KillerKILLER holds a lot of memories for me, most of them bad. Sometimes things work out that way.

August Derleth died in 1971. His small press, Arkham House, was the only market to which I’d sold fiction. F&SF published some fantasy but not (as I learned by trying) heroic fantasy; so when I wrote Hunter’s Moon, a heroic fantasy set in Italy under the Emperor Domitian, I sent it to the other possible market: Fantastic. Ten years earlier under Cele Goldsmith/Lalli, Fantastic had been a very good magazine. That was no longer the case, but beggars can’t be choosers.

I wouldn’t have been surprised if the story’d been rejected, but in fact it didn’t come back at all. Letters and self-addressed reply cards to the editor over the next couple years had no effect whatever. (Knowing more about the editor than I did thirty years ago, I’m not surprised at what happened.)

I hadn’t kept a copy of the final draft, a remarkably stupid mistake even for a newbie writer like me. Hunter’s Moon was gone forever.

In 1974 a fan decided to put out a Karl Wagner fanzine and gave Karl carte blanche over the contents. To add variety to his own work, Karl asked if he could rewrite my second draft (a typescript with extensive holograph interlineations) and use it in the fanzine. I was too disgusted with what had happened to the story (and my own stupidity!) to revise the story again, so I cheerfully agreed.

Karl rewrote Hunter’s Moon, added a major character, expanded the text by 50%, and retitled it Killer. It was published in the fanzine, Midnight Sun, as by Karl Edward Wagner and David A Drake, still in 1974.

Karl’s career had a spectacular but brief fluit before dissolving in alcohol and missed deadlines; his last novel, a Conan pastiche, came out in 1979. Then in 1983 Jim Baen started Baen Books and needed material badly. Jim, knowing I was worried about Karl, asked me to collaborate with him on a horror novel based on the story Killer. Payments would be structured to encourage Karl to perform.

I agreed. Karl agreed. Then things started to get very bad.

Normally the authors of collaborations are billed in alphabetical order. Karl insisted that because he was the more important author, his name had to come first. I wasn’t going to quarrel about it, but Jim went ballistic and absolutely refused. The agent Karl and I shared asked me to beg Jim to let Karl’s name come first as Jim’s personal favor to me; otherwise Karl would nut.

I did it. Jim, fuming, agreed. Over the next couple months I pointed out to Karl exactly what it meant to piss off a publisher as badly as that business had pissed off Jim (and me too; believe me, me too). Karl had a sudden change of heart and decided the billing should be alphabetical.

I wrote a complete rough draft of the novel longhand, then keyed it into my early word processor. I gave the typescript to Karl. Then, for a long time, nothing happened.

Afterwards it turned out that Karl had begun by moving scenes around and changing motivations. (As an aside, in my draft characters occasionally said something snide about the medical profession; all of those comments were struck out.) By the time Karl was two-thirds of the way through, he’d had to scrap a goodly chunk of text because the action of it no longer followed the revised early chapters. In order to have a novel of contract length, Karl would have to write 10-15,000 words himself… and he couldn’t.

The book was scheduled; time was running very short. Karl finally managed to grind out the wordage in a chase through the sewers and sent in the book. The last 15,000 words were xeroxes of my rough draft with some of the typos corrected.

I was furious when Baen Books described the state of the manuscript. I certainly didn’t consider my drafts to be publishable at the time (and even now, with a lot more experience, I always do at least three edit passes after the rough). Jim pulled the last section from production and gave me a chance to give it a degree of polish.

A lot of people like Killer. I had fun researching the Roman backgrounds; my earliest stories were horror, and Killer was the only time I returned to that milieu at novel length. But you know, I have really bad feelings about the whole long history of the piece. Sometimes things work out that way.

Dave Drake

Killer. With K. E. Wagner. 1985, Riverdale, NY: Baen. 270 p. 0671559311 (pb). $2.95.
————– 1990, New York, NY: Tor. 270 p. 0812509846 (pb). $3.95.
————– 2002, Riverdale, NY: Baen. 270 p. 0743435869 (pb). $6.99. (This edition differs from earlier editions of the novel.)

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