The new edition of Patriots, packaged as a YA trade paperback, is out (September 2016) from Baen. It has a new Tom Kidd cover with an airship (both Tom and I like airships).
PATRIOTS was the idea of Tor’s publisher, Tom Doherty. Before I explain how that came about, let me remark that I’ve noticed that my commentaries involve more discussion of business than they do of art. That accurately reflects the subjects’ relative importance to me; but I should add that neither do I speak much about craftsmanship, which I find hugely important.
I offered to do a major book for Tor for a large price ($60K, if I remember the contract correctly), and a shorter YA title for only $20K. That way I could honestly tell other publishers that Tor was giving me $60K/book, while making it clear to Tor that I wasn’t out to screw them. Tom agreed and suggested that I use Ethan Allen and the Green Mountain Boys as the subject for the YA.
My first reaction was to make sure that Tom meant Ethan Allen would become the paradigm for an SF novel rather than for me to write an actual historical. (He did.) Then I started researching the subject.
Normally I don’t research my books per se. That is, I pick things that interest me and read heavily in them, but I already know a lot about whatever it is. In this case, I come from the Midwest (see the Iowa section of this website) and have only a passing interest in the American revolution. Tom Doherty, however, was born and raised in Connecticut. Ethan Allen was as much a part of Tom’s heritage as Julian Dubuque was of mine (as well as being an important national figure, which I don’t claim for Dubuque).
As a result I knew almost nothing about Ethan Allen until I started researching Patriots as an adult. I had only the most general preconceptions about the man, nothing more detailed than an assumption that he was a sturdy patriot. The facts were a lot more complicated–and interesting–than I’d dreamed.
Ethan Allen was big, powerful fellow with a long history of violence, drunkenness, and drunken violence. He’d been hired by a group of colonial financiers who’d been selling land on dodgy titles. A rival group of financiers had the legal apparatus of the colony of New York in its pocket, so Allen raised the Green Mountain Boys as muscle to deal with settlers whose land titles came from New York, as well as with the New York sheriffs who tried to back those settlers up.
When the colonial governments broke with the British crown in 1776, Allen and his gang on their own initiative captured Ft. Ticonderoga–and with the fort, the artillery that allowed the revolution to survive its first few months. Nobody knows why. Absolutely nothing in Allen’s previous life suggests he was a patriot in any ordinary sense of the word. I had a lot of fun considering the motivations of a man like that; and since I didn’t start thinking about him until I was an adult, I was able to compare him with a couple friends whom I could imagine doing exactly the same thing.
There were other interesting things about Allen. While unquestionably violent, neither he nor the violent men under his command killed anybody. That’s really remarkable. Taking Allen as a model, I wrote a book in which nobody is killed (which a lot of people will find remarkable also).
I’m pleased with Patriots. Though it may not look it from the outside, the book stretched me in useful fashions. It didn’t sell especially well (the YA market, especially for a solo book–Tor didn’t have a YA line for it to drop into–is tough), but I’ve gotten a lot of appreciative comments and been handed many copies of the book to sign.
Gordy Dickson read Patriots in manuscript (I didn’t send it to him; I think a mutual friend may have told him about what I was doing, causing him to ask for a copy) and really liked it. He suggested that I continue mining what he felt was a new vein of Frontier SF. I was going in different directions, but I felt and feel greatly honored by the praise of a writer who’s given me and the SF field in general so many great things to read.
So Patriots was a win in its own terms–and I got $60K for the next book I did for Ace.