Newsletter #58

Dear People,

I’m completely wrung out, but I’m going to be even more exhausted soon. I finished the rough draft of OUT OF THE WATERS, the second fantasy in the new Tor series at 154,384 words and have just completed making manuscript changes in my hardcopy mss. 

Anything you do with a book that long takes a lot of time and effort. The next stage is to key in those myriad changes. This is truly a brutal job, and the fact that I’ve done in many times only means that I know what it’s going to feel like for the next couple weeks. (For you fellow pedants, a myriad is 10,000. And since my first stage changes involve in the order of 5-10% of the rough draft wordage, I will literally be keying in a myriad changes.)

OUT OF THE WATERS wasn’t one of my working titles. The Tor sales force decided that because the series title is The Books of the Elements, I should have the word ‘water’ in this title as ‘fire’ was in the first.

If the sales force requested I pose in a pink tutu for the jacket photo, I would be calling friends who know something about ballet. (Hmm: no, I would be calling the friend who is an expert seamstress, because I really doubt I’m going to find an off-the-shelf tutu that would fit me.) Anyway, I came up with a number of ‘water’ titles and they picked the one that best satisfied them.

Stacy, the truly wonderful editor who handles my liaison with Tor, suggested DOWN TO EARTH for the third book. That works for me.

I don’t know if WATERS is any good. I’m laughing frequently as I read it, but I’m not sure that most of the humor will appeal to anybody but veterans and people who can appreciate the literary minutiae which two of the scholarly characters use to center themselves in a crisis. (And I don’t expect the two categories will be laughing at the same jokes. Though I’m a veteran who used to carry Horace in the cargo pocket of my fatigues.) It’s got some good stuff in it; and I sure hope that other people will like it.

Incidentally, it’s 30K words longer than Tor needed to be and at least 15K longer than I originally intended. I think readers gain by the expansion, but it’s been a darned heavy rock I’ve rolled uphill for the last long while.

We’re (my wife Jo and I are) back from a wonderful and relaxing week in England. More precisely, a week in Kent. One of the wonderful things about Southeastern England is that you could spend much longer than the time we had making day-trips to amazing and historical places.

We got lots of pictures, a few of which will be on the website by the time this goes out. I have something of a travelogue, but I need to personalize it before I put it up. I’ll mention only one thing here: I’ve now seen the Romney Marshes and Dymchurch, a center of smuggling during the Eighteenth century and the setting of the Dr Syn novels by A Russell Thorndike–written in the ’30s but which I read in the ’70s.

These are remarkable books, and in some ways remarkably good. The visit has caused me to start rereading the series and to begin thinking about the RCN novel which I hope to plot as soon as I’ve put WATERS to bed. There’s so much neat stuff in the world, and it’s all grist for a writer’s mill!

The latest RCN space opera, WHAT DISTANT DEEPS, has been in my hands for several weeks and will probably be in stores by the time you see this. Steve Hickman’s cover is lovely. There is foiling, but the foil used isn’t as striking as some versions. (It’s apparently the printer’s proprietary foil rather than the foil Jennie [designer and friend] and Steve [artist and friend] wanted.) I cannot advise you to buy DEEPS for the foiling, though of course I hope you’ll buy it anyway.

And the paperback of IN THE STORMY RED SKY, the immediately previous RCN space opera, is certainly out. I’m taking a lot of pleasure in the series and indeed in writing generally. Varying what I write (at present between fantasy and space opera) keeps me from becoming either stale or bored.

I mention that I’m having fun with what I’m doing in part because I turn 65 on September 24 (2010). Judging from the mail and phone calls (despite being on a no-call list!) I’m getting, most people my age are retiring and desperately afraid of their medical situation.

I like what I’m doing. Besides, writing has kept me (more or less) between the ditches since I got back to the World in 1971. I’m nowhere near the danger to myself and those with whom I come in contact that I was at one time, but it still isn’t a system that I’m in a hurry to change.

And I’m in good physical shape for a man of my age in a sedentary occupation. For the past couple years now, I’ve been clearing brush on our 23-acre yard. This involves cutting the trunks/stems with an axe or heavy loppers; grinding the small stuff up in a (5-horse) chipper/shredder and cutting the heavier pieces to firewood length with a collapsible buck-saw; and then grubbing out the roots with a pick-mattock.

The emphasis on hand tools (the chipper/shredder is the exception) is for two reasons. First, I hate and fear power tools. Second and more important, I’m doing this not to clear the property (though that’s a useful byproduct) but to keep fit. Believe me, it works.

I’m not pretending I’m not old: I am old. But you don’t have to give up and let yourself go physically to hell just because you (like me) make your living in front of a computer.

I replaced my back-up motorcycle, a 2000 Suzuki GS500E with a 2009 Suzuki GS500F. The main difference between the two is that the new one has 42K fewer miles on it. The new one also has a fairing (which I figure is a wash–greater weight against better streamlining–for my usage, commuting) and a significantly larger gas tank (a real advantage). There’s a picture of me with it in the showroom on the website.

WUNC-FM, the flagship public radio station in the state, asked Baen Books to provide a writer who could join a panel on space with a philosopher and the head of the NC Space Initiative. The writer turned out to be me. This didn’t strike me as any big deal (I’ve been on lots of panels in my lifetime), and at some level I wondered if anybody was listening. (It aired at noon on a 100KW station that covers the whole center of the state, so intellectually I knew that somebody was listening.)

What I didn’t expect is that friends who didn’t know I was going to be on the air (I didn’t bother to tell anybody) would be excited to hear me. I guess it was a special case of the fact that non-writers think it’s a bigger deal that I am a writer than it is to me.

It went all right. The link is at , but my portion starts at the 40+ minute mark.

Finally, an odd datum which nonetheless brings up a useful point. I got an email through Baen Books from a guy who claimed to have read most of my books. I had gratuitously and unrealistically added  homosexuality to (one of the RCN novels) in order to be Politically Correct, however. Therefore he would never read anything of mine again.

Given that some of the characters in my stories (as in my life) for as far back as 1974 have been gay, I suspect his claim to have read a lot my stuff to be as dishonest as the burden of his comment is silly. (Mind, other characters in my stories are likely to refer to the gay ones as queers, which I don’t think counts as Politically Correct.)

But there’s a deeper implication, which is that writers slant their fiction to suit their market (which starts out being their editor, note). Some writers probably do; I don’t.

Now–I make decisions based on what I think will sell. That may well change what I write, but it won’t change how I write it. That is, some years ago I had a notion for an adventure story set in Africa. I pitched it to Tom Doherty, who explained that historically, books set in Africa didn’t sell well. I therefore wrote something else. (The Lord of the Isles, as it turned out.)

Furthermore, I made the conscious decision that the major villains in my fantasy novels were going to be non-human. The field after the climactic battle was going to have piles of giant rats, insects, zombies, or whatever; but not human beings. I’ve described tens of thousands of human corpses in the past, but I wasn’t going to do that in my new fantasies.

I don’t think that makes me PC, though. As a matter of fact, that accusation still makes me giggle.

Now, to start keying in the holographic edits. Forward the Light Brigade….

–Dave Drake

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