“Post Oaks & Sand Roughs” is a fictionalized semi-autobiographical adventure novel by Robert E. Howard that offers a fictional account of his own life during his formative years as a writer. The novel is centered around the character Stephen Costigan, who, despite sharing a name, is distinct from Sailor Steve Costigan, the protagonist of Howard’s boxing stories. Through Costigan’s experiences at Semple University and beyond, the narrative explores the friendships that were crucial to Howard’s development, particularly with characters inspired by his real-life friends, Smith and Vinson. These relationships, along with the vibrant and tumultuous environment of his youth, are depicted with emotional depth, showcasing the internal and external conflicts that shaped Howard as a young writer. This blending of reality with fiction provides a rich, complex view of Howard’s early literary career, filled with struggles, triumphs, and a relentless pursuit of personal truth.

It was completed and submitted to an unnamed publisher circa October/November 1928. It didn’t get published. It was not published until 1989 in France by NéO (Nouvelles Editions Oswald) under the title of “Le Rebelle”.

See also “Post Oaks & Sand Roughs (early draft)“. 

From the letters

Here’s from a letter (#093) Howard wrote to Harold Preece, circa December 1928:

I haven’t heard from the novel but know it won’t be accepted. I wouldn’t take it myself if I were a publisher. I’ll try to rewrite and believe I will eventually sell it. Still, I doubt it, as I’ve cursed out every known cult, creed and nationality in it; if any man takes it, he’ll be either unusually broad minded or else a misanthrope.

He sent his friend Tevis Clyde Smith a letter (#101) circa February 1929, which contained a list of what he sold and what was rejected:

Of course I started scores which I never completed, and completed several which I never sent off, but this list comprises the majority of those I did send off. In addition, I collaborated with one Clyde Smith on a short story and rewrote a novel, to say nothing of writing a novel on my own.

The collaboration with Smith was ‘Diogenes of Today’, the rewrite was ‘West of the Rio Grande, and the novel ‘Post Oaks and Sand Rough’.


The story opens with Stephen Costigan, a student at Semple University, grappling with his mixed feelings about college life. Despite his disdain for the superficial aspects of college, he finds himself drawn into the spirited environment, particularly the competitive sports culture. Costigan, reflective of Howard himself, is portrayed as a cynical yet passionate individual, often finding himself conflicted between his inner desires and the expectations of the academic community.

Throughout the novel, Costigan’s friendships play a central role, particularly with characters like Joe Franey and Clive Hilton, who are based on real-life figures from Howard’s life. These relationships are depicted with depth, showing both the camaraderie and the tensions that arise. Franey, the football hero, and Hilton, the intellectually inclined friend, represent different facets of Costigan’s own aspirations and conflicts.

The narrative also explores Costigan’s burgeoning writing career, highlighting his struggles and triumphs as he attempts to find his voice as a writer. His experiences with the literary establishment, represented through his interactions with publishers and other writers, reflect Howard’s own challenges in the publishing world.

As the plot progresses, Costigan faces various personal and professional dilemmas, including his feelings of alienation, his passionate outbursts, and his attempts to reconcile his aggressive impulses with his creative aspirations. The novel also delves into themes of identity, ambition, and the relentless pursuit of personal truth.

The setting of the novel, primarily based around the towns of Semple and Gower-Penn, serves as a backdrop for the exploration of these themes, providing a vivid depiction of the rural Texas landscape that influenced Howard’s own life and writings.


  • Stephen Costigan – The protagonist, representing Howard himself, a student and aspiring writer dealing with his complex inner world.
  • Joe Franey – A friend and football hero, embodying the physical vitality and popularity that Costigan admires and somewhat envies.
  • Clive Hilton – A reflective and intellectual friend who often serves as a sounding board and contrast to Costigan’s more impulsive nature.
  • Spike – A close friend who drifts away as he follows a path of excessive drinking and gambling, reflecting the changing dynamics of friendships.
  • Mrs. Drummer – The landlady of the boarding house where Costigan stays, providing maternal support and stability in his life.

Comparing the story with the early draft

“Post Oaks and Sand Roughs” by Robert E. Howard, in both its early draft and the finished story, presents a semi-autobiographical account of Howard’s life, fictionalized through the character of Stephen Costigan. Here’s a detailed comparison of the two versions, highlighting key differences and similarities:

Narrative Structure

  • Early Draft: The narrative is somewhat disjointed with scenes that sometimes abruptly shift in focus and tone. There are extensive dialogues and internal monologues that delve into Steve’s personal views and philosophical musings, giving a raw and unfiltered look into his character’s mind.
  • Finished Story: The structure is more streamlined and cohesive. The editing process refined the flow of events and polished the dialogue, making the story more focused on the primary narrative arc and reducing the prevalence of tangential thoughts.

Character Development

  • Early Draft: Characters in the early draft are deeply explored, with more emphasis on their psychological depth and personal dilemmas. Steve’s relationships with his friends and his struggles with his writing ambitions are depicted with a lot of emotional volatility.
  • Finished Story: The characters are more defined and their motivations clearer. The interactions between Steve and other characters are more purposeful, driving the plot forward more directly. There’s a slight shift towards depicting Steve as more resilient and slightly less introspective in his dealings with failures and rejections.

Themes and Tone

  • Early Draft: The tone is more erratic, reflecting the uncertainties and emotional ups and downs of Steve’s life. Themes of isolation, ambition, and the struggle for literary success are more pronounced, with a raw and sometimes bleak outlook.
  • Finished Story: The themes are refined but maintain their complexity, focusing more on perseverance and the impact of the socio-economic environment on personal growth. The tone is more balanced, offering a more hopeful perspective on Steve’s challenges.

Style and Language

  • Early Draft: The language is more verbose and less disciplined. Steve’s voice is given ample room to develop through lengthy passages of dialogue and introspection, which sometimes slow the pace of the narrative.
  • Finished Story: The prose is tighter, with more controlled and precise language. Howard’s revisions have honed the story’s voice, making it more accessible and engaging while preserving its insightful observations.

Plot Elements

  • Early Draft: Contains more detailed scenes that sometimes do not contribute directly to the central narrative but offer deeper insights into the setting and the characters’ lives. These include extended descriptions of social interactions and Steve’s personal reflections.
  • Finished Story: The plot is more focused, with extraneous elements either trimmed down or removed entirely. This version drives more directly towards the climactic points and resolutions, giving the story a more conventional narrative arc.


The transformation from the early draft to the finished story of “Post Oaks and Sand Roughs” illustrates Robert E. Howard’s skill in refining his narratives. While the early draft offers a fascinating glimpse into the raw material of his creative process, the finished story presents a more polished and universally relatable narrative, showcasing his growth as a writer and his ability to craft a compelling semi-autobiographical narrative. Both versions, however, remain true to the essence of Howard’s experiences and literary style, making them valuable reads for understanding his development as a writer and his personal struggles.

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