*** A Talk with Eric Chase Anderson ***
The book is meant to be a rattling good sea story with colorful maps that nobody will have seen before. It is intended as a serious adventure made funny by the people involved, particularly our hero, Chuck, who responds to provocative situations with gusto—arguably too much gusto. Just like any other teenager. Only his gusto has the unexpected dash of nautical/military training. And, of course, nobody should deal with their personal problems as if they're warfare, which is what Chuck does.
A childhood illness taught me to love stories and reading. That's what I did as a kid—I visited other worlds. Along with a cardiologist, a pirate, an astronaut, a World War II RAF pilot, and a U.S. Navy officer, I wanted to be an author. In middle school, I began writing fighter pilot and espionage stories, which released a lot of pent-up interest in writing. Before that, I had only written a single chapter of an English murder mystery about werewolves. I had read somewhere about werewolves being drawn to diamonds, so that first chapter had an unusually high number of references to diamonds.
I first had the idea of making maps in my early 20s to help figure out the plot of a novel I was struggling to write. When the maps turned out better than the novel, I became a professional mapmaker instead. This was an unexpected career development. Mapmaking taught me about editing my ideas and presenting information, about directness and good humor. Chuck Dugan is AWOL would not exist if I'd never laid book writing aside for a time and gone through the process of making maps for a living.
When I was creating a portfolio, one of the maps I made was of the Staten Island Ferry. I just walked aboard one morning in the spring of 2000 and looked for a crewman. He assumed I was a student and took me up to the bridge. I made six crossings between Whitehall and St. George—the ferry terms for Manhattan and Staten Island—in the company of the crew. Several things from that experience went on to appear in the book. The description of the Technical Island Ferry's engines is taken from a very hazy description a crewman gave me, using his hands to describe the way the SI Ferry's engines work. I learned the maritime tradition by which the captain is referred to as "The Old Man," which became one of my character's names. They kindly shared their lunch of kielbasa with sauerkraut and mixed vegetables chased by diet root beer. And these things, too, made it into the book—all except the diet root beer, which hadn't been invented yet in 1961, the year the story is set.
I never went to art school, and I only learned to draw after becoming a mapmaker, starting when I was about 25. Most of what I know about technique and tools came haphazardly: from making Christmas presents, drawing maps for magazines, illustrating for a movie and several DVDs, and working on this book. (I bought my first really good professional art supplies from a guy in a bar for five dollars. They were worth over a hundred.)
All told, I think the book took a little over four years to write. The text was finished in the fall of 2003. The maps took a year and a half. When I was working on the book I put up a notice to myself that read ADHERE TO THE MAPMAKER'S TABLE OF PRIORITIES. The rules included things like START WORK EARLY, HAVE COFFEE AT YOUR WORK TABLE, and DON'T READ THE PAPER.
I think the reader should feel free to flip backward and forward, examining the maps repeatedly. Many of the early ones give details whose significance is only realized later in the story. I think that's part of the fun of the book—I call it A Novel with Maps.