I’d like to introduce you to the sixty-fourth interviewee in my ‘Meet the Author’ series. He is Axel Howerton. Photo credit “Liz Howerton Photography”.
Hi, Axel! Welcome to Susan Finlay Writes blog site. Can you tell us a bit about your background as a writer?
Like most writers, my relationship with words and fiction began at the youngest age possible. I wrote stories and picture books and “published” my own comic books by the 2nd grade. By High School I was writing articles and music reviews and bad movies. In University it was poetry and bad coming-of-age novels. I spent several years on the vanguard of the websplosion of entertainment journalism as the managing editor of one of the biggest DVD review sites in Canada. All that time I was still doing occasional freelance work, as well as copywriting and consulting work for websites and commercial stuff. Round about 2007, I decided to get back into fiction. I ended up becoming an editor for the horror quarterly Dark Moon Digest, and then started getting stories in some really great anthologies and working with some very talented authors. I can’t quite say I’m a “working” author, but I’m hopefully well on my way to a cushy 18 hour-per-day, working-from-my-kitchen kind of life.
Your detective/crime novel, Hot Sinatra, was published in January, 2013, by Evolved Publishing. It’s described as a ‘Sam Spade novel mixed with a Rat Pack movie’ and as a ’quirky neo-noir novel’. Can you tell us a bit about the book?
To clarify, that description came from an unsolicited review by a reader. I just loved it too much not to include it on the ad copy. I’ve always been a fan of the old pulp writers – Black Mask kind of stuff – Chandler, Hammett, Raoul Whitfield, Carrol John Daley, James M. Cain and Jim Thompson among many others. When I sat down to write, that style kept creeping up. I didn’t want to simply ape the classics, so I made a conscious effort to create something new and modern, that harkened back to those writers without resorting to the worn-out technique of putting 30’s style gangsters, replete with broad-shouldered suits and Bogey patter, into a modern setting. If you’re going to have a character – especially a protagonist – who looks and acts like a tough guy from 1937, you’d better have a damn good reason he acts that way. From there I took my cues from things like the stellar film Brick, which sets a Chandleresque mystery in a modern High School setting, and Scott Phillips’ book The Ice Harvest, which harnesses all the seedy backstabbing of those pulp tales, but keeps it firmly rooted in a different era.
After I had that idea in mind, I just went for it, and included all the things I would love to see crammed together in a story like that: Redheaded vixen, Punk Rock, Jazz, multiple criminal organizations colliding, lots of coffee and friggin’ Legoland. The “quirk”, I guess, comes by way of my own slanted view of the world as a smartass and a pop culture fiend. In the end, I hope they’ll compare me to Mark Twain… a humorist and a humanist, just with fisticuffs and f-bombs. I’ll probably actually be compared to a fair-to-middling issue of TV Guide.
Would you give us a brief excerpt from Hot Sinatra?
Bees were buzzing through my ears, back and forth through the cavernous center of my skull. At least, that’s what it felt like—a low droning hum behind my eyes and filling the air. My mouth was dry, and itchy as hell, but when I reached to scratch, I found my arms were quite inconveniently tied to the chair I was sitting in. My legs were likewise encumbered, and I looked down and came face-to-face with my old friend, Mr. Johnson. I didn’t remember stripping down and tying myself to a chair, but here I was nonetheless.
As I slowly rolled my head around on a weak neck trying to survey my surroundings, my head began to clear and started getting back to its job. Vague images floated in the back of my mind—a green river snaking through the sand, a dirty hunk of straw, an old man and a kid laughing, the taste of sick and beef, a stinging jab to the neck. The last made me jump and instinctively throw my head to one side to protect the tender spot. Now I remembered. Like a fucking idiot. Rotten tacos. And the two swarthy gents in the shitty old truck.
I’d seen enough old detective flicks to know I’d been drugged, stuck with a questionable needle right in the goddamn jugular. But why? And who the hell drives around with a syringe full of knock-out juice? The first order of business was to get out of the damn chair and find some clothes.
I squeezed my eyes shut tight and willed them to behave. Clearer eyes checked the room again, but it was just an old wine cellar with a lot of dusty bottles, and a single window dug out of the clay wall on the opposite side of the room. Whispers of dust danced in pale sunbeams that fell in perfect lines from that window. It looked just big enough for me to fit through if I could get out of the damn chair. My first thought was to bounce my way to one of the wine shelves, try to break a bottle and then hope I could hold on to a piece of glass and cut myself loose, which was an accumulated shitload of if.
As I got my legs under me and rocked forward to try for a jump, I got all caught up and rolled forward over my knees, and ended up beating the dirt out of the floor with my face.
Presumably because of all the noise I was making, thrashing around and moaning in pain on the floor, a door opened to my left. I struggled and twisted and managed to scrape my face across the floor underneath all the weight of my body, and turned my head to look at a pair of well-kept snakeskin boots. They stopped mere inches from my nose, and then a face appeared, upside-down—a dark, handsome face, like Valentino, with a thin moustache and slick hair. Even upside-down I recognized Jorge Ramone, or at least the spitting image of Georgie in his prime.
What is your favorite review of your book?
It was on Amazon, from user Falcon Sprenger. ‘“I devoured this book. For the longest time, I’ve wondered what happened to the old-school detective novel. I’ve contemplated the fate of the gumshoe. Hot Sinatra put my mind at ease that those novels can still exist.
“‘Watch your mouth, fracicone,” he growled with a salacious grin, like he wanted to tear me open with his bare hands and make sweet love to my left ventricle.”
Hard and fast like a Viagra thief and just as off-balanced, Hot Sinatra makes you feel like you’re rushing through the exciting world of private detectives, mafia justice, Irish rockers and vintage Sinatra. I couldn’t put it down because I simply wanted more.
“They turned in synch, like a fifty-limbed sex-bomb cephalopod, to greet us with one uniform of wide, sly smiles and smouldering eyes.”
There are very few living authors who have made me literally laugh out loud, and Axel Howerton’s witty and sarcastic style promptly placed him into that category. The clever turn of phrase had me reading passages out loud to my wife, who remained thoroughly annoyed that I chose to interrupt her reading with mine.
“She stabbed at the eggs with the spatula. My frying pan had never been happier that I’d bought silicone.”
While I respect the author’s decision to keep things open for a sequel, I have to call him a jerk because of the ending, which tugged on my heartstrings more than a little. (I might have to admit here, that the author’s jerk-ness, might be because he made my eyes water up a bit.)
So, if you’re a fan of movies like Payback and Kiss, Kiss, Bang, Bang or simply love the old style of pulp detective novels or the gritty noir genre, Hot Sinatra is a book I highly recommend adding to your collection. A great read that I plan on actually getting in a paper form as well. This is a book I want on my shelves.”’
You’ve also written a mini-anthology, Living Dead at Zigfreidt & Roy. How many stories are in the anthology, and what are the stories about?
At the moment there are 4 or 5 little stories in there, but I may pull that title for a little while and toy around with it some more until I can turn it into a proper full-length collection.
You’ve also written numerous short stories that have appeared in Big Pulp, Fires on the Plain, Steampunk Originals, etc. What kind of stories did you write? Do you have a favorite?
The title story, Living Dead at Zigfreidt & Roy originally appeared in Dark Moon Digest #3 as Blood on the Strip, but it was severely truncated for spacial reckoning. I preferred the longer version and actually fleshed it out further into a short novella. I love that one because it’s basically just this beat-up old cowboy telling this unbelievable tale in a diner off the Vegas strip. Things get weirder and weirder and the world is falling apart outside the window and there are no Living Dead until the very last page or two.
I started out with a few little bizarre vignettes – Vonnegut-lite kind of stuff – and then ended up publishing a few horror stories: a chupacabra western thing; a deteriorating cubicle madness tale called Hum in the excellent anthology A Career Guide To Your Job In Hell; a Brautigan-esque piece about an office pirate, etc.
Once Hot Sinatra came out, the gears switched entirely and the short stories, for the most part, followed. Now I’ve written five or six stories in that universe, as well as some other “crime fiction”. There are two stories featuring the characters Manlove & Kickerdick published in the Clones, Fairies and Monsters in the Closet anthology from Big Pulp, and in the best-selling holiday-themed Let It Snow: Season’s Readings for a Super-Cool Yule.
What is the Coffin Hop Author Extravaganza, and how are you involved with it?
Back in 2011, my horror writing compadres and I were struggling with the dearth of marketing avenues for indie horror authors. There were blog hops all over the place for Romance writers and children’s books and YA, etc., but nothing substantial for horror. So I decided to throw one myself. Julie Jansen (terrific author of Santa’s Bones and Suburban Gnome Invasion) and I organized the inaugural event to take place in the last week of October, 2012 culminating on Halloween. Unlike other blog hops, we don’t just want our members to post something on their wall and hype their books, we want an all-out, holiday-shenanigan Hallo-palooza. We encouraged cross-promo to the nth degree, daily oddball prizes, events, contests, just anything and everything to make it like an online Mardi Gras for All Hallow’s Eve.
The first event, we expected to rope in ten or twenty friends and ended up with over 100 authors involved. Last year it was around 200 and we pulled together to support some great charities as well. This year we’ve put together a Drive-In Movie-themed anthology from our members that will benefit literacy charities, and we hope to bring in even more authors, artists, writers and horror fans.
Do you have any interesting stories from any of your book events?
I haven’t done many public events yet, but I just attended the When Words Collide conference here in Calgary, Alberta. I spent most of the weekend either appearing on panels, or manning the table where my book was being sold in a kind-of author’s co-op. I’d just relaunched Hot Sinatra with a new cover, maybe a few weeks before, so I was selling the last of my own copies with the original yellow, art deco cover. As I was walking past the table for one of the local bookstores, the proprietor stopped me and said “Oh! Is this your book?” There, on the top shelf, was three or four copies of Hot Sinatra in the new dark, boss-thriller cover. I just about wet my pants. It was the absolute last thing I would have expected. In my excitement, I bought one and signed it to myself as a ridiculous memento. The best part of the story? Later on that same day, I had someone come up to my table and ask if I had the new cover. The book store table had sold out and I had the only one. This gentleman had seen me on some of my panels and wanted BOTH covers and a copy of the other book I had available with me. So I crossed out my own name and wrote his in and signed it further “To ___, important enough to get my one and only personal copy. – AH”
What books or authors have most influenced you the most in your own writing?
The first thing they teach you in Author School (of course it’s a real place!) is to know what you’re writing and why. To pinpoint your natural ouvre. It’s something I’ve been thinking quite a lot about, especially with Hot Sinatra, as it has been pigeonholed as so many things that are only a small part of the whole. Looking back on all of my writing, the pattern I see is a secular humanism, paired with a healthy dose of humorous cynicism and tempered by a dark wit.
I’ve already mentioned Twain. Vonnegut. Bradbury. W.P. Kinsella. Those are the literary guys. Chandler, Hammett, all the Black Mask guys, James M. Cain, Jim Thompson on the hardboiled end of things.
Please list any websites or social media links for yourself or your book. Thanks!
Amazon – http://www.amazon.com/Hot-Sinatra-ebook/dp/B00B0QTUIQ/ref=sr_1_1?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1376762457&sr=1-1&keywords=hot+sinatra
FB – http://www.facebook.com/Thee.Axel.Howerton
G+ – http://plus.google.com/105279382159796291643/
Twitter – @AxelHow
Website – http://axelhowerton.com/
GR – http://www.goodreads.com/Axel_Howerton