Soldiers of Missed Fortune Essay

Howard writes to Tevis Clyde Smith in November of 1931 about struggling to make sense out of the ending of “Blood of Belshazzar” and how he is not too fond of the story. He also mentions trying unsuccessfully to crack the Clayton Magazines (he eventually does) and bemoans the dwindling amount paid by the pulps for his stories:

I’m glad you liked the Oriental story; I take it you are referring to the Belshazzar tripe. Personally, I thought it was pretty rotten in spots, particularly towards the conclusion when I had to drag in so blasted much explanation. I’ve had nothing in Sport Stories lately. You ought to make Soldiers of Fortune; I don’t believe I’ll ever make the Claytons. I’m damned if I can solve their formula. Apparently they have a secret code which escapes the casual eye — and never crops out in the stories they publish. I sold Byrne a Costigan story recently — $60 this time. He’s been cutting my rates steadily. By God, if he falls below that, I’ll give the series to Street & Smith — and I suppose get it rejected. I thought when he hit the $75 level it was the limit

The Claytons were a great market for Howard, paying two cents a word and up on acceptance.  So it is no wonder he worked so hard to crack the “Clayton code” and get his foot in the door with them.

In another letter to Tevis Clyde Smith, circa March 1932, he touts his success of getting Clayton to accept his weird fiction for their Strange Tales magazine and complains about having a historical story for a companion magazine, Soldiers of Fortune, rejected:

Glad you liked the Roof business and the Sowers stuff. I’ve had quite a few praises on the Sowers thing, but don’t know whether they’ll get into the Souk. Likely not. Those yarns I sold Clayton were to their Strange Tales. They turned down “The Road of Azrael” for Soldiers etc., and I seemed to sense a hint of irritation in their letter of rejection, as if they suspected I’d never read the magazine. Which I haven’t. But I hope to make it eventually.

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But Howard never got a chance to submit anything else. About the time he wrote this letter, the last issue of Soldiers of Fortune’s four issue short run was rolling off the presses. The first three issues were bi-monthly, but the final edition was the first issue of a change to a quarterly schedule — a death knell for a pulp magazine.

In addition to the contents, the covers were quite interesting featuring character studies rather than action scenes. The four covers were painted by Gerard Curtis Delano. All are really are really outstanding, especially issue number 3 with the Samurai on the cover. You just didn’t see authentic Samurais on pulp covers in the 1930s.

If the Claytons had survived, I have no doubt Howard would have made it into the pages of Soldiers of Fortune. But it was not to be. Luckily Howard’s main market for historicals, The Magic Carpet Magazine (formerly Oriental Tales) was still hanging on by its proverbial fingernails. However, it eventually followed Soldiers into oblivion at the end of 1933.

A tip of the hat to Laurie’s Wild West website for the covers.


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