Rick Overwater is a longtime Calgary-based writer and musician. He likes guitars and short sentences.
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Axel Howerton took a classic trope and hit it sideways. Covered
in a thin veneer of the filth and unseemliness that typifies Howerton’s crime
fiction, Furr was a helluva fun read.
The sequel is underway and for those of you coming late to the party, here’s a
few words with Axel about the coolest werewolf story.
You’re probably best known for Hot Sinatra, a crime/detective novel. Furr contains a lot of the character grit and noir-overtones of your crime fiction. Beaten down characters, addiction issues… tell us about transferring that over to the horror genre.
Crime, and those darker elements of it, are just a permanent part
of my psyche. Those same themes and undertones come out in almost all of my
work, so it wasn’t so much a conscious effort on my part, as a facet of my
personal style. That being said, I did set out to marry the “devolving mind”
type-story, which is quite prevalent in Noir, with what I imagined the
psychological ramifications of someone faced with the possibility of becoming a
monster would be. I can’t imagine that becoming a werewolf would be a simple
physical-only process. I’ve read many, many werewolf stories and novels, and
seen hundreds of films and TV shows. Almost the only one that really addresses
the mental anguish of someone going through that is An American Werewolf in
London, which is a benchmark in the genre, and a personal favorite. So taking
my initial inspiration from that, the parallels with the solitude,
ostracization and anti-social elements of Noir and Crime fiction in general
were pretty obvious.
Your use of western Canada for settings seems natural, not “rah rah” Canadian as some writers slip into. How easy/hard was it to use Western Canadian settings in a way that’s accessible to worldwide readers?
Again, not something that I planned out. I wanted to write something in my own back yard, and something that spoke to my own experience. My first novel was set in L.A., a place I’ve visited many times, but have an arm’s length relationship. Setting the book in Western Canada gave me the variance in setting that the plot required, while also offering me the opportunity to showcase the home I love in a way that’s not often given to Western Canada in mainstream or genre fiction. I remember reading Clive Barker’s Nightbreed (set in Calgary and the fictional ghost town of Midian, Alberta) at 13 or 14 years old and feeling really proud, and quite enchanted, by the idea of these supernatural things happening in some possibly real (entirely fictional) town right outside my door. I wanted to do the same to some extent, and spread that seed of imagination about what might be out in those prairies, or up in the mountains.
Setting has a lot to do with the plot and character. Did your ideas drive setting, or was it the other way around?
Setting the book in my hometown of Calgary, and then moving the action west into the Rocky Mountains (albeit in a fictional town) let me relax a bit with regards to setting and research, and focus more on the characterizations, the relationships and the subtext. It also allowed me to mirror my own life in the protagonists story. I spent my early childhood in little towns in B.C. and I have vague, but very fond, memories of it. I put a lot of those memories into the fictional town of Pitamont (named after a town in Guy Endore’s The Werewolf of Paris). There was also the necessity of a secluded area for the “Family Estate” which is a prerequisite of Gothic Fiction. That went hand-in-hand with the idea that—as in Gothic mainstays like Poe’s House of Usher, or Lovecraft’s Shadow Over Innsmouth—an unusual family with secrets to hide, or an unusual family ‘curse’ would certainly hide themselves away in a secluded area with few prying eyes to judge or attack them. So, in the end, it was a little bit of both. Part personal inspirato, part functional construction.
This is not the same ‘ol werewolf story. Tell us about the thought process, what you wanted to achieve within this genre.
When I first started actively writing fiction for publication, back in 2008-ish, I naturally gravitated towards horror – both as a genre I was familiar with, and one I personally enjoyed. One of my first published stories was a kind of revisionist zombie tale, called Blood on the Strip, which later became my first novella Living Dead at Zigfreid and Roy. I had so much fun reworking the rules and expectations of that sub-genre, that I decided I wanted to take a crack at reimagining all of the major ‘monsters’. One of the ideas to come out of that was “werewolves in a mountain town”, but with a twist on little-known Irish mythological origins.
The widely accepted origin of the werewolf is relatively recent, and parallel to the common vampire myths, both of which came out of mainland Europe in the 16th century as a side-effect of the witch trial craze. I wanted to subvert those standards and expectations by exploring the Viking and Celt ideas of tribes of fierce warriors that became wolves. Wolves, in most non and pre-Christian societies, were revered as intelligent, noble and loyal to their families. I tried to extrapolate that into the modern day, while also exploring the idea of what that kind of transformation would do to the psyche of a modern schlub like me.
Tell us what you’ve read in your past that drives ideas like this.
The idea was well in place before I got into the research/inspiration phase, but there were a lot of great short stories that I’d read previously that probably informed this in different ways. Some of them lead to little easter-egg homages in the book. Stories by people like Neil Gaiman (Only the End of the World Again); Stephen King (Cycle of the Werewolf); one of the best is George R.R. Martin’s The Skin Trade.
To be honest, most of my inspiration comes from a certain kind of storyteller, much more than from other werewolf stories. Clive Barker was a big influence on this, as was Gaiman and Terry Pratchett. W.P. Kinsella. Writers who deliver stories about regular people dealing with unreal situations of supernatural origin. Writers who infuse those stories with art and poetry and magic and humanity. I’m certainly not claiming to have achieved that myself, but that’s the kind of thing that I’m striving for.
What’s next? More crime? More werewolves? All of the above?
I’m always working on three or four things—or twelve—but next up publication wise is the Wolf & Devil spinoff series, featuring two favorite characters from Furr. That’s projected for four more books, the first of which is Demon Days, scheduled for August 2017 from Tyche Books. I’m also hoping to finish work on a YA-skewing modern fable I’m co-writing with the amazing Red Tash (This Brilliant Darkness) as well as wrapping up a few seriously Noir novellas that should also be published by the end of 2017
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