Tuesday, January 6, 2009

An Excerpt from Blood & Thunder

Author's Note: It's been a while since this book came out, and while it continues to sell well, I realize that not everyone reading this is as "steeped in the juices" of the Robert E. Howard fan community, which is where most of the excerpts and sneak previews were originally run. So, if it pleases the audience, I'd like to run my opening to the biography here.

The book is divided into four sections, each separated by a fictionalized piece that I wrote to help inform the chapters that followed. I did this for a couple of reasons. One, we know so very little about Howard that can be confirmed; most of what we do know comes from his tightly controlled telling, with exaggerated or downplayed details as the occasion warranted. Therefore, much of Howard's life is open to interpretation at best, speculation at worst. I decided on these little vignettes to let me give vent to those urges, and keep me focused on providing accurate information in the body of the text.

The other reason I did this was to visually and emotionally set the scene for people who were unaware of boomtown Texas in the 1900's and help the modern reader connect with Howard in more or less the same way that I always have.

This is the vignette from Part One.

The fifteen-year-old boy stood on the broad sidewalk outside the drugstore and watched the spectacle on the streets. Farming trucks, loaded with men and machinery, trundled by, grinding and coughing, as the men laughed and jeered. Horse-drawn wagons followed, carrying pipes and large, interlocking drill bits. The farmers on the streets spoke with rueful envy of so-and-so’s good luck. He’s set for life, they assured one another.

Strangers walked up and down the sidewalks, hurrying to and from the bank, the diner, the feed store. They wore suits, despite the ungodly heat, and small-crowned hats that did not originate in John B. Stetson’s workshop. One of the strangers brushed by the fifteen-year-old boy, absently knocking him on the shoulder. “Excuse me,” said the boy, quietly. The stranger didn’t reply and his stride quickly carried him out of sight.

Harder, rougher men walked beside these captains of industry. These hard men wore more traditional frontier outfits, denim jeans and high boots, work shirts stained tobacco brown, and crushed straw hats. They didn’t tip their hats as the women of the town walked by, but instead let their gaze linger in the women’s wake.

The roughnecks on the trucks called out to the farmers, who waved automatically in reply. Large wagons of men traveling in the other direction pulled up at the hitching post outside of Higginbotham’s, and the men piled out, reeking of crude oil and mud. They bellowed and stamped, pushing each other out of the way in their haste to spend their pay. The men fanned out through the town, running towards their boarding houses, the public showers, the ice house, the drug store, or the barbershop.

Somewhere, a woman shrieked at the appearance of a roughneck. Other raised voices floated across the street, an argument about money. Glass shattered in one of the stores. Two men staggered out of the diner, swinging furious fists as a crowd of cheering onlookers poured out of the door to watch them. One of the crowd shouted, “He’s got a knife!” before the crowd encircled the combatants completely, their frenzied shouts drowning out the sounds of combat.

The fifteen-year-old boy walked past the lean-tos, where men in suits sat on wooden pallets, cooking food over a small fire, and women and children huddled around them. Further down the alley, a larger fire burned in an empty oil drum. A small clutch of men passed a bottle around, swilling generously.

More cars zigzagged around the wagons and trucks going out to the oilfield and parking recklessly along the same hitching posts that held horses last week. The packed dirt road was awash in thick mud from the summer rains and constant traffic. More women appeared on the sidewalks, gazing openly at the men, their eyes cutting under heavy lashes. A gunshot broke through the general din. The sun had just started to dip behind the low buildings. The night was young.

The fifteen-year old boy watched it all, his furrowed brow darkening his blue eyes as he burned the images into his brain. The magazine he’d bought, the latest issue of Adventure, was folded in half and tucked carefully into his back pocket. Tonight, he would read it in the dim glow of an electric bulb, out on the sleeping porch, and dream himself to the other side of the world; far away from the roughnecks, the oil field bullies, and the women of low character.

His name was Robert E. Howard. His life was half over.

1 comment:

  1. Read this bio last year and enjoyed it immensely; a far better effort than previous REH bios (ala the de Camps' all-too-Freudian bio from the 1970s).