It’s a real challenge, finding the right authors for new Conan novels. So many factors play into creating dynamic new fiction featuring the world’s most famous sword and sorcery icon.
While the source material remains Robert E. Howard’s extraordinary body of work, the vast majority of his output was fiction as short as 4,000 words or less, while a full-length novel that gives readers what they deserve needs to hover closer to 80,000 words or more. Telling a story of that length requires a specific skill set.
At the same time, when launching an ambitious new fiction initiative, authors are needed who possess recognized credentials, enthusiastic audiences, and a genuine affinity for Howard’s legendary character. A Conan novel has to be an event. Thus, we’ve reached out to many of today’s top fantasists.
Conventions provide an excellent opportunity for face-to-face creative discussions, and at Dragon Con 2021 I was able to meet with S.M. Stirling, New York Times bestselling author of Dies the Fire, whose novel Island in the Sea of Time author George R.R. Martin called, “Utterly engaging…a page-turner that is certain to win the author legions of new readers and fans.”
With an extensive body of work, Stirling has proven his ability to craft fantastic scenarios, compelling characters, intricate world-building, and powerful action. When we sat down for lunch, I told him about the Conan initiative, and instantly his eyes lit up. Encouraged, I laid out our plans for the fiction program, and the conversation turned to our favorite Howard stories. Mine, I said, is “Beyond the Black River.”
“Yes,” he replied, “and that one has perhaps the best opening line.” At that moment, I knew I was talking to the right person. My own memories of the story were based in the feelings it had inspired, the tactile sensations it evoked. Steve knew Howard’s work intimately. Here was a deep-rooted affinity to the source material. Frankly, I was impressed.
Negotiations ensued with Steve’s agent, and eventually he signed on for Conan: Blood of the Serpent. We wanted to place the adventure within the timeline of Howard’s tales, and over the course of several outlines determined that it would lead into one of Steve’s personal favorites, “Red Nails.” Thus it would feature other elements Conan fans will find familiar, while being entirely accessible to readers who may come to the genre via A Game of Thrones, The Witcher, or works by authors like Jay Kristoff or Mark Lawrence.
Conan: Blood of the Serpent is slated to come out in October to commemorate a momentous landmark—the 90th anniversary of Howard’s first Conan adventure, “The Phoenix on the Sword,” which appeared in the December 1932 issue of Weird Tales. That story begat generations of unparalleled sword-and-sorcery adventure, and we’re shooting to do the same.
“The stillness of the forest trail was so primeval that the tread of a soft-booted foot was a startling disturbance.”—”Beyond the Black River,” Weird Tales, May 1935
The hardcover edition of Conan: Blood of the Serpent by New York Times bestselling author S.M. Stirling will be available for pre-order beginning March 25, 2022, published by Titan Books.
Written by Stephen W. Saffel