The Trick: Axel is the brains behind the popular Coffin Hop for horror writers at Halloween. The Treat: his book hot Sinatra just came out and he’s talking inspiration. Enjoy, peeps ♥
“Where do you get your ideas from?”
It’s a dialogue transaction that every writer knows like the back of their QWERTY hand. Sometimes we hear it so often that the ol’ mental third round bell rings and we lunge out of the corner screaming “YO MOMMA GAVE ‘EM TO ME”. Sometimes we stuff our hands in corduroy pockets and mumble an apologetic “here and there”. And sometimes, someone as lovely, talented and congenial as Anne Michaud asks, and you dig deep and give honestly in the name of art and entertainment.
My latest experiment in the fictional pursuits, Hot Sinatra, is a throwback to the pulp fiction of the 20’s and 30’s, typified by the likes of Hammett and Chandler, James M. Cain, Erle Stanley Gardner, Carroll John Daly, Raoul Whitfield and the like. Stories about hard men who used fists and guns to save endangered dames and foil the plans of nefarious millionaires and dangerous gangsters. The language was highly colloquial and tied to the time and place, most of it actually created by writers with no ties to the real nitty gritty of crime in the 30’s. More often than not, the criminals and gangbangers picked up their slang from the pulp mags, like Black Mask and Detective Story. Today’s idea of “Detective Fiction”, and the archetype of the “square-jawed, two-fisted hero”, came directly from those pages of adventure and crime-fighting.
Chief among my own inspirations from the era was Chandler’s Phillip Marlowe, main man of most of Chandler’s oeuvre. Marlowe was smart, but tough, wily, but always just naïve enough to fall for the wrong girl, or the wrong explanation. I love the idea of an everyman hero who is actually a far sight beyond the everyman. Smarter, nobler, more loyal, and always letting his own morality hobble his potential. He never quite makes the big payoff. He always misses happiness and contentment by a hair’s breadth, and always because he tries to be a better kind of man. Maybe it’s my own struggles with the dreaded potential, or the idea that, maybe… just maybe, this will be the day that karma pays back. Whatever it is, the contradictions inherent to those characters intrigue me.
So I sat back, filled to the brim with hundreds of pulp detective stories, and thought about how to best approach such a story. I wanted to bring it into a modern setting, but without the lazy fallback of everyone wearing zoot suits and talking like bad Bogey impersonators. I didn’t want to pull a Romeo + Juliet and just throw archaic language in the mouths of modern characters. I settled on making my protagonist a man-out-of-time, struggling to fulfill the expectations of a real-life Phillip Marlowe, personified in the ghost of a dead grandfather. It gave Mossimo Cole the background to act more like a stand-up guy of the 30’s and speak in the kind of rambling, self-reflecting narrative voice that Raymond Chandler perfected so many decades ago. It also gave me occasion to work in some of the reverence and respect I have for my own grandfathers, one who was a kind, but serious man, who led a very hard life. The other is one of the most generous, gregarious and charming storytellers I have ever known.
So many other inspirations fell out of me like surging rivers of pop-culture ephemera, everything from punk rock to tattoos, from Sinatra to my own horrible coffee addiction, and a liberal dose of my own misspent youth and experiences with alcohol abuse and self-destructive nihilism.
One last inspiration I really should mention is that of my dear departed friend, Ryan “Foxy” Fox. Much of that previously mentioned “misspent youth” was spent in the company of Foxy. He was that one dude in a million, who lit up every room he entered, and left with the friendship and goodwill of every single person present. Foxy was a whirlwind of energy, a constant source of mirth and merriment, and the best friend a guy could ask for. He was a rockabilly rebel, lead singer and guitar-slinger of The Nightstalkers, wild and unkempt and exploding into every corner of the world. His untimely death left everyone he knew with a hole in their hearts, and my own is still scarred and empty in that spot. I didn’t plan on writing him into the story, but he came out, loud and strong and alive as ever. I like to think Foxy is the real heart of the story, and the one person Mossimo Cole could never live without.
In the end, I think my little novel has come out pretty damn well. It has been lauded for its voice, for its ability to invoke the Phillip Marlowe’s and Sam Spades of yesterday, while remaining a thoroughly modern story of love and violence, crime and comedy. I like that. I’m proud of that, and I sure hope you’ll give it a chance.
Hot Sinatra is available now in paperback and eBook formats from most online retailers and retail outlets including Amazon.com and Barnes & Noble
Axel Howerton is the author of the quirky neo-noir novel Hot Sinatra, the mini-anthology Living Dead at Zigfreidt & Roy, and a bevy of short stories and hidden gems. Axel is the co-creator of the annual Coffin Hop author extravaganza and the long-time editor of http://www.eyecrave.net. His work has recently appeared in Big Pulp, Fires on the Plain, Steampunk Originals, A Career Guide To Your Job In Hell and the holiday anthology Let It Snow: Season’s Readings For A Super-Cool Yule. Axel is currently working on several projects, including a Steampunk novella for the Empires of Steam & Rust series, and a bottle of Irish whiskey.
He lives in Western Canada with his two brilliant young sons and a wife that is way out of his league. You can visit Axel online at http://www.axelhowerton.com