Tag Archives: Robert E. Howard

A Writer’s Nook

First of all, a moment of silence for the departed master, Mr. Elmore Leonard.

Thank you. He will be sorely missed. But his words will live on forever.

This past week, I started back to school, and one of my fellow students, who loves fantasy, treated me to pictures he

English: The Robert E. Howard Museum, the form...

English: The Robert E. Howard Museum, the former home of Robert E. Howard. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

took while visiting the home of Robert E. Howard in Cross Plains, Texas.

For those of you who don’t know, Mr. Howard was the creator of Conan the Barbarian, as well as Solomon Kane. He also wrote boxing stories and was wanting to write Westerns of the tall tale variety when he died at the age of 30. It was suicide brought on by the impending death of his mother from tuberculosis.

Mr. Howard was prolific writer. When he lived in Cross Plains, it was a booming oil town, and he was somewhat controversial because he didn’t work in the oil fields or hold down a regular job. Instead, he wrote tales for such magazines as Weird Tales. There were others, but Weird Tales was the most famous. It was in this magazine that all his Conan stories appeared, as well as some about King Kull (a character who lived before Conan in Atlantis) and Solomon Kane.

Blood & Thunder: The Life & Art of Robert E. H...

I’ve read an interesting biography of Mr. Howard called Blood and Thunder: The Life and Art of Robert E. Howard by Mark Finn. It tells, among other things, of his life in Cross Plains, his correspondence with H.P. Lovecraft, and his relationship with Weird Tales. It also tells Mr. Howard’s account of how Conan was created. (I won’t spoil it for you.)

There are several good pictures in this book, but for me, none of them are quite equal to what my friend brought back from his visit. The one you see here is probably my favorite, for it shows where Mr. Howard wrote all these stories. You will note that it’s not exactly a suite. In fact, it looks like a closed-in porch to me. As best I IMG_0660remember, Mr. Howard lived with his parents all his life, especially after his father died and he had to take care of his mother.

And yet, with all that, in his short life, Mr. Howard managed to produce an amazing amount of writing. And all in this little room, on that chair that looks uncomfortable, with that Underwood typewriter. What might he have done with a computer and comfortable office?

Of course, we’ll never know.  He lived and died long before the time of computers, word processors,  and the other comforts we know today.  So the next time you go to your writer’s nook—no matter what it may be—and you’re feeling like maybe it’s not classy or comfortable enough for you, think of this picture. I intend to stick a copy of it on the wall over my desk, just to remind me of how much easier I have it.

Just some food for thought.

Later,
Gil

"Hither came Conan, the Cimmerian, black-...

“Hither came Conan, the Cimmerian, black-haired, sullen-eyed, sword in hand, a thief, a reaver, a slayer, with gigantic melancholies and gigantic mirth, to tread the jeweled thrones of the Earth under his sandalled feet.” — Robert E. Howard, The Phoenix on the Sword, 1932. Illustration by Mark Schultz. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Advertisements

Thinking Out Loud

I know, I know: I’ve been inexcusably absent for the past two weeks. I apologize. But sometimes, coming up with anything for this blog is more difficult than writing stories is. The fact is, I just plain drew a blank for two weeks when it came to thinking up something to talk about—and keeping it interesting. I thought of a few things, but I wasn’t even sure if they could maintain my interest, let alone anybody else’s. I’m not 100% sure this one will, but it’s something to write about and let you know I’m still alive and know how to use a keyboard.

 
I like to watch movies. I think I’ve mentioned that before. But I rarely go to theaters to do it. I prefer sitting at home, because I can pause the movie and go to bathroom without missing anything. And it’s cheaper in the long run.
Of course, the downside is that I don’t belong to anything like Netflix, so I can’t rent movies. I’m at the mercy of whatever the library happens to have, and they don’t often get new releases of the type I like. And, since I don’t actually buy many movies—I discovered I have a bad habit of watching most of them only once or twice, at best—that means I miss a lot.

 
All that is to explain why, in the past six months or so, I’ve only seen two movies in the theater: The Hobbit, which I watched in 3D (my first since the awful Jaws 3D), and Iron Man 3 just a few weeks back.

 
But I’ve watched a lot of movies on DVD. I was finally able to see Goodfellas, a picture I’ve wanted to see for a long time. It makes me hope I can find the book Wiseguy that it’s based on. I’ve also watched The Usual Suspects. If you haven’t seen it, do yourself a favor and watch it. You won’t regret it. I suspect I’m one of the few people who hadn’t seen it soon after it came out, though.

 
I also recently watched Menace II Society, which took inspiration of sorts from Goodfellas, at least in how it was

 

structured. And, today (Friday, May 31) I watched the original Conan the Barbarian. Yes, the one with Schwarzenegger. I’ve also seen the new version.

 

 

 

This is a very well-known photograph of Robert...

Now, as a Robert E. Howard fan, I’ve read all of his original Conan stories. I own the three-volume set of trade paperbacks published by Del Rey. They have organized these stories (and all of Mr. Howard’s work, as far as I know) in the order they were originally published, even going to the trouble of making sure they are as originally published.
And since I know these stories, and have since I was a teenager, I’m not in full backing of either movie version. I wish someone would come along and treat them with the same respect Peter Jackson treated the J.R.R. Tolkien stories.
Here’s something I realized, though, as I was watching the original: even though it doesn’t follow the Howard stories, it at least has a story. In pursuing Thulsa Doom, Conan has a goal that might have been written by Mr. Howard. For all I know, he would have approved of the movie. But there’s a story there, even if the effects look a little cheesy to us these days, with all the CGI and other slick effects the studios have at their disposal now. And the further back in time you go with movies, the cheesier they look, but the better the stories tend to be.

 
Take something like the Transformers franchise. Sure, you watch these spectacles and you’re taken in by the effects. But if you start really examining these movies, there’s not a lot of substance there. I mean, why are humans even involved? About all they manage to do is run around and try not to be crushed in the battles between the Autobots and the Decepticons. Beyond that, they’re not much good, really.

 
And the stories? I’ve seen all three movies. They have great effects and impressive titles, but I’m not sure if I could tell you the plotline of any of them. They serve a purpose: they’re good to watch when I want to see a movie I don’t have to think about much. Problem is, I’ve seen them when I was in a mood to be critical and thinking, and all kinds of snags pop up then. I won’t even go into them in this post.

 
On the other hand, movies such as The Lord of the Rings series are highly polished when it comes to effects and production, but they also have the story to back them up. So I watch them again and again and enjoy the hell out of them.

 
And yet it’s movies like the Transformers series that get all the big bucks (don’t even get me started on disasters like G.I. Joe and Battleship).

 
I know I’m saying what we’ve all thought, especially writers. Movies for us are exercises in getting a lobotomy, for the most part. On the other hand, sometimes we’re jealous because, guess what? A movie doesn’t have to worry whether or not it wrote in enough sense of place. It’s a visual medium. Sense of place kinda comes with the territory.

 
But then…think back a moment. Did you read Old Yeller as a kid and cry? For that matter, did you feel sadness or even shed tears when Thorin Oakenshield died at the end of The Hobbit? (Sorry if I spoiled that for anybody.) How many books have you read that moved you in some way or another? Now, how many movies have done the same thing? How many movies have left you reconsidering what you think of the world? Menace II Society did that with me, but not many manage it.

Cover of "Menace II Society"

 
I’m not sure I have a real point here (kinda like some movies I mentioned above). I guess this is more in the nature of a rant, and one that’s gone on too long now. But maybe it’ll also make you think about what you elect to be entertained by. I admit I watch movies like Transformers at times because I do want only to be entertained. But more often than not, I look for the other kind, the kind that move me in some way. And they’re damn rare, in books and movies.

 
Let me know if you have any that moved you.

 
Later,
Gil

 

My Path to Crime: A Mini-bio

They tell you in articles about how to do a blog—at least a writer’s blog—not to talk too much about yourself. And yet, the purpose of these blogs is to promote yourself. You’re supposed to find a compromise by talking about the stuff you write, maybe about writing in general, I guess. At least, that’s the compromise I’ve reached. Along with the occasional rant about society, I like to talk about writing and reading—two of my favorite things to do.

But I’ve decided to be somewhat selfish on this post, though I do have a point beyond just talking about myself.

See, I’ve always been interested in why a person chooses to write in a certain genre. Writing how-to’s will tell you to write in a genre you read a lot of and enjoy. To a certain point, that makes sense. I mean, if you like to read romance, you know the field, you know how to avoid the clichés, and you have a pretty good idea of the kinds of stories that have been tried already. That means you can avoid the pitfalls, and maybe take some old ideas and put a new twist on them. It’s been said there are only something like seven stories to tell, anyway. All we can really do is put our personal touch on them.

Except…what if that doesn’t happen? What if the genre you tried to write in for years isn’t the one you can write in?

I spent over twenty years trying to write science fiction. I’ve read tons of the stuff. And yet, I end up writing crime fiction. How’d that happen?

I’ve been thinking about that a lot, and I think that maybe, just maybe, I have something of an answer. It’s probably far from complete, but I’m hoping to show how the secret to your writing might not be quite as obvious as you think, as well as maybe finding a little more out about myself.

I’ve said before that the book that really got me reading was The Hobbit. Those of you who’ve stuck with me all this time know the story, and for you newbies…well, you’ll have to go back and read old posts. Sorry.

That started a love affair with speculative fiction for me. I read The Foundation Trilogy by Isaac Asimov. I got into Robert E. Howard’s Conan stories. I discovered the Elfquest graphic novels by Wendy and Richard Pini. I traveled to the Land with Thomas Covenant, the Unbeliever, and followed along on the quest for the Sword of Shannara. I read the story of Valentine Michael Smith and grokked it. I went to war with the Starship Troopers—and I mean the original novel, not that piece of crap movie.

Later, as the field changed, I got into cyberpunk in Neuromancer, went to Mithgar with Dennis L. McKiernan. Even more recently, I escaped from hell with Sandman Slim in Richard Kadrey’s novels.

And so much in between that I can’t even remember. Reading the Grand Masters like Asimov, Heinlein, Williamson, Pohl, et al. Trying to keep up with some of the new stuff as well, even the stuff that didn’t especially appeal to me. Feeling a little dismayed when the whole paranormal/magic realism/urban fantasy thing took off, knowing I had a book of that myself that I’d never had the courage to submit, but if I had and been accepted, I would have been on the leading edge of it.

Still, reading all this, ingesting all of it, you’d think I’d be able to write the stuff, right? That I’d be churning out sf/f novels left and right.

Except it didn’t happen that way. I was never happy with what I wrote. Sure, there were a couple of fantasies about a bounty hunter, where I tried to incorporate some elements from Westerns I’d read. And the aforementioned urban fantasy along with a start on a sequel to it. I even had a large story arc in mind to turn it into a series.

But most of my story ideas never panned out. Died before they could really even see life.

Until I tried to write a crime novel.

Back in my teenage days, I read sf/f almost exclusively. There were a few odd books in there. I devoured Louis L’Amour Westerns (especially the Sackett novels), and sprinkled a few Robert Ludlum thrillers (I read the Jason Bourne trilogy years ago).

I think the real turning point, even though I didn’t realize it at the time, came when I read Red Dragon by Thomas Harris. And this was when I was a teenager, probably not long after it was published. Coming from my sheltered life, I’d never head of serial killers, and the concepts Mr. Harris put in his book slammed into me like a train T-boning a Volkswagen stranded on the tracks. But there weren’t a lot of that type of novel out there, at least not that I knew of. I just passed it off as a fluke thing and didn’t think too much about it anymore.

Years later, around the turn of the century, I got into reading about the real serial killers. I read Helter Skelter, took in the stories of John Wayne Gacey, Jeffery Dahmer, and others. For some reason, they fascinated me. How could somebody get that way? Sure, there’s usually the common elements of a broken family and physical/emotional/sexual abuse, but not even that accounts for it all. There are hundreds, thousands who go through that and, while they have their problems, they aren’t all out killing strangers as a method of exorcism.

But too much reading about that kind of thing got to me after a while. Sort of depressed me, I guess you could say. So, I still spent most of my time reading and trying to write sf/f. Full disclosure: I didn’t put as much time in on writing as I did reading.

Then, one day, I saw that editorial about how Northwest Arkansas was part of the pipeline of drugs moving out of Mexico and on to the eastern part of the country. A few days later, I wondered what it would be like if some local country boy got involved in the trade. I gave it some thought, decided I’d write it like he was telling it to a reporter and try to put as much local flavor as I could in it.

Five months later, I had just shy of 214,000 words, and I was reading crime novels left and right. And enjoying the hell out of it.

Now that I’ve thought about it—and I mean thought about it a lot—I can see how it happened, at least in a general way. It started with Red Dragon, but went on in unlikely directions like reading Tom Clancy novels, being a fan of Miami Vice and other crime shows/movies, and consciously realizing I’ve always been fascinated with the criminal mindset.

What makes people deliberately live that kind of life? Why do they have to do this, when they know the consequences?

Not being a criminal, I couldn’t answer these questions. But, with Lyle Villines, I could skirt around the edges of answering them. Lyle isn’t some lifelong career criminal. He started cooking meth for extra money and got caught, then flipped to go into it deeper. As he learned to live the life, I learned about it. At least, as far as people like me and Lyle can learn about it. We’re not sociopaths, so we can never truly walk that path. We can’t be the crew in Reservoir Dogs or Pulp Fiction. We’re not made that way. But, given a chance, maybe we can fake it.

I hope I never have to kill anybody like Lyle did. I doubt I’d live with it as easily as he did (though I’ve tried to show that he didn’t get away with it guilt free). I’d like to think, though, that if I had to, I could. And by had to, I mean to defend myself or those in my charge.

I’ve even given thought to attaining a criminal justice degree and working in that field. It’s possible I still might try that, though at my age I’m not sure how useful it would be. And it would be a rather expensive thing to do just to write better novels. And might not help in that regard anyway.

Like the title says, this is a mini-bio, touching only on the highest of high points, but maybe you get the idea. My daughter tried writing romance for a long time, then hit on the idea of YA crime. She did better at her romance than I ever did at sf/f, but she’s done hella good at YA crime. A chip off the old block? I don’t know. I like that she takes after me in a lot of ways, but I’d hate for her to be a carbon copy (that’s what that CC thing means on your emails, kiddies. If you don’t know what a carbon copy is, ask your parents). I’d prefer she write what she wants to write, and I believe she’s doing just that.

How about you? Is there something you have an interest in but haven’t necessarily thought of writing about? Maybe you can write dramatic novels. Or Westerns (they seem to be making a comeback, you know). Perhaps you’ll be the next Tom Clancy. Or James Patterson. Or Stephen King.

Well, okay, maybe there won’t be a next Stephen King, but you get the idea.

If you’re having trouble getting something done in the genre you’re struggling with right now, try something entirely new and off the wall. It worked for me. It might for you as well.

Give it a try.

Later,

Gil