Thursday, June 14, 2012

New Friends and No Sleep - Howard Days 2012

This past weekend folks from around the world came to Cross Plains, Texas, for the annual celebration of the world's greatest pulpster - Robert E. Howard. For those in the know, this two day event is something of a literary pilgrimage that offers fans of Robert E. Howard and his work an opportunity to connect in a uniquely personal way with their favorite author. It's the equivalent of a spiritual journey that no true Howard fan should miss if they can help it.

And it's not easy getting to Cross Plains, Texas. It lies somewhere near the geographical center of the state and requires that one keep a sharp eye out as you travel from the more civilized ports of call lest you miss it. Hours from Dallas and the better part of an hour from the interstate, it pokes its sleepy small-town head over forgotten oil derricks and rolling wheat fields so suddenly you're apt to mistake it for a simple crossroads gas stop.

But, for those fans that braved the elements, dared torrential downpours and dodged hail the size of hockey pucks it was a welcome site. And did they come! From the Scottish Highlands to the hills of Hollywood the Howard Faithful were treated to a heaping helping of Texas hospitality by the good folks from Project Pride who host the annual gathering.

I had intended on writing a full-fledged trip report as I have done in year's past for the retired Cimmerian magazine and my REHupa mag, Iron Legions. But this year the mood of the event had lulled me into a contented, laid back, Howard fan-geek state. The atmosphere wasn't so much electric as it was satisfying. I mean that in the best possible way. I spent far more time this year enjoying the little things that make Howard Days so special for so many fans. I only had one panel to worry about and even that turned out to be a low key appeal to fans to open themselves up to the merits of the boxing stories. As usual, Fists at the Icehouse went over well with the large crowd that gathered to see "a fight at the Icehouse!" Howard scholar (and Venarium winner) Jeff Shanks and I played cornermen to Mark Finn's foghorn bellerin' rendition of Costigan as he sauntered to and fro, dancing lightly as he regaled the crowd with Howard lore. To satisfy the jeering throng, I tried to get ol' Finn to step up to the scratch line but he knew there was no money it and after a few feints and shuffle steps, he promptly turned out the lights and left the fans wanting more! Finn's a regular Tex Rickard for sure. The Icehouse is for the three of us an actual alter - a real battleground that Howard sparred in - and to be able to step upon and absorb the ambiance is nothing short of special. Good times.

And that's what this Howard Days was all about, really - good times. I finally got to meet Stygian winner Keith Taylor but wished I had had more time to speak with him. He reads this here blog so I know we can make a lengthier conversation happen some day. Congrats to him- he does a bang up job on all things Howard related. If you are a follower of his blog you no doubt read that some goofy fan almost made him late for the award ceremony. That'd be me. I just wanted to talk with him for a few minutes and what was supposed to be a few words stretched quickly into a few minutes. Sorry Keith!

As I said, good times. I was tired the whole weekend and yet I still found myself engaged in conversations late into the Texas night with old friends and new. I had the distinct pleasure of meeting Seth Humble, Brad Ellison, Mark Caroll and his wife, Jennifer Baughman. Wow! Not only were they huge Howard fans but they were great people. There were many other new faces this year and almost all of them were interested in learning more about Howard's boxing stories. Hell yeah! I got to watch Mark Caroll GM a motley crew thru an RPG game adventure that was epic. Finn, Harron, and others were a sweaty, deflated mess after Mark was done with them.

I also got to spend some quality time with some of my best Howard Days buds - the Quijas Brothers - Dominic and Eli, and their sons Joseph and Isaiah. They've been coming since about 2006 and they are passionate about Robert E. Howard. I am serious; these guys know their stuff and live it. I feel young and full of energy when I am around these guys and it was nothing but good times hanging with them. Speaking of young fans, I was pleasantly surprised to see a young man (name escapes me?) reciting Howard poetry at the Howard poetry slam hosted by Barbara Barrett. I know Joseph wanted to get up there but he must have been in slack-jawed awe after having witnessed the inimitable Tim Arney bellow "Drunk! Drunk! Drunk!" while nearly vaulting over Ed Chaczyk and the Wyrd Sisters in a kind of apoplectic poetic ecstasy.

That reminds me of some more good times I had all weekend with the old guard. Howard giants like Dennis McHaney, Paul Sammon, Tim Arney, Gary Romeo, Todd Woods, and Jeff Shanks hung out and talked with me, Aurelia, Ben Friberg, Al Harron, Jim Barron and Ed Chaczyk. We were all like bees jumping from one flower to the next, gathering up the Howard news at each table and soaking our brains in it. Ah, good times.

I would be remiss if I did not give an extra shout out to Dennis, Todd, Ed, Tim and Al...the only things that could have made our late night gab fests any cooler than they already were would have been to have Charles Gramlich and Tom Foster show up about midnight and say, "I heard there was a party in Cross Plains! Let's talk Robert E. Howard!"

I could go on and on but I'm just rambling, collecting bits and pieces of a great weekend and trying to assemble them like some giant jigsaw puzzle. I know how good it will look when I am finished but I'd rather not be rushed just yet. I think I'll just fit a few pieces together here and there until the next Howard Days rolls around. I sure as heck have enough memories to get me there.

To the good folks of the Middleton Ranch I salute you - the dinner was fabulous, the sunset serene and the Caddo Peak climb an adventure. Thanks to everyone involved. And can you believe!!! I haven't even mentioned the biggest news - for me - of the weekend: Howard Payne University has donated the original Robert E. Howard library (made famous by Rusty Burke's Howard Bookshelf over at REHupa) to the Howard House and Project Pride! What a thrill it was to see those books, with inscriptions to Bob, sitting in a case for all the Howard faithful to ogle over. With each passing year the Howard Home becomes more a living monument to the memory of Robert E. Howard than I dared dream possible. Perhaps it is time we call it a shrine?!

If I missed anyone - I am sorry. I slept a little more than 5 total hours during the weekend and as I drove back home to Albuquerque it was all I could do to keep my eyes open. No doubt after I have a chance to truly reflect on the event I will remember you as the days go by.

See you all next year!