The Business, Part 6: 1956 Essay
[Part 5 is here.]
With the Gnome Press series of Conan books winding down, Howard publishing looked pretty sparse as 1956 began - The Business, Part 6: 1956 Essay introduction. In his March 15, 1956 letter to P. M. Kuykendall, Oscar Friend says that after the Gnome Press Tales of Conan, “Then we will be definitely on some sort of an agreement with another author of Conan stories.” Shortly thereafter, L. Sprague de Camp’s “The Bloodstained God,” a rewrite of a Kirby O’Donnell story entitled “The Trail of the Blood-Stained God,” appeared in the April 1956 issue of Fantastic Universe.
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Two other sales wrap up the year. A September 13, 1956 letter from Oscar Friend informs Doctor Kuykendall of the “one-time reprint sale of ‘Gods of the North,’ by Robert E. Howard, to King-Size Pubs.” The story appeared in the December 1956 issue of Fantastic Universe. Friend’s October 6, 1956 letter to Kuykendall has news of “the serial sale to December issue of Double-Action Western for world rights to ‘While the Smoke Rolled,’” a humorous western.
Perhaps spurred on the by the appearance of his friend’s Conan stories, in 1956 Tevis Clyde Smith published his first remembrance of Howard, “Adventurer in Pulp,” in Pecan Valley Days. This “volume of recollections and incidents in the history of Brown County, Texas,” was published as a souvenir for the county’s 100th anniversary. As such, few Howard fans were likely aware of its existence.
With the “suitable” new Howard material running out, a September 26, 1956 letter from L. Sprague de Camp to a fan discusses the future of the Conan series:
There are no more Howard mss suitable for use in the Conan series, as far as I am concerned. John Clark and I have been over all of them with a fine-tooth comb, and as you saw yourself we had gotten pretty far down in the barrel. However, a Lieutenant in the Swedish Air Force, Bjorn Nyberg (pronounced, I think, about like Newberry) has written a novel, The Return of Conan, which Marty [Greenberg] wants to bring out as a book and which Fantastic Universe is thinking of running some episodes from as shorts. But, as Lt. Nyberg’s English retains considerable Swedish flavor, the plan is for me to do some mild rewriting. Otherwise the guy has done a very creditable pastiche, with the original flavor and idiom.
De Camp closes with a brief mention of “vague talk, mostly on Marty’s part, of another novel to be written by me, or by Leigh Brackett, or by the two of us in collaboration.” De Camp is skeptical of this likelihood, though, saying, “There’s not enough money in sight, and Leigh and I are both pretty busy people.”
Meanwhile, over in Pasadena, Texas, a young man named Glenn Lord was searching for poetry written by Weird Tales writers. In June 1956 he had contacted Roy A. Squires about volumes by Clark Ashton Smith, Donald Wandrei, and Frank Belknap Long. It is perhaps these collections by other authors that caused Lord to wonder why no such collection existed for Robert E. Howard. Squires and Lord began trading contact information of other fans and collectors, as well as bibliographic information on a variety of authors, including another of Lord’s favorites, David Henry Keller.
Whatever inspired Lord, by that fall he was looking for Howard’s poems in earnest. He wrote to de Camp about his plans, and de Camp responded on October 3, 1956:
I should be glad to see somebody publish a volume of Howard’s verse. I’d even promise to buy a copy. I should say that on the whole Howard was a mediocre poet, but that, like Lovecraft, he sometimes had a flash of the real thing.
De Camp goes on to suggest that Lord contact August Derleth, “for estimates of costs,” and Oscar J. Friend, “for the rights to the verse,” adding that Friend is “slow in answering correspondence, but not unreasonable in matters of terms.”
On October 7, Lord contacted Friend and discussed his plan for a “250 copy edition of all of Howard’s verse, in a volume similar to the Arkham House poetry volumes.” He then outlines his current understanding of what “all” meant:
Now as for the poems in mind: these are all that appeared in Weird Tales (with the exception of “Moonlight on a Skull,” which is a variant of “Futility”). There were 35 poems in WT if I count right, not counting aforementioned poem. Also “Solomon Kane’s Homecoming” from Fanciful Tales; “Always Comes Evening” from Stirring Science Stories; and “Song at Midnight” from The Phantagraph. Then too, I would like to include the bits of verse of his own that Howard used as chapter headings in some of his stories. Of course I would also want to know of any poems published in sources I did not mention and/or unpublished verse (except variants).
Friend replied on October 11, asking for more details on the publishing plan and providing various scenarios for obtaining the rights to publish Howard’s poems, but offering no help in finding other poems, saying that “Any further developments in this matter as to source material, etc. I will be most interested in. Gathering all material this late after the author’s death is quite an ambitious task. The best of luck to you!” On October 15, Lord wrote back to clarify his plans for publication:
What I have in mind is private publication of the volume of verse—tentative title to be Always Comes Evening from the poem of that title. In other words, I will attempt to underwrite the costs of rights, printing, binding, etc. Perhaps I stated that I intended to limit the edition to 250 copies, which is about all an individual could hope to finance and sell. [. . .] I am well aware that such a venture as I propose would not be financially rewarding, the fact is I would be lucky to come out even. You might call my venture a labor of love if you can believe such a reason.
While Lord and Friend went back and forth on the business of publishing, Glenn was busily looking for other sources for Howard’s poems. He contacted Larry Farsace, editor of The Golden Atom, who replied on October 30: “I’m rather interested in the volume of poems by Robert E. Howard which you mention; would they be reprints or, like a lucky find, original, never published before?”
On November 7, Friend told Lord that once the project went “beyond the initial ‘talk’ stage,” he would “go through all tear sheets and mss in my possession in an effort to supply you with all bits of Howard poetry so that you will have as complete a volume as it will ever be possible to obtain.” On November 15, Lord wrote back, asking for a photograph of Howard to include in his collection. Friend replied on the 27th that August Derleth “has the only surviving picture of Howard that I know of,” and included “seven pages of types poems which seems to be all the old Weird Tales tear sheets that I can find.”
On December 1, Lord wrote back with more business details and thanked Friend for the poems but added, “Am I to understand that there are no unpublished Howard poems extant? Or would the Robert E. Howard Memorial Library at Howard Payne College have anything you would not have?” He also tells Friend that he has written to “Sam Moskowitz in an effort to locate some of the more obscure Howard poems; any that might have appeared in the fan magazines for example.”
Friend tried to help Lord on December 3 by writing to P. M. Kuykendall and inquiring “about any poetry of Robert E. Howard’s that you may know of any place. A young enthusiast of Bob’s now is trying to gather up all possible poetry of his and publish in one volume.” But, of course, any material the Kuykendalls might have had was now in California.
Lord heard back from Moskowitz on December 5th. Moskowitz had “considerable interest” in Lord’s plan and said that he had “copies of the magazines containing all five of the poems” from Weird Tales that Glenn needed. He also said, “It is quite possible I can add to your list of Howard poems,” though he wouldn’t be able to look into it for a month or so.
Lord also heard from Larry Farsace, who had been “looking up all kinds of references to Robert E. Howard in [his] fanzine files.” Farsace’s search turned up Howard items in several fan publications, including Fanciful Tales, Marvel Tales, and The Ghost, but the big news for Lord was the two poems published in The Fantasy Fan. On January 5, 1957, he sent a postcard to Oscar Friend, saying, in part: “I have located 2 more Howard poems, “Babel” and “Voices in the Night” [i.e. “The Voices Waken Memory”]. These appeared in Hornig’s The Fantasy Fan. I have a couple of collectors on the lookout for any other material.”
And 1957 was just getting started.
[Part 7 is here.]