Each week, I’ll pester one of my creative colleagues with five questions about his or her work and, if I’m feeling wicked, deeply personal issues. Most of these folks are friends, a few are secret enemies, and one has been blackmailing me for years.
I first met Chris Jackson and his wife at Gen Con 2012. Anne’s cold was so bad that I mistook her hoarse voice for an Australian accent and was surprised to hear her American dialect this year.
Chris surprised me the next year by turning on me. While he’d initially come across as friendly, I soon caught him pulling faces behind my back while we signed Pathfinder Tales novels at the Paizo booth. I bide my time.
In the meantime, I’ve exploited Chris as one of the early readers of King of Chaos, though he’s yet to collect on that favor. We keep in regular touch through his spotty wireless access from his sailing vessel in the Caribbean, for which he expects us to pity him.
1. Unlike some authors, your self-published work is your bread and butter, while writing Pathfinder Tales introduces you to a new audience. To those who’ve read Pirate’s Honor, what would you say to introduce them to your wildly popular Weapon of Flesh trilogy?
Self-publishing has been a long and rocky road for me, and it is finally paying off. One never knows what is going to get recognition, either from critics, or fans, but one thing I have consistently enjoyed hearing from readers is that my work, on the whole, is not typical. While writing for Paizo, I got to create a pirate story that was very different in many respects from anything else in the genre. In creating the Weapon of Flesh story, I took a single premise—a boy created to be the perfect assassin, imbued with magic and trained from birth as the perfect killer, but without emotions to interfere with his craft—and took it on the road. Readers fell in love with the character, and through the magic of modern digital distribution, the trilogy has become a smash hit. The second in the series, Weapon of Blood, was released in July of 2013, and the final volume, Weapon of Vengeance, will be released in summer 2014. The trend in self-publishing success in the digital marketplace has changed things, and many traditionally published authors are now turning down “good” deals from reputable publishing houses to publish their own work, or are negotiating digital rights separately from print and audio. I intend to continue both avenues, traditional and self-publishing, for the simple reason that I absolutely refuse to limit my options. As I said, who knows what will become a runaway hit?
2. There’s a very strong element of romance in Pirate’s Honor, but I wouldn’t think to describe it as a romance novel. Is a romantic angle an essential element of a swashbuckling story?
Personally, I think any story without some kind of romantic or “relationship” element is selling itself short. Nothing is “essential,” but historically, “swashbuckling” tales have had elements of romance, and I couldn’t turn away from that. I think readers expect the dashing pirate captain to have a sexy pirate lady at his side, and I didn’t want to disappoint, but I did it my own way. As you know, Dave, the romance in Pirate’s Honor isn’t typical. I had fun playing with a lot of relationship issues in different ways. Someone even called it kinky, which made me smile. But you’re right, it’s not a romance. None of my books are “romance novels,” but there are romantic elements in every single book I’ve written. I don’t want to turn readers off with too much “mushy” stuff, but hey, real people have relationships, right? I write real people. They just happen to live in a fantasy world.
3. More than any other author I know, you write fast. Like, crazy fast. What is your daily schedule that allows such productivity? And how much do you find yourself revising that first draft before sending it to your editor?
I do write fast when I’m inspired (or possessed, some might say). The first draft of Pirate’s Honor (115,000 words) took me 29 days. On a good day, I can crank out 5000 words before lunch. Here was my schedule during those 29 days: Wake up around 0400, because my goddamn muse wouldn’t let me sleep. Brew coffee, and write non-stop until around midday. Take a break for lunch, and do something physical (hike, swim, snorkel, or do a boat project). When the sun reaches the yardarm (and sometimes the yardarm is significantly higher than others), sit down with a cocktail and read through what I wrote that morning, not really editing, but just touching things up. Dinner, and maybe a little more work, but more likely watching a movie or playing a computer game before bed about 2100. (That’s 9PM for you landlubbers) Then up again early the next morning to start again. So, yes, I write fast on the first draft. Momentum keeps me going. The editorial process takes a bit longer. It took more than three months to edit Pirate’s Honor. There were some major plot holes to fill, and much hair pulling, but when I handed it over to Paizo, it was pretty clean. I take pride in handing over a finished product, and my editors like me for that. Any work I can do to make my editor’s job easier will help get me that next book deal and build a solid reputation. One thing every author has to learn in this business is that the publishing world is small, and editors talk to one another. Your reputation is all you have. Well, that and your sales record.
4. You’re also one of the most traveling authors I know. For those who haven’t done the convention scene, about how many do you visit each year? In general terms, what are the costs and benefits of selling your books at a table, and how do you balance that time against appearing on panels or at signings?
Strangely, I used to do a lot more conventions when I had a day job. Sailing full time has actually curtailed my convention appearances to the summer months only. Still, we can usually fit in anywhere from three to four big conventions per year. Next year, we are actually planning to sail back to the United States, instead of storing the boat in Trinidad as we have in the past and flying back. This will allow us to do more. Possibly eight or ten big and small conventions. We’re also planning a number of smaller “meet up” events with Pathfinder Society or other gaming groups. We tried that out last year in Tampa and had a great time!
We don’t always sell books at conventions, but when the con has a dealer room, or better, an “Author Avenue” we do. The success of these sales is highly variable, but it’s a great way to meet fans face to face. I’m blessed in that I have a partner in crime, so when I’m off doing panel discussions, signings, or readings, my wife Anne is watching the store. Selling books does tie me down in some respects, but I think it’s worth it. And now, my fans expect it, and I can never turn away from that. The costs in time and money (large conventions charge big bucks for dealer tables) is offset by face time and the sheer enjoyment of hanging with the people who are paying me to do what I love to do. Financially, sales offset the cost of attendance. I’m not (yet) a big enough name to get a free ride to most conventions, so it’s an investment.
5. You and your wife spend much of the year sailing, which seems like the dream life to a lot of the rest of us. How does that lifestyle make writing easier, and how does it make it harder?
Sailing has been a dream of mine for most of my life. But what is a dream to one person can be a nightmare to another. On the plus side, we have seen and experienced much that most people will never even dream of. Hearing whale song under water, watching octopi mate, swimming with sharks, sailing far offshore under the stars, are all experiences I would never trade away. But everything comes at a price. Internet and phone service are sometimes hard to come by, and when we get it, the service is slow. There is no “broadband” in the Caribbean. Also, you are living in a small, self-contained universe. To be self-contained, you must be self-sufficient as well. That means fixing things when they break. You can’t just call a plumber, or an electrician, or a carpenter, fabricator, mechanic, or even doctor most of the time. You learn to do for yourself, and live simply. We live in the tropics without air conditioning, but we usually have a nice breeze. We don’t have a car, but we have a dinghy to drive around. We don’t get cable TV, but we didn’t watch it when we were at a dock, either. We have limited space for everything (a 45′ boat has about 300 square feet of living space, including the beds and closets.) but we don’t have a lot of stuff. We can’t go to the gym like we used to every day, but we have the biggest swimming pool in the world right outside our door. All in all, I think it’s a win, but it’s not for everyone. There are certainly challenges to writing, but there are also advantages. I don’t think I’ll ever run out of sea stories.
A sailing writer, or writing sailor (still not sure which), Chris A. Jackson is living his dream. Sailing full time since 2009, he and his wife are dividing their time between cruising the Caribbean and writing fantasy. While nautical fantasy came naturally—his Scimitar Seas novels have won multiple awards, and his debut Pathfinder Tales novel, Pirate’s Honor, received high praise—his other works have earned an incredible fan following as well. The Weapon of Flesh Trilogy has become a Kindle bestseller, spurring international interest in the author’s work. Recently, he has signed on with Privateer Press, and will have a Skull Island Expeditions novella released in 2014.