Interviewed by Michael McHenry
The Cromcast podcasters, Josh, Jon, and Luke, talk about why they started a podcast dedicated to the writing of Robert E. Howard, and what they think Howard would have to say about civilization today.
The Cromcast is a Hyborean podcast focusing on the works of Robert E. Howard, his pop culture legacy, and other things weird fiction. You can find Jon, Josh, and Luke’s project on the web at thecromcast.blogspot.com. The show is available on iTunes, Google Play, and the Stitcher App. You can also contact the fellows via email (firstname.lastname@example.org), Facebook(www.facebook.com/thecromcast), Twitter (@thecromcast), or even leave a voicemail at 859-429-2766. That’s 859-429-CROM!
Tell us a little about how the Cromcast got started.
Josh: We three had been talking about working on a creative, collaborative project for some time. We were looking for some type of outlet and had initially looked into working on a series of short films, even had finished two screenplays. We were operating on a pretty tight budget, so equipment costs and the time that it would have taken, made this project infeasible. However, we also discussed the idea of producing a podcast. Each of us had become a fan of the medium over the course of our graduate studies. We knew about the long-running H.P. Lovecraft Literary Podcast. We also discovered The Double Shadow, which featured Clark Ashton Smith’s stories. It seemed to us that Robert E. Howard deserved his own show, and after an initial discussion of what we could do and how to approach it (which we actually feature as our Episode 0 – Secret Files and Origins), we jumped right into “The Phoenix on The Sword!”
In all of Howard’s work, what story is your favorite and why?
Jon: There are so many to choose from! Howard’s heroes all have their own unique style and it can be tough to compare them. When you take a guy like King Kull and set him against Conan, you’re talking tales that tickle different parts of your brain. To say nothing of material we haven’t covered on the show yet, like Breck Elkins and Sailor Steve Costigan. Since you only want one favorite, I will choose a horror tale we covered early on called “Pigeons from Hell.” It’s such a moody story with pitch perfect scares and a neat setting in the piney woods! Everyone should check it out.
Luke: Of the Howard stories we’ve read thus far, right now I’d say “Beyond the Black River” and “The Temple of Abomination.” Those selections demonstrate the strength of Howard’s writing and tackle deceivingly complex topics. I’ve also enjoyed our reading of other pulp writers, though; I loved the psychedelic flavor of the C.L. Moore and Clark Ashton Smith stories that we’ve covered!
Josh: It’s difficult to choose, since most of the stories we’ve discussed so far have at least one segment that crackles with energy. “The Tower of the Elephant” and “The Hour of the Dragon” both click on all cylinders for me. Tower has an excellent, cinematic cold-opening that Hollywood script writers could learn a thing or two from. Hour is a sweeping, epic journey that is made all the more rewarding after reading Howard’s earlier Conan yarns. For a non-Conan pick, I’ll go with “Pigeons from Hell.” This story is chilling, and if it served as a statement to The Old Man from Providence about writing effective horror stories set in the South, Howard made his point quite well!
Howard was influenced to a large degree by H.P. Lovecraft in that they shared a lot of the same interests (as you three have done). Lovecraft was even known to have an “inner circle” comprised of a variety of different authors who wrote similar themes and genres. How do you feel this “writing group” contributed to Howard’s success?
Josh: There’s no doubt that Howard, Lovecraft, and Clark Ashton Smith corresponded with one another and had a reciprocal influence on one another’s work. A great cross section of this can be seen by reading “The Black Stone” by Howard, “The Shadow Over Innsmouth” by Lovecraft, and “The Tale of Satampra Zeiros” by Smith. You’ll see Howardian action, Lovecraftian horror, and the dreamlike language typified by Smith in each of these stories!
Jon: Your friends challenge you, particularly when they are great in their field. A good natured “rivalry” springs up and pushes you to do better. Creatively I think it also funnels a lot of brain fodder into you. Speaking from experience, we three humble podcasters are constantly inspiring new thoughts and interpretations on the show as we discuss them. The fruits of Weird Tales are what happen when friends who happen to be luminaries challenge and inspire each other.
For newer writers in the “sword and sorcery” genre, what do you think they could learn from reading Howard’s writing and the way he shaped his characters and built his worlds?
Josh: Howard is a master of setting a scene and injecting an intense level of energy, particularly in his fight scenes. One reason for this might be that Howard was a boxer, and had been in several bouts behind the ice house in Cross Plains, TX. So, perhaps new writers could benefit from a sparring match or two!
Jon: One lesson from Howard I think is important is that details count. Some characterize Howard as almost an idiot savant writer, as if his stories just simply happened. Yet, when you read his older material, like “The Hyborian Age,” you realize that he took world building seriously, thinking of eons of history and populating it with characters. I believe that kind of attention to detail, even when it isn’t published, helps to make your writing better!
Luke: I think a ‘sword and sorcery’ tale, if it is a good one, should be a cerebral experience. Blood and sweat may play out on the page, but the prose should also present questions with few easy answers. Howard presented big ideas; there is a lot to think about in his stories, whether you’re a writer or a reader.
Howard was obsessed with history; if he time traveled to today, what do you think would inspire his next story, based on what has happened since he passed away?
Josh: I wonder what Howard would say about how civilization has progressed. Civilization vs. barbarism is a major trope in his stories, and it would be interesting to hear his take on a decadent civilization obsessed with and distracted by technology…
Luke: I think we’d get a few ‘cave man’ stories. Given Howard’s interest in human prehistory and our evolutionary relatives, I think he’d have a blast riffing on contemporary scientific knowledge. If Howard looked towards our future, perhaps we would see him delving into soft science fiction and addressing transhumanist topics?
Jon: I think he would be fascinated by the changes in war. His battles and the battles of his day were still relatively personal. He got to see and learn about the beginnings of modern warfare with World War One, but to see our new war with drones and aircraft carriers, and everything else, I think would inspire some cool stuff out of Howard.
Do you feel that anything is missing in today’s writing markets that Howard would want to change?
Josh: I think that Howard would encourage writing in several genres, not only to see what writing styles might best reflect someone’s interests and talents, but also to see what will sell!
Jon: I don’t know about missing, but I do think he would have a lot to add and enhance in our modern post-apocalyptic genre. His views on civilization are well suited to a lot of our current fears and pop culture.
If you got Howard on The Cromcast, what would be the first thing you say to him?
Jon: Cheers, and bottoms up!
Luke: Garggh!!!! Glug, glug, glug!