Newsletter #72

NEWSLETTER 72: January 6, 2013

Dear People,

The big news from my viewpoint is that I’ve completed a plot outline for the next RCN (Leary/Mundy) space opera. My working title is The Sea Without a Shore, from The Barrel Organ by Alfred Noyes. I read pretty much all of Noyes when I was in junior high school; brought to him by The Highwayman, of course.

The Barrel Organ didn’t stick until I reread it recently, though. I didn’t have enough knowledge of the poem’s setting when I was 13 to understand it; and perhaps even more important, I wasn’t old enough to understand the poem. I’m certainly old enough now to understand regret.

I said ‘completed’ the outline, but as I write this I’m still editing it. (I expect to be finished by the time the newsletter goes out.) I’m pleased with what I’ve got, though the book may run long. The plot shows 32 chapters, which is about right for the RCN series–but there’s usually chapter creep from my outlines to the final. If necessary, I’ll trim it as I go along; and worst case, I may turn in a slightly longer book than the 120-130K that I’m shooting for.

Monsters of the Earth, the third of the Books of the Elements (my four-book fantasy series) will be out in September, 2013, from Tor. I am enormously fortunate to have Donato doing my Tor covers; this is another example of my good luck.

There’s an additional fillip with this cover: Donato describes on a blog the way he went about creating it. I was struck by the degree to which he and I work in similar fashion on our completely different tasks. There’s a lot of painstaking background work before either of us starts the piece that the audience is going to see.

In 1990, Jim Baen was reading a book on strategy by Basil Liddell-Hart, one of the theorists who came out of the First World War determined to avoid the mindless slaughter of positional warfare the next time. Liddell-Hart argued for a strategy of indirect approach instead of head-on attack, illustrating this with examples from the campaigns of the Byzantine general Belisarius. Jim asked me to plot a series of SF novels, using the campaigns of Belisarius as my model and thus demonstrating Liddell-Hart’s views.

I’d already read the original sources on Belisarius, Procopius’ Histories of the Wars, when I was getting background for my first novel. I reread (and this time précised) Procopius, then wrote the plots. Steve Stirling developed the novels from those plots.

I’ve said all that a number of times, because the books have been in print pretty much continuously (save for the out-of-stock situations inevitable in a five-book series) since they first appeared. Baen Books is bringing them back, this time in omnitrade editions binding together two of the original mass-market novels. They start withHope Reborn in March, 2013. The new covers are by Alan Pollack.

I’ll add something that I haven’t said before. As a general rule, I don’t read the proofs of books unless I’ve written the actual text. I’ll spot things that aren’t right in my own prose which a professional proofreader might miss, but rereading a book by Steve Stirling or Eric Flint or whoever would be a waste of time which I could otherwise be using to create new work.

I happened to glance over the proofs of Hope Reborn, however; probably the first time I’ve looked at those books (The Forge and The Hammer) in over 20 years. They’re extremely good. You could do a lot worse with SF/adventure fiction than these, which is probably why they’ve remained in print for decades. Full marks to Steve, and the plots are complex and realistic as well.

Jim Baen wanted us to educate readers, and I think we did that. But Jim never forgot the importance of a good story, and these are good stories too.

Also due out in March from Baen is the mass market of The Road of Danger, the most recent RCN space opera. I’m very pleased with the book and the cover and the series–and with life generally, I’d have to say. I’m not especially pleased with myself since I got back to the World, but that’s life. (Drugs might change my mindset, but you’ll note that I didn’t say that I thought they’d help.)

Jim was so pleased with the General Series that he asked me to plot a series of follow-on books using the same premise (returning a collapsed world to civilization) in varied settings. These will be part of Baen’s reissues in omnitrade format; and there is now a new addition: The Heretic, written from my outline by Tony Daniel.

This outline just got left behind when Steve Stirling and Eric Flint got busy on other stuff. Toni Weisskopf (Baen Publisher) found it and asked if (her friend and employee) Tony Daniel could develop it. That was fine with me: I’d been paid, so it was her business. (I have a veto over my name appearing on the cover if I’m not satisfied with the result–following an unfortunate experience with Jim).

The result is quite good, though it’s only half my plot. (I seem to write tighter than most other people, so this has happened with Steve and Eric also.) The Heretic will appear as a Baen hc in April, 2013; the second half (The Savior) will appear at some time after the book is written.

The only glitch with The Heretic was that it was late. If there’d been significant problems, it would have been a pain in the ass to fix them in the short time available. (And they would have been fixed, because the covers–painted by Kurt Miller–had already been printed with my name on them.) Fortunately, the problems were very minor (and they’re being fixed too).

In general news that certainly affects me, Amazon is now selling Baen e-books in its Kindle store. It’s always been possible to buy them via and send them to a Kindle, but a remarkable number of (presumably) intelligent people have asked me (in varying degrees of dudgeon) why there were no Kindle editions of my books.

Negotiations between Baen and Amazon were lengthy and complicated. Common sense will show you that if you don’t take your time with a juggernaut like Amazon, you wind up as grease beneath the stone sled.

I never cease to be amazed at the people who think that complex problems have simple answers. Well, they do; but the simple answers are wrong.

Baen did it right. Way back when, while Jim Baen and I were chatting, he decided to put e-book royalties (which weren’t important) at twice basic hardcover royalties: thus 20%. Now that Baen e-books are in the Amazon pricing structure, Toni Weisskopf has raised the authors’ royalties on (all) e-books to 25%.

I continue to like working for Baen Books.

There’s another Ovid lyric (about abortion, of all things) up, and I’ve just finished the Baucis and Philemon section from the Metamorphoses. I wasn’t sure I’d have it it quite ready (I’ve been working hard on my plot, of course), but it’s a gentle change from the over-the-top violence of The Battle of the Centaurs and Lapiths.

I’ve had people ask me how much of the imagery and color of my translations is Ovid and how much I’ve added. It’s all his. I not infrequently change sentence structure because the compound sentences and passive voice (which are the norm in Latin) weaken English prose to a degree that would not be true in the original. Similes and metaphors, though, are Ovid’s own–including (for example) brains spraying from a crushed skull like whey from a cheese press.

I will be the celebrity judge in the 2013 Jim Baen Short Story contest. The details are here but basically we’re looking for stories of 8K or less publicizing near future space exploration. Have at!

Finally, since the most recent newsletter, I attended the funeral of my friend John Squires. John and I weren’t exactly close, but we’d stayed in touch (and occasionally visited) ever since he came to Chapel Hill for law school some 40 years ago.

I don’t go to many funerals (I don’t see the point of them), but I went to John’s mostly to support his daughter. He’d moved to Ohio after law school, and I wasn’t sure how many friends remained here. (Not many of us.)

The minister, who hadn’t known John, preached a very positive sermon which must have been comforting to the traditional Christians present. He spent some time on the miracle of Lazarus, whom Jesus raised from the dead. It suddenly struck me that of the thirty-odd people in the chapel, the only two who would think of MP Shiel’s story This Above All (in which all those returned to life by Jesus and his disciples are still living at the present day) were me and John himself.

But all the normal people present, the CPAs and schoolteachers and firemen, had accepted John as family; and they accepted me as his friend. Sure, we were different, but they weren’t offended that we talked about Shiel and Walter Owen and Visiak and lots of other people whom they’d neither heard of nor cared about.

A world in which normal folk accept weirdoes–and vice versa–isn’t such a bad place, people. Let’s all work to keep the world around us that way, whichever side of the line we personally fall on.

–Dave Drake

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