Tuesday, December 20, 2016

Guest Post: Born in the Shadow of Howard by Scott Oden

  I happened across Scott Oden's debut novel MEN OF BRONZE in Barnes & Noble in 2005 and bought it on the spot. I've bought every book he's published since. I've always thought that Scott captures the feel of the work of Robert E. Howard, and as it turns out REH is one of his biggest influences. I invited Scott to make a guest post here at Singular Points, and I'm pleased and honored to have him here.

Born in the Shadow of Howard

By Scott Oden

With the advent of the Assassin’s Creed movie in theaters, this week, I’ve been roaming around the Internet hawking my 2010 novel The Lion of Cairo – oft-described as very much Assassin’s Creed-like. In it, a prince of Alamut called the Emir of the Knife is dispatched to aid the young Fatimid Caliph of Cairo against a host of enemies, both inside his palace walls and beyond. One reviewer said that it was “filled to the brim with assassins and concubines, caliphs and street thugs, the devout and the heretical. It’s partly a swashbuckling historical, partly a tale of palace intrigue, partly a fast and furious espionage yarn.” I would agree, but with this qualification: it is a tale of fantasy. The history is stretched thin over a skeleton built with bones scavenged from Robert E. Howard’s Crusader tales (especially “Gates of Empire”), Burton’s The Book of the Thousand Nights and One Night, the work of scholars like Dr. Helen Nicholson and Dr. David Nicolle, and Orientalist artwork of the last century. More than that, it is an active homage to the aforementioned Robert E. Howard – a writer I’ve often looked to for guidance, inspiration, and sheer enjoyment.

The Lion of Cairo was born in early 2007. In late 2006, I had submitted a synopsis for a secondary-world fantasy featuring an Orcish protagonist to a friend who was also an editor at St. Martin’s Press. He called me to reject it, and to put a bug in my ear: “Why not a novel like those old pulps? Something medieval, like the Assassins as imagined by REH?” The bug bit; over the Holidays I hammered out a nine page synopsis. This, in due course, was also rejected. “More!” my editor exhorted. “Dig deeper! Make it memorable, and give me more detail!”

So I did. The next iteration of the synopsis came to a whopping nineteen thousand words – thirty-eight pages detailing the travails of the Caliph, the grim work of the Emir of the Knife, the evils of Ibn Sharr, the heroism of Parysatis and the tragedy of the Gazelle. The ending was left open, as this was meant to be the first book of a trilogy. My editor loved it, resulting in a four-book contract (book four was my Orc fantasy – which, by the by, will hit shelves on 20 June 2017 as A Gathering of Ravens).

The skeleton decided upon, what came after is best described as a paean to the memory of REH. The Emir of the Knife became a killer without remorse, his morals dictated by necessity; the tool of his trade, a yard-long salawar (also known as a Khyber knife), became a relic of an earlier age, imbued with sentient hate against all things living and requiring an iron will to keep its wielder from degenerating into madness. The head of a rival order of Assassins, the enigmatic Ibn Sharr, became a necromancer searching for the sorcery of Elder Egypt; his right hand, an apostate Christian called the Heretic, turned into the Emir’s equal. And sprinkled throughout were references to Howard’s Oriental tales.

Though the book never found a wide audience, it nevertheless taught me much about the art of long-form fiction. Prior to The Lion of Cairo I wrote by the seat of my pants; planning, if I planned at all, was only a chapter at a time. Lion taught me that I could write about a novel (in synopsis form) and then actually go forth and write it. Carving the bones beforehand helped me focus on the words, themselves. On the prose. With the pressure of plotting removed, I discovered something of a poet buried in my soul. Everything came together like literary alchemy, and the result was, in my opinion, the strongest book I’d written to date (an opinion which has since been amended after writing A Gathering of Ravens).

So, if you enjoy Assassin’s Creed, game or movie, or the work of Robert E. Howard, or swashbuckling historical sword-and-sorcery, then perhaps you will find The Lion of Cairo also to your liking. Thanks to my excellent host, and thank you for reading!

Charles says: Thank you, Scott! For more info on Lion of Cairo and Scott's other works, check out these links.

The Eye of Oden website: https://scottoden.wordpress.com/

Saturday, December 10, 2016

The Man Called Kharrn

The new anthology SNAFU: Black Ops dropped in Ebook form this Wednesday. It contains 'Black Tide', a story by James A. Moore and me, which features Jim's demon hunter/occult detective Jonathan Crowley teamed up with my character Kharrn. Kharrn is basically a 'Clonan' like Lin Carter's Thongor or Gardner Fox's Kothar. He's just still around.

I get a lot of questions about Kharrn. Mostly people want to know just how old he is. He and Crowley teamed up before in the WHITE NOISE PRESS Chapbook, 'What Rough Beast', which takes place in the Old West, and there were hints in the story that the two men had met before even earlier in the past. The answer to his age is really really old.

In his original conception, Kharrn was a time traveler. I wrote one short story 'The Silent History' which is unpublished, and now no longer canon, in which Kharrn was sent forth in time to the Victorian Age seeking vengeance. Later I wrote a second story, “Sailing to Darkness” which appeared at the late lamented MOORCOCK'S MISCELLANEY in which Kharrn took a trip on Moorcock's 'Ship that sails between worlds' (With Mike's kind permission). That one showed that Kharrn occasionally traveled in other dimensions.

When it came time to use the big warrior in another story, I decided that the time travel element was too hard to keep up with, so I changed Kharrn's origin to make him an immortal. His first published appearance was in Pete Kahle's anthology WIDOWMAKERS where Kharrn teamed up with Carnacki the Ghostfinder in a story called 'The Beautiful Lady Without Pity', a Christmas Country House Ghost Story with a Barbarian. Hey, I write what I like. (It also got me a mention in that year's Year's Best Horror collection.)

Later that year, Kharrn and Crowley ran into some werewolves in 'What Rough Beast'. Jim Moore and I have another crossover in the works called 'The Doll Maker' which sees the boys facing an Eldritch menace in Victorian London.

Oh, the reason Kharrn is spelled with two 'r's is that when I wanted to use the name Kharn for my Lord of the Rings Online avatar, the name was already taken. So I added a second 'r'. I got used to typing it that way and it stuck.

Anyway, 'Black Tide' reveals the most about Kharrn's past of any story so far, so if you're curious about the immortal Barbarian, give it a read.