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Maze of Blood 2015

"a haunting tale of dark obsessions and transcendent creative fire, 
rendered brilliantly in Youmans' richly poetic prose."  --Midori Snyder

 Maze of Blood art 
by Clive Hicks-Jenkins
who says of "long-time collaborator and word-smithing muse,
Marly Youmans, 'Marly takes even the most unnerving
material and stitches it through with the sublime.'"

Maze of Blood
Mercer University Press
September 2015

Finalist, ForeWord 
Book of the Year Awards

Favorite Books of 2015, 
at Books and Culture Magazine

"Books of 2015," 
First Things (March 2016)

Via Amazonbn, or your favorite indie bookstore
ISBN-13 9780881465365

May 2016 interview
Interview by Suzanne Brazil for Maze of Blood 
at Women Writers, Women's Books
Reprint, Maze of Blood interview at Blogcritics

*Jacket copy*

Begin with what seems the end of things—how Conall Weaver lifts a gun to his head. And now dive backward into the labyrinthine worlds of home, where Conall is the center, into the maze of love, where Conall seeks and strives with his soul-mate, and into the maze of imagination, with its population of weapon-wielding heroes and local-color Texans…and then on, into the maze of childhood, where time seems illusion and all the threads and stories start. Red for the blood of frontiersmen and Indians, Conall thought, red for the blood of proven heroes and mother, the martyr of Cross Plains. Maze for the looping coils of a snake that ended in a rattle that shook out revolutionary warning: don’t tread on me! Maze for veins of blood. Maze for family. In Conall Weaver, the mundane world and the wonders of the imagination collide and shoot out sparks. Inspired by the life of pulp writer Robert E. Howard, MAZE OF BLOOD explores the roots of story and the compulsions and conflicts of the heart in a Southern landscape. “Marly Youmans is a great writer. Her prose is immaculate.” Laird Barron “Marly Youmans is a novelist and poet out of sync with the times but in tune with the ages.” First Things “I cannot recommend an author more than Marly Youmans, whose fantastic prose is absolutely gorgeous and haunting.” Seb Doubinsky

from novelist Midori Snyder - read the whole early bird review here

Maze of Blood is a difficult story, but one so beautifully crafted by Youmans, unraveling in short chapters like prose poems constructed from spare dialogue, the dusty Texas landscape, a sudden flash of vibrant nature, and the sweep of a starlight sky. The reader can not escape the tragedy of the story, but Youmans weighs it against the more powerful scenes of a gifted storyteller, whose originality and labors transcend the confines of his life, allowing us a chance to celebrate the writer's efforts-- and perhaps because it burned so brightly in such a bleak place, we value it the more. --an early bird review from Midori Snyder's lovely blog, In the Labyrinth, 24 February 2015 (pre-pub review)

from Mark Finn, biographer of Robert E. Howard, 
at Sanford Allen's Candy Skulls, 18 November 2015

     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.

novelist Scott G. F. Bailey, at Six Words for a Hat,
"no-limit Texas hold 'em," 21 December 2015

      There is a point, about a third into the book, where Youmans does an amazing and subtle thing: the protagonist Conall (a professional genre fiction writer) and his girl Maybelline (a schoolteacher with ambitions of being a writer) are having an argument about stories. Conall denies that the real-world events all around him are compelling stories; real life is dull and empty compared to the fantastic tales he writes. Maybelline denies that the fantastic tales Conall writes tell the truth about actual human life; they are false and ignore the intimate details of real lives. Both of these people, Youmans shows, are wrong; both "realism" and the fantastic have the power to tell truths, both large and small, about real life. Youmans brilliantly demonstrates this by having the lives of Conall and Maybelline exist simultaneously as prosaic narratives and as myth-sized wonder tales, the daily lives informing the mythic fictions, the mythic fictions transforming into the daily lives, the real-world scene in which Conall and Maybelline have their argument itself existing in both worlds, both the "real" and the fantastic, the whole narrative wobbling ironically around these people's denials. It's just wonderful stuff, high-degree-of-difficulty writing, and Youmans is wise enough that she doesn't point out what she's doing, she just does it and perceptive readers might ask themselves how their own lives are both prosaic narratives and mythic battles between primal forces. Great writing indeed.
     The closest thing I can think of to what Youmans does here is the bit in Nabokov's The Real Life of Sebastian Knight where, as the narrator V describes Sebastian's various novels, the narrative itself becomes those novels for a few pages. That was a cool trick, Vladimir. Youmans does something different, but it is also a cool trick. I could barely contain my excitement while reading that chapter. Yes, I thought. Yes, this is the stuff.

Joe Manning, Fjords Review, 12 March 2016

"Maze of Blood" follows this trajectory of escape and return, recollection, invention, and exploration of the membrane between fantasy and reality, ever the fiefdom of the creative mind.... a type of slippery mimesis which the book frequently and valiantly succeeds in delivering: a demonstration of the fluid, overlapping folds between fantasy, reality, mania, and genius that are alternately and eternally obscured in every story worth telling.

from Greg Langley, "Maze of Blood contains romance, adventure, mysticism,"
The Baton Rouge Advocate, The New Orleans Advocate 13 February 2016

So "Maze of Blood" is a love story. It's an adventure story. It's mystic in places. It's literary and poetic. It's a Texas Gothic tale. All that is wonderful, but the book does have one hurdle for readers to overcome: The end is at the beginning. Caradog has died, Maybelline is no longer Conall's best girl. And Conall, hero of the tale, has taken a fatal step almost before the plot finds its first complication. Then Youmans writes the story forward from a past point. It's told in first-person in the rich and sometimes fantastic voice of Conall. This may sound confusing, and in the hands of a lesser writer, it would be. But with Youmans, you can count on the entree being just as sweet as the dessert--no matter which one is served first.

from writer-reviewer Suzanne Brazil, at,
28 December 2015

     Named as one of their Favorite Books of 2015 at Books and Culture Magazine, Maze of Blood (Mercer University Press, 2015), is a visceral shot to the senses and a fine filament tugging at the imagination that examines the results of thwarted dreams and desires in the life of a young writer. Set in rural Texas in the 1930’s, Marly Youmans uses language as both scalpel and wand to conjure a place and time as real as the abandoned oil wells and as otherworldly as the magical lands of the great epic poems....
     To open a book by Youmans is to leap from a cloud and ride the thermals to places unknown yet somehow familiar. Her novels follow no formula or conventional plot twists and still evoke a shared humanity that is weirdly comforting. Each carefully chosen word strikes a precise note and traps the reader in the orbit of whatever tale Youmans cares to spin.

from Jeff Sypeck, author of Becoming Charlemagne (nonfiction), 
Looking Up (poetry), and The Tale of Charlemagne and Ralph 
the Collier (translation), at Quid Plura?

     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.

from "Wilson's Bookmarks"
Christianity Today, 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.

from a Barbara Lingens review at Bookloons, 2015

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.

from John Wilson, "Books of 2015," First Things
March 2016 (print issue only)

Maze of Blood is (among other things) a novel about the imagination--"about it" by enacting it. (Coleridge is a tutelary presence throughout.) The protagonist, Conall Weaver, is based on Robert E. Howard, the creator of Conan the Barbarian. Youmans tells us that before the book begins. But it is not a novel "about" Howard. Rather, it takes his experience as a kind of template.

from a Clarissa Goldsmith review at Foreword Reviews, 27 November 2015

Simultaneously poetic and restrained, Youmans's portrait of Conall Weaver is honest and, at times, heartbreaking. Maze of Blood is a layered and complex exploration of human existence and the experiences that mold a person. 5/5 stars

an October 2015 review by author Claire Youmans, who says 
we must be "cousins removed by 500 years and 3000 miles"

 MAZE OF BLOOD, by Marly Youmans, is a book to be savored. It is a book that digs deep, with every word of the spare and exquisite prose carrying level upon level of meaning. It is a book that encourages, even requires, both thought and feeling in every line. Though it will capture the reader immediately and never let go, it’s not a book to be taken lightly. MAZE OF BLOOD is a book to read over and over again. As she did in GLIMMERGLASS, Youmans twists time and space to explore the juncture of creativity between the material world and the spiritual. This is the interface Youmans returns to here, revealing the very essence of creativity through the story of one man’s all too brief life.

 * * *

Pre-publication notes and images--

division page image for Maze of Blood.
Clive Hicks-Jenkins note
on collaboration with the artist,
19 February 2015, later posted on his blog

I never wrote to tell you how much I love Maze of Blood. I was so daunted by its dark beauty and darker psychologies. Daunted by the notion of conjuring a cover for a book that makes a poem of the life of the man known as the 'Father of Sword and Sorcery'. (There will be illustrators that want to kill me for having been given this opportunity!) Daunted by the task of serving you as well as I can, and yet serving myself too. And last but not least, daunted at the task of making images to walk hand in hand with your matchless prose, so that I balked at writing to tell how much I loved it, for fear of putting the challenge onto paper, for fear of frightening off my muse. But now, as I tweak and adjust and make my way to the finishing-line of the cover, I write to say that you never disappoint, and I love discovering the terrains of your books. The interior images are going to be somethin' else, and you are going to love 'em! Just saying!

Peek behind the scenes at progress on interior and exterior art here.

First interior division page image. 12 May 2015


  1. Gorgeous! What beautiful images.

    1. Rachel, thank you! I do think it will be a beautiful book, thanks to Clive (and also the immaculate design work of Mary-Frances Glover Burt.)

      Hope all is going well with you and your writing!


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.