The voyage of the good ship Howerton.

Project4AWhen I was just a little boy… I asked my mother “what will I be?” I remember sitting and contemplating the things I could be when I grew up. Most of them consisted of variations on The Six Million Dollar Man or some kind of astronaut-lost-in-time like Buck Rogers in the 25th Century, or even Jason of Star Command.  Mostly, if I resigned myself to a real-world scenario, I wanted to be like Jim Rockford.  Rockford was kind of a dick, kind of a hero and more or less just a laid-back dude who eats a lot of burritos. Had it occurred to me that I could have had a job making up stories, like the stuff that happened to Rockford, or Starsky & Hutch, I probably would have started on this road sooner.

As it played out, I never did get away from the idea of storytelling – frequently making up comic books and plays, writing stories for school magazines, and creating collections of satirical poetry with Jim Hawreliuk in 3rd grade (“Life is a Bowl Full of Cherry Pez” if I remember correctly) – nor did the urge ever leave me. By junior high I was into “filmmaking” and had become a hardcore movie buff. By high school, I had hundreds of VHS tapes of my favorites and a budding pubescent love for gore and special effects. I made movies like “Zombies, Zombies, Zombies” where we basically wandered through a Safeway at 1 in the afternoon, pretending we were shopping for the ingredients for a zombie cure. The cashier would play along – “Hunting zombies are we?” and snicker as we ran off to illegally film in the parking lot behind the donut shop. Since that hobby probbly wasn’t going to nab me any teen tail, I also grew a talent and appreciation for poetry, filling innumerable journals and textbooks with ruminations on death, love, sex and coffee. Like most kids, I found a mentor in a wonderful English teacher, who pushed and prodded and demanded my talents be utilized. That gave me the glimmer of an idea that telling stories was something I was good at.

I applied for Film School at 17, and was told to “come back in a couple of years” with a A-6MjsWCMAAmxby.jpg largeproof of my desire to make movies that matched my youthful enthusiasm. In the meantime, I did a lot of teenage “living” (drinking, fornicating, being in a band or three, waking up on strange floors five days out of seven) before trying my hand at University. That’s where my true awakening began. English class had always been a cakewalk for me, and I knew I had a way with words. What I hadn’t realized to that point was that there were as many types of writing as there were flavours you could add to vodka. Poetry classes, romantic literature, historical literature, Canadian literature… beat writers, classicists, gothics, modernists, southern romantics, southern gothics, revivalists, existentialists, Victorian, Edwardian, so on and so on and so on and… It opened a brand new set of universes to me, where something as hilariously complex as Douglas Adams could live right next door to Dashiell Hammett (who is one of my all-time favorites – I got a lovely hardcover Maltese Falcon for Christmas from my sons and it is already one of my most prized possessions). All of a sudden, I realized that I could love Candide, but still show a healthy appreciation for Ray Bradbury. I could have Naked Lunch on my bedside table, and Alexandre Dumas in the bathroom. They were all just stories. Stories just like mine. So I started writing again.

Like many flustered post-teen creatives, my first attempts were mostly fruitless – “The Bullshit Memoirs of Ace Kazlowski” was a collection of rambling essays, covering everything from my hatred of broccoli to my frustration at a girl I liked and her predilection for dating 30 year-old douchebags. “The Long Forgotten” was a philosophical fantasy fable; something like The Hobbit meets Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance.  There were more books of poetry, including the ever-burgeoning “The Goat Singer’s Retreat”, my version of Leaves of Grass, minus Uncle Walt’s decades of experience and lifetime of rewriting. Eventually, I began to ramble out a book about my then-current crop of friends, slightly fictionalized and highly over-dramatic. It did make me acutely aware of my talent for character and ear for dialogue. That ended up becoming (after 6 or 7 years of stops and starts and complete rewrites) my first finished novel. “Recollections of Huckleberries Past”. It was terrible. Imagine all the worst parts of every CW teen drama and rehashed Melrose Place, recast with Hollywood weirdoes and filled with musical references from Al Green and E.L.O. to Boyz II Men and Teenage Fanclub. Throw all that in a pot, add a liberal helping of 90’s indie movie shoegazing and a hefty pile of Tarantinoesque dialogue.

Then I met my wife, and I spent my time on other things. Wooing and partnering and hanging out, apartments and rent and jobs and careers and jobs again… all the while I puttered and claimed I would do something more with my writing. Around 2001 I started blogging about movies. I got mixed up with Shane MacDonald and EyecraveDVD, which we turned into Canada’s biggest movie and DVD site. I amassed somewhere north of two thousand DVD’s and wrote day in and day out. And I loved it. I started writing music articles for a few other venues and then I started my own site, The Den of Iniquity. I was loving the feeling of writing anything and everything. I started taking freelance gigs and going to shows anSidHaigd conventions and covering events. Shane and I hit San Diego Comic Con and blew the doors off. I knew what I was meant to do, but I wasn’t sure how to do it. I started to get overwhelmed with the demand for reviews, dozens of new discs showing up every week and no time to watch them. Writing started to become a chore and the reviews and articles ground to a halt.

But that old itch was still there, waiting for me to scratch. Eventually I ended up in a cubicle, bored shitless and waiting to die under fluorescent light. I started to write stories again. I entered some contests, and half-heartedly floated stuff out on the ether, I wrote a story about those fluorescent lights. It was called “Hum”. A pal I’d made through the DVD gig liked it, he told me to submit it to an anthology he was working on. Next thing you know, I’m in a book with the guy that wrote The Ice Harvest and Bob Vardeman, who’s written a couple of hundred books. Maybe I could do it after all. Tell stories. Make worlds.

I started and stalled on a bunch of projects before I was ready to roll on Hot Sinatra. I have drawers full of notes and chapters and half-cooked novels. I cranked out the first half in a month. I channeled my love for Hammett and Chandler, for Bogey movies, for Jazz, for Punk Rock and coffee and redheads and my kid, my fond memories of L.A., my fanatical support of the Red Sox… all of it came together. My natural style presented itself (which has been called Tarantino-light more times than I care to say, or more aptly Elmore Leonard on weed) and my itch was finally getting scratched. Then, all of a sudden, I stopped. I stopped and I couldn’t get going again, and I thought it was over.

I took a gig as a slush pile editor for a horror mag. I wrote a half-dozen stories and got some more stuff in some more books and magazines. I got up early and stayed up late, Hot_Sinatra_LG_Bevery day hoping I’d have something fire me up to finish Hot Sinatra. All the time, over the next two years, the characters lived their lives and fought through the story, giving me insight and filling in the blanks. Honestly, now, I don’t even remember what put me back in the saddle, but I finished it. I finished it and I printed a copy and gave it to my wonderful, supportive wife who kept telling me to not give up. Then I forgot about it, and went back to stories and articles and music and once-in-a-while even DVD’s.  Even then, the need to tell the story was nagging at me. New characters, new motivations, new scenes, new endings.  So I rewrote it. Then rewrote it again. And again. Then I showed it to a few people and they raved. That gave me the confidence to think that maybe I had something.  Once I had that confidence, I started project after project, comic books, video scripts, novellas, pilots, short stories…

Hot Sinatra was still sitting in the back of my head. I’d never stopped to consider what I had, which was a weird, funny, quirky neo-noir hardboiled detective novel, but set in modern day. I realized that all of these style of stories that I liked best, the movies Brick, or Kiss Kiss Bang Bang or Twin Peaks… they used conventions and ideas from old movies and pulp novels, without just aping them, or giving the dick a cell phone.  I realized that my story was like that, that my story was something that I would love, if I was me, which I am… so… I gave it a shot. I put it out there.

Now it’s published, paper and plastic, and every person who’s read it has said the same thing. It’s funny, it’s action-packed and most importantly, it’s enjoyable.

That is giving me more confidence every day, and more and more I’m starting to believe that I am meant to make shit up. I’m supposed to be telling stories and creating worlds. Worlds where Jim Rockford and The Six Million Dollar Man eat burritos and talk about the Red Sox and fight astronauts lost-in-time.

So my next book, it’s kind of science-fictioney, kind of steampunk, and a little bit Buck Rogers in the 25th Century. It’s maybe going to be called “The Key to Rust & Salvation” and it’s going to be part of a series with some pretty cool authors, like Bob Vardeman and Nathan Long and Sarah Bartsch. And I bet it’s going to end up being funny and weird and quirky and full of great dialogue and a lot of action and music. And it’s going to be entertaining. I’m a writer now. Finally.

Thanks for reading,

Axel

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6 thoughts on “The voyage of the good ship Howerton.”

  1. “What I hadn’t realized to that point was that there were as many types of writing as there were flavours you could add to vodka.” <— favorite part.

    Very nice story!!! Loved the Safeway bit and how the cashier played along. Too cute!

  2. Inspirational! I am trying to kick start myself as well. I wrote all the time as a youngster and now I’m finally taking the time to push myself to do what I’ve always wanted to do. Never too late, right? Only a few chapters in, but reading your story, helps me remind myself to keep plugging away! Thanks!

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