It’s no secret that I totally adored friend of the blog Chris Howard’s debut YA effort, “Rootless”, and all of the story and imagery contained therein. So when he accepted my request for an interview, I was pretty excited to pick his brains on so much stuff. See what that stuff is under the jump!
USAGI: Thanks for taking time out your crazy schedule to answer my questions, Chris! Let’s get started. As you’ve talked about it in other interviews, we already know how you got the original idea for “Rootless” – but I want to go deeper (insert “Inception” joke here). Everyone who’s ever written any kind of fiction (or poetry) has a story in them that’s simply bursting out of them, something they desperately need to tell. Why did you feel the need to tell Banyan’s story?
CHRIS HOWARD: I think his story inspired me so much because it reminded me of the things I’m always searching for: love and connection… the wild places and the wild people and the wild things… justice, and freedom from oppression. Banyan’s art and his quest is not just about trees and nature – he wants to give people hope and build people up, and that’s something I want to do through my stories. To me, the book is as much about the transformative power of art as it is about anything else.
U: For a YA effort, this is only one of two this year that has such a strong social commentary attached to it. (The other was Cory Doctorow’s “Pirate Cinema”.) To attach any kind of social commentary is a very bold move, and I feel like YA could use a little more of it. But it’s also a huge risk. Why comment on society at all with this book?
CH: I’m a big fan of Cory Doctorow! And I think writing a story should be all about making bold moves ☺ I wanted to write a story that would be wild and fun and entertaining, but also thought-provoking. My favorite stories are about much more than just escapism, and I think that every great book makes you think as well as feel. Hopefully, some readers will see past the metaphors… but also not take it too literally!
U: You’ve said that you were inspired by works like “Cowboy Bebop” (by Sunrise Japan, 1998). What other films/books/tv shows/etc helped inspire “Rootless”?
CH: Wow. There are so many. Though I didn’t realize till after I’d finished… Sergio Leone’s westerns, 2000AD comics, The Catcher in the Rye, the Lord of the Rings, Kerouac, AKIRA, the Matrix, Road Warrior… to name a few! I love big, dusty, iconic stuff. And music, too. I mean, I’ve been inspired by everyone from Jimi Hendrix to Indiana Jones.
U: You’ve got a choice of three books you have that you’ve found on you after you’ve shipwrecked onto a barren desert island. What three books are they?
CH: The three books of Cormac McCarthy’s Border Trilogy. There’s just so much going on in those stories, and I can really get lost inside them. And his writing is the best I’ve ever read.
U: The idea of a map on the human body, regardless of what it leads to was one of my favorite things about “Rootless”. Can you tell us more about where you got the inspiration for Hina’s tattoo? Will we be seeing it again anytime soon?
CH: One of my best friends has a tattoo very similar to Hina’s, and so I suppose it’s not surprising that it popped up when I was writing the opening chapter! You can see my friend with her tattoo, and one of the first three copies of the book, right here.
U: You’re on a deadline, but you’ve got some serious writer’s block going on. What’s one album that will always sure to get you out of a writing funk? For me, it’s either Massive Attack’s “Mezzanine”, Florence + the Machine’s “Ceremonials”, or my most recent discovery/guilty pleasure, Die Antwoord’s “Tension”.
CH: Right on! I love Massive Attack, too. For me, it’d probably be one of my ROOTLESS playlists. Or something new… like, right now the new Tame Impala album! So spiky and shiny and awesome. Some cool playlists and other fun ROOTLESS musical stuff here.
U: “Rootless” is also one of a growing trend of YA biopunk books. What do you think about the very sadly neglected (imo) sub-genre that is biopunk? What would you like to see come out of it in the future?
CH: Well, I’m thrilled that such a sub-genre exists, and I’m proud to be a part of it! Would Stormdancer be in there? Maybe some Bacigalupi? A lot of environmental issues are completely ignored by so many people, so I hope there’ll be more kick-ass, fun books that also get people to pay attention to some of the problems we’re creating as a species.
U: Maybe a bit spoilery, but I need to ask the question – how far in our future is “Rootless” set?
CH: Well, it’s about a hundred years after the Darkness, which I always imagined takes place not too far from now…
U: You’re casting the “Rootless” movie. Current/living actors only. Who would you cast for each part?
CH: You know, I really have no idea! I think it’d make a great film, and I can see all the characters in my head so clearly – but they don’t look like anyone I’ve ever seen or have ever known! Sorry ☺
U: Aside from the “Rootless” series/duology/whatever it’s going to be, what else is up your sleeve? If you can’t reveal anything due to NDAs or you’re in talks for a deal, I totally get it. If you can’t talk about it, what’s one story you’d want to tell in the traditional published medium?
CH: ROOTLESS is a three-book story, and I’m really excited about the work I’m doing on Book 3 right now. I have a few very different ideas that I’m looking forward to tackling afterwards – but I can’t leave Banyan hanging, so will wrap up his story first! I’m always attracted to pretty wild concepts, so hopefully all my stories will be something unexpected…
U: What’s the biggest thing you want the audience to take away from “Rootless”?
CH: That by connecting to people and fighting for what you believe, you can transform the world around you.
U: If you have any other messages for your readers out there, what are they?
CH: That you can do so much more by building people up, rather than by pushing others down… That diversity is important, that life is precious, and that we should embrace the wildness of existence!
U: Thanks, Chris, for joining me today! Guys, you simply must check out “Rootless” – it’s out through Scholastic in North America now, so seriously. Pick it up. It’s not a pick of 2012 for no reason.
More info on Chris:
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.
ABOUT CHRIS: Before he wrote stories, Chris Howard wrote songs, studied natural resources management, and led wilderness adventure trips for teenagers. He currently lives in Denver, CO, and ROOTLESS is his first novel. Join him at http://www.chrishowardbooks.com/