Newsletter #68

NEWSLETTER 68: May 15, 2012

Dear People,

The third of the Books of the Elements fantasy series for Tor, DEMONS FROM THE EARTH (or another title that has Earth, and probably Demons, in it somewhere), is chunking along happily. More happily than I am as I write it.

The middle of a book (and the middles extend farther in both directions as I gain more experience) is always a miserable time for me. I’m convinced that I’m writing boring crap–well, you know the drill. I’ve been saying the same thing for much longer than I’ve been doing newsletters; and indeed, I felt the same way in the middle of stories and novelettes (It’s boring crap!) before I started writing novels.

Come to think, I still feel that way about shorter fiction. I just don’t do much of it since I’m backed up on novels.

Thus far, my finished work hasn’t been boring. I expect that will continue to be the case. (“Crap” is a matter of individual definition.) Success in the past doesn’t help much with present depression, unfortunately.

The Road of Danger, my latest RCN (Leary/Mundy) space opera, is just out as a Baen hardcover. To my utter amazement, according to Bookscan (which tracks book sales from pretty much all outlets) Road was the bestselling SF book for the week following its release.

Let me give you a pair of caveats before you decide that I ought to be dancing around the yard lighting my cigars with hundred-dollar bills. First, these are relative numbers rather than absolute numbers. Absolute sales in a big week (say, in the run-up to Christmas) will be much higher than for a week in the middle of April.

Second, the number two book in that week was Ender’s Game by Orson Scott Card. Ender’s Game appeared in book form in 1985 and probably hasn’t failed to be in the top ten bestselling SF titles for a single week in the 27 years since. (Incidentally, Jim Baen signed the contract for Ender’s Game before he left Tor in 1983. The advance was $14K. I’m not sure an SF publisher has ever made a better deal.)

Those things said: I’m very happy to have beaten Ender’s Game for one week of those many hundreds of weeks. The Baen crew and Steve Hickman, the cover artist, have really pulled out the stops for me. Pretty much as usual, bless their hearts.

And lest anybody wonder: I don’t smoke cigars (and wish nobody else did either, though nowadays most of my contact with cigar smoke comes from riding behind a vehicle with its windows open). Furthermore, I doubt a hundred-dollar bill would make a good spill for lighting a fire.

The second Book of the Elements, Out of the Waters, is out in mass market from Tor now. (Well, I’m sure it is, though I haven’t actually seen a copy.) It has the same wonderful Donato cover as the hardcover.

Baen’s Halloween release for 2012 will be Night & Demons (note the ampersand), a collection of my shorter horror fiction. Mostly horror, anyway. There are lighter pieces and some that are really adventure, but trust me: the horror is horrible, and there’s enough of it to set the tone for the collection. The cover, by Alan Pollack, fits the mood perfectly.

Night includes the entire contents of Balefires, which in turn included the entire contents of From the Heart of Darkness. There are four additional stories in Night. I wrote an extensive intro for each about how I came to write the piece and sometimes about life more generally as

I’m proud of the collection. This is where I started as a writer. The reason that I stopped writing horror isn’t that I wasn’t good at it.

There are various new pictures on the website. Jonathan and Tristan came over for dinner, so there’s another view of the three Drake men. It doesn’t strike me was weird to be 66; but let me tell you, I shake my head at the notion of having a 39-year-old son and a 9-year-old grandson. Seeing is believing, though.

There are also a couple of views of me working. Well, in one case I’m on the phone but I had been working before an incoming call. Our architect took that picture when he came to check work on the addition we’re building; Jonathan took the other the night he came for dinner.

This really is how I work. There are disadvantages–a gust of wind at the wrong time can do very bad things to my notes, and it suggests why I go through a lot of computers. But we’ve got a lovely property with flowers and insects and birds and frogs (I’ve really come to like frogs!) and the occasional mammal. Deer are common, squirrels and rabbits are not uncommon, the occasional raccoon; and once, to my amazement, a wandering beaver.

My life is idyllic, every place but in my head.

Which leads, more or less directly, to the last thing I’ll talk about this time. I started Duke Law School with the Class of 1970. There were 100 men and 2 women in the class. Dean (Emeritus) Latty told us that almost all of us would graduate, unlike UNC Law School where two-thirds of the class would drop out during the three years.

In fact the class of 1970 graduated only 80 people. There were various reasons for the high dropout rate, but I was one of ten guys drafted in 1968. I came back to Duke after two years in the army and graduated with the Class of 1972. Others graduated with me or later, or graduated from other law schools; or simply did something else with their lives.

Recently the new class representative decided to put together a class directory that wasn’t simply answers from a questionnaire. He went on line and compiled a very striking PDF directory, covering everyone he could find who started with the Class of 1970.

It was an impressive group in many ways. It includes 7 judges; the co-owner of the Seattle Mariners (who had been Microsoft’s attorney; talk about lucking into a job with potential in the ’70s); a General Authority of the Latter Day Saints (a member of the Quorum of the 70, for those of you who follow these things); and I was pointed out as a successful SF writer. There were many other classmates with respectable careers, as one would expect from Duke Law School.

The thing that stood out to me in going over the list is that I was the only listed member the class who’d been in a combat unit in Nam. The list was only partial, of course, and it strikes me that any other Nam vets were disproportionately likely to be among the dozen or so classmates whom the compiler couldn’t find.

I’ve been extremely lucky to have come back as far as I have. That said, I’m a long way short of being back to normal.

Coincidentally, I got a questionnaire from a fellow (a former platoon leader) who’s doing a history of the Blackhorse in Viet Nam and Cambodia. I answered the questions honestly. I didn’t have to dig very deep down to do that.

Maybe because the questions covered most aspects of what was going on, but maybe just because I came back to the World over 40 years ago and had some distance, I found myself analyzing the whole experience in a way I hadn’t done before. I’ve generally said–and believed–that nothing much had happened to me, that I was rarely in serious danger, and that the experience was unpleasant but not awful.

Looking back on it now–it was pretty awful. (The fact that I’d gotten so used to it was possibly the most awful thing of all.) And believe me, I did have an easier time than a lot of the people who were over there at the same time… and a lot of the people in Afghanistan and in Iraq and in too damned many other places.

People, I’m not a pacifist. I’m not saying we ought to disarm or disband the army or any such thing. But when some politician stands up and tells you that the national security and national honor demand that we send troops to a mudhole in SE Asia, really think about what that means for the troops–who will be coming back some day, one way or the other.

And after you’ve thought about the troops for a moment, think about voting for whoever’s running against the cowardly blowhard who wants to start another war.

–Dave Drake

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