Wednesday, October 18, 2017

Weird Talers: Robert E. Howard and Seabury Quinn by Bobby Derie

Weird Tales Oct. 1925
Seabury Grandin Quinn got his start at Weird Tales with “The Phantom Farmhouse” and an article on Bluebeard, the first in a series of “Weird Crimes” in October 1923. The “Weird Crimes” ran through 1924, and in 1925 he began another article series “Servants of Satan,” regarding the Salem Witch Trials. In October 1925, Weird Tales would publish “The Horror on the Links”—the debut for what would become Quinn’s star character, Jules de Grandin. Over a run of 26 years, de Grandin would star in 93 episodes spread over 100 issues (including the six-part serial “The Devil’s Bride” and reprints), and have the cover 35 times; the character and the author were routinely voted favorites in “The Eyrie,” Weird Tales’ readers page.

Also in 1925, a new writer appeared in the Unique Magazine: Robert E.
Weird Tales July 1925
Howard’s “Spear and Fang” appeared in the July issue, which it shared with one of Quinn’s “Servants of Satan” articles; so did “In the Forest of Villefere” which appeared in the August Weird Tales. The two men never met, nor is there any record of their correspondence, yet it was impossible for them not to have noticed and formed an opinion of one another. Quinn, writing from Brooklyn, and Howard, writing from Cross Plains, were from that moment on in constant, if polite competition—for sales, for the cover spot, and for first place among the affections of Weird Tales readers. Yet Quinn would also, in many ways, be a formative influence on Howard. Lovecraft, who was one of the few to correspond with both men, compared them once:
It is, therefore, piquant & enjoyable to exchange ideas with Two-Gun or to read his stories. He is of about the same intelligence as Seabury Quinn—but Yuggoth, what a difference! (LRB 256-257)
Seabury Quinn was born in Washington, D.C. in 1889, attended Washington National University, and had graduated with a degree in law. He practiced law only for a short time, and joined the army for World War I. After his discharge he returned to practicing law and handled a libel case involving mortuary jurisprudence. He won the case, and they took him on as legal advisor—and so he got his start for The Casket, a trade journal for morticians. Quinn was given progressively more work with The Casket until he became its managing editor; and in 1921 Quinn married his first wife, Mary Helen Molster. In January 1925, The Casket merged with the mortuary journal Sunnyside, and Quinn became editor of the combined magazine The Casket & Sunnyside, which job necessitated moving to New York. (Schwartz & Weisinger 1-2, Ruber 336, Ruber & Wyrzos ix)

Seabury Quinn (1889-1969)
By this point Quinn was already writing the serial character Major Sturdevant, who first appeared in Weird Tales’ sister magazine Real Detective Tales in December 1924, and continued to appear in every issue of that pulp (under editor Edwin Baird) through 1926—and writing two series characters simultaneously (Sturdevant and de Grandin) would be a major challenge for any pulpster, much less one with a day job. Sturdevant’s “Washington Nights’ Entertainment” petered out after a “measly” 27 stories. De Grandin would have a much more substantial run, though a much more modest beginning, in Quinn’s own words:

One evening in the spring of 1925, I was in that state that every writer knows and dreads; a story was due my publisher, and there didn’t seem to be a plot in the world. Accordingly, with nothing particular in mind, I picked up my pen and literally making it up as I went along—wrote the first story [...] As with The Horror on the Links, so with all other adventures of de Grandin. (CA 1.xxi)

Quinn may have been fudging a little; the French occult detective with his more incredulous counterpart Dr. Samuel Trowbridge probably owes something to Agatha Christie and her Belgian investigator Hercule Poirot and companion Arthur Hastings, who first appeared in The Murder on the Links (1923), but both were patently working in the same mold as Arthur Conan Doyle’s Watson & Holmes and Edgar Allan Poe’s C. Auguste Dupin. Whatever the case, “The Horror on the Links” was quickly followed by “The Tenants of Broussac” (WT Dec 1925) and “The Isle of Missing Ships” (WT Feb 1926)...and a fan letter in “The Eyrie”:



Thursday, October 12, 2017

The Weird Tales Tourist, New Orleans: Robert E. Howard by Karen Joan Kohoutek

Visitors to New Orleans can find plenty of information on the sites associated with authors like William Faulkner, Tennessee Williams, Anne Rice, and (that dude who wrote Confederacy of Dunces). Fewer people are aware of the city’s connections to the writers from the Weird Tales circle, but there are many, and easy enough to visit.

In 1919, Robert E. Howard’s father, Dr. Isaac Howard, attended seven weeks of medical training in New Orleans, bringing his wife and 13-year-old son (Finn 58). Howard wrote of his time there that “it was my fortune to be acquainted with some elderly maiden ladies by the name of Durell—gentlewomen of the old school living in semi-seclusion and striving to maintain the standards of a faded aristocracy, and reconcile their natures with the necessity which forced them to run a rooming-house” (A Means to Freedom 122).

New Orleans’ census records and property records steer us to “Durel” as the likely spelling. Howard scholar Rusty Burke has narrowed down Camille Durel as a good candidate for one of those gentlewomen, and at the time of the 1920 census (accessible through Ancestry.com), she was the “keeper” of a rooming-house at 1904 Canal Street, where she lived with her younger sisters Delphine and Marie. If this is the correct family, then at the time of Howard’s visit, Camille would have been 49, Delphine 39, and Marie 37: only “elderly” to young eyes.

This address would fall in what is now about a three-block span of a recently reconstructed medical complex.


Given Howard’s remembered familiarity with a family of sisters named Durel, and the fact that the medical schools associated with Tulane were in the same area, the rooming-house at 1904 Canal seems like a plausible contender for the site of their stay.

Just before the passage where he introduces the Durells (sic), though, Howard refers to “my French landlady” in New Orleans, who “hated the Italians.” It’s hard to know whether it’s a result of the letter’s conversational style, but it almost sounds like “my French landlady” and the “elderly maiden ladies” aren’t the same people. In that case, the Durels could also been neighbors, running a rooming-house similar to wherever the Howards lived.

In 1932, Howard facilitated a meeting between his correspondents H. P.Lovecraft, who was visiting the city, and fellow Weird Tales writer E. Hoffmann Price, currently living there. According to Lovecraft’s letters, Price lived in the French Quarter at the time, and an address list of Howard’s correspondents shows Price living at 305 Royal (Derie 47-48). The building's main floor is currently home to the Mann Gallery.


This section of Royal is full of art galleries, expensive antique shops, and upscale boutiques, but it’s likely that the rooms on the upper stories were once affordable enough for a pulp writer to rent.

Talking about the Durel sisters, Howard described “the old Durell (sic) mansion in the heart of the French Quarter – now the Latin Quarter – once a stately, century-old residence, built with characteristic French style – now a hovel housing half a dozen squalid Italian families” (MTF 122). Rusty Burke’s research, based on New Orleans city directories, suggests 301 Royal as the location.


I’d like to believe this is true, because 301 Royal is next door to Price’s lodgings. In this corner view, 301 Royal is on the left, with 305 just on the right.



Thursday, August 31, 2017

F. Thurston Torbett and F. Lee Baldwin on Robert E. Howard by Bobby Derie

Marlin, Texas in Falls County, lies about 160 miles from Cross Plains; the town hosted the Torbett Sanitorium, run by Dr. Frank M. Torbett, who lived there with his family. The small health resort catered to those who suffered tuberculosis, and over the years Robert E. Howard and his family would make the long journey by car several times so that his mother, Hester Jane Ervin Howard, could receive treatment, in stays that sometimes lasted for weeks. The earliest surviving letter from Robert in 1923 is addressed from Marlin (CL 1.3), and there were visits in 1931 (CL 2.195), 1935 (CL 3.388-391, 421) and early 1936 (CL 3.415, 425, 426).

Back cover ad: WT's story
by Torbett & Howard
Along the way, the Howards became friends with the Torbetts—a friendship evidenced by the personal letter that Dr. Howard sent to the Torbetts on the death of his wife and son in 1936 (IMH 51-52), and by the encouraging fan letter which Mrs. Torbett had written to Strange Tales asking for more of Howard’s stories, published in the January 1933 issue. The two young men, Robert E. Howard and Frank Thurston Torbett, were especially fast friends, and stayed in touch when Robert was out of town through letters—two of which from 1936 survive (CL 3.436-437, 464). Robert described Thurston in a letter to H. P. Lovecraft:

While in Marlin I had many enjoyable conversations with the son of the man who gave me the Coryell County history, a talented young man, with remarkable artistic ability. He is not only a portrait-painter of great ability but has considerable literary talent. He is a great admirer of your work, by the way. I think he could have been a success either as a painter or a writer, but, while attending an art school in California, he became interested in the occult, and now devotes practically all his time to this study. He is sincere in his devotion to it, but I regret his interest in it, since it has caused him to neglect his undoubted talents. I can not have any sympathy for this occult business. However, if that’s what he wants to do and enjoys doing, then I’m not one to criticize. (MF 2.907, CL 3.391)

Thurston would, like his mother, write letters to the editors of the pulp magazines to promote Bob’s work:

Dear Editor:
At last, in the June issue of STRANGE TALES, I found what I’ve been looking for in those pages for a long time—a story by Robert E. Howard. I enjoyed his People of the Dark very much.
            I have been following the work of this able writer for several years, and hope to see more of his work in the Clayton publications in the future. In my opinion he is one of the best writers of this type of fiction we have today.
            I might also add that I like all the stories in STRANGE TALES. They are all good. My only regret is that it is not a monthly publication.—F. T. Torbett, Box 265, Marlin, TX
(Strange Tales of Mystery and Terror Jan 1933)

T. Torbett, of Marlin, Texas, writes: "I've just read with appreciation the February issue of WT. As far as I am concerned, a story each month by C. L. Moore and Robert E. Howard would constitute a complete issue. Howard's Hour of the Dragon is superb and so was Moore's Yvala. Moore's The Dark Land in the January number I also found to be of excellent literary quality and I liked the author's accompanying illustration. I might also add that I like Seabury Quinn, Clark Ashton Smith, Paul Ernst, Frank Owen and most all authors who contribute to WT. (Weird Tales Apr 1936)

C.L. Moore
Thurston’s promotion of Catherine L. Moore alongside Robert is likely due to the fact that the two were in correspondence; as evidenced by the fact that it was Torbett who first informed Moore of the death of Robert E. Howard. (IMH 52) However, the Thurston Torbett’s strongest tie with Howard occurred after his friend’s death.

F. T. Torbett writes from Marlin, Texas: "I want to add my voice to those who are requesting reprints of Robert E. Howard's early stories. I am asking this solely because of the merit of Howard's stories and not because he was for some years one of the best friends I ever had. His was a powerful personality, of a type that can never be forgotten. I never knew a man more devoted to home and family, or more loyal to his friends, or more honest and upright. I miss his companionship more than I can say. I am sure that the future of WEIRD TALES will be a bright one, for the quality of the stories is steadily improving."
(Weird Tales May 1938)

“A Thunder of Trumpets” by Robert E. Howard and Thurston Torbett appeared in the September 1938 issue of Weird Tales—the advertisement in the preceding issue declared:



Sunday, August 20, 2017

The Kid, Two-Gun, and History by Todd B. Vick*

Few American lives have elicited more tales, rumors, and folklores than that of Henry McCarty. I would go so far as to say that of all the famous Americans who have lived such a short life span—two meager decades—McCarty has the most amount of words written about him. He perhaps has also influenced more authors than any other old west figure. And despite all this, he remains one of the most elusive figures of the old west. So who is Henry McCarty? History knows him as one Billy the Kid. The foremost scholar of Billy the Kid, Frederick Nolan, claims “Few American lives have more successfully resisted research than that of Billy the Kid.” (Nolan 3). Evidence for this lies in the fact that The Kid did not receive serious scholarly attention until nearly 100 years after his death. 

            Why is that? What makes Billy the Kid so fascinating that for the better part of the 20th century his life has resisted serious research and remained in the mainstream arena of folklore and myth? No scholar of the Kid seems to have a definitive answer to that question. It might simply be that facts are not as exciting as the mysterious. Regardless, from the late 1950s to the present day reliable research, scholarly articles and books have been written and new historical documents uncovered. Granted, the mythos remains and makes for wonderful movies and exciting novels but we now live in what should be considered a more enlightened era with regard to our understanding of The Kid.
            There was a long period of time where scarcely a word was written or spoken about Billy the Kid and the Lincoln County Wars. This span occurred between the death of the infamous sheriff (Pat Garrett) who killed Billy the Kid in 1908 until 1925 when Harvey Fergusson raised the question in an American Mercury article, “Who remembers Billy the Kid?” Apparently, the Kid’s reputation had faded and Fergusson wondered why (Nolan 295). All this would soon change in 1926 when Walter Noble Burns published The Saga of Billy the Kid, and the Kid would once again be thrust into the limelight of folklore and myth. This was the very book that sparked interest in the mind of a young boy who would later become the premier scholar of Billy the Kid studies, Frederick Nolan. Moreover, Walter Noble Burns, with his flamboyant style and highly exaggerated account of Billy the Kid, would also influence a series of western writers of the early to mid twentieth century. One in particular was a popular pulp fiction writer from Cross Plains, Texas named Robert E. Howard. Although the focus of Howard’s writing had pretty much been the fantasy and action adventure genres, Burn’s book would ultimately set Howard in a new creative direction.
It is no secret to Robert E. Howard aficionados that Howard had a serious interest in the Old West. This interest became so predominant toward the latter years of his life he shifted his writing career in the direction of publishing western stories and even proclaimed in correspondence to August Derleth:
“I’m seriously contemplating devoting all my time and efforts to western writing, abandoning all other forms of work entirely; the older I get the more my thoughts and interests are drawn back over the trails of the past; so much has been written, but there is so much that should be written.” (Howard Letters 2:  372).

In studies about Robert E. Howard’s western writing career there is no definitive time frame or specific cause that pushed Howard in the direction of western tales. Howard had written westerns in his earlier years and sporadically throughout his fantasy and action adventure years, but what made him tell Derleth that he wanted to devote all his time to western writing? There was likely no single factor or date, rather a series of events that hinged upon at least one thing—Walter Noble Burn’s book The Saga of Billy the Kid.
Walter Noble Burns was born October 24th, 1872. As a teenager he became a junior reporter for the Louisville, KY Evening Post. (Nolan 295). This led Burns into a fairly long career as a writer and reporter which eventually led him to Chicago where he would work for both the Chicago Examiner and Chicago Tribune. It was his work with the Tribune that would launch him into his most famous research and work. In 1923 Burns would visit New Mexico to interview  various people who were still alive during the Lincoln County Wars and the days of Billy the Kid. This research would ultimately end up in Burns’ book The Saga of Billy the Kid (from here on referred to as SBK).
SBK was the definitive book about Billy the Kid’s life until the late 1950s and early 1960s when scholars took pen in hand and began seriously researching the Lincoln County Wars. Today SBK is considered nothing but a novel work on the Lincoln County Wars. It has all but been dismissed as exaggerations, myths, and fun folklore. Regardless, from 1926, the year SBK was published, to the early 1960s, Burns’ work set the tone for movies, western pulp stories, dime novels, and even magazine articles about Billy the Kid.
When SBK was published it quickly became a national best seller, rivaling the sales of other popular books of its day. In just a few short months Nolan explains,


Sunday, August 13, 2017

A 2017 Howard Days Highlight: Gaming

The Monolith Conan Game
On the Howard House
front porch
As mentioned in an earlier post, I've been attending Howard Days since 2012, and what I have noticed each year is there is always one or two things over the weekend that stand out from everything else. One of this year's highlights was the RPG and Board gaming in the Cross Plains public library and on Robert E. Howard's front porch.

This was not the first year Howard Days hosted gaming. A few years ago, the RPG game launched on Kickstarter by Modiphius, was playtested by a group of gamers in Robert E. Howard's dining room. This very RPG game, now a successful Kickstarter campaign was once again played by a group of gamers in the Cross Plains Public Library.

There was an acting Dungeon Master (DM) for the gamers, and from what I've been told, I did not witness the gaming in the library, it was quite eventful. A smaller faction of the Cross Plains Library RPG gaming group relocated to the front porch of the Howard House. This small group set up the new, highly successful Kickstarter board game, called Conan, created by Monolith Board Games LLC. Having participated in this Kickstarter campaign, I spent a good portion of that game watching the inner workings and witnessing it at play.

Howard House front
porch gaming
This game's Overlord (who functions similar to a DM) was Wesley, from Wyoming. Game players included Wesley's wife Elizabeth, Chris, James, and Danny. The group selected a pre-provided scenario, characters, and then simply followed the rules of the game. This was the first time I had seen this game actually being played live. And though it is slightly complicated, once the participants got involved and began understanding the rules, the game slowly picked up and became increasingly more interesting. I am certainly glad I was able to witness this game play, especially since I own the game.

But here's the kicker, while the Monolith Conan game was being played on Robert E. Howard's front porch, the game play was being filmed for YouTube by Robert E. Howard's great nephew, Jim Howard! A nice added feature, to say the least.

I was told by several of the gamers that they wanted to make this an annual affair at Howard Days. I think that is a wonderful idea, and I certainly hope to see more gaming at subsequent Howard Days.

Sunday, August 6, 2017

A 2017 Howard Days Highlight: The Robert E. Howard Bar Guide

I've been attending Howard Days since 2012, and what I have noticed each year is there is always one or two things over the weekend that stand out from everything else. One of this year's highlights was Bobby Derie's free book titled The Robert E. Howard Bar Guide.

Bobby Derie, who is a regular guest writer here at On an Underwood No. 5, sent me a message via Facebook, about this idea a few months prior to Howard Days. A month or so later, he sent me the first 20 or so pages to proof and fact check, and after reading those pages, I knew Howard fans were in for a huge treat. Of course, any article or book from Derie is a treat, and well worth reading (and I'm not being bias simply because he's a regular at On An Underwood No. 5 - just ask around, people will confirm this).

If you were unable to attend Howard Days this year and have not obtained a copy of the Bar Guide, then you're in luck. It is still available in PDF format, at this link.

The Bar Guide is a blend of history and brew. The first 20 or so pages detail REH's history with alcohol, prohibition, bootlegging, and is "a biographical look at drink and drinking in the life of Robert E. Howard." (excerpt from page 1). This is followed by various concoctions, recipes, and assorted exotic drinks that Howard discusses or has himself experienced. For this, Derie makes use of Howard's stories and his letters. He also includes newspaper clippings from the Cross Plains Review about the various times Cross Plains legalized beer (in Callahan County), about bootleggers in the area, vintage ads about alcohol, about "moonshine," etc. This certainly adds a nice flavor to the contents.

Various types of drinks, straight and mixed, are included, referenced from Howard's works or letters, and "period recipes culled from contemporary cocktail guides" (Howard Works, The Robert E. Howard Guide) The bar guide is also peppered throughout with illustrations from Weird Tales, Argosy, Spicy-Adventure Stories, and other publications. And, the back cover sports a hand-drawn illustration by Howard himself. The print editions that were distributed at this year's Howard Days were numbered and will surely end up being a nice collector's item in the future.

With much appreciation, let's all raise a glass to Bobby Derie for this wonderful Bar Guide. Cheers!

Sunday, July 30, 2017

The Stars Rush Like a Blow to the Face: Post Oaks and Sand Roughs and the Freedom of the Unreal by Jason Ray Carney

Introduction (by Todd B. Vick)

I first met Jason Ray Carney in March of 2016. We were both presenting papers in the Pulp Studies group at the Popular Culture Association/American Culture Association (PCA-ACA) conference in Seattle, Washington. "'No plot, no sequence, no moral': Robert E. Howard's Post Oak and Sand Roughs and the Unreality of the Ordinary" was the title of his paper. The title had sparked my interest, especially since everything I had read about Howard’s Post Oaks and Sand Roughs (POASR) was a discussion about the novella being a semi-autobiographical work from Howard. It was to be read as such, but its autobiographical accuracy was to be taken with several grains of salt. That being the case, I was curious about the contents of Carney’s paper. Would it be the same stuff I had read before? No, in fact, it was not. Carney had, more or less, turned that notion on its head and requested his reader examine the story as a work of modern fiction, in light of the development of the novel. Howard’s story was an excellent example of the modern novel. To say this idea surprised me would be a slight understatement. He had my attention. He had me thinking outside the box. I like that.

You are in for a treat with this blog post. Once again, Carney is going to peel back the covers of POASR and ask us, his reader, to see it in a different light. He will delve into the novel’s formlessness, how blog posts are akin to this formlessness (I kid you not), and then apply all this to POASR, along with the idea of genres of freedom, the failure of the novel, and REH and the pulp writer as pugilist. That’s a lot to take in, you might be thinking. It is, to a certain degree, but he does a first-rate job of explaining how this is all possible, and why it is important. In addition to his blog post, he commissioned artist Jessica Robinson to illustrate his work/REH, a first for On An Underwood No. 5. So, without further ado, I’ll leave you with Jason Ray Carney. Enjoy!  —Todd B. Vick
_______________

I. The Blog Post and Genre Anxiety

First, I want to thank Todd for inviting me to write a guest blog post. I try to keep a blog and struggle to maintain it, and the primary reason for this is that I can't quite wrap my mind around the "anything-goes" genre of the blog post: its conventions, its goals, its use-value for readers. Here are some of my questions: Are blog posts formal academic writing? Are they a kind of magazine writing for an educated but casual audience? (I wouldn't call the REH fan community 'casual'). More specifically: if I'm discussing literature (one of the few things I feel qualified to substantively blog about), am I writing a digital version of literary criticism or does the blog post context change things fundamentally? Should I use footnotes? Should I use media-specific elements, such as embedded art, like the original drawing I commissioned the talented illustrator, Jessica Robinson, for this post? Should I use direct quotations? Should I use particular academic citation and style guide? If I'm reflecting on whether or not I enjoy a particular literary work, have I stopped doing literary criticism and begun writing a mere review? How personal or objective should I be?

Snaps open a can of beer. This might help.

The formlessness of the blog post as a genre spins my head, leaves me at a loss regarding how to proceed, and, so, to begin, I'm going to take my lead from a young H.P. Lovecraft writing in 1917 to Rheinhart Kleiner. Defending his wide-ranging epistolary style, Lovecraft asks Kleiner the same thing I'll ask you, dear reader: "Regard my communications not as studied letters, but as fragments of discourse, spoken with the negligence of oral intercourse rather than the formal correctness of literary correspondence." Replace "blog post" with "communications" and "studied letters" with "formal essay," and we're getting somewhere.

Robert E. Howard
Illustration by Jessica Robinson
In contemplating writing this blog post, I feel kindred to the artistically frustrated Steve Costigan, the protagonist of Robert E. Howard's unpublished novel, Post Oaks and Sand Roughs, as he contemplates writing not sword and sorcery, adventure, or gothic horror, but the realism:

Steve had wished to write life as he saw it--he had torturously pounded out a few realistic tales and had found the subject the most difficult of all. ‘I don’t know where to take hold,’ he said slowly. ‘Life is full of tag ends which never begin and never end. There’s no plot, no sequence, no moral.’

"I don't know where to take hold." Yep. I could say the same thing about writing blog posts, but I'm going to give it my best here. Every book or article I've read that gives advice about blogging basically boils down to these same bits of advice: choose a topic and imagine a specific audience; then, those decisions made, write about something apropos to your selected topic and in a style that will satisfy the needs of the particular audience you have in mind. Don't forget the blog post's chronological structure and ephemeral nature. Blog posts, unlike journal articles and academic monographs, are date-indexed; unlike journal peer-reviewed scholarship, which has a chance of maintaining its worth despite its aging, blog posts are acutely ephemeral, like acid-rich articles in a daily rag. Though they don't yellow with age and fall apart as papery snowflakes, they do disappear into the digital archive.

Bearing this advice in mind, let me put all my cards on the table, remove my black hat, and hang my holstered, silver-filigreed revolvers on a crooked nail (excuse the trite similes as I establish atmosphere): I'm writing a meandering blog post about Robert E. Howard's unpublished quasi-autobiographical novel, referred to as Post Oaks and Sand Roughs (Important note: Patrice Louinet told me recently that this is not actually the title of the novel; instead, it should be more accurately labeled Grasping at the Edge, a name referenced in an REH letter somewhere, though I am ignorant of the specific letter). My assumed audience is a group of diehard Robert E. Howard fans who read or are open to reading On an Underwood No. 5, who have the patience for a long essay, and who believe Howard was not merely a pulp raconteur who spun yarns that entertain (he is this, of course!) but was also a sincere literary artist who deserves wider visibility in Anglophone literary history, in the concrete form of academic monographs and articles, conference panels, and university courses that treat early 20th-century literature, popular culture, and genre fiction. Finally, I'm going to try my best to affect a minimally academic, hospitable, no BS, yet substantive prose style that hopefully entertains, educates, and starts a conversation.

II. Genre Anxiety in Post Oaks and Sand Roughs


Sunday, July 23, 2017

Conan and the OAK, Part 5 - 1936 - 1946 by Bobby Derie


A week before [Robert E. Howard] killed himself, he wrote to Otis Adelbert Kline (his literary agent except for sales to Weird Tales): “In the event of my death, please send all checks for me to my father, Dr. I M. Howard.” His father found two stories on which he had typewritten: “In the event of my death, send these two stories to Farnsworth Wright, Editor of Weird Tales, 840 N. Michigan Avenue, Chicago.” (IMH 84)

Robert E. Howard had made preparations for his death; Kline confirmed in a letter to Carl Jacobi that:

About three weeks ago he wrote me a letter saying that, in case of his death I should get in touch with his father. (IMH 68)

Kline’s letter is praiseworthy, both of Howard's and Kline’s ability to market him, noting that despite caring for his dying mother, Howard “has been doing a lot of brilliant writing, and we have opened a number of new markets for him with character-continuity series.” (IMH 68)

As a client from May 1933 to July 1936 (38 months), Robert E. Howard had cleared at least $2150 through Kline’s sales—and almost assuredly more, when you consider the stories that don’t appear in the ledger or Otto Binder’s commissions list. The Kline agency for its part probably cleared about $250-300 in commissions (at least the standard 10% of Howard’s sales, possibly 15% for sales before 1935). By the numbers, this wouldn’t make Howard the Kline agency’s best client; in 1936 John Scott Douglas “was good for at least thirty to forty dollars a month commissions in New York alone.” (OAK 16.1) However, Kline also stated that:

I send back for keeps approximately 80% of the material I receive [...] Of the other twenty per cent, I accept perhaps a fourth, and sometimes as high as a half, depending on how the stuff runs. The balance is returned to the writers for revision, some if [sic] it again and again, until they have done as well as they can do with it. Only then is it put on offer, and of course not all of it goes to New York. Some goes to Canada, England or other foreign countries. I select the markets to which it seems best suited. (OAK 16.2)

By this standard, at least, Howard seems to have been ahead of the pack: the only story Kline is known to have sent back without trying it on the market was “Wild Water” (IMH 19), and while Kline initially struggled to market Howard’s fiction, and advised him on revising his work and breaking into new markets, as the years went on Kline was selling a greater and greater percentage of the work that Howard sent him; Binder’s commissions list for the New York end of the business in 1935 lists more commissions from sales of the Texan’s work than any other client. (OAK 5.18) If Howard was not Kline’s best client, he was at least a steady one, and an appreciative one, as Kline uses a statement from Howard in the brochure for his United Sales Plan:



Sunday, July 16, 2017

Conan and the OAK, Part 4 - 1936 by Bobby Derie

1936 brought a few ruffles to the Kline-Howard relationship, beginning with a letter from Howard to agent August Lenniger, dated 27 December 1935:

I have received your letter of the 17th, and read it with much interest, together with the literature that accompanied it. Mr. Otis Adelbert Kline handles most of my work, and I have no reason to be dissatisfied with him. However, there’s no harm in having more than one string to a bow, as in the case of my friend, Ed Price, who does business with both yourself and Mr. Kline, and seems to be doing very well indeed. I notice that in your ad in the December issue of the [Author & Journalist] you state that, in the case of a professional who has sold $1,000 worth of stuff within the last year, you will waive reading fees and handle his work on straight commission. Well, I sold considerably more than a thousand dollars worth of stories. If you are willing to handle my work on a straight commission basis, I’ll be glad to send you some yarns and let you see what you can do with them. Of your ability as an agent there is of course no question. As to my yarns, I write westerns, adventure, fantasy, sport, and occasionally detective. I have been a contributor to Weird Tales for eleven years, and a 70,000 word novel, The Hour of the Dragon is at present running in that magazine as a serial. Action Stories is running a series of humorous western shorts, one of these stories having appeared in every issues of the magazine for about two years now. In the past few months I have made three new markets, Western Aces, Thrilling Mystery and Spicy Adventures. In addition to the magazines above mentioned my work has appeared in Ghost Stories, Argosy, Fight Stories, Oriental Stories, Sport Stories, Thrilling Adventures, Texaco Star, The Ring, Strange Detective, Super-Detective, Strange Tales, Frontier Times and Jack Dempsey’s Fight Magazine. (CL 3.395-396)

Western Aces
October 1935
Gus Lenniger was, strictly speaking, Kline’s competition, although the two were on friendly terms, and by unusual circumstances shared a client in E. Hoffmann Price, whose situation combined with the non-exclusive nature of Howard’s agreement with Kline probably precipitated the confusion. As Price tells it, he had Lenniger as his agent, but wasn’t getting sales, so:

I wrote Otis, and sent him a novelette with which Lenniger had no luck whatsoever. All I expected, in my ignorance, was some advice which I could utilize. After all, Otis and I had drunk from the same barrel. He suggested a revision, and a second revision, and then, a substantial cut. It was only then that I learned about his agency business. As a friend, he was giving me a hand. He was not looking for another client. He never once suggested that I dump August Lenniger. He took my much revised script, sold it, and also, a short story which had got nowhere. Each salvage operation was in the crime field. And then, August Lenniger got his stride. I had never had any cause for complaint. That it had taken him awhile to express himself in terms meaningful to me was natural. [...] Stories for Kline went to him as “Hamlin Daly” yarns. My “official” agent got E. Hoffmann Price stuff. Oddly, each sold to publishers which the other was not selling. An arrangement of this sort could not, and of course, should not last long. It did not. (BOD 33)

Kline had a slightly different take on events, in a letter to Otto Binder dated 14 May 1936:

I really gave Price his start in the detective story field. When he wanted to branch out he came to me, and at that time I told him I was busy with my own writing and didn’t want to take on anymore clients. I recommended Lenniger. He sent him four or five novelettes and a bunch of shorts, and Lenniger didn’t sell a damn thing for him over a period of six months. He then asked me if I would check up and see what was wrong for him. I agreed to do so, and he wrote Lenniger for a couple of the novelettes. He revised them under my directions, and I sould them right off the bat to Dell for 1 ¼ ¢ a word. He then wrote for some more, and during that six months period I sold, all told, five novelettes which Lenniger had been unable to sell because he didn’t demand revisions, and three or four short stories. With all all of these sales editors began to notice Price’s name, and Lenniger began to sit up and take notice. He sold a short story for Price, and started going around to editorial offices trying to get assignments. Then he sold a novelette, and some other stuff, and kept getting Price more assignments. In spite of that fact, I solde twice as much for Price over the period of a year as did Lenniger. I continued this record for another year. [...] Lenniger,  however, kept boring in, using the assignment method. He kept contacting new editors, asking for assignments for Price. Then he would wire or airmail Price, and naturally he wouldn’t turn down any orders for stories if he could possibly dill them, on the “bird in the hand” theory. This ran down my stock of Price stories, and of course ran down my sales. I got him the Pawang Ali assignment from Tremain, and if I had been in New York regularly could have gotten him a lot of others and beaten Lenniger at his own game. As it is, he is cashing in on a man I trained for the work, and the only way I can beat him is through the New York end. (OAK 16.6-7)

Howard had also dealt with Lenniger briefly in 1933, when Lenniger, Price, and Kirk Mashburn had the idea for an anthology that never materialized. (CL2.240; 3.14, 41) The extent to which Howard intended to use Lenniger as an agent isn’t clear, but the issue was further complicated by a letter from Howard to William Kofoed, dated 8 Jan 1936:



Thursday, July 13, 2017

Howard Days 2017: A Trip Report by Scott Valeri

Panned view of the Howard House & Museum
(Picture courtesy of Ben Friberg)

As Howard Days 2017 approached this year I felt a mixture of emotions. This included the usual excitement in anticipation of seeing old friends again, the thrill of visiting Robert E Howard’s hometown of Cross Plains, and the house where he created all of the magical characters of his imagination, but also a little concern that this may not be a “great” year to attend. This is because I had heard that several wonderful Howard/REHupa friends would not be attending for various reasons. People like Barbara Barrett, Damon Sasser, and Al Herron and his grandmother and aunts. Although these folks were greatly missed, my concerns were unfounded and Howard Days 2017 was another great year with old friendships reaffirmed, new friendships made and lots of scholarship and learning packed into three days that had the feel of a family reunion (one where you really like everyone).

Dierk & Chie Guenther
Gary Romeo in background (R)
Travel day for me was Wednesday June 7, even though events don't really start until Thursday evening, because it makes the journey a little less tiring to stretch it out. Many folks do come in on Wednesday and it was great to catch up for an impromptu dinner and get reacquainted Wednesday evening before checking in to my motel in Brownwood. The “glow” of being around people that share a similar passion, that most people don’t understand, started the moment that I entered Cross Plains and lasted through the weekend.

Thursday June 8 started for me with breakfast at Jean’s Feedbarn with Todd Vick (spoiler alert, winner of two REH awards this year!) and David Piske. I had never had breakfast at this august establishment so it was on my must-do list. Excellent meal and company. Many of the REHupan’s were there at another long table and the conversation was lively and erudite. Then it was a pleasant, slow day of checking in to the REH House and Pavillion to meet others arriving for the weekend, greet and catch up. It is always a thrill to see who comes in and to make the initial walk through the house and take in the small room and desk where REH created all of his characters and stories. The Project Pride folks, like Arlene Stephenson and her husband Tom, are warm and hospitable and help create the atmosphere of inclusion and celebration that marks the long weekend.

Derie's REH Bar Guide
(Pic courtesy of Howard Works)
A real treat was having scholar Bobby Derie generously pass out a REH Bar Guide, spiral bound, that had everything REH had ever written, in letters and fiction, about alcoholic drinks along with drink recipes so anyone can recreate some of these libations. This was an 80-page scholarly labor and delighted everyone who got one.

Dinner that night was at the Senior Center on Main Street for a fish fry and more conversation with arriving folks like Jeff Shanks and his wife Claudia.  Rusty Burke and “Indy” Bill Cavalier, who are the initiators of Howard Days from their first formal gathering of fans here in 1986, were also in attendance. After dinner the Howard Days parade went through downtown Cross Plains to kick off the celebration.

Day 1
The REH Foundation
On Friday June 9 Howard Days officially started at 8:30 AM with registration outside the Alla Ray Morris Pavilion. Coffee and donuts were provided by Project Pride. From 9 to 10:30 AM Rusty Burke conducted his annual bus tour of Howard sites in the area. I can never miss this as I feel that I always pick up new information about REH’s life and upbringing. Jack Baum was in the bus with Rusty to fill in local color for the tour. This year we went to Cross Cut and Burkett.

These are very sparse villages now but in their day were much larger settlements. Rusty and Jack helped us fill in the scenery from the 1920s. The Howards lived on the N side of a cemetery in Cross Cut and had the Newton family as friends on the S side. Dr Howard would walk to visit the Newtons and whistle his way through the cemetery. The school REH attended here has been demolished.

As we rode the narrow road to Burkett, Jack Baum explained that a “sand rough” is an accumulation of sand and weeds that develop where there are fence posts and create almost a wall or a thick barrier outside a pasture. We saw them all along the way. The connection with Howard? “Post Oaks and Sand Roughs” is the title of REH’s semi-autobiographical novel. Dr Howard bought property in Burkett but did not build a house there and wound up moving to Cross Plains to the home we know, that he bought from JM Kaufman who built it. Dr Howard did a lot of land speculation in the many towns the Howards lived in prior to settling in Cross Plains. They moved 8 or 9 times prior to 1915 when they moved to Cross Cut. Relocated to Burkett in 1917 and then Cross Plains in 1919 when REH was 13.

In Burkett, we crossed the Burkett Bridge over the Pecan Bayou that was seen in the movie The Whole Wide World. The movie was mostly filmed in Austin as it was too expensive to film more in the country. Other facts from Jack Baum and Rusty were that REH did not hunt because he did not like hurting animals, but he would tag along when his friends David Lee and Lindsey Tyson hunted.

"The Glenn Lord Collection" panel
(L to R: Paul Herman, Rob Roehm, Patrice Louinet)
11 AM was the first panel on “The Glen Lord Collection” with presenters Paul Herman, Rob Roehm, and Patrice Louinet.

All panels were at the Methodist Church fellowship hall on N Main St which was a new location that was spacious, bright and had excellent acoustics. It was very generous for the Methodist Church and pastor Kevin Morton, to go out of their way to provide all the attendees with a great venue to see and hear the presentations. It made the experience richer and more comfortable. I don't know how we can all say thank you enough for this privilege.



Sunday, July 9, 2017

Conan and the OAK, Part 3 - 1935 by Bobby Derie

1935 began with a letter from Kline to Howard, dated 28 Jan 1935; Leo Margulies rejected a synopsis for “The Silver Heel,” a Steve Harrison detective story, and Kline suggested they might try it on Roy Horn’s Two-Book Detective Magazine; though if they did, nothing came of it. (IMH 23) Kline gave a few of the Dorgan rewrites to his employee Miller to market, without apparent success. (IMH 369) Then on 13 May 1935 there was a letter from Howard to Kline:

I’m writing this to ask for some information in regard to Weird Tales. As you know, for some time I’ve had a story in almost every issue. One of those yarns you sold Wright, yourself, “The Grisly Horror,” you remember. The others I sold him direct. For over a year, as I remember, I’ve received just half a check each month — just barely enough to keep me alive, but I didn’t kick, because I knew times were hard, and I believed Wright was doing his best to pay me. But this month there was no check forthcoming — and this check would have been much bigger than any check I’ve gotten for a long time from Weird Tales. I wrote Wright, telling him the trouble I’d been in, and explaining my desperate need for money, and up to now he’s coolly ignored my letter. No check — and not the slightest word of explanation. The case is simple enough: Weird Tales owes me over $800, some of it for stories published six months ago. I’m pinching pennies and wearing rags, while my stories are being published, used and exploited. I believe Wright could pay me every cent he owes me, if he wanted to. But now, when I need money worse than I ever needed it in my life before, he refuses to pay me anything, and ignores a letter in which I beg him to pay me even a fraction of the full amount. What’s his game, anyway? Is Weird Tales still a legitimate publication, or has it become a racket? Of course, anything you tell me will be treated as confidential, just as I expect this letter to be treated. I don’t want to cause anybody any trouble or inconvenience. But Weird Tales owes me something like $860 and naturally I want to learn, if I can, if there’s any chance of ever getting paid. (CL 3.308-309)

Howard wasn’t alone; the Great Depression hit Weird Tales and the other pulps hard, and there was likely nothing Kline could do, except tell Howard he wasn’t alone—Kline himself was still selling stories to WT, including the serial “Lord of the Lamia” (Mar-Apr-May 1935). Whatever Kline’s response, Howard appeared to find it acceptable, as he wrote to Emil Petaja:

I have found him very satisfactory in every way, and do not hesitate to recommend him. (CL 3.369)

One of the selling points of Kline’s agency was foreign sales, and in 1935 it appears, after a good-faith effort to move stories in the United States, he tried to place them in Canada or the United Kingdom; Howard already having had a few stories published in the UK Not at Night anthologies before Kline became his agent. The stories included the Dorgan yarns, “Swords of the Hills,” “A Gent From Bear Creek,”  “The Voice of Death,” “The Names in the Black Book,” “The Grisly Horror,” as well as “Hawks of Outremer,” “Jewels of Gwahlur,” “Beyond the Black River,” “A Witch Shall Be Born,” and “Red Blades of Black Cathay,” (a collaboration with Tevis Clyde Smith). (IMH 358, 360, 362-363, 364-365, 366, 367, 369-370, 371) None of these stories sold in foreign markets, but Howard had also prepared a stitch-up novel of his Breckinridge Elkins stories, and Kline wrote in a letter dated 8 Oct 1935:

I recently had an inquiry from an English publisher on four Western novels submitted to him some time ago. It has occurred to me that it might be well to offer than a carbon copy of your novel A Gent from Bear Creek. The American publisher who is considering the original has not yet reported. (IMH 31)

Kline also encouraged Howard, like E. Hoffmann Price, to “splash the spicies.” Edited by Frank Armer (of Strange Detective and Super-Detective Stories), this was a fresh market for Howard. Kline wrote of the spicies:

Your story “The Girl on the Hell Ship” seems to be pretty close to what Frank Armer wants for Spicy Adventures, although it may not be quite hot enough for that book. However, I am trying it on Armer and will let you know his reaction. Price has done quite well writing for this magazine, as well as Spicy Detective. Perhaps he could give you some good tips on this sort of thing if you are interested in following up. Armer paid Price 1¢ a word for these yarns on acceptance. [...] No, I don’t think anyone has any prejudice against your name; however, I do think it wise for you to use a pen name on sexy adventure stories since you are identified with the straight adventure and Western field under your own name. (IMH 31-32, OAK 1.4-5)

Howard successfully broke into with “She-Devil” under the title “The Girl on the Hell Ship,” as by “Sam Walser,” which appeared in Spicy Adventure Stories Jan 1936. (IMH 371) With good news often came bad: Wright reported that Magic Carpet Magazine was definitely defunct, and would returned the unpublished Sailor Dorgan yarns, and Margulies rejected “The Trail of the Bloodstained God” for Thrilling Adventures, with Kline reporting:

Margulies recently wrote me that he would not use chronicles of violent action, unless adequate attention was given to plot conflict, motivation and character reaction. The theme of jewels, or treasure secreted in an idol, jewel decorations for idols and idols with jewel eyes has been done over and over so much editors are beginning to tire of it. I have received a number of stories of this sort—some of them quite good—and have been unable to place them because of editorial objections to this theme. The story also is an odd length for many magazines, as it is neither a short story nor a novelette. However, I’ll show it around—perhaps we can place it to your advantage somewhere. (IMH 32, OAK 1.4-5)


Magic Carpet
July 1933
On the surface, 1935 was not the best year for Howard; by the ledger (and Kline’s letter of 8 Oct 1935), Kline had managed to sell only “Black Canaan” ($108.00), “The Last Ride” (a collaboration with Robert Enders Allen, $78.75), “War on Bear Creek” ($54.00), “Weary Pilgrims on the Road” ($54.00), and “The Girl on the Hell Ship” ($48.60) for a total of $343.35 after commissions. (IMH 367-371) However, the ledger does not include all of Howard’s stories that were published that year outside WT, including “The Haunted Mountain,” “Hawk of the Hills,” “The Feud Buster,” “Blood of the Gods,” “The Cupid from Bear Creek,” “The Riot at Cougar Paw,” “Boot Hill Payoff,” or “The Apache Mountain War” so the total was undoubtedly higher—Howard probably cleared closer to $600 through Kline’s agency in 1935.

Part 1, Part 2
________________________
Works Cited

BOD    Book of the Dead: Friends of Yesteryear: Fictioneers & Others
CL       Collected Letters of Robert E. Howard (3 vols. + Index & Addenda)
CS       The Conan Swordbook
FI         Fists of Iron (4 vols.)
IMH     The Collected Letters of Dr. Isaac M. Howard
MF       A Means to Freedom: The Letters of H. P. Lovecraft and Robert E.                                Howard (2 vols)
OAK    OAK Leaves: The Official Journal of Otis Adelbert Kline (16 issues)
WT50  WT50: A Tribute to Weird Tales


Sunday, July 2, 2017

Conan and the OAK, Part 2 - 1934 by Bobby Derie

Super-Detective Stories
May 1934
In 1934, Kline’s agency would still be busy trying to move Howard’s fiction, and Howard for his part wasn’t slowing down his production. In December 1933 Howard sent Kline “A Gent from Bear Creek” and “The Daughter of Erlik Khan,” both of which sold in 1934; so too did “A Stranger in Grizzly Claw” and “The Names in the Black Book” (a Steve Harrison tale and the sequel to “Lord of the Dead,” accepted for Super-Detective Stories, the successor to Strange Detective Series). (IMH 364-365) The novelette “Swords of Shahrazar” was initially rejected, but Kline returned it to Howard with advice to rewrite it in a letter dated 21 Feb 1934:
Start the story by introducing your chief character and his major problem, and of course setting the scene. Make the action pop right from the start, and keep it popping. Forget that a story went before, and make this story a unit that stands by itself. I’m not telling you all this because it coincides with my own taste, but because it seems to be what [Leo] Margulies wants. And he’s the boy who O.K’s the checks. (IMH 20-21, OAK 10.11)
Howard did rewrite the story, and it did sell, though Margulies still felt it too long, and Kline clued Howard in to the hard limits on word counts among different markets in a letter dated 30 Apr 1934. (IMH 21-22, OAK 10.11-12)

There are no more letters from Kline to Howard or vice versa in 1934, but something of their business can be reconstructed from from the account-book. The Breckinridge Elkins stories (“The Road to Bear Creek,” “War on Bear Creek,” “A Man-Eating Jeopard”) were selling well to Action Stories; the exception, “A Elkins Never Surrenders” was reworked as “A Elston to the Rescue” and eventually sold. The weird detective and terror tales yarns fared worse: “Sons of Hate,” “The Moon of Zambebwei,” “The Black Hound of Death,” “Black Canaan,” and “Pigeons from Hell” were all rejected, though Kline managed to sell “The Moon of Zambebwei” to Weird Tales, where it appeared as “The Grisly Horror” in the Feb 1935 issue—though the agreement between Howard and Kline allowed Howard to submit stories to WT on his own (and thus not pay Kline a commission), the strategy at least got a sale; Kline would repeat the practice with decent results for some of Howard’s other rejected weird terror stories, including “Black Hound of Death” and “Black Canaan.” (IMH 365-369)

Weird Tales
January 1934
Sometime in spring 1934 (“Alleys of Darkness” was published in the Jan 1934 WT and was paid for in June), Kline must have made the suggestion that Howard change several of the Steve Costigan stories to Dennis Dorgan stories, as he had done with “Alleys of Darkness.” The boxing yarns simply weren’t selling, but with a fresh name and title Kline could try them again on the same markets. So “Sailor Costigan and the Destiny Gorilla” became “Sailor Dorgan and the Destiny Gorilla,” and the same with “The Yellow Cobra”, “The Turkish Menace”, “The Jade Monkey”, and “Cultured Cauliflowers,” “A New Game for Costigan,” and “A Two-Fisted Santa Claus.” Even then, the stories failed to sell. (IMH 358, 360, 362; FI 3.318-319) However, a new market opened up in the form of Jack Dempsey’s Fight Magazine, edited by Jack Kofoed, the former editor of Fight Stories and Action Stories; Kofoed asked Howard for stories, and Howard was willing to supply them. Though Howard and Kline’s agreement was non-exclusive, he asked if Kline would handle it at his normal 10% commission; however, Kline declined. (FI 3.319, CL 3.404)

Overall for the year, counting rewrites, Howard was supplying one or two stories a month, of which Kline sold seven, although he would continue to market the rest, and would eventually sell a few others. For 1934, he received payment for “Alleys of Darkness” ($45.90), “The People of the Serpent” ($85.00), “A Gent From Bear Creek” ($46.75), “The Daughter of Erlik Khan” ($195.50), “Swords of Shahrazar” ($124.95), “The Names in the Black Book” ($85.00), “A Stranger in Grizzly Claw” ($51.00), “The Road to Bear Creek” ($32.50); “The Grisly Horror” was sold but not paid for until 1936, and so received $666.60—a sizable increase over the previous year. (IMH 358-366)
________________________

Works Cited

BOD    Book of the Dead: Friends of Yesteryear: Fictioneers & Others
CL       Collected Letters of Robert E. Howard (3 vols. + Index & Addenda)
CS       The Conan Swordbook
FI         Fists of Iron (4 vols.)
IMH     The Collected Letters of Dr. Isaac M. Howard
MF       A Means to Freedom: The Letters of H. P. Lovecraft and Robert E.                            Howard (2 vols)
OAK    OAK Leaves: The Official Journal of Otis Adelbert Kline (16 issues)

WT50  WT50: A Tribute to Weird Tales


Thursday, June 22, 2017

Conan and the OAK, Part 1 - 1933 by Bobby Derie

"Until recently—a few weeks ago in fact—I employed no agent."
—Robert E. Howard to H. P. Lovecraft, Jul 1933 (CL 3.82, MF 2.605)

For the first years of his pulp career, Robert E. Howard acted as his own agent, dividing his working time between writing and revising stories and poems, and drafting letters to submit those stories to markets both new and established. The Texan’s access to market news was largely limited to what he could read on the pulps in the stands, industry scuttlebutt from his letters to Lovecraft, E. Hoffmann Price, and August Derleth, and the occasional guidance from editors. In early 1932, Howard supplemented this by joining the American Fiction Guild, a professional organization aimed at freelance writers, whose organ Author & Journalist contained advertisements for upcoming pulps and other market news. (CL 2.337) Around the same time, an unknown agency offered to represent Howard:
Hundreds of part-time authors have been dumped on the market, and that makes competition tougher. The part time writer is often more efficient than the professional; he’s had more time to study style and literature. An agency wrote me wanting to handle my stuff for a year or so. They bragged on what they’d done for Whitehead; I wrote Whitehead and he replied cryptically that he considered himself heap damn fortunate to have gotten out of their talons as soon as he did. (CL 2.368)
Otis Adelbert Kline
Howard turned them down, but the idea had merit: an agent devotes their energies to selling your material, freeing the writer to writing, allowing them to produce more; a good agent had representatives and connections in more markets than a lone pulpster might be aware of, and could handle the complicated issues of anthology reprints, overseas sales—or even radio serials and movie adaptations. Perhaps this is why in the spring of 1933, Robert E. Howard signed on with an agent: Otis Adelbert Kline.

Kline had been a writer in the pulps in his own right, today most remembered for his Edgar Rice Burroughs-esque serial novels like The Planet of Peril (1929), Jan of the Juggle (1931), The Swordsman of Mars (1933) for Argosy, but he was also an early contributor to Weird Tales, and anonymously edited the May-Jun-Jul 1924 issue. (WT50 84, IMH 175) Robert E. Howard was aware of Kline as a writer, and considered him a good one (CL 2.123, 302); Lovecraft was more critical, considering Kline’s fiction among “the pallid hack work of systematically mercenary writers[.]” (MF 2.560) Whatever his merits as a writer, Kline fell into being an agent; in his own words:
In 1923, I helped another writer, an old timer who had quit for eight years and with whom I had previously collaborated on songs and movie scenarios, and one musical comedy, to come back. He quickly told others of the help I had given him, and they told others, so presently, I had an agency, international in its scope. Soon I was selling the work of other writers as well as my own in foreign countries as well as the US. Presently, also, I was representing foreign publishers, literary agents and authors in this country, and similarly representing US publishers, authors and syndicates in foreign countries. (OAK 15.4)
The foreign angle was Kline’s United Sales Plan, as detailed by his friend and occasional client E. Hoffmann Price:
In addition to domestic marketing, Otis developed his Unified Sales Plan: every story which he accepted for handling in the States went to his foreign representatives. Although Otis did not by any means originate the foreign rights angle, he was a pioneer among his competitors in that he regarded every story as having foreign sales potential. He is not only increased his clients’ income—his approach won him new clients. (BOD 36, cf. OAK 5.9-12)
While much of the correspondence between Howard and Kline is no longer extant, the few letters that remain give an outline of their business relationship. Kline waived reading fees (a fee for reading a manuscript and trying to sell it), and worked on a straight commission: 10% of whatever the story sold for went to Kline. Kline, who was centered in Chicago, also had associates in other cities: if he couldn’t sell a story, himself, Kline would send it out to an agent. If they sold a story, they got a 5% commission, on top of Kline’s 10%. The checks generally went directly from the publisher to Kline, who subtracted his (and his associates’) commission, then cut a check to Robert E. Howard. So, for example, “Guns of the Mountain” (5,000 words) was sold to Action Stories by Kline’s associate V. I. Cooper for 1¢ per word, for a total of $50—of which Kline got $5, Cooper got $2.50, and Robert E. Howard received $42.50. (IMH 363) This practice was not always strictly followed, as magazines sometimes paid Howard directly, and he would cut a check for the commission to Kline. (IMH 372)



Thursday, June 15, 2017

Heroic’s Aside (The Writers Journey) by David J. West

“If I was wealthy I'd never do anything but poke around in ruined cities all over the world - and probably get snake-bit.” — Robert E. Howard letter to H.P. Lovecraft

I relate to that statement quite a lot. I’ve always been fascinated with history and it informs everything I do. It is likely enough that most of this post is just me projecting, so I’d appreciate if you just bear with me.
     There is just about no one I’d rather be able to sit down with for a spell and pick their brain than Robert E. Howard. His appreciation for art, poetry, history, adventure and sheer story-telling genius bowls me over.
     As big a fan as I am for Conan, Kull, Solomon Kane, Bran Mak Morn and the rest, I’ve got a very soft spot for the Horror Stories of REH. I reread the newer Del Rey collection often and even have the audio book on my phone for listening to favorite shorts on quick car trips. With that in mind, I’m also fascinated with the mysterious occult that is alluded to within stories like “The Black Stone,” “Dig Me No Grave,” and “The Dwellers Under the Tomb.”
     Enter John Kirowan, John Conrad, and John O’Donnell. Having three Johns must be a nod to reality being stranger than fiction because for three friends to have the same given name is just the right kind of Charles Fortianesque coincidence perfect for their stories.
     Used interchangeably to relate supernatural mysteries on everything from vampires to the lost race, we get to follow along with these members of the Wanderer’s Club and share in their wonder and grim discoveries.
     Now, I’ve heard/read people talk about Conan and Kull being a mirror image of Howard for this or that reason, Breckenridge Elkins too, and I can see merit in all those comparisons for various reasons. However, none of them were quite in the exact self-same era as Howard himself. However, Kirowan, Conrad, and O’Donnell are and I can’t help but wonder how much of their mystic travels and research are things Howard would have liked himself—to have been able to do himself—if the means and change in familial circumstances enabled him.
     We know he loved to read and visit historic places. Because of this, in different circumstances, he might have been a member of the Wanderer’s Club. Life being what it is, we all have family duties and financial woes, so where is a dreamer to turn? To the written page in order to escape, travel, and create that wondrous ‘What if.’ And some dreams being made up of nightmare, we, of course, get terror with some of those travels. (I borrowed that from KEW)
     What book reader wouldn’t appreciate, nay want, the very same collection of strange tomes and curious relics described in Conrad’s library? I’ve done what I can to recreate that myself, though I have had no luck in procuring any copy of Von Juntz’s works. Perhaps if I could get a hold of Tussmann’s?
     Rereading the fragment of Kirowan and Conrad, “The House,” and relaying the history of Justin Geoffrey, I could not help but wonder how much what Howard thought played with his own otherworldly nuances, making him so much different than others in Cross Plains. Every line by Howard about the poet as touched or mad is a reflection, to me anyway, of Howard’s own view of himself; an in-joke perhaps more for himself than any reader. It is here that I may simply be projecting, because as a writer myself that is what I see when I read those lines.
     If I could converse with the master himself, these are the questions I’d ask him. I’d also let him know that I owe him a great debt, and say, “Thank You,” for allowing me to accompany you on these journeys into heroic mystery and wonder. I’m eternally grateful.
__________________________
About the Author:

David J. West is the author of Scavengers: A Porter Rockwell Adventure (Dark Trails Saga Vol. 1)Heroes of the Fallen, Weird Tales of Horror, and The Mad Song. He has an affinity for history, action-adventure, fantasy, westerns and pulp fiction horror blended with a sharp knife and served in a dirty glass.

Before becoming an award-winning poet, novelist, and songwriter he was vagabonding all over North America sampling native fauna for brunch. When he isn’t writing he enjoys traveling and visiting ancient ruins with intent on finding their lost secrets or at the very least getting snake bit. He collects swords, fine art and has a library of some seven thousand books. He currently lives in Utah with his wife and children.