Robert E. Howard Collection of author Robert Weinberg

Robert Weinberg


My Trip to Cross Plains:

Each year in June, the good people of Cross Plains celebrate the anniversary of Robert E. Howard's death which took place on June 6, 1936. This year's festival, titled HOWARD DAYS, took place on June 11, 12, 2004. I was invited to be the special guest speaker. Having wanted to visit Howard's home and his gravesite most of my life, I was thrilled by the invitation. Thus, Phyllis and I flew to Texas on June 10, stayed till June 13, and the returned to Chicago after one of the most memorable weekends of our life.

Our host, Leo Grin, a giant of a man, made us feel right at home right away, meeting us at the airport with another guest, famous Robert E. Howard scholar, Don Herron. Don is a die-hard Howard fan and scholar and he knows his subject. We argued much of the weekend about various business difficulties Howard experienced in his lifetime, but at the same time, we were united in our belief that Howard was an extremely important writer who deserved a lot more attention than he had ever received.

The visit zoomed by for me and I must admit for those people seeking highlights of the event you will find an excellent recounting of the events in THE CIMMERIAN, Vol 1 # 3, the small press magazine published by Leo Grin which devotes almost an entire issue to the weekend. Without question, visiting the tiny house where Howard wrote most of his work was awe-inspiring, especially when seeing that Howard wrote and slept in a room the size of a narrow closet. With barely any ventilation in the house, it must have been hellishly hot in the summer, just another incredible battle Howard fought alone to get his stories written.

Leo was a great guide and we did get a chance to visit Howard's grave. Having visited H.P. Lovecraft's grave only a few years earlier, I felt this was a meaningful spot. Howard has always been one of my favorite writers and stands as one of the two or three greatest writers of modern fantasy in the world.

At the Howard inner, I gave a speech about my feelings at Howard days. That speech is included with this article.

Phyllis and I had a wonderful time at Howard Days. As mentioned by several people, I was a typical city boy lost in a small town. I don't deny that. I was born and raised in cities and appreciate the comforts of modern civilization. But I also appreciate great writing and Howard was capable of doing that, and I admire him for being able to produce such great work under such trying conditions.

My wife and I do plan to attend Howard Days again, but it might not be until 2006 when a World Fantasy Convention is also held in Texas. But one thing is sure, whether we are there in presence or just in spirit in 2005, our thoughts will be there always with the wonderful people who keep Project Pride going!

--  Bob Weinberg

My Speech at the 2004 Howard Days Banquet:

SACRED GROUND by Robert Weinberg

Good evening. My name is Bob Weinberg. I discovered the writings of Robert E. Howard in the spring of 1958, approximately 46 years ago, through some rather odd circumstances. I was twelve years old and already an omnivorous reader of science fiction and fantasy. My grade school belonged to a book service known as TAB - Teen Age Books Club. Every month they published a newsletter offering several dozen paperbacks for sale to students with all the books priced at 25 cents each. TAB published their own paperbacks as well as offering paperbacks from different publishers for sale. My parents were happy that I loved to read (a trait they both shared) and gave me a dollar a month to buy TAB Books. The books I liked the best from TAB were published by a company known as ACE BOOKS. They printed some great science fiction novels by well-known science fiction authors like Andre Norton and Isaac Asimov. But one thing always puzzled me.

On the front page of all the Ace books I bought from TAB, there was a line surrounded by stars that declared "Turn this book over for another complete novel." I had no idea what that meant nor did my parents or anyone else I asked. Could you bring the book into a bookstore and exchange it for another one? Or return it to TAB for credit? I had no clue and the line drove me crazy. If there was a free book involved, I wanted it

Then, one day, I was in a bookstore in Newark Airport and they had an entire section devoted to Ace paperbacks. That's when I discovered the truth. Ace took two novels and bound them back to back as one "double" book. Thus, when you physically turned the paperback over, there was another complete book on the other side. (demonstrate). The TAB Books were merely half of a regular Ace double paperback, done as special editions for the book club, and they didn't bother dropping their advertising line. Normally, the Ace Double books cost 35 cents, but you received two novels for that price, when most paperbacks cost a quarter and you only got one book. Needless to say, I was hooked and at twelve years old, I became a fanatic Ace Double Book paperback collector. My parents weren't upset because they saw nothing wrong with collecting books. After all, how many paperbacks or magazines could I accumulate? Sooner or later, as my mother said one day, "how long can you do it before it gets boring?" My mother, who turned 89 this year, still wonders when that's going to happen? So does my wife and my son. At present, we share our house with approximately 20,000 books and magazines, including every Ace Double paperback I bought when I was twelve years old. I haven't gotten bored with collecting just yet.

Actually, whenever my wife complains about the books taking over the house, I point to those early Ace paperbacks and tell her, "they're the ones to blame!" In a way, it's the truth. Along with the two books bound back-to-back gimmick, Ace also wisely promoted other books in their line by advertising the titles at the center of the double novel where the two novels ended. These checklists gave Ace a certain mystique that other books didn't have and made them much more collectible. Many young science fiction and fantasy fans grew up reading Ace Double novels in the 1950's and 1960's.

Ace Books were numbered and were published every month. They were already around number 300 when I started collecting them and I was determined to own every science fiction book in the series. Fortunately for my budget, not all of the books Ace published were SF - about one out of 5 titles published per month were SF doubles. So, I was looking for about 60-70 books. I do have to admit, as an aside, that after I did acquire every science fiction book, I was so hooked on buying Ace Doubles that I started collecting every double paperback they published. I still need five of them for the whole set but I haven't given up! Someday I know I'll find them!

I hunted for them in bookstores all over northern New Jersey as well as New York City. Many of them I obtained used, bought at second-hand stores for the magnificent price of 10 cents each or three books for a quarter. I collected and collected and soon had a pretty good selection of the books. However, some titles proved extremely elusive, especially those published in the first year or two of Ace Books existence, 1953 and 1954.

The hardest science fiction book to find was D-36 - CONAN THE CONQUEROR and SWORD OF RHIANNON. Though it was only four years old, I could never seem to find a copy of it. Still, the book wasn't out of print and was advertised for sale in those ads at the center of other Ace Doubles. According to ordering directions, it was priced at the original price of 35 cents plus a nickel postage. So, one day I taped a quarter, a dime and a nickel to a piece of cardboard and mailed it off to Ace Books. A week later, in a manila envelope, the paperback arrived. I devoured the contents of the Conan novel that same night, and as the saying goes, history was changed forever! At least, my personal history.

At twelve years old, I became a Conan fanatic. In those days, the late 1950's, that was a much more difficult task than now. CONAN THE CONQUEROR was the only Conan novel that had been published in paperback. The Conan hardcover books published by Gnome Press were all out of print, as was the Arkham House collection, SKULLFACE. And, most of all, in a post-Sputnik America, no one wanted to read fantasy - everyone was reading science fiction. But I refused to give up. I just looked harder.

I bought the hardcover book, THE COMING OF CONAN in 1960 for $1 from a remainder sale listed on a magazine. I lived in a suburb of Newark, NJ, which in those days had one of the largest public libraries on the East Coast. I was able to read SKULLFACE AND OTHERS (borrowed by a cousin, who had an adult library card, as I was only 14) from there. Armed with a lot of ambition and a small amount of money, I started collecting magazines that reprinted Conan and other Robert E. Howard stories. And then, I discovered the pulp magazines where Howard was originally published. I worked harder, and earned more money and invested every penny in the pulps. By the time I was 18, I owned every Weird Tales from 1930 on. Those issues contained every Conan story published in during Robert E. Howard's lifetime. But that still wasn't enough.

Over the next few years, I expanded my search and started collecting every magazine and book that featured any story by Robert E. Howard. I began collecting Howard in western pulps and detective pulps and adventure pulps. I collected Howard in hardcover and paperback anthologies, and in fan magazines. Finally, after years and years of collecting, I had just about everything there was to get, other than the fabled British hardcover edition of A GENT FROM BEAR CREEK. I still don't have one.

By the way, I do want to thank everyone involved in Howard Days for attending this dinner tonight, thus leaving your copy of A GENT FROM BEAR CREEK unguarded at the Howard House. By the time this speech is over, my agents should have obtained the book for me from its resting place! After all these years of searching, it's nice to have finally obtained one!

No, I didn't really steal the book. But I must admit, I was tempted!

However, even though I owned just about everything published by Robert E. Howard, I was still fanatical about his work. Which is when I began writing about him and his stories.

Simply put, I wanted to share my passion, to share my excitement about this author who was mostly forgotten, mostly ignored by the readers of the 1960's. So, I wrote a pamphlet, A READERS GUIDE TO ROBERT E. HOWARD and self-published it in 1969. I wrote articles on the "Robert E. Howard boom" and "Robert E. Howard and the Cthulhu Mythos" and many many others. Like a number of other Robert E. Howard fans of the time, I felt it was my duty, my obligation, to spread the word about Conan and Kull and Solomon Kane and their creator. And I kept on buying everything being published with Robert E. Howard's name on it.

It was during this time, in my early twenties that I began meeting other Robert E. Howard fans at science fiction conventions and gatherings. I met Donald Grant who was later to reprint many of Robert E. Howard's work during this time and I also met probably the most important Howard fan of all, a Texan named Glenn Lord. In those days, Glenn had a WATS line at work, which enabled him to make long distance phone calls for free (a luxury that was a real luxury back in the 1960's!) and we would talk for hours and hours at night about Robert E. Howard. I have to admit I miss those days a little, mostly because I was known as "the young guy" who collected Howard. I haven't been called the young guy by anyone in a long, long time!

Though I earned my Bachelor's degree and Master Degree in Mathematics, I was never as enamored with math as I was with Robert E. Howard. Not surprising, when I met my lovely wife, Phyllis, while working on my Ph.D. (in math), in Chicago, I soon abandoned my studies. We got married in May 1973, and decided to open a mail-order bookstore specializing in fantasy and supernatural fiction. Needless to say, we carried every Robert E. Howard book, magazine and fanzine being published. Our business, Weinberg Books was only meant to be a hobby, a sideline until something better turned up. After all, in the immortal words of my mother, "how long could we do it before it got boring?" Within a short time, we became known as the premier outlet for everything published in the fantasy field, especially the work of my two favorite writers, H.P. Lovecraft and Robert E. Howard. What began as an enterprise to make some extra cash soon developed into a full time business, that kept Phyllis and me busy for the next twenty-five years.

When Donald Grant began publishing his series of limited edition Conan books, I wrote to every artist involved in illustrating the series and asked them to design a special bookplate for the book they illustrated. I printed up hundreds of copies of these bookplates, paid the artists to sign them, and distributed them for free with the books. Partly, to drum up business, and partly to encourage fans to support the Donald Grant editions.

In the late 1970's, Ted Dikty, the published of FAX Collectors Editions, told me that he had just licensed the rights to publish four collections of Robert E. Howard adventure stories from the pulps. He had been astonished by the response to the announcement of the books and was looking for some other way to sell to the Howard market. Knowing of my life-long interest in Howard, Ted wondered if I'd be interested in writing a non-fiction book about Howard's swords-and-sorcery stories? I was, and thus was born THE ANNOTATED GUIDE TO ROBERT E. HOWARD'S SWORDS AND SORCERY, the first book entirely devoted to Robert E. Howard's life and work. The book sold out fairly quickly and Ted and I talked about doing a follow-up volume, but that never came to pass. I'm pleased, that after more than a quarter-of-a-century that it's finally going to be available again this summer from Wildside Press.

As I grew older and busier, my interest in Robert E. Howard never disappeared. It was just overtaken by many other fans who discovered Howard's works through the many reprints of his work, the Conan comic book, and the Conan movie. Where, once upon a time, I was one of the few lone souls, standing in the wilderness, shouting out Robert E. Howard's name, I was now one of thousands cheering on his successes. I still remained marginally involved with Robert E. Howard fandom and Robert E. Howard comics and Robert E. Howard publishing, but not nearly as much as twenty years earlier. I never totally lost interest in Robert E. Howard. I merely grew bored with all of the imitations and pastiches being published with his name on them that had little if anything to do with his work.

At least that was the case until Wandering Star began publishing Robert E. Howard in editions that matched his work. Gazing through the pages of THE SAVAGE TALES OF SOLOMON KANE and THE COMPLETE CONAN OF CIMMERIA Vol. 1, I realized that the flame burned bright as ever - maybe not red or yellow, but bright blue. That the real stuff, the Robert E. Howard stuff, still excited me reading it now as it first did reading it more than forty years ago. And, so once again, I find myself entering the world of Valusia, Cimmeria and Aquilonia, the finest fantasy world of them all. I'm back to writing about Robert E. Howard and Conan and all of my Howard favorites and what makes them so great. I've even considered writing a pastiche or two myself, though that still seems sacrilege to me. In any case, this appearance this weekend at Howard Days is a sure indication that I'm back, and this time, I suspect I'm back for good.

Before ending this rambling journey of my life with Robert E. Howard, I felt it only fair to share with you the magic in his words, the magic that makes his work immortal. However, after trying again and again to find the perfect section of Howard's writing to read to you, I realized such a task is impossible. Instead, all I can do is mention another one of my idols, Fred Astaire. I am not a dancer. My wife can attest to that fact. I have two left feet, and sometimes I don't even think they're connected to the rest of my body. Still, that doesn't mean I can't appreciate fine dancing. And, without question, my favorite dancer of all time is Fred Astaire. To me, Fred Astaire was the greatest dancer of all time. Why? Grace, style, charm, confidence; I could use a thousand words and still wouldn't finish capture the greatness of Fred Astaire dancing. Which leads me back to Robert E. Howard. When you ask me what made his work so special, so unique, so captivating, I can only compare him to Fred Astaire. To me, reading Robert E. Howard's writing is like watching Fred Astaire dancing.

Dear friends and fellow Robert E. Howard fans, I'd like to thank you all from the bottom of my heart for inviting me here today to speak at this Howard Days celebration. As a fan and collector of Robert E. Howard for the past forty-six years, I can think of no greater honor. I've won many awards as a writer and an editor, but all of them pale in comparison to being the guest speaker at a festival celebrating the work of Robert E. Howard - held in the town where Robert E. Howard spent most of his short life. Because, truthfully, I feel these streets, these buildings, this land where once Robert E. Howard once walked, is sacred ground.

Thank you for listening. Thank you for having me as your guest.


Photos from my trip along with reproductions
of rare Howard books from my collection.

Robert E. Howard in Japanese

Click on any bookcover to see a larger version of it.
Click on any bookcover to see a larger version of it.
Click on any bookcover to see a larger version of it.
Click on any bookcover to see a larger version of it.
Bob by the REH Gate

Bob, in front of the gate to the Robert E. Howard home.

Bob, with his Dream Come True!

Bob's dream comes true! Holding a copy of the 1st edition of A GENT FROM BEAR CREEK from 1937.

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