Sunday, July 23, 2017

Conan and the OAK, Part 5 - 1936 - 1946 by Bobby Derie

A week before [Robert E. Howard] killed himself, he wrote to Otis Adelbert Kline (his literary agent except for sales to Weird Tales): “In the event of my death, please send all checks for me to my father, Dr. I M. Howard.” His father found two stories on which he had typewritten: “In the event of my death, send these two stories to Farnsworth Wright, Editor of Weird Tales, 840 N. Michigan Avenue, Chicago.” (IMH 84)

Robert E. Howard had made preparations for his death; Kline confirmed in a letter to Carl Jacobi that:

About three weeks ago he wrote me a letter saying that, in case of his death I should get in touch with his father. (IMH 68)

Kline’s letter is praiseworthy, both of Howard's and Kline’s ability to market him, noting that despite caring for his dying mother, Howard “has been doing a lot of brilliant writing, and we have opened a number of new markets for him with character-continuity series.” (IMH 68)

As a client from May 1933 to July 1936 (38 months), Robert E. Howard had cleared at least $2150 through Kline’s sales—and almost assuredly more, when you consider the stories that don’t appear in the ledger or Otto Binder’s commissions list. The Kline agency for its part probably cleared about $250-300 in commissions (at least the standard 10% of Howard’s sales, possibly 15% for sales before 1935). By the numbers, this wouldn’t make Howard the Kline agency’s best client; in 1936 John Scott Douglas “was good for at least thirty to forty dollars a month commissions in New York alone.” (OAK 16.1) However, Kline also stated that:

I send back for keeps approximately 80% of the material I receive [...] Of the other twenty per cent, I accept perhaps a fourth, and sometimes as high as a half, depending on how the stuff runs. The balance is returned to the writers for revision, some if [sic] it again and again, until they have done as well as they can do with it. Only then is it put on offer, and of course not all of it goes to New York. Some goes to Canada, England or other foreign countries. I select the markets to which it seems best suited. (OAK 16.2)

By this standard, at least, Howard seems to have been ahead of the pack: the only story Kline is known to have sent back without trying it on the market was “Wild Water” (IMH 19), and while Kline initially struggled to market Howard’s fiction, and advised him on revising his work and breaking into new markets, as the years went on Kline was selling a greater and greater percentage of the work that Howard sent him; Binder’s commissions list for the New York end of the business in 1935 lists more commissions from sales of the Texan’s work than any other client. (OAK 5.18) If Howard was not Kline’s best client, he was at least a steady one, and an appreciative one, as Kline uses a statement from Howard in the brochure for his United Sales Plan:

Sunday, July 16, 2017

Conan and the OAK, Part 4 - 1936 by Bobby Derie

1936 brought a few ruffles to the Kline-Howard relationship, beginning with a letter from Howard to agent August Lenniger, dated 27 December 1935:

I have received your letter of the 17th, and read it with much interest, together with the literature that accompanied it. Mr. Otis Adelbert Kline handles most of my work, and I have no reason to be dissatisfied with him. However, there’s no harm in having more than one string to a bow, as in the case of my friend, Ed Price, who does business with both yourself and Mr. Kline, and seems to be doing very well indeed. I notice that in your ad in the December issue of the [Author & Journalist] you state that, in the case of a professional who has sold $1,000 worth of stuff within the last year, you will waive reading fees and handle his work on straight commission. Well, I sold considerably more than a thousand dollars worth of stories. If you are willing to handle my work on a straight commission basis, I’ll be glad to send you some yarns and let you see what you can do with them. Of your ability as an agent there is of course no question. As to my yarns, I write westerns, adventure, fantasy, sport, and occasionally detective. I have been a contributor to Weird Tales for eleven years, and a 70,000 word novel, The Hour of the Dragon is at present running in that magazine as a serial. Action Stories is running a series of humorous western shorts, one of these stories having appeared in every issues of the magazine for about two years now. In the past few months I have made three new markets, Western Aces, Thrilling Mystery and Spicy Adventures. In addition to the magazines above mentioned my work has appeared in Ghost Stories, Argosy, Fight Stories, Oriental Stories, Sport Stories, Thrilling Adventures, Texaco Star, The Ring, Strange Detective, Super-Detective, Strange Tales, Frontier Times and Jack Dempsey’s Fight Magazine. (CL 3.395-396)

Western Aces
October 1935
Gus Lenniger was, strictly speaking, Kline’s competition, although the two were on friendly terms, and by unusual circumstances shared a client in E. Hoffmann Price, whose situation combined with the non-exclusive nature of Howard’s agreement with Kline probably precipitated the confusion. As Price tells it, he had Lenniger as his agent, but wasn’t getting sales, so:

I wrote Otis, and sent him a novelette with which Lenniger had no luck whatsoever. All I expected, in my ignorance, was some advice which I could utilize. After all, Otis and I had drunk from the same barrel. He suggested a revision, and a second revision, and then, a substantial cut. It was only then that I learned about his agency business. As a friend, he was giving me a hand. He was not looking for another client. He never once suggested that I dump August Lenniger. He took my much revised script, sold it, and also, a short story which had got nowhere. Each salvage operation was in the crime field. And then, August Lenniger got his stride. I had never had any cause for complaint. That it had taken him awhile to express himself in terms meaningful to me was natural. [...] Stories for Kline went to him as “Hamlin Daly” yarns. My “official” agent got E. Hoffmann Price stuff. Oddly, each sold to publishers which the other was not selling. An arrangement of this sort could not, and of course, should not last long. It did not. (BOD 33)

Kline had a slightly different take on events, in a letter to Otto Binder dated 14 May 1936:

I really gave Price his start in the detective story field. When he wanted to branch out he came to me, and at that time I told him I was busy with my own writing and didn’t want to take on anymore clients. I recommended Lenniger. He sent him four or five novelettes and a bunch of shorts, and Lenniger didn’t sell a damn thing for him over a period of six months. He then asked me if I would check up and see what was wrong for him. I agreed to do so, and he wrote Lenniger for a couple of the novelettes. He revised them under my directions, and I sould them right off the bat to Dell for 1 ¼ ¢ a word. He then wrote for some more, and during that six months period I sold, all told, five novelettes which Lenniger had been unable to sell because he didn’t demand revisions, and three or four short stories. With all all of these sales editors began to notice Price’s name, and Lenniger began to sit up and take notice. He sold a short story for Price, and started going around to editorial offices trying to get assignments. Then he sold a novelette, and some other stuff, and kept getting Price more assignments. In spite of that fact, I solde twice as much for Price over the period of a year as did Lenniger. I continued this record for another year. [...] Lenniger,  however, kept boring in, using the assignment method. He kept contacting new editors, asking for assignments for Price. Then he would wire or airmail Price, and naturally he wouldn’t turn down any orders for stories if he could possibly dill them, on the “bird in the hand” theory. This ran down my stock of Price stories, and of course ran down my sales. I got him the Pawang Ali assignment from Tremain, and if I had been in New York regularly could have gotten him a lot of others and beaten Lenniger at his own game. As it is, he is cashing in on a man I trained for the work, and the only way I can beat him is through the New York end. (OAK 16.6-7)

Howard had also dealt with Lenniger briefly in 1933, when Lenniger, Price, and Kirk Mashburn had the idea for an anthology that never materialized. (CL2.240; 3.14, 41) The extent to which Howard intended to use Lenniger as an agent isn’t clear, but the issue was further complicated by a letter from Howard to William Kofoed, dated 8 Jan 1936:

Thursday, July 13, 2017

Howard Days 2017: A Trip Report by Scott Valeri

Panned view of the Howard House & Museum
(Picture courtesy of Ben Friberg)

As Howard Days 2017 approached this year I felt a mixture of emotions. This included the usual excitement in anticipation of seeing old friends again, the thrill of visiting Robert E Howard’s hometown of Cross Plains, and the house where he created all of the magical characters of his imagination, but also a little concern that this may not be a “great” year to attend. This is because I had heard that several wonderful Howard/REHupa friends would not be attending for various reasons. People like Barbara Barrett, Damon Sasser, and Al Herron and his grandmother and aunts. Although these folks were greatly missed, my concerns were unfounded and Howard Days 2017 was another great year with old friendships reaffirmed, new friendships made and lots of scholarship and learning packed into three days that had the feel of a family reunion (one where you really like everyone).

Dierk & Chie Guenther
Gary Romeo in background (R)
Travel day for me was Wednesday June 7, even though events don't really start until Thursday evening, because it makes the journey a little less tiring to stretch it out. Many folks do come in on Wednesday and it was great to catch up for an impromptu dinner and get reacquainted Wednesday evening before checking in to my motel in Brownwood. The “glow” of being around people that share a similar passion, that most people don’t understand, started the moment that I entered Cross Plains and lasted through the weekend.

Thursday June 8 started for me with breakfast at Jean’s Feedbarn with Todd Vick (spoiler alert, winner of two REH awards this year!) and David Piske. I had never had breakfast at this august establishment so it was on my must-do list. Excellent meal and company. Many of the REHupan’s were there at another long table and the conversation was lively and erudite. Then it was a pleasant, slow day of checking in to the REH House and Pavillion to meet others arriving for the weekend, greet and catch up. It is always a thrill to see who comes in and to make the initial walk through the house and take in the small room and desk where REH created all of his characters and stories. The Project Pride folks, like Arlene Stephenson and her husband Tom, are warm and hospitable and help create the atmosphere of inclusion and celebration that marks the long weekend.

Derie's REH Bar Guide
(Pic courtesy of Howard Works)
A real treat was having scholar Bobby Derie generously pass out a REH Bar Guide, spiral bound, that had everything REH had ever written, in letters and fiction, about alcoholic drinks along with drink recipes so anyone can recreate some of these libations. This was an 80-page scholarly labor and delighted everyone who got one.

Dinner that night was at the Senior Center on Main Street for a fish fry and more conversation with arriving folks like Jeff Shanks and his wife Claudia.  Rusty Burke and “Indy” Bill Cavalier, who are the initiators of Howard Days from their first formal gathering of fans here in 1986, were also in attendance. After dinner the Howard Days parade went through downtown Cross Plains to kick off the celebration.

Day 1
The REH Foundation
On Friday June 9 Howard Days officially started at 8:30 AM with registration outside the Alla Ray Morris Pavilion. Coffee and donuts were provided by Project Pride. From 9 to 10:30 AM Rusty Burke conducted his annual bus tour of Howard sites in the area. I can never miss this as I feel that I always pick up new information about REH’s life and upbringing. Jack Baum was in the bus with Rusty to fill in local color for the tour. This year we went to Cross Cut and Burkett.

These are very sparse villages now but in their day were much larger settlements. Rusty and Jack helped us fill in the scenery from the 1920s. The Howards lived on the N side of a cemetery in Cross Cut and had the Newton family as friends on the S side. Dr Howard would walk to visit the Newtons and whistle his way through the cemetery. The school REH attended here has been demolished.

As we rode the narrow road to Burkett, Jack Baum explained that a “sand rough” is an accumulation of sand and weeds that develop where there are fence posts and create almost a wall or a thick barrier outside a pasture. We saw them all along the way. The connection with Howard? “Post Oaks and Sand Roughs” is the title of REH’s semi-autobiographical novel. Dr Howard bought property in Burkett but did not build a house there and wound up moving to Cross Plains to the home we know, that he bought from JM Kaufman who built it. Dr Howard did a lot of land speculation in the many towns the Howards lived in prior to settling in Cross Plains. They moved 8 or 9 times prior to 1915 when they moved to Cross Cut. Relocated to Burkett in 1917 and then Cross Plains in 1919 when REH was 13.

In Burkett, we crossed the Burkett Bridge over the Pecan Bayou that was seen in the movie The Whole Wide World. The movie was mostly filmed in Austin as it was too expensive to film more in the country. Other facts from Jack Baum and Rusty were that REH did not hunt because he did not like hurting animals, but he would tag along when his friends David Lee and Lindsey Tyson hunted.

"The Glenn Lord Collection" panel
(L to R: Paul Herman, Rob Roehm, Patrice Louinet)
11 AM was the first panel on “The Glen Lord Collection” with presenters Paul Herman, Rob Roehm, and Patrice Louinet.

All panels were at the Methodist Church fellowship hall on N Main St which was a new location that was spacious, bright and had excellent acoustics. It was very generous for the Methodist Church and pastor Kevin Morton, to go out of their way to provide all the attendees with a great venue to see and hear the presentations. It made the experience richer and more comfortable. I don't know how we can all say thank you enough for this privilege.

Sunday, July 9, 2017

Conan and the OAK, Part 3 - 1935 by Bobby Derie

1935 began with a letter from Kline to Howard, dated 28 Jan 1935; Leo Margulies rejected a synopsis for “The Silver Heel,” a Steve Harrison detective story, and Kline suggested they might try it on Roy Horn’s Two-Book Detective Magazine; though if they did, nothing came of it. (IMH 23) Kline gave a few of the Dorgan rewrites to his employee Miller to market, without apparent success. (IMH 369) Then on 13 May 1935 there was a letter from Howard to Kline:

I’m writing this to ask for some information in regard to Weird Tales. As you know, for some time I’ve had a story in almost every issue. One of those yarns you sold Wright, yourself, “The Grisly Horror,” you remember. The others I sold him direct. For over a year, as I remember, I’ve received just half a check each month — just barely enough to keep me alive, but I didn’t kick, because I knew times were hard, and I believed Wright was doing his best to pay me. But this month there was no check forthcoming — and this check would have been much bigger than any check I’ve gotten for a long time from Weird Tales. I wrote Wright, telling him the trouble I’d been in, and explaining my desperate need for money, and up to now he’s coolly ignored my letter. No check — and not the slightest word of explanation. The case is simple enough: Weird Tales owes me over $800, some of it for stories published six months ago. I’m pinching pennies and wearing rags, while my stories are being published, used and exploited. I believe Wright could pay me every cent he owes me, if he wanted to. But now, when I need money worse than I ever needed it in my life before, he refuses to pay me anything, and ignores a letter in which I beg him to pay me even a fraction of the full amount. What’s his game, anyway? Is Weird Tales still a legitimate publication, or has it become a racket? Of course, anything you tell me will be treated as confidential, just as I expect this letter to be treated. I don’t want to cause anybody any trouble or inconvenience. But Weird Tales owes me something like $860 and naturally I want to learn, if I can, if there’s any chance of ever getting paid. (CL 3.308-309)

Howard wasn’t alone; the Great Depression hit Weird Tales and the other pulps hard, and there was likely nothing Kline could do, except tell Howard he wasn’t alone—Kline himself was still selling stories to WT, including the serial “Lord of the Lamia” (Mar-Apr-May 1935). Whatever Kline’s response, Howard appeared to find it acceptable, as he wrote to Emil Petaja:

I have found him very satisfactory in every way, and do not hesitate to recommend him. (CL 3.369)

One of the selling points of Kline’s agency was foreign sales, and in 1935 it appears, after a good-faith effort to move stories in the United States, he tried to place them in Canada or the United Kingdom; Howard already having had a few stories published in the UK Not at Night anthologies before Kline became his agent. The stories included the Dorgan yarns, “Swords of the Hills,” “A Gent From Bear Creek,”  “The Voice of Death,” “The Names in the Black Book,” “The Grisly Horror,” as well as “Hawks of Outremer,” “Jewels of Gwahlur,” “Beyond the Black River,” “A Witch Shall Be Born,” and “Red Blades of Black Cathay,” (a collaboration with Tevis Clyde Smith). (IMH 358, 360, 362-363, 364-365, 366, 367, 369-370, 371) None of these stories sold in foreign markets, but Howard had also prepared a stitch-up novel of his Breckinridge Elkins stories, and Kline wrote in a letter dated 8 Oct 1935:

I recently had an inquiry from an English publisher on four Western novels submitted to him some time ago. It has occurred to me that it might be well to offer than a carbon copy of your novel A Gent from Bear Creek. The American publisher who is considering the original has not yet reported. (IMH 31)

Kline also encouraged Howard, like E. Hoffmann Price, to “splash the spicies.” Edited by Frank Armer (of Strange Detective and Super-Detective Stories), this was a fresh market for Howard. Kline wrote of the spicies:

Your story “The Girl on the Hell Ship” seems to be pretty close to what Frank Armer wants for Spicy Adventures, although it may not be quite hot enough for that book. However, I am trying it on Armer and will let you know his reaction. Price has done quite well writing for this magazine, as well as Spicy Detective. Perhaps he could give you some good tips on this sort of thing if you are interested in following up. Armer paid Price 1¢ a word for these yarns on acceptance. [...] No, I don’t think anyone has any prejudice against your name; however, I do think it wise for you to use a pen name on sexy adventure stories since you are identified with the straight adventure and Western field under your own name. (IMH 31-32, OAK 1.4-5)

Howard successfully broke into with “She-Devil” under the title “The Girl on the Hell Ship,” as by “Sam Walser,” which appeared in Spicy Adventure Stories Jan 1936. (IMH 371) With good news often came bad: Wright reported that Magic Carpet Magazine was definitely defunct, and would returned the unpublished Sailor Dorgan yarns, and Margulies rejected “The Trail of the Bloodstained God” for Thrilling Adventures, with Kline reporting:

Margulies recently wrote me that he would not use chronicles of violent action, unless adequate attention was given to plot conflict, motivation and character reaction. The theme of jewels, or treasure secreted in an idol, jewel decorations for idols and idols with jewel eyes has been done over and over so much editors are beginning to tire of it. I have received a number of stories of this sort—some of them quite good—and have been unable to place them because of editorial objections to this theme. The story also is an odd length for many magazines, as it is neither a short story nor a novelette. However, I’ll show it around—perhaps we can place it to your advantage somewhere. (IMH 32, OAK 1.4-5)

Magic Carpet
July 1933
On the surface, 1935 was not the best year for Howard; by the ledger (and Kline’s letter of 8 Oct 1935), Kline had managed to sell only “Black Canaan” ($108.00), “The Last Ride” (a collaboration with Robert Enders Allen, $78.75), “War on Bear Creek” ($54.00), “Weary Pilgrims on the Road” ($54.00), and “The Girl on the Hell Ship” ($48.60) for a total of $343.35 after commissions. (IMH 367-371) However, the ledger does not include all of Howard’s stories that were published that year outside WT, including “The Haunted Mountain,” “Hawk of the Hills,” “The Feud Buster,” “Blood of the Gods,” “The Cupid from Bear Creek,” “The Riot at Cougar Paw,” “Boot Hill Payoff,” or “The Apache Mountain War” so the total was undoubtedly higher—Howard probably cleared closer to $600 through Kline’s agency in 1935.

Part 1, Part 2
Works Cited

BOD    Book of the Dead: Friends of Yesteryear: Fictioneers & Others
CL       Collected Letters of Robert E. Howard (3 vols. + Index & Addenda)
CS       The Conan Swordbook
FI         Fists of Iron (4 vols.)
IMH     The Collected Letters of Dr. Isaac M. Howard
MF       A Means to Freedom: The Letters of H. P. Lovecraft and Robert E.                                Howard (2 vols)
OAK    OAK Leaves: The Official Journal of Otis Adelbert Kline (16 issues)
WT50  WT50: A Tribute to Weird Tales

Sunday, July 2, 2017

Conan and the OAK, Part 2 - 1934 by Bobby Derie

Super-Detective Stories
May 1934
In 1934, Kline’s agency would still be busy trying to move Howard’s fiction, and Howard for his part wasn’t slowing down his production. In December 1933 Howard sent Kline “A Gent from Bear Creek” and “The Daughter of Erlik Khan,” both of which sold in 1934; so too did “A Stranger in Grizzly Claw” and “The Names in the Black Book” (a Steve Harrison tale and the sequel to “Lord of the Dead,” accepted for Super-Detective Stories, the successor to Strange Detective Series). (IMH 364-365) The novelette “Swords of Shahrazar” was initially rejected, but Kline returned it to Howard with advice to rewrite it in a letter dated 21 Feb 1934:
Start the story by introducing your chief character and his major problem, and of course setting the scene. Make the action pop right from the start, and keep it popping. Forget that a story went before, and make this story a unit that stands by itself. I’m not telling you all this because it coincides with my own taste, but because it seems to be what [Leo] Margulies wants. And he’s the boy who O.K’s the checks. (IMH 20-21, OAK 10.11)
Howard did rewrite the story, and it did sell, though Margulies still felt it too long, and Kline clued Howard in to the hard limits on word counts among different markets in a letter dated 30 Apr 1934. (IMH 21-22, OAK 10.11-12)

There are no more letters from Kline to Howard or vice versa in 1934, but something of their business can be reconstructed from from the account-book. The Breckinridge Elkins stories (“The Road to Bear Creek,” “War on Bear Creek,” “A Man-Eating Jeopard”) were selling well to Action Stories; the exception, “A Elkins Never Surrenders” was reworked as “A Elston to the Rescue” and eventually sold. The weird detective and terror tales yarns fared worse: “Sons of Hate,” “The Moon of Zambebwei,” “The Black Hound of Death,” “Black Canaan,” and “Pigeons from Hell” were all rejected, though Kline managed to sell “The Moon of Zambebwei” to Weird Tales, where it appeared as “The Grisly Horror” in the Feb 1935 issue—though the agreement between Howard and Kline allowed Howard to submit stories to WT on his own (and thus not pay Kline a commission), the strategy at least got a sale; Kline would repeat the practice with decent results for some of Howard’s other rejected weird terror stories, including “Black Hound of Death” and “Black Canaan.” (IMH 365-369)

Weird Tales
January 1934
Sometime in spring 1934 (“Alleys of Darkness” was published in the Jan 1934 WT and was paid for in June), Kline must have made the suggestion that Howard change several of the Steve Costigan stories to Dennis Dorgan stories, as he had done with “Alleys of Darkness.” The boxing yarns simply weren’t selling, but with a fresh name and title Kline could try them again on the same markets. So “Sailor Costigan and the Destiny Gorilla” became “Sailor Dorgan and the Destiny Gorilla,” and the same with “The Yellow Cobra”, “The Turkish Menace”, “The Jade Monkey”, and “Cultured Cauliflowers,” “A New Game for Costigan,” and “A Two-Fisted Santa Claus.” Even then, the stories failed to sell. (IMH 358, 360, 362; FI 3.318-319) However, a new market opened up in the form of Jack Dempsey’s Fight Magazine, edited by Jack Kofoed, the former editor of Fight Stories and Action Stories; Kofoed asked Howard for stories, and Howard was willing to supply them. Though Howard and Kline’s agreement was non-exclusive, he asked if Kline would handle it at his normal 10% commission; however, Kline declined. (FI 3.319, CL 3.404)

Overall for the year, counting rewrites, Howard was supplying one or two stories a month, of which Kline sold seven, although he would continue to market the rest, and would eventually sell a few others. For 1934, he received payment for “Alleys of Darkness” ($45.90), “The People of the Serpent” ($85.00), “A Gent From Bear Creek” ($46.75), “The Daughter of Erlik Khan” ($195.50), “Swords of Shahrazar” ($124.95), “The Names in the Black Book” ($85.00), “A Stranger in Grizzly Claw” ($51.00), “The Road to Bear Creek” ($32.50); “The Grisly Horror” was sold but not paid for until 1936, and so received $666.60—a sizable increase over the previous year. (IMH 358-366)

Works Cited

BOD    Book of the Dead: Friends of Yesteryear: Fictioneers & Others
CL       Collected Letters of Robert E. Howard (3 vols. + Index & Addenda)
CS       The Conan Swordbook
FI         Fists of Iron (4 vols.)
IMH     The Collected Letters of Dr. Isaac M. Howard
MF       A Means to Freedom: The Letters of H. P. Lovecraft and Robert E.                            Howard (2 vols)
OAK    OAK Leaves: The Official Journal of Otis Adelbert Kline (16 issues)

WT50  WT50: A Tribute to Weird Tales

Thursday, June 22, 2017

Conan and the OAK, Part 1 - 1933 by Bobby Derie

"Until recently—a few weeks ago in fact—I employed no agent."
—Robert E. Howard to H. P. Lovecraft, Jul 1933 (CL 3.82, MF 2.605)

For the first years of his pulp career, Robert E. Howard acted as his own agent, dividing his working time between writing and revising stories and poems, and drafting letters to submit those stories to markets both new and established. The Texan’s access to market news was largely limited to what he could read on the pulps in the stands, industry scuttlebutt from his letters to Lovecraft, E. Hoffmann Price, and August Derleth, and the occasional guidance from editors. In early 1932, Howard supplemented this by joining the American Fiction Guild, a professional organization aimed at freelance writers, whose organ Author & Journalist contained advertisements for upcoming pulps and other market news. (CL 2.337) Around the same time, an unknown agency offered to represent Howard:
Hundreds of part-time authors have been dumped on the market, and that makes competition tougher. The part time writer is often more efficient than the professional; he’s had more time to study style and literature. An agency wrote me wanting to handle my stuff for a year or so. They bragged on what they’d done for Whitehead; I wrote Whitehead and he replied cryptically that he considered himself heap damn fortunate to have gotten out of their talons as soon as he did. (CL 2.368)
Otis Adelbert Kline
Howard turned them down, but the idea had merit: an agent devotes their energies to selling your material, freeing the writer to writing, allowing them to produce more; a good agent had representatives and connections in more markets than a lone pulpster might be aware of, and could handle the complicated issues of anthology reprints, overseas sales—or even radio serials and movie adaptations. Perhaps this is why in the spring of 1933, Robert E. Howard signed on with an agent: Otis Adelbert Kline.

Kline had been a writer in the pulps in his own right, today most remembered for his Edgar Rice Burroughs-esque serial novels like The Planet of Peril (1929), Jan of the Juggle (1931), The Swordsman of Mars (1933) for Argosy, but he was also an early contributor to Weird Tales, and anonymously edited the May-Jun-Jul 1924 issue. (WT50 84, IMH 175) Robert E. Howard was aware of Kline as a writer, and considered him a good one (CL 2.123, 302); Lovecraft was more critical, considering Kline’s fiction among “the pallid hack work of systematically mercenary writers[.]” (MF 2.560) Whatever his merits as a writer, Kline fell into being an agent; in his own words:
In 1923, I helped another writer, an old timer who had quit for eight years and with whom I had previously collaborated on songs and movie scenarios, and one musical comedy, to come back. He quickly told others of the help I had given him, and they told others, so presently, I had an agency, international in its scope. Soon I was selling the work of other writers as well as my own in foreign countries as well as the US. Presently, also, I was representing foreign publishers, literary agents and authors in this country, and similarly representing US publishers, authors and syndicates in foreign countries. (OAK 15.4)
The foreign angle was Kline’s United Sales Plan, as detailed by his friend and occasional client E. Hoffmann Price:
In addition to domestic marketing, Otis developed his Unified Sales Plan: every story which he accepted for handling in the States went to his foreign representatives. Although Otis did not by any means originate the foreign rights angle, he was a pioneer among his competitors in that he regarded every story as having foreign sales potential. He is not only increased his clients’ income—his approach won him new clients. (BOD 36, cf. OAK 5.9-12)
While much of the correspondence between Howard and Kline is no longer extant, the few letters that remain give an outline of their business relationship. Kline waived reading fees (a fee for reading a manuscript and trying to sell it), and worked on a straight commission: 10% of whatever the story sold for went to Kline. Kline, who was centered in Chicago, also had associates in other cities: if he couldn’t sell a story, himself, Kline would send it out to an agent. If they sold a story, they got a 5% commission, on top of Kline’s 10%. The checks generally went directly from the publisher to Kline, who subtracted his (and his associates’) commission, then cut a check to Robert E. Howard. So, for example, “Guns of the Mountain” (5,000 words) was sold to Action Stories by Kline’s associate V. I. Cooper for 1¢ per word, for a total of $50—of which Kline got $5, Cooper got $2.50, and Robert E. Howard received $42.50. (IMH 363) This practice was not always strictly followed, as magazines sometimes paid Howard directly, and he would cut a check for the commission to Kline. (IMH 372)

Thursday, June 15, 2017

Heroic’s Aside (The Writers Journey) by David J. West

“If I was wealthy I'd never do anything but poke around in ruined cities all over the world - and probably get snake-bit.” — Robert E. Howard letter to H.P. Lovecraft

I relate to that statement quite a lot. I’ve always been fascinated with history and it informs everything I do. It is likely enough that most of this post is just me projecting, so I’d appreciate if you just bear with me.
     There is just about no one I’d rather be able to sit down with for a spell and pick their brain than Robert E. Howard. His appreciation for art, poetry, history, adventure and sheer story-telling genius bowls me over.
     As big a fan as I am for Conan, Kull, Solomon Kane, Bran Mak Morn and the rest, I’ve got a very soft spot for the Horror Stories of REH. I reread the newer Del Rey collection often and even have the audio book on my phone for listening to favorite shorts on quick car trips. With that in mind, I’m also fascinated with the mysterious occult that is alluded to within stories like “The Black Stone,” “Dig Me No Grave,” and “The Dwellers Under the Tomb.”
     Enter John Kirowan, John Conrad, and John O’Donnell. Having three Johns must be a nod to reality being stranger than fiction because for three friends to have the same given name is just the right kind of Charles Fortianesque coincidence perfect for their stories.
     Used interchangeably to relate supernatural mysteries on everything from vampires to the lost race, we get to follow along with these members of the Wanderer’s Club and share in their wonder and grim discoveries.
     Now, I’ve heard/read people talk about Conan and Kull being a mirror image of Howard for this or that reason, Breckenridge Elkins too, and I can see merit in all those comparisons for various reasons. However, none of them were quite in the exact self-same era as Howard himself. However, Kirowan, Conrad, and O’Donnell are and I can’t help but wonder how much of their mystic travels and research are things Howard would have liked himself—to have been able to do himself—if the means and change in familial circumstances enabled him.
     We know he loved to read and visit historic places. Because of this, in different circumstances, he might have been a member of the Wanderer’s Club. Life being what it is, we all have family duties and financial woes, so where is a dreamer to turn? To the written page in order to escape, travel, and create that wondrous ‘What if.’ And some dreams being made up of nightmare, we, of course, get terror with some of those travels. (I borrowed that from KEW)
     What book reader wouldn’t appreciate, nay want, the very same collection of strange tomes and curious relics described in Conrad’s library? I’ve done what I can to recreate that myself, though I have had no luck in procuring any copy of Von Juntz’s works. Perhaps if I could get a hold of Tussmann’s?
     Rereading the fragment of Kirowan and Conrad, “The House,” and relaying the history of Justin Geoffrey, I could not help but wonder how much what Howard thought played with his own otherworldly nuances, making him so much different than others in Cross Plains. Every line by Howard about the poet as touched or mad is a reflection, to me anyway, of Howard’s own view of himself; an in-joke perhaps more for himself than any reader. It is here that I may simply be projecting, because as a writer myself that is what I see when I read those lines.
     If I could converse with the master himself, these are the questions I’d ask him. I’d also let him know that I owe him a great debt, and say, “Thank You,” for allowing me to accompany you on these journeys into heroic mystery and wonder. I’m eternally grateful.
About the Author:

David J. West is the author of Scavengers: A Porter Rockwell Adventure (Dark Trails Saga Vol. 1)Heroes of the Fallen, Weird Tales of Horror, and The Mad Song. He has an affinity for history, action-adventure, fantasy, westerns and pulp fiction horror blended with a sharp knife and served in a dirty glass.

Before becoming an award-winning poet, novelist, and songwriter he was vagabonding all over North America sampling native fauna for brunch. When he isn’t writing he enjoys traveling and visiting ancient ruins with intent on finding their lost secrets or at the very least getting snake bit. He collects swords, fine art and has a library of some seven thousand books. He currently lives in Utah with his wife and children.