- Does writing energize or exhaust you?
I get very energized during the initial stages – planning, researching, outlining – and during the actual writing in extended bursts where I’ll write for six or eight hours a day for a week or more… then I tend to burn out and fizzle for a few days until I recharge. I find it’s the same through the editing process, go-go-go and then crawl back up out of the dirt.
- What is your writing Kryptonite?
Day job nonsense. Netflix. I get obsessive about new shows I like, and I’ll be locked out of doing almost anything else if I start a show and don’t finish the story. I’ll binge 3 or 4 seasons in a week. My kids, because there’s nothing I’d rather do than hang out with them.
- Did you ever consider writing under a pseudonym?
I have, actually. In a few cases where anthologies needed additional stories and I already had one placed, or I’d had a story printed somewhere and they didn’t want to have me show up in multiple issues too close to each other. Grady Cole, that’s me. There’s been a few others. I also try to use those alternate identities to explore other writing styles and genres. The last thing I’d want is for a Grady Cole story to read exactly like an Axel Howerton story. It’s old hat for me, though. When I was an entertainment journalist, I had a secret identity as the masked luchador Ramone, who would write nonsensical columns on z-movies and film weird short films that morphed into DVD reviews.
- What other authors are you friends with, and how do they help you become a better writer?
Some of my very best friends are other writers. At this point, I don’t have many friends or acquaintances that aren’t part of the writing community. Scott S. Phillips is practically my brother, even though we’ve never met face-to-face. It was immensely helpful to both of us, struggling through the indie forests. He had been a screenwriter and filmmaker, whereas I had been a journalist. We have very similar interests and backgrounds and tastes, and our work tends to be pretty complimentary, so we can tip each other off to opportunities that would suit us. It also makes it really easy to work together. One of the first collections either of us were published in was dreamed up by the two of us complaining about our awful day jobs. Scott took it to one of our mentors – the legendary Bob Vardeman – and ended up co-editing the book. Later on, I ended up including Scott in my anthologies Tall Tales of the Weird West and It’s a Weird Winter Wonderland. We’ve also been very supportive of each other’s work – sharing and promoting – as well as tossing ideas around. The other most influential is probably Robert Bose, my partner in Coffin Hop Press. Rob and I met through the local writing community, attending the same conferences, etc. and eventually, Rob had submitted to one of my anthologies. I really liked his story and his style, and in the process of editing his story, and working on promotion for the book, I found out about his short story collection, which I also loved. I ended up publishing Fishing with the Devil, and in the process of working on that book, Rob proved to have a lot of insights and great ideas for the press. I liked his ideas so much, in fact, that we partnered up, and in the months since, Coffin Hop Press has grown by leaps and bounds.
- Do you want each book to stand alone, or are you trying to build a body of work with connections between each book?
I do sometimes play with the idea of crossing over stories and novels, trying to tie everything together a’ la Stephen King. All of my novels up to now have been conceived and written as individual tales, but after they came out people began asking about “the next one”. My first novel Hot Sinatra, the publisher was angling for additional books to improve the salability, despite the tidy ending I’d designed. I kind of rankled at that, but at the same time, I’ve written 5 or 6 spin-off short stories in that universe that were published in various places, so now I have a couple of additional novels planned. That’s what a lot of readers want and expect now, serial storytelling. I think it’s both because of things like Netflix and the “Golden Age” of television storytelling, and because, with the current glut of ebook product and the rising cost of print books, people want to invest in something that’s going to give them a prolonged bang for their precious buck. I don’t blame them a bit. Fortunately, my second novel Furr lent itself more to the idea of a continuing story, and the publisher wanted to explore a couple of the secondary characters that they really liked. That idea turned into a new series that kicks off with my next novel Demon Days. So now I actually am planning out an extensive extended universe with connections to the previous book and at least three books scheduled in the series, probably four or five.
- What was the best money you ever spent as a writer?
Going to the local writing convention, When Words Collide. I made more connections, met more fellow writers, learned more, and opened my mind to so many more avenues in the writing world, than I have at any other time in my career, and it usually costs about $50 for three days.
- What was an early experience where you learned that language had power?
When I was very young, I would spend my weeks with my elderly grandparents, while my parents worked. They had all of these musty old books in the basement, and all of these odd piecemeal books upstairs next to their matching recliners. I don’t remember seeing them read them, but I was always endlessly fascinated by them, forever picking them up and leafing through them. There was just something about words on a page. My grandma always told people that I taught myself to read at the age of three with those books, which I’m sure is a hearty exaggeration, but I do remember being able to read before I started kindergarten, and sitting in the middle of their living room, cross-legged on the carpet, flipping through these massive tomes on Jacques Cousteau, or Strange Stories, Amazing Facts. I would read Emily Dickinson and Robert Service and try to remember the poems so I could tell them to myself later, as if I was telling the story to someone else. I was a weird kid, I guess.
- What’s your favorite under-appreciated novel?
One of them is Sock, by Penn Jillette. Yes, that Penn Jillette, of Penn & Teller. I came across it in the bookstore and just thought it was a cool cover, so I picked it up. The idea of a cop talking to his sock monkey made me buy it. It was so damned good, and so unlike anything else I’d been reading. Later on, one of my first writer friends, a guy named Scott Duran, turned out to also be a fan. He worked in a bookstore in Las Vegas and had some sketchy dude come in to sell an autographed copy. We started out conjecturing about the sketchy dude, and then we both wrote stories about it – just for fun. He ended up sending me that copy, and then another. So, now I have two autographed copies, and my original dog-eared copy. I still almost never come across anybody who has heard of, or remembers that book, which is a shame. I’d like to imagine that it doesn’t bother Penn too much that his literary career didn’t take off, but I know it would have hurt if it was me. I hope I meet the man someday, just to let him know how much it influenced a couple of schlubs like us.
- As a writer, what would you choose as your mascot/avatar/spirit animal?
This is the second interview lately that’s asked this, which is cool. I’ll stick to the same answer: David Blowynch, it’s like a Chimera of David Bowie and Lynch. A Chimera with outstanding hair. The patron God of subtext and style.
- How many unpublished and half-finished books do you have?
At least four. Nine, if you count the ones I’m actively in planning stages/various levels of completion on.
- What does literary success look like to you?
Enough money coming in to write full-time. Praise enough to feel confident in that next idea. At best? A based-on show with an after-show show hosted by Chris Hardwick.
12. What kind of research do you do, and how long do you spend researching before beginning a book?
Depends on the subject matter and the concepts behind the book. I don’t waste a lot of time with mundane research on details like gun makes and models, or the correct flight path for a 747 arriving at LaGuardia at 3:07 am on a Wednesday in October with high winds and a low-pressure system. If I’m doing research, it’s because I’m trying to stay true to concepts and history that may matter to certain groups. If I’m using an ancient religion, or a small local indigenous group, like the Ktunaxa (Kootenay) tribe I mention in Furr, I tend to spend a lot more energy making sure I get things right. That being said, when I do research on cultures and history and more esoteric and occult topics, I tend to get sucked way way down the rabbit hole. I may spend months accumulating references and seeking out obscure books, and then have all of that lead to one bloody sentence in the finished book. It’s more about me understanding the way the world I’m creating was influenced by humanity, than fact-checking, really.
- How many hours a day/week do you write?
When I’m in the thick of it, if I’m lucky enough to get the time, I write in blocks of 8 or 10 hours a day on weekends, maybe an hour or two every day through the week. Like most non-King/Patterson/etc writers, I have a day job. I have a wife, and kids, and all the usual accoutrements of adulthood. I also run a publishing press in there too, so time is at a premium, but I’ll lock myself away when needs be.
- How do you select the names of your characters?
It depends on the project. Sometimes there’s meaning behind them, sometimes there’s just a name I like, like Jules. Sometimes it’s attached to some awful joke I can’t let go of. The Ktunaxa character in Furr is named Bob Dylan, entirely so I could have a conversation where someone asks him about it, and he calmly retorts that “maybe he’s named after me. I’ve been Bob Dylan longer than him. His name’s Zimmerman.” The hired thugs/sex performers in Hot Sinatra and the accompanying stories are named Manlove and Kickerdick, names I stole from Scott Phillips on a dare, since he couldn’t figure out where to use them. Most of the time it’s one of the more entertaining parts of the process, other times you have to change that name five times because everything that sounds right as a first name with “Montrose” ends up too close to the other character names.
- What was your hardest scene to write?
I don’t know that I could single one out. There have been a lot of them that were hard to write because I may not have quite had a handle on the emotion of the scene, or where it fit in the grander scheme of the story. There were certainly ones that were emotionally draining. My last novel, Con Morte, is a good example of that. Writing such a dark and troubled character from a first person pov tends to get to me, especially over an intense period of writing for eight or nine hours. Consequently, the end of that book took a lot out of me, because it was a struggle to bring that character back up into the light and try to find some kind of redemption after being lost in such a dark mind for so long.
- Why did you choose to write in your particular field or genre? If you write more than one, how do you balance them?
When I first started writing fiction again, and trying to publish, I naturally trended towards horror, just because that’s what I had been steeped in during my last years as an entertainment journalist. I was the go-to guy for indie genre filmmakers, and spent a lot of time watching b-movie horror – slashers, alien invasions, body horror. At the same time, I was mainlining a lot of vintage crime and hard-boiled detective fiction, especially Raymond Chandler and Dashiel Hammett. So, my short fiction was mostly horror, but my first novel was a crime homage to hard-boiled detectives. Eventually I moved more into the crime arena, just because that’s what I was getting known for after that first book was a finalist for the Arthur Ellis Award (Best First Novel from the Crime Writers of Canada). Despite that, I’ve always continued to experiment with genres. I may be known as “the noir guy” in my own neck of the woods, but I’ve since written sci-fi western, urban fantasy, magical realism, whatever strikes my fancy. To me, it’s all about exploring different ways to tell stories about human beings, and the relationships between them, so I don’t see a huge difference between a hardcore noir thriller, and a romantic fable, so long as the characters are realistic and relatable, and their relationships and struggles are genuine.
- How long have you been writing?
Like most of us say, “since I could hold a crayon”. I remember publishing comic books and chapbooks of poetry in grade two or three. Poems like “Life is like a bowlful of Cherry Pez”. My first article was published around age 11 or 12. Since then, I’ve always been at it, in one way or another. I’ve only been seriously writing fiction with the active intent of getting it published since 2011 or 2012. I wasted a lot of years on self-doubt and empty excuses for avoidance.
- What inspires you?
Life. Music. The idea that we can create worlds and explore our own humanity through the interplay of our creations. That we can maybe find answers to the really big questions, and the really important, seemingly minuscule ones, in our own minds – if we dig deep enough.
- How do you find or make time to write?
Like everyone else out there, my time is at a premium. Between the everyday responsibilities: the day job, the kids – just maintaining life – it is sometimes hard to find the time. I’m lucky that I have a supportive family, especially my wife, who is equally creative and driven about her own projects, who trades off with me as much as possible on the day-to-day stuff. That way, when I need to take eight hours a day over the weekend, or get up at 4 am for a few weeks, it takes the edge off and allows me to focus on my work.
- What projects are you working on at the present?
Demon Days, the first book in the Furr spin-off series, is in final edits right now. That should be coming out in the next couple of months from Tyche Press. Then I have four or five more of those to finish in the next couple of years. I also have two more Mossimo Cole books to follow up Hot Sinatra, which I’d like to have finished before I get the rights back on the first book. There’s also three other crime novels (maybe novellas), a post-apocalyptic steampunky sci-fi novel I’ve been working on, a literary-satire historical novel about the birth of the Northwest Mounted Police and the whiskey runners in early Canada, and probably three or four other things I’m forgetting.
- What do your plans for future projects include?
All of the above, and then some. Hopefully, some small measure of success and a wider audience along with that. I’m also putting a lot of my energy into my publishing company, which I hope will prove to be a success and keep growing over the next few years (and a long-time after *fingers crossed*) and eventually allow me the extra freedom I need to transition from my exciting day job in industrial repair sales to a life that revolves entirely around writing and publishing. In the end, I just really hope this can occupy and provide for me throughout the rest of my life, and maybe leave some small legacy for my kids and grand-kids to be proud of.
- Share a link to your author website.
http://www.axelhow.com or search #axelhow on twitter, facebook, etc.
Axel Howerton is a former entertainment journalist, and the Arthur Ellis Award nominated author of the detective caper Hot Sinatra; the modern gothic fairytale Furr; the zombie novella Living Dead at Zigfreid & Roy; and the noir fable Con Morte. His forthcoming “Wolf & Devil” urban fantasy series for Tyche Books kicks off with “Demon Days” in February 2018.
When he’s not on-duty as a “purveyor of literary badassery” and “hometown anti-hero”, Axel wanders the foothills of Southern Alberta with his two brilliant sons, and a wife that is way out of his league.