Newsletter #55

Dear People,

I’m going to start with something positive: I’ve now seen a cover comp for THE LEGIONS OF FIRE, the first of four books in my new fantasy series, due from Tor as a May, 2010, hardcover. I’d seen a black and white version, but that gave me no inkling of how very impressive the cover would be in color.

The layout (shrinking the cover painting to a banner in the middle) is what my friend Mark explains to me is the new Big Book look for major publishers. Now: if I’d been asked how to use a stunning piece of Donato art like the present one, I’d have said to run it full-height as a wrap-around. I (usually) don’t get involved in cover art or design, however–I don’t know squat about either subject. This treatment (which wouldn’t have crossed my mind) turns out to be extremely effective, besides being a coded message to buyers that Tor is pushing the book.

I’m really pleased. I hope people will like the book.

LEGIONS is the first book of a series set in a city called Carce, which is very similar to Rome in 30 AD. I’ve been asked repeatedly why I call the city Carce when it obviously _is_ Rome.

Well, it isn’t Rome. I’m not writing historical novels with fantasy elements added, I’m writing fantasy novels. This fact will be significant at the conclusion of the series, which I hope will add to more than the sum of its parts. (I tried, I think successfully, to accomplish the same thing in the Isles fantasy series for Tor.)

That’s one reason for the name Carce. Another stems from a panel about writing books with Roman settings that I was on many years ago. I commented in passing that the quickest way to tell that an author didn’t understand the classical world was if they gave the dates AUC–ab urbe condita; that is, from the founding of Rome. Greek and Roman historians didn’t use that system, not least because there was no agreement on what the actual date of Rome’s founding was. (There were at least three dates in serious contention.)

I then learned to my embarrassment that everybody else on the panel gave dates AUC in their novels. I hadn’t been wrong, but I’d been unconsciously unkind.

I know enough about ancient Rome to know how very much I _don’t_ know. Calling the city Carce instead of Rome is an explicit acknowledgment of my limitations.

Further goodish news is that I’m finally getting somewhere in plotting the second book of the series, with the current working title MONSTERS OF THE SEAS. This has taken several weeks longer than I think it should have. I gathered material in the usual fashion, but it wasn’t coming together properly.

I think the problem may have been the unusually cold weather we were having at the time I started laying out the plot. I had to leave the furnace on overnight, which messed up my sinuses just enough to keep the topmost registers of my brain from working the way I expect them to. I can take notes and even write when I’m not absolutely 100%, but apparently I can’t weave together the very complex plots I’ve been using for the past twenty years.

I have all the scenes sketched in rough order now. I reasonably expect to be well underway on the book by the time of my next newsletter.

Baen has moved the hardcover of WHAT DISTANT DEEPS, the next RCN (Leary/Mundy) space opera, back from August, 2010, to September and has moved the paperback of the immediately previous RCN volume, IN THE STORMY RED SKY, from July to August. This may have been done to increase the distance from Tor’s release of LEGIONS, but there’s a whole slew of factors going into a publisher’s schedule. Things can change abruptly.

One of the changes was that Tor moved the pb of THE GODS RETURN from November, 2009, (as I said in Newsletter 54) to December. It’s out now, however. This is the climax and conclusion of my nine-book Isles fantasy series.

It’s odd to look back on the Isles series. I was about to say, “it was a life-changing event for me,” but that isn’t quite true.

My life was changing regardless in the mid-’90s. The Military SF for which I was known was taking a hit because the US military was being downsized, and space opera (which I wrote a lot of, though mine was generally reviewed as Military SF) was still smothered by the weight of the Star Trek media tie-in juggernaut.

What writing the Isles series did was to gain me a reputation as a successful writer of high fantasy, rather than allowing me to slip into the ranks of people who’d been major players in previous decades. There are fashions in the F/SF genre as surely as there are in any other aspect of human existence. I’m very lucky to have weathered a major change–

But I assure you that I worked my butt off to capitalize on the chances I got. To be honest, I didn’t expect to succeed; but there was never any question but that I was going to try.

Baen has brought out the second volume of THE COLLECTED HAMMER’S SLAMMERS as an omnitrade (think of it as a shrunken trade paperback), reprinting the Night Shade hardcover. HS2 collects the four Hammer short novels and adds the short story THE DAY OF GLORY, which I wrote for a tsunami-relief anthology. I guess it sort-of fit there, since it’s certainly about a disaster.

Kurt Miller’s excellent art for the third volume of THE COLLECTED HAMMER’S SLAMMERS has been up since Newsletter 54, but the final now can be viewed at larger size along with a close-up of the turret of the central tank. This is the kind of little joke that I frequently put into my prose. I was pleased and amused to see it in the cover art.

I think HS3 comes out in June as a Baen omnitrade. It incorporates the two full-length Hammer novels and the newer novelette THE DARKNESS, which in its way may be the most accomplished piece of fiction I’ve ever written. The story is, for those who understand it, unusually bleak for me also.

Bragalonne in France has listed the third volume of the Isles series, SERVANT OF THE DRAGON, for February, 2010. I don’t ordinarily bother to mention foreign sales, but these large-format French editions have simply the most beautiful covers I’ve ever seen. Images are up at, so you can judge for yourselves.

Matthew Peterson interviewed me by phone shortly after World Fantasy Con, for a podcast on Military SF. The interview is available (in pieces) with interviews on the subject with Ben Bova, Joe Haldeman, and Dave Weber at As I write this, the very lengthy interview Rick Kleffel did at the con still hasn’t been posted.

And I haven’t finished editing my next foray into Ovid’s Metamorphoses, the Hercules Cycle. My rough translation did give me the opening for MONSTERS, however. It’s all grist for the mill.

My webmaster, Karen, is planning a complete redesign for the tenth anniversary of in April, 2010. My part in this is to comment on some of my recent novels the way I did on my backlist when we started the website. I want to be deeply into MONSTERS before I start looking back, however.

One unfortunate thing that happened recently is that C Bruce Hunter, a friend of some thirty-five years, died: on November 13, 2009, though I didn’t learn of it until the middle of December. We were closer than that implies, however, and generally spoke at least once a week.

The thing is, the contacts were almost invariably Bruce calling me: to ask a question about Latin or Greek for his books on Masonic ritual, to tell me of a TV show that was worth my attention, to tell me a joke, or–very frequently–to tell me of some exotic food that was being marked down at the local gourmet store.

Bruce was one of the quietly kindest men I’ve ever met. When I needed a ride to get our dog to the veterinary school in Raleigh, he immediately dropped what he was doing and carried me there. Bruce saw Karl Wagner daily even at the end, when the situation was very difficult. He went to the drugstore to bring Karl milk of magnesia on the last night of Karl’s life, and he found Karl’s body the next morning when he dropped in again to check.

Bruce travelled frequently from his Carrboro home to relatives in Asheville and in eastern NC, so it wasn’t a great surprise not to hear from him for a while. When he didn’t arrive for Thanksgiving dinner, my wife checked the hospital (they had no record of him), and the next day I ran out to his house. His car wasn’t in the drive, so I figured he’d forgotten and gone back to Asheville. He’d told my wife that his health had been a bit dicey, and I knew he’d had some memory lapses. In fact he’d been discharged dead from the hospital and taken to Asheville for burial.

Bruce was a good guy. I’ll miss him.

Now, back to expanding and polishing my plot!

–Dave Drake

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