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‘What is Your Process?’
Review Methodology for A Well of Heroes, Impressions of the Fiction of Robert E. Howard
© 2016 James LaFond
The question that is the title above was asked of me on Thursday morning, this past week by my editor whom I was taking a shower with, who dared me that I was not man enough to make this admission in print.
“So there, wench—and get me another towel for these.” I opined as the recently supine one quipped bemusedly, “Don’t all writers take showers with their editors??”
Now that things and thangs have been put in their proper place, the answer to the question is, I don’t think I got any good at it until about six months ago. Recently, I decided to redo all of my Robert E. Howard reviews to meet the quality that I think I first developed in reviewing H.L. Mencken and some recently discovered authors in the winter of this year, 2016. I first recall using this system on a Friday afternoon in January while sitting in the gym waiting for my client to show up for training and reading H.L. Mencken’s book on Friedrich Nietzsche.
I no longer read without a pen or a pencil.
I bracket passages with key concepts or distinctive phraseology, not underlining.
Phrases that are candidates for extraction as the title for the review have a T [my editor may object, but I’m not putting that T in quotation marks] placed next to their line in the margin.
After reading the section, the story or the book, I usually set the book down for one to three weeks and think about it as I toil and I rotate Mr. John’s yogurt and cottage cheese, gaining a glimpse of the world from its bottom, like Melville’s put upon oysters seeking a glimpse of the sun through the intervening sea. At which point, I have formed an impression of the overall theme of the work and also have the time to write about it; I will open the book up and outline the review. The outline is only a title taken from amongst the passages marked with a T, and the subtitle, which is that of the work and any additional bibliographic information such as the collection I’m reading from.
With the book on my desk, I begin writing my impression of the work. With a writer like Mencken, who comes across with such brilliant solitary statements, the review will key on these, and I will search the remainder of the text for any marked passages that might amplify the point. With Howard, an indirect commentator as he wrote fiction and verse, rather than editorials, I look for repeated phrases and for multiple explorations of the same concept from the characters’ dialogue to the narrator’s framing of the characters’ situation to arrive at the dominant themes in the story. My inclination is to include quotes and narrative supporting the same theme in the review.
Finally, during the course of writing a Howard review, I am hoping to develop a sense for where this piece fits in the larger framework of the author’s body of work. With direct commentators like Mencken, the challenge is to fit him into his era and his literary field. Ultimately, after reviewing all of Howard’s published and unpublished verse and prose, I hope to be able to place him in his era in his literary field, at least so that I can see him clearly in these contexts in my mind’s eye.
In the Teeth of a Hostile Universe
a well of heroes
Of A Scribe
the greatest boxer
by the wine dark sea
the sunset saga complete
let the world fend for itself
your trojan whorse
crag mouth
into leviathan’s maw
broken dance
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