Adam Howe is one of the authors I’ve had the great fortune to discover since I started this review gig, and this isn’t my first run-in with him. My first Howe encounter was in the form of the ground-breaking novella collection, DIE DOG OR EAT THE HATCHET (my review of that book is here). In addition to being a neo-noir artisan of unsurpassed talent, Adam is also an extremely personable guy as well as sometimes being absolutely hilarious, both of which traits shine through in his work and help to make him one of those authors you should be reading. With my frequent habit of doing things ass-backwards, I’ll be reviewing Adam’s first novella, BLACK CAT MOJO, by the end of this week, but in the meantime I wanted to share with you this entertaining, enlightening, and candid conversation that Adam and I recently had. So, without further blather from me, here you go. Enjoy.
SL: Please start by telling those of us who don’t know you a little about yourself.
AH: I’m a British writer of fiction and screenplays. Spent my formative years in Australia, before returning to England in my early teens. After trying my luck as a screenwriter for many years, with varying success, I returned to writing prose fiction, and was soon being published in the indie press. I mostly write pop culture driven Americana, or ‘Murricana, in the crime/horror genres, laced with black comedy and ‘splatstick’ violence.
SL: When did you start writing?
AH: Pretty much as soon as I could read, I wanted ‘in’ on this storytelling lark. I’d crayon-scrawl comic books on butcher paper, pester the nearest adult to fill in the text, staple it together to create my own books. My earliest influence was probably Roald Dahl, particularly his Revolting Rhymes, which perhaps explains the loose animal theme of my work, and obsession with bodily functions and scatological humour. I call it ‘bodily function horror.’
SL: If you had to choose a profession other than writing, what would it be?
AH: Like most kids who saw Jaws too young, my earliest dream job was to be a shark-hunter. I’ll stick with that. Here’s to swimmin’ with bow-legged wimmin.
SL: After reading your book, DIE DOG OR EAT THE HATCHET, I was impressed by your aptitude with all-American, Southern grown redneck-noir. Then I discovered that you’re British. How did you develop such an authentic sounding voice in that style?
AH: The truth is, I don’t know. Movies, I guess. And the work of American writers who write in regional dialect, Jim Thompson, Joe Lansdale, folk like that. I just seem to have an ear for it. Until I started receiving feedback from readers, I really had no idea it was quite so effective, it just seemed to suit the hyper-real worlds I was creating. Maybe I have a little hillbilly blood running through my veins? You’d have to ask my mother.
SL: Your work is often humorous and sometimes outright hilarious. Where does that come from? Any particular comedic influences?
AH: As a teenager, I became interested in stand-up comedy, especially the American ‘shock’ comics of the 80s/90s, the likes of Andrew Dice Clay and Sam Kinison. I liked more cerebral comics, too – Bill Hicks, say – and the absurdist humour of Peter Cook and Python, but the aggression of the 80s/90s shock comics was the kinda shit that floated my boat when I was a kid, and I guess it’s rubbed off on my work today. I even entertained thoughts of trying my hand at stand-up, but pussied out. Writers have to be pretty thick-skinned to handle the constant rejection and criticism, but stand-ups possess a whole different level of armour.
SL: You have a voice that is, to my way of thinking, uniquely Adam Howe. What have been some of your major inspirations as an author?
AH: My earliest influences were Roald Dahl, Stephen King, Clive Barker’s Books of Blood, screenwriters Shane Black and Steven E. De Souza, James Herbert’s rats and Guy N. Smith’s crabs, Shaun Hutson, Fangoria/Gorezone magazines, the EC horror comics, the Pan horror anthologies, horror/action movies, the American shock comics of the 80s/90s… In my early twenties I worked for crime writer Maxim Jakubowski at his Murder One bookstore, where I started discovering the great crime writers: Raymond Chandler, Jim Thompson, Lawrence Block were among my faves. I was also a fiend for true crime at this time.
It’s impossible for me to pick my favourite books, but the game-changer for me was Steve King’s On Writing. That’s where I got a crash course in rewriting and editing; it’s a book I’ll go back to whenever I’m in a funk. Outside the States, the hardcover was released in conjunction with a short story competition, which I had the good fortune to win. My short story Jumper was published in the On Writing paperback – and is now available in the Kindle version – for the grand prize, I traveled to NYC and met The King himself. An amazing experience.
More recently my biggest influence has been Joe R. Lansdale. His was a voice I felt like I’d been hearing in my mind since forever, and I immediately connected with his humour. Reading Joe was like a spike of creative adrenaline, and reinvigorated my work; it was like a missing piece of the jigsaw just clicked into place.
SL: Boxers or briefs (I should know better than to ask you this question)?
SL: Do you have a regular writing routine you adhere to? Any specific location you prefer to write in?
AH: I write morning till noon, with maybe a little rewriting/outlining in the afternoon. I have an office where I work. Stacked with books. Mondo movie posters on the walls (Maximum Overdrive, The Burning, First Blood, Maniac, JC’s The Thing.) But my partner and I are expecting our first child in July, so chances are I’ll be losing my writing garret to a nursery. Kid’s fucking my shit up already!
SL: Do you find that your insanity gets in the way of your writing? Or is it actually a boon?
AH: You’re being facetious here, but I’ll level with you, Shane, I actually do have a shit-ton of mental health problems – depression, anxiety, OCD and enough neuroses to fill a dozen Woody Allen flicks. These problems were exacerbated by attempts to self-medicate with alcohol. For many years I was a functional alcoholic; for many years more, I was a decidedly dysfunctional alcoholic. With the support of my partner and family I was lucky enough to get help, and I’ve been sober for a little over five years now. Despite getting sober, my mental health problems remained, and in fact, my depression and anxiety began getting worse. For a while there I was crazy as Chuck in Better Call Saul.
I resisted seeking medical help, fearing it would affect my work, while ignoring the fact that my day-to-day living was so seriously impaired that my writing was irrelevant. Then a few years ago, Joe Hill wrote a blog post about his own battle with mental illness. It was the kick up the arse I needed. Convinced me to quit suffering needlessly and seek help. I did, and was prescribed medication. I’m not advocating medication as a solution, but it worked for me. My life today is a lot more manageable – if not perfect, but whose is? – and my writing has improved rather than suffered. It took me getting sober and ‘sane’ to start writing the craziest shit I’ve ever written. Weird, huh? To any young writers who feel you have to suffer for your art; you really don’t. The myth of the tortured artist is bullshit.
Here endeth the public service announcement.
SL: I’ve gleaned from your Facebook posts that you’re something of a film buff, particularly when it comes to film-noir. What are your favorite films?
AH: I dig 70s/80s horror/crime movies, 70s genre movies in general, the 80s-90s Golden Age of action movies, John Carpenter, the Coen Bros (over Tarantino). Favourite films include JAWS, THE TEXAS CHAINSAW MASSACRE, DUEL, Billy Friedkin’s SORCERER, BIG TROUBLE IN LITTLE CHINA, UNFORGIVEN, DIE HARD, Steven Seagal’s OUT FOR JUSTICE – the usual… I don’t have a Top 10 or anything, so it’s hard to narrow this shit down.
SL: How—if at all—has your interest in film affected your writing?
AH: My cinematic style, and how I structure my stories, comes from my love of movies (visual storytelling) and my years as a screenwriter. The work itself contains a lot of movie references and in-jokes. That’s just me ‘writing what I know.’ I see it as the literary equivalent of online movie geeks communicating in the digital hieroglyphics of movie memes. I’m especially interested in celebrity meltdowns and deaths – Mel Gibson and John Belushi spring to mind – and feuding stars – for instance, the notorious feud between Sylvester Stallone and Kurt Russell during the making of Tango & Cash. It’s a shame that the stars of today are so fucking dull, and the PR-machine is such a well-oiled beast that we rarely ever get any truly salacious gossip.
SL: You have a daring, no holds barred style that is rare in a young author, especially in today’s ridiculously apologetic culture. Is that a conscious trait? Do you have a philosophy behind that style or has it just developed naturally?
AH: Just happened naturally. I try not to censor myself. In the digital age, it seems to me we’ve become our own moral guardians, and for little other reason than to prove our e-morality and gain approval from strangers on the internet. I’m not out to hurt anyone or incite anything with my words. Not making any kind of political statement. I write what I want to read. My sole objective is to entertain and to amuse. Readers are perfectly entitled to feel offended by what I write; I reserve the right to not give a rat’s ass. But I’m happy to say that readers seem to take my work in the spirit it was written. With the exception of The Society for the Preservation of the North American Skunk Ape, who objected to the inaccuracies of my story Damn Dirty Apes. On the advice of my lawyer, I can make no further comment about that. The matter was widely reported at the time.
SL: What inspired your most recent novella collection, DIE DOG OR EAT THE HATCHET?
AH: For a full breakdown, readers can check out my story notes at the end of the book. But it started with the novella, Die Dog or Eat the Hatchet. I wasn’t sure how my first collection, Black Cat Mojo would be received, and thought I’d better cover my ass by writing something more ‘traditional’ – a funny way to describe a story as fucked-up as Die Dog. When Black Cat Mojo was published, readers seemed to dig the humour – which was a huge relief; you write a story about the misadventures of a donkey-dicked porn dwarf, you never know what’s gonna happen. Now I started worrying readers would expect more of the same from my follow-up. And I wasn’t 100% convinced Die Dog even worked. So I wrote Damn Dirty Apes for the Black Cat Mojo fans. And Gator Bait was one for the straight-up crime readers. In other words, the collection was born from my own self-doubt and insecurities! There’s no theme to the collection, and in future I think I’ll be releasing novellas individually. Seems the slightly higher price tag is scaring off some readers who don’t realise they’re getting THREE awesome books for the price of one – those poor, deluded, cheapskate bastards.
SL: Have you ever seen a skunk ape in real life?
AH: Fortunately, no. Else we wouldn’t be having this conversation. But I’m reliably informed that my friend, writer/reviewer David Dubrow, resembles a skunk ape with alopecia. That’s as close as I care to get.
SL: Let’s talk some about your other work. Any new or exciting projects that you want to talk about?
AH: Right now I’m trying to write as much new stuff as I can before the baby arrives in July. Adam Cesare and I are collaborating on a horror/crime book we’re pitching as Public Enemies meets John Carpenter’s The Thing. I recently gave him some pages, and I’m looking forward to seeing what he fires back…
I’m also making good progress with my follow-up to Damn Dirty Apes, Tijuana Donkey Showdown, in which boxer-turned-bouncer-turned-skunk-ape-slayer Reggie Levine finds himself neck-deep in shit yet again. People seemed to dig to Apes, so the pressure’s on me to deliver something as good, if not better.
I’d also like to take another crack at my ode to 80s/90s action flicks, One Tough Bastard. This one’s proving a motherfucker to write, but I’m determined to whip it. I’ve created a bizarre anti-hero, washed-up action star Shane Moxie, who’s a mix of Steven Seagal, Jack Burton from Big Trouble in Little China, and Kenny Powers; then I’ve partnered him with a talking chimpanzee called Duke. What’s not to like? I’m really hoping I can get this one to work, because some of what I’ve written is very funny.
Beyond that – who knows? I’ve got a bunch of projects I’d like to write. But everything’s gonna have to wait while I adjust to being a Pap.
SL: If there were one question you wish interviewers would ask but never do, what would it be? And what would the answer be?
AH: No, I think we covered it with the boxers vs. briefs question.
SL: Anything else you would like to share with us before we wrap this up?
AH: I have a couple of guest spots lined up I think readers will dig. In one I create a parallel movie-verse in which the careers of Tom Hanks and Jim Belushi are reversed after each actor makes the other’s ‘buddy cop dog’ movie, K-9 and Turner & Hooch. The other skit is a reappraisal of Steven Seagal and his masterpiece, Out for Justice. So keep your eyes peeled for those.
Okay, thanks to Adam for being here and for his candor. Make sure to watch for my review of BLACK CAT MOJO and follow that link below to buy Adam’s books. You definitely want to.
About Adam Howe:
Adam Howe is a British writer of fiction and screenplays. Writing as Garrett Addams, his story Jumper was chosen by Stephen King as the winner of his On Writing contest, and published in the paperback/Kindle editions of King’s book. His fiction has appeared in places like Nightmare Magazine, Thuglit, Horror Library 5 and One Buck Horror. His first book, Black Cat Mojo (pub. Comet Press) is available now. Follow him at Goodreads and Tweet him @Adam_G_Howe.