Unpacking my trunk novel

I set aside a novel several years ago. Not because it was a bad story, on the contrary, I really liked it, specifically the Main Character (MC) and a few other secondary characters. Plus, the main plot, I thought, was interesting.

I still do. But I became disillusioned after receiving some 60+ rejections from literary agents.

During the revision process,  which happened after each rejection — “Maybe they didn’t like this.” or “I bet they wanted a different beginning.” despite not receiving any feedback indicating any of those changes were needed — I had the novel Beta-read by several writers and editors. 

They all liked it, except the last one who said it was a good story but it was so poorly constructed only a complete rewrite from scratch could possibly help it. Yes, instead of listening to the majority, I keyed in on that last critique. At the time, I couldn’t see how I could rewrite it without rewriting it exactly as it was already written.

So I trunked it. I gave up.

But I couldn’t stop thinking about it. This was a novel, in the urban fantasy genre, that had started germinating in my mind back in 1993 or so, before I even knew there was an urban fantasy genre. It was the 90th anniversary of Harley-Davidson and Milwaukee was filled with the sound of rolling thunder. The excitement influenced my creation of a character, a sheriff, who rode a white pearlescent Harley. He became involved in a situation where demons were released into our dimension. I also created a secondary character, based heavily upon an old time radio character Chandu the Magician as well as the Marvel comicbook character Doctor Strange, a sorcerer who becomes involved and together the two characters join forces to battle the demons. The problem was, I couldn’t think of enough personal story to flesh out the sheriff to make him a three-dimensional MC and I had yet to create any backstory for the sorcerer to make him one. So I set it aside.

Years later, the story idea morphed into something closer to the novel I ended up subbing. Now the MC was the magician, both stage and real, who is called in by his friend on the Police force (no Harley) simply to identify occult symbols at a crime scene and everything took off from that point. 

It took me two years to write the novel and a couple more to edit and polish it to where I thought it was submission-worthy. 

I liked the MC and other cast of characters so much, I even wrote a complete sequel to the first novel, and started writing a third.

Over the next five or so years, I subbed the novel to agents, rewriting and editing after each rejection whether I got feedback or not, until that fateful critique when I trunked it for several more years out of frustration.

Recently, I started writing a new idea completely unrelated to the trunk novel about an ordinary guy who runs into (literally) a fairy, injuring her, and takes her home to nurse her back to health. It is a romance, of sorts, and the story has slowly taken shape in my head and on paper. Then one day, I had an epiphany. 

I could combine the two stories using the main plot from the trunk novel and this fairy story as a subplot. I could resurrect the MC from the trunk, making a few changes in his backstory, keep him a widower with a daughter, keep his Police friend, and get rid of the rest. The demon plot would provide the action and suspense while the fairy story would provide character development. 

So I’m writing that story. I’m writing most of it from scratch, too, except on occasion, I’m snatching snippets of dialog or scenes from the trunk novel and with minor edits fitting them seamlessly into my new work-in-progress.

And I’m excited again. Even more excited than I was when I first wrote the trunk novel, because the subplot is providing the missing piece of the puzzle that I think the trunk novel was lacking — the human interest part.

I am writing and I’m actually enjoying it.

Write, Ferret, Write!

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Writing and the love of discovery

One of the things I like about writing is the discovery. I don’t mean the discovery of the story, or the world within the story, I mean the discovery of our world, our history.

As an example, I’m currently working on a weird western set in 1869. So far, I’ve been reading about the Transcontinental Railroad, when it finally met up (May 10, 1869), including the Pacific Railroad and how it cut through and over the Sierra Nevada mountains. I did research on cattle drives.

One thing in particular, my character is a newspaper man. I wanted him to be reading a novel. I thought maybe a Mark Twain novel would be nice. Everyone knows of Mark Twain and if he had a copy of Twain’s newest book, that might lead to some dialog about the book and about the characters.

Well, to my shame, I learned Twain didn’t publish his first novel, “The Gilded Age: A Tale of Today,” until 1873 and his great novel, “The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn,” wasn’t published until 1884. So that blew any chance for conversations like, “Is that Twain’s latest? I love Twain!” Granted, Twain had published four short stories before 1869, and in 1869 he did publish his most popular work, “An Innocent Abroad,” which was a non-fiction travel book and his best-selling work, but unfortunately in 1869, I don’t think he had the name recognition I was looking for.

So I did a search for novels published in 1869. I wanted my character to be reading a soon-to-be-published work in order to do a critical review of it and the conversation would go from there. I mean, there were some great novels published in 1869, such as Fyodor Dostoyevsky’s “The Idiot,” which I haven’t read yet. Leo Tolstoy’s “War and Peace,” which I have no intention of reading. Also Louisa May Alcott wrote “Good Wives,” Horatio Alger wrote “Luck and Pluck.” “Lorna Doone” by R.D. Blackmore came out that year, as well as Ivan Goncharov’s best known work, “The Precipice.” Victor Hugo published “L’Homme Qui Rit” (The Man Who Laughs) and Sheridan Le Fenu (who wrote “Camilla,” an early vampire tale that, coincidentally, I used in a story I wrote a few years back featuring the same protagonist as this current WIP) wrote “The Wyvern Mystery.” Not to mention the author of “Madam Bovery,” Gustave Flaubert wrote “Sentimental Education.”

Anyone of those would have suited my purpose. Those are all recognizable authors or recognizable works.

But then, I saw it. The novel. The one that would fit perfectly within my own story. You see, one of the other characters in the story is a young man, eighteen or so, traveling with his older sister and he has aspirations to be a bad ass, looking up to a wanted gunslinger. He’s illiterate, which isn’t a surprise for that time, and my MC has the book. The kid is looking at it, struggling to read the title, and my MC says, “It’s ‘The Story of a Bad Boy.'”

Which the kid takes to be an insult directed at him. And we go from there.

So, now, before I can write any further, I’m reading Thomas Bailey Aldridge’s “The Story of a Bad Boy,” which, coincidentally, some consider a foundational story that inspired other “bad boy” stories, like Twain’s “The Adventures of Tom Sawyer.” For my story, it works on many different levels.

Now I have to finish “The Story of a Bad Boy” because, honestly? It’s a really good book and I can’t put it down. And if I hadn’t been writing, I’d never have discovered it.

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Influences and Inspirations

I was reading David Gerrold’s “Worlds of Wonder: How to Write Science Fiction and Fantasy,” and did one of his exercises, which was “Take out a blank piece of paper (or open a new file on your computer), and make a list of your favorite science fiction and fantasy movies.”

I did. And the more I thought about it, the more I realized that these movies, and the television shows I also added, most likely had the greatest influence upon my young mind and imagination. These were the images that were most indelibly imprinted upon my subconscious as a writer.

To be honest, I wasn’t much of a reader as a youngster. Sure, I read the usual stuff, “The Song of Roland,” “Alexander the Great,” “The Once and Future King,” and illustrated versions of “The Illiad and the Odyssey,” and the Norse legends. Along with assorted non-fiction books and Hardy Boy mysteries and school assignments. Not to mention a boatload of comic books from “Little Lulu,” to early DC superheroes, such as The Flash, The Atom, Superman, Aquaman, The Legion of Superheroes, Teen Titans, and Batman. Marvel’s merry mayhem joined into my reading when I was probably nine or 10.

It wasn’t until I was around 13, maybe 14, when my actual science fiction and fantasy literary education finally began, first with Robert E. Howard’s “Conan” and Edgar Rice Burroughs’ “Tarzan,” then later with nearly everything. But in the beginning, in the dim twinkling recesses of my memory, there were the movies that first held greatest sway over my curious beginning writer’s mind.

So now, without further ado, that list of science fiction and fantasy movies that greatly influenced me growing up.

“The Wizard of Oz.” Flying monkeys. Witches. A living strawman and tinman, and a lion that could speak. This movie was shown nearly every spring and in those days, before the invention of recording devices, and I’d watch it every time it aired. In addition, I also read many of the Oz books.

“Forbidden Planet.” Earthmen traveling to a distant planet in a flying saucer. Robby, the robot. An invisible monster that made footprints in the sand.

Invisible monster from “Forbidden Planet”

“Johnny Quest.” The Saturday Morning Cartoon. It had science fiction. Adventure. Lasers. Robots. Futuristic jets, subs, and hover discs. It also had an invisible monster, just like “Forbidden Planet.”

Invisible energy monster from Johnny Quest

“Lost in Space.” Sure, corny by today’s standards, but as a child, all I saw was the Jupiter 2 spaceship. B9 robot. The spacepod. The “chariot.” Laser guns. Force fields. And of course, lots and lots of weird aliens.

In the same vein, “Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea.” The Seaview, then, seemed like such a futuristic submarine to my young mind. Today, I know that such a sub, with those wings and fins would have created such turbulence that even the least technologically advanced nations could track it while underwater. Nor would glass windows in the front be practical if even possible. But still, it had the flying sub. And lots of giant monsters. (Additionally, all the other Irwin Allen shows, such as “Time Tunnel” and “Land of the Giants.”)

“Star Trek.” This had everything the previous shows had, stunning spaceships, rays guns now called “phasers,” along with transporters, food processors, and more alien worlds, but it was more serious and much of it written by some of the big names in science fiction, including David Gerrold.

“The Outer Limits.” It had elements of horror, sci-fi, fantasy, and to be honest, probably scared the bejeesus out of me with episodes like “The Zanti Misfits” more than anything else on television or the theater.

The Zanti Misfit still creep me out

I think those had the most influence upon my childhood. But there are more. “King Kong.” “Godzilla.” The giant bug movies: “Them!” which is still one of my all-time favorites. “Tarantula.”

Other 1950s science fiction movies included, “The Thing from Another World.” “The Day the Earth Stood Still.” “The Blob.” “War of the Worlds.” “The Fly,” which our middle school showed over several lunch periods.

Of course the Universal monsters, especially “The Creature from the Black Lagoon,” had a big influence, as well as the Hammer horror films. Many of these movies aired on a late night horror show in my hometown on Channel 6. It was “Shock Theater” with Dr. Cadaverino, who was among the great horror hosts of all time.

And I’d be remiss if I didn’t include the movies by special effects giant, Ray Harryhausen: “Mighty Joe Young,” “Jason and the Argonauts,” “Earth vs. the Flying Saucers,” “The Beast from 20,000 Fathoms,” “20 Million Miles to Earth,” and “The 7th Voyage of Sinbad,” and more. Even today I marvel at his work and probably subconsciously try to recreate his wonderful story-telling ability.

There is one more movie, or show, that has influenced if not my imagination, then my nightmares. I don’t know its name. I was fairly young when I saw it, somewhere between eight and ten I’d guess. I was up late one night when it came on. As I said, I can’t recall its title, but I remember distinctly the beginning. This man was driving down a dark country road in the rain when suddenly something unidentifiable ran in front of his headlights. He struck it, but when he got out to see what it was, he couldn’t find it, however, in the light of a lightning flash, we see that this little clawed hand came up and punctured his tire. He got back into the car and made it to a diner, I believe. At that point, the horror was too much for me, so I went to bed, but not before it left an indelible footprint upon my subconscious. I had nightmares for weeks afterwards and to this day, I still have an urge to rewrite that story, “stealing” that beginning then creating my own horror story from it.

I just haven’t had the nerve to do so yet.

So there you have it. A small look into my mind’s inspirations.

So what sci-fi and fantasy movies do you think have had the most influence upon you?

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Lancer/Ace Conan the Wanderer: Rereading and Reminiscence

Conan the Wanderer is book 4 in the Lancer/Ace series of Robert E. Howard’s Conan published back in the late 60s and 70s. It is a collection of four stories edited by L. Sprague de Camp and Lin Carter. This was one of the non-Frank Frazetta covers and was illustrated by John Duillo.

As I’ve stated in the blog posts for the previous books in this series, these are Conan’s stories as published in chronological order, not as they were written and published by Robert E. Howard, who had a tendency to jump around the Cimmerian’s life and write stories out of sequence. But L. Sprague de Camp and Lin Carter put the stories in order according to a chronological timeline as proposed by P. Schuyler Miller and Dr. John D. Clark, who had discussed it through letters with Howard. De Camp and Carter also wrote stories to fill the gaps in Conan’s life.

This was not one of my favorites in the series. Much of that, as explained in my review of Conan the Freebooter, has to do with the fact that Frank Frazetta did not do the cover. I guess, for me, I do just a book by its cover. The stories here aren’t bad. For example, “Shadows in Zamboula” is a strong Howard effort and “The Flame Knife” is a rousing rewrite of a Howard Oriental tale to suit the Conan chronology. But I was fifteen at the time, reading Howard, Edgar Rice Burroughs, Philip Jose Farmer, Michael Moorcock, John Jakes, Fritz Leiber, John Silverberg, John Brunner, and many other wonderful writers of fantasy and sci-fi, and in the over scheme of things, this particular anthology just sort of fell short of the others.

Reading it again, however, I enjoyed it now much more than I did then.

Conan, as the preface to the first story states, “is about 31-years old at this time and at the height of his physical powers.” Let’s get into it, shall we?

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Conan the Wanderer (1968) by Robert E. Howard, L. Sprague de Camp and Lin Carter

Contents
“Introduction” (L. Sprague de Camp)
“Black Tears” (L. Sprague de Camp and Lin Carter)
“Shadows in Zamboula” (Robert E. Howard)
“The Devil in Iron” (Robert E. Howard)
“The Flame Knife” (Robert E. Howard and L. Sprague de Camp)

Introduction. As always, de Camp starts things off with a little essay on Howard and Conan.

Black Tears. A pastiche written by de Camp and Carter. First published here. Later reprinted in The Conan Chronicles 2 (1990) by Orbit Books.

Conan and his band of Zuagirs are chasing Verdanes, the man who betrayed them to the Turanian army but managed to turn around the surprise and slaughter the Turanians, across the desert. His men ask Conan to stop the pursuit because up ahead is the cursed Land of Ghosts. Conan won’t be put off and his men desert him in the middle of the night leaving not enough water to return, so he decides to continue on.

Conan reaches the mythical city of Akhlat the Accursed and is caught and dragged into the city, where they cleanse his wounds and heal him. Conan is brought before Enosh, who explains that his people are held prisoner of a demoness, but there is a prophesy that the city will be liberated and Conan is that liberator.

Meanwhile, Verdanes, also captured by the city dwellers, has been thrown into a room with several realistic looking statues. Statues that cry and moan. He sees a mummy on a throne with a bejeweled mask. His greed gets the best of him and he grabs the mask, but the mummy is alive and awakened, and Verdanes begins to feel himself turn to stone.

Conan decides to help Enosh and enters the hall that Verdanes had entered. Will Conan survive the now youthful gorgon? You’ll have to read for yourself. If you can find a copy. It’s not a bad story despite not being written by Howard, but then, I’m a fan of both de Camp and Carter.

Shadows in Zamboula. Originally published in Weird Tales in 1935 as “The Man-Eaters of Zamboula.” Republished as “Shadows of Zamboula” in Conan the Barbarian (Gnome Press, 1954), The Conan Chronicles Volume 1: The People of the Black Circle (Gollancz, 2000), and in Conan of Cimmeria: Volume Three (1935-1936) (Del Rey, 2005) under its original title, “The Man-Eaters of Zamboula.”

Conan is warned by an old beggar to not return to the inn he has paid for a night’s lodging at, but Conan goes to the inn anyway and finds out the awful truth of being a lodger at the inn run by Aram Baksh. I don’t need to go into too much detail. It’s a Howard original and the original title gives away some of the storyline. Go read it.

The Devil in Iron. First published in Weird Tales in 1934. Republished in Conan the Barbarian (Gnome Press, 1954), The Conan Chronicles Volume 1: The People of the Black Circle (Gollancz, 2000) and Conan of Cimmeria: Volume One (1932-1933) (Del Rey, 2003).

When I was reading this story I thought it was a pastiche by de Camp and Carter because it seemed to borrow heavily from another Conan story, “Iron Shadows of the Moon” that appeared in Conan the Freebooter. Turns out, it actually is a Howard story. It’s not badly written, but as I said, it seemed to have a lot of elements from the previous story, including taking place on an island in the Vilayet Sea, the supernatural elements, and the similarity in the names of the girls, both who have escaped their captors to be protected by Conan, Octavia in this story and Olivia in “Iron Shadows.”

The Flame Knife. Revised by de Camp from an unpublished Oriental Howard tale featuring Francis X. Gordon titled, ‘Three-Bladed Doom.” It was published as a Conan story in Tales of Conan (Gnome Press, 1955).

It’s a rousing adventure tale where raiders kidnap Conan’s then flame, Nanaia, and Conan pursues them into their hidden city. It is filled with lots of military action as Conan’s men clashed against two other factions and runs into his old enemy, Olgerd Vladislav, who had freed him from the cross back in the story “A Witch is Born.”

Next up, Conan the Adventurer, which is the fifth book in the series, but was actually the first book published, and also the first of the series I read.

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Lancer/Ace Conan

Lancer/Ace Conan of Cimmeria

Conan the Freebooter

Conan the Wanderer

An evening of research

Last night I sat down to start the serious editing/rewrite phase of my pseudo weird western novella. It’s 28k words and after the first read through having just transcribed it from my notes, it comes up a little light in the descriptions and details.

I know a lot of writers who “write fat,” meaning they put in so much detail and information that most of their editing process involves deleting whole paragraphs and even pages of what, to them, is extraneous and unnecessary prose. Much of it just doesn’t advance the story. Maybe it’s info dumps or backstory that the writer put in there mostly for their own information about the characters and the story but isn’t needed for the reader to understand it.

Some writers suffer from “purple prose” and tend to describe things in too intimate a detail. The reader doesn’t need to know, for instance, that the brass lamp on the end table with the blue silk shade and little dangling white beads was purchased on an overcast day in June of 1993 by the character’s great aunt Eunice at a rummage-o-Rama in this quaint little town in Northern Wisconsin near the border to the Upper Peninsula for $7.25 from a gap-toothed, stooped old man with a foreign accent. Unless, maybe, it was stolen after Aunt Eunice’s brutal murder and later we find out the lamp was used to smuggle something people were willing to kill to retrieve.

But I don’t write fat or over write. I “write thin.” I’m an under writer. Since I don’t outline, my first draft could be considered an outline. I write minimally, without very much detail or description. I just want to get the basic story out and later I come back to flesh things out.

That’s when I add detail, describe the characters and their surroundings, and add subplots and so on.

This is what I’m starting to do with my pseudo weird western.

My character has arrived in New Orleans in 1875 by train. He goes back to watch as they “led my horse out of the livestock car.”

So I’m thinking. Horse. Horse. But what kind of horse? I start doing Internet searches. What do I know from horse breeds? What was Mr. Ed (real name Bamboo Harvester. I bet you didn’t know that)? A palomino? What the hell is that? Turns out it’s a color, golden body with a white mane and tail. Trigger was one also. But it is not necessarily a breed. So I’m looking and reading. Thoroughbred is primarily race horses. Appaloosa? It’s known for its spotted coat, but wasn’t what I was looking for. American Quarter Horse? It excels at sprinting short distances. I need stamina for my story. I need intelligence. Trainability. And it needs to be able to fight off zombie with a well-placed front hoof to the skull.

I’m thinking hot-blooded rather than warm-blooded or cold-blooded (and if you really want to know the differences, look it up like I did, but basically hot-blooded have a “hot” temperament, can be higher strung, and are more athletic while cold blooded are the bigger, heavier draft horses. Warm bloods fall somewhere in between.) Finally, after reading breed description after breed description, I settled on Arabian.

Then to be sure I didn’t offend any horse history experts, I had to figure out how readily available they were in the U.S. in 1875. As it turns out, they weren’t. There was a purebred Arabian breeder but his entire stock was wiped out during the Civil War. General Ulysses S Grant was given a couple in 1877 by the Shah of the Ottoman Empire. So if my character had a purebred Arabian, I would have to create a backstory of how he obtained it — as a gift from the man who bred them for Alexander II, the Emperor of Russia, for a favor rendered.

I went back to my manuscript and replaced “horse” with “grey Arabian stallion.” I looked at the clock. FOUR hours had passed! It was past 10pm and I was tired. I closed my laptop and relaxed with a beer, satisfied with a job well done.

Now I need to research the city of New Orleans and its surroundings as it stood in 1875. Any bets on if it’ll take more or less than four hours?

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Lancer/Ace Conan the Freebooter: Rereading and Reminiscence

I finally finished the third book in the Lancer/Ace Conan series, Conan the Freebooter. And no, it didn’t take me three months to read, although it might seem that way. Nevertheless, it does bring up an interesting remembrance that this was one of my least favorite books in the series. Not because of the stories, oddly enough, because there are some really great original Robert E. Howard Conan novelettes here. No, it was because this was one of the few non-Frank Frazetta covers and despite the adage, “Don’t judge a book by it’s cover,” subconsciously then, and possibly now, I did judge it.
 
This cover was done by John Duillo. I knew nothing of him then and I know just as much about him today and I thought he was a nothing but a poor imitation of Frazetta. Frazetta drew bigger-than-life heroes. They were dynamic, bold, full of life, and seemed to burst from the page, splashing you with blood and sweat. Duillo didn’t..
 
So it’ll come as no surprise that my least favorite books in this series all turned out to have covers drawn by Duillo. Strange that I should be so influenced by art work.
 
Regarding the cover, one thing that irritated me about it is the fire spurting from the gorilla’s arm. Yes, I know. It’s supposed to represent the utter power and savagery of Conan’s slash that it severed the gorilla’s arm and the blood is gushing off the blade of the scimitar as it arcs upward. Well, there are two issues with that. First, where did the arm go? If the sword is still in it’s upward motion as evidenced by the shower of blood, the arm should still be somewhere in the picture, right? Second, if the gout of blood is supposed to show that the blade has just finished the slash and is at the top of it’s arc, why then is the blade reversed? That’s a single-edged scimitar and the edge, and Conan’s hands on the hilt, are facing in the wrong direction to have just completed that slash. Yes, I know, it’s a silly complaint, but it’s little details like that which turn what might have been a decent piece of art into a head scratcher. Conan is just positioned wrong. 
 
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Conan the Freebooter (1968) (by Robert E. Howard and L. Sprague de Camp)
Contents
“Introduction” (L. Sprague de Camp)
“Hawks over Shem” (Robert E. Howard and L. Sprague de Camp)
“Black Colossus” (Robert E. Howard)
“Shadows in the Moonlight” (Robert E. Howard)
“The Road of the Eagles” (Robert E. Howard and L. Sprague de Camp)
“A Witch Shall be Born” (Robert E. Howard)
 
Conan the Freebooter, published in 1968, was the seventh Lancer Conan book published, but it is considered the third book in the series. Confusing, yes. As you can see from the contents, all the stories here are all written by Howard with some heavy editing by de Camp on two of them, because they weren’t originally Conan stories. They were retrofitted to fill in the gaps of Conan’s chronological timeline as proposed by P. Schuyler Miller and Dr. John D. Clark.
 
It is these retrofitted stories than many Howard purists consider an abomination to Howard’s original Conan stories. They seem to forget that until L. Sprague de Camp became involved in resurrecting the Conan stories, that Howard was just another forgotten pulp writer. But the Lancer books changed that by selling millions of copies and putting our favorite Cimmerian back into the public’s eye, a place he hasn’t relinquished since.
 
Introduction. A brief opening essay by de Camp on Howard and how de Camp became involved with the Conan stories.
 
Hawks over Shem. From an original unpublished story by Robert E. Howard based in 11th Century Egypt. The story was retrofitted to become a Conan story by de Camp and was published in Fantastic Universe Science Fiction, October 1955. Reprinted in Tales of Conan, Gnome Press, 1955.
 
Conan becomes involved in some political dealings in the city of Asgalun, joining up with some rival generals to get his revenge upon General Othbaal. In the meantime, the city is ruled under the increasingly mad King Akhirom, who begins to believe he’s a god. Conan gets his revenge and has to flee when he is recognized as Amra, the pirate captain. Despite it not being a Conan story, this is still a decent rip-roaring action yarn by Howard.
 
The Black Collossus. First published in Weird Tales (June 1933). Edited and reprinted in Conan the Barbarian (Gnome Press, 1954). The Conan Chronicles Volume 1 (Sphere, 1989). The original version was first republished in Black Colossus (Grant, 1979). The Conan Chronicles Volume 1: The People of the Black Circle (Gollancz, 2000), Conan of Cimmeria: Volume One (1932-1933) (Del Rey, 2003), The Weird Writings of Robert E. Howard Volume 1 (Girasol Collectables, 2006), The Complete Chronicles of Conan (Gollancz, 2006), Valley of the Worm (Wildside Press, 2006) and Three Tales of Conan the Barbarian (Echo Library, 2007).
 
A thief tries to steal the treasure from the tomb of Thugra Khotan, a 3000-year dead sorceror, unwittingly awakening him and bringing about the thief’s death. The Princess Yasmela of Khojara begins to have troubled dreams of a shapeless shadow claiming she will be his queen. She seeks the help of the god Mitra. The oracle tells her to go into the streets and put her kingdom in the trust of the first man she meets. Who does she meet? Conan. So he becomes her general and with his aid. he faces the vast army amassed by Thugra Khotan. There is some fine battle strategy written by Howard here.
 
Shadows in the Moonlight. First published in Weird Tales (April 1934) as “Iron Shadows in the Moonlight.” Reprinted in Conan the Barbarian (Gnome Press, 1954). The Conan Chronicles Volume 1: The People of the Black Circle (Gollancz, 2000) and Conan of Cimmeria: Volume One (1932-1933) (Del Rey, 2003). It was adapted by Roy Thomas, John Buscema, and Alfredo Alcala in Savage Sword of Conan #4 in 1974. And again by Tim Truman and Tomas Giorello in Conan the Cimmerian #22-25 in 2010.
 
The novelette begins with a woman fleeing captivity, pursued by Shah Amurath, a Hyrkanian who was her former master. Just as he catches her, a figure rises from the reeds near the edge of the Vilayet Sea and cuts him down. It’s Conan. Conan and Olivia flee Shah Amaurath’s men by taking a small boat to an island. On the island, they find an ancient ruins filled with statues. They spend the night there and Olivia has dreams that the statues come to life. To appease her, Conan agrees to leave, but they find their boat smashed. IN the meantime, pirates land on the island and Conan challenges their captain, He wins but is knocked unconscious by a rock as the pirate crew is divided on what to do with him.
 
The pirates spend the night in the ruins. Olivia sneaks in and frees Conan and they sneak out just in time, because the statues do come alive and slay many of the pirates. Conan, however, is attacked by a giant ape (thus the cover art), which he manages to slay. The pirates escaping the statues try to return to their ship, but they find Conan on deck and he challenges them again. They agree to let him be their captain.
 
The Road of the Eagles. This is another unpublished non-Conan story retrofitted by de Camp. It was originally set in the 16th Turkish Empire. First published in Fantastic Universe (December 1955) with the title, “Conan, Man of Destiny.” Reprinted in Tales of Conan (Gnome Press, 1955) but with Howard’s original title, “The Road of the Eagles.” The original story, renamed “The Way of the Swords,” was published in The Road of Azrael (Donald M. Grant, 1979).
 
Conan and his pirates end up on shore after an encounter with General Artaban of Shapur nearly scuttles their ship. They end up lost in some canyons and are found by the sole survivor of a tribe the Hyrkanians have wiped out. He leads Conan through a secret trail that comes out behind a waterfall. There’s a story line involving Hyrkanians, Turanians, a castle, and of a kidnapped prince, and her lover, who is trying to save him; they both die in a Romeo and Juliette type scene, Conan kills Artaban and a canyon filled with zombies attacks the pirate crew, who escape on the ship, leaving Conan behind. Conan feels it’s just as well. He wants to wander some more. It’s not a bad story, despite the retrofit, I just wonder how the original reads.
 
A Witch Shall Be Born. Weird Tales (December 1934). Reprinted Avon Fantasy Reader #10, 1949. It was the cover story in both publications. Howard completed the story in a few days in only two drafts because Weird Tales’ editor, Farnsworth Wright was demanding another Conan story due to the barbarian’s popularity. A de Camp edited version appeared in  Conan the Barbarian (Gnome Press, 1954). It was first published in book form as A Witch Shall be Born, by Donald M. Grant, Publisher, Inc. in 1974. It has been reprinted in The Conan Chronicles Volume 1: The People of the Black Circle (Gollancz, 2000), The Bloody Crown of Conan (Del Rey, 2005), and as part of the Penguin Modern Classics collection Heroes in the Wind (Penguin Books, 2009). 
 
This story is a classic. Taramis, queen of Khauran, is surprised to discover she has a lookalike sister, Salome. Salome had been born with the royal curse, the mark of the witch, and was left in the desert to die. But she didn’t die. Instead she had plotted against her sister.  Outside the city gates Shemitish mercenaries under the command of Constantius are camped. Salome takes the queen and puts her in the deepest dungeon, brings in Constantius and his mercenaries, telling the people they will now form Khauran’s army and the other soldiers are told to disarm and disband. Conan happens to be the Captain of the guards and approaches Salome and realizes the hoax being perpetrated. He and his men try to fight but they are unprepared for battle against heavily armored mercenaries. Conan is taken alive and Constantius takes him out into the desert, crucifies him, and leaves him to die. 
 
The crucifiction scene has some great writing that shows the stuff of which Conan is made. 
 
“By the side of the caravan road a heavy cross had been planted, and in this grim tree a man hung, nailed there by iron spikes through his hands and feet. Makes but for a loincloth, the man was almost a giant in stature, and his muscles stood in thick corded ridges on limbs and body, which the sun had long ago burned brown. The perspiration of agony headed his face and his mighty breast, but from under the tangled black mane that fell over his low, broad forehead, his blue eyes blazed with an unquenched fire. Blod oozed sluggishly from the lacerations in his hands and feet.”
 
Conan attempts to rip the nails loose and failing that, attempts to tear his hands free. That too proves futile. So he stoically hangs there, suffering from thirst, and waits for the vultures to circle down and begin feasting upon his still living flesh, until…
 
“In his dulled ears sounded the louder beat of wings. Lifting his head he watched with the burning glare of a wolf the shadows wheeling above him. He knew that his shouts would frighten them away no longer. One dipped–dipped–lower and lower. Conan drew his head back as far as he could, waiting with terrible patience. The vulture swept in with a swift roar of wings. Its beak flashed down, ripping the skin on Conan’s chin as he jerked his head aside; then, before the bird could flash away, Conan’s head lunged forward on his mighty neck muscles, and his teeth, snapping like those of a wolf, locked on the bare, wattled neck. 
 
“Instantly, the vulture exploded into a squawking, flapping hysteria. Its thrashing wings blinded the man, and its talons ripped his chest. But grimly he him on, the muscles starting out in lumps on his jaws. And the scavenger’s neck-bones crunched between those powerful teeth. With a spasmodic flutter the bird him limp. Conan let go, spat blood from his mouth. The other vultures, terrified by the fate of their companion, were in full flight to a distant tree, where they perched like black demons in conclave. 
 
“Ferocious triumph surged through Conan’s number brain. Life beat strongly and savagely through his veins. He could still deal death; he still lived. Every twinge of sensation, even of agony, was a negation of death.”
 
Howard affirms just how powerful and alive Conan is. Nailed to a cross in the hot desert sun he doesn’t succumb, as a weak, soft civilized man would. Instead he triumphs. 
 
This scene was used in Conan the Barbarian (1982), with the usual bad results. Instead of being nailed to a cross, Ahnold is simply tied to the Tree of Woe. (Whoa!) Compared to the vigor of the literary Conan, Ahnold is passive. At least they got the scene with the vulture right, but again, instead of being exultant over defeating the vulture, Ahnold merely sags. 
 
 
And there you have it, Conan the Freebooter.
 
Next up, Conan the Wanderer, also with cover art by John Duillo. I’ll try to get to it sooner.
 
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Lancer/Ace Conan
Lancer/Ace Conan of Cimmeria
Conan the Freebooter