June 14, 2019

Howard Days 2019

Nicole and I arrived in Abilene around 6 o'clock. We had a quick dinner and then holed up in our hotel room, reading and drinking decaf. I was eager to finish up Mark Finn's 2nd edition of Blood and Thunder: The Life and Art of Robert E. Howard. I've attended Howard Days three times now; each time I read Mark's book en route on the various flights and during the various layovers. The first year I read the original Monkey Brain version, but now I read the REH Foundation edition, which is superior. I'm annoyed because my academic book went to press before I procured a copy of the 2nd edition, so references in my book are going to be to the first edition.

The next morning we woke up early and had breakfast. During breakfast I paged through Patrice's book, The Robert E. Howard Guide (Skelos). I really enjoy this book and loan it to my students when they voice interest in REH. Although the book presents itself as non-serious, I am still impressed by the analysis and speculation Patrice provides, particularly in the chapter surveying twenty stories that must be read. 

I then began polishing up my Glenn Lord Symposium paper. I made a minimalistic powerpoint consisting mostly of long quotes. My rules of thumb (I tell my students) for verbalized academic papers are few: (1) make sure they take no longer than 10 minutes to read (approximately 1800 words), make sure they are accompanied by a focused power point, and make sure they are read energetically. Otherwise, everyone will fall asleep. Also, remember, some people will fall asleep, and it's not an insult.

Nicole and I then drove from Abilene to Cross Plains and went straight to the panels. The first panel I saw was on writing about Robert E. Howard. It featured David C. Smith, Patrice Louinet, Bobby Derie, and Rob Roehm I was sad to learn that Mark Finn couldn't make it. He was listed as being on the panel. 

The panel was great. My lingering question was how does a writer strike a balance between diehard-fandom/scholarship and "just for fun" fan banter. We diehards can sometimes take the fun out of discussing this stuff, I think. How can we be ambassadors of Robert E. Howard while maintaining rigor? Patrice Louinet insightfully suggested to always keep one's audience in mind. Alas, it's difficult, sometimes, to get a clear sense of who one's audience is.

The next panel was the Glenn Lord Symposium.  Ralph Norris, Nicole, and I gave our papers. It was a pleasure meeting Ralph. I had trouble following his paper's argument but it seemed erudite and thoughtful. It's wonderful that an academic medievalist has turned his attention to Howard. I think Howard Days should have another Glenn Lord Panel. There are academics who would come but they need to have a legitimate "academic" venue, like the Symposium, in order to put in for travel reimbursement and academic service credit. Humanists are often quite poor and graduate students are poverty stricken. 

After that was the Foundation Awards. It's wonderful the foundation does this. The kind of work diehard fans and scholars do is often under-appreciated and sometimes feels thankless, so awards like this serve a useful incentivizing function. Nicole and I have been thinking about coming up with an award sponsored by The Dark Man, perhaps for best article or something like that.

After that we went back to the pavilion and shot the breeze. It felt a little empty considering Rusty Burke, Mark Finn, Frank Coffman, Karen Kahoutek, and others were missing, but it still was wonderful. Within a few minutes I was talking to some newcomers about the nature of the 1930s pulp magazine marketplace. Where else?

Fast forward to the banquet: David C. Smith's speech was excellent. I am so enthused that he emphasized Howard as a literary artist. Often I find myself so intrigued by Howard's life and times that I give short shrift to the centrality of his literary artistry. 

Sad to say, after the banquet, we went back to Abilene, to the hotel room (last year I stayed and drank beer into the night). At the hotel, I read an Oxford UP book by Belinda Jack, Reading: A Very Short Introduction (2019). If you're interested, I reviewed it on Goodreads. It is an excellent micro history of reading, from Sumerian clay tablets to the Kindle.

The next day Nicole and I didn't return to Cross Plains until around lunch. Scott Valeri, David C. Smith, Nicole and I had burgers at a local restaurant. We talked about all sorts of things: the weirdness of academic literary criticism, the history of pulp fandom, fantasy fiction and the influence of D&D in the 1980s, and more. These great conversations are why I attend Howard Days.

Next, there were panels. There was one on "sword and sorcery," with Jason M. Waltz, David C. Smith, Dierk G√ľnther, and me. It was a great panel, I think, with David taking the lead. We touched on a lot of undecideds. The central idea was that sword and sorcery is infamously difficult to define, and this was captured succinctly in the panels inability to come to a consensus on whether or not Solomon Kane is a sword and sorcery character or not. Jeff Shanks contributed as well by sharing talking about the difficulty of writing an article about sword and sorcery for Gary Hoppenstand's anthology, Pulp Fiction in the 1920s and 1930s (Salem, 2013).

After that there was a panel on the future of Robert E. Howard. Nicole and I talked a little about The Dark Man: Journal of Robert E. Howard and Pulp Studies, its evolving status at our university (Christopher Newport University), and our hopes for it in the future. Paul Herman talked about the Foundation's future plans and a representative from Cabinet Entertainment, Michael Jacobson, talked about the future of Conan.

Nicole and I then went back to our hotel room for some quiet recovery. Like most deep readers, I'm an introverted, socially anxious person. All that socializing and talking--lunch and two panels--pretty much wiped me out. After a bit, we returned to Cross Plains, enjoyed the annual poetry reading, and ended the night chatting with people at the pavilion as the darkness crept in. Again, it felt a little empty but good conversation was had by all.

I'm really looking forward to returning next year. There was palpable energy. 2020 is going to be a great year for REH.