Thursday, April 14, 2011

Futile Efforts

Has anyone ever felt an overwhelming urge to write something that you know you will never be able to sell, or even publish, and did it anyways?

I have had an idea for a series of stories, possibly even a book, about a character that is proprietary, and would be a legal miasma if I were to try to get it published.  This idea has been rolling around in my brain since I was in high school, but I have never started it due to the impossibility of it seeing the light of day.

The property I am referring to is Conan (c), and more specifically, his firstborn son, Conan II (or Conn, as he is more commonly called).  Conn is not the invention of Robert E. Howard, but rather of L. Sprague DeCamp.

For those who don't know who that is (and you may want to skip this paragraph if you do), DeCamp was a science-fiction/fantasy writer of moderate ability, who managed (sometime in the late 50's or early 60's, I believe) to become the custodian of the late Howard's Conan stories.  For several years, DeCamp labored over these stories with the help of Lin Carter and Bjorn Nyberg, organized them chronologically, and filled in time gaps by either converting non-Conan stories into Conan stories, or by writing original works of the character.  The product of these efforts was a 12-volume set of books (that would later be added to by DeCamp as well) published by Lancer/Ace Books.  These books remained in print until the late 1980's.  It should be noted at this point that DeCamp considered himself somewhat of an armchair psychologist, and I later learned that much his analysis of Howard's person were born of misinterpreted information, and possibly a sense of jealousy.  DeCamp knew that Howard had been a more talented writer than he ever could be.  That much is plain.  And his character assassination of Howard, along with his self-serving custodianship of the Conan character, did little to ingratiate him to true Howard fans.

Be that as it may, these books were my first literary introduction to the character of Conan.  Suffice it to say, they developed in me a lust for Sword & Sorcery, and a love of the Conan character.  At the time, I recall not noticing the difference between the original stories by Howard, and the pastiches.  They were all Conan, and they told the story of the life of an amazing character.  I have since gone on to read the re-release of the original Howard works, as well as many of his non-Conan stories, and have come to appreciate his genius, and how DeCamp, though talented, never quite measured up to the Original.

The last three books in the original twelve, Conan the Avenger, Conan of Aquilonia and Conan of the Isles, were all book length works written wholly by DeCamp.  And the last two book featured Conn somewhat prominently.  First as a 10-year old would be warrior in Aquilonia, and later as the Prince turned King in Isles.  Near the beginning of the final book, Conan abdicates his throne to his 20-something son, in favor of running off on one last hurrah.  The rest of the book was fun, but it was Conn that always intrigued me.

What happened when he became king of the most powerful nation in the Hyborian Age?  Was he able to balance his savage heritage with his civil upbringing?  By this point, his mother had passed, and all he had were a few advisers, and three younger siblings.  Would he have stayed on the throne and remained a good king in his father's image?

I imagined not.  Conan had made many enemies in his lifetime, and it would not be far off to assume that one of them, or even the offspring of one of them, might make a play for the throne during this time of change.

And that's the story that is demanding to be written.  And I have decided to give in to that demand, and see where it takes me.  Perhaps if I like the results, I can do a find/replace for all of the proprietary names, and give it a legally original facade.

Yeah, that's what I'm doing.


Anonymous said...

So why not contact the publisher, find out who owns DeCamp's copyrights at this point, since he died in 2000, and see if you can get permission. Perhaps offering to donate a portion of your proceeds for something honoring DeCamp would get it... Worst they can say is "no."

Tom Doolan said...

I considered that. And I may follow up at some point. However, I'm 99.99% sure that Paradox Entertainment owns the rights to the stories, and they are notoriously chincy with REH's properties. Unless there is a truckload of money in it for them.

Right now, I think I will just write the darn thing for my own enjoyment. :)

Paul R. McNamee said...

You are always better off "doing your own thing." If you write for a line or character that someone else owns, then you're screwed if they don't want it, or won't give you the rights.

If you have a lot of time on your hands, throwing some writing cycles at "fan fiction" is fine. Otherwise, you're wiser to come up with your own stuff.

Bonus is - if you really care that much about Conn, once you've got your own stuff under your belt, publishers are more likely to hear your idea or invite you to write for an established project.

Besides, Conn's situation doesn't sound too hard to recreate in your own world. An educated son of a 'savage' king. It's probably not a unique storyline to deCamp.

Just my two cents. My writings habits are deplorable and I can't afford putting cycles on stuff that won't go anywhere. Not yet, anyway.

Tom Doolan said...

I hear what you're saying, Paul. And if something more lucrative comes along, this goes straight to the backburner, indefinitely. However, as writing isn't my primary method of making a living, I can afford to be whimsical. If nothing else, it's good practice on plotting and doing the work. This way I don't have to go through the hassle of building my own sandbox. I can just play in REH's for a little while. :)

bowiefan said...

Doing something for your own pleasure? You absolutely should. Don't worry about the rest until later.

The Happy Whisk said...

If I were you, I'd do it. Sounds like you'll enjoy yourself and I bet, learn something along the way.

I look forward to hearing more about your adventure and wish you, Happy Writing.

Ken said...

Remember the Demon Wars Saga by R.A. Salvatore? His love for The Lord of the Rings kind of fueled that story. And he came up with an interesting magic system.

Anyway, I think you should take this idea of yours, mix it up with your love of Conan and Conn and make something that both honors Howard and celebrates your love of Sword & Sorcery.

Imitation, after all ....

Charles Gramlich said...

I actually did a story about a Howard character, Sailor Steve Costigan, where the stories are all public domain and no one really cares. They would care about Conan/Conn I imagine. I also did a poem featuring John Carter. I think if the passion is there and it comes through in the writing, then you always could later go through and revise and name change to make it more in line with something totally original. The key is that if you have passion for something you will often write well at it.