Mark Finn sees Dreams in the Fire

As promised, here are additional details on the new volume of fiction and poetry inspired by Robert E. Howard provided in this interview with one of the editors, Mark Finn.

TGR: First, how did this book evolve?  Obviously someone came up with the concept and got the ball rolling.

Mark: This was one of those Once and Every Other Projects that gets brought up over and over again anytime three or more REHupans gather in a room. Specifically, it was “Well, you know, somebody oughtta collect a bunch of our stuff and do a “Best of REHupa” kind of thing…” Of course, there are problems with that idea, in that much of what we write about in the REHupa zines isn’t strictly able to stand on its own in a book. Some of it does stand alone–but nowadays, it usually finds a home elsewhere, on your blog, or in TGR or the Dark Man, or wherever. Which is good, I think. But the one thing that has never been collected is the fiction. I know we tend to pooh-pooh it, but as I was looking around at Charles Gramlich, Angeline and Chris, and kinda ruminating on how much poetry Barbara Barrett has written–then I started thinking about other authors who have been in REHupa and I thought, this would be a commercial endeavor.

Well, Rusty and Indy immediately told me I was the right man for that job. Right then, Chris Gruber walked up and I said, “I don’t want to do this alone.” Grub said, “Do what?” And that’s how we ended up doing the editing together.

The original idea was to go back through the whole history of the ‘zines and pull out fiction from folks like Mike Stackpole and Nancy Collins–but after checking out some of the early efforts, I knew that they would (A) kill us if we did that, and (B) say no to the whole idea. So it became a new collection of stories. And there were more than enough authors in the line-up to fill a book.

TGR: What is the origin of the title, Dreams in the Fire?

Mark: The title was the hardest thing we came up with. All of the contributors had a number of suggestions, good ones, at that. But we wanted something that was evocative of, say, “Echoes From an Iron Harp” but not derivative of that. It’s the same problem I had with trying to come up with a name for Blood & Thunder–all of the good word pairings had been taken. What finally got me going was thinking about the poem I wrote years ago, (now lost to the winds of time and a busted computer) wherein I repeated the refrain, “The Lamp expires, but the fire remains.” It was my way of saying that while Howard isn’t around, his creative vision endures and inspires. So, playing with the notion of that creative fire, what might we see if we stare into it long enough? Everyone seemed to like the idea, and so there it was.

TGR: REHupans are a breed apart, notorious for not playing well with others. So how did you and Chris manage to round the contributors up and get them to meet a deadline?

Mark: Ah hah, well, REHupans may be cantankerous, but professional writers aim to please! Just about everyone who contributed got their stories in on time, got their revisions in on time, etc. It was pretty effortless on our part. Chris and I struggled with the poetry, trying to choose the best ones that represented in the book, and also in the case of multiple stories by the same contributor, we talked pretty earnestly about which one made the author look good, and also worked within the book. Those were the hard choices on our end. Everyone else was saintly and patient as they dealt with mine and Gruber’s conflicting schedules. Actually, and I’m not making any apologies for our personal delays, I am really glad the book is coming out during these anniversaries, as it will get more attention and hopefully draw more cash into the coffers of Project Pride, which was the whole point to doing it.

TGR: Can we get a sneak peek at the list of contents? I’ve seen some names bandied about, but not a complete line-up.

Mark: For you, sir, anything. Here goes:

  • Introduction by Rusty Burke
  • “A Gathering of Ravens” by Charles Gramlich
  • “The Rhymester of Ulm” by James Reasoner
  • “The Word” by Rob Roehm
  • “This Too Will Go Its Way” by Barbara Barrett
  • “CSI: Kimmeria” by Robert Weinberg
  • “Bloody Isle of the Kiyah-rahi” by Christopher Fulbright
  • “Son of Song” by Frank Coffman
  • “Avatar” by Jimmy Cheung
  • “Belit’s Refrain” by Barbara Barrett
  • “Now With Serpents He Wars” by Patrick R. Berger
  • “Best to Let it Lie” by Danny Street
  • “Two Dragons Blazing: A Tale of the Barbarian Kabar of El Hazzar” by Angeline Hawkes
  • “The Nights’ Last Battle” by Amy Kerr
  • “Sailor Tom Sharkey and the Phantom of the Gentlemen Farmer’s Commune” by Mark Finn
  • “I Am a Martian Galley Slave!” by David A. Hardy
  • “A Spirit on the Wind” by Frank Coffman
  • “Dead River Revenge” by Chris Gruber
  • “The Moon” by Barbara Barrett
  • “No Other Gods” by Gary Romeo
  • “A Meeting in the Bush” by Morgan Holmes
  • “Blades of Hell” by Don Herron
  • Afterword by Mark Finn

TGR: Do any of the stories feature Howard’s characters?

Mark: Nope. That was on purpose. Nothing against Paradox, as I am sure they would have been extremely helpful in assessing copyright issues and so forth, but we emphatically didn’t want any pastiches, and here’s why: when you read my story, or Chris’ story, or heck, any of these stories–you’re going to know at which end of the Howardian Banquet table we’re sitting on, pretty quick. And while you might be thinking, “Wow, that’s a cool story! Boy, wouldn’t it be cool if Mark wrote a Sailor Steve Costigan story?” The answer to that rhetorical question is no, no it would not.

If I wrote a Sailor Steve story, or if Chris Fulbright wrote a Black Vulmea pirate yarn, every fan would read the story in combat-mode, with a chip on their shoulder, automatically looking for ways in which we screwed up, i.e. “oh, Howard would have never used that word!” and “This is ridiculous–Howard didn’t use these plots in his historical stories!” No, it’s better for everyone, readers and authors, if you read our stories. Our dreams from the fire. What we see when we take inspiration from Howard’s work.

 TGR: Are there any standout stories in this book, something unexpected or particularly exciting?

Mark: I think long-term REHupans will be pleased with some of the stories by folks who don’t normally run fiction in their ‘zines. Also, and this takes nothing away from the professional authors in this collection, but you’ll look at a few of the names and think, “So and So wrote a story?” and then you read it and go, “Woah. That was really cool.”  There were a few stories where Grub and I were like, “This is going to knock their socks off!” It makes me doubly-glad we didn’t use pastiches, honestly. I think the original works were so much more entertaining than “Oh, here’s a Conan story, let’s see how he screwed that up.” I mean, we’ve got in this book cowboys, pirates, knights, barbarians, mercenaries, frontier scouts, boxers, monsters, bandits, cowards, phantoms, and a dog-faced imbecile. If that’s not a Howardian line-up, I don’t know what is!

TGR: I assume the book will premiere at Howard Days next month. For the folks who can’t attend, how can they purchase the book?

Mark: It will be available on Lulu very soon. I’ll have a link to you just as soon as I get the proof copy and it checks out.

TGR: In addition to raising money for Project Pride, what else would you like accomplish with this collection?

Mark: Obviously, a fundraiser for Project Pride was the first goal. But I really wanted to dispel the notion that the REHupans can’t write fiction. There’s such a stigma in our current ranks about it, but I know from firsthand experience that some of these guys are insanely talented. Now everyone else can see it, as well. It would be nice if this could be another proud feather in the REHupa cap, but the reviews will bear that out one way or another.

TGR: Can we expect to see a sequel?

Mark: Only if the reviews are great and everyone is clamoring for more. These kinds of projects are hard! Logistically, spiritually, intellectually, they take you away from other projects and they merit a lot of extra attention. I hope Chris and I were good editors for everyone. We tried to be. Certainly no fights broke out during the process. But yeah, if this goes over and the fans are buying copies and leaving good feedback, we would certainly talk about getting the band back together again.

TGR: What’s next on the horizon for you? I understand the updated edition of Blood and Thunder is in the pipeline.

Mark: Well, yes, Blood & Thunder is down to a bunch of niggling little details and tedious drudgery–like building a frickin’ index. Chapter notes. Soul-sucking things like that. But it is in the pipeline, and it will come out this year. Also, me and Grub are tag teaming on the Boxing volumes from the Foundation Press. Chris’ comes out first, and then mine, and so forth. We are personally so excited that this criminally neglected area of Howard’s most successful and most commercial work are finally, after more than a decade, are getting the attention they have deserved all along. Both of us feel that Howard studies is at a standstill until all of this sees the light of day–not just the boxing, but the funny westerns, too. You guys all know that we are talking about one third of Howard’s total fictional output, and yet it’s still taking a back seat to everything else. I’m sorry if I seem so strident about that, but I’ve been nice about it long enough. I understand that Conan and Kull and Solomon Kane had to come out first; I get it, I understand, I really do. But now that the big stuff is all out, it’s time to roll up the sleeves and get down to it.

And I’m not picking on Rusty, or Patrice. They have unenviable jobs, and they have committed to getting all of it out there for us to sift through and read and comment on. They’ve put their own personal and professional projects on hold to do this. That’s why both me and Grub are saying, “We’ll help! Let’s go!” And I may volunteer to help with the funny westerns, too, if they will have me. I seriously believe that Howard’s humor work is a goldmine of study and insight for scholars, and a real avenue to getting new fans who might be repulsed by Conan and Kull.

To assuage my frustration with all of this, I’ve been writing comics again, after a fifteen year hiatus. You all know about the comic book debut of El Borak later this month in Robert E. Howard’s Savage Sword #2. We’ll see how you guys like me after that. I’m doing some other work for some small press companies, too, but they aren’t necessarily Howard related. And me and John Lucas are shopping a few things around. It would be great if I could get something going with these novels and short stories, but right now, comics are paying, so that’s what I’m doing.

TGR: As usual, you are a fount of information and insight; thanks for taking the time to fill us in on this amazing volume of fiction and poetry.

Mark: My pleasure.

Update: Dreams in the Fire is now available for purchase through Lulu.com.