Author Interview: Axel Howerton on his novel FURR
Today on EVERYTHING IS SCARY, we are pleased to welcome Calgary-based author Axel Howerton! Axel's latest novel, FURR, from Tyche Books, is an urban fantasy from Tyche Books, the first in a series titled Wolf and Devil. FURR tells the story of Jimmy Finn, a seemingly ordinary guy having a really bad day. He's either losing his mind, or becoming a monster.
From the South three sisters fair
ran athwart the gloom...
Dressed of fur and fierce of tooth,
The maidens of the Moon.
Axel is currently the Prairies region Director of the Crime Writers of Canada, as well as a member of the Calgary Crime Writers, The Kintsugi Poets, and the Canadian Science Fiction and Fantasy Association. He is a columnist, speaker and creative writing instructor, and his work has appeared the world over, in places like Big Pulp, Fires on the Plain, Steampunk Originals, Night Shade, Sleuth Magazine, A Career Guide To Your Job In Hell and “The Big Lebowski” compendium Lebowski 101. He is also the editor of the books Tall Tales of the Weird West and AB Negative and the organizer behind one of Canada’s first recurring Noir At The Bar events, #NoirBarYYC.
We talked with Axel about FURR, werewolves, and what's next in the series. Check it out!
EVERYTHING IS SCARY: Werewolves! In the pantheon of famous horror creatures - vampires, mummies, zombies, etc. - werewolves hold a special place in the hearts of fans. Why do you think people have a such a love for these creatures?
AXEL: Wolves have always been an integral part of human mythology. Anywhere there are wolves, there are wolf-men: Romulus (who built Rome) and his brother Remus; Herodotus wrote of the Scythians, who wolfed out once a year; 500 years later, Ovid told the tale of King Lycaon (where we get the word Lycanthropy) who was cursed by Jupiter for serving him human meat. Most of the initial myths were associated with cannibalism or surviving alone in the wild. Somewhere around the Rennaissance, civilization got to the point where it felt confident in its mastery over Nature, and the wolf-man ceased to be a representation of the wilderness. With the advent of basic psychology and philosophy, lycanthropy started to be firmly associated with madness. Now werewolves represent a seething beast inside us all - a suppressed animal instinct we all possess and only civilization keeps at bay. To me, that speaks to the very heart of every intelligent human being. Werewolves let us vicariously explore those urges in a clearly unrealistic way. I also think that werewolves traditionally bridge the gap between seductive vamps and brainless ghouls. Vampires are active evil. Zombies are ultimate passivity. And either of those things bite you, you are immediately and irrevocably different. If you're a werewolf, you get the best of both worlds, and you get to play the "sorry, not sorry" card. Nobody becomes a werewolf by choice.
Your protagonist/narrator, Jimmy, isn't given a choice about his own heritage either, and that theme comes up again with the villain's motivations and methods. Is choice a deliberate recurring theme in FURR?
Choice is a recurring theme in most of my work, as is Family. Destiny is a great plot motivator. What a lot of writers miss is that it also allows for a great deal of character introspection and development. How someone deals with a lack of control, whether real or perceived, can reveal a lot about their personality. Still, that being said, one of the main points of Jimmy Finn's arc is that he is constantly faced with choices between following that destiny laid out before him, or he can stay stagnant and do nothing, and destroy himself. Also, it's a fairytale... it has to be about achieving a higher purpose than the mundane life of a villager. That's what fairytale's are all about.
Strong sexual undertones are a big part of werewolf tropes, similar to vampires. FURR is no exception to that rule, with lots of steamy scenes for readers to enjoy (and perhaps be horrified by as well). What are your impressions about the sexual aspect of the werewolf mythos?
I wouldn't say there are really "steamy" scenes in FURR, per se, but there is a lot of sensualization of animal instincts that have become very sexual when modern humans reflect on them. We don't really need those instincts anymore. They're becoming vestigial and, as such, fetishized. I believe it's the same reason a lot of pornography continues to be aggressive and sadistic. We want to see someone unable to control themselves. Except we're afraid to actually do that ourselves, so it becomes titillating and wrong, and so, so good. That being said, the sexualization of lycanthropy appears to be a fairly new addition to the lore. One of the many early werewolf stories I read, and generally considered the first modern werewolf novel, was Guy Endore's The Werewolf of Paris (1933), which featured numerous sex scenes, none of them romantic, all of them luridly appealing. The same can be said for most werewolf fiction that came after it. For FURR, I wanted to explore more of the idea of animalization, and the freedom of reclaiming that animal part of ourselves. The wolves are generally more noble and more heroic than most of the humans in the book.
Do you think that represents a kind of purity of the animal mindset? The lack of ulterior motivations or sexual moralizing?
Absolutely, I do. I've always been mildly obsessed with human psychology, and motivation. Nothing we do is absolute instinct. Everything is informed and shaped by every experience that has come before it, no matter how minuscule. Issues like sexual moralizations are accumulated negative reaction to something we don't understand, and usually filtered through the negative influence of religion. Animals don't judge, they don't discriminate, they don't marginalize others based on ridiculously misinterpreted "rule books". Wolves, especially, have a very strong familial bond, and a very complicated social hierarchy. They work together, communicate, show affection to each other, and they protect their young and weak. The phrase in the book "a strong wolf leads from behind" comes from the idea that the Alpha wolf doesn't run at the front of the pack like we, as humans, would assume. He brings up the rear, protecting the pups, the old and the infirm, and guarding from other predators coming up behind. Which, to me, is a perfect allegory for how family - and humanity - should work.