Bill Ward and I are starting our read through of the Del Rey Robert E. Howard collection The Bloody Crown of Conan. This week we’re discussing “The People of the Black Circle.” We hope you’ll join in!
I’ve gotten a late start today so I’m going to have to keep things short. That doesn’t mean I’ll waste your time, though. I have a couple of writing links I thought would be of use.
First, Mary Robinette Kowal has a doubly interesting post. First, it breaks down that whole “why am I not writing” question and then diagnoses it by symptom. It’s dead-on accurate, including solution.
And then she goes on to discuss diagnosing depression. Seeing as how it’s a common problem amongst us artistic types, this, too, bears a close look.
Second, J.H. Moncrieff take a look at the problems behind the simple saying “Writer’s Write.” Well, yeah, if you’re going to be a writer, you have to write. Except sometimes you don’t. Even as enormously prolific a writer as Robert E. Howard didn’t write ALL the time, as much as it seems like he must have, given the tremendous amount of stories he wrote in his short life time. Every now and then he’d stop writing and read or research voraciously, or go off and do other things. He called this “filling the well” because he knew writers didn’t create in a vacuum. The well has to be replenished.
Moncrieff suggests that we need to be kind to ourselves when we’re not meeting our own impossible expectations. Here’s to that.
Bill and I have been exchanging notes about what to read next following The Coming of Conan. After tackling a whole pile of Lord Dunsany texts and a big stack of Fritz Leiber’s Lankhmar adventures we were struck both times by fatigue from reading work by just one writer. We’re not sure we’ll feel that way with REH because many of those Conan stories yet before us are the most sophisticated and polished.
And that’s why we’ve decided to keep on going through the rest of them, even though, as Bill pointed out in one of our recent reviews, most are a LOT longer. We might try splitting discussion of some of the lengthier yarns up over the course of a couple of weeks, but we’ll try not to do that. If the real world gets super busy, we might have to have a catch-up week where we discuss Conan comics or movies or something as we’re reading the next story.
Who has opposable thumbs and a story in Ghost in the Cogs, a steam powered ghost story anthology?
Well, me. Also some other fine and talented people, including my friend Liane Merciel. It’s the first time in years I’ve had a story published that didn’t feature Dabir and Asim or one of my Pathfinder characters. In this instance, it’s an alternate steampunk world with zeppelins and haunted temples and a sort of Robin Hood , Gentleman Jim, who adventures with his trusty second story gal Big Jane. They get into a scrape when they’re hired to steal a fabulous treasure that turns out to come with a few drawbacks.
I had a blast writing it and I might draft more in the same world with the same characters.
Anyway, I hope you’ll check out the book for all the stories, and if you do, I have fingers crossed that you’ll enjoy “The Ghost Pearl.”
Last week I dropped by The Once and Future Podcast to talk writing, gaming, Harold Lamb and other assorted fiction and nerd stuff with the incomparable Anton Stout. We had a great chat, and it’s a shame that Patrick Rothfuss has a hit out on him, because I’d like to get to know him better.
Anyway, the podcast is here. Hopefully I didn’t ramble too much. I talked a little about Dabir and Asim and my new Pathfinder novel, and a little about my writing process, and a little about my upcoming new series, and other things about gaming. And maybe I talked too much. Sometimes you give me a mic and I just won’t shut up…
I’m moving some older posts over from my original LiveJournal blog to this one, and ran across a long list of Hard Writing Lessons from 2007! Apparently I’d just turned over a manuscript to some beta readers and came back from the experience slapping my forehead. They found all kinds of problems. I don’t remember what they were, but I remember my profound sense of shame.
I THINK it was probably a novel that’s no longer in circulation, because 2007 pre-dates The Desert of Souls. Anyway, here’s a long note from younger Howard that still reads like good advice. I was pretty disappointed in myself when I wrote it! Clearly I hadn’t learned that other lesson yet, which is to be kind to yourself.
I’ve included a little bit of the preamble:
… I realize that all writers have different strengths and weaknesses, so a lot of this may not apply to you. It’s a list I wrote for me, and the issues I’m dealing with in my novel-in-progress at this time. I’ll post it here in the hope someone else can find my hard lessons instructive. I hope that I have the wisdom to do so myself!
Bill: One thing that struck me as fresh with “The Devil In Iron,” a story that reprises many familiar elements from the last handful of Conan stories, is that an antagonist’s plan to kill Conan is what sets the plot in motion. We haven’t seen that in a story since “The Phoenix on the Sword” and “The Scarlet Citadel,” two King Conan yarns where his importance to the larger Hyborian world is undeniable.
Howard: I ended up liking this one more than I was afraid I was, because I’d recalled that it was sort of a fix-up of elements we’d seen before. I do wish we saw more of Conan being a Kozak and having Kozak adventures, but, alas, we only hear about it and see his outfit.
While this is absolutely true in my experience, I’ve only recently developed a good strategy to fight this particular problem. (And no, I don’t usually hear that my books are stuffed full of boring scenes — I’ve just cut them, painfully, after lavishing attention on them.)
The trick is knowing when you’re having trouble because you just don’t feel like writing and when you’re having trouble because you’re bored with the scene. Unfortunately, when I was just beginning to develop the discipline to write I sometimes had to force myself to work even when I didn’t feel like it.
This being the first full week of National Novel Writing Month, I thought I’d start posting some of my hard learned writing lessons. One of these years I hope to join in, but once again I’m actually wrapping one up (last year I was feverishly revising one, and I think that was the case for the two years prior).
Regular visitors to the site, or any who’ve heard me speak in public, know that I like to repeat the lesson I found hardest to learn: know what every character wants before you start writing the scene. I still remind myself of that before I ever get to work.
Howard: In the essay that concludes the book, “Hyborian Genesis,” Robert E. Howard scholar Patrice Louinet gives the probable background of this tale, recounting how Howard had grown more and more interested in tales of the American Southwest. Apparently at about the time he wrote this he’d begun to exchange tales with writer August Derleth, and recounted to him the story of the abduction of Cythia Ana Parker by the Commanche. Louinet speculates that this story was the inspiration behind “Vale.”
Last week I wrote that “Vale” was a rejected Conan story, but in actuality there’s no record that it was ever submitted. It might be that REH himself understood it wasn’t up to snuff and never bothered to turn it over for consideration.