Newsletter #57

Dear People,

The most exciting news this time has very little to do with me. I am therefore turning the stage over to my webmaster, Karen Zimmerman:

The new web site is up at  Our very simple original web site went live April 2000 and since then outgrew its ability to handle Dave’s very extensive, rich content.  I hope the new site helps users find things more easily—there are a lot of cross references and access points.  Please be aware that I’m still tweaking things, so you might see changes in appearance once in a while, and I’m still uploading some of the old archival content, including past newsletters and photos.

I’d greatly appreciate it if you would let me know if you see any glitches.  Tell me what error you see and what operating system and browser you’re using.

For those among you who care, this web site is built with WordPress, most commonly known as blogging software.  I found the post function and various plug-ins extremely adaptable for our content.  Thanks to my daughter, Ali Zimmerman, for helping me adapt the design and function the way I wanted it, especially the Ovid section.  I think we might be pushing WordPress to its limits in some cases.  I suppose we could say that Dave’s entire site is one big blog, eh?

Because we moved to a new web host, I have not yet set up new mailing list software, so this newsletter is going out from a third party which may or may not prove satisfactory.  That will explain some of the automatic footer and other oddities you might notice.  I apologize for the formatting on this one. On the other hand, there seem to be some interesting options I might try the next time.  Watch this space!

Anyway, enjoy the site!


As I implied above, I was mostly a spectator. My primary function was lowest-common-denominator testing. “I can’t find that.” ‘But it’s right there, at the top of the page!’ “That says Internet Explorer.” ‘No, the top of the web page!’ “Oh, there it is.”

Yes, that’s a real exchange. One of quite a number of similar exchanges. I have my virtues; but believe me, skill in the design and construction of websites is not among them. I am in awe of my site.

Oh–I did add a little essay about the way the final Isles trilogy (The Crown of the Isles) was structured. That’s up as a note to The Fortress of Glass, the first of the three volumes.

And since I’m speaking of essays, I did one on motorcycling for the Tor/Forge blog, which led to me doing a pair of essays on the classics as an aid to writing for, which is a wholly separate entity.

Essays of this sort are hard work to write correctly. I gave myself (the blog didn’t set a limit) 750 words for each of the classics pieces. They came in at 749 and 743 words respectively, after very darned careful changing and tightening. By the end I was pleased at the results, but the work took a lot out of me.

Whether or not the work was worthwhile depends on one’s definition of worth. I doubt that I’ll sell one additional book because I wrote them, so commercial considerations certainly didn’t apply. On the other hand, I really love the classics. Like the Blackhorse, classical literature has had a big, positive impact on my life. (Wholly positive in the case of the classics. That wouldn’t be true for the Blackhorse.) I’m proud to be able to say so in public.

I don’t expect I’ll do it again, though. The psychic cost was pretty high.

Speaking of Tor–in the most recent newsletter, I mentioned that Tom Doherty, Tor’s publisher, and I had wanted Tor to reprint Fortress, my 1987 Tor thriller, but that his bureaucracy wouldn’t permit that to happen. Toni, publisher of Baen Books and apparently a newsletter subscriber (hi, Toni) told me that she would be pleased to reprint both Fortress and the first book in the (kinda) series, Skyripper, as an omnitrade.

So I called Tom to make sure it was all right with him–and learned that nobody had told him what had happened about the (non) reprint of Fortress. He was okay with Baen doing it, though. It just seemed simpler to both of us.

THE LEGIONS OF FIRE, the Tor fantasy whose publication led to the three essays I mentioned above, has appeared and is beautiful, just beautiful. Donato did two versions of the cover: the book as printed, in which the painting is shown as a banner from Trajan’s Column (which he repainted with additions from the novel, you’ll notice if you look carefully), but also as a full-bleed cover with lots of fire demons. (Donato is not only good, he’s amazingly hard working.) Both versions are on the website. I guess I agree with the designer’s choice, but jeepers! what an embarrassment of riches!

Next up will be the two latest RCN space operas from Baen. The pb of IN THE STORMY RED SKY is due in August, with the hc of WHAT DISTANT DEEPS following in September. These, like all books of the series save for the first, have Steve Hickman covers–wonderful Steve Hickman covers.

I’ve been thinking about those covers a lot recently, because Steve has asked me to write an introduction to a (second) volume of his art which he’s putting together now. That’s a problem for me, because I can’t even draw a straight line with a ruler. (The ruler always slips.)

The thing that really struck me when I looked hard at the covers Steve did for the RCN series is this: they’re perfect for the works, but they aren’t what I would have picked if somebody had forced me to choose a subject. I couldn’t ask for a better illustration of why I generally refuse to comment on cover art.

Okay, there are a few things I’ve said. A fantasy with strong female characters in the text should have at least one woman in the cover image. (My Military SF generally has strong female characters also, but there putting a tank on the cover with only a teensy helmeted figure visible at the TC’s hatch isn’t going to mislead anybody about the contents.) And it’s generally good to have a strong central image, particularly on a paperback cover, though I generally bite my tongue rather than saying that.

But if someone insisted I pick a scene for the cover of (say) What Distant Deeps, I’d probably have put a giant Plesiosaur charging down the slope at a small human figure with her pistol raised. Which would have been completely _wrong_ or at least wrong for Steve to paint. He correctly focused on the fact that the series is about the two central characters, not about shooting monsters or blowing up spaceships or subverting governments (granted, that would be a hard one to illustrate) or any other of the many aspects of the plot.

But I wouldn’t suggest that another artist paint the central characters even though that was the right choice for Steve, because not every artist is as comfortable painting human figures as he is. (Paul Alexander’s covers had a great deal to do with the success of the Hammer series, but I wouldn’t have wanted him to do the cover of What Distant Deeps in the fashion Steve did it.)

I do my best work when somebody tells me the desired result and gets out of my way while I execute it in the fashion I’m most comfortable doing. I think most artists–the best ones, anyway–are similar to me.

I see that I’ve mentioned a lot of items peripheral to my main work, but I haven’t commented on how MONSTERS FROM THE DEEP, the second book in the new Tor fantasy series, is coming. It’s chugging along; I’m at just under 90K and rising. That’s still mid-book (I’m near the end of chapter 11 of 19), so I’m convinced that it’s crap and that I’ve lost all the skill I may once have had and a lot of other depressing things; but that’s a problem in my head, not with the book.

I sometimes wonder if I would get this depressed about the quality of my works in progress if it weren’t for Nam. I think I probably would. Even before I was drafted, I was in the habit of stopping in the middle of a story because I was sure the idea was crap. When I look back over those scraps, I find a number of them which were perfectly workable. I guess it’s just the (sad, miserable) way I’m constructed.

What follows can be construed as a political comment, at least if one lives in Connecticut. I don’t ordinarily do this (I vote every time, a right I’ve paid for; but I don’t tell other people how to vote), and anybody who wants to skip the rest of this newsletter will not offend me in any way.

First: a year ago, I could not imagine circumstances in which I would hope that Linda McMahon would become a US Senator.  However….

The Army and Marine Reserves were a significant factor in the First Gulf War and are even more important in the present quagmire. (Quagmires.) Reservists are being treated shabbily and put into extreme danger for uncertain periods of time with inferior equipment. Nothing I say below should be taken as an attack on present-day reservists.

Something similar was true during WW II–though since what was then the Department of War was run better than Mr Rumsfeld ran Defense, the Reserves weren’t as badly treated relative to regular troops. Reserve troops fought in many of the critical battles both in Europe and the Pacific.

1970, when Mr Blumenthal served in Washington, DC, and I served in Cambodia and Viet Nam, was different. The Army and Marine Reserves both had “Six and Six Programs” in which the recruit served six months active duty in the US, then spent the rest of his six-year term in the Reserves. Theoretically, the Reserves could have been called up. In reality they never were, and the Reserve recruiters used this fact quite openly to boost their numbers.

When I got back to the World, I immediately reentered Duke Law School. As I sat in the lounge, I heard two of my new classmates talking about the relative virtues of the ways they were staying out of Nam. One had gotten into the National Guard; the other had been accepted into the Six and Six Reserve Program.

I wanted to kill them both. They were unquestionably right–why should they have been screwed up just because I had been?–and intellectually I knew that, but for an instant I was furious.

It isn’t that Mr Blumenthal didn’t serve in Nam or that he got into the Six and Six Program that bothers me. Both those things showed better luck and perhaps better judgment than I showed. If that were the whole story I would happily vote for him under many circumstances, just as I voted for Bill Clinton the first time around even though he lied to stay out of Nam.

Clinton and I both made decisions and didn’t pretend otherwise. He has no reason to regret his choice any more than have to I regret mine.

What Mr Blumenthal did, however, was to claim something that he worked _very_ hard to avoid in 1970. He stole something that he could have had as a gift in 1970; hell, he could have had my seat on the back deck of an M48 tank, holding a bloop tube and wearing a bandolier of grenades, if he’d even hinted that he wanted it.

Mr Blumenthal might make a very good Senator. But he’s no kind of man.

Sorry for the rant. I hope I never feel compelled to do it again.

–Dave Drake

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