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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!


  1. Very nice! I'll be reading Maze next month, and I am excited in advance. Also, welcome back to the Northern Hemisphere!

    1. Thanks for the welcome! Thanks for the reading, too. Much appreciated.


Alas, I must once again remind large numbers of Chinese salesmen and other worldwide peddlers that if they fall into the Gulf of Spam, they will be eaten by roaming Balrogs. The rest of you, lovers of grace, poetry, and horses (nod to Yeats--you do not have to be fond of horses), feel free to leave fascinating missives and curious arguments.