Sunday, August 27, 2023

Ace Frehley, Nashua Center for the Arts (Aug. 2023)--a review

We had good seats... up close and personal with Ace Frehley.
Wildly unexpected: Ace Frehley played a cover of Thin Lizzy’s “Emerald” at the Nashua Center for the Arts last night. But I’ve come to expect the unexpected out of Ace.

The former KISS lead guitarist has always been a loose cannon. That’s what led to his departure from the band; Ace quit in 1982 but his time was coming to an end regardless. He loved booze and drugs too much, lacked discipline and seriousness, and was unreliable. Which of course put him at direct odds with the businessmen and defenders of the KISS brand, Paul and Gene.

Ace went on to have a moderately successful solo career with Frehley’s Comet, famously reunited with the band for a reunion tour in 1996, and left again in another huff in 2002. In his wild biography No Regrets Ace sends most of his ire in the direction of the controlling, sex-addicted Gene Simmons; today he is openly quarreling with Paul Stanley, who himself stooped to Ace’s level by denigrating Ace’s playing and professionalism (despite the fact that Paul is openly using vocal tracks to cover up his shot voice).

It's rather pathetic, watching the infighting of 70-year-old men who hit the equivalent of the lottery in the 70s but can’t seem to get beyond their own egos and let the past remain there.

But to be honest, it’s also fucking fun, in a watching a train wreck from afar, guiltily, kind of way.

When you’re a deep fan of KISS--the kind who goes beyond the music and explores their crazy history, the rise and fall and glorious return, the nonsense of albums like Unmasked and The Elder and weird transient members like Vinnie Vincent, and all the merchandise spinoffs and now public beefs and shit-stirring—it’s like participating in a reality TV show spanning 50 years, with dozens of spinoffs and subplots. It’s endless and endlessly fascinating.

There aren’t really a lot of good guys.

KISS (the current incarnation) does not precisely even play concerts anymore, but put on a highly choreographed performance; everything is calculated and planned. Zero spontaneity. Yeah, Gene/Paul/Tommy/Eric put on a much bigger, brighter, and more colorful show than Ace, and KISS sounds much better, but it’s plastic. For almost 20 years now, perhaps since the “farewell” tour of 2001, it’s been essentially the same thing; the last unique show I remember KISS putting on was Psycho Circus and its ill-conceived 3D effects. 

Ace has slouched along with his own solo career since the mid-80s. He’s never had a good voice, never taken care of himself physically (though he says he’s been sober since 2006), BUT he does his brand of loose, boozy rock well, and has surrounded himself with a talented band including three dudes who can all sing, and share the vocal duties and take the load off what is clearly at this stage a very frail Frehley.

So KISS isn't great these days, and neither is Ace. But I still love them both.

Concerts have always for me been about good times with friends, and unique experiences, first, and the music, while important, is second. Last night was a fun experience, and the music was OK too. It checked the boxes for a good time. And it was.

Ace busted out a lot of old KISS tunes including “Parasite,” “Detroit Rock City,” “Cold Gin,” “Shock Me,” “Deuce” and “Love Gun.” He played many solo hits, including (of course) “New York Groove,” but also “Rip It Out,” “Rock Soldiers,” “Snowblind,” “Speedin’ Back to My Baby” and “Hard Times.”

I think I got them all, but I wasn’t taking notes, either.

Oh yeah, and “Emerald,” which was a pleasant surprise

Wayne and I. 
The usual weird Ace-ness accompanied all of this. Ace slagged Paul once; Ace admitted he can’t sing Love Gun, “but neither can Paul” before turning over the vocals to his drummer. He told a weirdly placed story about falling down his stairs in his own home in a sort of half apology for not being as spry on stage (he never has been). An odd fedora wearing promoter who resembled a faux pro wrestling manager lurked along the side of the stage taking pictures, and at the end of the show held open a bathrobe for Ace to step into. 

Ace shared interesting short anecdotes about old KISS songs (conceiving the riff for Cold Gin on the subway, Gene admitting not knowing what lyrics of Deuce meant, etc.). And of course he played a smoke show solo.

Nashua is a little rough around the edges but the main drag was loaded with breweries, restaurants, and pubs. We watched one overserved dude make an ass of himself before moving on.

Fun stuff, quirky, unique. Another one for the record books. 

My friend Wayne and I both remarked that this may be the last time Ace comes this way, based on his condition, but one never knows. He is after all, a wild card, and may yet have an Ace in his deck. OK, that's enough card metaphors for one day.

Friday, August 25, 2023

Watership Down and the importance of stories

We tell stories to give life meaning. Stories show us how to behave, and teach us what matters, through the power of narrative.

Stories convey Truth. Lacking a shared set of stories we can believe in, life is cacophonous noise.

Some stories are hard to hear, or don’t end well. But the same can be said for some aspects of life. I am drawn time and again to stories of heroism, of hard struggle in dark places against long odds. 

I think these are the best stories, and the ones that matter most.

This is one reason why I keep coming back to Watership Down. I recently completed either a third or fourth re-reading of this 1972 classic by Richard Adams. As with all the great books I’ve read, I learned something new, again, in its familiar pages.

Great books meet you where you are in life. This time Watership Down met me in a new place, at age 50, with my children now full grown and headed off to college in the fall, leaving my wife and I empty-nesters for the first time. My girls are on their way to building lives, and their story has a lot to unfold. My life is still building, but I’ve shifted, subtly, from chasing a career and building a family, to passing on the wisdom I’ve accumulated. To telling them about my story, in the hopes I can convey a little wisdom and improve their chances of making better choices and building better lives. 

So yes, this re-reading of Watership Down taught me about the power of stories.

The Rabbits tell each other stories of El-ahrairah, a great hero out of legend. He is the ideal, but because he is a rabbit, not a man, he is the ultimate rabbit ideal. A master thief, because rabbits steal from gardens. A prey item for a thousand hunters, because rabbits are relatively weak. But these deficiencies are offset with his great gifts of cunning, and great speed, driven by the power of his back legs.

El-ahrariah is a hero. Not without flaw; he sometimes makes poor choices, and suffers the consequences. He often falls victim to his own pride, and overconfidence. But he never gives up, and against every fiber of his being confronts the Black Rabbit of Inle’, and offers up his own life to secure the safety of his people. It’s a lesson in sacrifice for the next generation, which in the end is what being a good parent is all about. 

The Rabbits tell the stories of El-ahrairah again and again, because they give their brief and often terrifying lives meaning. And something to hope for. His stories inspire Hazel, the hero of Watership Down (one among many), to lead his warren on a long journey through many dangers to safety, beyond the reach of the careless destroyer man.

Eventually El-ahrairah passes on, just as Hazel and Bigwig pass away. But their stories remain, and inspire, if we continue to pass them on. 

Even if El-ahrairah is just a myth, his is a story worth believing in.

Tuesday, August 22, 2023

Lord of a Shattered Land: A review

Hanuvar has lost it all—his land, his people, and his family—following a disastrous military defeat. Narrowly escaping his own death and presumed dead by his enemies, the exiled former General vows to find the scattered remnants of his surviving people and set them free. 

And kick some ass along the way.

This is the premise of Howard Andrew Jones’ new sword-and-sorcery novel Lord of a Shattered Land (2023, Baen Books). A novel which is almost a short story collection. In it we follow Hanuvar on a sprawling series of episodic adventures that can be read and enjoyed as standalone tales (several were published as short stories appearing in Tales from the Magician’s Skull and elsewhere), or as a cohesive novel, the disparate adventures following sequentially in service of an overarching plot.

As with any collection I enjoyed some entries better than others. There are 3-4 terrific “stories” in here that easily stand among the best of the recent explosion of S&S fiction. My favorites included “The Warrior’s Way,” “The Second Death of Hanuvar,” “The Crypt of Stars,” and “An Accident of Blood.” 

Lord of a Shattered Land serves as a promising template for how sword-and-sorcery can work in a longer form. Although its sweet spot is the short story and novella, S&S can and has proven adaptable to longer treatments—see the likes of Fritz Leiber’s The Swords of Lankhmar, or Karl Edward Wagner’s Bloodstone. Can it be done in a form familiar to fans of epic fantasy—3 or 5 thick volumes? We’ll see. But Lord of a Shattered Land is a promising start.

Jones wears some obvious influences on his sleeve. The setting is sword and sandal, as Hanuvar was inspired by the historical general Hannibal and the cultural and technological milieu shares many similarities with ancient Rome. The style evokes Harold Lamb: Briskly paced storytelling, and emphasis on plot over character. The final chapter is an interesting/ambitious look into Hanuvar’s mind, as told through a fever-dream sequence.

Other influences may be less apparent. Hanuvar’s wistful remembrances of Volanus and its fallen cities of white towers reminded me of Tolkien and the lost cities of the First Age of Middle-Earth.

Hanuvar is a truly heroic hero, and in this sense strays outside some of the stricter sword and sorcery definitions. He's a patriot, quite willing to sacrifice his own life to rescue the lives of his people. Jones has billed Hanuvar as some combination of Captain America and James Bond. I find him much more Bond; extremely competent but quite ruthless, a thinking man's fighter, aging but still deadly in hand-to-hand combat and very willing to take lives. Not a “hero” in the mold of an unhinged Mad Max, but very much in control, not after bloodthirsty vengeance but liberation. Not fueled by wine, women, and coin, but the hope he may one day find his daughter alive.

Does this somehow exclude Lord of a Shattered Land from the ranks of sword-and-sorcery? Of course not, unless you’re a pedant. Merely because many historical S&S protagonists were mercenary or self-serving does not mean all were, or that current authors should feel obligated to cleave to someone else’s definition of S&S. Embrace your influences and work unburdened by the past, as Jones does here.

Back to the review.

Some will find Lord of a Shattered Land not to their tastes, depending on the flavor of S&S they enjoy reading. For example, it lacks the primal barbaric spirit of Conan, or the otherworldly weirdness of CAS’ slice of S&S. Hanuvar is very much a civilized man and the world of Lord of a Shattered Land feels civilized, albeit with weird incursions and some cool monsters. But always the baseline is familiar, inspired as it is by history. So if you’re after the red-handed barbarism of Conan or Kull, or the weirdness of "The Isle of the Torturers" or the dreamlike underworld of C.L. Moore’s "Black God’s Kiss," you won’t get these here, precisely.

And in that regard Lord of a Shattered Land did not check all my S&S boxes. Some of the stories don’t match the heightened urgency of others, leading to some unevenness, as you’d expect in any collection. 

But I nevertheless greatly enjoyed it, overall. And what you do get is a well-realized, quasi historical world that feels real, and lived in. Lord of a Shattered Land is very well written, moving in places, even elevated. I have not read widely of HAJ, though I have read some, including The Desert of Souls, and in this volume it feels like he’s come into his own as a writer. I was impressed by Jones’ authorial range. One chapter is outright humor, brushing up to slapstick (“The Autumn Horse”), while others are dark and violent. Still others are contemplative, and sad. 

This is a journey we’re on, after all, and the figure we’re following has seen a lot, and lost much. But remains unbroken.

Minor spoiler: Lord of a Shattered Land offers no resolution; Jones has already announced the series will to run to (five!) books, so we can’t and shouldn’t expect Hanuvar to find his people and set them free in his volume. At the end the land is still very much shattered, and the people of Volanus still scattered. It will be interesting to see if Jones can pull off something this ambitious. But he’s well on his way with his most ambitious and successful work to date.

If you’re a fan of sword-and-sorcery, pick this up. For the sake of supporting the subgenre, but also for supporting tales well-told.

Tuesday, August 1, 2023

Assessing the sword-and-sorcery "glut"

Jason Ray Carney recently weighed in on an issue that’s been on my mind, too: The glut of new sword-and-sorcery fiction. Asks Jason:

Because of the glut of new sword and sorcery, I find myself buying new books with a wistful sense of "One day I'll find time to read this." Am I alone?

No, you’re not alone Jason.

I’m feeling a little bloated myself. 

I’ve recently read A Book of Blades, New Edge #0, Worlds Beyond Worlds, a handful of issues of Tales from the Magician’s Skull, and Sometime Lofty Towers. Not all brand new, but new enough.

But I haven’t made a dent, and the titles just keep coming. 

Sitting unread in my office are:

Die by the Sword

Multiple additional copies of Tales from the Magician’s Skull

Lord of a Shattered Land

War on Rome

More are on the way. I participated in the recent kickstarter for Swords from the Shadows, so I expect that anthology in the mail soon. I also backed New Edge and issue no. 1 is well under way. I know I’ll be backing Neither Beg Nor Yield next. Baen is ramping up its act, as is Titan.

I feel guilty that I haven’t bought A Book of Blades vol. 2 (yet). I’d like to get more volumes of Swords and Sorceries: Tales of Heroic Fantasy, as I greatly enjoyed vol. 1, but I have to pump the brakes somehow. I’ve got two daughters in college.

And on top of everything else I’m way behind on Whetstone. 

It does feel rather like a glut.

Is this a bad thing? Again I agree with Jason; while “glut” is not a particularly positive descriptor, it does also mean we have a plethora of choices. 

Just a few short years ago it was hard to find any new sword-and-sorcery, save for the likes of online stories from Heroic Fantasy Quarterly, Swords and Sorcery magazine, and the occasional title from DMR Books. It was a dark time, with glints of light in the stygian gloom. Parched S&S fans were starved for a cool drink.

But now the drink feels if not like a firehose, then a 40 oz. big gulp. It seems like new kickstarters are popping up every fortnight, announcing new anthologies and projects.

In comparison with trad fantasy, or YA, the number of new titles we’re seeing in S&S would probably not qualify as a blip. But those markets are not S&S. They’re far, far larger, and can bear the output. When you’re playing in a small pool this flood of titles is a lot.

Again, I stress that this is so far from a crisis that it’s ridiculous to even think that way. It might not even be a problem. If you have plenty of 1) expendable cash and 2) time, and love to read, it’s great. If you lack either cash, or sufficient time, less so.

If you’re a publisher trying to make a living the glut is a problem, unless the market keeps expanding. Because right now we’re short on readers. And that is the real issue.

Unless you grow the pool of readers by 20x (or preferably, 200x) no writer or publisher is going to be able to make enough to sustain a full-time living writing S&S. Here is an interesting article from 2016 on self-publishing and the kinds of numbers you need to make a middle-class income. I doubt any new anthology is moving these kinds of numbers. 

The issue is definitely not the passionate community of creators, including writers but also artists and editors. Everyone who wants to write or create, should. But they also should know they are publishing in a very small community.

Perhaps I’m using the wrong barometer for health, and that readership and revenue aren’t the real indicators, but quantity and quality of output, and passion of the community. But again quantity is a problem: when there are this many new titles in such a small community some will go unread. Assessing quality is also difficult: Conversations will be shorter, and shallower, as we quickly switch focus to the next new title. And I’m not sure that’s great for discussion and thoughtful reviews. There isn’t much talk over what makes for good writing in this space.

Back to optimism and possibility: One way I can see this evolving is editors raising the bar for the stories they’ll accept, and getting more specific about what types of stories they want, thematically or stylistically. New Edge is doing this with its lean into diversity and inclusiveness; Neither Beg Nor Yield with a never surrender attitude.

Maybe one day we’ll see a “Year’s Best” anthology that we can hand to a new reader and say, “start here.”

All this is coming at a time where I’m feeling a bit burned out on sword-and-sorcery, and reading horror and memoir at the moment. Make no mistake, I’m a lifelong reader and nothing will extinguish that flame. I’ll be back. But I need a pause to get caught up.

Long story short, I’ll eventually get to Lord of a Shattered Land. Soon, I promise.

Friday, July 28, 2023

Remembering Manilla Road's Mark Shelton, heavy metal bard of sword-and-sorcery

Ben Davidson of Conan the Barbarian fame? Nope, Mark Shelton.
Yesterday marked the 5 year anniversary of the death of Mark Shelton, founder and lead vocalist/guitarist for Manilla Road. The most sword-and-sorcery musician the world has known. 

Wednesday, July 19, 2023

Part II of S&S interview video up on YouTube

Part II of a video interview I did with Jan, The Brilliance of S&S, is now up on YouTube. Check it out here.

Part I is available here

I enjoyed chatting with Jan and love what he did with the interview and accompanying visuals. Good stuff.

Saturday, July 8, 2023

1979 Ken Kelly heroic fantasy calendar, month-by-month

Let's look inside, shall we? And return to an age undreamed of ....1979.
Among my prized finds at 2023 Howard Days was this bad boy. A 1979 Ken Kelly Robert E. Howard Heroic Fantasy Calendar. 

Although it came sealed I’ve been dying to open it. But only very lightly sealed, as I recently discovered, and definitely a reseal job. Which made opening it easy. I used a fine knife and cracked through some weak adhesive, leaving the envelope undamaged.

And the glory was revealed. Check out the pics below.

I’m not a collector. I like owning cool shit to display and read, and put my hands on. Life is about enjoying things. We can’t take it with us. The work of the late Kelly (1946-2022) was not meant to be kept under wraps and passed along from investor to investor.

This calendar is in fantastic shape, unmarked and unused and crisp. I’ll keep it that way and handle with the utmost care, but have no desire to keep it hermetically sealed and resell at profit. It’s now going to be displayed on my wall, as it should be.

And its practical applications are not over. In addition to full-color images of Howardian heroes of heroic proportions and the glorious contrasts of light and dark that highlight the best of Kelly’s work, the website tells me that this calendar will be accurate again in 2029, so there’s that, too. I’ll plan to leave it up for at least the next six years until I can use it to plan my summer vacations.

And of course, a centerfold. 

Wednesday, July 5, 2023

Talking sword-and-sorcery on YouTube and my current reading

Prior to my vacation to the Outer Banks I was invited to speak with Jan, a cool dude from the UK with a YouTube channel that covers pulp fiction and other related topics. We had a lengthy recorded session about sword-and-sorcery (of course!) on which he did a lot of cool post-editing, including adding tons of interesting visuals and cool transitions. It makes for nice viewing rather than staring at my unattractive face.

We cover what sword-and-sorcery is, its defining characteristics, the Lovecraft-Howard exchange of letters in A Means to Freedom, and the need for re-enchantment. Stuff you probably already know about if you’re a fan of S&S or have read Flame and Crimson, but otherwise might find interesting.

The final video is here. Enjoy!


Despite the above video I’m on an S&S break at the moment. I enjoy reading outside of the subgenre and needed a palate cleanser, so recently read The Silence of the Lambs (Thomas Harris, love the film but had never read the novel until now), Gov’t Cheese (non-fiction/memoir by Steven Pressfield, author of Gates of Fire and The War of Art) and am midway through a re-read of Watership Down. The first two were wonderful reads, and as for the third I’m reminded why it’s an acknowledged classic. It probably would fall in my top 10 books of all-time, should such a list exist.

Sunday, July 2, 2023

A very metal 50th birthday


I celebrated a milestone birthday this past week at the Outer Banks, Corolla NC. This was not conceived as a "Murph's 50th"; we and three other families had been planning a summer trip as a “farewell to all that” sendoff for four daughters headed off to college in the fall. Four families about to become empty-nesters, and we wanted to give us and the kids something to remember. After many planning meetings and hard scheduling sessions we finally landed on the week of June 24, which happens to coincide with the day I turned 50 (b. June 26, 1973).

Which worked out beautifully. Geddy Lee fruitlessly prayed for time to stand still, recognizing that children inevitably grow up, and old friends have a tendency to grow older. Still, there was no better way to celebrate getting old than together.

16 people. One enormous (10K square feet, 3 floors, 8 bedrooms) rented house just a short walk to the beach. Imagine a seven-day party among great friends with whom you’ve watched your children grow. Folks with whom I’ve spent many memorable weekends, but never something like this. 

We saw wild horses, ascended a lighthouse, jet skied, played mini-golf with buckets of beer, went bar-hopping to the Sunset Grill in Duck, and beyond. Walked the beach, saw sunrises and sunsets. 

And I was treated to a surprise birthday party for the ages.

On Monday us six dudes (Steve, Rob, Brian, buddies all about my age, plus two sons) hit a local taproom, a pay by the ounce joint (amazing concept BTW). Which was awesome in its own right, but proved to be a ruse to get me out of the house. While we were out, the 10 gals back home went to town decorating and getting dressed up for a metal party.

As we pulled into the driveway I noticed odd decor on the front door. Skulls, devil horns, you know the rest. My metal senses were tingling. The door opened and I could hear KISS’ “Rock and Roll All Nite” blasting on the third floor. 

And walked up to this.

It was bedlam. Metal karaoke. We sang Whitesnake, Judas Priest, KISS, Poison, Iron Maiden, AC/DC, Twisted Sister, you name it, we queued it up. I was treated to a 10-minute pre-recorded video with wonderful tributes from friends, my wife, and, apropos to the occasion, KISS guitarist Tommy Thayer. Since my daughter uploaded it to YouTube I’m including it here; feel free to watch even though its personal (mother, brother, sister, wife, daughters, others, referencing stuff from my childhood and you will miss many of the references). I may or may not have dabbed a tear. Must have been the hairspray.

My wife Susanne, master planner and organizer, knocked this out of the park.  

The party continued on the outside decks. At this point our neighbors couldn’t help but take notice and they crowded their decks to watch the nonsense. A couple party goers jumped up on a picnic table and we had everyone singing “Rock You Like a Hurricane” and “Cum on Feel the Noize.”

As dark descended we walked to the beach rolling the karaoke speaker with us, blasting “Turbo Lover” and illuminating the boardwalk with strobe lights. Sang Whitesnake and Bon Jovi with the waves crashing behind us. Then came back home. 

Later that night I started a conga line that ended up in the swimming pool. One of the ladies forgot her phone in her back pocket. We stuffed a hot tub and kept the tunes and booze flowing. It ended with the cops coming out (noise complaint, justified) that finally ended things just short of midnight. Probably for the best since the celebrations started at 9 a.m.

We might be getting older but we still rock.

I’m officially an old fart, but also officially the luckiest man on the planet.

The wife and I... married 26 years, still metal.

Friday, June 16, 2023

Neither Beg Nor Yield, and other S&S developments

Keith Taylor was one of the most talented authors to come out of the “second wave” of sword-and-sorcery in the mid-late 70s. Upon a re-read of his wonderful novel Bard I was inspired to get a hold of Keith for a two-part Q&A for DMR Books.

You can read part one here and part two here, which cover his literary inspirations, early writing career and breaking into Fantastic Stories, then Swords Against Darkness, and eventually landing a book deal at Ace. And much more. 

Keith is not only still writing, but is due to appear in a new anthology I’m excited about—Rogue Blade Entertainment’s Neither Beg Nor Yield.

The past couple months have seen the announcement and/or publication of several new S&S anthologies. I recently purchased DMR Books’ Die by the Sword, which is getting some good press and has made it to the top of my TBR. The dudes over at Rogues in the House published a Book of Blades which I bought and enjoyed, and are planning a Book of Blades vol. 2. And I recently backed Swords in the Shadows, which leans hard into S&S’s horror roots. This last one should be shipping soon.

I’m awash in contemporary S&S but there’s always room for more.

Neither Beg Nor Yield is going all-in on attitude. With Judas Priest’s Hard as Iron on the landing page and the explicit inspiration for the anthology’s title you kind of know what you’re in for. 

Can we pause for a minute and remind ourselves that Conan kicks ass, and that’s why we love him? That he never begs nor asks for quarter, and doesn’t stop until he claims the crown? There is a spirit to (some/most) S&S that speaks to the unconquerable spirit in us.

Editor Jason Waltz is seeking to capture that attitude with his latest and evidently last anthology, his publishing swan song. He previously published the anthologies Return of the Sword (2008), an important early title in the S&S revival, Rage of the Behemoth (2019), and others. Waltz later under the non-profit imprint Rogue Blades Foundation published the likes of REH Changed My Life and most recently Hither Came Conan (in which I have an essay).

That’s a solid 15 year run but it ends with Neither Beg Nor Yield.

Jason tells me that he drew inspiration for the title while writing the foreword to Lyn Perry's recent Swords & Heroes, in which he cuts through all of the various bandying definitions of S&S (including my own) and boils it down to the powerful heroic spirit, the “indomitable will to survive.”


There will be a total of 17 stories in the collection, and possibly an 18th if a stretch goal is reached. We know at least one is from Keith Taylor, we’ll see who else lands a credit.

Sign up here to be notified when the kickstarter launches.

Tuesday, June 13, 2023

Cormac McCarthy, 1933-2023

I want to be with you.
You cant.
You cant. You have to carry the fire.
I dont know how to. Yes you do.
Is it real? The fire?
Yes it is.
Where is it? I dont know where it is.
Yes you do. It’s inside you. It was always there.
I can see it.

--Cormac McCarthy, The Road

Sunday, June 4, 2023

Blog slowdown/cryptic book announcement/life news

It’s happening again. I’m afraid the blog is going to slow down quite a bit in the coming months. But for good reason.

I’ve not only started but am now confident enough to announce that a new book will be forthcoming. When, I don’t know, but it’s fully outlined and I’m perhaps 25-30% of the way through the first draft.

I hate to disappoint my tens of regular readers, but it has nothing to do with sword-and-sorcery, or literature/literary analysis of any sort. It’s a biographical project, capturing a few formative decades of my life and a piece of popular culture that was and remains very important to me. 

That’s about all I want to say right now.

If I go long stretches without posting you’ll know why. I fully expect this second book to go much quicker than Flame and Crimson, although it has presented a very different set of obstacles, including a test of my memory and my ability to tell a compelling narrative. I hope I am able to write the book that I would want to read. I’m giving it my best. But after some tenuous beginnings it’s beginning to catch fire.

All that said I will continue to post here from time to time as the spirit dictates.


In other news my daughter Libby graduated from high school yesterday. That now puts Sue and I in the category of very proud but financially strapped parents thanks to two daughters attending college in the fall. But we got some great news when Libby was awarded the district’s top scholarship. It was announced at the graduation ceremony and was an utter surprise, to quote Tolkien a “sudden joyous turn” that will greatly help us with her tuition and reduce the amount of debt she’ll ultimately graduate with.


I also want to talk a bit about my seemingly newfound role as a public speaker. I definitely did not see this coming.

This past week I was asked by Libby’s friend and Pentucket class president to give a speech at the senior banquet, an end of year celebration for graduating seniors and their parents. I was allotted just five minutes (what can be said in five minutes?) and my request was for something meaningful and funny. Somehow I managed to deliver that with a speech about friendships, and how they must be cultivated and tended like a garden, lest they wither. It went more like 6-7 minutes and was very well received.

This followed hard on the heels of a 30-minute keynote session I gave in front of a crowd of some 1300-1500 people at a conference in the second week of May. This one I also had no choice but to accept; it was for former longtime colleague who died from breast cancer at age 48. The association (one I used to run) started a new award in her honor, and I worked with her longer and closer than anyone else. It fell to me as my task to sum up her life and impact, and expound upon broader lessons on living life with authenticity. Something Melissa did every day that I knew her.

I have to say I don’t much enjoy public speaking and find it very nerve-wracking and fear-inducing. But I also discovered that I seem to have developed (through many exposures and practice) some faculty for it. After each of these recent speeches I was inundated with dozens of complements, including people who seem to have taken inspiration from my words. Quite shocking for a confirmed introvert who has suffered with social anxiety.

I guess I would say, I’m pleased in each instance to have spoken. And I’ve come to realize there is a rare power in the spoken word that writing (my preferred method of communication) can’t quite replicate. If you get the chance, seize it. You can be good if you’re willing to put in the preparation. 

Friday, May 26, 2023

A week of endings

Libby with her coach, Todd Ruland.

This is a week of endings.

My daughter Libby ran her last race yesterday. She finished her high school track career at the Div. 5 state championship at Norwell High, placing 19th in the 2-mile.

It was her best time of the year by seven seconds. But she had to grind to get it.

You won’t see her name in the box score—top eight place at the state and get points—but I’ll take a top 20 finish. Because I know how far she has come to make it to the finish line.

When Libby was younger she was not in terrific athletic shape. She hated running, even though she loved soccer. She’d be the first to admit that. But during the COVID lockdowns something clicked. She was bored and started running on our treadmill in the basement. And transformed herself, and decided to go out for the cross country team.

Wild. This stuff happens with kids sometimes. You can’t predict it.

She became a three-sport captain and earned nine varsity letters, and a Cape Ann League all-star.

She did it with an amazing group of teammates, but she also did it by finding strength within.

Track and in particular long-distance running is a lonely sport.

In softball you cross home plate and your teammates are there to embrace you. Likewise in football when you get the touchdown, others are blocking for you. In track, you’re running alone.

Yesterday only a few of her teammates qualified for the states and there was no one waiting at the end of her last finish line. Except her dad, and her coach. She cried, I hugged her and told her damned proud I was of her.

I know great things will await Libby, because she has a terrific will, an incredible work ethic, and is kind and cares about people. I’ll take those over raw ability any day.

This was a week of endings.

Soon there will be a week of beginnings. She goes off to college in the fall. My wife and I will be empty-nesters, and life will change.

But first there is the high school prom tonight, and senior celebrations. I hope she enjoys every minute of the fun, because she earned it.

Happy graduation kid. Here’s to endings and beginnings.

You Must Change Your Life

Do yourself a favor and listen to this episode of Weird Studies with hosts Phil Ford and J.F. Martel.

I don’t know what it was about precisely, except that it instilled a feeling in me that magic and the weird, and awe, might still exist in the world. If we are patient and quiet and persist long enough.

The episode is ostensibly about a deep reading of a poem I had never heard of before, “Archaic Torso of Apollo” by Rainer Maria Rilke. But you don’t have to have read it: They do it for you on the episode, and then talk about it. 

The poem is both a convincing case that inanimate art has a spirit of its own, and the call to the heroic is in all of us. The poem concludes with the line, “For Here There is No Place That Does Not See You: You Must Change Your Life.” A command from a stone from antiquity, the muscled torso of Apollo, that arouses you from your torpor and elicits action. Very sword-and-sorcery you might say. 

There are digressions on barbarism and He-Man and Skeletor, and references to RUSH and D&D. In and amongst philosophy and whether it is possible to derive an ought from an is. 

It touched many chords in me. 

The hosts are well-spoken and erudite but also fun and spontaneous. Just an amazing listen, even if I didn’t grasp everything they said after once through it.

Friday, May 19, 2023

If Heaven is Hell, Tokyo Blade

I was too young to appreciate the New Wave of British Heavy Metal (aka., NWOBHM, love that fucking acronym) back when it washed up on American shores, circa 1975-83 or thereabouts. 

The good part about this unfortunate time mismatch is that now I can explore its various bands. Though most have long since disbanded or faded into obscurity, they are new to me, and therefore as fresh and vital as they may have been whilst playing some dingy U.K. pub circa 1978. And yes I just said "whilst." I'm putting on my English cloak for this one.

The best band to come out of the NWOBHM movement, Iron Maiden, has passed into Godhood, but most of its acts sank into obscurity. This Metal Friday features a good one from one of the semi-lost, Tokyo Blade. Obscure but apparently they had a long career, go figure.

I won't claim "If Heaven is Hell" (1983) is the best song ever, but it's pretty darned good, possessed of that rough, unpolished, energetic, guitar-forward sound that I love from this era and region of the world. The U.K. birthed heavy metal from the foundries of Birmingham and they still do it the best, IMO.

Tuesday, May 16, 2023

Glen Lord Symposium panel video up on YouTube

As noted in my recent writeup of 2023 Robert E. Howard Days, I was asked to present a paper at the Glen Lord Symposium. This is an academic panel and regular part of the event programming led by Jason Ray Carney, editor of Whetstone and a senior lecturer at Christoper Newport University.

The panel is now available on YouTube. You can view it here

The title of my paper is “Far Countries of the Mind: The Frontier Fantasy of Robert E. Howard." I had fun writing it and reading it aloud, if a little intimidating. 

Love Jason's comment that I deserve an honorary PhD in sword-and-sorcery :). I'll take it.


Saturday, May 13, 2023

Edge of Thorns, Savatage

Metal Friday is a day late this week but I'm just getting back from a business trip to Chicago that has me all sorts of out of sorts. 12 straight days of work that is now over.

Admittedly I am not the biggest Savatage fan but "Edge of Thorns" checks every damned box I love about heavy metal. Great vocals. Tough, poetic lyrics. An incredibly powerful build up to a breakdown at 2:55, followed by an absolutely divine guitar solo by the late Criss Oliva.

Odd video, but hey, early 90s and all that.

Balanced your dreams upon the edge of thorns
But I don't think about you anymore

"All truth is relative" is not true

“All truth is relative.”

This comment was posted on a message board I frequent, in a conversation in which I was a part, and the person who wrote it apparently expected it to go unchallenged—as if lobbing a hand grenade into a room might go unchallenged. 

I disagree with this statement and here explain why in detail, which I could not do there.

Truth is relative in many circumstances. Two longtime spouses quarreling over who should clean the garage is a hard situation to untangle, and the truthful answer to the question: Who should clean it? very relative. Perhaps the man agreed at one point to handle all outdoor work, the wife indoor, and the garage is some liminal space that could be either. Perhaps the wife is (understandably) angry with the man because she has done all the cleaning and he has not held up his end of the social contract.

The world is full of countless, similar examples where both sides seem right, or at least share a version of the truth that point to a conclusion that all truth is relative. These range from small and domestic to the largest scale, i.e., wars between great powers.

However, there comes a point where truth is no longer relative. And when disagreement on what is true is dangerous, even hideous, and cannot go unchallenged. Particularly when applied to morality, which I believe at certain levels passes into an objective truth. At least, objective enough that we must all embrace it.

For example, take the following statement: Dashing an infant’s head against a wall is bad.

Is this only relatively true, based on the circumstances? Is bashing an infant to death permissible, even good, in some circumstances?

Or, It’s acceptable not to rescue a someone drowning in a pool. Is it OK to watch someone drown if the suit you're wearing is of sufficient high quality? When you’re perfectly capable, because you don’t want to get your nice clothes wet?

Of course, we can get absurd here on some theoretical, abstract plane that will never occur in real life (“what if you knew the baby would grow up to be Hitler?”) (“what if you thought your suit would weigh you down and you might drown?”) etc.? You might as well just say, “well I think we’re all living in a simulation and so nothing is real, and nothing matters!”

The fact is, we cannot know these things, and everyone with a healthy mind should recoil from these assertions. And that truth is truth.

On a philosophical/logical level, the statement “all truth is relative” is untenable, because it would mean truth can never be known—which is a statement of absolute truth. It's not a coherent statement, but a self-contradiction.

If you argue that "all truth is relative" because truth can only be understood through the subjective lens of an individual, that has a kernel of truth... but if everyone else sees the facts differently you are very likely, objectively wrong, and have misapprehended the truth. Which exists independent of you.

But the more important Truth of the matter is, having a coherent and broad set of rules about ethics and social mores that values human life is entirely necessary for a functioning culture. For example, if we can’t say, “hard work and discipline is a virtue,” but equally value sloth, then things will fall apart, very quickly. And life will become a hellscape. And I think even the postmodernists would agree that an ordered life is better than anarchy and apocalyptic disintegration.

“Truth is relative” allows you to absolve yourself of adult responsibilities. It might make you popular at parties of high culture. But it doesn’t do well when it meets reality. 

We need responsible people to avoid the descent into barbarism. Which, despite my love of sword-and-sorcery, is not an outcome I find acceptable.

Objective mortality exists, regardless of culture or upbringing, faith, creed, or race. 

If you lack the capacity to understand this, a few things are at play that are worth looking into. 

  • You may be mentally deficient, in which case you are worthy of sympathy and social support.
  • You are weary of life and in a bad place, as I have been at points in my life. You have my sympathy; keep fighting and one day you will emerge from this malaise.
  • You might be a postmodernist thinker, and simply enjoy arguing in the abstract. In which case, I will simply disagree and take my ball somewhere else.

However, if you refuse to recognize and differentiate good behavior from bad, and actively seek to tear down the social fabrics that allow us to enjoy some measure of order and security, I’m quite comfortable calling you a psychopath. If you desire to burn down the courts and our system of law and order, please read Grendel and start over at Go. Do not collect $200. You have embraced the Dragon, have arrived at the point where naked Power is the only arbiter of truth, hoarded gold the only value, and revealed yourself as the monster. 

The good news is, there is always a path back to the truth for those willing to seek it. This too, is true.

Friday, May 5, 2023

RIP to Canada's finest singer-songwriter, Gordon Lightfoot

Gordon Lightfoot is probably—nay, definitely—not metal. Not even metal-adjacent. 

Yet he is the subject of this Metal Friday. For obvious reasons.

I mourn the passing of this great man. He had a hell of a career and a hell of a life. 84 years is a pretty good run. 

But it was still tough news to hear that he passed on Monday.

I listen to Gordon Lightfoot on vinyl every summer up our family’s lakehouse. His music takes me straight to our pontoon boat, circling the lake in the early evening with a cocktail. Not quite so hazardous as Lake Superior when the gales of November come early.

Lately I had found myself listening to Gordon more often. Perhaps because I’m getting a little more mellow as I age. Metal is still my go-to but his stuff is timeless, beautiful.

Last year I got to see Gordon with my old man and brother and am so glad I did. Tomorrow isn't guaranteed.

I’m not going to waste any words explaining why Gordon Lightfoot is great, and worth listening to. He’s been extolled by Bob Dylan, Geddy Lee and Alex Lifeson, Billy Joel, countless other iconic musicians. He's probably the greatest Canadian musician ever, this coming from a raging RUSH fan. Hell, if Geddy Lee says it, good enough for me.

If you want more of that here’s a tribute from one of my favorite YouTubers, Rick Beato, who gives him a proper sendoff.

I’ll just say: He’s way better than you think. Every song on Gord’s Gold is gold. He has more good songs on one album side than most artists will record in a lifetime.

Instead I’ll just offer a song.

I was thinking of going with “Wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald” or “If You Could Read My Mind” or “Sundown” as evidence (all awesome, and deservedly remembered) but here’s “Early Morning Rain.” 


Thursday, May 4, 2023

Going Rogue(s) with another 2023 Howard Days recap

This week I was invited to join the wonderful sword-and-sorcery podcast Rogues in the House to continue the discussion about Robert E. Howard Days 2023. You can listen to the episode here.

Joining me were Jason Waltz (publisher, Rogue Blades Entertainment) and Jason Ray Carney (publisher, Whetstone) a pair of fellow attendees whom I met for the first time last week in Cross Plains.

The show as always was a blast. Give it a listen, if for no other reason than to hear host Matt John deliver "Cimmeria" in his dead-on Arnold imitation. This had me in stitches. Dude should take this act on the road.

In addition to Howard Days recaps we also talked about the ongoing sword-and-sorcery revival. Jason Waltz and I served on the S&S panel organized by Deuce Richardson at 2023 Howard Days, while Jason Ray Carney was one of our avid front-row listeners. We get into some of the same territory here on the podcast, covering recent S&S history as well as current venues, authors, and trends. Good stuff.

Tuesday, May 2, 2023

My Howard Days 2023 haul

Somewhere under here is a bar...

Many amusing escapades and scrapes unfolded during Howard Days 2023, not the least of which was my complete and utter lack of restraint around anything vaguely book shaped. I was like a Grateful Dead fan in a pot shop or a PETA member in a rescue shelter, unhinged and helpless, grasping and wanting everything at once.

Someone should have taken my wallet from me.

I came home with 20 “books.” In my defense 9 of these were free, 11 were purchases. But the count is actually higher.

Two of those “books” were bundles of Fantastic magazine won in the silent auction, basically the entire run of issues published in 1961 and 1962. So that is technically an additional 23 digest sized "books" (May 1963 is missing). I also purchased a calendar. So technically I came home with 41 separate items, loosely classified as books. 

And a Robert E. Howard Museum t-shirt. With Conan on it, of course. Not pictured.

I think I need help.

Worse, I packed lightly with just a carry-on suitcase and a separate carry-on leather bag. The latter is something resembling a leather briefcase, with some extra pouches on the side. I was warned to bring an oversized suitcase for the spoils and promptly ignored those warnings. 

Come Sunday I found myself in deep shit. After carefully packing up all my books first (of course! they're the most important items) I was nearly full and hadn’t touched my clothes yet. That left me shoving items for which no room remained into every conceivable pocket. I wound up stuffing dirty underwear into my computer bag to make room. 

Not proud of this, just stating the facts.

Anyway, somehow I made it home with a 60 pound carry on that was a beast to lug, even with wheels, and threatened to burst its zippers. I'm a pretty strong dude but I felt like Vasily Alexseyev on a max clean and jerk getting that thing into the overhead bin.

Following is a complete list of my gross take:

  • The Collected Poetry of Robert E. Howard, vol. 1
  • The Collected Letters of Robert E. Howard, vol. 3
  • Thick as Thieves, Ken Lizzi
  • Cross Plains Pilgrimage, Bobby Derie
  • The Robert E. Howard Trivia Book, Bobby Derie
  • Hither Came Conan, Jason Waltz (editor)
  • Scott Oden Presents The Lost Empire of Sol, Rogue Blades Foundation
  • Death Dealer 3, Tooth and Claw, James Silke
  • Chacal #2
  • The Dark Man Journal vol. 13.1
  • Stan Lee Presents Conan the Barbarian #1 (paperback collection of first 3 comics)
  • The Filming of Conan, Cinefantastique Special Double Issue
  • Skelos #4
  • REHUPA Oct. 2012 (no. 237)
  • From the Heart of Darkness, David Drake
  • 2018 Investigations of the Robert E. Howard House Cellar, Jeff Shanks et. al
  • Kagen the Damned, Jonathan Maberry
  • Ken Kelly’s Robert E. Howard Heroic Fantasy Calendar, 1979
  • Fantastic 1961 bundle
  • Fantastic 1962 bundle

Good thing my wife doesn’t read the blog.

Monday, May 1, 2023

There and back again from Massachusetts to Cross Plains: A recap of 2023 Robert E. Howard Days

Ken Lizzi, me, and Deuce, on sacred ground.
That Saturday morning long ago remains fresh in my mind. The day I stumbled across a hoard of Savage Sword of Conan magazines

The moment I became spellbound with the worlds of Robert E. Howard.

SSOC spoke to me on a level my then-favorite Avengers or Captain America could not. It was dangerous, barbaric, sexy, violent. Adult, with articles and photography to accompany the gorgeous black and white interior art, welcoming 10- or 11-year-old me to the savage Hyborian Age.

This wonderful, fortuitous find set me on a lifelong love of Howard and the subgenre of fantasy he founded, sword-and-sorcery. Little did I know that 40 years later it would also lead to an unforgettable trip to his hometown.

This past weekend I traveled to Cross Plains for 2023 Robert E. Howard Days. This was not a lightly-made decision. I live in Massachusetts, some 1600 miles from the small town in West Texas that Howard called home. With a wife and family, domestic obligations, and a busy professional career to manage, there is never a good time to do something like this, even though Howard Days had been on my bucket list for years.

Part of the whole wide world of Cross Plains.
But this year the stars and planets aligned. Two dudes whom I knew mainly from online interaction, Deuce Richardson and Ken Lizzi, had rented a house in neighboring Cisco, so I had company and a place to sleep. 

The time had finally come to head to the mecca of all things Howard and sword-and-sorcery.

Last Thursday I flew into Dallas Fort Worth and picked up a rental car. Shortly after 5 p.m. Ken, Deuce and I arrived in Cross Plains. The Howard House had closed for the day but two and a half days of non-stop celebrations were about to begin.

Thinking this could be a once in a lifetime trip, I wanted to see it all—the town, the house, the gravesite, the panel sessions. I also wanted to give myself adequate time to hang out and talk to the throng of Howard fans and Howard Days volunteers that make this event so special.

Deuce had wise words for navigating this dilemma: “Balance the living and the dead.”

So, I gave it my best go to honor the man and explore the town while also spending time with as many attendees as I could. I feel pretty good about the balance I struck.

With Jeff Shanks (left) and Mark Finn.
Meeting Rusty Burke, Fred Blosser, Patrice Louinet, Chris Gruber, Mark Finn, Jeff Shanks, John Bullard, Gary Romeo, Will Oliver, Dierk Gunther and others was incredible. I felt like I already knew many of them from YouTube videos, articles, and podcasts and the like, but talking and shaking hands with them all made it tangible. It was wonderful meeting fellow S&S aficionados Jason Waltz, Keith West, Jason Ray Carney, Aaron Cummins, Chuck E. Clark, and many, many others whose names I’ve unfortunately forgotten or failed to ask.

Far too few know the name Robert E. Howard and the opportunity to talk shop and swap REH nerdity comes very infrequently. At Howard Days its endless. “What’s your Howard origin story?” “What’s your favorite Conan tale?” “Have you read his westerns?” These spontaneous conversations happen in line to get your barbecue, perusing the tables at the silent auction, and especially in the evenings at the pavilion. It’s glorious.

The pavilion.
I thought for my first trip I’d simply soak it all in, but instead found myself serving on two speaker panels. On the first, the Glenn Lord Symposium I found myself sandwiched between two PhDs. But both proved incredibly gracious and down-to-earth. I enjoyed Dierk Gunther’s paper which attempted the formidable task of answering the charges of racism in “The Vale of Lost Women.” Will Oliver’s session was fascinating, offering up statistical evidence including recorded interviews with oil field workers to corroborate that Cross Plains was plagued by crime and violence during the oil bloom. This colored Howard’s worldview and creative output and helps to explain why he thought enemies might be lurking around the next corner.

I offered up “In a far country: The Frontier Fantasy of Robert E. Howard,” making the case for Howard as a writer experiencing the absence of a recently closed frontier, unlike his literary hero Jack London who experienced the gold rush of the Klondike first-hand. This absence caused Howard to turn to fantasy and frontiers within. I indulged the audience and myself with a few passages from Jack London and REH, which I greatly enjoyed reading aloud. It seemed well received and I expect it and the other panels to eventually appear on YouTube, courtesy of videographer Ben Friberg.

The atmosphere at the pavilion made it extra sword-and-sorcery
On Saturday I served on a second panel at the pavilion, “Sword-and-sorcery revival,” an informal, impromptu discussion of the recent upsurge in S&S publishing and authorship. I would describe the panel setting as a raucous tavern in the heart of the Maul. I’ve both run and attended many conferences, and at some point attendees hit panel fatigue and want to get down to the business of socializing. We hit the tipping point midway through and it was hard to control the volume in the pavilion; some 30 or so were quite interested in the panel but others were more interested in beer and conversation. I get it. We soldiered on and gave a pretty good rundown of current sword-and-sorcery publishers, authors, other outlets (podcasts, comics, etc.) and in general stoked enthusiasm for the revival of a genre Howard started back in 1929 with “The Shadow Kingdom.” John Bullard helped us greatly with the panel by making flyers and securing space. Thanks John!

Among the more unexpected experiences was feeling like a quasi-celebrity. I must have signed at least 20-25 copies of Flame and Crimson, Hither Came Conan, New Edge #0, and other odds and ends. Watching former Weird Tales editor John Bettancourt select Flame and Crimson as his raffle prize at the S&S panel and note that he had been looking forward to reading it was a strange, rewarding feeling. 

So, a lot of socializing and hanging out. But it’s also important to honor the dead.

Thank you Project Pride!
Nothing can quite prepare you for the first view of Robert E. Howard’s home and ultimately the humble bedroom where did the majority of his writing. Others have made the same observation many times, but its stunning that Howard was able to birth and deliver such vivid creations to the world from such small, prosaic quarters. It’s a testament to his unique genius. The volunteer docents who serve as tour guides, women from the Cross Plains community, were patient and wonderful. I learned that Howard’s father, Isaac, treated bloodied oil field workers right in the Howard home. One docent noted poetically that blood has seeped its way into the roots of the home.

We also folded in a visit to Brownwood to visit the family gravesite. We timed our trip just right, pulling into the sprawling cemetery in the golden sunlight of the late afternoon and paid our respects to Howard and his parents, laid side-by-side. Someone had left behind a book and figurine; I wish I had thought to do something similar.

I left with a more detailed depiction of Howard’s environs. All the tours including a bus tour of greater Cross Plains were absolutely worth doing. I found it to be a charming little community that feels a little like a relic of a lost age, with a few modern updates (a Dollar Store and the like).

Other highlights:

Witnessing the incredible dedication of the volunteers that makes Howard Days possible. The Cross Plains community rallies together to do wonderful things, and preserve Howard’s legacy is a year-round effort.

Buying enough books to break the back of a camel and strain the uttermost capacity of my suitcase. As I shoved volumes in every pocket and cavity I was advised my clothes were expendable. My haul included a pair of winning bids for two large stacks of Fantastic magazine (including the first appearance of Fritz Leiber’s “Bizaar of the Bizarre”) and a couple new hardcovers from the Foundation, the collected letters and poetry. Perhaps my favorite find was a 1979 calendar illustrated by the late great Ken Kelly. I'll share a pic of my hoard later.

Drinking beer at Red Gap Brewing on a gorgeous day while listening how Foundation board member John Bullard assembled the collected letters of REH for the second edition. Monster effort worthy of an award.

Attending the Robert E. Howard Foundation awards. Clapping for many deserving winners including John Bullard and Bill Cavalier, Willard Oliver, and Jason Ray Carney. I have not read Dennis McHaney’s Robert E. Howard in the Pulps (winner: The Atlantean), but was very impressed thumbing through Deuce’s copy. That definitely earned its award, too.

Listening to experts like Bobby Derie, Finn, Shanks, Louinet, guest of honor John Betancourt, and others at the panel sessions. The theme this year was “100 Years of Weird Tales” (founded 1923, still publishing) and the panelists were deeply informed experts and a pleasure to listen to. Derie in particular struck me as a walking encyclopedia of the Weird. 

Taking a break from Howard to visit Woody’s, a classic car and baseball memorabilia museum just across from the Howard house. This contained an immaculately maintained collection of stunning automobiles once owned by a wealthy private donor.

What's best in life? This.
Hearing “Cimmeria” recited aloud on the front porch of the Howard house in Italian, Spanish, Gaelic, and Latin. The first man up after “Cimmeria” recited “Solomon Kane’s Homecoming” FROM MEMORY, a tough act to follow. Best performance went to some dude from North Carolina who ROARED a poem Howard wrote about the joys of drinking and fighting, punctuated with accusations addressed to “You Sons of Adam!” He had us all laughing and cheering. Howard would have approved.

Working up the courage to read a poem myself, “The Rhyme of the Viking Path.” I gave the last few verses some appropriate barbaric emphasis and was pleased with the outcome and the crowd reaction. 

Talking heavy metal with a fellow fan as we waited for the poetry readings to commence (I need to check out Dimmu Borgir).

Walking across the same scenic iron bridge that Howard once traversed, which later inspired a scene from “The Whole Wide World.”

Chatting about Red Nails and Margaret Brundage with the great Fred Blosser—a dude I was reading FORTY YEARS ago in the pages of SSOC—in the Cross Plains public library as I scanned through REH manuscripts and a beautiful collection of Weird Tales magazines. Surreal.

Watching Master and Commander with Deuce and Ken while drinking Shiner Bock, a Texas classic.

Conversing with a great group about all things Howard and S&S during our final evening at the pavilion. I learned that Will Oliver is working on a Howard biography and is as passionate about the works of Karl Edward Wagner as I am. In short, finding my tribe.

So, there you have it. Robert E. Howard Days 2023 proved to be a quirky, fun, charming, welcoming, and utterly unique event that every Robert E. Howard fan ought to attend at least once in their lifetime.

I wish I could have done more, but 2 ½ days pass quickly. And I suppose that’s what return trips are for. Many prophesized that if I came once to Howard Days it would be forever in my blood, and I’d be back again. 

I suspect one day I will. 

Here's to Howard Days.

Tuesday, April 25, 2023

Howard Days are upon me

Two days from now I shall be standing upon the soil of Cross Plains attending my first Robert E. Howard Days.

This shit is real.

Some news since my prior updates…

The sword-and-sorcery panel of panels IS happening. I’ve got confirmation from moderator and organizer Deuce Richardson that “Sword-and-Sorcery Revival,” an epic, two-hour S&S-fest, will occur on Saturday, April 29 from 10 a.m.-noon. It's an unofficial panel—you won’t find it on the REH Days agenda. Which is very sword-and-sorcery come to think of it. 

Rounding out the panel are authors Ken Lizzi and Jason Waltz (the latter of Rogue Blades Foundation). Possibly a fifth dude. Expect wide-ranging discussion, from S&S’ beginnings in Weird Tales (this is the centennial of that legendary publication, after all) straight on through to the present day and the new flurry of activity we’re seeing. Throughout we’ll be raffling off some books to a few lucky attendees. A horned helmet may or may not be worn, a skull or two split.

Coupled with the paper I’m presenting at the Glenn Lord Symposium I’m going to be doing my share of gabbing. But mostly taking in a place in the dreaming west I’ve only ever dreamed of attending.

Deuce has also mentioned a brewpub in Cisco which has piqued my interest. I’m prone to quaff my share of ale.

In other news, Flame and Crimson publisher Pulp Hero Press has rebranded as Cimmerian Press. I am told they are finalizing a website that will launch as early as June. Cimmerian Press will focus on Robert E. Howard and other sword-and-sorcery non-fiction, and is seeking new authors to help build out its catalog. Let me know if you’re interested.

Expect a stream of pics and a post-action report here on the blog and elsewhere. 

Howard Days here I come.