Newsletter #41

Dear People,

First, a note on the format. Thirteen of the thousand-plus subscribers couldn’t read #40. They tended to be computer professionals who had, I suspect, very advanced electronic security. (Nothing had changed at our end.) People who have similar problems in the future will be directed to the website, where a copy of this and future newsletters will go up as soon as they’ve been sent to subscribers. 

On to writing news. I’d like to say that I’ve completed my draft for The Gods Return, the final Isles novel, but that isn’t quite true. As of this instant I’m into Chapter 15 (of 17, with a short epilogue which I’ve already roughed out) and something over 123K words. I’ll get there.

Incidentally, people frequently demand (from me and I’ve seen it happen to other writers) to know “how many pages is that?” and to get upset when I say the question is meaningless because it has so many variables. One of my normal double-spaced manuscript pages runs 250-300 words, though the average will differ depending on the kind of book I’m writing.

That’s a relatively limited variation, though. What people usually mean is, “How many pages will the printed book have?” and that’s utterly in the hands of the publisher.

I own modern books which range from 125 words per page where the publisher was trying to bulk up a novella to sell at the price of a novel (Hell! Said the Duchess) to over 800 where the publisher was trying to keep his cost down (The Outsider). The hardcover of most recent Isles novel, The Mirror of Worlds, averages about 420 words per page, rather a high figure for a book of its length (139K words).

Besides beavering away on The Gods Return (and when I’m this deep in a novel, everything else really takes a back seat), the contract for the new four-volume Tor fantasy series has been signed. I’ve been happily buying books that strike me as potentially useful for the work.

You know, research is half the fun of writing. I pick milieus that I already found interesting, and the work causes me to dive deep and to think analytically about what I’m finding. It’s truly a wonderful job, one that keeps me mentally supple and teaches me all manner of neat things.

The third volume of The Complete Hammer’s Slammers from Night Shade is mostly on schedule to ship in November. Unfortunately is mostly isn’t the same as is; as of this writing, the artist (John Berkey) hasn’t turned in the cover. (I can’t even swear that he’s started the cover.)

Everything else is ready to go, however, so the book (containing the novels The Sharp End and Paying the Piper, the new novelet The Darkness, my obituary of Jim Baen, and Barry Malzberg’s introduction) will be out realsoonnow. (There’ll be a leather-bound limited edition with a page signed by me, Barry, and John Berkey.)

Feel free to order many copies as Christmas gifts. And keep your fingers crossed, as mine are.

I may have mentioned the Baen Guide to Military SF. This is a Marty Greenberg project with me as Chief Editor and Dr. John Lambshead as Handling Editor. (If the terminology strikes you as a little odd, it’s from scientific publishing where John has a great deal of editorial experience.)

John and I think we’ve finally gotten a plan that’ll work (which wasn’t as easy as we might’ve wished). As it now stands, there will be a number of general essays written by specialists (we’ve approached the chief designer of Games Workshop to write the section on miniature wargaming, for example), but the core of the book will be essays on series and individual novels. Whenever possible, the author will write the sections on his or her own works. I’ll keep you posted on how things are coming along.

I’ve translated a couple more Ovid lyrics recently. In Newsletter 40 I said I was planning to put up Juvenal’s Satire 14. After rereading it, I decided not to after all. I have the highest regard for Juvenal as a writer (his description of Domitian’s council in #4 is as good an example of drawing characters in one or two lines as you’ll see anywhere by anyone), but I’ve decided my head is in more of an Ovid place now. (Like me, Ovid was a recovering lawyer.)

Hmm; I might turn my hand to the Hunt for the Erymanthian Boar from the Metamorphoses soon. Then again, I notice that I said the same thing in May, 2004, and it’s not up yet. The Mills of God and all that. We’ll see.

There is a picture (sent by the fan who created it) of a Tiny Little Dave riding as commander on a 25mm Slammers tank. This amuses me a great deal.

Webcasts which I did in Tulsa in 2006 and in Baltimore this year are up on the convention websites. I’m never quite sure what I’m going to say in an interview. That’s in part because a slight difference in the wording of a question can modify my response a great deal.

Probably the biggest news for fantasy/SF publishing recently is the death of Jim Rigney, who wrote fantasy as Robert Jordan. I knew Jim both before and after the Wheel of Time became a blockbuster. He didn’t change: he was the same smart, opinionated, outgoing, generous man after his success as he’d been before. He cared about his work, and he cared about his fans.

We were friendly over many years, though we weren’t close. He’d served two tours in Viet Nam as a helicopter door gunner, then put himself through college at the Citadel. (I’ve known a number of Citadel grads who were Nam vets, but Jim was the only former enlisted man.) I liked and respected him.

Jim’s death in itself doesn’t affect Tor, because he’d stopped writing when the complex, awful illness struck him a couple years ago. The fact that he stopped writing has affected Tor and the field in a bad way.

I’ve heard editors say that the Wheel of Time didn’t subsidize less successful works: that every book has to make its own way in today’s marketplace. I believe that statement is disingenuous.

Every publisher has fixed costs; rental of Manhattan office space is an obvious example. A few years ago two-thirds of Tor’s very considerable royalty payments went to Jim. I suspect he covered a similar percentage of those fixed costs for Tor.

Yes, every book has to make its own way–so the bar is higher for every other Tor book, now that new volumes of the Wheel of Time aren’t defraying the fixed costs. The people who will feel (and have felt) the bite of this most are the self-styled literary writers who focus on technique.

Jim Rigney always emphasized character and plot instead of technique. I suppose you could say that the fact his death made it harder for self-styled literary writers to be published shows that there’s justice in the world. Personally, I’d rather have Jim alive and healthy.

Oh, well. Back to setting up the climax of The Gods Return–and the Crown of the Isles trilogy, and the entire Lord of the Isles. So far, so good.

–Dave Drake

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