Non-Fiction Spotlight: Robert E. Howard Changed My Life, edited by Jason M. Waltz

The 2022 Hugo nomination deadline is approaching and the Non-Fiction Spotlights are coming fast and furious now. If you’re just joining us, the Non-Fiction Spotlights are a project, where 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. To check out the spotlights I already posted, 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.

Essay collections have appeared in the Best Related Work category on the Hugo ballot several times and today, I’m pleased to feature a collection of personal essays about the impact that one of the great foundational writers of our genre had on many writers and scholars.

Therefore, I’m thrilled to welcome Jason M. Waltz, editor of Robert E. Howard Changed My Life, to my blog today.

This is already the second non-fiction book about Robert E. Howard that I’ve featured as part of the Non-Fiction Spotlight project after Renegades and Rogues: The Life and Legacy of Robert E. Howard by Todd B. Vick. If you’re looking for even more Howard scholarship, Jason was kind enough to send along a PDF of the Appendix REH (named after the famous Appendix N from the Dungeons & Dragons Dungeon Master’s Handbook), a list of educational and inspirational reading about Robert E. Howard and his works from Robert E. Howard Changed My Life.

Robert E. Howard Changed My Life, edited by Jason M. WaltzTell us about your book.

“Color, action, movement–growth and power! The atmosphere was alive with these elements, stinging and tingling. Here there were no delicate shadings or subtle contrasts. Life painted here in broad, raw colors, in bold, vivid strokes.” (REH in “Vultures of Whapeton”) This is not my book. I’m just the guy lucky enough to have gathered these contributors into its covers, into the same place at the same time. The above quote is on the title page, and though Howard used it in his description of the land, the times, the conditions, the people, the atmosphere and the immediacy of his Western, it is to me the ultimate triumph of his own writing. There is no better depiction of Howard’s style, no better summation of his impact with words. Thus, it is the perfect introduction to a book containing 33 memoirs of his direct impact upon numerous creators following his legacy while navigating their own. REH CHANGED MY LIFE is a collection of personal essays examining the influence of REH and many of his characters on the lives of: Barbara A. Barrett, Barbara Baum, Fred Blosser, Rusty Burke, Bill Cavalier, Becky Cloonan, Adrian Cole, Nancy A. Collins, Bobby Derie, Jason Durall, Steven Erikson, Mark Finn, Jaym Gates, Chris Gruber, Dierk Guenther, Dave Hardy, John C. Hocking, Cecelia Holland, Matthew John, Howard Andrew Jones, Karen Joan Kohoutek, Joe R. Lansdale, Patrice Louinet, Michael Moorcock, Scott Oden, Deuce Richardson, Charles Saunders, Jeffrey Shanks, David C. Smith, Keith J. Taylor, Roy Thomas, Todd B. Vick, and C. L. Werner. It includes an Afterword by Janet Morris and ‘Appendix REH: Suggested Additional Inspirational and Educational Reading’ from the contributors. Cover art is by Didier Normand. REH CHANGED MY LIFE overflows with vivid color, raw action, and bold movement exemplified. Power and growth resonant throughout the essays shared. Bob Howard did not change my life until I united these essays within this salute to his extraordinary legacy. I daresay there is no other book of its nature, not in any concerned fields, and if there were no other compulsion to explore it, that alone makes it a worthy read.

Tell us a little bit about yourself.

I am a proponent of heroic literature: I read, write, edit, publish, collect, speak, and preserve it. I’m also just a fellow who happened to lend a hand one day back in 2005 when a few small press people solicited help. Things led to other things, and in 2008 I was suddenly the micro publisher Rogue Blades Entertainment, publisher of all that is heroic, specifically heroic fantasy. Several well-regarded (though never as many as intended) anthologies–such as RETURN OF THE SWORD, RAGE OF THE BEHEMOTH, CROSSBONES & CROSSES, REACH FOR THE SKY–and the popular non-fiction how-to WRITING FANTASY HEROES later, Rogue Blades Foundation was established specifically to take on larger scale titles like REH CHANGED MY LIFE.

What prompted you to edit this book?

I believe much of modern entertainment can be traced to REH, directly or via his influence. From music to gaming to professional wrestling, all the myriad forms of storytelling through any media owes its current existence to Robert E. Howard to some extent. I’ve often thought about exploring that connection, tracing that lineage. Frankly, I also always considered it too much work. Until I heard Bill Cavalier’s Guest of Honor speech “How Robert E. Howard Saved My Life” at Howard Days 2018 in Cross Plains, Texas. While much of that audience already knew that story–it truly touched me. Before the evening was over I considered it a revelation and immediately voiced efforts to gather similar stories I knew had to exist, though slightly tweaking the emphasis to be on changed rather than saved personal lives. My initial goal was a dozen essays, due to both my perceived contributor potential and the ensuing costs. Indy (Bill Cavalier) was graciously instantly on board, as well as a handful of others present. And then word spread and suddenly I was receiving requests to be included! It truly was amazing, with contributors coming to me or quickly accepting my invitation to join. Very few that I made contact with declined, though each who did specifically stated they could not unequivocally declare Robert Howard had changed their lives and so did not deem it appropriate to contribute. I find that alone makes this an amazing book, for that means that everyone who is present definitely can point to Howard as an influencer of change in their lives! And so what I had intended to be a small, almost chapbook like title mostly intended for the Howard Days crowd became the largest title I’ve ever worked on let alone helmed. And I am humbled by it: by its contents, by its contributors, and by its potential to be my own legacy.

Why should SFF fans in general and Hugo voters in particular read this book?

Fans of action adventure in all its glories should be highly interested in learning how a founding father of American heroic literature impacts today’s storytelling entertainment directly through these contributors who attribute some of their life and career choices, motivations, creations, and successes to him. SFF fans should even moreso read this title because this is not JUST a book about Robert E. Howard and his influence–it is ALSO a book about how 33 current heroic storytellers continue to impact today’s fantastical entertainment themselves! This is a book that covers much more than one man and his characters and stories no matter how numerous they are; this book shares the memories, realizations, personal growths, and sheer inspiring creativity of dozens of modern influencers who carry on the best of Robert Howard to the best of their abilities. Not only do they share how Howard changed them, they share what they did with that change and even further add recommendations for others to continue finding inspirational and educational reading in their pursuit of change. As one of the very few SFF awards programs to recognize non-fiction SFF/SFF-adjacent literature, the Hugo voters should seriously read this book.

Do you have any cool facts or tidbits that you unearthed during your research, but that did not make it into the final book?

Everything I learned/received during the compilation of this book made it within its covers, so no, there are no missing delights. There are, however, unexpected things that appear inside: what I believe is the final essay written by Charles R. Saunders, Father of Sword & Soul, and three salutes to his influence and friendship. Sadly, due to his untimely death, there are no recommendations in Appendix REH from the author. I deliberated quite awhile about including these salutes to Saunders in a title inspired by and dedicated to Howard. Finally I decided that doing so detracted from neither, and doing so honored both men and emphasized the underscoring theme of changed lives.

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?

The analysis of creativity, of motivation, and of legacy should be a regular genre consideration. Not to the extent of peer reviewed thesis or literary journal material, but most assuredly in the informative and educational and frankly illuminating non-fiction exploration of SFF. From examinations and histories of entire genres, to biographies of the influential and even the obscure, to what storytelling changed the trajectory of our storytellers’ lives…all of it is of merit and worthy of recognition and promotion. With regularly-occurring material each year, SFF-related non-fiction should have its own category in each of the major awards programs.

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?

There have been a number of SFF non-fiction titles to appear within the last two years within my purview: heroic literature. David C. Smith and Todd B. Vick both released biographical looks at Robert E. Howard, while Brian Murphy wrote a history of Sword & Sorcery. In the past there were the Tales from Before titles examining what books and authors influenced those such as C.S. Lewis and J.R.R. Tolkien. There’s a long-overdue and greatly welcomed documentary style movie about Karl Edward Wagner. I’m sure there are others, those are all that come to mind at the moment.

Where can people buy your book?

Rogue Blades Foundation sells via Amazon, so here’s a hopefully working link to everyone’s own Amazon: http://authl.it/B09419WQZ9?d

Where can people find you?

Rogue Blades is found at https://rogue-blades.com/ and https://www.facebook.com/RogueBladesFoundation

Thank you, Jason, for stopping by and answering my questions.

About Robert E. Howard Changed My Life:

ROBERT E. HOWARD CHANGED MY LIFE is a brand-new way of understanding how the Texas author’s legacy continues today. 33 contributors long familiar with the man and his creations share how he impacted their lives and continues to impact modern entertainment. This is an intimate look at the changes wrought personally and professionally by the Father of Sword-and-Sorcery and a Founder of American Fantasy.

ROBERT E. HOWARD CHANGED MY LIFE is homage not only in memoir but also in financial support for Project Pride, the agency that sustains the Howard Home and Museum in Cross Plains, Texas. A portion of each sale of the hardcover and electronic book will be donated by RBF to Project Pride each year at the annual Howard Days.

ROBERT E. HOWARD CHANGED MY LIFE is as bold, raw, and filled with vibrant life as the words, characters, and works of the man himself. This collection of intimate essays on the impact of Robert E. Howard and his characters as catalysts of personal change comes from 33 scholars, writers, artists, publishers, and fans who can say, “Because Howard lived I am a changed person.”

A Riot of Life, by Jason M Waltz
How REH Saved My Life, by Bill Cavalier
REH, Conan and Me, by John C. Hocking
Dreams of the Purple Kingdom, by Jason Durall
Out there in the Wilds with REH, by Joe R. Lansdale
Bêlit, Queen of the Black Coast, by Jaym Gates
REH and Me: The Celtic Connection, by Adrian Cole
He Himself was in Every One of Them, by Rusty Burke
Crossed Swords and Bloody Seas, by David C. Smith
Taking the World by the Throat, by Karen Joan Kohoutek
The Black Dog and REH, by C.L. Werner
An Empire of Ghosts and Smoke, by Scott Oden
From Conan to Cormac: My Path to Howard Studies, by Todd B. Vick
REH: Opener of the Way, by Nancy A. Collins
Wyrd Ensemble, by Bobby Derie
The Ride of Falume, by Barbara A. Barrett
For the Honor of the Ship, by Christopher A. Gruber
An Ode to REH, by Cecelia Holland
A Love Letter to Bear Creek, by Mark Finn
On the Trail with El Borak, by David Hardy
The Were-Woman, the Gnome, and the Zebra, by Deuce Richardson
In the Footsteps of Steve Harrison, by Fred Blosser
Unearthing an Age Undreamed Of, by Jeffrey Shanks
How REH (And Glenn Lord) Changed My Life, by Roy Thomas
Kosru’s Road, by Howard Andrew Jones
1975: The Year of the Cormac, by Keith J. Taylor
In a Dark Place, by Steven Erikson
My New Friend Agnes, by Becky Cloonan
Sol K. and Me, by Dierk Günther
An Unexpected Gift, by Barbara Ingram Baum
A New and Mighty Mission, by Matthew John
White Spark, Black Fire, by Charles R. Saunders
The Extraordinary Inner World of Charles R. Saunders, Father of ‘Sword and Soul,’ by Jon Tattrie
Charles Saunders and I were Friends, by Joe R. Lansdale
The Importance of Charles Saunders, by David C. Smith
Why No Howard Character Ever Changed My Life, by Patrice Louinet
REH: A European Perspective, by Michael Moorcock
Afterword, by Janet E. Morris
Appendix REH: Suggested Additional Inspirational and Educational Readings

About Jason M. Waltz:

Jason M Waltz is THE RogueBlade, owner/editor at Rogue Blades Entertainment, a high octane adventure publisher sharing heroic literature, and founder/publisher at Rogue Blades Foundation, a literary publisher exploring heroics. As such, he gets to produce the wonderful titles from RBE & RBF listed here. In addition, you’ll find a few adventures of his own, mostly within the speculative and grand adventure genres.

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Did you publish a work of SFF-related longform non-fiction in 2021 and want it featured? Contact me or leave a comment.

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