Newsletter #51

Dear People,

I intended to start this newsletter by saying that I’d completed the plot of the next RCN space opera and am at work on it. Those things are true (we’ll get back to them), but in my mind the big news is that I’ve returned from BookExpo America (BEA) in the Javits Center on Manhattan. 

Because gosh! I’m glad to be back. I thought of myself as an ambassador for Baen, but I was also becoming a face rather than just a name to people on the sales end from the distributor right down through individual bookstore personnel. This is clearly good stuff for a professional writer to be doing, and Toni (Weisskopf; Baen publisher) wasn’t asking me to be anything but myself. (Cheerful, friendly, but not even close to being politically correct.)

I had time to myself. The hotel was only 30 blocks from the Metropolitan Museum of Art, allowing me to walk through Central Park (lovely in itself) and spend an afternoon there. (To my amazement, they have a sirrush–a dragon–from the Ishtar Gate of Babylon. I’d seen a considerable portion of the gate in the Museum of Oriental Antiquities in Istanbul, but those tiles included only lions and bulls.)

So there was lots of neat stuff, both professionally and personally; I don’t regret doing it. But.

To start out with, travel is irrationally tough on me. (Arriving at the airport and learning that I didn’t have a ticket after all–travel agent screw-up–would’ve stressed even a normal person, I suspect.) The Iowa cities where I was born and raised weren’t much bigger than even this ‘small’ BEA–not to mention the population of NYC itself. And though the socializing wasn’t unpleasant in itself, there was a lot of it, including at meals. I never lost sight of the fact that this was business.

So I’m sitting on my lower deck now. The birds are singing up a storm, especially the wren on the clothesline beside me. My dogs are sleeping to right and left. The meadow beyond the Rose-of-Sharon and the mimosa is lush and green, and very shortly I will get back to writing a novel.

This is where _I_ belong.

And speaking of that novel: WHAT DISTANT DEEPS, the next RCN (Leary/Mundy) space opera. (I took the title from William Blake’s poem The Tiger.) I have a plot of 9,500 words, which allows me to be very steady in the actual process of writing; and as of this moment, I have 851 words of actual rough draft. When I get going I average a solid thousand words a day, but believe me, BEA was a disruption.

The process of plotting this one differed from any of my previous books–and each of them differed as well. You wouldn’t think there were that many ways to come up with a plot and complications, but it turns out there are. I don’t consciously do things differently; it just happens. I have a very skilled subconscious, and I’ve learned not to get in its way; but doggone, I wonder at myself a lot of the time.

In the April newsletter I said that the hardcover of IN THE STORMY RED SKY, the next RCN (Leary/Mundy) space opera, would be out from Baen realsoonnow. In fact it’s now out from both Baen (in hc) and Audible (downloadable audio). I’m extremely pleased by both versions.

The reaction of the cover designer (AKA my friend Jennie) to the cover of SKY was “Ack!” or words to that effect. The printer used the wrong metallic foil. All I can say is that it looks really spiffy to me.

The mass market of BALEFIRES, my collection of fantasy/horror stories from Night Shade, is supposed to be out on June 30. You’ve heard that before? Yes, but that was in 2008… or maybe 2007. This time the book is really at the printers.

One good thing about the delay is that the mass market cover has had time to grow on me. I kinda like it now. The stories are very close to my heart–this really is where I started out–and the background notes I’ve attached to each story provide a good deal of autobiography and history.

The third Belisarius omnibus, FLAMES OF TWILIGHT, is scheduled from Baen in hc and trade paper in August. This volume combines The Tide of Victory and The Dance of Time and wraps up the saga. (The epic? Well, the series anyway.) I wrote the plots and Eric Flint expanded them into very good novels.

Eric was supposed to do the intro for this volume (I did Bel 1 and Bel 2). Things happened. He’s out of the hospital now and is doing fine (proceeding in the direction of fine, anyway), but I wound up writing the third intro also.

The Baen mass market reissue of PATRIOTS is due out from Baen in September. I don’t ordinarily reread my own stuff, but when I went over the proofs for the new edition I was pleased. It’s a YA, so I needed to keep the length down. There are more ellipses than there normally would be in a book of mine, but I think it’s easy to follow the action.

Let me repeat: Patriots is a Young Adult novel. When it was first published, an online reviewer said that if the book were twice as long and had more sex and violence, he might find it worth reading. I don’t think it’s _necessary_ to be a moron with a tin ear in order to put book reviews online.

Gordon R Dickson really liked Patriots. Gordy and I weren’t close, but we were on friendly terms and I greatly respect some of his work. I thought of him as I read the proofs.

I mentioned the Mongoose Hammer’s Slammers RPG book in Newsletter 50; it’s coming off the presses even as I type. To repeat what I said before, I’m struck by how well the author understood both my work and the reality of the military. I’m not a gamer myself, but if you are you might take a look at it.

There’s another Ovid lyric up on the website. It’s not a terribly interesting one in my opinion, but I did it. I’m feeling in the mood for more translation, but if I get properly going on the new novel, I probably won’t have the mental headroom to polish my Ovid well enough to put it out in front of other people. We’ll see.

The website hasn’t changed much, but there’s a picture of me with my agent Kay McCauley in Central Park after we had lunch.  That was another plus for the BEA trip, come to think. I’ve been represented by Kay (and her brother Kirby) since 1972. My business relationships are friendships also, which makes life less difficult.

Though sometimes it seems difficult enough. This Memorial Day was hard on me, though not for any particular reason I’m conscious of. I’m not religious, and I came to terms with the certainty of non-existence back in 1970. (I’m not trying to convince anybody else of this; I’m just explaining where I stand.) But then I came to a realization:

I exercise daily. I used to listen to BBC News while I exercised, but knowing a great deal about the world made me (even) more depressed, not a direction in which I need to go. Jo (my wife) got me some tapes of old radio programs (I listened to radio drama from a very early age), and for some decades I’ve exercised to them.

The other day I was listening to a 1950 episode of a CBS mystery: Yours Truly, Johnny Dollar. Hero enters club before opening hours; somebody’s playing jazz on a piano in the background. Hero interacts with villain’s henchman, then knocks him down. Piano stops. Hero asks where the boss’s office is, then says thanks. Piano resumes.

This was a perfect bit of business for radio, using silence as effectively as words. I like the show generally, but this was really exceptional.

In the credits, I learned the episode had been written by Blake Edwards, who of course has gone from strength to strength in the years since. (I think SOB was even better than “10” or The Pink Panther, but whatever your tastes, nobody can doubt Edwards’ ability today.)

Craftsmanship is real. It’s real to me, at any rate: it flashed from the middle of that 1950 radio show, as obvious as it was unexpected. So while I may not believe in a Supreme Being or the Rights of Man or the Republican Party (let the parts stand for the whole), I do believe in craft.

I can say honestly that I will dedicate myself to improving my craftsmanship as a writer… and indeed, I did so dedicate myself when I began writing for publication. Maybe sixty years from now somebody will say, “Wow! That was nicely done,” as I just did with Blake Edwards.

Yours optimistically–

–Dave Drake

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