Zubby Newsletter #56: Preparation and Advice

A fellow writer asked how I prepped for writing Sacrifice in the Sand, the prose short story in SAVAGE SWORD OF CONAN #1 (and the advice I sent applies to writing the new Conan comic series as well), so I thought I’d share that here:

Glad you enjoyed my story in Savage Sword. It was certainly a challenge, but I’m glad I was able to contribute something a bit different to the relaunch of a series that means so much to so many readers, myself included.

Robert E. Howard, the creator of Conan and many other literary characters, wrote over 300 short stories, with just over 20 of them centered on Conan. Before I sat down to try and write a new Conan short story, I re-read all the original Conan tales (and quite a few of his other short stories as well) with a pad of paper and pencil close at hand so I could quickly jot down specific lines of narration or dialogue that spoke to me – the way Howard used language and created flow in his sentences, the lyrical and poetic quality of his words. I didn’t copy any of them in my own story, but I wanted to better understand what made them read the way they did to try and emulate that while writing an original tale.

By listing unexpected or unusual words Howard used to paint a scene and highlighting bits of action I felt were effective at generating momentum and noting down other aspects of structure and pacing, I was able to use that as a baseline of inspiration to build on in my own work.

If I was writing a longer prose story I probably wouldn’t have had the opportunity to focus on each and every sentence quite as much, but with a short story like this I could really pore over each piece to try and summon that pulpy feel as much as possible. With a bit of luck I’ll get the chance to create more down the road.

Reading for research is different from reading for pleasure and it’s a crucial part of getting ready for any project, especially when I’m building on existing work and well-established worlds.

Two other useful bits of writing advice:
1) Read your writing out loud.

Hearing writing spoken aloud can work wonders for catching mistakes, adding clarity, finding unwanted repetition, giving characters distinct voices, and improving flow.

2) Get an editor and/or trusted reader.

An editor is there to enhance what works and help fix what doesn’t – copyedits, advice, cheerleading. Big picture and small details. A pre-release reader may catch mistakes, but their role tends to be first impression and overall clarity.

If you’re just starting out or losing steam while trying to build up your writing skills, finding (or founding) a ‘creative circle’ to act as trusted readers for each other can be extremely helpful. Set creative goals and motivate each other to meet them. Read work from your peers to help them out and learn from them at the same time.

Starting Your Journey In The Hyborian Age

Speaking of source material, with all the excitement around Conan right now, quite a few people have asked me where to start when it comes to Conan prose stories, since there are 90 years worth of published stories by dozens of authors to choose from.

The original Conan stories by Robert E. Howard are the foundational bedrock of the Hyborian Age and the sword & sorcery genre. Since those tales were written for Weird Tales magazine, almost all of them are short stories that can be read in one sitting. They’re quick and engaging bursts of action and atmosphere.

I quite like the Del Rey three book Conan collection (in print or e-book) that includes every short story and story fragment along with in-depth annotations and some great art. That said, I’m not an ‘edition collector’ and don’t have exhaustive knowledge of Conan books in print, so if there are other great editions currently available, please let me (and other people here) know.

If you want to start reading Conan stories, don’t be intimidated or overwhelmed by the amount of material out there. The character and world is incredibly easy to jump into because the core premise is so straight forward:
Conan is a wandering warrior in a pre-historic time of swords, sorcery, danger and mystery. Wherever he goes, adventure and excitement is sure to follow.

There are all kinds of other details that I and other people working on the property keep track of, but you as the reader don’t need to know or memorize any of it, especially when starting out. Just dive in and enjoy.

When it comes to writing the new Conan comics, the original REH prose stories are the only absolute canon. Everything else, from additional novels, comics, games, movies or other media, are ‘in play’ if we want, but not required. Using material from them is an Easter Egg or knowing nods for the fandom, not pillars of continuity.

Nods To The Past

Speaking of knowing nods (and with slight spoilers for Conan the Barbarian #9), Conan the Cimmerian and Kull the Conqueror duke it out in our latest issue and I couldn’t let such a momentous clash pass by without tipping my hat to writer Roy Thomas and artist John Buscema who did it first in Conan the Barbarian #68 from 1976.

The whys and wherefores around the two confrontations are totally different, but I managed to weave a couple narrative parallels in for my own amusement.

Current + Upcoming Releases

Upcoming Appearances

April 25-28, 2024 Calgary Expo Calgary, AB, Canada
June 7-8, 2024 Howard Days Cross Plains, TX, USA
August 1-4, 2024 Gen Con Indy Indianapolis, IN, USA

Links and Other Things

Secret of NIMH is one of my favorite animated films, but I had no idea that Don Bluth, Gary Goldman, and the crew sourced action from other films. It’s not rotoscoped (traced), but you can see that the shot choices and timing are tightly referenced from live action sources, almost certainly films they enjoyed in their youth.

Ian Livingstone announced a new Fighting Fantasy sequel to Deathtrap Dungeon! That book was one of my absolute favorites when I was a kid.

• I like this digital painting video from artist Hardy Fowler. Some great techniques in there and good chatter about deciding who a painting is for and staying motivated.

J. Kenji Lopez shows the difference between baking soda and baking powder when it comes to pancakes and other recipes. The more I cook, the more this kind of stuff intrigues me.

Have a great week!

  1. Your shorty story is one of the highlights of the issue for me and the background research you did to write the story is fascinating.

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