Newsletter #65

NEWSLETTER 65: November 7, 2011

Dear People,

I’ve finished the plot for Into the Maelstrom, which will be the sequel to Into the Hinterlands when John Lambshead writes it next year. (Next year isn’t nearly as far away as I think it ought to be.)

The series is a space opera based on the life of George Washington. Hinterlands took him through the French and Indian War (as it was in North America). Maelstrom picks up fifteen years later with the events leading up to the Revolutionary War and runs through the Battle of Trenton.

Research for the plot took time, and creating reasonable space-opera analogues to an Eighteenth century original is a lot trickier than it will look to a reader if I did it correctly. That said, the puzzles were fun–and time spent studying a man as extraordinary as George Washington is both education and pleasure.

Now I’m trying to get into the plot for Demons from the Earth, the third fantasy of my Books of the Elements for Tor. It isn’t moving any more quickly or easily than my plots have in the past, which I accept the same way I accept getting wet when I’m fifteen miles from the house as the storm breaks.

Based on past experience, the plot will come and the book will follow. I’ve got a lot of past experience. And it was hard every single time.

Incidentally, I’ve found that it helps me to get started if I translate a chunk of Ovid’s Metamorphoses. At present I’m working through the Battle of the Centaurs and Lapiths, a lengthy section (325 lines), which is entirely ‘X killed Y and Z then killed X.’ Ovid makes the action consistently interesting and not repetitive, which is remarkable.

Craftsmanship of that standard gives me something concrete to shoot for. If Ovid could do that, I can find a path into what every morning seems to be a shifting mass (much like the Chaos which Ovid describes In the Beginning).

The Tor mass market reprint of Birds of Prey is out. Tor is working at doing better with reprints than has been the case for a long time. I learned this when a Tor editor asked me for SF quote to put on a new edition of Skyripper.

The problem here was that Skyripper was about to come out (and now has come out) as half the Baen omnibus Loose Cannon. The other half (the second Tom Kelly book) is Fortress, which Tom Doherty (Tor’s publisher) couldn’t get his staff to reprint a couple years ago. (Nobody refused. It just didn’t happen.) Therefore with Tom’s approval, Toni Weisskopf of Baen did the books instead… just in time for the Tor staff to change direction.

Baen had the rights to Birds of Prey, which was out of print. (And is one of my best novels, by the way.) We–Toni and I–transferred the rights to Tor, and everybody is happy.

I can work in the complex present world; but sometimes I miss the old days.

Take a look at the (now four) cover treatments for Birds of Prey, all of them using the same excellent Michael Whelan painting. If you’re in any doubt about how much difference cover design makes, this should convince you.

Speaking of omnibus editions, Baen is bringing out my two space operas based on Greek epics and set in the Hammer universe: Cross the Stars (the Odyssey) and The Voyage (the Argonautica). I had intended the combined title to be Voyages across the Stars to make clear that it was two books, but the cover appeared as Voyage [singular]across the Stars. I just left it that way. It’s a better title anyway.

Oh–the volume includes a very perceptive essay by Cecelia Holland, who blew me away when I read her Until the Sun Falls while I was in Cambodia. I am hugely honored to have become Cecelia’s friend in the forty-odd years since.

The nice cover is by Sam Kennedy. It’s the first time I recall seeing his work, and I wouldn’t mind more of it on my covers.

Baen Books will be bringing out my five time-travel novellas in a single volume. Four of the stories involve using a time machine to hunt dinosaurs; the fifth is Travellers, a very different piece set during the Great 1897 Airship Flap.

I happened to glance through the original edition of Time Safari recently and was struck by the fact that the stories were quite well-written–though none of the versions of the book sold especially well. I diffidently suggested a new, expanded edition to Toni, who snapped at the idea.

Negotiations with Baen Books today are just as easy and pleasant as they were during Jim’s lifetime.

The title was easy: Dinosaurs and a Dirigible. Tom Kidd is planned for the cover artist, but it’s still early days.

There are a few new pictures on the website. The Drake/Van Name entourage visited the NC State Fair with a lot of low key fun. So much of the best in life involves relaxing with friends and family. It doesn’t make exciting reading, but do be aware of how important it is to me.

I remembered to bring my camera to the fair and to charge its battery beforehand, but I didn’t remember to put the charged battery back in the camera. This shot of the 522.8 pound prize pumpkin came from Gina, who was much better organized.

I attended Constellation in Huntsville and there chatted with Joe Haldeman, in part about things in Nam blowing up. (Joe was a combat engineer, so some of his stories involved him blowing things up. I was an interrogator and therefore an observer, but I sure observed some doozies.)

This is us forty-odd years later. I find it hard to realize that I survived, and Joe had a much worse time In Country than I did. Oh, well.

As usual, I went to the World Fantasy Convention this year. It’s a business con and I did business besides spending time with friends. Despite real problems with programming (the rooms had poor acoustics and the con hadn’t bothered to arrange microphones for panelists), there were some interesting presentations.

The most fun was the one by the San Diego Zoo, which walked some neat animals through the auditorium. My favorite was the West African pangolin (a tree-climbing mammal which eats ants and is covered by scales of folded protein). If I got a decent picture of it (I did, but I’ll take requests for the armadillo), it’ll be here; if not, that will be another animal (maybe a three-banded armadillo).

My webmaster, Karen, is digitizing photographs I took in the ’70s and putting a few of them on the website. This one was taken (with my Minox) during the 1978 WFC in Maryland. Manly Wade Wellman and Sprague de Camp were very important to me as writers and as men. They had been close friends in the ’30s but had dropped out of contact for thirty years. They met again here and renewed their friendship in my presence.

And finally, one more photograph. I usually end newsletters with a little essay, but in this case I’ll let the picture (which my wife Jo took in fall of 1973) speak. By the time it was taken, I’d been back to the World for nearly three years. I’d graduated from Duke Law School, passed the bar exam, and was working as Assistant Town Attorney for the Town of Chapel Hill. I had bought a house and was a father.

That sounds as though I were functional, and I guess I was; but there wasn’t much of me left over. Nam had bulldozed me flat; what I am now was built up from the rubble, like the Byzantine fort I saw in Lambaesis which reused ashlars from the city which the Vandals had sacked and burned centuries earlier.

There are a lot of veterans returning to society again, now. Cut them some slack, people; because chances are, there’s no more left of them than there was of me when this picture was taken.

–Dave Drake

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