Category Archives: Mark Finn

A Superman for a New Generation, but not my Superman

So my son and I went to see Man of Steel yesterday.  He loved it.  But then he’s 11 and hasn’t really grown up with Superman the way I did.  I, on the other hand, am, um, slightly more than 11.  I started reading comics a few years before video games took over the world became so ubiquitous.  And I have mixed feelings about the movie. 

Fair warning:  There will be spoilers.  I’m going to discuss some details that you might not want to know about if you haven’t seen the film but are planning to.  Just so you know.

First, I’ll discuss what I liked about the movie.  The casting was spot-on, overall.  Laurence Fishburne is a great Perry White.  Diane Lane and Kevin Costner are perfect as Ma and Pa Kent.  Russell Crowe’s protrayal of Jor-El adds life to a character to whom, in my opinion, the movies have never done justice.  The only miscasting is Amy Adams as Lois Lane.  She fits my ideal of Lana Lang more than Lois.  Not that I’m complaining much.  Any film Amy Adams is in is one I’m interested in seeing. Still, this isn’t quite the Lois we’ve seen in previous incarnations of the character.  She’s neither the damsel in distress, the woman hoping to marry Superman, or the hard-hitting reporter or more recent decades.  Although the film tries to make us think she is.

The opening sequence on Krypton was mind-blowing.  We’re shown a weird alien world, one that’s both exotic and full of dark wonder.  The special effects here were top of the line, and the concept artists for this part of the film really let their imaginations go.  It’s what a science fiction film should be.

Unfortunately, most of the movie took place on Earth.  That in and of itself isn’t a bad thing.  It’s what director Zack Snyder and screenwriters David Goyer and Christopher Nolan do with the story that ruins it for me.

First, two major flaws in the logic.  First, and this was a biggie for me, Lois first encounters Clark when she’s investigating the Air Force’s discovery of something under ice.   Core samples show the ice to be 20,000 years old.  It’s a space ship, one that has Jor-El’s consciousness uploaded into its computer system.  How it got there is never explained.

The other is that the Daily Planet building is destroyed in the final fight between Superman and General Zod.  A few days later (or so it seems), it’s all in one piece.

Amy Adams as Lois Lane

There were some other changes that irked as well.  Lois discovers Superman’s secret identity before Clark ever adopts the persona of Superman, much less gone to work at the Daily Planet.   Lana Lang is only in one scene when Clark is a young boy.  Lana was a big part of Clark’s childhood and should have been given more screen time.  Jimmy Olsen is completely absent from the film.  Instead, he’s replaced with an obnoxious guy who hits on Lois in the film’s final scene.

The thing I most objected to, though, were the changes in Superman’s character.  All of Clark’s youth is shown in flashbacks.  In one, an essentially grown Clark is traveling with his parents along an interstate when there’s a tornado.  Everyone takes shelter under an overpass.  Jonathan goes back to rescue their dog and is injured, preventing him from making it back to the overpass before the full force of the tornado hits.  Clark is about to save him when Jonathan shakes his head no, in essence telling him to keep his powers secret.  (This is a big deal with Pa Kent in this movie.)  So Clark watches as his father dies, never doing anything to save him.

I call BS.  The Superman/Clark I grew up reading about would never have allowed that to happen.

Nor would he have fought the Phantom Zone criminals in the middle of Smallville, pretty much trashing the entire downtown and putting hundreds of residents at risk, especially when the fight spills into the local IHOP.  The same goes for the final fight in metropolis, in which Superman and Zod trash the city to the point that the movie begins to look like a post apocalyptic film.  With the amount of destruction they wreak, there has to be a major loss of life.  Yet in both cases Superman doesn’t try to take the fight somewhere else, where fewer people can be hurt.  Nor does he stop to help those on the ground until the finale of his fight with Zod.

But the thing that most goes against the role of Superman, at least the one I grew up with, is that he never, ever kills people.  Yet he kills General Zod at the end.  He’s got his arms around Zod’s neck, and Zod is using his heat vision to try and kill some innocent bystanders.  Superman breaks his neck.  I wanted to know why he simply didn’t fly off with Zod.  Or why Zod didn’t move his eyes rather than his head and zap the bystanders before Superman could do anything.

Superman’s grief and torment over killing Zod is to engage in a primal scream and give Amy Adams a hug.  I understand that during one of the reboots of Superman that happened during a period when I wasn’t reading comics, something similar occurred.  The repercussions went on for quite a while. Here he just had a good cry, and it was done.

I understand about updating characters.  I really do.  And in principle, I don’t have a problem with it.  But what should be updated are the details, not the heart and soul of the character.  When changes are made on too fundamental a level, the character isn’t the same any more.

Anyway, as visually arresting as much of the film was, it was ultimately unsatisfying.  At least from my perspective.  This isn’t the Superman I grew up with, in any of his incarnations.

Mark Finn has a detailed examination of how Superman has changed through the years, in both comics and film here

Howard Days 2013, Part 2

Today marks the 77th anniversary of Robert E. Howard’s passing.  I’ll be raising a glass later this evening in his memory.

Lansdale and Truman

After lunch, I swung by the post office and picked up some post cards with this year’s commemorative cancellation.  Then it was back to the library for the panels.  The first one featured GoH Tim Truman.  Joe Lansdale interviewed him.  Joe wasn’t on the original schedule but had driven over to see Tim.  They’ve worked together on a number of projects, including a Conan comic, The Songs of the Dead.  As is typical with old friends, their conversation flowed smoothly.  This panel was one of the highlights of the weekend.

I have to say that both of these guys were some of the most open and approachable pros I’ve ever met.  I’ve met Lansdale at a number of conventions, but this was my first time to meet Truman.  They never hesitated to sign something, pose for pictures, or just chat with fans.  They were both gentlemen.  The fact that they’re both fans of Howard helped, I’m sure, but that’s just how these guys are.  I hope they come back.

Rob and Bob Roehm

The next panel was Rob Roehm and his father Bob discussing how they got started traveling around doing research on the places Howard visited in his travels and identifying some of the places in the photos we have of Howard.  They showed the latest results of their research, identifying the bridge on which Howard and one of his friends are posing in a boxing stance.

Afterwards, I hung out at the Pavilion visiting with folks until it was time to go to the Banquet.  The Staghorn Cafe catered chicken fried steak, and it was excellent.  I put in some bids on a few items in the silent auction, winning most of them.  The speaker’s stand is in the photo to the left; the initials are old Conan comics.  There weren’t as many fans this year as in the past few years, but more people from Cross Plains attended.  This is a good thing because it means the community as a whole is getting more involved in continuing Howard’s legacy.

Tim Truman spoke how he discovered the works of Robert E. Howard and the impact that discovery has had on his life.  The REH Foundation Awards were given after dinner.  A complete list of the winners can be found here

Fists at the Ice House: (l. to r.) Gruber (foreground), Shanks, Finn

The last panel of the night was presented by Mark Finn, Chris Gruber, and Jeff Shanks.  “Fists at the Ice House” has been a popular panel for several years.  Started by Finn and Gruber, it takes place at what was once an ice house where Howard boxed in his early 20s.  Because the panel takes place outside, it was moved to an after dark event due to the relentless Texas sun and heat.  With the publication of the first volume of the collected boxing stories, Finn announced that this panel is going to be retired for a while.  I’ve never really gotten into boxing, but after listening to these guys discuss the role boxing played in REH’s life and read from his boxing stories, I’ve really come to appreciate that aspect of Howard’s work and personality.

Saturday was another great day (except for when I discovered the hard way the location of a yellow jacket nest outside the library).  The morning panel was Mark Finn interviewing Tim Truman and Joe Lansdale about working for Dark Horse comics.

Lunch

Lunch was the REH Foundation Legacy Circle luncheon.  The Tex-Mex was good (few people can make rellenos right), the company was great, and the perks were outstanding.  Although this year’s commemorative pin wasn’t ready, there were two newsletters.  The first was the regular newsletter.  The second was a special edition containing drafts of letters Howard wrote to HPL but never sent.  These letters are not included in A Means to Freedom and have not been published anywhere else.  Truly, membership does have its privileges.

After lunch Rusty Burke, Paul Herman, Joe Lansdale, and Mark Finn discussed Howard’s Texas.  The what’s up with REH panel back at the pavilion was pretty short.  No one from Paradox Entertainment, which owns the rights to Howard’s work, was in attendance this year, so there wasn’t any news about film deals.  The Foundation publishing schedule was announced, consisting mostly of boxing and westerns.

Jeff Shanks on Caddo Peak

Dinner that night was the traditional barbeque at Caddo Peak Ranch.  I hadn’t intended to climb the peak this year, but with the temperatures so low, I decided to make the trek.  At least this year there were no snakes. After dinner, picture taking, and watching the sunset, many of us returned to the Pavilion for poetry reading and general socializing.  I stayed until everything started to break up, then headed home.  Howard Days 2013 was over, and it was one of the best.

A special thanks is due to the members of Project Pride:  Arlene and Tom Stephenson , Era Lee Hanke, Diana Miller, Tom and Anne Rone, Larry and Nora Pointer, Betty Sue Adams, Don Clark, Janette Dugger, Kennith and Ann Beeler. Without those folks and their tireless work, Howard Days wouldn’t be what it is.

Photos continue below.

Watch out for the thorns.

The Guests of Honor pose with no one important.

Al Harron strikes a Howardian pose

Gruber and Finn discuss Howard’s works.
Sunset on the ranch

Howard Days 2013, Part 1

I’ve been attending Howard Days for approximately a decade now.  I think this was the most enjoyable one of all.  The weather couldn’t have been better.  It was unseasonably cool, so much so that I never worked up a sweat.  Joe Lansdale was the surprise guest, and he really added to the experience.  I got to meet a reader of this blog I’d not met before (Hi, John!), renewed some friendships, and had a fantastic time.

I’ll break this post up into parts for a couple of reasons.  First, I don’t think I can get everything written tonight.  Second, I’ve got a lot of pictures, so I’m going to break things up to keep the post from getting too long.

The official events started on Friday, but there’s always an informal kickoff dinner at a steak restaurant in Brownwood.  This was the first year I’d managed to make that part of the weekend.  Robert E. Howard is buried in Brownwood alongside his parents.  I’d not visited the grave before; I’ve always stayed at my parents’ house for Howard Days and they live an hour in the opposite direction.  So I made sure I had time before dinner to swing by the grave site and pay my respects.

Then off to dinner.  The food was good, and there were over two dozen people there, scattered over at least 5 tables.  I was at the largest, and as in any gathering of Howard fans, the conversation was far ranging.  Among the topics discussed were movies, the differences between male and female Howard fans (Ain’t opening that can of worms here; ya had to be there.), comics, auto repair, and the food.  We also got to see two recently uncovered photos of Howard that haven’t been published yet, although there’s some uncertainty about whether one is really him.  After dinner, people split up.  Some went to back to Cross Plains to the Pavilion while others went to the cemetery.  I went back to the cemetery with that group.  That’s most (but not all of them) in the picture. They are (l. to r.) Lee Breakiron, Jeff Shanks, Deuce Richardson, John Bullard, Tim Arney, Al Harron, Barbara Barrett, Bill “Indy” Cavalier. 

Greenleaf Cemetery is one of the old style, elegant cemeteries you don’t see much of anymore.  There are a lot of tombstones, small statues, and obelisks, but not too many of the flat markers meant for lawn mowers to run over.  It was a peaceful place.

After visiting the Howards’ gravesite, we stopped at Tevis Clyde Smith’s grave.  It was getting late by the time everyone left.  While I would have liked to have gone back to the Pavilion and socialized, I went on home and got some sleep.

Don Clark (l) leading the tour

The next morning, I made it down to the Howard House just as the tour was starting.  The tour varies every year so that it’s not the same thing all the time.  This year, local historian Don Clark (who always does an outstanding job) took us to the nearby communities of Cross Cut and Burket, where the Howards lived before moving permanently to Cross Plains.  There’s not much left of either town, although in the early part of the century they were both boom towns.  We saw the gazebo in Burket where Hester and her young son would read together.  The house is gone, the gazebo being all that remains.

Harron, Truman, Shanks, Finn

We drove back to Cross Plains, and I visited the House, bought some items in the gift shop, and head downtown to the library for the first of the panels.  The morning panel consisted of Al Harron, GOH Tim Truman, Jeff Shanks, and Mark Finn discussing the history of REH in the comics.  It was extremely educational.  I didn’t know that Conan’s first comic appearance was in the 1950s in a Mexican comic.  Conan was blond and was a supporting character.  The main character was Belit.  The comic was titled La Reina de la Costa Negra (the Queen of the Black Coast).  The comic ran for a number of years in two formats.  Not much is known about it.  When the panel was done, I headed off to lunch (fresh grilled chili dogs) at the Pavilion.

Mexican REH comics
Closeup of Mexican comics
Mark Finn defending his position at dinner.

I’ll discuss the other panels and the rest of the events in the next post.  For now I’ll leave you with some pictures. 

Happy Birthday, Conan.

I’m a little late getting this post up, but this month marks the 80th anniversary of the first appearance of Conan, the man from Cimmeria.  Conan first appeared in “The Phoenix on the Sword”, a rewrite of an unsold Kull story, “By This Axe I Rule!”  I blogged about both pieces here.  That’s the cover of the issue, December 1932, there on the right.  And, no, Conan wasn’t featured on the cover.  But he soon would be.

It’s been a while since I last wrote a piece dedicated solely to Conan.  No, don’t go looking it up; all you’ll do is embarrass people, namely me.  I’m going to look at three more Conan stories, maybe more.  The stories I’ll definitely look at are “Rogues in the House”, “Queen of the Black Coast”, and “Red Nails.”  There are a few other Conan tales I will try to get to, but those three are, in my mind at least, major stories that every Howard fan should read.

Howard wrote that Conan seemed to spring into his mind as a fully fleshed character.  There’s good evidence that wasn’t literally the case.  Still, Conan is arguably the most fully fleshed out character Howard put to paper.  The world he inhabits is by far the most complex and detailed of any Howard created.  Mark Finn argues in his biography, Blood and Thunder (reviewed here), that Conan was the most commercial of Howard’s Weird Tales creations.  He makes a good case.  Whether or not Finn is correct, it was Conan and the classic tales in which he appeared that gave us those gorgeous Margaret Brundage covers.

Conan was the first Howard I read.  As a result, he holds a special place in my heart.  I was a freshman in college when I started reading Conan, in the Ace reprints of the de Camp and Carter edited Lancers.  I soaked it all in.  When I think of sword and sorcery, Conan is usually what comes to mind.  A loner who lives by his own code in an exotic world filled with danger, monsters, and magic.  Along with a few scantily clad females.

A lot of the appeal for me of the Conan stories are the fact that they are stand-alones.  Yes, there are some that obviously take place later in Conan’s life, but for the most part they can be read in any order.  Whether you read a whole volume at once or only a single tale, these stories still take me to a land of adventure. 

This is the mental template I have for a sword and sorcery character or series.  Self contained adventures full of the exotic and wonderful with a dash of horror, where the swords are fast, the magic is dark, and the heroes are both larger than life and flawed.  And anything is possible.

These are the qualities I look for in sword and sorcery.  Fortunately those qualities are still around.  So happy 80th, Conan.  Here’s wishing you many more.

Report on Fencon IX

Fencon IX was held in Dallas over the weekend (Sept. 21-23).  I thought it was a great success.  Of course my definition of success is pretty simple.  I had a good time.  In spite of some friends and/or regular attendees not being able to make it this year.

I arrived at the hotel on Friday afternoon after a long drive.  The first two panels I attended were slideshows by the artist guest of honor, Donato Giancola.   In the first slideshow, he discussed how he became interested in art in general and how he came to do paperback covers.  The second slideshow was more about how the Old Masters and some of the modern 20th century artists influenced him.  There was some overlap between the two programs, but both were worth attending.  Some of the paintings he showed were from a series he jokingly called Dead Things on the Beach.  Many of these haven’t been published, and they were some of my favorites.  One that has been published is the cover of The Golden Rose, by Kathleen Bryan.  That’s it on the right.  You can see what the original painting looks like here.

Toastmaster Peter David did a great job on the opening ceremonies, throwing toast into the audience.  At least until a piece landed inside one of the large bowl light fixtures.

I made a run to Half Price Books later that night with a box of items, mostly duplicates from small presses that I’d gotten in some grab bag sales, but a few things my wife wanted to get rid of.  They offered me $30.  It was to laugh.  I thanked them, kept the books, and got considerably more (much more) than that in trade credit in the dealer’s room for about half of what I had in the box.  (Thanks Willie and Zane.)

When I got back to the hotel, I hung out in the hall outside the con suite and listened to astronaut Stanley G. Love tell what all he went through to get into the astronaut program.  There were some room parties that night which I visited, then went to bed. 

Finn and Simmons, Barbarians Brunching

I bounced around several panels Saturday morning, then at noon attended Brunch with Barbarians, a joint reading between Mark Finn and Heroic Fantasy Quarterly editor Adrian Simmons.  The pieces they read were good, and so was the spread. 

More panels and signing that afternoon, along with a nap and dinner with Finn and Simmons.  The panel on the future of space exploration was packed, with folks (including me) standing at the back.  Special guest Karl Schroeder moderated a great panel on what science will look like in the far future.  I missed a great deal of GoH C. J. Cherryh‘s address, but what I caught was fascinating.  She was speaking on how climate change has affected empires over the historical record.  I missed most of the events with the other guests.  I usually spend some time listening to the musical guests, but this year I was pretty much otherwise occupied.  (That’s one of the things I love most about Fencon, the music track.)

The maintenance people were working in the room across the hall from me and set off the fire alarms.  The entire convention evacuated long enough to get outside and come back in.

At 5:00 that afternoon, there were a launch party for a benefit CD in the con suite.  The CD is Cath, and the proceeds go to the Michael J. Fox Foundation.  It’s Celtic music, probably my favorite genre, and some of my favorite artists perform on it.  You can hear samples by clicking the above link.  Melissa Tatum did a great job of putting this one together.

That evening I mostly hung at parties and visited with friends.  I’m getting way too old to be staying up past midnight, I’m discovering.

(Large) mammals of action: me and Todd Caldwell

Sunday had another full slate.  Donato was supposed to do a live portraiture demonstration, but he had to leave early.  The two highlights of the day were the Phineas and Ferb panel (yes, yes I did attend) and the panel celebrating 80 years of Conan.  If you aren’t familiar with Phineas and Ferb, you’re missing out on some of the most intelligent and creative science fiction cartoons around, one that not only gets geek culture, but treats it respectfully.  If you don’t believe me, just watch the episode set in a science fiction convention.  Members of the panel and audience displayed great taste in fashion, as you can see in the picture.

The Conan panel was the last one I attended, with good and thought provoking discussion.  Mark Finn maintained that Conan was something of an anomaly in Howard’s work in that Conan was created for a specific market, namely Weird Tales.  He says that the way women were portrayed in most of the Conan stories (Belit and Valeria being exceptions) was intended to appeal to editor Farnsworth Wright and get on the cover (and thus get paid more).  As a counter-example of Howard portraying strong women, he and some of the other panelists pointed out “Sword Woman”.  That was a good way to end the convention.  Not wanting to leave, I reluctantly drove home.

It was a great convention.  I’m looking forward to next year, although I’m not sure how big the convention will be.  Worldcon will be held less than a month prior, and it will be in San Antonio. 

Blood and Thunder, Release 2.0

Blood and Thunder
Mark Finn
The Robert E. Howard Foundation Press
$45 REHF members, $50 nonmembers, plus shipping

It’s been a few years since the first edition of this volume was published, and in that time Howard studies have moved forward, with new biographical material coming to light.  In fact, new biographical details  have continued to be unearthed since this edition went to press. That will probably (hopefully) continue for some time.

As he explained in the two part interview posted here last year (part 1, part 2), Mark Finn felt it was time for a second edition.  Rather than rehash his remarks, I’m going to get straight to the point and discuss the book.

Including the endnotes but not the bibliography and index, the book comes in at 426 pages.  It starts slow, giving family background information.  That’s typical in any biography, so please don’t take the previous sentence as negative.  That’s just the way it is.  The book is divided into four sections, same as in the previous edition, with some chapters being heavily rewritten and others hardly touched.  Again, not surprising or in any way atypical of many biographies that have new editions.

The book really took off for me in the second section, with the first chapter, “Authentic Liars”, discussing the oral storytelling tradition in which Howard grew up.  It’s the tradition of the porch raconteur, the spinner of tall tales, the person who mixes enough truth into his words that you’re never really sure at which point he begins pulling your leg.  It’s also a tradition that is vanishing, and in many parts of the country, lost.

This chapter sets the tone for much of what follows.  Finn’s central thesis, or one of them at least, is that to understand Howard, one must understand the Texas in which he grew up.  It’s a valid point, and one which is easy to overlook.  With many of the traditions and values of the time being passed down relatively unchanged, we often forget how much has changed.

While this concept was central to the first edition of the book, Finn has expanded on it.  What’s fairly new, and in my opinion of major importance to future Howard studies, is Finn’s assertion that an understanding of Howard’s humor is required to truly understand the man and his work.  This is in my opinion one of the strengths of the second edition.  I’ve never gotten into Howard’s humor.  After reading the new material on his humorous stories, and reading again about how those stories fit in with the tall lying tradition, I’m going to be seeking them out.  There’s a lot there I’ve been missing.

Finn tries his best to avoid the excesses of arm chair psychoanalysis engaged in by L. Sprague de Camp in Dark Valley Destiny.  In many ways this book was written as a refutation of that biography.  Fans of de Camp, and of DVD in particular, won’t be pleased with what they find here.  While some interpretation of how events in Howard’s life showed up in his work is inevitable in any study of the man, Finn walks a delicate line between projecting his own agenda and biases on his subject and erring on the side of caution too much by not offering any interpretations at all.  For the most part, I think he’s successful.  He tries to delineate what are his opinions and what are facts.

By the time I turned the last page, I had a new understanding of Robert E. Howard the man.  While I had always pictured him as someone who wanted to fit in, some of the details had been filled in.  Hopefully I’m not merely projecting my own experiences growing up in a similar small Texas town nearby onto what I read.  Finn  quotes from Howard’s correspondence (collected in three volumes by the REHF Press), especially his correspondence with H. P. Lovecraft (collected in two volumes by Hippocampus Press).  I’ve got these volumes but haven’t finished reading them.  I will, if for no other reason than I want to understand better the different facets of his personality Howard presented in his correspondence.

Never one to shy away from controversy, Finn has expanded his remarks on Conan.  Rather than get into Conan here, I’ll just say that he thinks “Queen of the Black Coast” isn’t one of Howard’s best Conan tales.  While I’ve not posted anything new in my series on Conan (see links in the sidebar) in a while due to other projects, I’ve not given up on the series and will save my remarks for upcoming installments. 

I do have a few gripes about the book overall, though nothing major.  At the front is a map of West Central Texas during Howard’s time, showing the roads.  Mark told me at ConDFW last weekend that he had pieced the map together from several maps and had removed more than one road that didn’t exist in Howard’s lifetime by hand.  He missed one major highway, though:  Interstate 20.  The interstates weren’t built until a couple of decades after Howard’s death.  This might seem to be a minor thing, but it does call into question the accuracy of the rest of the map.  For what it’s worth, the interstate is near the top in the middle of a number of other highways (I used a magnifying glass to confirm it was there), and thus easy to miss.  I personally don’t think it’s a huge deal.

A map of Cross Plains during Howard’s lifetime would have been nice, though.  Surely it wouldn’t have been too difficult to obtain one.  I was also disappointed in the number of photos.  Each chapter opens with a photo.  There’s no section of photographs, and some of the more famous ones are missing.  Primarily on this point, there’s no photo of Novalyne Price.  I’m not that crazy with the one on the cover, either.  In fairness, I realize that copyright issues probably prevented Finn from including some of the photos most readers might expect.  Also, more pictures of Cross Plains in the 20s and 30s would have been a nice touch.  And I’ve never seen a drawing or map of the Howard property at the time of his death.  Where was the car parked?  Was it outside or in a garage?  Did they even have a garage?  Also, Howard took to wearing a mustache near the end of his life.  Did he still have it when he died?  It’s clearly visible in the last known photo of him (included in the book).

Overall, though, this a major work.  Howard scholarship and fandom are contentious enough that it would be easy to stoop to the level of picking nits (which I’m sure some will say the preceding two paragraphs did).  Finn has set the standard here by which future biographical projects will be measured.  By examining the cultural influences on Howard, Finn has expanded the avenues by which scholars can approach their subject.  I would like to see further analysis of Howard’s humor for example.  Still, this is a volume that belongs in the library of any serious fan of Texas literature, Robert E. Howard, or the pulps.

Publications from the REHF Press tend to be priced out of the range of the casual fan.  The production values make them worth the money, and the limited print runs mean if you want a copy, don’t wait.  While popular titles go through more than one printing, not all of them do.  While I have every expectation this one will see a second printing, they take time.  If you want a copy, grab one now.

Report on ConDFW XI

Author GOH Cherie Priest

ConDFW XI was held over the weekend, beginning on the afternoon of Friday, February 17 and ending, as these things tend to do, just over 48 hours later, on Sunday February 19.  The author Guest of Honor was Cherie Priest, and the artist Guest of Honor was William Stout.

I wasn’t able to get away as early as I’d hoped Friday morning, so I missed the afternoon panels.  I visited with friends, kibitzed with Mark Finn during his signing, then went and grabbed some food.  The Opening Ceremonies were held after dinner and only lasted five minutes.  Since I was five minutes late, I got there just as everyone was leaving. 

I visited with some more folks, confirmed the time for an interview, and generally hung out.  Mark Finn hosted a panel on talking during the movies, a sort of live Mystery Science Theater 3000.  I only sat through part of one of the movies, but it was baaaddd.  I visited the Fencon party, the only one on Friday, and called it a night.

Self-publishing panel

There were a couple of panels on electronic publishing Saturday morning. The first was really good and consisted of advice from Tom Knowles, Carole Nelson Douglas, Nina Romberg, Kevin Hosey, and Bill Fawcett.  This was followed by a panel on scams aimed at authors looking to self-publish.  It consisted of P. N. Elrod, Lillian Stewart Carl, Melanie Fletcher, Mark Finn, and Bill Fawcett.  I snuck out of this one part way through to stick my head in on a panel about breaking writing rules.  Panelists included Kevin Hosey, Chris Donahue, K. Hutson, A. P. Stephens, and Rhonda Eudaly.

I had lunch with some former students.  When I returned I attended a reading by Martha Wells and Sue Sinor.  Afterwards, Martha was gracious enough to answer a few questions for an interview.  I’ll post it after I’ve transcribed it.  I poked around in the dealer’s room, then ended the afternoon with a couple of panels.

Space Opera Panel

The first one on trends in space opera, a subgenre near and dear to the lump of coal that passes for my heart.  This panel was the most fun.  The panelists were Ethan Hahte, Lee Martindale, and Mark Finn (who always introduced himself differently on each panel).  Poor Bill Ledbetter tried to moderate.  Mark was drinking an energy drink, and the conversation was lively.  Since I’m friends with all the panelists, I tended to throw in my two cents a lot as well.

From there, I went to the opposite extreme, the panel on using Norse mythology in your fiction, another topic near and dear to my heart.  I got there a minute or so after the panel started and stood at the back.  It was in one of the larger rooms and well attended.  What I could hear of the discussion, which wasn’t much, was interesting.   Unfortunately the woman moderating spoke in just above a whisper, and at the risk of sounding sexist, so did all the other women on the panel.  The only panelist who even tried to project his voice to the back of the room (and succeeded) was the sole male.  After about ten minutes, I decided that if I had been sitting down, I would have fallen asleep, so I went and met friends for dinner.

That night was the traditional panel on pornography vs. erotica.  The conclusion was that erotica is what I like, and pornography is what all you perverts like.  If you want details, you’ll have to provide proof of age.  I went party hopping after that.  The best one was thrown by Tom Knowles, author and the publisher of Dark Star Books.  In addition to homemade corn bread and venison chilli, I scored a free copy of Morticai’s Luck by Darlene Bolesny.  Look for the review sometime this spring, probably April.

Sunday brought an interview with Brad and Sue Sinor, some readings, and a panel on how to fix terrible prose from Lee Martindale, Mel White, Lou Antonelli, and Adrian Simmons, one of the editors of Heroic Fantasy Quarterly.  Then I rode off into the sunset.  Literally.

Other than the whispering panel, I only had one frustration.  There was a late addition to the schedule, a tribute panel to Ardath Mayhar.  I had an appointment for an interview at that time, and when I got there (still within the advertised time), the room was empty.  While I applaud the con committee for adding the memorial, I I wish it had been emphasized more.  I hope someone attended.  Hopefully there’ll be one at Fencon.  Ardath was one of the guests one year.

The dealer’s room didn’t have as many books as in the past, mainly because Edge Books is in the process of shutting down and only had two tables.  Still it was good to see them there.  I was under the impression that had closed for good.

The hotel is a great venue.  It’s a triangular atrium style design, with the elevators in the middle of the place, facing each other.  It was fun to watch get off them and then try to figure out which way to go to get where they were headed.  The restaurant gave convention attendees a 10% discount, a nice first.

I’ve attended all but one of the ConDFWs.  I have to say this was one of the most enjoyable.

The Next Week or So

I’m getting over a sinus infection at the moment, something that isn’t helped by the dust and the wind here on the South Plains.  Unless something major happens tomorrow, I probably won’t be posting anything new until Sunday night or more probably Monday evening.  I’ll be attending ConDFW this weekend and will give a full report when I get back.  I’m also reading Mark Finn‘s updated biography of Robert E. Howard, Blood and Thunder, and Matt Forbeck‘s Carpathia.  They’re both great reads, and I’ll review them next week.  I had hoped to finish one of them in time to write a review before the con, but being sick has slowed me down some.

In the meantime, this Saturday will see the first guest post here.  Author Ty Johnston is doing a blog tour to promote his new book, Demon Chains, the latest in his Kron Darkbow series.  I’d like to thank Ty in advance for his column.  I’ve read it, and it’s good.  Check it out.  And if you haven’t read any of his books, start with City of Rogues, which I reviewed a few months ago.

Coming up after the report on ConDFW, I’ve got commitments to review (not necessarily in this order) Shadow’s Master by Jon SprunkThief’s Covenant by Ari Marmell, The Alchemist of Souls by Anne Lyle, Blackbirds by Chuck Wendig, Trang by Mary Sisson, and Rise and Fall by Joshua P. Simon.  I’ll probably look at some short fiction in the midst of all that, plus the occasional essay.

RIP, Glenn Lord

Several Robert E. Howard related websites and blogs are reporting that Glenn Lord (1931-2011) passed away sometime yesterday, New Year’s Eve.  In case some of you don’t recognize the name, Glenn Lord was the person most responsible for helping to get Conan and Howard’s other work back  into print in the 1960s and 1970s.  I only met Glenn a couple of times and never really knew him.  By the time I became active in Howard fandom, Glenn wasn’t attending many Howard Days, at least that I can recall.  There’s nothing I can say that those who knew him well can’t say better.  There really hasn’t been time for any lenngthy tributes to be written (you can’t rush that type of writing), by read these brief tributes and announcements by Mark Finn, Damon Sasser, James Reasoner, Al Harron, and check the REHupa site periodically for more information.  Glenn touched many people in a significant way, and as tributes are posted over the next few days, I’ll provide links to all the ones I see.
Sigh.  I really didn’t want to start 2012 with this type of post.

Interview with Mark Finn, Revisited

Back in late February, I interviewed several people at ConDFW and posted those interviews over the next few months.  Links to those interviews can be found in the sidebar.  The longest interview was with Mark Finn, and it was so long that I broke it into two parts, which I posted a week apart.  The second part was shorter than the first because I chose to make the break at a point where the topic of our conversation shifted rather than at the halfway point.

Both parts of the interview were well received and quickly found a place in the top ten most popular posts, which was fine with me.  For some reason, the second half of the interview had about 10% more page views than the first, maybe because more people linked to the second half.  I wasn’t really concerned, since both parts of the interview got a lot of traffic, Mark was happy with the interview, and Adventures Fantastic was linked to on other blogs and websites.

Then about six or eight weeks ago, something unusual happened.

The first part of the interview began to pick up more traffic.  At first I didn’t think much of it, because both halves of the interview have gotten a small but steady flow of traffic since the initial interest died down, as have several other posts I’ve done since I started this blog.  Blogger shows the ten most popular posts, and there’s always some relative movement in the middle of that list.

But I noticed something.  While the first part of the interview saw an upswing in the number of page views, the second half didn’t.  There would be the occasional bump in traffic, but nothing like what the first half of the interview was getting. In fact, the first half of the interview has surged to be the number one spot by a noticeable margin.  As I write this, it was the second most viewed post in the last day, and the third most viewed post in both the last week and the last month.  In other words, it’s gotten more traffic than most of the posts I’ve done in the last month.

First, let me say “Thank you” to everyone who has looked at that interview.  It’s extremely gratifying to me to know that an interview I conducted months ago is still of interest to people and still speaks to them on some level.  It encourages me to do more interviews, and I will.

But I’m also curious.  Why has the first part of the interview seen such an increase in interest but not the second?  It’s the scientist in me.  I’m trained to notice trends in data and question what causes them.  Please understand, I’m not unhappy that this one post is still generating traffic and interest.  Just the opposite.  I’m thrilled.  I’m just puzzled that the other half isn’t seeing the same response. The only thing I can figure out is that “Tom Sharkey” is part of what the attraction is.  That’s one of the most common search terms, and Mark discussed Tom Sharkey in the first part of the interview.  The numbers aren’t a good match, meaning that the number of page views is much higher than the number of times “Tom Sharkey” shows up in the search terms, so I’m not convinced that’s all there is to it.

If anyone has any idea what’s caused this sudden interest in the first part of the Mark Finn interview, I’d be interested in hearing it.  My curiosity is driving me up the wall.