Tag Archives: science fiction

That’s pretty cool…

SaltwaterWitchCover-240 Saltwater Witch is number 91 in "Bestsellers in Magic & Wizards Fantasy" at Amazon.com.


Can’t make it to Boskone this year?

Here are the six pieces I’ve picked for the Boskone 48 Art Show at the Boston Westin Waterfront, Feb 18-21 (Notes and titles for each at the bottom of the page)


Love to hear what you think!


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?

A question about reading and filtering

I'm just thinking at the keyboard, and I'll say it: I think one of the most gratifying things for a writer is a reader who understands your characters.

I've been thinking about how people read books, and how we, in some cases, see the words, the characters, tropes, through our SF lenses or through our medieval fantasy spectacles.  I think contemporary fantasy has had some trouble getting a footing–even with a third of the shelf space that now seems to be devoted to urban, contemporary fantasy, steampunk, and other forms of our genre that do not contain a single elf and aren't set in Medieval Europe (or similar world).

When I sent the first three chapters of Seaborn around to the workshop–at the time I was in the writing workshop Jeff Carver and Craig Shaw Gardner run every year here in Boston–nearly everyone thought it was SF.  And when I said, "no, I'm writing fantasy," they said, "look, here's a woman scuba diving–how can you have scuba gear in a fantasy novel?"

You can

I think it just makes reading it a little harder, and don't expect everyone who browses the F&SF shelves to get what you're trying to do.

If you're using tropes–common themes–like vampires, summoning demons, pirates, dragons, witches lighting candles, sorcerers chanting–all of which I love BTW (everyone knows I have a total thing for witches and demons), you're writing with some cultural (or popular) momentum.  When you write about something a little off the genre map (in my case, humans who breathe underwater) or types and settings that just don't sit well with a lot of people, I think it makes everything–describing, categorizing, shelving, marketing your story, characters, and their motives that much more difficult.

Part of me wants to think that SF readers are happier–than fantasy readers–to accept something way off the mark, but I'm not sure about this.  And I'm even less sure about SF readers when they read fantasy.

What do you think?



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


I'm in the middle of short story about colonists from two different worlds meeting on a planet that isn't home for either–and they have to get along.  New worlds can be nasty places, and even experienced explorers get hit with anxiety when unpredictability's in the air.  And with all the tech, crossing the street is still dangerous on any world.

Here's a quick scene I penciled while helping Chloe with her homework.

Heart of the Sea

The title of this one is "Heart of the Sea," and I'm using it for promotional material for the November 20th signing at Pandemonium Books in Cambridge.  Joe Haldeman and Jeff Carver will be there! 

Click the image for a closeup


It all starts at 7PM.

I'm having prints made and bringing them as giveaways.

Where is it:

Pandemonium Books and Games


4 Pleasant Street
Cambridge, MA 02139
(617) 547-3721
Get directions

Sly Mongoose Review

Title: Sly Mongoose
Author: Tobias S. Buckell
Publisher:  Tor
Age: Teen and up.  Some language and violence, but very accessible. 
Get it: Amazon | B&N | Powell’s | IndieBound (used to be Booksense)
More: Tobias Buckell Online

I’m already Tobias Buckell fan, and to set the general theme of this review, I’ll start with what I said about Sly Mongoose at a little past the reading halfway point:  I thought Tobias Buckell already kicked ass with Crystal Rain and Ragamuffin, but now that I’m halfway through Sly Mongoose, I’ve found there is far more ass to be kicked–far more than I ever dreamed!

And now that I’ve finished reading Sly Mongoose, I’ll say I like them all, but this story is my favorite so far.

Pressure is everywhere, a crushing atmosphere on the surface of Chilo, on the reader who feels the weight on the shoulders of Timas–and we know we’d cave with half of what this young xocoyotzin must bear.  Sly Mongoose comes racing through Chilo’s atmosphere on a makeshift heat-shield and no parachute–and the story never slows down, jumps without warning to new tracks, characters–and readers–all headed one way and then we’re broadsided.  Suddenly we’re all plummeting into Chilo’s toxic atmosphere, pressure’s rising, and the plot opens, scattering characters.   

Some important points, things I noticed: New characters drop into the fray, even late in the story, but they didn’t seem to slow things down.  Another point: Buckell pulls off an extraordinary couple chapter long flashback that doesn’t lag, but kicks the plot into higher gear, letting readers in on what really happened–through Pepper’s POV–aboard the Sheikh Professional.  We read the truth and know what nastiness is in store for an entire planet, while the citizens of Yatapek–the floating city in which he "lands"–and his Aeolian captors just hear Pepper’s side of the story in those same chapters, not a lot to compel them to believe he’s telling them everything or even the truth.  Come on, zombies from outer space?  That’s the best you can come up with?       

Expect to move through Sly Mongoose at an incredible pace with the building pressure, floating cities, vaporizing heat, poisonous fumes, viral brain-killing weapons, planets burned of all life, a near-unstoppable swarming army, and not much standing in the way but one resourceful old soldier missing a couple limbs, a bulimic technician who works on Chilo’s 800 degree surface, and a young woman with the voices of whole civilizations running through her senses and her mind.   Yeah, I was up to 4:00 in the morning reading and wondering how the hell they were going to pull it off.

Right to the point, Buckell continues his course of great storytelling, with steady, beautifully unobtrusive  prose, bold and unpredictable plotting, characters that really stick in your head–that you fall for, strongly sympathize with, and would pay to hang out with in any Seattle coffee shop, or a good Akihabura tech buying spree.  I’m looking at you, Pepper.  Not the most sympathetic character around, but you’re that across-the-board cool. 


Shifting gears

Do you write each story in sequential order?  For me it’s always been pretty clear which book to tackle next, but I’ve been writing the whole Seaborn thing for a while–the last five years, and I have put cool and interesting ideas on hold.  Now, they’re simmering, urging me to write them.

This is a weird place for me, three competing story ideas for the next novel length thing I’m going to write.  I’m at chapter 3 or 4 on each of them, I have very loose outlines, and a pretty good idea of the endings for two of them.  One is another Seaborn book, except the story takes place a couple hundred years before the events in Seaborn–and has very little connection to Seaborn or Sea Throne.

The other two are completely different.  One’s a contemporary YA fantasy.  The other’s stranger still–in two words: near-future fantasy.  I’m less inclined to continue the Seaborn stuff, partly because it’s become easy for me.   I want to branch out, try new things, so I’m probably not going to jump on that one.  The other two are a toss up.  I’m excited about both, they’re completely different kinds of story and storytelling.

I’m thinking of putting the question to my crit partners, let them read chapter one of each story and vote on which one they’d rather continue reading.

What do you think?  Crazy idea? 

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.