AXEL HOWERTON: I’M JUST A GUY WHO LIKES TO TELL STORIES
Posted by Ognian Georgiev
Hot Sinatra by Axel Howerton was finalist for the 2014 Arthur Ellis Award for Best First Novel. The author is former journalist and master of short stories. He was also a former amateur boxer and semi-pro kickboxer way back in time. It’s a great chance that Axel will be our next guest in our Q&A section. I’ve made many interviews in my professional life. Some of them are good, some of them are boring and some of them are really interesting and may be rated with Five Stars. The one with Axel, despite the fact that was made just by asking questions via e-mail, is probably the coolest one in the blog!
– What is your book Hot Sinatra about?
– Hot Sinatra is a throwback to the pulp detective stories of the 1930’s and 40’s, to my favorite authors – Hammett, Chandler and the like. It follows a middle-aged, recovering alcoholic, danger-prone ex-cop who has taken over his grandfather’s private investigation business. The grandfather was a prototypical Bogart-style detective, who was well-known and revered in Los Angeles, and our hero has a hard time living up to that legacy. The hero, Mossimo Cole, gets mixed up with a crazy old record producer who has lost a very rare Frank Sinatra record, which he believes was stolen. Soon Mossimo is caught between the Las Vegas mafia, the Yakuza, Mexican drug lords, and a 60 year-old mystery surrounding the record producer’s wife and child. He is helped (and hindered) along the way by his best friend, a foul-mouthed Irish rock star, two hired thugs, the record producer’s beautiful daughter, and a collection of strange characters from the streets of L.A. It has been very well received by critics and readers, as well as being a finalist for the 2013 Crime Writers of Canada award for Best First Novel.
– How did you decide to write the story?
– I wanted to write an homage to my favorite writers and stories, in the form of a hardboiled detective story. I wanted to update that style of story in a more believable way than many of the films and stories that feature hardboiled characters, which usually just drop stereotypes from 30’s films into a modern setting. Once I began, my own brand of humor and quirky characterization just naturally came through and turned it into something new and, I believe, very enjoyable.
– What was the biggest challenge during the write up process?
– Staying focused and keeping the various threads of the plot organized. This book took about three years to finish, because I was writing it entirely in my spare time. I was a new husband and new father during that time, as well as maintaining a full-time job and my part-time responsibilities as an entertainment journalist. Because it took such a long time, and because there were often large breaks between my opportunities to work on it, it was a challenge to keep the plot straight and make sure that everything lined-up and didn’t contradict itself as the story progressed. There were more than a few times that I had to go back through the entire manuscript and retrofit new elements into the earlier chapters.
– Tell us something more about your main character? Is it close to someone from your real life?
– The main character is certainly an amped-up version of myself, able to do many things I wish I had learned to do, like being a talented musician. He also has many of my own failings and fears. I had my own problems with alcohol and aggression in my younger days, and was often getting myself into trouble very much the way Mossimo Cole does. Many other characters were also based on people close to me. I had a very special relationship with my own grandfather, and used that to inform the relationship in the book. The best friend, Danny Fox, is based on one of my very closest friends, who passed away not long after I began the book. He was also a musician and a renowned troublemaker, and the book is dedicated to him.
– How much time did you need to finish the story and to publish it?
– As I have mentioned it took me three years to write the book, including several revisions, before I was comfortable trying to find a publisher for it. During that time, I was also doing film and music reviews, writing and publishing short stories, and working as an associate editor for the horror magazine, Dark Moon Digest. When I was ready to submit the book, I looked at some of the new small presses that were emerging, and one of the first I considered was Evolved Publishing. They picked up the book immediately and it was published in January of 2013.
– What about your short stories?
– I began writing short fiction and poetry in my teens, and had a few things published in my twenties, before leaving the idea on the back burner for a number of years. Around 2007, I began to consider trying to get back into fiction after becoming friends with a number of writers who encouraged me to try my hand at it again, specifically in the horror genre. I had my first story published online that same year, followed by my zombie tale “Blood on the Strip” in Dark Moon Digest #3. After that, I had a number of stories published in various anthologies and magazines in the US and in Canada. My story “999 Problems”, which features characters from Hot Sinatra, was nominated for the Arthur Ellis Award for Best Short Story in 2013.
– Who are you?
I’m just a guy who likes to tell stories. I’m a father and a husband. I’m a very big movie geek and a fan of many genres.
– What are your writing habits?
– I still have a very limited amount of time available to me for writing, so I try to take advantage of early weekend mornings, down-time at my regular job, and basically any extra time I may be able to find. I have recently found using a voice recorder to be a great help, especially while I am stuck in traffic during my work commute. I can dictate what may be 3 or 4 pages at a time, whole plot outlines, and copious amounts of notes, during a time when I have no other distractions. Then, on those early Saturday mornings, I plug in the headphones and transcribe what I’ve recorded, which helps launch me for the rest of that session.
– Are you satisfied by the sales of the book and do you plan another one?
– I can’t say that I’m pleased with sales, no. It is a very hard thing to gain a foothold in the market right now, unless you have very solid support from the publisher and the industry, but I have made a start. I think that, much like anything else, the key is to simply keep moving forward with each new project. If I can keep Hot Sinatra out there, and keep expanding my reach and my notoriety while I work on the next project, eventually it will begin to pay off.
– What are you doing to promote your book by the best possible way?
– I have used many of the current promotional tools out there – book sites, reviewers, blog hops, interviews, etc. They all help a little bit each time, but it is hard to really quantify how much any of those affect sales, outside of paying for a big promo with something like Book Bub. Honestly, the best promotional events for me have been convention appearances, twitter and just keeping the book out there.
– You worked as entertainment journalist, tell us more about that experience?
– In 2000, I was working as a theatre manager and projectionist, and I was looking for an outlet for my love of Film. I had taken some film classes and some art criticism classes, and was thinking about jumping into the blogging boom with a site of my own. I had been writing occasional articles for local papers and magazines on film and music for a few years, and while investigating possibilities online, I came across a site called EyecraveDVD. ECDVD was run by a man named Shane MacDonald on the other side of Canada. We ended up discussing film over emails, and he invited me to write for him. Soon enough I was the managing editor and we were one of the biggest DVD and movie review sites out there. We went from reviewing 2 or 3 titles a month, to receiving hundreds of DVD’s and invitations to interview celebrities and cover big events. Eventually we even made it down to San Diego Comic-Con in 2007, where we were guests of Warner Brothers Home Entertainment and helped cover the release of the movie 300. I also used the attention we were getting to try and put a spotlight on some of the really excellent indie filmmakers that were doing direct-to-dvd low budget films. People like Scott S. Phillips, Frankie Frain and Richard Taylor. Unfortunately, by 2010 it was becoming a much bigger responsibility than I could keep up with, and I was personally getting hundreds of DVD’s to review every month. I stepped back from the site and began to focus more on my fiction writing, though I still work with Shane from time to time. He has also moved on, and has turned Eyecrave into a production company http://www.eyecravepro.ca
– Who are your Top 3 crime authors and how they affect you?
– I have a number of favorites, but the top three would probably be Dashiell Hammett, Raymond Chandler and Elmore Leonard. Hammett and Chandler were the absolute best at creating noble-but-flawed characters that weathered the sinister underworld of crime. I own, and have read, all of their work. It all informs me. Mossimo Cole is equal parts Marlowe and Spade, dressed in my own skin. That being said, my own writing style is probably most like Elmore Leonard’s. I love dialogue, humor and fast action, and my prose is very much influenced by his books. I’m also inspired by his own work habits and his diligence in much the same situation as I have. Elmore struggled finding time to write for many years while balancing family and work commitments, but kept at it until he was able to make it his singular profession, and then he kept at it until the day he died. That’s what I aspire to.
– What exactly is Coffin Hop project?
– When I was writing horror short stories and editing for Dark Moon, many of my writing friends and I were dismayed at the lack of promotional tours and support for horror writers. There were innumerable blog hops and author collectives for romance writers, but nothing for other genres. So I took it upon myself to organize one. The resulting interest blossomed from a few friends and I, to over 150 authors and artists in the horror ouvre. The first one took place in 2011, and we are now on our fourth annual event. It takes place from October 24-31 every year. The main site is http://www.coffinhop.com where you can find a hub that links to all of the involved authors and artists. Everyone plans multiple events, promotional crossovers, giveaways and contests, and it goes on for a full week, rather than a day or two. It is always exciting and fun. We also put together a charity anthology in 2012 to benefit http://www.litworld.org which is a world childrens literacy organization. It also helped me to launch my own publishing venture, Coffin Hop Press, which published the charity anthology and has many projects in the works.
– You’ve been published in foreign languages. Please describe the way you managed to make contacts with international publishers and what an author must do in order to get published in other country?
– All of that was arranged by Evolved Publishing, who has collected their own team of translators, artists and audio book producers to help support the authors. Evolved works as something of a co-operative, where various people involved in the production and promotion of a book share royalties, rather than take lump payments. It definitely helps make the process more affordable, for them and for the authors, and it seems to be working very well.
– If you may ask yourself one question in the interview what it will be? (Don’t forget to answer)
– Will there be a sequel to Hot Sinatra? This is the question I am most asked by people who have read the book, despite it having a complete resolution at the end. It was initially planned as a stand-alone story, but I have found myself drawn back to that world again and again. There are currently two stories available featuring the characters Manlove & Kickerdick – “999 Problems” and “A Very Merry Manlove & Kickerdick Xmess” – with at least two more planned, as well as a couple of promotional shorts featuring Mossimo Cole himself. Those have all proven very popular at readings and conventions, as well as in eBook form on Amazon.
I do have a rough outline for a second and third Moss Cole book, but they are currently somewhere near the middle of the pile of projects I’m working on. Before then, I have a Noir novella, and several crime stories in the works, as well as writing for and publishing an anthology of weird western tales scheduled to be published in February 2015. I am also working on a steampunk alternate history novella for the Empires of Steam and Rust series, a historical fiction novel about bootleggers in early Western Canada, and a couple of more literary novels, also set in Western Canada.
Check out more about Axel at his web page
Take a look at his book and short stories