Newsletter #54

Dear People,

Quite a lot has been happening. First and foremost in my mind, I turned in WHAT DISTANT DEEPS, the latest RCN (Leary/Mundy) space opera, to Baen Books the day after I got back from World Fantasy Con. I’d carried hardcopy of my second draft with me and edited it while sitting on planes and in parks in San Jose. My first priority on getting home was to key in the final changes and ship the book off. 

It totalled 131,103 words. I’d been convinced during the writing that this one was both short and bad. I’ve written longer books, but 131K isn’t short; and having gone over the whole thing repeatedly during the editing, I’m confident that it isn’t bad either.

I’m probably the only person in the world who thought there would be a problem with the book’s quality… but I really did think that, people. Oh, well. I’m glad to be wrong yet again.

The other big excitement was getting the page proofs for THE LEGIONS OF FIRE, the first (of four books) in my new Tor fantasy series. I was somewhat surprised, because proofs usually arrive about six months before the book comes out. I had been repeatedly told (and have passed on to you) that LEGIONS is scheduled for July, 2010.

When I got the proofs, I learned that the book is now scheduled for May, not July. This isn’t a bad thing (it’s quite good, in fact), but I really wish somebody had told me what the plan was.

Oh well. I wish world peace would come in my lifetime, too.

LEGIONS has a Donato cover, which delights me even before I’ve seen it. The painting is finished, but the designer is still working on the layout. If that changes before this newsletter goes out, there’ll be a URL here.

The cover of WHAT DISTANT DEEPS, another striking painting by Steve Hickman with design by Jennie Faries, is right here. This is a good time to repeat something that I’ve mentioned before: cover paintings are to advertise my books, not to illustrate them. The “dragons” of my novel swim rather than flying like the ones in the painting. That doesn’t matter even a little bit. Steve has the right feel for the book. If he decided he had to transfer the critters from one element to another to achieve that result, I couldn’t be happier.

The paperback of IN THE STORMY RED SKY will be coming out from Baen in August, 2010. Regular readers of this newsletter will know that according to Jennie (designer and friend), the printer used The Wrong Foil on the hardcover. (You couldn’t have proved it by me: I thought it was lovely.) Since then, I have gotten a threatening email from the General Counsel of the firm making the “correct” foil, because I used their proprietary name without adding an ugly trademark squiggle.

I have a high opinion of the firm’s engineers. Their legal department can stand as an illustration of why I stopped working as a lawyer myself.

Tor is scheduled to release the paperback of THE GODS RETURN this month.

Baen will release the second volume of THE COMPLETE HAMMER’S SLAMMERS in February, 2010, as an omnitrade paperback. This volume collects the four shorter novels in the series and “The Day of Glory,” a story which hasn’t been in a Hammer collection before. Omnitrades (now that I’ve seen them) look like regular trade paperbacks but really are smaller. (Compare a British hardcover to its US equivalent for a similar relationship.)

That’s the publishing news. On the website are a few pictures from San Jose. I had a good time, often a very good time, but it was a couple days longer than I’m comfortable being away from home. The weather was nice and San Jose has pleasant parks near the hotel, which made a great deal of positive difference to me. Still, I missed my nest (as I did when we were in the Southwest earlier this year). I’m very much a homebody.

I noticed flags hanging (as often) under the porte cochere at the convention hotel’s entrance. I wouldn’t have paid much attention, except that one flag was that of the Republic of Viet Nam (South Vietnam) which of course hasn’t existed since 1975. The taxi starter explained that the flags are those of the nations of origin of all the hotel staff. I pass this on, because some of you may have wondered also.

I did two interviews as a result of the con. One was audio with Rick Kleffel (one of my con pictures shows him), there in the hotel. It’ll come out as a podcast or a couple podcasts, and (if I understood correctly) there may be bits on the local NPR station. It was interesting to do and ran about three times as long as he said it would. (I’m a good interview subject, perhaps because I say things that most folks will not.)

There was also a written question-and-answer interview after I got back. The result is up at but I should note that the interviewer (Travis Heermann) sent one set of questions, then followed up with a second and intermixed the results. I realized in reading the complete version that I had structured each set of responses into a rhetorical whole. (No, I don’t think anybody else in the world would notice the difference.)

I’ve roughed out a translation of the Hercules and Achelous, and the Hercules and Nessus, sections of Ovid’s Metamorphoses, but I want to complete the Hercules Cycle before I put anything up on the website. That’ll be a while yet.

And I’m flailing about in early stages of plotting the second volume of the Tor fantasy series. My working title is MONSTERS FROM THE DEPTHS, but it’s really early days yet.

I’ve been diving into classical texts which range from obscure (Nonnos) to extremely obscure (Avienus). They’ve given me settings, but the trick is developing neat bits into a real plot. I keep digging and scribbling notes, hoping that suddenly everything is going to become crystal clear. Hope is a fine thing….

The interviews and some other stuff that’s been going on–I finished a book, so my mind has too much free time–have gotten me thinking about appearances. This leads me to two stories from my past.

Many years ago, I was buying onyx bookends in a rock shop. It was kind of a New Age place, but they had fossils, bookends, and various other stuff I’m interested in.

I was on a motorcycle with built-in saddlebags; I’d locked my helmet in one while I was shopping. I carried a bookend out to make sure I could pack them in a satisfactory fashion, then walked back inside with my helmet to get the remainder of my purchases. The clerk said, “Oh! That explains it.”

Of course I wanted to know what she meant. After some pressing (and with obvious embarrassment) she said, “Well, I could tell from your aura that you’re in touch with your sensitive, feminine side, so I couldn’t understand why you dressed in such an aggressive fashion.” (I was wearing a motorcycle jacket, boots, and jungle fatigue trousers.) “When I saw the helmet, I realized that you really _were_ on a motorcycle.”

Without going into all the ways that exchange puzzled me (nobody else has suggested that I have a sensitive, feminine side, let alone that I was in touch with it), it did drive home the fact that what people see and hear isn’t necessarily going to be what I think I’m showing and telling. There isn’t a heck of a lot I can do about that, but it kinda disturbs me.

What I think is this: folks, what you see with me is what you get. I’m reasonably smart, quite well educated, and I work hard. There are no mysteries about me, there’s no romance. I do not have a secret key to the door of writing success: I just tell stories and meet my professional obligations. I’m a Nam vet, but I wasn’t any kind of hero. My dad was an electrician; my grandfather was a sheet metal worker; and my great grandfather was a farmer.

What I’ve said in the paragraph above is the absolute truth, but I’m reminded of another story from my past. When I got back to the World in 1971, I said and believed that I was perfectly normal. Viet Nam hadn’t been a lot of fun, but it hadn’t done me any lasting harm.

Five years later, I realized that I certainly hadn’t been normal when I first returned, but I believed–loudly–that I had by then settled back to normal. I was wrong about that too.

Nearly forty years on, I’ve given up claiming to be normal (though I do think that I’m generally safe to be around). And I certainly don’t believe that Nam didn’t do permanent damage to me.

So maybe there’s more to the writing as well. I look at the shelf (shelves, actually) of my books. There still doesn’t seem to be any big deal to it to me (hard work and a focus on storytelling), but realistically there aren’t many people who have equaled my record. Maybe there’s something I’m not seeing, just as I didn’t see (didn’t let myself see) how much Nam had done to me. Heck, maybe it’s the same thing.

But the work is the work, with me as with every other writer. Focus on that, because I try very hard to make it more interesting than I am myself.

–Dave Drake

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