Christopher Owen’s Journey from Air Traffic Controller to Celebrated Author

Christopher Owen’s Journey from Air Traffic Controller to Celebrated Author

For DreamHost customer and author Christopher Owen, a career at the keyboard was always a no-brainer, although he did have a high-flying detour along the way.

“I had an interest in writing from a very early age. I loved to read as a little kid, even in elementary school,” Owen said. “I was always fascinated: ‘Where do these stories come from?'”

Among those stories was the lore of Middle Earth.

“I first read ‘The Lord of the Rings’ by Tolkien and that just floored me. I’d never read anything like it, and I just knew at that point I wanted to make up stories like that,” he said. Despite his initial attempts at writing, which he humbly dismisses as “terrible,” these early experiences sowed the seeds for his future in writing.

He’d caught the writing fever and gladly kept it burning into his later school years. In high school, he took an elective creative writing class that he said was beneficial, thanks to an inspiring teacher who provided a nurturing environment that gave him the confidence to pursue his passion. When he entered university, he majored in English.

“I don’t know if that was good or bad for a writer, but it got me closer to where I was going,” he said. “I loved English. It was fun to study, and it’s a useful degree for no matter what you do.”

But it was when he got engaged to be married that he realized that making up stories might not pay the bills. He knew he had to earn a secure living.

A New Career Takes Flight

That living turned out to come from a fairly unlikely direction for a university English major. Then, the course Owen was charting turned skyward.

“I got sidetracked in a career completely different from writing,” he said. “I became an air traffic controller because a friend of mine got into it, and it just kind of fell into my lap, too. I figured I’d do it for a few years, and I ended up doing it for 25.”

During his more than two decades of monitoring and managing the movement of aircraft, he invested little forward movement in his writing ambitions. Other than periodically jotting down ideas, a future as a writer wasn’t at the forefront of his plans.

However, his years as an air traffic controller afforded him the opportunity to travel the world, which gave him experiences that motivated him to keep a spark alive for writing.

“When I retired, I said, ‘Well, if I’m ever going to write, I’d better do it now.’ So I started pursuing it seriously  — writing short stories — because that was the conventional wisdom back in the day,” Owen said.

Fulfilling a Destiny

As he delved more deeply into his stories — mainly science fiction and fantasy — Owen experienced the publisher rejections that many writers often run into.

“You break into writing with short stories and sell them to the magazines,” he said. “My first few rejections were crushing, but I realized I needed to learn more about the craft of fiction writing.”

He discovered the Odyssey Writing Workshop, an intensive six-week program geared toward writers of fantasy fiction. Odyssey — located at Saint Anselm College in Goffstown, New Hampshire — is one of two, along with Clarion West, major science fiction and fantasy writing workshops in the United States.

Owen enrolled in the Odyssey workshop with 15 other aspiring writers. The workshop’s instructor took students through the paces of all things writing, and Owen said it changed his world.

At about the same time, Owen received what he’d been pining for ever since embarking on his writing journey: an acceptance letter for one of his short stories. His thrill at the honor motivated him to keep going.

“I would say this was around 2010. So, until about 2013, I was writing short stories — just cranking them out and sending them off,” he said. “I ended up getting about 40 published out of probably several hundred that I submitted. And some of them, I submitted multiple times.”

Inspired by his success with short stories, Owen wanted to take the logical next step.

“I decided I wanted to take a crack at writing a novel. I’d taken a crack at it back when I was in college. I wrote sort of a Tolkien fantasy knockoff. I got about halfway through it, thought it was terrible, and abandoned it,” he said. “But then I started working on some ideas for novels that I’d had over the years, and eventually those morphed into some completed works.”

Branching Out from the Fantastic

Although Owen cut his teeth on the sci-fi and fantasy genres both in his reading and his writing, he wasn’t above venturing into more decidedly earthbound types of storytelling. He’s also written an anthology of tales about the hard-drinking set and an anthology about life in New York City, among others.

So, how does he approach writing in such disparate genres while maintaining richness and integrity in the quality of his prose?

“The way I work and the way my mind thinks, I almost don’t have any other choice,” he said. “I got my feet wet in science fiction and fantasy because that’s what I grew up reading. But when I got into college and started studying English and reading writers like Faulkner and Hemingway and Toni Morrison, I started to love literary writing. I started to love mainstream writing, even genres like the thriller and Michael Crichton.”

Owen sees the value in a writer having the ability to traverse genres, so he’s not content to pigeonhole himself. He relishes the literary forays he’s made into science fiction, relationships, and thrillers and admits that he’d “get bored after that and want to move on to something else.”

“That’s kind of to my detriment because most writers — if you write a science fiction book and people buy it, you write more science fiction because that’s what [readers] are expecting from that person whose book they read,” he said. “You develop a following in a particular genre.”

Owen points to the “Harry Potter” and “Game of Thrones” novels series as examples of those with characters that are carried through multiple books by a single author each. He’s quick to point out that he doesn’t work that way, and he said that ethos keeps him from being bored. He also said such a decision to stay diverse hasn’t been an obstacle in his creative process because he reads a wide variety of genres.

“A lot of writing instructors and authors will tell you even if you write science fiction, don’t just read science fiction. Read stuff in every genre. Read some Westerns, read some romance,” he said. “So I do that, and it makes me want to write in those genres.”

The Creative Process

For Owen, effective world-building involves just enough detail to make the setting believable, without overwhelming the reader with unnecessary information. He avoids what readers call “info dumps,” striving instead to integrate details naturally into the narrative. 

In his latest novel, the futuristic and dystopian “Behavior,” Owen tackles the intricate and ethically charged concept of controlling antisocial and even criminal behavior through microchips implanted in the brain. This premise allowed him to explore not only futuristic technology but also deeper philosophical and moral questions. He strives to balance these heavy themes with compelling storytelling. 

“The main goal is to compel the reader to keep turning pages,” Owen explained. By integrating intense scenarios that prompt readers to think critically about societal norms and personal autonomy, he keeps his narratives engaging and thought-provoking.

“The idea for ‘Behavior’ is over 20 years old. I used to have a little Moleskine notebook where I wrote ideas down as they would come to me.”

His approach to world-building is story-centric. “It all starts with the story,” Owen asserted.

His writing process is dynamic; he may work on a novel for a while, set it aside, and then return to it with fresh eyes. This method allows his ideas to mature, and his narratives to develop depth and coherence over time, allowing him to introduce complex ideas gradually, avoiding overwhelming the reader, while still enriching the story with depth and intrigue.

Integrating Life Into Fiction

Owen’s novels often draw directly from his tapestry of life experiences. For instance, “Euro Spree” is inspired by his youthful adventures across Europe, distilled into what he calls a “beachery” — a lighthearted, engaging novel perfect for leisure reading on the beach. 

Unlike “Euro Spree,” another one of his novels, “Faith,” took a decade to refine. The novel’s premise sprouted from an overheard conversation and evolved into a story exploring the dynamics between an atheist filmmaker and a Christian singer, capturing the complex interplay of belief systems in personal relationships.

Owen’s personal journey from a religious upbringing to a more secular adulthood provided a nuanced backdrop for the characters in “Faith,” reflecting his deep understanding of both perspectives. This personal authenticity brings a compelling realism to his work, making his characters relatable and their conflicts resonant. 

Leveraging Technology To Connect With Readers

When Owen decided to transition from a personal blog to a professional website, he sought a reliable web hosting service that could meet his needs without compromising performance. Dissatisfied with his first hosting provider, Owen switched to DreamHost on a fellow writer’s recommendation. The move proved pivotal, offering him the speedy, seamless, efficient, and supportive environment he needed to manage his online presence effectively. 

“Tech support, on the rare occasions I need it, it has been flawless,” he said. is more than just a platform for promoting his books; it’s a gateway for engaging with his readers worldwide. By utilizing DreamHost’s robust features, including suggested WordPress plugins and a responsive customer support team, he created a website that not only showcases his work but also facilitates meaningful interactions with his audience. The contact form on his site, for instance, has enabled readers from as far away as the Netherlands to reach out with feedback, which Owen values greatly. 

For Owen, DreamHost has not just been a service provider, but a partner in his storytelling journey. The ease of updating content, the reliability of the hosting service, and the access to effective communication tools through his website have allowed him to focus more on what he loves — writing and interacting with his readers — without worrying about the technical aspects of managing an online presence. 

Owen’s experience highlights the importance of accessible technology in supporting independent creators in their professional ventures. By leveraging open-source solutions he has been able to focus on his writing and reader engagement without being bogged down by technical difficulties or limitations.

At DreamHost, flexibility is one of our core values and it’s a trait that many of our customers, like Owen, greatly appreciate. He needed a web host that could accommodate his creative vision, despite having little prior website design experience.

“I learned the hard way that flexibility in a host is imperative,” he said.

Owen was pleasantly surprised to find that DreamHost offered a variety of tools to facilitate website design and layout. The intuitive interface and the plethora of help files and tutorials enabled him to design a professional website that he’s proud of.

“Almost every aspect of DreamHost’s user interface has help files and tutorials that allowed me to design a professional website that I’m quite proud of,” he said.

What’s more, DreamHost’s passion for our work is reflected in our engagements with our customers, and Owen experienced that firsthand when he needed additional help with his website construction.

“DreamHost’s helpful staff was merely a click away to answer my questions or to fix whatever issue I couldn’t on my own,” he said. He added that he was impressed by the quick response times and the friendly and courteous service, which signaled to him that the staff was passionate about their work.