Slowly throughout the night (a school night) I read the main story within the book. Taking my time on each paragraph and letting it sink in. Howard's skill with pace and action slowly were the first details I noticed, not the plot so much, not yet. This was a learning exercise more than just for entertainment. I was acquiring Howard's style and knew it was something that I wanted to do someday. I read that book until about three in the morning and passed out, my mind full of large scornful barbarians, slithery priests and shadowy mountainous lairs. This was the start of a long, life-time of studying his style and wanting to do something in the same vein if I could someday.
Decades later and I am a writer, but nothing that I have written was intentionally Howard inspired yet. My Steampunk novels and other projects were not in his Hardboiled, action-packed style. I had a story I wrote as a film script called 'Bring Me the Head of the Preacher Man' that seemed to fit the bill, if I could just translate it into a novel. For a decade I pondered on writing it and if I did, how it would be done. I tested several perspectives and styles but dropped it each time before it went passed the first paragraph. I was frustrated beyond belief because I wanted deep down to be an author in the Howard style if I could. Between he and H. P. Lovecraft and a little Tolkien, my influences were always in my mind.
In my bones I knew that if I could get my writing career going, it would be ultimately as a sort of protege of Howard and Lovecraft, because I have dozens on dozens of stories in their styles in my head that are original and need to see the light of the day. But I had to crack the system. There are endless lists of Howard and Lovecraft knock-offs out there, each trying to be them but failing and remaining unknown in the end. The Mythos and Hardboiled stories from the Pulp Era were a quirk, a rarity and seemed impossible to encounter again.
Finally, last year I took the dive into writing my Weird West script into novel form. After re-working areas of the story that I never liked, I embarked on it. I chose to write it in a Present Person tense and focused on just the main outlaw, Cage O'Brien, and his adventures from New Mexico, Texas to Oklahoma in the early 1890's against the evil ways of his sworn enemy Artamas Goodfellow, the 'Preacher Man'. After writing each chapter I was out of breath. It was a draining process and I loved it and am hooked. The novelization process took me three months, writing non-stop. My publisher, Damnation Books, wanted to publish it within two weeks of me submitting it, something I am still pleased about. Howard could never finish many novels of his main character Conan because of the endurance it takes to keep writing in that style. It is hard to do. Only one full novel of Conan was completed by him, the rest are classified as novellas.
I cracked the code, Howard's code, in this first novel. I felt it when writing it that if he were able to read it, he might approve. This isn't because I wanted to be like Howard in anyway, but because his larger-than-life, action packed method of story-telling appealed to me more than any other. Every adventure I designed and ran for role-playing games in 26 years was inspired by Howard and Lovecraft. I have spent most of my life approaching fiction from their angle, and it was all I knew but had little to show for it - until now. 'Bring Me the Head of the Preacher Man' is the beginning of what will turn into an avalanche of similar literature from me.
Book two, 'Dire Crossroads' is in the early stages now of being thoroughly outlined for composition. If I can achieve this second novel in his style (but yet my own), then I have many serials planned in the adventures of Cage O'Brien and the Hawks of La Sangre. He is to me, the 'Conan of the Old West', and doesn't take crap from anyone. The majority of the first story he is unarmed and yet manages to outlive scores of Apaches, Outlaws, monsters and more because he swore off guns. Guns were the reason why he turned into an outlaw in the first place and he didn't want to take that further.
A Hardboiled story is one in which the protagonist is tough, doesn't show weakness or frailty and always comes out ahead of his foes, usually saving a scantily clad damsel in distress too. Think of Conan or Solomon Kane for example, they are fierce and unable to be stopped. In the usual Hardboiled story, crime is the center of the plot and how it will be solved by a detective or lawman, but Robert E. Howard did not approach it with such mundane flair. The trick in this novel of mine was also placing a Lovecraftian side to it all too. Both authors' styles are not the same and their overall agendas are contrary too. My novel was meant to be a homage to them both and yet remain my own solid work too, a difficult feat. How to write about a main character like Cage O'Brien in a manner like Howard and yet in a harsh universe where those who survive the horrors end up insane or alcoholics was perplexing.
The true test is what people will think of course is when the book is released in the spring of 2013. I am hoping that readers will see what my point was in this novel beyond the story and realize that a little of that era can be with us again. It is a tough thing to top oneself if you have created something so larger than life and set precedents that you must do it again, with the expectations (by others) being higher. This is the problem that most movie sequels fall into, they either stick the same formula or go radically off track, but either way usually ruin it. I took almost a year before I was happy with the next story idea. This isn't a novella but again another novel. A large difference. The next story I ended up with is one that will end up later in the series from the first, in fact almost ten years after the events in that first story, it will be called 'Cold Blooded'.
So...I finally worked through the next story instead. This took me about ten months, on and off, until I was pleased with this next story. I wrote the ideas out completely out of order, with the second half first and then finally the first in proper order. This isn't formulaic (based on the first forthcoming novel) and it isn't a radical departure from it either, but another story that will seamlessly fit. I told myself that I wouldn't write on the next until I was as happy with it as I was with the first. Now I am. With plenty of the music of Ghoultown and Lovecraftian tunes to fire me up, I am about to start on 'Dire Crossroads' soon, continuing the adventures of Irish outlaw Cage O'Brien and his wild entanglements with the Elder Gods, the Law and the nightmare world he lives in.
I hope you are horrified and love what I have concocted with this series, it is something purely original and born from noble roots...
SAMPLE FROM MY NOVEL
Cage spent his watch in the early morning hours studying the distant hazy contours and rocky spires of Vulture Valley. The limestone and red earthen rocks and forms appear to be more of a labyrinth and canyon rather than just a large bowl shaped valley. He hopes that this truly is the case; it would provide for him many places to sneak and hunt his prey – the Preacher Man. If the holy-man decides to flee or attempt any tricky dealings.
By the light of dawn both the Kid and Felipe were awake and the three set off towards the looming and imposing valley. Cage’s every waking moment since he arose for morning watch was playing over in his head how the meeting will go down with Artamas and his monstrously deformed henchmen to free Penelope. Again, and again, Cage repeated in his mind the many ways that he will exact revenge and stop this evil holy-man from creating demonic chaos in the world.
Cage let Five Peso Felipe use the horse much to Kid Coyote’s chagrin but he had a reason.
The walk to the half-mile distant edge of the valley took no time at all. Before they knew it they were standing at the rocky entrance of the pass that leads into the large and slightly confusing valley. The three stood before the rock debris strewn entrance in silence for a time, soaking in the necessary strength that will be needed for the day ahead.
Kid Coyote breaks the silence, “The meeting ain’t going to hold itself I suppose.”
“Nope it ain’t. It is time.” answers Cage who then takes the first step into the sandy entrance.
The rough wind and water eroded passage into the outer edges of Vulture Valley lead to two different paths. Without placing too much thought to the correct direction Cage goes to the left. The walls of rock and earth sit in varied heights, but stay at their lowest around twenty feet on average forming walls.
As the morning hours wore on, the sun’s blazing heat grew more intense. The copper colored skies overhead are littered with more dark clouds, low and fast flying, with a return to the miserable day that was had yesterday.
“This place does live up to its name. Look.” points the Kid to the circling shapes of several large vultures overhead.
Tightening his knotted muscles from head to toe, Cage tenses with his rage concerning today’s meeting and what he will do to the Preacher Man once he is within his iron fingers’ steely grip. “By dusk I will give them plenty of carrion to feast on.”
“Señor, why do you give me the horse? You should use it since this is about your private matter with him. It would get you to him faster.” Felipe whines while wiping the sweat and grime from his brow.
Cage shakes his head, his eyes sullen and glaring ahead, “No. I do not want the animal to cower under me and cause me to miss my mark when the moment comes. I want this to go as well as possible, especially so because we do not have his bag of goods from the Santa Fe.”