Today I am so excited to add another Spell Caster to my site. There is something magical about the seas of our little celestial marble as it circles about in space. Sometimes it is almost inconceivable that this planet has water and trees and so many things–often times so amazingly beautiful and at other times so painfully sublime–and yet, beyond our dome-like shell, there resides the infinite coldness of space.
Looking upon the amazing, fresh and invigorating images documenting Chris Jackson’s voyages, one feels that indescribable paradox of what is here, now, within our world and what is out there, beyond our atmosphere. In some ways, we know more about space than we know about the ocean deep.
Chris has had the opportunity many of us dream about–sailing the seas, touching manta ray and watching eels and jellyfish as they swim leisurely by. If anyone knows what pirates of old must have seen with their own eyes, it’s Chris Jackson.
CHRIS JACKSON — WRITER AND HIGH-SEAS ADVENTURER
KARA: Hi Chris! Thank you so much for spending time with us today! Let’s get to it! What is one of the most surprising ways the sea has changed you as a writer?
CHRIS JACKSON: This is a difficult question in that my association with the sea began long before I made my first serious attempt to write something resembling a novel or short story. In effect, nearly forty years on the sea has taught me a lot about perseverance, more about fear than I ever wanted to know, and a great deal about discomfort. I drew on all of these experiences when I finally got around to writing something with a nautical theme. I say “finally” because the Scimitar Seas novels were not my first published works. The “finally” part came to me when I realized that I had a wealth of experiences that I was not drawing upon as a writer. So, in effect, my experiences with the sea have not changed me as much as they shaped me as a writer and gave me a set of tools that not all writers possess.
KARA: Ever been in a leaky boat without a bucket? What happened?
CHRIS JACKSON: Leaky, no, but I have been in some “white knuckle” weather, for sure. When the seas are larger than the length of your boat, you are in serious weather, and I have been in some that almost doubled the length of the boat. The seas begin to look like mountains, right down to towering rock faces and snow caps, only the snow caps curl down and try to crush you in avalanches. In the three instances I have been in “white knuckle” weather, the vessels performed admirably—meaning nothing was seriously broken or carried away by the seas—and nobody was injured more than a few bumps and bruises. Lessons were learned, and I will relive those endless hours a million times in my nightmares.
KARA: That is astounding! What is the challenging part about writing Nautical Fantasy? And what is the pleasurable reward?
CHRIS JACKSON: For me, the most challenging thing is to not go overboard (no pun intended) with the nautical details.
KARA: Hah! <COUGH> Sorry…Go on…
CHRIS JACKSON: Readers of fantasy can tolerate a little less “info dump” in that regard than some other audiences. For instance, readers of “male adventure” might get off on a long paragraph of gun porn, where the hero’s mighty firearm is described in great detail and caliber, but a fantasy audience will go glassy eyed if an author waxes poetic about a ship or the sea for too long. I had a very good editor for the Scimitar Seas novels at Dragon Moon Press, Gabrielle Harbowy, and she knew nothing about boats, so it was a good match. She reined me in. James Sutter, the editor at Paizo, surprised the hell out of me with his enthusiasm and letting me step outside the “rules” set by the Pathfinder game system in my nautical details. He basically said “To hell with the rules. Write the story, and I’ll tell you if you go too far.” I did, and it worked.
The most rewarding is, without a doubt, the fan feedback. The Scimitar Seas novels have won three consecutive gold medals for Book of the Year from Foreword Reviews, and the fourth in the series is in the running again, but the awards don’t compare to the praise of the fans. Don’t get me wrong. I am very proud of the awards, but there is something about shaking a fan’s hand at a convention, looking into their wide eyes, and listening to them tell me how much they enjoyed the story, that really lights up my heart.
KARA: How do you manage to write while sailing?
CHRIS JACKSON: It is challenging, but also rewarding as well. Spotty internet, difficult hours when we’re actually sailing, not just sitting in some beautiful cove or harbor, and the distractions of the wonderful places we visit are all high on the list of things to deal with. Dealing with those challenges has been a long learning curve. Originally, after quitting my day job to go sailing, I thought I would have a lot more time to write. I do, but I also have many more responsibilities as a sailor than I did when we were simply sitting at the dock. We have become very early morning people, often out of bed by 0400 hours. This gives me long hours to write before anyone else is even awake. These hours are also not challenged by evening festivities of friends, sunsets, cocktails and star-filled skies. If I could have one thing that would make it a lot easier, it would be a satellite internet connection.
KARA: The Caribbean has some of the most beautiful, luminous waters and coral reefs I’ve ever seen. Any place in particular that you long to recreate but haven’t had the chance yet?
CHRIS JACKSON: I have barely scratched the surface of the myriad cultures and wonderful people and places we have visited in the Caribbean in my books. There is just too much. I did pattern the “Shattered Isles” of the Scimitar Seas novels after the Caribbean, but I left them largely uninhabited and primal for the story. The coral reefs and underwater scenes in the novels came from the Bahamas all the way to Tobago. One of the islands I truly wanted to emulate, but didn’t, was Saba. This is an amazing island in that it rises out of the sea in sheer cliffs all the way around. The only “harbor” is manmade, and until it was cut out of the rock, the only way to reach the island’s interior was to land a small boat on a very rocky shore and climb 1000 steps carved into the cliff to reach the old Customs station. The people who settled this island are the most industrious and insane people I’ve ever had the pleasure to meet. They have built roads in places birds would dare not nest, and made a living off of ground that you would swear would not grow a single fig. The rainforest is awe inspiring, and the people are gracious and friendly. It is truly a beautiful place, and far off the beaten track.
KARA: Tell us a little about these pirates you write. Alter egos? Past or future lives <grin>?
CHRIS JACKSON: Not alter egos as such, but I do love to live through my characters! With forty years of sea stories under my belt, I have met more old salts and crusty cobs than most, and I used all these rich and varied personalities in my stories. The pirate characters I created in the Scimitar Seas novels are quite different than the ones in my upcoming novel, Pirate’s Honor. In the former, the antagonist is truly a bad guy. “Captain Bloodwind” is a dangerous pirate because he is intelligent, ruthless, and believes that any means to meet his ends are justifiable. He is building an empire, and as with many of the real pirates of the Caribbean, he knows that he must be merciless to succeed. One character in that novel in particular, Koybur, the heroine’s mentor, I created from several of the old salts I knew in my youth, old fishermen or longshoremen who had razor sharp wits and never used the same euphemism twice. He is probably my favorite character in Scimitar Moon.
By contrast, the primary character in Pirate’s Honor, Torius Vin, is more of a “Malcolm Reynolds” type of pirate, and what you might call an alter ego. He has a good heart, but is not above theft and violence to maintain his own ideal of freedom. When his ship is threatened, and his honor besmirched, however, stand back… I’ll point out that Pirate’s Honor is set in Piazo’s roll-playing world of Golarion, and follows the rules of the Pathfinder Rollplaying Game. As such, it is a different type of story, but yes, Torius Vin is a character that I would love to play in that game.
KARA: Let’s go back to an earlier series. Had you always planned to write four Scimitar novels? How did the series evolve? (Love the covers!)
CHRIS JACKSON: The series began, as any series should in my opinion, with a stand-alone novel. Scimitar Moon is a story in and of itself, with no cliff-hanger ending or unresolved plot issues. This is what I pitched to Dragon Moon Press, and after some serious editing to get the manuscript down to a length they would approve, the publisher accepted. After that, I pitched two additional novels to make a trilogy. Those, too, they accepted. After the second, Scimitar Sun, was out, and Scimitar Moon had won a gold medal from ForeWord Reviews, we were working on the third, Scimitar’s Heir, and my wife Anne came up with a very interesting plot addition that I could not ignore. The problem was that I couldn’t fit it all into one novel. I pitched a fourth book, Scimitar War, to the publisher, and they accepted, which allowed me the creative freedom to fill out the story properly. I tied up all my loose ends, but there is always room for more.
The cover designs were very different than any of my previous novels, which is what the publisher wanted. The artist, Alex White, who came up with the “stained glass” motif, is a brilliant designer. It gave the series exactly what it needed, a thematic and original look. Not your typical “fantasy” cover, but very striking and clean. I like them very much, and they look so cool when you line them up on a table for a convention…
KARA: Have you decided whether you are a writer sailing or a sailor writing yet?
CHRIS JACKSON: I think if I look at that question logically, the answer has to be the former. I will always be a writer, no matter where or what else I am. If, heaven forbid, I develop a deadly allergy to seawater, and am forced to move far inland, I will still be a writer. It is strange, however, that my work (writing) has taken on an even greater importance than my lifestyle (sailing). If someone told me I had to give up one of the two, sailing or writing, the answer would be sailing. I would hate it, but I would make that choice, without a doubt.
KARA: When I lived in a foreign land, I compared searching for books in my language to a scavenger hunt. Do you ever go hunting for books? Ever dock your boat specifically for a paperback or hardcover quest?
CHRIS JACKSON: Not so much, with access to the internet making “hunts” like that so much easier, but one thing most cruising sailors share is a love of books. Wherever we go, cruising sailors set up “Book Swap” areas for everyone to drop off and pick up books. Some of these are in languages I can’t read, which is frustrating, but it has broadened my reading horizons. When we return to the US every summer for convention season, we go a little “Book Crazy”. Our luggage tends to weigh a lot more on the way back. My wife recently bought an e-reader, which makes this much easier, cutting both weight and volume (space is always a consideration on a boat). Also, she can download books anywhere we can get internet. I read e-books on my computer, but that kind of makes reading feel like work, since I write on the same machine. I love a hard copy, but I will read an e-book if that’s all I have.
KARA: Tell us about the Pathfinder series. A group of you write them? And your upcoming book?
CHRIS JACKSON: Pathfinder Tales, Paizo’s novel line set in their own role-playing world of Golarion, is currently up to 13 titles in the two years they’ve been putting the novel line out, and three more are due out in April, June, and August. The line is not exactly a series, since the stories’ only relationship to one another—other than an occasional character that has popped up in more than one novel from different authors—is the setting. That setting is huge and incredibly rich, so there’s not a lot of overlap in the novels…yet. Paizo is expanding the line, so there are new authors coming onboard all the time, including some fairly big names in the RPG industry. Dave Gross has three books in the line to date, and a fourth coming out in August, all featuring the same characters. Robin D. Laws, and Hugo Winner Tim Pratt have both contributed two novels to the line. The three upcoming books are my own, Pirate’s Honor, one from Ed Greenwood, creator of Forgotten Realms, entitled The Wizard’s Mask, and a fourth from Dave Gross, King of Chaos, that I was privileged to help him out with as an alpha reader. James Sutter, editor of the novel line, has also been a contributor, with his novel Death’s Heretic, which got great reviews.
Pirate’s Honor is the first nautical adventure in the Pathfinder Tales line, and James Sutter and I came about the deal for the book in an unusual way. I pitched myself to him at GenCon with no specific work in mind, and submitted some writing samples. He asked for some web fiction pitches with nautical/pirate themes, and I sent him several. He picked my favorite, and I wrote him the 8000 word story in about a week. After sending him the piece, instead of receiving a simple yes or no, my next e-mail from James had the subject line of “Pathfinder Tales Novel?” That was a “holy crap” moment. He had a hole in his publication schedule, and if I could get him a finished manuscript in five months, he’d sign me up. The answer was yes, and we started writing. I was inspired, so we found a nice quiet anchorage and sat there for about three months doing little but writing and editing. I handed in the novel about a month early. “Stargazer”, the web-fiction piece, which introduces the characters of Pirate’s Honor, will be released for free on Paizo’s web-fic page on May 8th to help launch the novel. We’re hoping for a sequel to Pirate’s Honor, and the outline has been submitted, but no word yet.
KARA: Fantastic! The cover for Pirate’s Honor is stunning. What can you share about that scene? It really grabbed my attention.
CHRIS JACKSON: First, many thanks to the fantastic cover artist, Denman Rooke. This was his first Pathfinder Tales cover, and he completely nailed the scene. In designing the cover, James Sutter asked me for a couple of scenes from the novel that I might think would make good covers. This one came immediately to mind. The scene is straight out of the novel, where the pirate’s ship, Stargazer, is being attacked by a vicious band of mercenary creatures, half man, half octopus hybrids called cecaelia. The snake creature in the foreground is actually a primary character of the book. She is a lunar naga named Celeste, and is also the Stargazer’s navigator, and the captain’s lover. As to that, I delve into some interesting concepts in the novel, one being inter-species romance. Needless to say, their relationship is complicated, and a little challenging, especially since she’s venomous.
KARA: What is the genre you most enjoy reading, besides fantasy?
CHRIS JACKSON: I have been a hard science fiction fan for many years, so that is my second choice without a doubt. Outside the speculative fiction area, I enjoy a good crime novel, if there is not too much procedural detail. Mystery is good, if the plots are not too convoluted. I have not had good luck with typical “adventure” type novels, as I think they tend to be insulting to the reader’s intelligence, sexist, and sometimes simply poorly written. I find it strange that science fiction and fantasy have, for decades, been considered the red-headed step children of the fiction genres, but now there seems to be a lot better writing, more thorough plotting, better characterization, and a lot better editing in those two genres than you will find in the more traditionally considered “literary” fiction genres. That is, of course, my humble opinion, and I am the first to admit that I am not very well read in mainstream fiction.
KARA: How can readers follow you and find out about your latest releases and adventures?
CHRIS JACKSON: Readers can keep up to date by following our website jaxbooks.com. Big announcements like awards and new novels will be posted on the main page, and we also keep up to date on the blog page, and have an Events page to list our summertime traveling and appearance schedule. Just click the “Follow” button on the blog and you will receive every post by e-mail!
As for our sailing adventures, my wife Anne does a wonderful job on our sailing blog, sailmrmac.blogspot.com. There you will find pictures of all kinds of interesting places, people, and creatures. Anne has a PhD in Biology, and worked in Marine Science for over two decades, so she loves to describe the beauty of the islands, both above and below the water. We have a good underwater digital camera, and take a ton of underwater pictures, and even some movies. Comments are always encouraged!
KARA: Anne’s heart is really in it–that blog is extraordinary. Have any words of advice for new writers? For landlocked wannabe sailors?
CHRIS JACKSON: Things are changing so fast in the publishing world right now that both publishers and writers are simply trying to keep up. Some are mired in the past, while others are leaping into future markets with both feet and little forethought. This is a unique time for new writers in that they are presented with a whole new set of challenges and opportunities than previous generations. Some of these challenges and opportunities go hand in hand. With the opportunity of free digital self-publication, new authors are tempted to throw their work up before it is ready to be published. This is not only careless, but can hurt your writing career. Self-publishing is no longer a black mark on your career, but self-publishing a bad novel is. Advice: hone your craft, get professional editing, and get some credibility by finding a genuine publisher. You may have some success self-publishing, I have done so myself, but if your career is to move forward, you need to explore more than one avenue. Traditional publishing might not pay as well as self-publishing per novel sold, but publishers provide services that you have to do yourself if you are on your own, and they are able to get the word out to a much wider audience. There are some bestselling authors out there who are now self-publishing in the digital marketplace and doing very well financially, but they have built their reputation through traditional publication. Some have made out well starting on their own, but not everyone can do that. Be patient, take your time, and keep writing.
For landlocked sailor wannabes, that’s easy. Don’t be afraid to follow your dreams. Come to think of it, that’s good advice for new writers as well.
KARA: Interesting points, Chris. Thank you. Anything else you would like to add?
CHRIS JACKSON: Simply thank you for asking such great questions, and thanks to all your readers. Keep watching. There are more novels coming this summer. We are putting out a sequel to the award-winning Weapon of Flesh, which has taken off like wildfire on Kindle. Weapon of Blood will be out soon! Also, be sure to drop by Paizo’s Web Fiction page for great free short fiction set in their awesome world of Golarion! So far this summer I will be at four major conventions: ConCarolinas, PaizoCon, GenCon, and Dragon*Con. Signed copies of my novels will be available at all of these conventions!
KARA: My pleasure! Readers, i’d love to add that Chris is doing a giveaway to celebrate the release of his new book. You can find more information HERE http://jaxbooks.com/book-giveaway/ ! Definitely check it out. I can’t wait to check it out. And thank you for stopping by. Comments and questions are welcome!