Newsletter #48

Dear People,

I’m well into (about 60K) the rough draft of THE LEGIONS OF FIRE. This is the first book of the new fantasy series for Tor. When asked, I picked The Books of the Elements as the series title because I thought it sounded good and I sincerely hoped that it would fit the series as it developed. Now that I’m this far along, it seems to be fitting pretty well. 

Of course Fire is an easy element. It remains to be seen whether I’m going to be as happy about the title when I get to Air, but there’s always a chance that a giant asteroid will have struck the Earth before then. I’ll deal with problems as they arise.

LEGIONS is set in a place that’s very similar to the Roman Empire in about 30 AD. The capital city (where the action begins) is Carce, however, not Rome. The series is in no sense Alternate History: it’s about a place where the legends of our world may be real, and where the myths of other cultures impinge on the civilized folk of Carce.

The rough draft is moving along very nicely. It took a long time to create the outline (which meant creating the world); but with that done, the writing has been smoother than most of my books. As I said, the background is very similar to Rome, and I know a great deal about Roman history and culture.

Those of you who’ve been reading these newsletters for a while (let alone those who know me personally) know that there’s going to be a catch, however; and so there is: I’m afraid that people are going to find the lavish background details to be silly and boring, of interest only to specialized antiquarians like me. (There are other people like me, kinda, I’m sure; but not enough of us to build a writing career on.)

Furthermore, the novel has completely different feel from the Isles series and from anything else that I’ve written. There’s a lot of characterization, but the characters aren’t the sort of people I used in the Isles series. These are urban, not rural, folk, and individually as well their personalities have little in common with the characters of the Isles.)

So maybe folks are going to hate it. Maybe I’m doing it completely wrong. Maybe the giant asteroid won’t come in time to save me from the results of my failure.

I’d be a different person if I didn’t worry about that sort of thing. Perhaps I’d fail more often if I worried less–but it doesn’t matter: this is how I am.

THE GODS RETURN, the last volume in the Isles series, is out from Tor with yet another wonderful cover painting by Donato. The final three books of the series (the Crown of the Isles Trilogy) is an honest-to-goodness trilogy which will gain if you read the books consecutively.

Though each book is in most fashions self-standing, there are some plot threads which start in THE FORTRESS OF GLASS and are not resolved until the climax of RETURN. The people who wrote me in horror when they’d finished FORTRESS (you know who you are) will find the planned resolution. I personally find it satisfying, and I think most readers will agree. (Those who’ve commented to me about the whole trilogy are pleased.)

Tor released the second book of the Crown of the Isles, THE MIRROR OF WORLDS, in mass market at the beginning of November, just before they brought out the hardcover of RETURN. The Donato cover of this one is effective even in the smaller paperback format. It has wyverns, by the way, the heraldic animal of the Drakes of Ashe, my distant ancestors.

A friend commented to me after he’d picked up RETURN that I must feel relieved (to have completed the nine-book series). In fact I didn’t have much feeling about that at all. What relieved me was the fact that I’d finally begun writing LEGIONS.

Once a book is done, I move onto the next thing. Since I finished RETURN, I’ve written the RCN space opera, IN THE STORMY RED SKY, and begun the brand new fantasy series. The Isles series was, if not the farthest thing from my mind, at least well down the list.

But I am really proud of the Isles. I built the nine-book arc carefully and ended it both thoroughly and on a high note.

I mentioned IN THE STORMY RED SKY, which will be a Baen hardcover in May, 2009. Steve Hickman’s striking image is up at []. When the cover is printed, it (like its RCN predecessor, WHEN THE TIDE RISES) will have Holotrans foil where the holographic image is in the painting. I’m very fortunate, both in my cover art and in the production which Baen and Tor have given my books.

Speaking of the SKY cover, I have advertising postcards for it. I haven’t done a postcard giveaway for a while, so: anybody who sends a request with their address label and a standard postcard stamp (27 cents as I write this) to Drake/PO Box 904/Chapel Hill, NC 27514, will get a signed postcard by return post. (I’m not sure where I’ll sign it, but somewhere.) The card has the cover image on one side and a list of the previous six books in the series.

I mentioned in the newsletterette last month that Audible has brought out the first six RCN (Leary/Mundy) space operas in MP3 audio format for download. There’s a possibility that Brilliance Audio (they’re both now part of Amazon) will bring out the series in physical form (MP3 CDs, I suppose), but they haven’t contacted me yet. I hope they do.

There are new pictures on the website  from the Walden West Festival and from World Fantasy Con. The former is in Sauk City, Wisconsin, and is dedicated to the life and work of August Derleth. Derleth gave me my start in writing by buying my first four stories, so I was really pleased to get the invitation to speak there.

I was struck by the fact that many–and I think most–of those attending had never met Derleth during his lifetime. He was a complex man–and yes, that means there was a bad side to him–but he helped many would-be writers. Some of us–Ramsey Campbell, Brian Lumley, and me–have gone on to respectable writing careers as a result of his encouragement.

A large number of his fantasy stories will be reissued in four volumes on the centennial of his birth, February 24, 2009, by the August Derleth Society in conjunction with Arkham House, the small press which Derleth founded and which his daughter now operates. The volumes have new introductions. I did one, and for the heck of it I’m going to put it up.

I like doing little essays. We’ve started a new little corner of the website for my essays, musings and interviews. There’s not much there yet, but we’ll keep adding to it as we can.

Speaking of odd things on the website, I have completed a rough translation of the Pyramus and Thisbe section of Ovid’s Metamorphoses, but the edit stalled halfway through because LEGIONS began absorbing all my time. Which is as it should be, but I really need to bring those star-crossed lovers to their miserable ends.

I’ve been chatting with my friend, Mark Van Name, about scenes in the book he’s writing. He’s decided to do them right instead of slanting them to what he thinks the potential readership will want.

I’m pleased, because that’s always been the choice I made. Oh, I don’t mean that I’ll never modify a bit of literature or history that I’m using as a template for my story. After Odysseus comes home, he slowly strangles all the female servants who have been sleeping with the suitors whom he and his allies have shot. That was a satisfying conclusion for an Iron Age Greek, but it wasn’t one that I personally liked or which I thought would be popular with modern readers of my CROSS THE STARS.

But many years ago I read a very good first novel which had a scene that bothered me. A couple was about to undertake a mission which carried a high risk of death for one or both of them. They spend the brief interval in an ecstasy of romantic love.

I remembered the day and night before I got on the first of a series of planes that would take me to Viet Nam. My wife and I were both under great stress. It was not a good time. When I met the author shortly after reading the book, I mentioned that to him. (I’m not going to name him here. It’s getting toward Christmas, and I don’t feel like making an instantly searchable attack on somebody I don’t dislike.)

He explained that initially he’d written a scene in which the couple ends up sitting on opposite sides of the room, each acting as though the other party didn’t exist. He’d decided that was a downer for readers, though, so he’d changed it to a scene of bliss and happiness.

He hadn’t been ignorant. He had deliberately concealed what he believed (correctly, in my experience) to be the reality of human nature, because he thought the book would sell better if he lied.

I was appalled, but I didn’t argue with him. I knew that I would never do what he had done (I make plenty of mistakes, but I don’t lie), but I figured he might be right.

And maybe he _was_ right. From the vantage of hindsight, though, I wonder if his attitude about ‘doing the commercial thing’ is at least part of the reason that someone with his great natural ability has had only a shadow of the career I would have predicted for him at the time. If you don’t respect the truth, you can’t respect your readers. They’ll pick up on that.

Mark is making a different decision. That pleases me a lot.

Merry Christmas, people. Try to be nice to others. I’m not as good at that as I should be, but I try–and you can too.

–Dave Drake

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