Monday, June 11, 2012

By Way of an Apology, Howard Days 2012

I must begin this post with a big, fat "I'm sorry." I know, it's been a while, but seriously, I've been very busy. The burgeoning Jack Teagarden Museum project is ramping up and very soon, I'll have 2 1/2 jobs on my hands instead of my usual 1 1/2 jobs. Some things are going to get pushed to the side. But not this blog. I promise I'll send more out, even if it's just small updates.

Now, about this year's Howard Days...
Man, I love Texas.

I don't want to say that this year was the BEST HOWARD DAYS EVER because, in fact, every year they are great and steadily getting better. Which one is my favorite? The last one. Always is.

The annual gathering of Robert E. Howard fans, scholars, movers & shakers, and experts big and small has become more of a family reunion than anything else. So many of us are regulars and it's the only time we see each other, and we always make time to chitchat and catch up with matters inside and outside the arena of Howard Studies. The vibe is contagious amongst the old-timers: all are welcome. Even the few weirdos that we occasionally attract are conspicuous by their absence.

I don't quite know what it is that makes Howard Days so special. Maybe it's Cross Plains, Texas, itself that adds that perfect touch of homey charm and small town enthusiasm to the weekend. All of the locals are smiling and friendly and eager and willing to help in any way they can. They are always impressed by the folks who've traveled from far and wide to be there, and any foreign accents discovered are particularly exciting for all.

A Scot in Texas: Al contemplates the sunset.
I have to give a shout out here to Al Harron and his family. Al is one of the big fans in Howard Circles, operating a blog dedicated to same and is a regular presence at He's from Scotland (yes, THAT Scotland) and for the past three years, he's made the trip to Cross Plains for Howard Days. But that's not all. He has brought with him every year his mother, his aunt, and his granny. The Wyrd Sisters, they call themselves, and they are a Scottish force to be reckoned with. In Cross Plains, everyone loves them. They are such troopers, and always up for any adventure.

That's kinda what it's like. You walk up to the house, and everyone shouts your name like you're Norm from Cheers. And they all know your name. The regulars and the locals, the newcomers and the old guard. All you have to do is show up and you are immediately in the club. Because, let's face it, this is a deliberate destination. You can't just "swing by" on your way to somewhere else. You've got to intend to get there.

From my terrible vantage point, Charles Hoffman gives
his address at the banquet while Jason Momoa looks on.
For me, I have really come to rely on my second home ever since we moved to North Texas. It's one of the few places and times where I can go and let my hair down and just be myself.  As I told this year's guest of honor Charles Hoffman, "It's like, this is the only place where you can say out loud 'Isle of the Eons' and everyone instantly knows what you are talking about." I need that, frankly, as does just about any other serious geek/writer/artist/creative type/collector/gamer/superfan I know. You have to make time to be with your own.

Of course, I would be lying if I said I didn't enjoy a certain amount of, shall we say, rarefied celebrity, that comes with me attending every year. Usually it's someone walking up to me, very nervous, and saying something that begins with, "Um, Mister Finn, I just wanted to tell you how much Blood & Thunder meant to me..." And yeah, it's very flattering, but I am also keenly aware that it's the only place I'll ever be treated with some measure of respect like that. Even still, it is flattering, and I try to put everyone at ease and take time to talk to them and include them in whatever else is going on. Basically, I try to do what Rusty Burke and Bill Cavalier did for me, about a thousand years ago at my first Howard Days in the mid 1990s.

Paul Herman, Barbara Barrett, and Rusty Burke
at the Glenn Lord  Remembrance Panel.
These days, there's panel discussions and all kinds of stuff to do in addition to touring the house and taking the guided tour of Howard's old stomping grounds. No one is ever bored, except for maybe the wives and girlfriends, but even they almost always get involved and have a good time, too. I've participated in my share of them, but for the last few years, they have been packed to the gills. It's rewarding to have these folks, most of whom I know personally, and who have contact information for me, come to hear what I have to say about, say, the enduring popularity of Conan or the fact that in the Golden Age of REH Criticism, we need a stronger and more aggressive academic presence to usher Howard into American Canon status.

Reconnecting with these folks is so very gratifying, as well. Paul M. Sammon is a good example of this. Paul is an author and film person with lots of credits to his name (go check out his book, Future Noir: The Making of Blade Runner--it's incredible). He actually worked on both Conan movies with Ahnold! Well, Paul's been a regular at REH Days since the Centennial and he's got great stories that he tells about working in the last gasp of pre-corporate Hollywood. Very well-read and knows his stuff; he's a real REH fan and at any other convention or show, he'd be mobbed by people wanting to talk to him about his arm-long list of credits. But here, every year, he's just Paul and he's one of the guys.

Jeff Shanks is one of the up-and-comers in the field of
Howard Studies. He and I have some great projects
in the works, too!
With all of us in one place, and with cold beverages being freely tipped, it's inevitable that business get discussed, plans hatched, and schemes started. It's how Dreams in the Fire came to be. It's how me and Chris Gruber ended up working on the Complete Boxing Stories project together. It's how I end up 'volunteering' for special projects. That conscription usually goes like this: Rusty Burke or Paul Herman will say, from across the pavilion, "Hey Finn, come here for a second." I always think they are going to offer me a beer. I am always wrong. But some of those projects end up becoming the very thing that people win awards for. Here's a complete list of this year's REH Foundation Award Winners. You'll find my name there too!

Shameless, I tell you. Sonya is a sucker for any man
who'll scratch her tummy. 
Over the years, I've brought nearly thirty newcomers to Howard Days, either to help them get their "uber-fanboy-nerd" on, or to explain why I'm the way I am. That Cathy and the dog are also welcome (and more, understanding of why I need to do this) is one of the thousand reasons why I married her in the first place. I've gotten close to a lot of people through this annual pilgrimage of mine. It's been my pleasure to get to know so many wonderful folks (as well as a few righteous assholes--but never enough to spoil the party) involved in Howard Days. I've also seen some of those friends fade away, drop out, and even die. It's been hard on me, every time something like that happens. But the rest of the family--my friends and colleagues in this small, weird little clique--keep me grounded, keep me energized, and keep me going on, looking forward, and are a constant reminder of the promise I made my fifteen year old self, to be a good writer, and to thank Robert E. Howard for showing me what that looked like.

To all of my friends, my fellow Howard Heads, and the wonderful people of Cross Plains, thank you for all of it. I can't wait for next year.


Melissa Embry said...

What a great gathering! Got to go back -- I went a few years ago, but of course didn't know anybody.

Taranaich said...

Heavens to Murgatroyd, I'm all ablush!

In all seriousness, you elucide nicely why I take the effort to go every year. It's always the same before I go: is it really worth it to spend so much money to go through 20 hours of flight travel, delays, security checks and the like in a strange land just to meet up with a gang of like-minded people with whom to speak in person? And every single year, it is. It is always worth it.

Adventuresfantastic said...

Well said, Mark. I think I can safely say you speak for many (most?) of us who attend every year.