FanLit Talks to Chris Howard about Seaborn and Peanut Butter

Kelly interviews Chris Howard about his novel Seaborn. Read Kelly’s review of Seaborn on our Chris Howard page. The art in this interview comes from Chris Howard’s portfolio.

Kelly: Seaborn features two complex and fascinating heroines: Corina and Kassandra. Each woman is involved in a struggle to gain control of her own psyche; Corina has Aleximor, the necromancer who has possessed her, and Kassandra has the voices of her ancestors prodding her toward the goals they think she ought to pursue. Corina is very open to the reader emotionally—we know most of what makes her tick and what her inner landscape is like—but is unable to take action in the physical world throughout most of the book.

In contrast, Kassandra is always in motion, always doing things, but she keeps some secrets from the reader, so that we don’t always know exactly what she’s planning (though there are clues along the way). So…was one of the women harder to write than the other? More fun to write? Do you have a favorite?

Chris Howard: They were both fun to write, but Kassandra’s my favorite. What’s interesting, is that in talking to readers, I’ve found—a little unexpectedly—that some are Corina-likers, preferring Corina’s and Aleximor’s storyline, and others are Kassandra-likers, preferring Kassandra’s erratic behavior and power. For me, this is all Kassandra’s story: Seaborn, the next book, Sea Throne, and Saltwater Witch, a YA fantasy that takes place five years before Seaborn (under editorial consideration, but not yet accepted for publication). I left a lot open with Seaborn, but everything’s resolved in the next book, Sea Throne. I made it tough to always sympathize with Kassandra, but there should be a handful of “ah-ha” moments when readers realizes why she did or said something that didn’t quite fit—or even seemed very wrong in Seaborn.

Corina’s story was very challenging to write for several reasons. She’s in her head, but doesn’t really have anything physical for me to write about. I experimented in several directions trying to solve this, changing POVs (in a very early version of Seaborn, Corina’s in first person, while everything else is in 3rd), italics, lots of scene breaks. One way I chose to make this work was to give her her own space, which I also used to drive the plot—I like the way this turned out, hoping readers do too. Other challenges were that both Corina and Aleximor change radically though the story, and so much hinges on their motives and action and how one affects the other, and dealing with shifting POVs of two people, different genders, in the same head.

On the good side, I feel I really grew as a writer having to tackle these challenges. For the Corina-likers out there: she has some cool scenes in the next book, Sea Throne. She’s taken Thennas under her wing. We’ll see how it all ends up during and after editing, though. Things can change. (My editor wanted two more Kassandra chapters put into Seaborn).

Your writing makes great use of Greek mythology and history, and you also mention in your blog that you’re interested in Aristotelian philosophy. How did you first become drawn to ancient Greece, and how did you decide to incorporate your knowledge of ancient Greece into Seaborn?

I’m a software engineer, but I studied philosophy in school and totally hit it off with Aristotle. I studied Greek, ancient theater, Homeric sagas, Athenian politics, just fell in love with everything ancient and Hellene.

But that was years ago. Then I spent a few weeks in Greece, Turkey, several islands including Rhodes in 2001, and I think that’s what really sparked a deeper love of Greek myths and the myths of other Mediterranean cultures incorporated into the Greek myths. The Telkhines (or Telchines), whose stories I draw on for Seaborn, were originally the gods of Rhodes, from the culture of the island before the spread of a somewhat unified ancient Greek culture.

You’re an artist as well as a writer. Would you say that your art background influences your writing and/or vice-versa?

Drawing and painting influence my writing in so many ways. Writing would be more difficult if I couldn’t sketch characters, scenes, places, and action. I use painting to get me back into the story’s groove, help me remember what everyone looks like. A painting let’s me visualize the story before I write it. Some of my paintings capture a mood in a particular scene or of a particular character, and allow me to get back into the story when I’ve been at work all day. Without the art, the writing wouldn’t come as easily. I also think painting adds depth to a character that I can hold in front of my eyes and study. I don’t know if it’s a thousand words, but a picture that contains a piece of the story is a shortcut to getting words on the page.

This next question is sort of a new FanLit tradition: Is there one question you always wish someone would ask you, but no one ever does? If so, what is it? And what’s the answer?

I’m new at this—Seaborn‘s my first novel, and so I can think of a bunch of questions that haven’t been asked yet. But I’m going with something obscure from Seaborn.

Question: What’s with the peanut butter? Not really giving anything away here, but there’s a minor theme that runs through the book about the Seaborn not liking peanut butter, but Kassandra loves it, and what’s up with that?

Answer: The peanut butter thing just sort of happened. I wrote it into the story here and there, a bit of silliness really, but it took on a life of its own, cropping up in my plot where I hadn’t expected it. It is a strange thing, but it makes sense that someone coming out of the sea—who was born to the sea—then goes to the grocery store and sees this weird yellowy-brown paste in jars on the shelves. I think the idea came out of not being able to find peanut butter in Europe once (except in tiny very expensive jars imported from somewhere), and the notion that there are whole cultures who aren’t in love with the stuff and don’t have forty varieties and crazy mixtures of it on store shelves. On the good side, I now have something to bring to signings and readings: peanut butter cookies, Reese’s Pieces, etc.

And finally, a slightly silly question: Do you have a favorite place to swim?

In my head. Okay, other than that, Ke’e Beach in Kaui, Hawaii, my all time favorite place to get in the water.


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KELLY LASITER is a mild-mannered academic administrative assistant by day, but at night she rules over a private empire of tottering bookshelves. Kelly is most fond of fantasy set in a historical setting (a la Jo Graham) or in a setting that echoes a real historical period (a la George RR Martin and Jacqueline Carey). She also enjoys urban fantasy and its close cousin, paranormal romance, though she believes these subgenres’ recent burst in popularity has resulted in an excess of dreck. She is a sucker for pretty prose (she majored in English, after all) and mythological themes.

View all posts by Kelly Lasiter

One comment

  1. I think the art is gorgeous. There’s more at his website: http://www.saltwaterwitch.com/

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