Debut author Chris Howard will be releasing his first novel, Rootless, on November 1st. It’s a post-apocalyptic roller coaster ride, where all the trees have died and our intrepid hero, Banyan, makes a living off building trees out of old tires and scrap metal. All sorts of crazy ideas are contained in these pages! Check out my review of it here. Details to enter in the ARC giveaway appear below.
17-year-old Banyan is a tree builder. Using scrap metal and salvaged junk, 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 father used to tell him stories about the Old World. But that was before his father was taken . . .
Everything changes when Banyan meets a woman with a strange tattoo—a clue to the whereabouts of 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 uneasy 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.
In this dazzling debut, Howard presents a disturbing world with uncanny similarities to our own. Like the forests Banyan seeks to rebuild, this visionary novel is both beautiful and haunting—full of images that will take permanent root in your mind . . . and forever change the way you think about nature.
Kaila: Thank you for joining us today Chris!
Chris: Cheers for having me
What has the journey been like to publish your first novel?
It’s been a wild ride. Rootless is not my first book, but it’s my first to be published, and I’ve really enjoyed the whole experience. My agent is awesome, and the perfect fit for me. And my editor is wonderful, too. I couldn’t be happier with Scholastic – the folks there are brilliant, and really passionate about what they do. Getting published is also sometimes a strange experience, too… you see something really personal get turned into a product. There are boxes full of your book, and it’s “eligible for free shipping” and things, and that takes some getting used to But that’s how you get the story out there, and I really wanted to get this story into the hands of readers, so it’s a dream come true.
It’s still early on, but what has the reception been like so far? Anything like you were hoping/expecting?
It’s been really rewarding to get feedback from people who’ve enjoyed the book so much, and who really “get” it. And I think it’s OK to pay attention to how the book’s received – but not too much attention! So much of writing is about balance, and I think if you want others to connect with your work, you have to care about what people think – but if you care too much, that’d be distracting. So it’s a balancing act, and at the end of the day, you do the best you can to be true to your vision, and then you see where the tides are at.
One of the first things that drew me to Rootless was the cover. What can you tell us about it?
Yeah – I love the cover! And I think it’s a great cover for this particular story: wild and psychedelic, scary and beautiful. It’s the work of Phil Falco, a talented designer at Scholastic. My editor, Mallory Kass, also deserves some credit. I got to be involved in the process a little, and I’m grateful for that. It was interesting, because most of the time, as the author, you’re synthesizing all this feedback from others, but with the cover, I got to be the one giving feedback. And obviously you’re marrying a visual piece of art to a written piece of art, so it’s a big deal. Especially when a theme of the book is the power of art, and the main character is an artist himself! I’m so happy with how it turned out. And the hardcover is so shiny – it changes with the light, in a very fitting way.
Why should readers be picking up Rootless and checking it out?
I hope it’ll make readers feel and think, and offer them plenty of excitement. It’s a far-out and action-packed adventure, and I tried to write something unlike anything I’d read before, full of the unexpected. So I hope that comes across. I wanted it to be as visceral and unpredictable as life.
Was there a specific instance of inspiration for creating your post-apocalyptic world?
Yeah! I was in the mountains here in Colorado, surrounded by trees killed by Mountain Pine Beetles, insects that have wrecked havoc on a lot of the forests in our state. I stared up at all these dead trees and thought “What if… following an apocalyptic event, a plague of locusts destroyed everything that grows?” Right away, I imagined genetically engineered corn being the one thing to survive, and I pictured a young man building trees out of scrap metal on the dusty plains…
What does having roots mean to you?
Wow! Big question! I guess I was rootless myself, for a pretty long time. When I was a teenager I wanted more than anything to travel the world and leave behind me the small English town I grew up in. I read Kerouac and all the Beat writers and I fell in love with the idea of being on the road, losing myself and maybe finding myself. For a long time, no matter where I was or who I was with, that’s how I felt: adrift. And it disturbed me to feel reigned in, in anyway. But there’s a sadness in the writing of the Beats, you know? On the Road, which I still consider a classic and a very beautiful and inspirational book, is also a sad book, in a lot of ways. You have these hedonistic drifters, and you can’t get content if you keep on drifting. For me, it’s taken a long time to feel like I have real roots, to feel connected and part of a community. Maybe it’s just growing up. And that’s a theme in Rootless. Banyan’s as rootless a nomad as you can find. He has no parents, no attachments. He’s an artist and he just has to survive. But it’s not enough for him. There’s a lot going on in the book, but all of it’s in there for a reason. I wanted it to be a wild, sci-fi, fairy-tale journey, and there are hints of so many things I’ve loved, as far as influences: Sergio Leone, Star Wars, Dylan, McCarthy, 2000 AD, Road Warrior, Lee Perry… But I’ve realized the Beats are big in there, too. Not least in the way they tried to capture the vastness and musicality of the landscapes they traveled upon.
After reading Rootless, I’ve taken on a new appreciation of the trees around us, and how beautiful they are. This could be the must-read novel for next year’s Earth Day. Read Rootless: plant a tree! What is your relationship with trees? Do you appreciate them more since writing this book?
I do love trees. And if trees get planted as a result of people reading this book, I’ll be very, very happy. Hopefully it would counter all the ones used to print the book, right?! For me though, in Rootless, trees are a symbol for all nature. For the environment. For a natural order, and the cycle of life. The more you dig into the mythology of trees, the more fascinating it gets. So trees seemed like the perfect thing to use as the “lost thing” in this novel. I studied trees in college – sustainability, forest ecology, forestry. I put my hands on a tree and it makes me feel grounded. And I think I have more of a relationship with trees, now, having written the book. I feel like we have a bit more of a give and take.
What is the message you most want readers to take away with them after finishing Rootless?
I like to leave as much as possible open to interpretation. But some of the feelings I wanted to pass along… Don’t let the machine close you inside it. Take care of the world and the people in it. And live for the wild things… Burn bright the dark!
You’ve said that this is a planned trilogy. Anything you can tell us about the next books?
Yeah, it is a trilogy – I’ve always known the ending, and I’m working on Book 3 right now! I would say – some questions get answered, new questions come up. You’ll only ever know what Banyan knows about this world he’s in. And the ride gets wilder, still
Do you have a writing ritual?
I just start. Once I start, I can keep on and on.
If you could pick one song to represent Rootless, what would it be?
This changes, but today, I’ll say To Zion by Trevor Hall. It’s a beautiful song, and I listened to it a lot during the first draft and during revisions. It was also on an album that Geffen never released, I guess for business reasons. One of the ideas behind Rootless is that sometimes making decisions based on “good business” can really crush the human spirit.
What are you reading now and why should we read it?
I’ve actually been re-reading a couple of old favorites: the AKIRA books, and Moby Dick. There are certain books you love reading once, and there are those that you just have to read again and again
If you drink, do you have a favorite beer?
I’m going Colorado brews! I’ve kind of gone off the darker stuff, so probably Upslope’s Craft Lager would be my current fave. I also like a good Boddingtons, now and then – a nod to my English roots!
Quirky question time! You can choose one animal, either mythological or extinct, to exist in our world. None of them automatically become your friend, but they do exist. Dragons, unicorns, dinosaurs, whatever!
Hmmmm…. Tauntauns would be pretty rad, being a big Star wars fan! But I think I’m going with wooly mammoths. And I think we’d be friends, too!
Thank you for joining us, Chris!
Drop a line to firstname.lastname@example.org with the subject ROOTLESS and your address. One lucky winner will get the ARC of Rootless. Competition open until November 1st. US entries only. One entry per person or it will be disqualified. Winner will be chosen by randomizing the entries and using a random number generator. Good luck!