The world and particularly Ukraine may be on fire right now, but I’m still continuing the Non-Fiction Spotlight project, wherein I interview the authors/editors of SFF-related non-fiction books that came out in 2021 and are eligible for the 2022 Hugo Awards. For more about the Non-Fiction Spotlight project, go here.
For more recommendations for SFF-related non-fiction, also check out this Facebook group set up by the always excellent Farah Mendlesohn, who is a champion (and author) of SFF-related non-fiction.
Biographies of SFF authors and other people of genre interest have appeared on the ballot for the Best Related Work Hugo several times in the past. And both this and the next Non-Fiction Spotlight (coming next Wednesday) will feature a biography of an influential SFF-author.
Therefore, I’m thrilled to welcome Todd B. Vick, author of Renegades and Rogues: The Life and Legacy of Robert E. Howard, to my blog today:
Renegades and Rogues: The Life and Legacy of Robert E. Howard is a biography about the life and work of SFF author Robert E. Howard. Published by The University of Texas Press, the book seeks to answer two main questions: Who is Robert E. Howard? and Why did Howard write what he wrote? In the book, I lay the groundwork on what I think is one of the most important periods in Howard’s life (for his fiction); from his birth to age 13. This was a period where the Howard family traveled throughout the state of Texas (and several surrounding states), never settling down in a place for longer than 2 years, until they finally settled in Cross Plains, Texas. I detail how this period of his life (the first 13 years) was pivotal to his becoming a writer. The book then takes readers through Howard’s high school days and his early amateur writing period up to his first publication and beyond; up to the worst period of his short life, leading to his untimely self-inflicted death. I place an emphasis on Howard’s historical fiction and how that work was seminal to his fantasy fiction. And, I discuss his lifelong correspondence with other writers of his period, with an emphasis on his epistolary relationship with Harold Preece, a regional writer, also an early proponent of the civil rights movement, and with fellow Weird Tales writer, H.P. Lovecraft. The book looks briefly at a few of Howard’s more popular fantasy fiction works and discusses the publication career of his most popular character, Conan the Cimmerian.
Tell us a little bit about yourself.
I’ve been a SFF fan since 1975 (at age 10) when my step-father, a public school English teacher, gave me a set of C.S. Lewis’s, The Chronicles of Narnia. These books gave me a passion for reading. The following year, knowing how much I enjoyed Lewis’s work, he gave me a copy of J.R.R. Tolkien’s, The Hobbit. I’ve been reading SFF ever since. I earned a Bachelor of Arts degree in Theater and English (double major) at Hardin-Simmons University in my hometown of Abilene, Texas, and did graduate work in Philosophy at Marquette University in Milwaukee, WI. I’ve presented academic papers about Robert E. Howard and Vampire literature at several PCA/ACA conferences. I’ve published articles in The Weird Fiction Review, The Dark Man: Journal of Robert E. Howard and Pulp Studies, contributed a chapter to the recent, Robert E. Howard Changed My Life, and wrote several articles/chapters for other journals/books not related to SFF.
What prompted you to write this book?
The simple answer: I’ve been a fan of Robert E. Howard’s work since 1981 when, at the time, my best friend loaned me his Ace paperback copy titled, Conan, with the Frank Frazetta cover art for Howard’s story, “Rogues in the House.” The idea for a biography came to me when I purchased a copy of Glenn Lord’s work, The Last Celt back in the mid-80s. Lord’s book made me realize there were others out there who took Howard’s work a bit more seriously than the casual reader. Due to life and higher education, Howard was sidelined until I began work (mostly research) on the biography in late 2002. I am currently working on a novel.
Why should SFF fans in general and Hugo voters in particular read this book?
There are numerous reasons. The book is a biography about one of the more popular SFF writers from the 1920s and 30s. It discusses the history of fantasy fiction in the pulp magazines and, in particular, how Howard inadvertently created the sub-genre called heroic fantasy (or colloquially known as sword-and sorcery), which we all have seen and enjoyed through works (and shows based on works) like George R.R. Martin (Game of Thrones), Fritz Leiber, Robert Jordan, and others. This book is partially the essential history behind all that.
Do you have any cool facts or tidbits that you unearthed during your research, but that did not make it into the final book?
Yes! I was limited in my page count so I reserved some of this information for my blog On and Underwood No. 5 (about REH and Pulp Studies). One of the more interesting tidbits I unearthed was revealed in a blog article titled, Bootleggers & Gangsters: A Day in the Life of Robert E. Howard.
SFF-related non-fiction is somewhat sidelined by the big genre awards, since the Nebulas have no non-fiction category and the Best Related Work Hugo category has become something of a grab bag of anything that doesn’t fit elsewhere. So why do you think SFF-related non-fiction is important?
That’s a good question. I think reading about SFF can be as important as reading SFF. SFF-related non-fiction work helps preserve SFF’s history, and can be used as reference works to the SFF genre. It also emphasizes the importance of reading SFF. A lot of this has been done through academic publishers and conferences (e.g. the Popular Culture Association). Some of my favorite books have been SFF-related non-fiction works. And, I’ve learned a tremendous amount about some of my favorite SFF authors through SFF-related non-fiction books. So these works are important and should have a place of recognition. But the most important reason, for me anyway, has been bibliography. I have discovered a plethora of SFF titles and authors through SFF-related non-fiction works.
Are there any other great SFF-related non-fiction works or indeed anything else (books, stories, essays, writers, magazines, films, TV shows, etc…) you’d like to recommend?
In recent years The Library of America added Ursula K. Le Guin to its vast collection of works (Octavia E. Butler’s and Philip K. Dick’s work preceded her by a few years) so I’ve recently revisited her work in their volumes. Le Guin’s Left Hand of Darkness is one of my favorite science fiction novels. I was recently told that I had to read Martha Wells’s The Murderbot Diaries. So, I’ll be reading that soon. I’m a fan of Neil Gaiman’s work, so anything by him. A few years back, Gaiman published a SFF-related non-fiction work titled, A View from the Cheap Seats that I would recommend. I also love anthologies, if they’re compiled well. Ann and Jeff Vandermere edited one of the more recent collections of Science Fiction stories titled, The Big Book of Science Fiction, providing a nice historical sweep of stories by a wide range of writers. As for films, I recently enjoyed Denis Villeneuve’s adaptation of Frank Herbert’s Dune. Villeneuve’s film Arrival, based on Ted Chiang’s work, “Story of Your Life,” is another sci-fi favorite of mine. I also recently finished watching the TV Mini-series, Station 11, and thoroughly enjoyed it. My wife and I are in the middle of watching Schitt’s Creek on Netflix. And, I’m in the middle of a Dickens and Dostoevsky reading spree.
Where can people buy your book?
Here are the links where the book can be purchased (the first three being the most popular links):
Where can people find you?
I’ve given up on Facebook, so I’m no longer there. I do, however, still sporadically post on my writer/books Tumblr called, Word Painting. And, my REH and Pulp Studies blog called On An Underwood No. 5 is still available, though I have been too busy to post anything on it lately due to my new writing project.
Thank you, Todd, for stopping by and answering my questions.
About Renegades & Rogues: The Life and Legacy of Robert E. Howard:
You may not know the name Robert E. Howard, but you probably know his work. His most famous creation, Conan the Barbarian, is an icon of popular culture. In hundreds of tales detailing the exploits of Conan, King Kull, and others, Howard helped to invent the sword and sorcery genre.
Todd B. Vick delves into newly available archives and probes Howard’s relationships, particularly with schoolteacher Novalyne Price, to bring a fresh, objective perspective to Howard’s life. Like his many characters, Howard was an enigma and an outsider. He spent his formative years visiting the four corners of Texas, experiences that left a mark on his stories. He was intensely devoted to his mother, whom he nursed in her final days, and whose impending death contributed to his suicide in 1936 when he was just thirty years old.
Renegades and Rogues is an unequivocal journalistic account that situates Howard within the broader context of pulp literature. More than a realistic fantasist, he wrote westerns and horror stories as well, and engaged in avid correspondence with H. P. Lovecraft and other pulp writers of his day. Vick investigates Howard’s twelve-year writing career, analyzes the influences that underlay his celebrated characters, and assesses the afterlife of Conan, the figure in whom Howard’s fervent imagination achieved its most durable expression.
About Todd B. Vick:
Todd B. Vick, a researcher and independent scholar, has presented papers at multiple PCA/ACA conferences and runs “On an Underwood No. 5,” an award-winning blog devoted to Howard and pulp studies. He has contributed to Weird Fiction Review, The Dark Man Journal: The Journal of Robert E. Howard and Pulp Studies, and REH Changed My Life.
Did you publish a work of SFF-related longform non-fiction in 2021 and want it featured? Contact me or leave a comment.