Wednesday, June 8, 2011

Wordcraft -- Writing advice from a barbarian, part II

(Continued from discussion drawn from quotations of Robert E. Howard)

Mr. Howard, we were speaking last week of your writing techniques when we ran out of time. I’d like to continue that discussion. Do you outline your stories?

 Absolutely. Oh, once in a while, I put a sheet of paper in my typewriter and start out and get where I’m going with no outline. . . (But) I don’t want to leave the wrong impression. Most of the yarns I write are planned very carefully, and they’re complete with a detailed outline.

How many stories do you write -- two or three a month?
Two or three a week, depending on the length. . . Writing is pounding out one damn yarn after another, pounding them out whether you want to or not?

Many of your stories have a historical basis. Your friend H.P. Lovecraft --
One of the greatest writers of our time.
I’m sure he’d be pleased to hear that. He’s mentioned how impressed he was with your knowledge of history and your ability, as he put it, to “mentally inhabit past ages.” How do you manage that?
A man remembers his past life; I remember my past lives. Just as a normal individual recalls the shapes that were him in childhood, boyhood, and youth, so I recall the shapes that have been (Robert Howard) in forgotten ages.

Do you believe in reincarnation, as that seems to suggest?
Why this memory is mine I can not say, any more than I can explain the myriad other phenomena of nature which daily confront me and every other mortal.

It seems lately that you’ve developed an interest in Westerns. Why is that?
I love (the West). I have always felt that if I ever accomplished anything worthwhile in the literary field, it would be with stories dealing with the central and western frontier.

That makes sense, given that so many of your characters, even Conan in a way, seem to be outlaws. What draws you to that type of character?
Your real gunman was always a man of keen perceptions and a high order of intelligence. It was not merely physical superiority that made such men. . . .super- warriors. It was their razor-edged intelligence, their unerring judgment of human nature, and their nature knowledge of human psychology.

So you’re interested in psychology? I thought you told your friend Miss Price (Novalyne Price Ellis) that writers who try to explore a character’s psychology “ain’t worth a damn.”
(Abashed laughter.) I’m always shooting my damn mouth off.

What kind of reader do you have in mind when you write a story?
The people who read my stuff want to get away from this modern, complicated world with its hypocrisy, its cruelty, its dog eat dog life.

But your stories are so violent. You call that an escape?
The civilization we live in is a hell of a lot more sinister than the time I write about. . . War is no longer a contest between men. It’s a contest of bombs.

What kind of research do you do to find markets for your stories?
I read magazines I want to write for. . . After I read a lot of issues of a magazine to get the feel of what the readers want and of the things the editors look for, I sit down at my trusty old typewriter and bang out a yarn I think fits the pattern.

One last question. For someone so young, with so much ahead of him, why take your own life?
I don’t want to live to be old. I want to die when my time comes, quickly and suddenly, in the full tide of my strength and health.

But surely a man of your intelligence --
It is not the intellect (man) boasts that bids him live, but the blind, black, unreasoning beast-instinct. (I have) a fear of the falseness of all men’s dreams and idolatries.
But Mr. Howard --
 (He stands abruptly to signal the end of our interview.) All fled, all done, so lift me on the pyre. The feast is over and the lamps expire.


Howard quotations from One Who Walked Alone, by Novalyne Price Ellis; letters quoted in The Best of Robert E. Howard, vol. 1, published by DelRey Books, and The End of the Trail: Western Stories, published by University of Nebraska Press; story quotations from Conan the Conqueror (original title: The Hour of the Dragon), The Garden of Fear, and Nekht Semerkeht; untitled poem quoted in The Best of Robert E. Howard, vol. 1.


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