Newsletter #47

Dear People,

Folks frequently ask me how long it takes to write a novel. (People ask me a lot of questions that presumably seem simpler from the outside than they do to me.) The answer depends on a lot of things, in particular the length of the novel. (I average about a thousand words of rough draft per day; thus a novel of 135K words takes around two weeks longer to write than a similar book that was 120K words long.) 

But there are other factors which also affect the time I spend. If I’m working in an existing series, a lot of the basic groundwork is already in place before I start a new novel. In particular, I don’t have to create the main characters from the whole cloth. (The Hammer series may seem to be an exception because the viewpoint characters generally change from story to story. In my opinion, the Regiment itself is the real focus of a Hammer story.

What I’m getting to is the fact that after more than two months of work, I just finished the plot of the first book in the new Tor fantasy series… and I’ll tell the world! it was a job. This is the first new series I’ve started since 1995. I don’t think that in itself made the plotting harder; but because I know a _lot_ more about writing a complex series than I did when I plotted THE LORD OF THE ISLES, I’m working on aspects that I didn’t worry about in 1995. Those things rose up to bite me on the fanny later, but ignorance was bliss while I was creating the plot.

Well, that isn’t really true. I found plenty of things to worry about when I started plotting the Isles series. Experience has allowed me to trade them in for new and improved anxieties.

Still, I have a plot of 16,239 words for THE LEGIONS OF FIRE, first of the four Books of the Elements. I hope to start writing the novel in the near future (in the next couple days, probably). Starting every new novel scares me, and this one is scarier than most–

But after poring over reference books I’ve found the floor plan of the Senator’s house in which much of the action takes place, and I’ve borrowed a bit of business for the opening scene from Petronius and Valerius Maximus. My classical education has once again proved to be a solid anchor for my fiction.

Some months ago, a fellow from the military-themed blog Black Five TV did video interviews of me and my friend Mark Van Name on Mark’s back deck. (They’re part of a series that Baen Books is sponsoring.) As of this writing, two segments are up with more to come.

Watching them was an interesting experience. With me, what you see is what you get. I don’t regret that and I certainly don’t think I’m going to change–but when I’m in the audience, on the camera side of the interview, I’m struck by the fact that most people are less direct and less prone to express their real opinions.

I was also struck by the fact that I’m more likely to have a career in the NBA than I am in politics. (I repeat: I don’t regret that.)

In Newsletter 46, I mentioned that I was going to have to get cracking on the introductions for the audio downloads of the RCN space operas for Audible. It turned out that they’re planning to release the first six novels simultaneously, so I did the remaining five very abruptly after the newsletter went out.

Every time I do an introduction, I learn something new about the work and about myself. (Along the lines of, “Oh, _that’s_ why I did that.”) These were no exception. I don’t know if readers gain by them, but I sure do. I’ll pass on further information about the downloads when I have it.

I don’t ordinarily mention conventions, but I’m just back from Conjecture in San Diego. Not only was everybody nice to me, it was my first West Coast con ever. As a result, I signed a very large number of books for fans who’d either never met me or who hadn’t wanted to lug a trunkload of books to the Midwest or South.

So–if there’s anybody else in the West or Northwest who’s looking for a convention guest, keep me in mind. (I’m a cheap date.)

Among other things the con took me to the San Diego Maritime Museum, where I had a very good time. (There’s a picture of me and the con chair)

Visiting the vessel which was used as the _Surprise_ in the film _Master and Commander_ was unexpectedly moving. Jim Baen got me started reading Patrick O’Brian’s Aubrey/Maturin series (the direct genesis of my RCN space operas); he and I touched frequently on them when we chatted, right to the end. I kept thinking as I took pictures that I’d really like to burble to Jim about this… and I would.

Well, we burbled a lot to one another while we were able to. For those of you who haven’t learned the lesson the hard way, remember that you don’t have anybody forever. Deal with other people so that you won’t have regrets at the moment you realize that either you or the other fellow isn’t going to be around any more.

I don’t ordinarily mention (this seems to be the newsletter for exceptions) foreign publications, but the French edition of _Lord of the Isles_ is just beautiful. I don’t know that it’s a commercial cover (I don’t think it would be in the US market), but it’s perhaps the loveliest painting ever put on a book of mine. It’s up at

I’ve mentioned in several newsletters that the paperback of _Balefires_ should be out soon. I no longer think that’s true. My suspicion (I haven’t been told this) is that Night Shade’s distributor is unwilling to handle mass market books from them. That’s a shame, but I’ve been in the business for far too long to argue with commercial realities.

If you see the hardcover–a dealer had three copies at Conjecture, but they didn’t last very long–you might consider buying it. The book is basically the autobiography of my early writing career. Before I had a writing career, come to think.

A cover comp of BELISARIUS 2: Storm at Noontide is up. The book, which collects the second pair of Belisarius novels by Eric Flint and me, will be out from Baen in March, 2009. (BELISARIUS 1 is out now.)

And though I’ve mentioned them before, the hc of THE GODS RETURN and the pb of THE MIRROR OF WORLDS, the final pair of novels in the Isles series, will be out from Tor in November, 2008–in other words, they’re almost in stores by the time you read this. I was pleased with the way I wrapped up the series.

Parenthetically, it’s irritated me over the years to have people tell me that the books of the Isles series are all the same. No, they’re not; the fact that the people making the comment don’t see the movement doesn’t change the fact that there _is_ movement. I hope that with the series complete, I’ll hear less of that.

Writers are always advised to show, not tell; but if you do that, you’ll be criticized by a lot of people who are blind but not mute. You still ought to do it: you should not change your writing style because loud-mouthed twits don’t understand what you’re doing.

I don’t have any new Latin translations up, though I’ve completed the Pyramus and Thisbe section of Ovid’s _Metamorphoses_ and have done a partial edit of it. Perhaps by the next newsletter I’ll have polished it to suit me.

Now I’m going to read over my plot outline one more time, in a vain hope that doing so will quell my dread. Only writing the book will do that, by replacing it with the different and equally familiar dread that I’ve fallen on my face in the execution.

But you know, I love what I do. I couldn’t tell you why, but that’s the honest truth. I hope that when it comes down to cases, you all can say the same about your lives.

–Dave Drake

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