Sunday, June 10, 2012

Report on Howard Days 2012

The Robert E. Howard House
This had to be the best Howard Days I've attended, and from what others said, the best ever as far as the weather went.  Because of the recent rain, Friday I don't think the temperature got out of the low 80s, and I'm not sure it got that high.  It felt more like April than June.  Saturday I think the high was in the low 90s, which is still April temperatures for this part of the world.  Today I came home to triple digits.  Welcome back to summer.

The theme this year was Conan's 80th birthday.  Like many people, Conan was my gateway drug to Howard.  While I like all aspects of Howard's work, Conan is still my favorite.  My wife had been sick the day before with the stomach bug from Mordor, so I waited until I was sure she was back on her feet before I took off Friday morning, running a few errands for her and going to the store.  I didn't get there until after lunch, so I missed the tours and the morning panel, which was a tribute to the late Glenn Lord.  Here's my take on what I was there for.

The first panel of Friday afternoon was Guest of Honor Charles Hoffman's presentation of Conan the Existentialist.  This was followed by Paul Sammon, Al Harron, and Mark Finn discussing Conan's Birthday.  When the panels were over, I hit the post office and picked up some postcards with this year's cancellation.  Afterwards, I went back to the pavillion and hung out, visiting with friends until time for the dinner and silent auction.  There were fewer people in attendance this year.  Some of the regulars had various life issues, most of a medical nature, that prevented them from attending.  They were missed.  On the other hand, there were a number of new faces who will hopefully be returning.  The general attitude was it was an up year for that reason alone. 
l to r, Jeff Shanks, Mark Finn, Indy Cavalier, Al Harron trying to get out of the picture, Jay ?

Dinner was catered by The Staghorn Cafe, which makes some of the best chicken fried steak on the planet.  Amazingly, I won most of the items I bid on in the silent auction.  They were all low ticket items, cash being tight this year, but I still walked out with ten books, a comic, and a DVD for less than $30.  I stepped into the parking lot after dinner, got caught in a conversation, and missed some of the Robert E. Howard Foundation Awards. For that reason, I'll not discuss them in depth.

An item that has become one of the most popular panels is "Fists at the Ice House".  Started by Mark Finn and Chris Gruber, this year the panel was held after the awards.  The ice house was just what it sounds like, an ice house.  This was how ice was kept in the early twentieth century, and delivery carts went around every day.  You could buy ice and put it in your ice box, where the ice would keep perishable food cold.  Some older folks (your grandparents and great grandparents) may still refer to the refrigerator as the ice box, and that's where the term comes from.  Ice houses also sold cold beverages, alcoholic and otherwise.  In Cross Plains, there was one ice house in the 1920s where young men would meet for beer and boxing.
Fists at the Ice House:  (l to r) Shanks, Finn, Gruber

Robert E. Howard was one of those men.  Mark Finn makes an excellent point:  If you want to understand Robert E. Howard the man, you need to understand his relationship with boxing.  Some of the first and last stories he sold were boxing stories, and he wrote them throughout his entire career.  Mark, Jeff, and Chris discussed this and read from Howard's boxing works.  It was rather late when this panel broke up.  As much as I would have like to hung around, I had an hour drive to where I was staying, so I took off.

After buying a thank-you gift ofr my wife for letting me attend, I toured the house the next morning.  There are some new additions.  For one thing, a number of books from Howard's personal library are on permanent loan from Howard Payne University.  Several of them are inscribed to Howard from his friends, including one from Edmund Hamilton.  I'll put pictures at the end of this post.

The morning panels (held at the library) consisted of Shanks, Hoffman, and Finn discussing efforts to get academia to take Howard seriously and laying out a strategy for this to happen, and afternoon panels featured Paul Sammon giving a slide show on The Illustrated Conan.  As well as being a writer, Paul works in Hollywood, having been a key person on a number of movies such as Conan, Blade Runner, and Starship Troopers.  If you ever meet him, talk to him. He seems to know or have known everybody and tells some wonderful stories.  The final panel was What's Happening with REH?, and discussed mostly forthcoming books (lots of boxing stories) and some information about movies (nothing major, at least that can be announced).  Then I viewed the collection of books, manuscripts, and pulps, many Weird Tales with Margaret Brundage covers.

Look what's coming to dinner.
This year I got to go to the Legacy Circle members lunch hosted by the REH Foundation.  We nearly took over the Mexican restaurant.  The food was excellent.  So was the barbeque out at Caddo Peak Ranch that evening.  We did have a couple of uninvited guests, or as Paul McNamee called them in response to my tweeting, Set cultists everywhere.  I'm referring, of course, to the snakes.  The first was a copperhead which was only a few meters from the tables.  The other was a rattlesnake the coiled up beside the trail on the hike down from Caddo Peak.  I got a picture of both, but the rattler is hard to see in the picture.  It was coiled, about three feet long, and they can strike two thirds of their body length away.  My telephoto on the camera only does so much, and I wasn't getting any closer.  Here's the copperhead, though.

After eating delicious meal and watching the sunset, I went back to the pavilion.  Barabara Barrett organized an impromptu poetry reading on the steps of the house.  We took turns reading from the poetry books we had.  No one had the complete poems, so I didn't get to read "A Song of the Naked Lands", my favorite.  Dave Hardy had some homemade mead again, which was good, as always.  I visited a while, then hit the road, later than the night before.  It was one of the most enjoyable Howard Days I've been to.

What follows are photos I took this year, some with captions.  I'll try to identify everyone I know; if I leave someone's name off or get it wrong, I apologize.  No slight is intended.

Jeff Shanks with award
Bob's Room (window view is painting; additional room to right was added later)

Bob's Room (Mrs. Howard's window is on left)
Volumes from Bob's library
The library's collection of original manuscripts

I love Margaret Brundage covers
View of East Caddo Peak from West Caddo Peak
More Margaret Brundage

A portion of the dinner party

Current and former REHupans

Bill "Indy" Cavalier reading poetry


  1. Thanks for the report, man!

    This is the third Howard Days I've missed since joining the Legacy Circle, and it's posts like this, from sword-brothers on the ground, that help me to at least enjoy the event vicariously.

    Great pictures, too. Glad that "old no-shoulders" didn't get anyone!

    Hoping to someday make it to the festivities and meet you and the other Legends,
    (glad the missus is QX, Chief)

  2. I have got to make it one of these days. Thanks for the report, I'm jealous.

  3. Honored to have made it into your post, if not to Howard Days. ;)

    I will get there some year.

    Thanks for the report.

  4. Thanks, guys. I hope all of you can make it sometime soon. The folks attending are all great, and the people in Cross Plains go out of their way to make you feel welcome. It's become one of the highlights of the year for me. If you haven't seen them, Al Harron has been doing daily posts over at The Blog That Time Forgot:

    Something similar has been going on for a couple of years now in Ohio honoring Edmund Hamilton and Leigh Brackett. I'd love to make it to that one. And I'm only a couple of hours from Portales, NM. Maybe next year I can get to the Jack Williamson lectureship.

  5. Cool, man. Brings back memories. I've seen those sights many times but it's always cool to see them through fresh eyes. thanks for the report! Maybe next year I'll go.

  6. Great report, Keith. This was a really nice HDs. More subdued than last year with all the movie craziness, but I think that was a good thing---more of a chance to just relax, hang out with friends, and geek out over our favorite writer.

    1. Thanks, Jeff. The presentations, yours included of course, helped make it the success it was. I needed the time to hang out and relax with folks. Just wish there had been another day of it.

  7. Grand write-up, old chum: catching up with you is always one of my favourite aspects of Howard Days. I agree that this is the best one yet, at least of the three I've attended.

    1. Thanks, Al. It's always great to sit and visit with you. I'm glad you and your entourage made it again this year.

  8. Wonderful write up, Keith. I had a great time this year and am happy that I got to share it with you.

    1. Thanks, Chris. It was good to see you again, as well.

  9. Great report Keith. Echoing others above, I've really got to get out to CP one of these days.

    1. It's worth the trip, even if you can only come every few years. The conversations that take place are always lively and interesting and when you leave, you know you've made new friends.

  10. I wish I could have attended this year, Keith. I had a great tiume visiting with you last year.

    1. I enjoyed the visit with you last year, as well. I was disappointed you didn't make it. Maybe next year?