that authors try cool new things with writing, or bring back writing styles that went out of style a hundred years ago and require careful reading to get into.  It's also true that suspension of judgment becomes much more difficult with non-fiction, especially when you try to read a book of ideas to which you are adamantly opposed.  Entering a fantasy world is far easier.  

I think this is the notion of "getting into a book."  Even when you've read a particular author's work befor
e and your anticipation of enjoyment is high, you still need to get into any book.  That's just the way the medium works, a property of fiction in general.  All books have to be gotten into, which doesn't really sound good, but you know what I mean.  Even outside genre, there's a need for any reader to accept what the author is presenting, in whatever style, through characters of any kind.  It's not just that characters have to feel real, with real problems, I think some of them have to even be likable, or provide enough intrigue that you'd follow them to find out what they're up to.

So, what makes you read?  What draws you to any book, to a new author's book?  What makes you stick it out through a tough to read book?  What do you as a reader get out of the reading experience?  What do you expect to get out of it, but sometimes do not?

Go get into a book!



I’m Chris Howard.  I write science fiction, fantasy, books and short stories.  I finished my fifth novel in June, working on the next in a new series.  Seaborn (Juno Books) was my first novel, and its the middle book in “The Seaborn Trilogy”, which begins with Saltwater Witch, and ends with Sea Throne. My short stories have appeared in a bunch of places, mostly online zines, latest is “Lost Dogs and Fireplace Archeology” in Fantasy Magazine.  In 2007, my story “Hammers and Snails” was a Heinlein Centennial Short Fiction Contest winner.   

I’m also an illustrator, working in ink, watercolors, and digital formats.  I have a pen and ink illustration in the last issue of Shimmer Magazine.  My weekly updated graphic novel / web comic Saltwater Witch keeps me busy.  I have art spread over several sites, but a good place to start is http://www.saltwaterwitch.com/portfolio

How to contact me:

email: chrishoward.author@gmail.com

I blog here: http://the0phrastus.typepad.com

Facebook: http://www.facebook.com/chrishoward.author

How I write a novel

This is a slightly updated version of an older post, but I wanted to let it surface again because I was talking about this very thing with some friends at Readercon:

There are several good posts on this already, but I’m going to add the things I do.  (I completed my fourth novel in March, working on my fifth, so I’m not writing from a huge well of experience, but these things work for me). 

By writing, I’m talking construction, how you go about the writing stage of a novel, the activity that takes place after you’ve outlined, planned the arc, and your characters are doing stuff, getting hurt, committing crimes, making eye contact, re-forging ancient swords, drinking blood, whatever.

I’m pretty sure all authors have a particular way of getting things done with common ground that we all have to cover to complete books.  I’d love to read what others do–So, if you know of other "How to write a novel" posts out there, let me know.

Here’s what I do, keeping in mind that this is the general flow:

After the overall story ideas are in place in my head and in my journal, I may write a chunk of the ending first.  I like to have something to aim for.  If things go as they have the last four books, I will then start at chapter 1 and write the chapters in order until I’m about 2/3 through.  That’s when things start to go all gappy, inconsistencies will catch up to the characters and demand evening out, holes in the plot yawn open and demand to be filled. 

By gappy I mean…picture a landscape full of rocky towers and bluffs, only it’s not erosion that accounts for the space, but that the writer hasn’t gotten around to filling everything in.  Think Monument Valley at the southern edge of Utah and northern Arizona.  From the side, the last ten chapters of the story look like this:


Okay, now fill it in.

At this point in the process I will also find it difficult to stay with the chapter order and move into story line order, following a particular character far–sometimes to the end before I can go back and pick up a second story line.   

To take this one level lower:

I do outline, but it’s rather loose.  I need to know where to go, but not necessarily be clear about how to get there, and keep in mind that I usually do a decent amount of thinking, journaling, sketching, painting, and writing scenes, bits of action, before I really dig in to the real writing.

I’ve posted several times on the need for authors to sketch and paint scenes, characters, etc., but in case you haven’t seen those, these are the kinds of things I do for every book.  The first is actually all the action from chapter 15 from my current book rolled into one work.  The second is a character study, which I use to get a character’s look in my head–mainly so I don’t go overboard on description.  It works, I’m telling you.

Seadragon17 Nicole_garcia__seaborn_by_the0phras

At some point–after the first eight or nine chapters–I will build a complete chapter list, typically with bad descriptive titles like "Monster kills Anthony."  This will be shaky for a while, and whole new chapters will spring up in the middle, others will die and fade from the list.

I write mostly in MS Word because of the Document Map feature, but I do occasionally use OpenOffice.  One of these days I’ll get a Mac–but only when I can carry it around in a manila envelope–oh wait, didn’t that just happen?  Anyway, it’s been Windows or Linux for me for a while.  I’ve heard good things about Scrivener.  One of these days.

Here’s what the Doc Map feature in Word looks like (on the left)–I use it mainly to jump between chapters:

And here’s a bit on how the Document Map works.

With the badly headed chapters in a list I can jump to any of them and jot down an idea I think belongs there.  I update the outline as the writing progresses because things change, things fit together better in a way I didn’t see in the beginning.  Eventually I’ll fold the outline into the chapters, and it all becomes the same document. 

Another thing I do to keep the action in a particular unwritten chapter clear is to put the line, "Ends with…"  at the end.  So in a chapter called, "Monster kills Anthony" I will have something like this: 

Ends with Irene standing on the porch holding Anthony’s severed head

(We obviously want to end chapters with something sharp–or at least much heavier than you thought it would be, with eyes bulging from their sockets and drippy.  I know, I’m trying to keep the severed head thing going).

To cap it all off, I think taking the time to just close your eyes and think about the story is as important as the actual writing.

I sit down all the time and just make myself write, but I also need to take some time to think.  Best time is early in the morning, somewhere around 5 AM.  I don’t get up at that ungodly and undemonly hour, but I sort of drift around in the story soup, blow up the raft, get on and paddle here and there, trying to see how things are going, circling the areas that are giving me trouble.  I figure all writers have a pretty good head for their own words, their own story, and you can play it, rewind it, play it back at half speed, rewind… That’s what I do until I get it right.   

Okay, now I have to get back to writing.



You have the right to remain silent…

Do you ever rely on career archetypes in your writing?

Novels are complex organisms.  Even when they’re complete, it’s difficult to see every side, follow every thread, difficult to see minor patterns among the deep grooves and peaks of main threads, plotlines, character progression.  As writers, we focus on the story core, the motives, scenes, and sometimes it’s not easy to see similarities in the way these things hang together.

Apparently I have a thing for law enforcement.

I noticed something recently with Seaborn.  A pattern’s emerged.  There’s a police officer in chapter one–from North Hampton, CHP (California Highway Patrol) mentioned briefly in chapter two, an SP (Shore Patrol–the Navy equivalent of an MP in the Army) in chapter four, and there’s a deputy from the Monterey County Sheriff’s Department in chapter nineteen. 

All very brief, minor roles, some with dialogue.  But I think it’s interesting that I’ve brought them into the story without a clear decision to place these characters in a certain line of work.  It makes complete sense though.  I can rely on readers’ understanding of law enforcement, and avoid the need to develop characters with unknown, unspecified roles.   The same goes for any somewhat familiar career type: musician, lawyer, teacher, doctor, roadie, detective.


Getting graphical

Here’s a page from one my many attempts to put some of my writing into something more visual.  The first scene of Saltwater Witch, with Kassandra falling into Red Bear Lake in Nebraska.  She was pushed.  I saw the whole thing.  Click for a larger view–or click over to my deviantArt page to get even more.  (http://the0phrastus.deviantart.com/art/Getting-graphical-89733965).


Seaborn Notes

I have a character in Seaborn, Michael Henderson, who’s a minor character with a background in science, and I’ve sort of left it up to him to try to explain how people can live and breathe under the sea.  He has the "curse" himself, all the abilities the Seaborn have.  He writes pages of notes, sketches the things he sees in the deep, imagines why things work the way they do with the Seaborn–all with a scientific mind.

I’ve written and drawn a bunch of stuff in the character of Michael Henderson, which started out as part of the worldbuilding exercises, and just kept going.  I wrote the chapter headings in Seaborn from Henderson’s perspective, taken from his notes, his journal, his "conversations" with various notable characters. 

Here are some samples from my journal:

Seaborn Notes
Michael Henderson

SeabornI have been to the deep ocean, the Very Deep, and I have set my feet down in billion year old sand.  I have kicked through the dark with blind animals that change shape with their moods, with fish ten meters long that glide through the deep sea without fear–and only eat microscopic food, with arthropods made of glass, and creatures that defy classification, I have touched the bioluminescent lures of fanged ambush predators in the abyss, and I still have all of my fingers.   I have done all of this without equipment, without SCUBA, without feeling the pressure, or need for air.  I am no longer a surface human–or as the Seaborn, say–a surfacer, a Thinling.  I have become one of them.

I have experienced, l’ivresse des grandes profondeurs, Jacques Cousteau’s "rapture of the deep," but not as the nitrogen narcosis that Cousteau described in Silent World.  Say, rather, that I have experienced the rapture of the unexpectedly normal in the most unexpected place on earth: the deep sea.

The Seaborn do not suffer from any of the affects of breathing compressed gases, for example the squeeze of barotrauma on descent, because presumably, these do not exist in effective amounts in their bodies.

SCUBA stands for Self-Contained Underwater Breathing Apparatus.  This is a device enabling surface-living humans to recreate, as near as possible, and within well-defined limits, everything the human respiratory system needs above the ocean surface, in the air.  While in the water, it appears that the Seaborn do not–or even need to–breathe in the same manner, possessing a different, possibly more advanced system for taking in the same gases and nutrients directly from seawater.  Out of the water, the lungs of a Seaborn human appear to function the same way as the lungs of any surface human. 

Lungs:  Alveoli are the small grape-bunch like structures that line the lungs and take up oxygen, CO2, Nitrogen–gases the human body needs to survive, with oxygen fueling so many of the processes.  The Alveoli are highly susceptible to damage from heavy substances like seawater, which really shouldn’t be in the lungs.  Damage then leads to low blood oxygen levels (hypoxemia) , low tissue oxygen levels (hypoxia), and then death.  The alveolar-capillary membrane is a delicate, one cell thick membrane through which the gases we breathe are exchanged.  It appears to be the case that the Seaborn possess a more rigid surfactact–a sort of stiffening coat for the alveoli to prevent them from collapsing under the weight of heavier substances like water in the lungs.

Seaborn shirts

Just a couple of them, giveaways. (Made these through CafePress: http://www.cafepress.com/seaborn)