Newsletter #60

Dear People,

I have a rough plot outline for the next RCN space opera, The Road of Danger. (The title is from a poem by A E Housman.) Whee! A rough plot may not seem very exciting to other people, but it certainly was to me after months of work to get there.

Almost four months, to be precise. I’ll refine and expand the plot; then there’s the real job of writing the book, but to a considerable degree the rest of the job is mechanical. Somebody else could take what I have now and turn it into a book. The result would be different from what I will do, but there are people who’d like someone else’s result better than mine.

I guess the other big news is that Donato’s cover for Out of the Waters (the second book in the Elements fantasy series for Tor) is up on the website. It’s both a wonderful piece of art and a wonderful cover (which aren’t by any means the same thing).

To my amusement, the cover is also a real illustration of the text. I’m one of the few authors I know (actually, I’m the only author whom I’ve heard say this) who doesn’t care if the cover illustrates the book so long as it sells the book to people who will like the contents. Donato’s cover will certainly do that, but he also mined my text for elements which he thought would be effective.

They are effective; Donato is a brilliant artist. I am very lucky.

The cover of Into the Hinterlands (now with a little description of the book) is also up; my friend John Lambshead has developed the book from my outline. The credit order is Drake and Lambshead.

Those of you who are familiar with my previous public (and published) statements about name order on novels know that I’ve been adamant that my name must go second when I did the outline but somebody else wrote the book. I’m not going to discuss the reasons for the change this time, because I become angry every time I think about it.

Nobody but me cares about it. (John is a senior scientist who has published 80 scientific papers. He expected and approves of this result.) I care very much, though, and it depresses the hell out of me.

Worse things happen in wartime.

Speaking of dust jackets, the other new thing on my website involves what is kind of my first book. In 1975 my friend John Squires took a bookbinding course. For my 30th birthday he gave me a volume containing my first six war stories (tear sheets from digest magazines), bound in fabric from one of my fatigue shirts. It was a one-off, making it a very limited edition.

A couple months ago, John figured out how to make dust jackets and sent one. The image of that dj is up at

The ’70s were a mixture of good and bad for me. John Squires is one of the unalloyed good things from that decade.

Site statistics show that there aren’t a lot of people interested in my translations of Ovid. Still, I become a much better writer of English prose by doing them. I finally finished the Hercules Cycle from the Metamorphoses. It’s posted, as is another lyric from the Amores (Book 2, number 14).

I expect my next translation project to be the Battle of the Centaurs and Lapiths from the Metamorphoses, another long section. I was startled as I browsed through it to find that it’s graphically bloody: Ovid uses Greek household furnishings where a modern spatter film might use a chain saw. (For example, a Lapith stabs a Centaur very vividly in the face with deer horns which had been hung as a hunting trophy.) This sort of description is common in Lucan and Seneca, but I hadn’t remembered it from when I read the Metamorphoses some 40 years ago.

I’ve done a few interviews. Interviewers often go over the same ground, and there’s plenty of duplication in these. On the other hand, most interviewers have specialist interests of their own. For an extreme example, one of my recent interviewers wrote a Zombie novel, which gave a unique cast to his questions.

Over the years, a number of readers–usually but not always veterans–have thanked me for what my fiction has done for them while they were in hard places or after they had come through those places. This makes me a little uncomfortable, because I don’t think I deserve the thanks.

You see, I wrote the stories for myself. They kept me between the ditches, or at least close enough to the road that I was able to get back on again. I’m really pleased that they help other people who’ve been in their own version of the same places, but I didn’t write for those other people. Gosh, for a lot of years, I didn’t even admit that I was writing to help myself.

Recently Christof Harper–a custom knifemaker and a veteran–asked if he could make me a knife, the sort of thing Sgt Scratchard (from Counting the Cost) might have carried. I said sure, but that it wasn’t in any way necessary.

Christof mentioned that the knife would be similar to a Randall #2, if I knew what those looked like. As it chanced, I did. A friend of mine in the ’60s, a Texan, knew Bo Randall and had both a #1 and a #2. If I could have afforded it, I would have taken a Randall to Viet Nam with me.

I couldn’t afford a Randall, of course. I couldn’t even afford the mass produced $35 Gerber Mark I which came out at about that time; I carried a Buck General. Even the Buck’s cost of $22.50 was something of a strain on the budget.

As it turned out, I didn’t need a knife in Viet Nam. I was in an armored unit, and even our M16s were really back-up weapons. All the knife provided was a security blanket, an absolutely last-ditch defense which wouldn’t jam and wouldn’t run out of ammunition. It had no real purpose except to make me feel better, or anyway to make me feel just a hair less lost and doomed. I wasn’t quite alone.

That was damned important.

So now it’s 40 years later, and I have a knife which is wholly comparable to the Randall which I couldn’t afford back then. There’s a picture of it, but this doesn’t begin to do justice to the workmanship.

A writer working in the middle of 23 acres doesn’t need a fighting knife any more than an interrogator sitting on the loader’s hatch of a tank did, behind the M74 co-ax machine gun which had been moved up to a stub mount there.

But the kid who came back to the World in 1971 felt alone in a fashion that folks who haven’t been there (wherever the individual there is) can’t really imagine. The only things that have really helped that loneliness have been notes from other people who felt and feel the same things; notes, and now this superb knife.

That’s damned important.

Given my fans, a number of you reading this probably feel that you’re alone. You aren’t, no more than I am; but I know very well that that can be the hardest thing in the world to believe at 3 in the morning.

Hang in, people. I’m hanging in also.

–Dave Drake

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