Newsletter #69

NEWSLETTER 69: July 16, 2012

Dear People,

This is late, not because anything awful has happened, but because I’ve been dropping stitches. Lots of stitches.

The big news in this period is that we’ve gotten a Certificate of Occupancy for the library addition whose construction started at the end of December, 2011. I was overflowing the house with books and decided to do something about it once and for all. (As a GM executive said regarding the firm’s recent restructuring, “We don’t want to do this again.”)

The design (by the original architect of the house) is wonderful and blends with the non-standard original in a fashion that amazes everybody. The work, by a crew the architect picked, is truly first rate. There was a real effort not to disturb me any more than was necessary (I work at home).

That said, I was getting pretty close to the edge after six months of it. I like–I won’t say need–to be alone part of every day, and that just wasn’t going to happen until the construction was done.

And while I didn’t say “need” in an absolute sense, I certainly needed the time alone for mental equilibrium, never really my strongest suit. I was getting close to the edge; probably closer than I’ve been since the late ’70s when I was starting to get my head up from Nam. The first five years after I got back to the World, I was pretty much shut down except for the moments of rage. I’m intellectually present now, and therefore I’ve been extremely depressed.

I’m hoping that I’ll get back to normal over the next couple months. I’m really hoping that.

My major effort over the past couple months has been Demons of the Earth, third in the four-book fantasy series for Tor. In a perfect world, I would’ve completed the novel by now. (Well, in a more nearly perfect world. I wouldn’t have any place in a truly perfect world.) I’m into the climax, but I’m certainly not finished.

It takes a while to write a long novel, and various things happen that affect my work schedule. Unusually for me, I had to break off with the novel to write a short story for a Gene Wolfe tribute anthology. I didn’t mind doing the story–Gene is a wonderful writer and has been a friend to me–but I bitched about the timing.

Well, I bitch about a lot of things; and I did the job anyway. (All same-same, GI.) Gene’s story Straw had greatly impressed me when I read it in Galaxy (the January, 1975, issue; in the midst of the first three Hammer stories also appearing in the magazine). I used the same setting for my story, Bedding, but reversed the sequence. I’m quite pleased with the result, so I decided to read it at Deep South Con 50 in Huntsville.

I attended three conventions in June, which is about three more than my usual. (There was a reason for each one, but they’re also part of why I feel so wrung out and depressed.) When I decided to read Bedding, I hadn’t expected Gene to be at the convention, and I certainly hadn’t expected him to be in the middle of the front row in the audience.

Gene liked the story a lot. That was both a relief and a great honor.

There is a picture of Gene and me in Huntsville on the website. We had just eaten Sunday brunch at 3 Skillets, the restaurant in the background, owned by Ruth Mercado, the wife of Lance Larka–who set up the David Drake fan site on Facebook.  (We all cleaned our plates, which is the best recommendation for a meal that I know of.)

I got some value from each of the three cons, particularly DSC. Socializing–being in public–costs me a good deal, but if I didn’t force myself to get out in public, I’d sink increasingly deep into myself and wall off the world. That way lies (greater) madness.

The problem with the construction and other disruption isn’t that I don’t get work done (I always get work done) but rather that other things–life generally–tend to slide. I finally got back to my translation of the Centaurs and Lapiths portion of Ovid’s Metamorphoses. I’ve now completed the rough draft, though it’ll be a while before I get a polished version up on the website. It’s really amazing how subtle Ovid’s work is, and how much a writer can learn from his clear diction and crisp characterizations.

These newsletters aren’t intended as sell-copy, but I should mention that I’ve read the proofs for Night & Demons, my horror collection, which will be coming out as an omnitrade from Baen Books in October (that is, for Halloween). Most of the stories in the collection are quite old; it includes my very earliest published work and, in Codex, an early story which wasn’t published until 2003.

Rereading these stories put me back in mind of my early career and of the time before I dreamed of having a writing career. I’ve done extensive introductions for each of the stories, but I don’t think the ambiance–both the circumstances of my mind and of the times thirty, forty, fifty years ago–can really come through from my notes.

I’ve got a good memory, a better memory than most people do. That isn’t an altogether positive thing, because I remember a lot of bad stuff vividly along with good things. Still, they were all steps to here; which is an excellent place everywhere but in my head on a bad day.

In addition to the stories, N&D will include a 25-page Drake bibliography created by my webmaster, Karen Zimmerman. You can view the full version, fitfully updated, at the website.

The paperback of Into the Hinterlands, the space opera modeled on the life of George Washington which John Lambshead wrote from my outline, will come out in October also. John is (well, he ought to be) starting work on the sequel, Into the Maelstrom, right about now. Because of the way John’s background (world-class biologist) meshes with mine, there’s a great deal for the reader besides an intricate plot and lots of action.

Tony Daniel is at work on The Heretic, a sequel to The General series. I’ve read the first portion and thought Tony was doing an excellent job.

For what it’s worth, Jim (Baen) and I referred to the four novels I outlined to follow The General (Raj and Aide are disembodied spirits) as The General Follow-On series. I think at this point Baen Books is going to refer to the whole batch as The General series and leave it at that.

There are a few new photos on the website. My wife and I visited the grave marker that gave the title to Thomas Wolfe’s Look Homeward, Angel. Although the angel was sold at Wolfe’s father’s shop in Asheville, NC, it was erected some thirty miles south in the cemetery of Hendersonville, NC. We saw it because we’d missed our turn for Flat Rock and Carl Sandburg’s farm, making this the best result I can remember for me being lost. (And I get lost a lot.)

Finally because of the coincidence of me rereading stories from the ’80s and before in Night & Demons, and The Heretic moving toward publication, I’m going to discuss name order–credit–on books. Not for the first time, but it deserves to be revisited because it’s important to me.

In the ’80s, I collaborated on two separate occasions with writers who made a point that their name had to come before mine on the cover because they were Big Names and I was not. In both cases the (also separate) publishers disagreed and decided to run the names in alphabetical order, which would have put mine first. The other writer (both times) went ballistic.

In the first case, the other writer’s agent was handling the book and forced the publisher to back down. (As a sidebar, when we got proofs I read and corrected the portions–a little more than half–which I had written. The other writer switched the name order in the folio line of every single page of the proofs but didn’t otherwise read them.)

I kept my mouth shut: if it mattered that much to her, let her have it.

The second instance was if anything more galling. This time the other writer and I shared the same agent. The agent tried to get the other writer’s name first, but the publisher–Jim Baen–refused. (Again, I kept my mouth shut.) Our agent told me he would explain the situation to the other writer, who was very determined that his name had to come first.

The upshot of the discussion between our agent and the other writer was that our agent told me that I had to go to Jim, my close friend, and ask him as a personal favor to me to give the other writer first credit. I did that.

Jim was furious, but he complied. I was both furious and disgusted.

This time I didn’t just lie back and take it. Over a period of weeks I made it clear to the other writer exactly what it meant to have the publisher that angry about a book. Among other things, I suggested that we would be lucky to get a cover painting, let alone a good painting. The other writer decided that because Jim was going to be so unreasonable, the names could run in alphabetical order (and they did). (Jim was greatly amused.)

The upshot of these experiences was that when Jim asked me to do plot outlines for other writers to develop into novels, I refused unless my name followed that of the person who was doing the actual writing. I simply wouldn’t be involved in the project otherwise.
Jim argued hard and continued to argue all his life against my stipulation, but he’d made a deal. Jim’s worst enemy (and there could’ve been a long line for that title) never claimed that he went back on a deal he’d made.

There are various arguments about whether I’m correct in my position, but they tend to boil down to, “Everybody makes more money if David Drake comes before Unknown.”

In the short term, maybe. (I don’t care, but I grant the point.) In the longer term, both Steve Stirling and Eric Flint are NYT bestselling authors (and Eric is making a lot of money for Baen Books), which is at least in part because of the exposure they got in developing novels from my outlines and appearing before me on the result. Publishing is normally just as short-sighted as any other aspect of the American corporate world, but in this case my (whimsical, if you wish) principle has had enough time to prove itself in the marketplace.

But as I said, I don’t care. What I really care about is that gut-wrenching anger I felt in having to ask my friend Jim to treat me badly because a third party was cripplingly concerned about his status. I will never put myself in a place which would allow anyone to claim that I acted similarly to another writer.

To quote a greater man facing a difficult ethical situation: “Here I stand. I can do no other.”

–Dave Drake

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