Interview with Steve Howard

Published 2013-09-06.
Where did you grow up, and how did this influence your writing?
I started my growing up in Halifax, Nova Scotia. My parents were Baptist and church was a big part of life. Out doors was a bigger part. We lived in many different places around Halifax and there were usually woods and fields to play in and adventures to have. I loved visiting my grandfather in the house he built across from the pond and Uncle Victor and Aunt Marion down at Haring Cove. There was a wooden dock out on the water and what I really loved was the feel of the house. It was a little like going to heaven where everyone was nice to me. And the wooden floors were so off kilter that I could roll things down the floor.

We moved to London when I was almost 7. Dad rented a house among the Italians and my sister and I went to another new school. I changed from being a fan of the Toronto Maple Leafs to the Boston Bruins. It was the perfect team for kids. And we played road hockey most every day and I started playing ice hockey and my dad bought me a bicycle. I started piano lessons and was quick to learn.

When I was 11, my dad bought my mom, and us too, a house that was to be ours. It was out in that strange land called Suburbia. A fish and games resort was almost beside us with woods all around for miles and miles so dad got a canoe and we chopped dead trees down in the winter for our wood stove.

I was also a member of a boys group at the church. Though I was already not convinced about God and the wild stories in his book, I really enjoyed the camping trips and canoe trips. They really did have an influence on me.

In fact, it was the outdoors that made it clear that I would write. I was in college studying Architecture after deciding not to further my music studies, and a friend and I were taking time out to hike some Rocky Mountains. At the top of one of these mountains I stood and looked over the great expanse and realized. Clear as the day was.

I went back to where I found my friend exploring the surroundings and said to him: "I'm going to be a writer."

He said, "It will take you 20 years."
When did you first start writing?
In school I wrote a few things. Projects. My first attempt at a story was in grade nine in high school. My teacher was so dumb he didn't understand why the plane had suddenly landed where it did after the strange things that happened. And I wasn't going to explain it to him. It was a good lesson, however, for eventually I learned that readers don't know what is happening in your head if it is not written for them to read it. They aren't going to guess things unless they are pointed in the right direction.

But really writing because I had an idea started when I was 19. I wrote little poems. Sometime just some thoughts. And I finally started to read. I was years behind in English up to the end of high school. My Canadian English teacher, after grading me with a 39%, only because she was very impressed with my final presentation, told me I would do well, she thought I was clever and talented. But whatever you do, she really did say this, don't do anything with writing.

Now I did not start writing to spite her. I liked her. She was very cool. I started with my first story quite by accident one night about a year later while practicing my printing at home. That was back before computers so an Architectural student had to practice and make very clear, his printing of letters. With a pencil. Our hockey coach was our teacher. And he said, he used a typical Italian name, the Italians built North America in case anyone wonders, and was it racist, no, Italian is not a race, but we stray far too wide. The point is, make your instructions and lettering clear because someone has to build the thing you draw and write. Do not let them guess.

So after doing A B C D ... X Y Z about 6 times, I got very board. And without deliberation I wrote a sentence. That sentence was then followed with a somewhat more hurried printing. About a third of a page down, a couple friends were let in by my dad, they came down into the basement, that's where I usually was because my room was there, and interrupted me and I never wrote again.

At least not till later that night when I got home and wrote a story that I would use for my Science Fiction course that I took the second year and literally blow my teacher away. He couldn't believe a student of Architecture had a mind of his own. He gave me an A++ on the year. When the grades where hung out afterward people were saying, wow, Steve, no one ever gets A++.

I couldn't top it, obviously, but instead of not being able to read or write all the way to the end of high school, I was the top in English from then on. I made all my English teachers thereafter remember me. And some will still remember me. And best of all, love me.

And to top off this self patting on back answer to question 2, I moved to Toronto after college so didn't make it back to the 5 year reunion. But my sister, who had been in the Canadian English course with me, did. She did study French and English, eventually becoming a professor or something. She met this said teacher, who does have a name, Mrs. Ferguson, and Mrs. Ferguson asked her in the course of their conversation: and what is Steve doing.

"Writing."

"Oh, that doesn't surprise me."
What's the story behind your latest book?
After writing a few short stories and several poems I hit the wall. The first novel was never really finished. Or better said, it didn't really go anywhere. The second novel is still one of my favourites after rewriting it several times over the years. I had plans and some good ideas for the next novel, Castle City, but it wasn't being written.

Then there was a night with my girlfriend. She was an actress. So lovely. I was in love with her, or at least I thought I was, she not with me. So she sent me packing. Not mean but direct and clear. She told me it wasn't her I was looking for and she told me that if I wanted to be a writer I had to write. She was right. I had the idea of writing but was not doing it.

So not knowing what to write about I started to write her a letter. After about 8 pages I was pretty certain it was the kind of letter that would not be sent anywhere. It was something that I could do every night. It started fairly personal and maybe even a little bitter.

What was good was that I managed to keep at it. And after 6 or 8 hundred pages I started another letter to someone else. A friend. Also with no intension of ever sending it. After that one I wrote another and another. Then another and another. By the end of it there were thousands of pages of many different things.

My writing, in the meantime was becoming easier and if I dare say so, better. I was a writer because I was writing. And I was reading and researching to develop my characters and finally wrote Castle City. After 25 years of Castle City I didn't know what I wanted to write and thought to stay fit I would make a new version of Genesis. Didn't like it. Just laid it off and forgot about it. Then wrote a few starts of a book I had in mind until I got frustrated and decided I would write a pornographic book. As a protest. But it wasn't, isn't, really just about sex. There is also a story and lots of violence.

Having that out of my system, I thought to go back and rewrite Genesis and write the rest of the Books of Moses. By the end of it I was furious. Why was I furious could be a question for later. But for now I will say, I was so cranked up by it that I took on the New Testament and exposed what I could of that travesty. For a year or two I told friends, when they asked why I didn't do the Koran, it wasn't worth the effort. It was just the same literary disaster again. Even more tedious.

But I got a great translation from a friend that was still brutally tedious but readable. So I read it. Then I decided to attack it as well.

After all the religious writing I tried to work on my next novel, managed to get a good start, but I wasn't ready. So I thought. Hey. I haven't written a long letter for years now. Let's write one with full intention of publishing it.

'Another Love Letter to Anny' is the second letter to Anny, if we don't count the 'Letter to Barbaralba'. The other one won't be published. It's in broken German. But this one is in English so in a way not really directly a letter to Anny but Anny really is and has been my Muse for about the last 14 years.

She knows that I adore her and there have been a few magical moments over the years but like most artists that find the angel, the muse, in an adorable creature, it is mostly just a wild dream. Knowing this makes it easier to face the real but it doesn't take away from the fantasy. So Anny continues to be my inspiration and not so secret love.

Is there a story or any since in the letter. Sure. There is a loose continuance of a fiction story that sometimes takes to the page. One might call it slapstick violence. Mostly the letter is whatever I want to rave on. Sometimes that is religion. That might be anther question.

Why do you have it in for religion. The quick answer is that it is an evil lie that has cause untold harm to our lives, especially women and children, over the last several thousand years, and it has poisoned our language.

Is it really a love letter. In as much that I really do love Anny and the Anny character it is a love letter. If you are looking for gushy slobbery declarations, forget it. It's often brutal in its philosophy and its telling.

There will be six in the series. When they are finished I should have the courage to work on a novel again.

Might I translate the Book of Mormon or any other so called holy books. Not likely. There really are hardcore and brutal. I would rather write a book for kids. Something nice.
What motivated you to become an indie author?
I have had some nice rejection letters over the years from publishers. They often told me they like my style, just the subject matter was not for them. After enough of those kind of letters it was clear to me that I am nowhere near any kind of mainstream. In fact, I might be considered off on a mountain lake. A new writer that doesn't play the game and write for the masses will not find a publisher.

One day I was reading about the new way to publish. Electronic books.

I visited a few of the online presses. I had been working in the internet for a few years and knew precisely what I didn't want. None of these over designed over promised salesman with suit and tie kind of places. I wanted a site that was not the biggest that looked like it was doing the right thing and not waisting time on over design and pomp. A publisher that was going to grow while I wrote or rewrote more books.

I was impressed with smashwords and still think I made the right choice.

I haven't sold enough to say I am making money at writing but it is a real nice feeling to know there are people somewhere buying and reading what I have spent years working at.

It has transformed my identity from a non-published writer to a published writer.

Most writers that have been at it a long time will agree that it is a nice feeling.
How has Smashwords contributed to your success?
Mark's Smashwords Style Guide is great. I read it two or three times and still managed to make mistakes. Each time I made a format mistake I was told what to fix. And often there would be an update in Mark's book to make things such as bookmarks make more sense.

Eventually I had it all figured out. With my somewhat whacky head it was a bit of a process that would not have happened had the support team not been so precise.

Since I have been with smashwords I haven't once thought I was at the wrong place. The things that I thought could be better where soon better and the trend has continued.

Success. Well, I don't know if I am quite there yet. It's close, it keeps looking like it could happen, and the more I write and the more Mark and his crew work on getting attention and affiliates the more it looks like a thing of the near future.

I'm still waiting for someone to write an outrage about any of my anti-holy books and have my name plaster and blasted through the media.

Till then I think my biggest success is actually being published and very well distributed.
What is the greatest joy of writing for you?
The characters. I love my characters.
What do your fans mean to you?
Let me give a few examples. I made a CD a few years ago. Gave 500 out just to see what people thought. At the time I was working in a bar. One person that came often and drank quite a few wheat beers would often ask me if I could play 'Mother' by Pink Floyd one more time. I told him it was me. He knew. He wanted it again. But to top that, a stranger was sitting at the bar and said to the same song, 'It's like Pink Floyd, only better.' He didn't know it was me. I gave him a copy. He didn't even know he was to take it with him until he almost left without it. I told people to make copies. One guy came back and told me 5 of his friends got copies and liked it. Another friend told me she sometimes just put it on repeat and heard it over and over. And maybe the nicest surprise was a brother from different parents. He's a little hard on me in a loving way sometimes. And one night I came back to the bar from doing something in the back just after 'Kill Your Enemy' and he asked who played the violin. I didn't know what he meant. I told him it was the recorder. He said, no, not that, the song with the ... and I figured what he meant. Ah. That's the electric guitar miked over a marshal. He was befuddled.

But that has nothing to do with writing. Yes it does. It is my creating. I get more comments on my brownies, because they are the best, than on my writing. I don't really know what it means to have fans for my writing. For music and food and photos there are many and I love it.

One person has told me she likes what I write. She however, is mad.
What are you working on next?
Before I start another novel, which is actually well started, I will finish the 'Another Love Letter to Anny' and I want to make another CD now that my singing is just a little more comfortable. The CD will get most of my attention for the next little while. Top of the priority list, as they might say.
Who are your favorite authors?
Me.

I mean that. But of course not the only one. There are a few I love. I have read 'Learning the World' by Ken MacLeod 8 or 10 times. Any book I get of Iain Banks, especially his Iain M. Banks books, I read over and over. He might be my favourite writer. I was most impressed with a story by H.G. Wells. Stuck in my head like no other story. I guess I better say the guys that wrote the Bible. Though it might be a love hate relationship, they have had a great influence on me.

Not to mention a few billion other people.

Dickens is great. And Tom Jones by Fielding. Love that sentence structure. Margaret Atwood also really impressed me with her brilliance in putting together a sentence.

But I will read almost anything, usually novel, from almost any time. Not Stephen King, of course. Most important thing for me is that the book is at lest 600 pages and well written. I like Science Fiction but it is not an obsession.
What inspires you to get out of bed each day?
The alarm clock most days. Though it is really play a song clock. On other days I get up simply because there is no point in staying in bed all day. And if I get up early enough, I can have an afternoon nap.
When you're not writing, how do you spend your time?
I have times when I do many hours of reading every day. If I am not hurting from my stupid job, I usually play my guitar and sing for at least an hour. I cook most days. I bake mostly when it is cold outside. I walk barefoot in almost any weather. I visit other humans. And sometimes, if I can find a willing model, I take photos. That means working on them a little and my web page.

I also take doing nothing seriously. I try to do at least an hour of that most days.
How do you discover the ebooks you read?
So far I have only read my own to check for mistakes. And I have read a few from the classics that are free. I seldom buy a book and have yet to buy an ebook. When I do buy a book it is a used one from the book store that sells them for 2 Euros. Sometime even less.

I am a classic poor artist. I really can't afford to buy much of anything.
Do you remember the first story you ever wrote?
Yes. It was back in that retarded Bermuda Triangle time. The seventies. Grade nine. We were told to write a short story. I knew what I wanted to say but I didn't pull it off with my inferiour use of the English language. Some guy, don't even think he had a name, gets caught in something like a storm. Lands safely in a land that wasn't anywhere. It could have made a story. But it was pretty lame.
What is your writing process?
Lately I try not to write. Write as little as possible. I need to slow it down. When I wrote the Torah and New Testament it was mad fury. In fact. I flipped my lid. Then I went back and rewrote all three of them. (Koran was with quiet determination)

I don't think I really have a proper precess.
Do you remember the first story you ever read, and the impact it had on you?
The first one I read was likely a bible story. It likely confused me.

The first one I liked and that made an impression on me was H.G. Wells, The Country of the Blind. There was a kid's version in one of our school books.
How do you approach cover design?
With no idea. Then I try things.
What are your five favorite books, and why?
1. The Bible - because it inspired me to attack religion. The translation has to be good. Jewish Publication Society has the best for what is referred to as the Old Testament - Holy Scriptures.

2. 'Learning the World' by Ken MacLeod - love it every time. It is simply bang on.

3. 'Player of Games' by Iain M. Banks. Not sure why this one. It isn't even properly long. Therefore. I might change my mind and say anything about the Culture. I will always read his books. Over and over.

4. The Dictionary. Why. Seriously. I used to use it every day. What a great thing to have - definitions of words. Brilliant.

5. Castle City Manifest. It was the story that I so much wanted to write. It was the world I wanted to visit. It was the characters I wanted to meet. It demanded that I do the research, the reading, that I had to do and I enjoyed the process. It made me be consequent.
What do you read for pleasure?
Fiction. It is about all I read.
What is your e-reading device of choice?
Don't really have one of choice. I have an old iPad, or as some say, iPod, that a friend sold me second hand. Not so great for reading. The newer ones are better. But for reading only, I would go with one of the simple ones. Amazon reader looks good. Easy on the eyes. I think someone showed me the one from Sony. Looked all right. I really don't know. Not yet my thing. Not as long as I can get second hand books or borrow them.

Not a good answer for an ebook writer. I might get there.
What book marketing techniques have been most effective for you?
Having them on Barnes and Nobles. So far. Everything else seems quite pointless.
Describe your desk
Well, no. Not until I at least attack the bigger piles of dust. Okay. I will say I have this iMac on it. Still have the G4 on it but almost never on anymore. There is one speaker, the other is on the other side of the room. CDs, most could be moved away. Part of one of my likely never to be written novels. Oh, and the desk is four metal posts holding up a glued together big pine table top. Very big. Some random stuff. Including a wooden bunny my mom sent for my 40th. And an anteater, the kind with a fan tail typical in Guyana, South America. A present from the guy in the Hinterland that made it. Balata - is the stuff from the trees that grow there in the Hinterland. A empty box or two. A dictionary covered in dust. And a book I used to use so often. Just the spelling of the words. I am dyslexic and on top of it have some kind of phonic trouble. The best thing I ever spent a dollar 99 on.

Almost all my writing is first written with a pen on paper in a blank book of usually about 100 pages. The half letter size. No lines. I really hate lines. I usually write in my kitchen. For short writing sessions I sit on my coach, yes, still in my kitchen, for longer stints, I sit at the table. Wood. Over a hundred years old. Hand made by some farmer. And redone by me as I worked in a carpenter shop. I also write in bed. A very bad habit. Not good for the spine.
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