Let’s lay it on the line here, kids. I’m not – historically speaking – much of a constant blogger. This site has, at times, laid fallow for far too long. I’m aiming to change that this coming year, and to try and take you along on my journey as I try to reinvigorate my writing career.
Now this is not to say I’ve been unsuccessful. Let me give you the actual history, unbesmirched by my natural leanings towards Eeyore-dom.
It was never easy for me. I was born a poor black child. I remember the days, sittin’ on the porch with my family, singin’ and dancin’…
That’s Steve Martin in The Jerk. Right. Sorry.
I was born a poor white child. Well, poor-ish. I can’t say I ever really needed for anything, I usually had clean clothes and there was always mac & chee on the stove. I never had a trapper-keeper. I never had the full complement of original Star Wars toys, or the latest Transformers set, or those sweet parachute pants with all the zippers… I did always have books though. I loved books. Even when I was five or six, I’d sneak down to my Grandma’s basement and marvel at the pile of moldy, silver worm-infested, hundred year-old books tucked away in a dank corner by the wood-burning furnace. By the time I was finishing Elementary school in the frozen tundra of the Canadian plains, I was writing books of semi-dirty limericks with my friends. I was published in the school newsletter, and my sixth grade teacher actually got a couple of my stories published in some local school board book. Then, all of a sudden, there were girls, and Playboy magazine, and hair gel, and pizza pops, and mid-80’s rap music. I still rocked it in English class, and I still, occasionally snuck a notebook into bed and jotted down ideas. I stopped reading sci-fi and Tolkein and Choose-Your-Own-Adventure, and started picking up famous books about greasy con-men wandering aimlessly with their dongs out. I meandered away from Sherlock Holmes and Twain and Stephen King and found myself lost in the wilds with Henry Miller, Clive Barker, Bret Easton Ellis and fucking Burroughs. I started writing poems about Death and Sex and the raw stickiness of Life. I fell in love with Cinema (note the capital ‘C’) and planned out a glorious career as a writer/director of both fine European psychosexual dramas, and good ol’ Hollywood action facebusters. Planning of this career, as with pretty much all of my undertakings, consisted of lazy daydreams and missed opportunities.
I wasted more than a few years on being young and drunk and full of hopeless drama. What many call “sowing your wild oats”, was much more like “falling on your face for a decade”.
Once partially removed from the social atmosphere of my early-mid twenties, and fully buried under the catastrophic mudslide of adulthood, I found myself searching for some kind of redemption. Some way to make sense and value of the years I’d let slip by in a blur of drinking and whining and mainlining whatever pop cult heroin the 80’s and 90’s had to throw my way. My veins were full of glorious golden sap, and I needed to release it back onto the masses, full-on bukkake-style, and prove my worth in a new world where everyone was special, and anyone could be a star for the price of a dial-up modem.
So it was that I spent ten years writing what they now call “media journalism”. We all just thought it was blind movie geekery on the wildly unfathomable expanse of the interwebs. In actuality, I did some pretty cool stuff. I met a lot of my B-movie heroes. I made some bedrock-solid friends that are the very touchstones I live by now. I finally put myself out there in a world I’d previously ignored in favor of closed doors and drawn shades and my own deluded opinions. I took a lot of baby steps that took me from a lifetime of self-doubt and crippling self-abuse, to being able to believe enough in my work to put it out there for mass consumption and feel surprisingly okay with it. I wrote the requisite “Portrait of the Artist as a Young Drunk and His Shallow Friends” novel, which was terrible and cliche and sitcom-tastic. FRIENDS with weed and handjobs. And Jeopardy. For some reason there were a lot of mentions of Jeopardy. I kept writing movie reviews and interviewing mid-level celebrities and surrounding myself, virtually speaking, with people far more interesting than I’d ever allowed myself to be. Eventually, like all things, the website stuff lost it’s sheen and stopped being fun, and excuses were made to wander off and look at something shinier.
Then came the fiction.
I had always written stories, always made up worlds, and always filled my closets and shelves with random half-filled notebooks and reams of printed research that fired me up for weeks on end, then fizzled like a bottle-rocket shot straight off the high-dive into the deep-end. YES! YES! FUCK YES! Sploosh! Pzzzthhhhhhhhbbbbbbbbbbbbt. Then I would wallow in the sad sack misery of a frustrated artist, destined to never finish a goddamned thing. Pain. Suffering. Doritos. Cake. Maybe a bottle or 36 of Guinn. It wasn’t my fault, after all. I was just useless and talentless and full of shit. So much better than all those people who somehow had their names on books and movies on shelves, but still so full of shit, and The Universe… you guys! The Universe just wouldn’t let me. My Attention Deficit problems – which have only NOW come into any real clarity as I watch my son struggle with the same foggy-headed half-commitment I’d always settled for – usually made it pretty easy for me to convince myself not to waste my time on, well, anything other than wasting time. As most dudes do when they hit that first mid-life crisis – Okay, some dudes do. A lot of you just buy a Hummer and impregnate a cheerleader – I looked at my son and realized I needed to do better. At least better than doing absolutely nothing. I needed a legacy, a reason for my kid to be proud of me and not just think of me as that run-down schmuck that doesn’t buy him enough Pokemon cards.
So, finally, on the brink of 40 and desperate to have something to show for my lifetime of pop-cult addled daydreaming, I put something out there. The very first story I wrote got some kudos in a back alley story contest on some forum or another. It didn’t win anything, but other people who didn’t know me, and didn’t feel the need to spare my fragile idiot feelings, had at least somewhat enjoyed it. This tempered me to try again. This time I jumped on the zombie gravy train, imagining that my years of watching and reviewing horror movies and talking to their creators would lend my work credence and clarity. The first place I sent it in to was a contest for a book with a fledgling venture called Dark Moon Books. That book didn’t happen, but the project morphed into a quarterly digest. I was asked to become an editor. I spent six or eight months reading slush and, after a few hiccups, saw that first story I’d submitted published in the third issue. My first published story in twenty-five years! Huzzah! Right?
I jumped ship from the horror mag, realizing both that the workload was too much to allow me to work on my own stuff, and the constant deluge of other peoples styles and ideas was weighing down my brain in an ocean of murky syrup. We’re noticing a pattern here now, yes?. So I refocused my energies. I reached out to some of my pals. I ended up tossing ideas around with a few of them and we came up with A CAREER GUIDE TO YOUR JOB IN HELL, spearheaded by Scott S. Phillips and shepherded into the world by Bob Vardeman, collected a bunch of shitty-job stories (The jobs being shitty, not the stories. The stories were phenomenal) and got me in a real live book with the likes of Bob (look him up – Robert E. Vardeman), Scott (ditto), Victor Milan and St Louis Scott Phillips, he of the Noir Bar and The Ice Harvest. I was so damned proud of my inclusion in that book. And it was such a good book, a weird, wonderful, magical book. It had a crazy-amazing cover. It had to be a hit. Right?
Then I threw together a little mini-collection. I expanded that first zombie story and added some short stuff I’d placed on some websites and mags over the ensuing year or two. I put it on Smashwords and Amazon, as this was the new cool thing that all the cool kids were doing. I gave it away for free. I unloaded thousands and thousands of copies. Thousands. This blew my mind. It made me a grand total of $11.85 in its lifetime.
Still, I was hooked. I started plugging away on a weird mashup crime novel. Everything I loved, plus the kitchen sink, all filtered through my love of Black Mask detective stories. It was an homage to Chandler and Hammett, but modern and funny, and full of my beloved pop culture references, brimming with musical cues and oddball side characters, like the gay-sex-performers-turned-hired-thugs, the Boston Southie record guy, the mismatched cop duo of sexy badass and gigantic brute. I infused it with all the Me I could manage, I made the best friend one of my own old pals. He was a rockabilly shitkicker, so I made his fictional equivalent an Irish punker. Sadly, this friend passed away before I finished the book.
I took three years to stumble my way through the process of finishing that first (second, really) novel. Then I got off my ass and sent it out. Much like my first story, it took two clicks. One contest that I didn’t quite make it in, then an almost immediate pick-up by Evolved Publishing, another neophyte venture looking to expand their repertoire. We started talking in June or July 2012, and by the following February, the book was out. There was this whirlwind period of editing and approving and wandering around aimlessly wondering what was going on, and then it was there – POOF! – like magic. I was a published novelist.
Knowing absolutely nothing about marketing a book, or how to utilize the myriad new technologies available to me, I floundered at that point. Without the free cash to throw around on promotions and contest entries, and without the unencumbered personality needed to turn myself into a spambot on social media, I totally and completely waffled it. I got some good reviews. I got it in the local paper, got a few big promos on and gave away innumerable copies. Right now, there’s 20-some reviews on HOT SINATRA on Amazon and they’re all pretty awesome, but it still didn’t move many copies or make me any money. Then somebody said “Hey, why aren’t you in the Crime Writers of Canada? And why aren’t you submitting your book for the Arthur Ellis Award”. So I did that. And I ended up one of the five finalists for the biggest Crime Fiction Award in Canada. Still didn’t move any copies.
I got more stories out there. I got some stuff in some places, like Big Pulp and the now-defunct Fires on the Plain. I got an essay on Detective Fiction and The Big Lebowski into an awesome book called LEBOWSKI 101. I did a steampunk comic with Red Tash and we wrote 90% of a bizarro YA sci-fi thing that may never be seen again. I wrote some stories about those sex-performer-thugs. I edited and published a book of short stories by my horror writer pals from the annual Coffin Hop that I’ve been throwing since 2010. Still not making any money, still not moving forward, still floundering. I’ve been slowly fighting with the Universe to put together a collection of weird westerns with great writers from all of my various circles.
Now it’s almost the end of 2014. HOT SINATRA has been out for nearly two years. Wait. What? When the hell did this happen? To paraphrase Marty McFly’s older brother, Dave.
I’m still plugging, when I can, with two kids and a wife, two jobs, half a pancreas and no clue. Still making excuses, are we?
How’s that been working out for you, big fella?
So let’s give it one more shot. Let’s take all the things I hear on the thirty-eight different podcasts, nine zillion blogs, fourteen magazines and endless number of relatives that are always offering advice, and try to sort some shit out. Let’s start today. Coffin Hop Press is set to launch some of my Manlove & Kickerdick stories as a new line of digital shorts. A VERY MERRY MANLOVE & KICKERDICK XMESS comes out today on Kobo, Amazon, Smashwords… with the rest of the world to follow. 999 PROBLEMS comes off of KDP in January and goes wide as well. Guess I’d better get to work on some new stuff.
So let me start over, from the top. No excuses. I’m being honest with you here, and with myself.
Hi. My name is Axel Howerton. I write stuff. I can’t stop. I won’t stop. So get ready, here comes my story.