|M. Howalt, Author|
M. Howalt is a unique author for this blog for two reasons: She is Danish, but writes in English; and she writes in serialized format. Her story is free for anyone to read—a format that she embraces as a way to get reader input. Readers can read and comment on her novel ACONITUM here by chapter--a story which features a werewolf hunter who hears about a werewolf who can change shapes.
Howalt has been drawn to science fiction and fantasy since she was a child. She currently lives in Denmark, serves as a translator, and teaches English to adults in addition to writing. She is working on a middle-grade children’s book and is considering publishing ACONITUM as a book. She enjoys photography and her cats.
Q: You post your novel, ACONITUM, piece-by-piece, free for everyone to read. What inspired you to publish in serialized format? How does this format benefit the reader? Who likes to read serialized novels? How does it help you as an author?
M. Howalt: I had not considered serialising the novel before I came across the publishing site JukePop Serials, but when I read about the submission process and the benefits (such as detailed analytics regarding reader habits and the potential of being included in library catalogues), it seemed like the perfect option for my story.
Serial novels are a little like TV series. A lot of readers enjoy the idea of following the story as it develops through regular updates that lengthwise are suitable for a commute, a lunch break or for reading before bedtime. The chapters can be read in a web browser or an app for smartphones and tablets and stay available so new readers can catch up on the story whenever they want to. According to the analytics, people of all ages read serials (my readers are between 18 and 64), and the interest does not seem to be related to gender. A lot of writers like to read serials. And since they're free to read, it's a great way to sample novels and help other writers by providing some feedback.
Which brings me to the benefits for an author. The best thing, to me, is that I get to see my readers' reactions to the story as they happen. I get invaluable insight into reader responses when people comment that they are surprised by a plot twist, are suspicious of a certain character, can relate to a situation in the story, really like a specific scene, and so on. All that is not something you would find in a review of a story that is published as a complete novel.
I finished writing the story a while before serialising it, but I am still editing as I go. Knowing that I have readers who wait for a new chapter every Thursday is a great motivation.
Q: ACONITUM features a werewolf hunter. Why werewolves? What drew you to this type of story?
M. Howalt: I've always wanted to tell good stories that engage the audience, and I've been drawn to science fiction, fantasy and supernatural fiction for as long as I can remember. I think these elements can add a dimension to a book and be used to shed some light on various dilemmas and human conditions.
Werewolves are interesting to me because of the duality involved. Are they people, or are they wild animals with a thirst for human blood? Sometimes they're both. The protagonist of ACONITUM is indeed a licensed werewolf hunter, but he discovers that there is more than one kind of werewolf and has to deal with some very difficult choices on his journey. What do you do when someone you want to protect is turned into a monster? Or when a so-called monster doesn't behave at all like a monster should?
Q: How important is credibility to engaging your reader in a story about werewolves? If it’s important, how do you make it believable? Did you conduct any research?
M. Howalt: Credibility is everything to me as a writer. The most important thing is that my readers believe in the characters. They don't always need to sympathise with them or agree with them, but I hope that they can relate to them on a general, human level. I suppose you can call what I strive for emotional realism. It's essentially a story about people, and I think that plays great part in making any story believable. ACONITUM is a story about very human characters in a fantastical world. But of course such a world and the werewolves in it need to be credible too.
I did do a lot of research on werewolf myths and folklore. When writing a story with supernatural settings, it's important to have clear rules. I hope to create a realistic and believable account of the world in the novel. There needs to be backstory and a reason why things are the way they are. I can't claim that a person gets turned into a werewolf if they are bitten by one without having considered whether it is a supernatural, immediate transformation, or a gradually spreading illness, if the condition it can be cured, what society's reactions are, and so on.
Q: How helpful was setting ACONITUM in an “alternative Germany” to telling your story?
M. Howalt: I didn't want to write a story with a modern urban fantasy setting in which nobody knows that werewolves exist. In the world of ACONITUM, their presence is common knowledge. I wanted to explore how and how much it would shape society. It turns out that it's a lot. Silver is in high demand (since it is used for fighting werewolves), licensed hunters are treated like soldiers or heroes, the industrial revolution was halted, criminals can try to pin a murder on a werewolf, and some religious groups view werewolves as a godsent punishment. - Just to mention a few things. I chose the area around Frankfurt am Main as the point of departure for a couple of reasons; There is a lot of werewolf folklore in the region, and the properties of the landscape, the climate and the culture there suited me very well for this kind of story.
Q: What makes readers care about your characters? Is humor useful?
M. Howalt: Personally, I respond well to three-dimensional characters in fiction, and I believe that my readers do to. The characters in ACONITUM are not perfect, and they all have a past that has shaped and molded them. I hope to make them feel like real people. Sometimes it makes readers care when they see traits in the characters that they can regonise in themselves. I remember one person telling me that the protagonist's reactions during an emotional scene in the novel really mirrored feelings that they had experienced in a similar situation. That meant a lot to me. Humour is definitely useful too, and I think it's part of creating credibility. ACONITUM is not a comedy, but funny things do happen in life, even during serious or tragic events, so they do in my novel too. I also like to make a little bit of fun of the characters now and then to lighten the mood.
Q: Does the concept of “heroes vs villains” apply to ACONITUM? What makes an effective villain?
M. Howalt: I think that almost every character in the novel are both. People can have good intentions and still do bad things, and unlikable characters can do the right thing. I suppose you could say that the werewolves are the villains and the hunters are the heroes, but I believe I can disclose that it isn't entirely accurate without giving too much away. So it's not a story with good guys versus bad guys in the traditional sense. However, I think that what applies to creating effective protagonists applies to villains too. In order to be believable, they have to have motivations and goals.
Q: Do you write ACONITUM strictly to entertain or do you want to deliver a message? Educate? Make readers think? Other?
M. Howalt: I definitely want to entertain readers with an engaging story and interesting characters, but I certainly would like them to think and to feel something as well. There's no lesson or message wrapped up in the prose, though. It is up to the readers to decide for themselves what they think of the characters' actions.
Q: You are Danish, but you write in English. How influential is your Danish background to your writing? How does your day job of a visual media translator affect your approach and attitude toward writing?
M. Howalt: I am very comfortable with writing in English. I actually think and dream in English half of the time, and most of my favourite literature is written in English. But I still think that my linguistic and cultural background has some influence on my writing. We are only a few million speakers of Danish in the world, and we are taught several languages in school to be able to get by internationally. Denmark is surrounded by other nations with different languages, so we learn very quickly to identify and notice languages and accents. This combined with the fact that my English accent is not one I was brought up with, but one that was learned and cultivated at the university, may make it easier for me to put aside my own vernacular in English and adopt another for the narrative or a certain character's voice or accent.
When you make subtitles, there simply is not room or time for translating everything. One of the most important factors is learning how to keep things short and precise and still make the written word convey feelings or a mood to the viewer. That discipline has influenced my writing. ACONITUM is a serial, but I want everything in it to be there for a reason, so there are no filler episodes or scenes or descriptions that are not essential to the story. And because my main narrator is very blunt in his way of thinking, this style suits the story really well.
Q: What’s next? Will you continue to write serialized novels?
M. Howalt: A lot of JukePop authors submit their works for traditional publishing, crowdfund their novels or self-publish afterwards, and I think it's safe to say that I'll explore the possibilities when the ACONITUM serial ends. I am considering writing a sequel as well. There are plenty of storylines and characters that I would like to explore further and which won't fit into the current book.
I am also in the middle of the second draft of a children's book (middle grade) in Danish that I think is more suitable for traditional publishing. Apart from that, I have a number of first drafts for stories, which I really want to work more on at some point.
One of the projects that I have in the works would work well as a serial novel, and I must say that I have grown very fond of the medium because of its dynamic nature, so I certainly expect to serialise more novels in the future. I am also writing a collaborative story with a talented fellow serial author from JukePop, K.R. Kampion. That's a great project to get to work on, and I'm always excited for the next part and enjoy sharing ideas for it.
Q: Tell us about M. Howalt. What do you like to do when you’re not writing?
M. Howalt: I am a translator and I also teach English to adults at night school. And like every other writer, I enjoy reading. I am fond of a lot of different books, but have a penchant for supernatural, speculative and literary fiction. I also take a lot of photos. Many of them are of my lovely cats and some of urban and rural landscapes. I used to work with graphic design while I was studying. These days I only draw in my spare time, though (often characters from my stories). But I took the photo for the cover of ACONITUM and did the design myself. I enjoy listening to music and have a playlist that serves as the unofficial soundtrack for every story I write. When I want to unwind, I like to go for a walk, hang out at a café or play computer games with friends.
About M. Howalt
M. Howalt was born and raised in Denmark and started writing stories at the age of 11 when the local library ran out of the kind of books that the science fiction and fantasy enthusiastic kid longed to devour. Over the years, the stories grew quite a bit more complex and some of them a whole lot longer, but it was not until after graduating university with a master's degree in English studies that Howalt decided to pursue writing more seriously. By now, a number of flash fiction pieces have been published, most notably on Every Day Fiction and QuarterReads. The novel Aconitum is currently being serialised on JukePop Serials. When not writing, M. Howalt translates TV shows, teaches English at night school and serves feline overlord Reid and his furry nephews.
As if being a certified werewolf hunter isn’t enough of a moral morass already, Hector Rothenberg hears rumours of a wolf who can change its shape at will, and he realises that he must investigate the truth.
But he needs to hurry up - especially if routine missions keep going almost fatally wrong.
ACONITUM is the story of one man’s physical and mental journey. It is also the tale of a society which knows that werewolves are a real threat, of a doctor with a dark secret, a skilled lady in a lucrative business, a rich aunt, a grumpy, old mentor, a cheeky Frenchman, a village idiot, tragic death, romance gone wrong, and a young man who really wanted nothing to do with any of that.
A literary supernatural tale of werewolves, the ones who hunt them, and the people who are caught in the crossfire.
The villages in this area were rarely visited by hunters unless they specifically sent for one. It had taken Hector several days to get there from Darmstadt, and he was met with curiosity when he approached the cluster of houses that was called Kleinburg on the few maps it was on. At least that was charmingly self-conscious of the inhabitants. Was there even an inn, or would he have to rely on a family to put him up for the night? Judging by the looks he was given, people did know what he was. And since nobody rushed to him, they probably were not in dire need of his help.
A wooden sign swung sleepily from rusty chains on one ordinary looking house. The Little Lark, a tavern. He would have a beer there and something to eat. In case there had been any sightings of werewolves, the barman would know, or the customers. No reason for him to go about this in an official manner and flash his badge at the priest, the doctor or any other authorities that the village may boast of having.
Hector had only been sitting at the bar for a couple of minutes with his beer when a man noisily dumped a bag on the floor and sat down on the stool next to him.
“Heading south, hunter?”
Hector looked up. There was a certain tone to the question, an almost teasing know-it-all note, that made him study the man for a moment. His clothes were ragged and had been patched up in several places, and his shoes were worn and dirty. Not bad. If anyone possessed more gossip and information than people of Sera’s profession or a barman, then it had to be a man of the road. They caught on to details that other travellers wouldn’t necessarily do because they were used to going from place to place, and because their lives may depend on those details.
“Should I be?” Hector asked. No reason to reveal whether it was his intention or not and whether he had any idea what the vagabond was hinting at.
The other man sized him up. “I would say so.”
“Then maybe I am.” Hector gestured at the barman. A beer for the ragamuffin. “Why don’t you tell me what you know?” Headquarters received reports from all over the district regularly, but they could not possibly know everything. It was ridiculous to expect that they did, but nevertheless people tended to. And did a hunter not know of a particular case, there was always a risk that they would lose credibility.
The vagabond thanked him for the beer and sucked the foam off the top. “Well, there’s that werewolf what was captured,” he said, purposefully casually, “in Niedermark. I haven’t seen it myself, but the rumours …”
The vagabond’s eyes met Hector’s. “They say it’s not your normal werewolf.”