Newsletter #62

Dear People,

I am in the stage now in which the current book (this time it’s The Road of Danger, the next Leary/Mundy space opera) moves forward about as steadily as Juggernaut’s Carriage. The process is about that graceful also, but I’ll be editing the heck out of my rough draft, as usual.

I’ve been averaging a hair over a thousand words a day since Newsletter 61, a process which I expect to continue until I get to the end of my outline. I strongly suspect the final draft will be about 130K, but I don’t swear to that.

This doesn’t mean, by the way, that I write about a thousand words every day in about the same fashion. I have a life (and I’m very glad to have a life).

I go to social gatherings–not many, but I’m not a recluse. I get a great number of incoming phone calls (I rarely make outgoing calls because I spend so much time on the phone anyway). Most calls are business-related in one fashion or another; but since I prefer to do business with friends, even the most business-oriented conversation is likely to be a chat between friends.

Maintenance people arrive to check the furnace. The lawnmower moves around to where I’m working. I need to get the taxes to our accountant, or I have a dental appointment. Life, in other words.

And of course, work goes more smoothly some days than other days. When it’s not going well, I’m likely to still be working after the time I’d normally be in bed. But easy or hard, I keep chunking away till the job is done.

If I didn’t like the work I do, I wouldn’t be doing it. Nonetheless, it is work. has been doing the RCN series very well in streaming audio. They have just released most of the Hammer series as well, which I think is neat.

I say most: the four short novels are paired in two audio “volumes,” and the two full length novels are done separately. Steve Feldberg (the CEO) says they’ll wait to see how the longer pieces do before he decides whether to produce the short stories.

He knows his own market (and is a delight to deal with, by the way), but I suggested that he do a set of short stories in place of one of the other volumes. The Hammer pieces seem to me to do best in small chunks, because they are very intense (in various ways). Since my prose style is also dense, I suspect the series would be something of a challenge to listen to in large blocks.

Note that I am not knocking my own work: I think the Hammer stories are good and in some ways uniquely good. The things that make them good come with a cost, however.

The paperback of The Legions of Fire (the first of The Books of the Elements, my four-volume fantasy series for Tor) is out.  I think it’s lovely. Tor’s new designer is very skilled. (Whereas the UK editions of the Isles series–using the same art–were consistently better, and sometimes much better, than the Tor originals.)

The second volume of The Books of the Elements, Out of the Waters, should appear in hardcover in July. This is a really fun series to do because I’m able to give free rein to my knowledge of–and love for–the Roman world. Like most people, I find it a delight to burble to others about my expertise.

The paperback of What Distant Deeps, the latest RCN space opera, should be out in June.  I’ve always loved SF adventures, but I didn’t start writing seriously until after my military service. My space operas therefore had a sharper edge than I intended (The Reaches Trilogy being the most striking example of this) until I wrote Redliners and really came to terms with where my head had been for the previous 25 years.

Better late than never, though. The RCN series and the fantasy novels that I’ve been writing since I completed Redliners are exactly what I wanted to write in the first place: not stupid and certainly not saccharine, but basically positive stories set in a basically positive universe.

I live in a basically positive universe, but for a long time my head was back in Nam. There was very, very little positive about Nam.

Toni Weisskopf, publisher of Baen Books, did indeed like Into the Hinterlands which I mentioned in Newsletter 61 had just been delivered to her. (John Lambshead wrote it from my outline.)  She liked it so much that she wants the remaining two books of the planned trilogy (whose template is the life of George Washington through the end of the Revolutionary War).

The problem is that Toni thought I’d written the remaining two outlines and phrased her initial request based on that misconception. Things settled down after I went briefly ballistic. I will plot the first book (or less probably both books) as soon as I have finished The Road of Danger.

I’m feeling crunched. In a perfect world… no, let me rephrase that; a perfect world wouldn’t have any use for me. Say rather that if I were as skilled as I would like to be, I would be finishing the third Book of the Elements now instead of working on a space opera before I start that third fantasy. I don’t believe I’m a failure to anyone except to myself, but I certainly don’t meet my own standards.

I’m also doing a number of short essays to introduce electronic republications of classic (1950s) novelettes and novellas from Galaxy Science Fiction. My friend Barry Malzberg is overseeing this project for Rosetta Books, the successor in interest to the Scott Meredith Literary Agency where Barry worked for many years.

I’m doing this because I love the field. There’s also ego involved: I know quite a lot about the history of magazine SF, and I’m arrogant enough to believe that I can bring things to the project that few others could.

The first essay (of maybe four or five) was on Robert Silverberg’s The Iron Chancellor; it took me a day to write. The rest should be comparable, and I can do them as breaks over the next couple months.

Though the actual time I spend writing them isn’t much, it’s very focused time; and proper research (rereading not only the story concerned but other stories and contemporary comments that have bearing on the discussion) soaks up a lot of time during which I might have been reading (for example) a Gladys Mitchell mystery novel. I just reread Lester del Rey’s Nerves in preparation for doing an introduction to his The Wind between the Worlds, for example.

And of course the essay project contributes to me feeling crunched, but I decided a long time ago that if I wanted a lazy, relaxed life, I would have one. Therefore, this is the life I have chosen for myself.

My Suzuki GS500F is a year old and has been a very satisfactory bike. It turns out that some of the styling differences from the GS500E which it replaced are because this is the European model and was actually built in Spain.

Which brings me to the last item for this newsletter, since it’s also bike related. I’ll give the necessary background first: alcohol is hygroscopic; that is, it sucks moisture out of the air. This becomes significant in a vehicle’s gas tank if you’re using gasohol.

Because pipelines run various petroleum products at various times (and the trucks which fill gas stations also use the same compartments for different fuels over time) fuel oil contaminates every refill you put in your vehicle. Fuel oil and water become a white, sticky emulsion on the bottom of your gas tank. (I learned all this later, after my Bandit 1200’s carbs had been rebuilt and its petcock replaced.)

Later, meaning after I had gotten about two miles from home before the bike died and wouldn’t restart. I knew I had gas, and the battery cranked fine. The engine wouldn’t fire, however.

The first problem was to get back home. I didn’t want to leave the bike where it was, so I started pushing it back. The rural road is paved but narrow; the saving grace was that there wasn’t much traffic. The Bandit weighs something over 500 pounds, and the first half mile was up a gentle slope. (It was drizzling, though that wasn’t necessary to make it a miserable business.) By the time I’d gotten to the top of the hill, enough fuel had seeped past the gunk to get me almost home.

I said there wasn’t much traffic; I think there were about ten cars and trucks in both directions. Three of them, driven by strangers, stopped:

A young white guy in an SUV asked if he could do anything to help. (No, but thank you very much.)

A middle-aged black guy in an econobox said he had a little lawnmower gas back at his house and he’d be happy to bring it to me. (I have gas–I think it’s electrical [wrong]–but thank you very much.)

A white guy who had to be over 70 (okay, I’m 65 myself now that I think about it) in an old Oldsmobile asked if he could help me push. (No, there really isn’t a good way on a road so narrow, but thank you very much.)

Let me repeat that these were total strangers, they weren’t bikers, and they constituted 30% of the sample. Sure, the sample is too small to be other than anecdotal evidence, but to me it indicates that given half a chance, human beings are pretty decent.

I get very depressed at times. Heck, I suppose you could say that since 1970, depression is my resting state. But my bottom line is that human beings are pretty decent.

That thought encourages me to try to be more decent myself, which I think might be a useful practice for everybody.

–Dave Drake

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