May 13, 2010

Interview: Fantasy Author Chris Howard

Cross posted on the awesome site, Geek Girls Network!

Sometimes you come across such talented, fresh artists that you want to tell all your friends about them. Then they turn out to be great writers and really nice people, and you want to tell the world, shout from your virtual rooftop. Chris Howard is one of these artists. And here I am shouting.

Howard manages to keep himself busy. His first novel Seaborn was released in July 2008. He has a beautiful online graphic novel/web comic that he updates weekly, Saltwater Witch* (you can visit with your favorite Seaborn characters in the webcomic). His short stories appear in ezines frequently, and he has won the Heinlein Centennial Short Fiction contest. He is an illustrator and had work recently published in Shimmer Magazine. And if that wasn't enough, he drew a fierce femme gamer just for this interview. Game masters of the world – don't tick this one off.

Okay enough from me.

Who are some of your favorite authors and artists?
Some of my favorite authors, most of whom have had a lasting influence on me, or whose books I just love and re-read or both: Neal Stephenson, Richard K. Morgan, Caitlín R. Kiernan, Terry Pratchett, Neil Gaiman, Connie Willis, William Gibson, Mary Renault. With a few minutes I could keep listing names, probably triple this list.

My all time favorite artists are the neo-classical guys, Waterhouse, Bouguereau, Leighton, Alma-Tadema, and a few others. My favorite contemporary and contemporary-ish artists are Frank Frazetta, Zdzisław Beksiński, Dan Dos Santos, Michael Whelan, Donato Giancola, Stephan Martiniere, John Jude Palencar, Charles Vess, John Picacio, and again the list can go on.

How do come up with names for your characters?
I certainly have a preference for names beginning with the letter K. Totally admit it. I studied Ancient Greek a long time ago, and even though I've lost most of it, I love the feel of the language so much that many of my characters have Greek names: Kassandra, Theodora, Phaidra, Andromache, Kleariste, Klodia, Pheronika. The one that gets most readers who don't like hard to pronounce names is Kallixene, which isn't pronounced like Kalli-zeen, but Kalix-eh-nee.

Any advice for aspiring writers and artists?
I have two pieces of advice, both worthwhile everyone's heard them before: the more you do the better you get, and push yourself. Goes for writing and illustration, although I think I have more to say on writing. Every new story is in many ways better than the last, and all of us--writers and illustrators--are open to pushing into new territory (I don't know one writer who says I'm comfortable writing right here, thank you). Taking on bigger story ideas is built into us. Find that part of you and let it off the leash. Part of you should want to write characters who are in no way like yourself, characters with horrific internal struggles (that make your own look like neat little skirmishes), POV characters of the opposite gender, characters who begin the story with little sympathy—and you need to make it your job to turn the reader's mind.

For the craft of writing, I'm a fan of NaNoWriMo. I haven't participated in a few years, but I can't think of a better way to build skill than writing as much as you can every day. Okay, I just thought of a couple more. ubmit your work, stories and art, to magazines, agents, book editors. So much of any publishing decision seems to be about getting your work noticed in the right place at the right time - no chance of that if you don't submit your work and keep submitting it. Get into a good writing program, class, or workshop. Join a critique group, online or off. If you're in the Boston area, look up the Ultimate SF Workshop (SF and fantasy) put on every year by Jeff Carver and Craig Shaw Gardner.

Do you have a favorite part of the illustrating process - the sketching better than the coloring, etc?
I think I like them equally for different reasons. The sketching part is all about the ideas, who or what is the subject, the perspective and angle - looking over a character's shoulder or directly in the eyes. The coloring and painting part is about finishing the work - in many cases painting over the sketch, and the painting adds so much. With color you're bringing in mood from a different direction. You can certainly show mood with pencil lines, arms folded angrily, facial expression, stance, but with color - a cold blue - everything just gets more interesting.

What was the first piece you ever wrote?
The very first piece? The first I can remember was an awfully unfunny illustrated joke book I collaborated on with my sister, when I was nine or ten years old. I don't want to remember any of the jokes—that bad, but one must have involved a deep-sea diving hippopotamus, because I do remember drawing a hippo in a pretty fancy custom diving rig, with air hoses leading off the top of the page. And it must have been deep because hippos shouldn't have a problem with shallow waters—they certainly don't require diving gear in their natural habitat. You'd think there has to be a good joke to go with that, wouldn't you? I'm sure we didn't come up with it.

If you skip ahead a few decades, then you get to my first written work published, a story called "Diminisher of Peace" about the god Wodan taking on a student, and the following year, "Always Becoming", about what it means to be a witch. Both of these appeared in The Harrow.

When and where do you write and/or draw? Do you have a place you write and/or draw best?
I draw and write where I can. Early in the morning, at lunch, late at night. I like to have quiet, but I write with headphones and music when it's too loud. I rely heavily on my journal to catch an idea when it shows up, because - too many times - I know I had a good idea and I didn't wake up to write down or draw, and it's gone.

I recommend going back to the top of this article and browsing the pages of Saltwater Witch* to grasp the full range of Howard's skills. Don't be surprised if you end up reading for hours.

Keep an eye out for Howard's upcoming short story for Fantasy Magazine in June - Lost Dogs and Fireplace Archelogy.

*Chris is actually in the process of re-working the panels for Saltwater Witch, but they will start to be posted in all their beautiful glory soon. You can still browse his art on the site though.


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