REH Splashes the “Spicys” — Part IV

Writing to Novalyne Price on February 14, 1936, Howard informs her of his venture into the “spicy” market:

The tales of Sam Walser (a rugged, upright, forthright, typical American name, even if the original was a Dane from Skaggerack) appear — or will appear when they start publishing them — in a magazine called Spicy Adventure Stories. They pay one cent a word, on acceptance, and report fairly promptly. I’ve sold them four yarns so far, and fondly hope to sell regularly, if they ever start publishing my stuff and get a reaction from the readers, who, I feel, are cultured and scholarly gentlemen, who wax enthusiastic over meritous artistic efforts, he remarked with characteristic modesty. The main handicap is the necessity of keeping the wordage down — they take nothing over 5500 words, this being their limit not only for Spicy Adventures, but also for Spicy Mysteries and Spicy Detectives, which I hope to make also. A nice balance must be maintained — the stuff must be hot enough to make the readers bat their eyes, but not too hot to get the censors on them. They have some definite taboos. No degeneracy, for instance. No sadism or masochism. Though extremely fond of almost-nude ladies, they prefer her to retain some garment ordinarily — like a coyly revealing chemise. However this taboo isn’t iron-clad, for I’ve violated it in nearly every story I’ve sold them. I’ve found a good formula is to strip the heroine gradually — she loses part of her clothes in one episode, some more in the next, and so on until the climax finds her in a state of tantalizing innocence. Certain words are taboo, also, though up to a certain point considerable frankness in discussing the female anatomy is allowed. The hero should be an American, and the action should take place in some exotic clime. I’ve laid my yarns in the South Seas, in Tebessa in Algeria, in Shanghai, and in Singapore. Laid one yarn in Kentucky but they said it was too hot for them to handle. The hero doesn’t have to be a model of virtue. In fact, a favorite formula is for the hero to accomplish what only the villain attempts in conventional yarns. My character is Wild Bill Clanton, a pirate, gun-runner, smuggler, a pearl-thief and slaver, and carefully avoids all moral scruples in his dealings with the ladies. These magazines were the object of a rather bitter attack in the Author & Journalist not long ago, but some of the most prominent writers rose up and fought back lustily, notably my friend E. Hoffmann Price, who has been making a good living off them for some time.

If you’d like to try a rap at it, there’s nothing to keep you from it. While the magazines cater mainly to masculine readers, I don’t think there’s any objection or prejudice against women writers. Indeed, I have an idea the editor might like to see some yarns from the feminine viecrovwpoint, providing they were sufficiently lusty and bawdy. Plots should be rather complicated, action fast moving. The handicaps of stories that are short are obvious. Little space for character development or for subtle unfolding of plots; the narration must be dynamic, clear-cut, vivid. Cynicism and humor have their place, but not too much humor. It isn’t always necessary for the hero to rush in and save the heroine’s virtue at the proper moment. Indeed, in most of my yarns, the heroine’s virtue is in more danger from the hero than from anybody else. Price uses a good formula — triumph of the villain, forcibly, over the heroine, and triumph, in turn of the hero over the villain, generally by shooting the hell out of him.

This is a brief sketch, of course, but enough to give you a general idea of the requirements of the Trojan Publishing Company, whose magazines, I might add, though considered somewhat as outlaws in the more conventional circles, seem to be prospering.

Again, Howard seeks to recruit a friend, in this case Novalyne (on Valentine’s Day, no less!), to write for his newly found “sex magazine” market. I imagine she was even less enthused at the prospect than Lovecraft was when Howard made the same suggestion to him a few months earlier.

In addition to the rundown on the spicys, Howard also mentions a bit of a brouhaha among contributors to the spicys set off by an article in a writer’s magazine called Author & Journalist. The article, “Markets in False Face,” was written by O. Foerster Schully and appeared in the November 1935 issue of the magazine. Schully alleged, based on his review of the Spicy line, that one person had authored all the stories in the magazines based on similarities in phrasing and therefore not an “open market” for writers.  The article was followed by a rebuttal of sorts from the editor and Armer’s writing guidelines for the Spicy line of magazines. Three spicy authors, including E. Hoffmann Price fired off responses to Schully, which appeared in the January 1936 issue of Author & Journalist.

Price once told Glenn Lord, the majority of the stories appearing in the spicys were written by a select coterie of half a dozen authors, utilizing a large number of pseudonyms. While six authors is certainly feasible, a more realistic number would be closer to a dozen But nonetheless, Howard did gain a foothold on that limited market. You can read the entire article, along with the responses from the three pulp writers here.

As mentioned in his letter to Novalyne, Howard had just sold a fourth story to Spicy-Adventure Stories. After failing, to sell the two non-Clanton spicy yarns, Howard returned to the tried and true Wild Bill Clanton character with “The Dragon Kao Tsu.” Kline’s assistant, Otto Binder, sold “Dragon” in February 1936, but it did not see print until September 1936. The story exhibited some of the characteristics of E. Hoffmann Price’s Pawang Ali yarns, which were published in Clues Detective Stories. The character appeared in six stories from 1933 to 1936 and was considered the turbaned “Sherlock Holmes of Singapore.”

“Dragon” finds Clanton in the far eastern seaport of Singapore. The plot is similar to “The Purple Heart of Erlik” in that our hero is lusting after a beautiful woman, gets whacked on the head by that beautiful woman while searching for a valuable artifact and winning out over an evil Oriental villain. The femme fatale of this yarn, a spoiled, wealthy heiress named Marianne Allison, has hired Clanton to steal the Dragon of Kao Tsu, an ivory statue of a dragon with a secret compartment that contains an important document the spoiled heiress wants. 

It seems her father, a San Francisco tycoon known as Old Man Allison, and General Kai, a Chinese warlord, entered into an agreement for certain oil rights in China to be given to the tycoon. The elder Allison, desperate for money having lost a large portion of his fortune in the stock market crash of 1929, needs the agreement which is secreted in the ivory statue. General Kai’s men also seek the document and that sparks the conflict that is the heart of this story.

Marianne manages to retrieve the document and in the process attempts to renege on payment Clanton’s fee for assisting in the recovery – that fee being her body. A vengeful Clanton assaults Marianne, forcefully taking her virginity. Clearly this sexual encounter could be viewed as rape and Howard implausibly attempts to diminish Clanton’s action by having Marianne indicate a sense of enjoyment in her eyes:

All her kicking and squirming accomplished was to disarrange the sarong, and he caught his breath at the sight of all the pink and white curves displayed.

“You don’t dare!” she gasped, as he drew her roughly to him. “You don’t dare – ”

Bill Clanton didn’t even bother to reply to her ridiculous assertion …

It was some time later when he grinned at her philosophically. He stooped and kissed her pouting mouth. “Maybe that will teach you not to associate with people like me,” he said.

Her reply was unprintable, but the look in her eyes contradicted her words as she took his arm and together they went out to the street.

Even though Howard attempts to skirt the issue of rape in his Clanton stories by implying the girl wanted it, despite her objections, the bottom line is “no” means “no” and it always has.

“Murderer’s Grog” was the last Clanton yarn Howard wrote and one of the final stories written before his death. “Grog” was written in mid-April 1936, three months after “Dragon” and submitted to Kline at the end of the month. Howard’s writing routine was somewhat sporadic during this period of time due to the constant care his mother required. The story has a darkness about it that no doubt came from deep within Howard’s being, written as his mother’s life was slipping away. The story places Clanton on dry land in an adventure similar to “Desert Blood” that involves gunrunning and exotic, scantily clad women.

Clanton is bringing a large shipment of guns from the Soviet Union to sell them to warring Afghan or Indian tribes. Meanwhile, Sonya Ormanoff, a Russian spy, seeks to steal the rifles from our hero by convincing the agent of a local warlord to resind permission for Clanton to cross the border area. Upon learning of her plot, a dastardly Clanton attempts to rape Sonya, fails and after a drunken bender he tries again and this time succeeds in his sexual assault, leaving his victim humiliated and devastated:

His mouth crushing hers thirstily –the way his muscular arms defeated her frenzied struggles– was enough to convince her. But, jerking her mouth free, she stormed defiantly: ‘Damn you, let me go! I’ll kill you…you can’t–’

Her defiance broke in a despairing shriek as she realized the futility of her resistance.

Presently, as he looked down at her where she lay weeping in rage, shame and humiliation, he started to speak; then he changed his mind, shrugged his shoulders and headed for the door.

There was no mercy in the game she played, and she had no reason to expect any.

Again, as is the case in “Dragon,” Howard is painting the woman as someone who deserves what she gets.

In mid May of 1936, Howard wrote what would be his final letter to H.P. Lovecraft. In that letter he mentions: “[B]ut I have managed to sell a few more bubby-twisters to Spicy Adventures …” Indeed he had, five Clanton adventures were sold by then, three of which would not appear until after his death (“The Dragon of Kao Tsu,” September 1936; “The Purple Heart of Erlik,” November 1936; “Murderer’s Grog,” January 1937).

Howard left us with a total of eight complete spicy stories, which were purely commercial efforts on his part. He certainly would have rather been writing westerns or regional horror yarns, but the spicys were a quick way to make a buck and that was what was most needed by Howard in those dark days toward the end of his life.

To be continued…

A Sophisticated Collection of “Bubby-Twisters”

Spicy Adventures is selling fast and furious, with more than half of the 200 print-run already pre-sold.

This hardcover volume from the REH Foundation Press contains all of Howard’s “spicys” and includes a large miscellanea section, with drafts and synopsizes that allow readers to glimpse Howard’s creative process. For the cover, Jim and Ruth Keegan have rendered yet another beautiful cover painting for this 211 page volume.

Pre-orders are still being accepted at the Foundation’s website. The book will ship the end of September.

Read: Part I / Part II / Part III / Part V