YA Guy is thrilled to introduce a new feature, “YA Guy Interviews. . . .”
And YA Guy is beyond thrilled that the first in this series is an interview with Chris Howard, author of one of my all-time favorite YA sci-fi/dystopian novels, ROOTLESS. Chris’s debut tells the tale of a future world without trees, and of Banyan, a young builder who fabricates trees from metal, wire, and whatever junk he can salvage from the ruins of the old world. For a complete review, see this post. It’s a must-read for anyone who’s into futuristic YA with a driving plot and a literary sensibility.
So, without further ado, here's Chris!
YA Guy: Chris, thanks for joining us at YA Guy!
Chris Howard: Thanks for getting in touch! I’m really glad you enjoyed the book.
YAG: I’ll start with the mundane stuff: how did you become a writer?
CH: Well, I’ve always written a lot and daydreamed a lot, and about six or seven years ago I started to combine the two when I came up with a story I wanted to tell. It wasn’t ROOTLESS, but it got me hooked on storytelling. When I have the spark for a story, there’s nothing more rewarding to me than trying to tell it the best way I can.
YAG: What inspired you to write ROOTLESS, and what was your path to publication?
CH: I was initially inspired while hiking through a stand of trees decimated by beetle-kill here in the mountains of Colorado. I had the whole “what if?” moment, and the character and world and the voice all popped into my head really quickly... so I was running to get back to my car and start writing things down. It was one of those times when the predicament created the protagonist, which then set me off in a really wild way. I wrote the first draft pretty quickly, and about six months after that hike when I’d first come up with the idea, my agent had publishers interested, so it was a bit of a whirlwind. I then worked on the book for a year with my agent and my editor at Scholastic, who were both brilliant.
YAG: What’s been the best moment in your writing career so far? And if you feel like sharing, what’s been your worst?
CH: The best times have all been writing--first draft stuff. That burst of creation when you can’t type fast enough. That’s why I do it. The worst? Ha. I don’t want to put off any would-be authors who might read this, but it’s certainly not all fun and games!
YAG: You got that right! Now let’s talk a bit about the book itself. ROOTLESS is a great book, but it’s also a grim book: your portrait of a world without trees is pretty bleak. Was it hard to write such a dark vision of the future?
CH: A lot of people ask me this, especially as I come across as a pretty upbeat dude. But I think exploring the darkness is a big part of writing for me. And the book is about people fighting to make their world a better place--which I think is the ultimate goal in life. Even at the start of the book, Banyan’s trying to give people a sense of hope and beauty through his tree building. And I think that’s sort of why I write, too. Of course, right now as I answer your question, there are people living a way worse life in way harsher conditions than I can imagine, all over the world. So I don’t think my book is any bleaker than reality, unfortunately.
YAG: That’s an important point, and it leads into my next question. Like all good science fiction, ROOTLESS builds on current technologies to imagine the future. For example, in ROOTLESS there’s a company, GenTech, that has monopolized the world’s food supply through genetic modification of corn. A pretty heated debate exists today about GM foods. Why were you drawn to this issue, and what do you think the place of politics is in YA fiction?
CH: To tie this in to the previous question.... The main issue I was drawn to is that the world is a really terrible, painful place for a lot of people. Usually because of the sick, the cruel, and the greedy parts of humanity, and the darkness people surrender to and force others to suffer inside. The GM crops issue was a spark for the story, but it’s a story, so it’s really meant as a metaphor, and people who take it too literally might be missing something, I think--though it’s the reader’s right to put in and take away what they want, of course. I think fiction should make people think, and hopefully the book achieves that. And I do think the GMO debate is worth people getting heated up about. It’s as complex as it is controversial.
YAG: ROOTLESS certainly made me think! Let me ask you, since this blog focuses on YA fiction by guys and for guys, whether you think ROOTLESS is a “guy book.” For that matter, what do you think about the concept of “guy books”?
CH: I don’t think much about that stuff, to be honest. After I wrote it, my agent told me the book would be a “young adult” book and at the time I didn’t really know everything that meant. She also told me the book would be a “harder sell” because it features a male protagonist... who knew?! But you can’t think about that when you’re writing, or you’re just a slave to the machine!! Ha. I do think because Banyan is a teenage dude, that the book would resonate with dudes, of course. And I didn’t try to make him a girl-friendly-ideal of what a teenage guy should be, but a lot of girls/women seem to connect with him too. An important gender issue to me was that he would be respectful of women, and it seems like a lot of readers pick up on that, which is great.
YAG: I thought his relationship with the female characters was one of the book’s many strengths. So tell me, what were you reading when you were a young dude? Did any of these books play a key role in the development of ROOTLESS?
CH: Oh yeah. I’ve always read loads of really different things, and not a whole lot of sci-fi really, but everything from The Lord of the Rings to 2000AD, Kerouac to Mark Twain, were things that sparked me from a young age, and I think they come through in the book a little. A lot of music too.
YAG: You win the prize for mentioning LOTR, and I agree there’s a definite Kerouac ON THE ROAD vibe to ROOTLESS. I don’t want to keep you, so as my final question, what’s next for you (next book, next project, next life, next whatever)? What should your fans be on the lookout for in the near future?
CH: Well, ROOTLESS is the first part of a three-book story and I’ve worked long and hard on the next two books. My agent’s been a huge help with them, and I’m really excited about where the story goes and who the characters become. I’m not exactly sure when Book 2 will see the light of day. I’ve spent the last eighteen months or so working on the series without a contract to do so.... This was not a “publisher forcing me to make it a trilogy” thing, though some people seem to assume that, which is sort of ironic. Ha! Anyway, this was a “me being true to the story” thing, because I knew very early on the ultimate ending to this particular tale, and I wanted to reach that. So... now my agent and I have to figure out the business of getting the next two books out there, and a lot of people who’ve enjoyed ROOTLESS get in touch to find out when they can read the next part of the story, so I’m eager to share the adventure with them. They are coming! I also have other stories I’ve been working on that I’m really excited about. I pour everything I have into what I write, and then edit it until I’m not doing anything but adding commas and then taking them away again! It’s a long process, but I’ll certainly keep everyone posted as soon as things are ready for them to read.… J
YAG: I’ll be first in line when your next book comes out. Thanks again, Chris, for joining us on YA Guy!
CH: CHEERS, mate! Thanks for spreading the word about stories.
To find out more about Chris and ROOTLESS, and to stay updated on Chris’s future projects, check out the following links:
PRESS KIT & AUTHOR PICS:
ROOTLESS COVER ART:
ABOUT THE BOOK
17-year-old Banyan is a tree builder. Using salvaged scrap metal, he creates forests for rich patrons who seek a reprieve from the desolate landscape. Although Banyan’s never seen a real tree--they were destroyed more than a century ago--his missing father used to tell him stories about the Old World.
Everything changes when Banyan meets a mysterious woman with a strange tattoo, a map to the last living trees on earth, and he sets off across a wasteland from which few return. Those who make it past the pirates and poachers can’t escape the locusts... the locusts that now feed on human flesh.
But Banyan isn’t the only one looking for the trees, and he’s running out of time. Unsure of whom to trust, he’s forced to make an alliance with Alpha, an alluring, dangerous pirate with an agenda of her own. As they race towards a promised land that might only be a myth, Banyan makes shocking discoveries about his family, his past, and how far people will go to bring back the trees.
Chris Howard was born not far from London but currently lives in Denver, CO. Before he wrote stories, he wrote songs, studied natural resources management, worked for the National Park Service, and spent eight years leading wilderness adventure trips for teenagers. He was awarded a Publishers Weekly “Flying Start” in Fall 2012, following the release of his debut novel, ROOTLESS (Scholastic Press), and Chris is currently working on the next book in this gritty sci-fi series that’s recommended for both teens and adults. Visit him online for exclusive ROOTLESS content and lots more at http://www.chrishowardbooks.com