Newsletter #61

Dear People,

In the immediately previous newsletter I said that I’d finished my rough plot for The Road of Danger (the next RCN space opera). The book is now at 32K and rising at the usual steady rate.

This is all good, but I don’t feel happy or even content about it; which is also usual. I frequently stop and think, “Jeepers, I need to fix the bit in chapter two when the character first appears.” And of course the work generally isn’t as good or as fast or as easy as I think it ought to be.

Based on past experience, I will fix the bit in chapter two when I edit, and I will make the book generally better; I work fast enough to have created an unusually large body of work; and “easy” simply doesn’t matter. But the book will never be good enough, and I will never be good enough to meet my own standards.

That is a personal problem. My strong suspicion is that if I were a ditch digger, my ditches wouldn’t be as straight as I thought they should be and I’d be painfully aware that I should be able to achieve the same result more quickly and with fewer shovel strokes. As I say, it’s a personal problem.

Shortly before this newsletter goes out, the final draft of Into the Hinterlands, the space opera John Lambshead wrote from my outline, should have reached Toni’s inbox (Toni Weisskopf, Publisher of Baen Books). I don’t do line edits on other people’s books, though I’ll sometimes rewrite a couple paragraphs and say, “Do it this way throughout.” Mostly I see my job as standing outside and making general comments in the order of, “Focus on just what the viewpoint character sees in this scene.”

I went over John’s second and third drafts. The fourth (this one) is John’s polish draft. He says he caught a lot of clumsy phrasings but that the book isn’t perfect.

That’s the reality of every good writer’s life. Vergil, who was a genius, was still polishing the Aeneid when he died eleven years after he’d started. He told his literary executor to burn the manuscript if he didn’t think it was publishable.

Into the Hinterlands is a pretty darned good book. It’ll be a Baen hardcover in September, 2011.

Speaking of things coming out, the paperback of The Legions of Fire, the first book in my new Tor fantasy series, is scheduled for May, 2011. The paperback of What Distant Deeps, the latest book in the RCN (Leary/Mundy) space opera series, will be out from Baen in June, 2011.

This isn’t ideal timing–three months separation would be better–but a lot of things in life aren’t ideal. If this were the worst thing that ever happened, even to me, we’d be back in the Garden of Eden.

In the more distant future, there will be omnitrade omnibuses (that is, books the size of the Baen Collected Hammer’s Slammers volumes) of The General and The General Follow-On series. The five out of print paperback volumes of the General series have already been combined as two fat hardcovers (Warlord and Conqueror), which to my surprise are also now out of print.

The omnitrade volumes will contain two original volumes in each: HOPE REBORN will combine General 1&2; HOPE REARMED will be General 3&4; HOPE RENEWED will be General 5 and The Chosen, the first of the General Follow-On series (which is my name for them, but I haven’t heard a better one); and finally, HOPE REFORMED will be the remainder of the Follow-On series, The Reformer and The Tyrant.

I wrote the outlines for all of them. Steve Stirling executed the novels from those outlines, with the exception of The Tyrant (which Eric Flint wrote). (Reformer and Tyrant were the two halves of one original outline.)

Combining the last of the General series with The Chosen isn’t ideal (there’s that word again!) but I didn’t see much practical option. And I pulled the titles out of my ear, just as I did with the paperbacks and hardcovers of the General series. (The titles for the Follow-On series actually mean something.)

Hmm. I have to do intros for the four new volumes. Well, in good time.

I’m not a great deal farther in my next Ovid translation project, the Battle of the Centaurs and Lapiths from the Metamorphoses. I’ve run into an amusing problem, though. Quite a lot of a battle of this sort is “A killed B and was in turn killed by C.”

The Lapiths are Greek mountaineers; the Centaurs are, well, centaurs: horses with a human head and torso in place of the equine horse and neck. If you were watching a movie of it, you’d know exactly what was going on. When all you have is the characters’ names (which Ovid mostly invented, for both groups), it isn’t immediately obvious whether it was a Centaur or a Lapith who used the lampstand to dash out the brains of his opponent (and so on).

I’ll make sure it’s clear in my translation. There are certain fixed points, the characters whom Ovid brought in from pre-existing mythology, like Perithous and Nessus. But it’s unexpectedly tricky.

SF SIGNAL has put up a podcast interview with me. As usual, I have no recollection of what I said. The answers will be the same if the questions were the same, but each interviewer has a thrust of his own so they aren’t auditory cookie-cutter productions, exactly.

I’ve been thinking recently about fame, and success, and about writing as a career generally. My agent, Kirby McCauley, had met writer Jerzy Kosinski in 1979, while Kosinski was touring with his new novel, Passion Play.

Passion Play had come out the month before my own first novel, The Dragon Lord. I remember looking at Passion Play and thinking despairingly, “Why on Earth would anybody buy my book, when for only a dollar more they could get this one by Kosinski?” (I had many problems as a new writer. An inflated opinion of my own work was not, however, one of those problems.)

The Dragon Lord is a badly flawed book, but Passion Play isn’t Kosinski’s best either. Both books were (amusingly) last reprinted in 1998.

But Kosinski’s remarkable and powerful first novel, The Painted Bird, was last reprinted in the ’90s also. There were many things wrong with Kosinki as a human being, including the fact that he lied about the genesis of The Painted Bird (which is not autobiographical) and that in it he libeled the people who had been responsible for saving his life, but the book itself is a masterpiece. Despite that, it appears to be on the edge of oblivion.

Whereas the contents of Hammer’s Slammers, my first book (it came out in April, 1979, six months before The Dragon Lord), have been continuously in print. The latest edition (the Baen omnitrade) came out last year and is selling very well. (Thank you, by the way.)

I don’t know what that means. It doesn’t mean that I am a more important writer than Jerzy Kosinski, or that Hammer’s Slammers is a better book than The Painted Bird. (And incidentally, neither book would be described as a feel-good reading experience.)

You could argue that it means that being dead is bad for a writer’s career, but Kosinski’s career had pretty well gone down the tubes by the time he committed suicide in 1991. (The two facts are presumably linked.)

I don’t believe that anybody in 1979 expected Hammer’s Slammers to be regularly reprinted (I didn’t) or The Painted Bird to be forgotten by all but specialists. I don’t think Kosinski’s masterpiece should be forgotten; but that appears to be the case, based on publication history.

The only thing I am pretty sure of is that we all should be careful about making pronouncements about our own importance. In the world’s terms, no individual is really important. The quicker we learn that, the less opportunity we will give the world to embarrass us.

Back to a space opera!

–Dave Drake

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