Newsletter #42

Dear People,

I’ve turned in THE GODS RETURN, the final book of the Crown of the Isles trilogy and of the whole Isles series. I hadn’t fully appreciated that till a friend congratulated me on completing my largest project thus far. That took me aback, because though GODS is a substantial book at 145, 595 words, I’ve written novels of over 200K. Then I realized that he meant the nine-book series as an entity–and that he was right. 

No wonder I’m exhausted. And a little depressed too, I suppose, but that isn’t so rare with me that I’m going to blame it on a book or a series or anything outside my own head.

I think GODS works well, both on its own and as a cap for a long, complex series. Gosh, I remember working on the plot for QUEEN OF DEMONS (the second volume) while staying at Kipling’s house in Brattleboro for my 51st birthday.

I’ve been asked already (this is probably going to take the place of, “Why did you switch to fantasy from Military SF?” which I was constantly asked ten years ago) whether I’ll miss the series. I don’t think so. I left the characters and their world in a good place. (Well, a variety of good places; the series is complex, and therefore the conclusion is very complex.)

And I’m looking forward to the new Tor series. Instead of being a purple-black blur which fills me with dread, it’s a kaleidoscope of bright images. Either is a way of describing an uncertain future, but the fact this one is a positive description is a Good Thing.

But the next thing on my plate is an RCN space opera. I’ve got various factors bouncing around on this one–things to consider, necessary background, possibilities–but nothing that I’d want to call a plot germ. I was beginning to think that my brain had turned to mush and I’d never write again. (I said I’m a bit depressed, right?)

I went back to Polybius, reading his description of the evolution of different political systems. I realized that the problem wasn’t in the details of his systemization but rather in the very fact of it: he was treating a pile of sand as though it were a block of granite. Each polity (though similar to scores of others) is unique, and a system which denies that is wrong on its face.

While this doesn’t give me a plot (and you’re welcome to disagree with my assessment of Polybius), it did prove to my satisfaction that my brain hadn’t turned to mush. I figure the plot will start to come when I’ve had more than two days without urgent work to do.

Hmm. What if I used the occasion of the Roman embassy to the Illyrians in ca 230 BC? You know, I think I’ve got my plot germ!

The urgent work I mentioned was the proofs of WHEN THE TIDE RISES, a Baen hc for March. I shipped off the Isles novel and dived straight into the proofs, which are now shipped off as well. Actually, reading the proofs for the most recent RCN space opera was a darned good preparation for getting into writing the next one.

Those of you who read Newsletter 41 may recall that I said that I’d been told that John Berkey would be doing the cover for volume 3 of The Complete Hammer’s Slammers, not that I believed he would be doing so. Unfortunately my caution was justified by the event. David Martin has done the cover art  (very much in the style of Berkey), and the book should ship by late December. I’m sorry for the delay, but I’m much sorrier that John Berkey, a wonderful artist, had an incapacitating stroke.

If you look at the news page of my website, you may note that I’m going to three conventions in October, 2008. This isn’t because I love cons. World Fantasy Con is the big professional (as opposed to fan) convention in the SF/fantasy field. That’s straight business. Walden West is dedicated to August Derleth, the editor who gave me my professional start. I’d been invited as GoH some while ago, but this is the first year the timing has been possible.

Leaving Conjecture in San Diego. Years ago I said in a newsletter that I’d like to do a few cons on the West Coast. Again timing didn’t work out, but the Conjecture folks tried again with Military SF as their theme and a possible if not ideal date. They’d done their part, so I’ve accepted. Travel is difficult for me at best, and three weekends of travel in a month is not an experience I’m looking forward to… but it’s worth a little discomfort to show folks on the West Coast that I’m not a ravening monster.

I mentioned that WFC is the professional con. One of the things I look forward to is chatting with Tom Doherty there, generally the only time we see one another. That was fun this year too, but I was given a mission. Betty Ballentine was the SF mind behind Ballentine Books from its inception in the ’50s and the person who created the Ballentine Adult Fantasy Series (Lin Carter was merely a consultant) which made possible the huge presence of fantasy in today’s literary marketplace. Tom believes she should get a retro Hugo while she’s still alive. He tasked Lee Modesitt and me to start beating the drums for this to happen.

Lee and I completely agree about Betty getting the Hugo, but it would be hard to find two successful writers who have less to do with awards than the two of us do. (It bothers Lee more than it does me. I don’t need anybody else to tell me when I’ve done a good job–or when I fall on my face, which I certainly do on occasion.) We both agreed we’d do what we could, though.

So: if any of you out there know people concerned with the Hugos, please put a bug in their ear. I’ll burble about why it’s justified if you like, but the short version is that Betty Ballentine and Don Wollheim created the paperback SF/fantasy genre in America.

There are no new Latin translations up, but I’m working on one. A couple years ago I said I was going to do the section on the Erymanthean Boar from Ovid’s Metamorphoses. Last month I started to do so–and couldn’t find it.

Suddenly–not soon, but suddenly–the light dawned: there was an Erymanthean Boar (which Hercules killed as one of his twelve labors), but Ovid wrote about the Calydonian Boar. They behaved in similar unpleasant fashions and both were killed by heroes, but not the same heroes.

I’m therefore at work on the Calydonian Boar, but the text isn’t ready to go up yet. And I feel pretty silly. (I submit that I make a higher order of silly mistake than most fantasy writers would be able to do, however.)

I’m writing this just before Thanksgiving; it’ll probably go out shortly after the holiday. I have a lot to be thankful for, but nothing more than my friends and family. I hope you and the world generally can say as much.

–Dave Drake

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