Calgary author Axel Howerton first came to my attention when his gritty PI caper, HOT SINATRA, appeared on the shortlist for the Arthur Ellis Award in the Best First Crime Novel category.
I'm a sucker for a caper so there I was, nose-down in the misadventures of Moss Cole, PI. And thus was my admiration for Axel born. Not only is his writing quirky, atmospheric, and subtly hilarious, he's risen from his meek and retiring beginnings to the shady power behind Noir-Bar-YYC. Now that he's the Prairie VP for Crime Writers of Canada, he's also a big step closer to his not-so-secret plan for world domination
Here he is reflecting on what he learned while writing his newest, FURR, which bursts snarling onto the world this Thursday, October 27th at Owls Nest Books in Calgary.
Research. The bane of a lot of authors, and the downfall of many others.I tend to do a lot of research, get lost in it even. But sometimes it pays off in ways you can't possibly expect. In starting my new book Furr, I read a lot of werewolf fiction, from Guy Endore's The Werewolf of Paris to short stories by George R.R. Martin and Neil Gaiman. I did research on the Rocky Mountains, the Kootenay Indians, ancient Irish mythology, Chinese symbolism, the American pioneer plains, voodoo, 14th century witchcraft, and the 2014 Dodge Challenger. Usually, I cram all of this stuff into my brain at the beginning of a project, let it stew and simmer for a while, then let it seep into the cracks and corners of the work. Sure, I have to refer back to things, double-check my facts, but once I'm rolling, I'm rolling.This time, having initially written the book in such a short time frame (the first draft was six or seven weeks in the fall of 2015) I had to kind of cram the research in as I went, and I discovered that it helped, rather than hindered, to be doing it while I was writing. Specifically, one little fact about wolves gave me a whole added layer of meaning. There's a repeated phrase: A strong wolf leads from behind.It's probably obvious what the meaning is, but the genesis of it was something I stumbled on in the 6th or 7th nature documentary I'd watched on wolves, not even really taking in information, so much as trying to saturate myself with the feeling of wolves, how they move, how they look... when something that had never been mentioned in my other research caught my attention.
When we think of the Alpha Wolf, we think of a tough, powerful and vicious animal, stronger than the rest, leading by example at the front of the pack.
What I learned, quite unexpectedly, was that the Alpha rings up the rear of the pack formation, in part to protect the stragglers - the weak and the young - and protect the pack from behind. He doesn't just lead the family into battle or on the hunt, he protects them from the darkness they might not see. That was a profound discovery for me, and fit so perfectly into my narrative that it became the shiny red cherry on top.
So keep researching, keep immersing yourself in your subject matter. You never know what might find you at just the right time.
From the South three sisters fair ran athwart the gloom… Dressed of fur and fierce of tooth, The maidens of the Moon.
Jimmy Finn is having a real bad day. He woke up drunk and on the wrong end of a nightstick. He lost his job, and had to see his shrink. Now the cops are after him, he’s falling apart, and his only friend is a volatile drug lord. How could it get any worse?
As smoke envelopes the city, he finds himself on the run, and out of time. He’s either losing his mind, or becoming a monster. Or maybe it’s both. Jimmy Finn has one last hope. A long-buried family secret, lost above a mysterious town in the mountains, full of bizarre shadows and a strange girl that haunts his memories.