Thursday, August 9, 2012

Rejected by Texas Monthly Magazine

Shortly after the 2012 REH days (this past June), I wrote an article about the event and submitted it to a statewide magazine called Texas Monthly. Today, after about six weeks of waiting, I received a vague rejection letter with my material and a previous article published about Howard. I have received tons of rejection letters, some have been as vague as this one, and some have given me helpful criticism. None of them have chapped my hide like this one though. It was not the rejection letter that bothered me (it is pictured below)

As I mentioned above, it was vague, but to the point. When I say "vague" I mean it did not explain why my article was rejected, just that it was. That's fine. I understand that agents, magazine editors and the like get hundreds, if not thousands of letters and articles per year (or per month). Nonetheless, what did chap my hide was the previously published article that accompanied my material and the rejection letter. Below is the article they sent me:

There are several things I'd like to point out about this article. First, it was written (by John Bloom) back in 1978 (34 years ago). You know what that means, right? It has L. Sprague de Camp's sorry stain all over it. How so? Well, it contains a bit of psychoanalysis; phrases like, "He [REH] was so puny and bookish as a boy, a social misfit who was so dependent upon his mother that, even as a grown man, he would never leave her for more than a weekend." Second, so much Howard scholarship has been performed and published since then, the article is practically obsolete due to its age. Third, REH Days did not exist then, and my article was primarily about that (posted below).

To be honest, I am upset that they rejected my article. It would have been nice to get statewide publicity for REH Days, Cross Plains, the REH House and Museum, and Project Pride. Regardless, I'm more upset about the enclosed article. It's as if that was their reason for rejecting my article. If that is truly the case, I think that's pathetic given my reasons above. Oh well, life goes on. Below, I have cut and pasted the article I submitted to them. I'll continue to write about future REH Days and attempt to get my articles published. In the mean time I hope all the Howard fans out there enjoy this rejected article.

The Barbarian from Cross Plains: REH Days Maintains A Legacy 

At sixteen years of age I walk down the street to my best friend's house. His mother lets me in and I make my way to his room. When I enter, he banters with me a bit, then stands, walks over to one of his bookshelves and hands me a worn paperback. "You've gotta read this," he exclaims. I look down at the book. The cover instantly captures my imagination. A muscular long haired warrior jumps down a flight of stairs onto a red-caped gorilla. It is clear who will win this brawl. The title shouts boldly across the top of the paperback in red block letters: CONAN. Above that it reads: At Long Last Back In Print! When did it ever go out of print, I wonder? My friend smiles because he knows I will thoroughly enjoy this book. He knows me well. That was 1981. 

Thirty-one years later I'm still reading the works of Robert E. Howard. More than just reading, actually. Now it's June, 7th, 2012 and I'm in my car with my brother headed to Cross Plains, Texas to meet and greet other Robert E. Howard fans. The closer we get, the more excited I become because for ten years I've known about this gathering but have never before arranged my schedule to attend. During the second weekend of every June, the tiny town of Cross Plains, Texas is overrun with visitors from all over the world who gather for the Robert E. Howard Days—known by fans and scholars as REH Days. The purpose: to discuss the works and life of this West Texas tale-spinner who back in the 1920s and 30s created a whirlwind of pulp fiction characters such as Conan the Cimmerian, Solomon Kane, Bran Mak Morn, Kull, and others. All of which still have a small but loyal following today. 

Robert E. Howard fans and scholars have gathered in Cross Plains every year since 1986. It was then that a small band of ten people decided to take a trip to Cross Plains to visit the home of Robert E. Howard, and see the surrounding area, Howard's old stomping ground. The geographic and personal diversity of these first ten fans has been a constant feature at REH Days ever since. At that first gathering a local Cross Plains group called Friends of the Library organized a fun-filled weekend for the ten travelers. Today, Cross Plains is home to Project Pride, a civic organization which not only helps organize the REH days every year, but also gives year-round tours of the Robert E. Howard home and museum. This group is also responsible for the purchase and restoration of the Howard home in 1989, along with the collection and preservation of several items of the Howard family that have been discovered throughout the subsequent decades. Project Pride even succeeded in getting the house listed on the National Register of Historic Places with the U.S. Department of Interior. 

As my brother and I approach Cross Plains my excitement grows. Upon arriving in town we stop by the Howard house first. Little did we know that we would run into two of the presenters scheduled to lead panel discussions over the next couple of days: Barbara Barrett from Sacramento, California and Rusty Burke from Washington D.C.. Neither of them knew who we were, but they welcomed us as if we were a part of their family. Both were panel presenters during the course of the weekend. Burke had been a member of that first group of ten, back in 1986. 

Barbara immediately walked up to me, held out her hand and introduced herself. She asked me how I became a Howard fan. I smiled and told her my Story. All fan's of Robert E. Howard have their stories—how they were first introduced to Howard's work. This is common vernacular at REH days. In fact, I quickly discovered that sharing one's story is how fans introduce themselves to each other at REH Days. I told my story at least a dozen times over the course of the weekend. After exchanging stories we were invited to dinner later that evening. With only a few hours until dinner, we visited the Cross Plains Public Library to see where the panel discussions would take place. 

The Cross Plains Public Library is no ordinary small town library. It was a top three finalist for the Library Journal's 2010 Best Small Library in America. And the library houses a large collection of original Weird Tales pulp magazines and a small treasure of first edition Conan books published in the fifties by Gnome Press—a collection that would make any hardcore Howard fan envious. 

It's difficult to understand how a little known pulp writer like Robert E. Howard could have developed such a large legacy over the past eighty plus years. The fact that he lived in a small West Texas town, never completed college and never traveled too far away from his little corner of Texas, could have left him and his works to slip through the forgotten cracks of history. His works could have died when he shot himself in 1936, because he never published a full-blown novel, and all his works that were published were done so in the pulp magazines, most of which went belly up either during the Depression or shortly after World War II. 

But, Howard's works survived. This is due in large part to two important factors. First, a second wave of dime store magazines very similar to the pulps republished several of Howard's stories until two publishing houses, Gnome Press and Lancer Books, published his stories in book form. Second, several hardcore fans also helped Howard's work survive because they spread the word about the writer and his works. In fact, this year's REH Days paid homage to arguably the biggest Howard fan of all, Glenn Lord. A writer and a literary agent for the Howard heirs, Lord was the first researcher/scholar of Howard's work. He spent fifty years collecting everything he could get his hands on pertaining to Robert E. Howard. In 1965 he tracked down what is known to fans as "the trunk," which contained tens of thousands of pages by Howard, unpublished manuscripts/stories, poems and other various fragmented works. All of which he gave back to the public from 1967 to 1996, via magazines articles and books. Lord also wrote biographies, and other works about Howard and his writings. He was also one of the first ten who made the trek to Cross Plains back in 1986. Since that first trip he made several subsequent appearances at the REH Days until his last appearance in 2006. Glenn Lord died in Pasadena, Texas on December 31, 2011. His life works will soon be housed at the Harry Ransom Center on the campus of the University of Texas. 

To dismiss Howard as a mere "pulp writer" is a serious disservice to Howard, his work, and his legacy. History reveals that the Sword and Sorcery genre exists because of Robert E. Howard. Over the past five decades writers such as Fritz Leiber, Michael Moorcock, L. Sprague de Camp, Lin Carter, Robert Jordan, Poul Anderson, and others, owe much of their success to Howard's work. And even though it's a bitter sweetness that Howard is best known for his Conan stories, he wrote so much more. Howard's list of published works includes westerns, boxing stories, horror stories, pirate tales, desert adventures, and even poetry. 

In fact, over the last ten years the poetry of Howard has gained recognition among scholars. Two Texas Poet Laureates, Larry D. Thomas and Alan Birkelbach, have spoken in Cross Plains at previous REH Days about Howard's poetry. Both of them are making serious in-roads in academia to get Howard's poetry into literature text books. Alan Birkelbach is currently working on a text titled Dark Inspiration: Selected Poetry of Robert E. Howard to be published by TCU Press. 

One of the more intriguing activities at this year's REH Days (which I'm told has taken place in previous years), was a mini-bus tour of the local area. We visited the nooks and crannies around Cross Plains—places like Cross Cut where Howard lived for a short period as a boy, and Burkett, where the Howard's lived until Robert was thirteen. It was also in Burkett where a small portion of the movie The Whole Wide World (staring Rene Zellweger and Vincent Dinoffrio), was filmed. This movie was based on a book, One Who Walked Alone: Robert E. Howard The Final Years, written by Novalyne Price Ellis. She dated Howard in the last few years of his life and the book is about those years. After Burkett the bus took us back to Cross Plains. The tour guide took us by Howard's various hang-outs and shared historical tid-bits about the town. 

On the last evening of this year's REH Days we concluded our gathering with a large banquet and silent auction. The banquet was catered by a local restaurant—The Staghorn Cafe, who provided a wonderful Texas style chicken fried steak dinner. The silent auction was a cavalcade of various collectible Howard memorabilia and books. Toward the end of the evening the Robert E. Howard Foundation awarded a $1000 college scholarship to a Cross Plains High School graduate who excelled in the studies of English and History, the favorite subjects of Robert E. Howard. This is one of the ways that the REH Foundation gives back to the Cross Plains community. 

Even though Robert E. Howard was not a popular historical figure in Texas history—at least he wasn't mentioned in any of my Texas history or English classes—he has gained a fairly strong following around the world. While this is due mostly to his character Conan the Barbarian, there is so much more to Howard and his writings than one character. In the same way there is so much more to Cross Plains than a tiny central West Texas town. Texas has a popular history—the Alamo, Stephen F. Austin, San Jacinto, and more—but its lesser known, even hidden history, including its historical figures such as Robert E. Howard is one of the things that makes Texas history so rich. Make a point to visit Cross Plains and arrange a tour of the Howard home with Project Pride. It's worth going out of the way to see.


David J. West said...

Great article Todd. I will make the pilgrimage one fine day and be able to tell my story in person too.

T Bryan Vick said...

It's well worth the trip. I'll be attending every year from here on out (as long as I'm able).

David J. West said...

It has been finances alone that have prevented me thus far the last few years. I'm certainly working toward remedying that in the future.

T Bryan Vick said...

Well, I hope you are able to attend in the future. It's always nice to meet fellow Howard Heads.