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