Newsletter #52

Dear People,

In the most recent newsletter I said that I’d just started the rough draft of the next RCN space opera, WHAT DISTANT DEEPS. I now have a hair under 60K in draft. As usual, I’m very depressed about it–though I’ve found an interesting evolution in my thinking over the years. 

For a long time, when I was in the middle of a project (this is true of short stories as well as novels, but of course I get through the middle more quickly) I thought that I was writing badly and that the result would be incredibly dull. As I got into this one, I found that I no longer think that I’m writing badly: I’m subconsciously aware that my line-by-line writing skills are of a high order, as they darned well should be after forty-odd years of practice.

But jeepers, does the book seem dull! And when I do get to an action scene, it’s not going to be as exciting as previous action scenes that I’ve written. Furthermore, I become depressed about the project much more quickly than I used to and stay depressed deeper into the climax.

So I guess you could say that I’m refining my misery. I don’t think this is necessary to the process of writing, but it _might_ be. That is, if I didn’t worry so much about the quality of my work, maybe the work wouldn’t be as good. That isn’t a testable hypothesis, however: the worry isn’t something I can change, any more than I can change the color of my eyes. (Hazel, if you were wondering.)

Over the years, many people have told me how lucky I am to be a writer: I’m my own boss, I can decide my own schedule, I get to work at home… lots of things along those lines. All of that is true, but it isn’t the whole truth.

I really am lucky to be a writer, though.

The Hammer’s Slammers role-playing book from Mongoose is out. It’s a very attractive package with an enormous amount of information in it. I find the amount of effort other people put into my creation–my world, if you prefer–to be kind of boggling.

I tend to see my stories in microcosm–the way, basically, that the characters themselves are seeing things. I don’t have a future history in mind; I don’t really believe in a future history in the sense that ‘we start here and we end there’ because we don’t end except in the sense that human life will vanish from the universe at some point. (Having grown up in the ’50s with the Cold War and nuclear holocaust an accepted possibility, I’m conditioned to believe that the end may be within a century rather than within a billion years.)

But until then, human history just goes, rather than going somewhere. Event follows event. Very rarely, in my opinion, does event cause event–at least not in the simple fashion one would use to describe a chemical reaction. A more organized viewpoint is valid, though, and the game book is really neat.

I should mention that the proofs were sent me in the form of a pdf so large that a friend downloaded it from an FTP site and burned it to disk for me. I proofed it on-screen instead of printing it out as I would have done with my own prose. I’ve always felt that I lose a lot of comprehension by reading on-screen; and boy! did this example prove the matter for me.

My introduction, Five Firebases, was about natural phenomena which I still remember vividly from my time in Southeast Asia. Mongoose had dropped an incident for length, which was fine. They hadn’t changed references in the introductory text from five to four, however, and I didn’t catch the mistake.

Live and learn: next time I will run off at least the bits that I’ve written. And for those of you who want the essay uncut, it’s on the website.

The paperback of BALEFIRES, my horror/fantasy collection from Night Shade, is out. Whee! As of this writing I haven’t actually seen the edition, but when I asked for author’s copies they shipped some which reach me soon. I’m really proud of this book; a lot of my life is in it.

And the entire Belisarius series is now out in three hardcover omnibus editions for which I did new introductions. I plotted the series as three novels; Eric Flint wrote them very ably as six novels; and now they’re back to my original design under my original titles to the outlines and with new, uniform covers by Kurt Miller. (Quite nice ones.)

The Baen reprint of my Young Adult novel PATRIOTS is due out in September. I won’t repeat what I said about it in Newsletter 51, but I will say that I genuinely like the book.

In October Baen brings out volume one of the COLLECTED HAMMER’S SLAMMERS as an omnitrade paperback. This is sort of an intermediate size between mass market and trade paperback. Having read novels by Clavell and Michener as mass-market paperbacks, I’m rather glad the Hammer volumes are getting a somewhat larger page size. The first one is long, and each succeeding volume gets longer.

Baen is giving the paperbacks new cover art. The first two (by Kurt Miller) are very good.

When I saw the sketch of volume two (February, 2010), I liked the detail but wished that there was more color contrast. I suggested to Jennie (Faries, my friend and Baen graphic designer) that perhaps the tank in the foreground could be magenta. Toni (Weisskopf, my friend and Baen publisher) had similar thoughts but brightened the gray shades with explosions instead of a frou-frou tank. Her way is better.

I had a horrible realization when I started checking when books were coming out before I did this newsletter. Tor had moved the first book of my new fantasy series from November, 2010, to July. That pleased me. But Baen has the new RCN novel (the one I’m working on) scheduled also and I didn’t know when that was.

As it turns out, it’s September, 2010, a two month separation which shouldn’t hurt much. Believe me, it’s really bad for the books, the author, and the publishers to have two novels come out on top of one another. I’ve got personal experience, but so has Dan Simmons and I’m sure a lot of other writers.

I was remiss in not thinking about the possibility sooner. Okay, I’m busy writing books; but I should have thought about it.

My friend Mark Van Name lightly revised the Wikipedia article on me, correcting minor errors and changing the tone, and my webmaster Karen Zimmerman put it up. I told Mark that I didn’t want a puff piece, but neither was I comfortable with something that made me sound like a Neocon. Thanks to both of them and to the friends who’ve been prodding me to do something about the article.

Nothing much has changed with the website. I’ve read over a chunk of Ovid’s Metamorphoses (the Hercules Cycle), but I’m not ready to do a serious translation yet. I have a novel to write.

I frequently read military memoirs, most often from Viet Nam. I recently read several more, which got me to thinking as such things usually do. Dunno, maybe I’m trying to make sense of 1970. I haven’t succeeded yet.

But it did remind me of something. In April, 1970, I flew from Travis AFB (near San Francisco) to Bien Hoa in a DC-8/Super 61, owned and operated by United Airlines under charter to the Army. It was a standard civilian aircraft with stewardesses.

Until quite recently airlines had retired stewardesses at age 35, but new legislation had prevented them from continuing the practice. (Not everything Lyndon Johnson did was bad, though the Viet Nam War was bad enough to lower his average a very long way.)

Stewardesses bid on runs (cabin attendants probably still do), and it was very noticeable that all those on our flight were older women with a great deal of seniority. They had chosen to fly with us.

After we landed at Bien Hoa (after the steepest approach I’ve ever experienced; I’ll swear I was looking straight down through the portside window before we started our dive toward the runway), the stewardesses stood by the exits and cheerfully wished us good luck as we disembarked.

And every once in a while, one would turn her face away and wipe her tears.

God bless those women. Civilians didn’t have a lot of use for American soldiers back in 1970, but our stewardesses cared.

–Dave Drake

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