Some time ago, I conducted an interview with Adam Howe on the late, much-missed horror site The Slaughtered Bird. I’m honored to have an Adam Howe short story in the upcoming anthology Appalling Stories 4: Even More Appalling Tales of Social Injustice; Adam generously gave me the inspiration for tales throughout the Appalling Stories series. He’s the funniest writer I personally know, and one of the most skilled. What follows is an interview with Adam, focusing on his books Black Cat Mojo and Die Dog or Eat the Hatchet, his screenwriting past, action movies past and present, and what he likes to read.
Dubrow: The stories in your collections Black Cat Mojo and Die Dog or Eat the Hatchet are set in the American South. Why did you pick that area as a setting?
Howe: My South was never intended to be an accurate depiction of life below the Mason-Dixon line. It’s a pop culture South. A Brit’s interpretation of junk ‘Murricana. I’ve never visited the South – wouldn’t want to visit MY South – in fact, I’ve visited the States for all of a weekend, when I met Stephen King in NYC after winning his On Writing contest. When it comes to location, I’m less interested in specifics, than I am in mood and atmosphere, and the American South has that in spades. To me, the South has a mythic quality that suits my hyperreal style. I can write the most outlandish shit, set it in the South, and it becomes borderline plausible. I recently read a ‘weird news’ headline about a meth-head who fought fifteen cops while masturbating. (Presumably he was resisting arrest one-handed.) Now I just read the headline, so I don’t have all the details – but tell me that doesn’t sound like a Southern crime? And that I shouldn’t write about it? And that you wouldn’t read it? I also love the rhythm of the Southern accent, and the Southerner’s colorful turn of phrase. For some reason – too many movies, I guess – this cracker raconteur is the loudest of the voices I hear when I’m writing. It’s getting to the point where I’m losing my British accent.
Dubrow: You’ve spent years writing screenplays and script doctoring. Tell us about that experience and how it relates to your writing as a whole.
Howe: In my early teens, I wrote screenplay reviews for a mail-order company that sold screenplays to colleges, budding screenwriters and the like. Back in the pre-digital age, this was about the only way to obtain produced screenplays in the UK. I learned the craft by reading a shit-ton of screenplays – particularly dug Shane Black’s stuff – I seemed to have a knack for writing visually and decided screenwriting was how I wanted to waste my life.
In my twenties, I landed a screenwriting agent at a not-great agency where I ‘enjoyed’ middling success. I had a few original screenplays optioned and scraped a few bucks doctoring other writers’ work. But nothing I wrote ever made it to the screen, and so much work was left to just gather dust, that finally it all became too disheartening, and I made the decision to return to writing prose fiction.
The best I can say is that my years as a screenwriter taught me a lot in terms of story structure, gave me my cinematic style, and left me with a healthy cynicism for the film industry. I’d still love to see my work adapted for the screen, but I won’t chase it anymore. I’m more than satisfied that my work is finally reaching readers. And better yet, that people seem to dig it.
Dubrow: I’ve noticed that your style embraces a kind of hyperrealism where the bizarre becomes natural and the story grows out of that strangeness, like magical realism without the magic. Have you considered working with supernatural themes, and if so, which ones grab you?
Howe: I’d agree that my work’s hyperreal – in the mould of (say) Tarantino and the Coens – where everything’s plausible within the world of the story. One of my readers, referring to the scene in Damn Dirty Apes in which the gonzo pornographers are shooting their skunk ape porno, said I have a knack for making the extraordinary seem ordinary. I think that was a compliment.
I find myself moving further away from the horror genre and more towards crime fiction, in my reading as much as my writing. I prefer human monsters and real-world horrors. For me, the best of both worlds is the supernatural noir of John Connelly – would love to write his kinda stuff, but I don’t think that’s where my talent lies…
I do have a few traditional (ish) ‘supernatural’ projects in the pipeline. It’ll be interesting to see how those stories are received. I can’t give away many details right now. All I’ll say is that I’m an old wine / new bottle kinda writer. I enjoy subverting tropes. It lures the reader into a false sense of security.
Dubrow: Aside from yourself, are there any other writers out there who you can’t believe aren’t on the NYT bestseller list?
Howe: Nah, just me, fuck ‘em… I’m kidding, of course. To be honest, I don’t follow the bestseller lists so I couldn’t tell you who is and isn’t there. Naturally all the great writers who have blurbed my books belong there. And I’ll tip my hat to Adam Cesare. Here’s an exclusive for you: Cesare and I are currently collaborating on a crime/horror project. Details remain top secret at the moment, but we’re excited about what we’re cooking up. Or cocking up. Remains to be seen, I guess. If we fuck it up, I’ll blame Cesare and go back to what I know, write that guaranteed bestseller about the masturbating cop-fighter.
Dubrow: You’ve already described how you won Stephen King’s On Writing contest some time ago; what do you think the horror genre would look like today if the King of Horror hadn’t taken up the craft?