Then in 2006, a bunch of things happened. Most notably, The Cimmerian magazine that Leo Grin was doing went monthly, and with the monthly schedule came all these finds, all this new stuff. That’s always the case, it’s never gonna be finished because if I wanted to stop right now and add new stuff, I could. But I had to have a cut off point because of the process they were using to do the book. There was a lot of stuff found in 2006, interesting speculations and some cool finds, subsequently, in 2007 and 2008, that weren’t in the first edition. I made a deal with Monkey Brain for the mass market in trade. So everybody was asking if there was going to be a hardcover. I shopped it around to a few people, including Del Rey. They liked the book, but it wasn’t in their cards to do it. They were just really wanting to concern themselves with the fiction. So I went to the Foundation [The Robert E. Howard Foundation] because, again, Rusty and Patrice are still working on their own stuff. Patrice is still preparing texts. They’ve got the boxing and the funny western stuff left to do. So that’s somewhere between six and eight more books if they do it right. Rusty, too, same thing. So I knew that those biographies they’re gonna have are eventually going to come out. But the Foundation could use a biography right now that they could market and sell, so I thought, I’ll just ask them. But I wanted to put in the new information, I wanted to rewrite the last chapter, which is very problematic in the first edition. I wanted to add a bunch of things people asked me about. One of the few negative comments I got on the book was “I really liked learning about all the other stuff, but I kinda wish there were more Conan stuff in there. He doesn’t spend a lot of time on Conan, aannndd I understand why, but it still would have been pretty nice.” With that kind of luxury, with another year to go back through the manuscript, I can clean up a bunch of stuff. Now it’s got 30,000 extra words in it. And all those things have been addressed. All the technical errors and lapses in concentration on my part have been fixed. I’m very happy with it. It’s a little weightier of a book. The last chapter got completely reorganized and feels a whole lot more focused and less chaotic. I would say probably four of the chapters at least have gotten a substantial revision or were completely revised. Another four of the chapters had extra bits and pieces and things inserted into them, so if you’ve read the first edition once or twice, you’ll quickly start hitting stuff where you go, “I don’t remember that from the first time I read the book.” Then you’ll go and get to the sections and go, “Wow, I don’t remember any of this.” That’s the new stuff.
MF: Weirdly enough, yes. (laughs) I want to do a biography of Jack Teagarden, who was a jazz trombonist during the Big Band era. He’s from the town I currently live in, Vernon, Texas. He’s the Jimi Hendrix of the jazz trombone. That kind of sounds like a trite way to say it, but he played the trombone in a way that it was not played before or since. His style was so singular and signature that jazz trombone died when he did. And so he’s largely forgotten by modern jazz aficionados. In the Big Band era, he was kinda on the second tier. People have heard of him, go “Oh,yeah, I know that, trombone, right?” He’s got a pretty big international following still. I recommend him. If anybody is reading this, do a google search for him on Utube and check out how he plays. The guy was a virtuoso. The kind of which, you won’t believe what you’re hearing is a trombone. He’s that good. I want to do a biography of him. I think he’s a fascinating guy. He’s another one of those Texas creators who took two disparate things and combined them to make a unique sound. I use him in the introduction to Blood and Thunder alongside of Howard Hughes and Bob Wills as inventive Texans who were able to take the best of two separate elements and combine them to make something new. He’s one of those kind of guys, and I’m fascinated by those type of guys. Historically, I’m attracted to subjects who displayed that kind of brilliance, maybe even to the cost of their own lives. Orson Wells. Benjamin Franklin. Howard Hughes. Harry Houdini.
Robert E. Howard. These guys, Jack Teagarden, all had this sort of intensity about them, this sort of effortless means of creation that was responsible for why they were the way the were but also made them so flawed and so tragic. I don’t have a timeline on the biography. I’m waiting for a bunch of stuff to come together. I’m probably through writing biographies for a few years. I really want some time to study Teagarden more before I get into it. But, yeah, I definitely want to tackle him. Now I have to be mindful of something. I do not remember who said this, but there’s a very famous quote from a critic. I should now who said this. The quote is writing about music is a lot like dancing about architecture. I’ve got to find a way to write about his stuff, maybe not in a way that you understand it, but in a way that makes you want to listen to it. That’s really the goal. If you’re a jazz fan and you pick up the book, I’ve got to be able to write about what he’s doing in a way that the jazz fan will say “Yeah, he totally nailed it.” And you, who have never heard him at all, will go, “I don’t what he’s talking about but, man, I got to check that out.” And that’s a balancing act. Who knows how long that’s going to take?
The other thing I’ve been working on, I’ve been researching this guy for years, and I’ve finally got the means to put it into a novel form. It’s about Sailor Tom Sharkey, who was an actual golden age boxer from the turn of the century. The story involves him and his adventures. He was a very larger than life character, and the model for Robert E. Howard’s Sailor Steve Costigan, at least in terms of physicality and fighting ability. So for me, what I like about that story is I’ve loved the funny boxing stories for forever. That’s no secret to anybody who’s met me for more than five minutes. And as much as I want to go play in that sandbox, I really have a problem with pastiche authors, particularly the ones who don’t get it. Or “I want to do my thing with Conan.” Well, if you do your thing with Conan, why don’t you go do something else? So I decided that what I wanted to do was something in the funny boxer genre, but not necessarily a Robert E. Howard turn. Because Howard’s sense of humor is not my sense of humor. My sense of humor is different. And it would be bad for me to try and imitate Howard’s sense of humor. This gave me an opportunity to do something really funny in stories with this unreliable narrator, kind of a la Steve Costigan, but not a direct rip off. We’re dealing with somebody who’s at the end of his life or he’s in the twilight of his career and he’s looking back and regretting some decisions he’s made. He decides to go on this vaudeville circuit, which actually happened. What he doesn’t realize is that the vaudeville circuit train he gets on turns out to be a quest for a golden belt he left back in New York City. Things get pretty weird after that. By doing a kind of fantastical historical, that’s something that Howard never did either. His funny boxing stories are pretty straight up. Definitely it owes a great debt to that work, but ultimately I’ve moved to where I feel far enough away from it that, again, only people who’ve read the boxing stories will go, “You know, that was a Costigan flourish.” I think everybody else is gonna read it and go, “Where the hell did you come up with this guy?” And I’m gonna have to tell them, he’s straight out of history. That’s a work in progress. I hope to have that done this year and shopped around.
If you want a taste of it, we’ve got a short story collection coming out here that will be ready before Howard Days. It’s called Dreams in the Fire: Fiction and Poetry Inspired by Robert E. Howard. It’s actually a REHUPA project. Current and former REHUPAns have donated stories to this anthology. And we got a couple of ringers in there. Bob Weinberg did a story for us; Don Herron has a good poem in there. The whole thing is a fiction anthology in the vein of Robert E. Howard. Everybody had different characters and different concepts. We’ve got some pirate stuff. We’ve got some American frontier stuff. We’ve a Sailor Tom Sharkey story. All kinds of things. The entire book will be sold online, through the usual outlets, also through the gift shop [at the Robert E. Howard House]. And all the money goes to Project Pride. So it’s going to be our fundraiser book from REHUPA. And we’ll keep that active for a year, and all the profits we’re going to give over to the Howard House to let them continue the good work and keep the place up. So hopefully I’ll have that out by mid-May, if not sooner. That’s in the final stages. Really, right now between the novels and some more comic work that’s coming down the pipe, I’ll have quite a few things out this year. I’m looking forward to having all this out and published.