Newsletter #67

NEWSLETTER 67: March 5, 2012

Dear People,

I’m hard at work on the next Tor fantasy, Demons from the Earth; the third of the Books of the Elements. When I first start writing a novel, that’s always the big news in my mind.

I think that would be true even if I suddenly got a multi-million dollar movie contract (and no, there’s no glimmer of that to the best of my knowledge). Writing books is what I do. What happens after that (or before that, in the case of contracts) is important, but it isn’t me. If movies/TV were what interested me, I’d be a screenwriter or something of the sort. And if business were what interested me, I’d still be a lawyer.

Jeepers. Thinking about it, I’m not sure which of those possibilities strikes me as less pleasant.

Stuff is coming out. The pb of Out of the Waters, the second Book of the Elements, will be out from Tor in May. The pb cover treatment expands the art (another superb Donato) above the banner as they did with the pb of The Legions of Fire (the first of the series). I’m amazingly lucky to have the cover art that I regularly get.

And speaking of covers, The Road of Danger is a Baen hc in April. I’ve said that before, but this is another chance to point you to the fine Steve Hickman painting. I suspect that there will be places on the hardcopy which glitter or shimmer or something, but I haven’t seen the treatment yet.

To support the release, Toni asked me to do an essay for I asked her for a selection of suitable topics, then decided to write about the various elements which have gone into the series.

I’m pleased with the result. When I really get into an essay, I teach myself quite a lot about the subject–even if the subject is basically my own past history, as this one in part was. It isn’t up at this instant, but I think it will be in a within the next two weeks. (Karen will put a link on my website, or you can just check

The other essay I’ve done recently–and I hope y’all are noticing how smoothly this newsletter segues from point to point–was most unexpected. David Hartwell and Jacob Weisman (Tachyon’s publisher) are doing a swords and sorcery anthology for Tachyon Publications.

I learned about this some time ago because David asked me for help; in particular he wondered if I knew of a good introduction to the genre, because he wouldn’t have time to write one. I checked many introductions by Karl Wagner and Sprague deCamp without finding anything which I thought was really suitable. (I didn’t bother checking Lin Carter’s work.)

A couple Thursdays ago Jacob (whom I know to say “Hi” to; we don’t move in the same circles) called. The anthology was going to press on Tuesday. He’d written an introduction. His managing editor had rejected it. Ah–this was really short notice, but–

I broke in to ask how long he wanted the intro and when I needed to submit it. And sent the finished essay off on Saturday.

The thing is, I love the heroic fantasy (AKA sword and sorcery) genre. It (in particular Robert E Howard’s work) is a lot of the reason I started writing fiction. Because I knew and loved the field, it wasn’t hard for me to write an anecdotal overview of it from the appearance of Conan (the point at which the editors started selecting) up through the time in the mid-’70s when Whispers (the little magazine of which I was assistant editor) ran heroic fantasy by my friends Karl Wagner and Ramsey Campbell and by me.

Jacob said they would pay me; which is fine, but I did the job for love. That’s why you should do any job. And this one was easy, because I did know and love the field.

I’m not sure when the anthology will be out, but I’ll put the essay up on my website as soon as I’m cleared to do so. Writing it made me nostalgic for a past which, I emphasize, wasn’t nearly as good as my present… but of which I have many fond memories.

As publisher of Baen Books, Toni Weisskopf (who most certainly knows and loves SF) is doing some innovative things. One which took me aback is a study guide for teachers and students on Into the Hinterlands, the novel which John Lambshead wrote from my outline. I was amazed to see the guide, though it made perfect sense after the fact.

That it made sense to Toni before somebody else came up with the idea is why (well, is one of the reasons) she’s good at her job. I suppose the fact that Baen Books is growing while many other publishers are having a hard time is an even better recommendation of her job performance.

Back in 1983, Jim Baen heard a junior congressman speak on space policy. He was so taken by the speech that he signed the congressman up for a book setting out his view of a bright, clean future for America and the world. I was brought in as rewrite man, partly as a favor to my friend Jim but also in part because there was a chance we’d all make a lot of money. (There was a chance. It didn’t happen that way, however.)

Under normal circumstances this would have been another of the odds and ends that any full-time freelance writer has in the course of his career. (For example, I scripted a graphic novel.) It was different on this occasion because the book was Window of Opportunity, and the congressman was Newt Gingrich.

Every time Newt returns to the spotlight, I get calls from reporters. I was pleased that this time the focus of the articles (in Politico, Foreign Affairs, and New Republic) was on Window rather than on either Newt himself (whom I personally liked and respected) or on the way the book’s promotion was financed.

I was also pleased that the reporters had read and liked the book, picking up on its hopeful optimism. Whatever you think of Newt in his present persona, Window of Opportunity is a thoroughly positive work. His visions for the future (and they were his, not mine) may have been impractical and even silly, but it would be a better world today if they had been implemented thirty years ago.

I’ll close by discussing Manly Wade Wellman. He was my friend for the fifteen years before his death in 1986 and I still very much miss him. I acted as… dunno. Basically a support structure for his widow Frances from 1994 to her death in 2000.

That meant the business stuff in part, but I was also a presence to her caregivers. I never had to take action, but that was at least in part because they were all terrified of me. The one time there might have been a problem, both parties (Frances needed 24-hour care at the end) phoned me separately to say that they’d worked it out and I didn’t need to get involved.

Part of me regrets that I come through as a ruthless bastard. On the other hand, my concern was for my aged friend; and the caregivers weren’t wrong about how I would have dealt with anyone whom I thought was taking advantage of her.

When Frances died, I bought the Wellmans’ literary estate from their son. I did this because I thought I was in a better place to keep their work alive than the son was (he didn’t have a telephone) rather than to make a profit on the investment, but it has been profitable.

In addition to the many individual story reprints, at least some of Manly’s books have been in print every year since Frances’ death. There’s a hardcover volume of all his John Thunstone (a psychic detective/ghost breaker) series due out soon, and we’re in negotiations for more hardcovers. It suddenly struck me that Manly, who’s been dead for 25 years, has a more active writing career than most living people who define themselves as writers.

Manly has a great agent and I’m in a good position to support her, but that wouldn’t really matter if he hadn’t been such a wonderful storyteller to begin with. Storytelling is the key to why Manly is doing better commercially than so many workshop graduates. It seems to me that this would be something for writing courses to take notice of, but I don’t think that’s going to happen.

Which is their choice. From my standpoint, it just means that much more for Manly–and for me.

My best wishes to all of you.

–Dave Drake

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