Chris lives in Seattle with his wife, daughter, dog, and an unlikely number of shrimp.
He spent his younger years playing music, frequenting Burning Man, throwing art parties and parades, and clandestinely installing monoliths and other art in local parks.
He has spent the last twenty-three years at technology companies in the greater Seattle area.
He has degrees in both Comparative History of Ideas and Communications from the University of Washington.
Tell me more about the unlikely number of shrimp.
Really, any more than zero is a pretty unlikely number of shrimp to have as a pet, don’t you think? When I was doing my author write up, I wanted to be inclusive of the whole family, and so I was enumerating all the critters, then I realized we have four shrimp distributed around the house. I just found that odd. One (Edward Scissorhands) is a cleaning shrimp in a tank in my daughter's room. The tank once held jellyfish and was later converted to a frog tank, and when the frogs died, only the shrimp remained. It was supposed to last six months and she’s had it for three years. Since writing that bio, she's found three tadpoles in a local lake which have now grown to the size of my thumb. The other three shrimp are in a little self-contained biosphere my friend got us for Christmas. They've been tooling around in there for a couple years now.
I bet you met a lot of interesting people when attending Burning Man. Have any become characters?
No. They’re all trying a bit too hard to be characters to actually warrant putting them into a book. I never really met very many people at burning man. I mean, I sure saw a lot of creative people doing creative things, and I saw beautiful art and beautiful spaces. But Burning Man’s a bit like an enormous county fair with stall after stall of music and art and lights and fire and what have you. And while you interact with people at the fair, you don’t get to know them well enough to base a book around them. Not like you would the cleaning lady at work, or a hitchhiker you picked up. The one thing that definitely made it into Systemic is the land and the small towns that we would drive through as we road tripped to and from Burning Man. Most of Systemic takes place in the desert lands and small towns of the Western United States.
The other thing I got from Burning Man, which isn’t a character or setting, is just the idea that you can and should make art. That really stuck with me and was directly responsible for all the things I’ve done in my life that I’m most proud of.
Where did the idea for Systemic come from?
I didn’t really have an idea for it. It just emerged slowly from the primordial soup in my brain. I can tell you things that made their way from the soup into the book. One of the main things was a psychology class I was taking through work. The classes were dealing with the ego and personality and intrinsic motivation. I found all that really fascinating. Along with all the Jungian psychological theory, I found myself obsessing about the vagaries of memory. For instance, our memory’s job isn't to record facts and play them back verbatim, but to find important things and play them back in ways that are useful. For instance, Brian Williams the newscaster often told the story of being shot at in a war. Turns out that never really happened. But because it was dangerous and exciting, his brain made up the memory about how he was almost killed. We all decided he was a liar, he lost his job. But your brain would do that too, so would mine. It does that so that the next time you’re in a war you'll know to keep your head down. Memory is like that. It’s entirely untrustworthy, and yet we build our entire reality on it. And of course, there is the current political environment we’re suffering through, and the willful destruction of truth. I was thinking—and still am thinking—about whether and how we can ever get back to a place where we have a general agreement about facts. I tried to imagine something that could solve that problem; a generally accepted non-partisan arbiter of truth, and the System was born. Along with the many things that it does, is that it deep fact checks whatever you ask it to. In the book, “Systemic” is synonymous with “true”, hence the title. Anyhow, all of that was bouncing around in my head, looking for a way out. Then one day, an image popped into my head on the bus home. My phone and my laptop both died and I had nothing to do. I had recently driven home to Seattle from Yellowstone, and there were all these beautiful wide Montana river valleys, and then we drove through the sagelands of Eastern Washington all those other spaces I’d seen around the West. I smooshed all that together along with a rainstorm that couldn’t quite reach the ground and a young woman hiking, and I was off to the races. 9 months later I had a rough draft of a sci-fi novel.
What are books/magazines or other works that have helped you in your writing?
I didn’t really set out to write a novel. I was just writing. Then, one day, I found myself in possession of a full-length sci-fi novel. I loved it, and I wanted to do everything I could to make it as good as possible. So, while I was going through my numerous editing passes, I read lots of blogs on story construction and character development etc. All of these were extremely helpful but, unfortunately, I don’t know what they were any longer. As far as books and the like, Stephen King’s On Writing was extremely helpful. There were a bunch of bits from other books that seemed to creep their way into Systemic, and those were very helpful as well. Blood Meridian, Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep, Foundation, iRobot, Station Eleven. Probably the most helpful thing was my editor. She was forthcoming with observations and advice and did a lot to help my story sing.