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Tuesday, November 24, 2015

Maze at Bookloons

A new review by Barbara Lingen for Bookloons--see the whole review HERE. 
CLIP from the review:
Marly Youmans truly writes a unique kind of prose. This story, which is based on the life of pulp writer Robert E. Howard, could have been Texas dusty and dry, with characters as plain and weak as the mundane world around them. Instead what we get is a wealth of stories based on timeless figures both real and imagined, along with amazing descriptions of nature - all this on top of the plot itself.
...At the end we realize that a very toxic story has been bejeweled and bedecked with magical insights and sparkling prose.

Monday, November 23, 2015

In Wilson's Bookmarks

from Wilson's Bookmarks (see column here)
in "Christianity Today" (print/online)
23 November 2015
This is one of the strangest books I have read in a long while, and also one of the best. It is a novel based on the life of Texas writer Robert E. Howard, creator of Conan the Barbarian and many other memorable characters. Spoiler alert: Youmans’s protagonist, Conall Weaver, commits suicide at the outset, just as Howard did (at age 30), and the story proceeds in reverse chronology. Does this sound daunting? It isn’t at all, if you read with a child’s willingness to be astonished and a grown-up’s hard-won hope that somehow our tangled lives are part of a larger Story, the outlines of which we glimpse even now.

Friday, November 20, 2015

Last weekend for pre-orders, Annunciation

Sixteen Contemporary Poets Consider Mary

Poetry by
Ivy Alvarez,  Rachel Barenblat, Jeanne Marie Beaumont, Kristin Berkey-Abbott, Chana Bloch, Leila Chatti, Luisa A. Igloria, Mohja Kahf, Vivian Lewin, Vinicius de Moraes (Natalie d'Arbeloff, trans.), Roderick Robinson, Nic Sebastian, Claudia Serea, Purvi Shah, Rosemary Starace, and Marly Youmans

Illustrated and Edited by 
Elizabeth Adams

"A beautiful book, gift, and gesture: with 64 pgs of poems by 16 accomplished poets of different cultural / religious / secular backgrounds, and 10% of your purchase going to refugee relief!" with

Wednesday, November 18, 2015

Mark Finn on Maze of Blood

The great images are from Sanford Allen's Candy Skulls
Mark Finn, author of a wonderful biography of Robert E. Howard, has written a review of Maze of Blood, which you can find right HERE at Candy Skulls. It's an interesting review from someone I feared might be offended by the whole idea of the book. Read the whole piece for a sense of how Howard fans might feel about my Conall Weaver, and for a sense of how the book relates to the life. Also, if you want to know how to make bacon-infused bourbon for a glass of Blood and Thunder...
Clip from the review: Youmans’ language is exquisite. She is clearly and obviously a poet, and her skill at choosing simple words to evoke complex pictures is well-served here. And, if I may be so bold, she knows a lot about Howard’s life, as well. I’m not sure if she’s a closet fan or an avid researcher. I’d like to find out what drew her to the subject matter. But Maze of Blood is a transformative work, as each event in Conall’s life is given resonance and stories told to him are filtered through his experience and retold on the printed page. That’s the essence of understanding Robert E. Howard, and Marly Youmans gets it.
     It was also nice to see her treating the delicate subject matter of Howard’s suicide with respect and gravitas. Her Conall Weaver isn’t so much like Robert E. Howard as the book goes on. Some of the more outlandish myths around Howard serve the fiction better than the man.
     In the end, Maze of Blood is a book I would tentatively recommend to less-sensitive Robert E. Howard fans, and unreservedly recommend to lovers of magical realism and stories about writers telling stories. There’s a lot of layers in Maze of Blood, but it’s that complication that makes the novel so rewarding. 
And here is my response to his curiosity about what drew me to the material.

* * * 

Dear Mark Finn,

So pleased that you found things to like in the novel. Truly, I am grateful that you did, as I loved your account of REH's life and always recommend it to the curious. 

And so, in gratitude for your book, I will answer the question you have about "what drew her to the subject matter." Perhaps it is a little surprising; I don't know how it will appear to you. 

As a child, I spent part of every summer in little bugtussle towns in a part of Georgia that felt kindred to hot, dry places in Texas. Half of the time I spent there was on my paternal grandparents' sharecropped 40-acre farm--a very poor, a very different world than my adult world. When I came to read about Cross Plains (I was completely unable to change that perfect name), I knew exactly how a yearning young writer would feel, wandering in places that were not the least interested in and did not need a writer, that in some innocent sense sought to destroy him. I had been that out-of-place, home-but-not-home, observant person when visiting the two branches of my family in Georgia. 

Moreover, there are two figures in my paternal family line who were driven, obsessive, bright, and socially awkward--who seemed to create their own eccentric worlds within the larger world, damn the consequences. One of them was also obsessed with weight-lifting and running in the early twentieth century, a time before those things were accepted. And I will readily admit that I am an obsessive sort of writer myself. So I felt REH as kindred, felt that I knew him, felt that he could have found a place in my family tree. In my life, I have loved (that complicated dance!) family members who seemed very much like him.

While I did read REH's stories and poems (I think it's sad he gave up on the poetry, though I understand why) and am fascinated by the whole idea of making iconic figures that stick in our cultural imagination, it was the life that most compelled me. I did not choose to make a book that would be solely "about" him--I wanted to shape it as I pleased, and so I do not claim the license of a biographer to use his name. 

I like to do something different from what I have done before, each time I make a book, and this time I used a life as a kind of template. For me, that sort of license goes back to Shakespeare, who showed us the fascination of borrowing an outline and some details and then coloring at will--displaying the energy and freedom of bridging gaps, leaping from point to point. 

So you might say that I ran to the coastal edge of Howard's writing and leaped off into my own strange seas. Anything less would have been derivative. I wanted to make a book that did justice to a man's essential yearning and loneliness. I wanted to praise and reveal the figure of a visionary caught in a complex maze that would have surprise and blind passages and beauty and savagery. 

Well, I find that it has taken me more lines to explain what drew me to the material than I expected. Thank you again for your interesting, generous words, and for the revelation that is bacon-infused bourbon....



And in answer to various people (mostly facebookians), I will eventually say something about my travels in Chile, Peru, and Mexico. Yes, wondrous!

Tuesday, November 17, 2015

Jiggedy-jig, and Jeff Sypeck on Maze of Blood

Back from three wondrous weeks of adventure at Santiago, Valparaiso, Huaca Pucllana, Lima, Cuzco, Machu Picchu, Chichen Itza, and other points to the south. Posts will resume after jet lag ebbs!

In the meantime, here's a new piece about Maze of Blood from writer and poet Jeff Sypeck. 

Clip from the review: 
Howard wouldn’t have liked Maze of Blood; the novel is propelled not by a straightforward plot or by swashbuckling action but by subtle, non-linear vignettes that gently peel away the layers of Conall Weaver’s mind. Still, Youmans does Howard justice, taking him more seriously than many people close to him ever did. When Conall’s girlfriend wonders “why a tale has to have so much thrashing about in it . . . as though a story were a Mexican jumping bean, and inside is some horrible larval thing that’s trying to get out,” Youmans portrays their clash as the latest failed connection in a fervent life:
     “But hardly anybody ever stumbles on a buried city or a labyrinth. Nobody ever finds magical snakes sneaking through the ground. Nobody ever tries to steal somebody’s soul.”
     “Oh, I don’t know. It seems to me like rattlesnakes are always magically underfoot in Texas. And I don’t know about you, but these gourd-headed people are always sneaking around, trying to find and steal my soul. They want to bottle it up somehow, so that I can’t get out. And labyrinths? Labyrinths are funny places. A job at the five-and-dime can mean being shut up in a too-symmetrical labyrinth, needing to find a way out. A family tree can look like a drawing of a maze, all disorderly and full of dead ends and hushed-up horrors. Even a prairie or a desert can be a labyrinth, if you look at it right. Lots of people are caught in one and can’t find their way out, or don’t like the only path out. Maybe I’m one of those people.”
     Maybelline made a gesture as if throwing off unrealistic dilemmas. 
Maze of Blood is an implicit defense of fantasy. The escapism it inspires isn’t frivolous; it’s rooted in the true lives—the true needs—of writers and readers alike.

What I appreciate most about Maze of Blood is that Marly Youmans doesn’t treat the troubled writer as a testosterone-addled buffoon, nor does she let his strange, fierce attachment to his mother overshadow his complex inner life. Instead, she’s sensitive to the possibility that he’s a kindred spirit in the arts, an inspired storyteller stuck in the absolutely wrong place and unable, emotionally or intellectually, to escape.


Above are images of Jeff Sypeck's books--Becoming Charlemagne (nonfiction), Looking Up (poems inspired by National Cathedral gargoyles), and The Tale of Charlemagne and Ralph the Collier (translation.) Links to purchase them can be found at Quid plura?