Newsletter #73

NEWSLETTER 73: March 5, 2013

Dear People,

I am chunking ahead on the next RCN (Leary/Mundy) space opera, THE SEA WITHOUT A SHORE. More accurately, for the past couple days I’ve been slogging through mental mud on the novel, but I’m still moving forward.

I’m into mid-book–over 40K at present–and as usual I’m convinced that it’s crap. Readers will be bored, it lacks all the sparkle and action that have made previous books in the series so successful, the characters and settings are flat.

All same-same, GI, as we used to say in Nam. And I keep going (as we also did in Nam); and at the end I’ll edit the whole novel and realize that it really works quite well. (That wasn’t how things worked out in Nam.) The part I can control is that I keep going.

I don’t write these newsletters as sell-copy, but I should mention that the mass market of THE ROAD OF DANGER (the RCN space opera immedately preceeding the one I’m working on; but you should be able to read the series in any order without much difficulty) has just hit the stands. It has the same nice Hickman cover as the hardcover.

Also HOPE REBORN, the omnitrade volume collecting the first two novels of The General series, is out. These are books I plotted using the life of the Byzantine general Belisarius as a template (at Jim Baen’s direction), and which Steve Stirling very ably developed. Again a nice cover, this one by Alan Pollack.

And finally one on which I have something new to say. I just got my author copies of THE HERETIC, the most recent volume in The General series. Tony Daniel developed the outline for which I had been paid in 1992. This wouldn’t have made commercial sense with most series, but The General in its various forms has remained in print ever since the first book appeared in 1990.

As a marketing ploy (actually a marketing save, since the Heretic mss was turned in too late for bound proofs [advance reading copies] to go out with the solicitation in normal form), Corinda (Baen’s marketing person) asked me and Tony Daniel to sign 60 copies which will be sent to the major accounts. Tony works for Baen, so it wasn’t a problem for him; and I live 65 miles away, so it wasn’t an insuperable problem for me.

It was drizzling, though, and I’d never been to the new Baen office so I was bound to get lost. (Actually, I was bound to get lost regardless; I have skills, but a sense of direction isn’t among them.) Reading a map, on a motorcycle, in the rain, isn’t a practical proposition, so my wife Jo carried me in the car, bless her heart.

I have now seen the offices, which are very nice. I left a note on Toni’s desk; she even has a window! And I’ve seen the archives. It’s been a heck of a run over the past thirty years, and the business bids fair to keep on growing. (Boy, it doesn’t seem like thirty years!)

There’s a nice audio production set-up: a table with four hanging mikes screened to catch plosives, and a copy of Kipling’s collected poems. I picked up the book to see how it differed from my copy (besides being fifty years more recent) and learned that Toni wants to start a program of Baen authors reading Kipling poems for a podcast. Did I have a favorite Kipling poem?

Yes, many; but the first to come to the top of my mind was The ‘Birds of Prey’ March, and I read it straight off. That is, I didn’t go over it to myself first: what you get is a sight reading (albeit of a poem I’ve read scores of times in the past).

The poem is a perfect evocation of boarding a troopship for foreign service. I went to Nam by plane, and because it was from Travis AFB, California, rather than Southhampton, it wasn’t raining. It felt pretty much the way Kipling describes, though: … they will carry us away, and you’ll never see your soldier any more.

Circle City Books, a start-up (used) bookstore in Pittsboro, asked me to do a reading and signing on March 2. I agreed, basically because they’re close and I would rather be a nice guy than not. I’m not expecting this to be a very well-attended thing, but what the hell. (I told the owner that I could probably pack the place with my friends, but that I didn’t see benefit to either of us if I did that.)

The reason I’m mentioning it now, though, is that I read the announcement in the local paper. My first reaction was the analysis I always give the published description of a writer I’ll be sitting with on a panel or the like: okay, this guy’s a heavyweight.

The second reaction was: Christ, this is supposed to be me. That’s not me!

Factually, the data was accurate. But that’s not the me who lives in my head.

By the way, the store has a bookshelf mural on the outside wall. I’ve gotten pictures of it, but it’s too long for a single photo to be of much use. It includes, I was amused to see, my With the Lightnings.

Just as Newsletter 72 came out, Haffner Press sent me The Complete John Thunstone, Manly Wade Wellman’s ghost-breaker series Manly developed for Weird Tales. The book is wonderful, just wonderful. Carcosa (I was one of three partners) published in 1980 the Thunstone short stories existing at that time. Stephen Haffner has added an additional story and the two novels which Manly wrote about the character in the ’80s.

I provided the original George Evans art from the Carcosa collection (with the approval of the Evans estate; Stephen does things right). The new cover painting and end papers by Raymond Swanland are first-rate also.

I bought Manly’s literary estate when his widow Frances died, so I guess that would be a reason to mention the book here. It isn’t my reason, though. Manly was my close friend. I miss him still, and I’m thrilled that this book (which he would have loved) has come out. So long as I live, some of Manly is still alive.

Spurred by seeing the Thunstone collection, I wrote up a few of Manly’s reminiscences about his time as a newspaperman in the ’20s and ’30s. These are stories that Manly told over the years when our families got together for dinner.

Gosh, those were good days. Well, my current life if very good also–but I miss Manly.

Yard work continues to be my daily exercise. Part of that involves during fallen branches and trees into firewood with a handsaw. The next part of the problem is to find somebody to take the wood: I work outdoors and don’t want the woodsmoke hanging over me as I write, so we don’t have a fireplace or woodstove.

I took a picture of the current pile, and of me with the saw. (It’s a bull saw, not an Circordinary carpentry saw; the blade is very sturdy.)

I’ll close with an insight from a writing career of nearly fifty years, now. (I sold my first story in 1966.) I got the copyedited mss of Monsters of the Earth, the third of my Tor fantasy series, The Books of the Elements. This is my manuscript marked for production, with errors corrected in pencil.

The copyeditor was careful and intelligent; good. But she had harmonized the use of pronouns among the novel’s four threads, which blurs the contrasting personalities of the four viewpoint characters.

I became extremely depressed, then extremely angry in addition to being depressed. Somebody had been paid $15/hour (or so) to screw up prose I had spent long hours getting exactly the way I wanted it.

It got sorted with no difficulty, though with a lot more angst than was necessary. (The problem may have been that the folks at Tor didn’t realize how very angry I was about the situation and therefore didn’t project sufficient urgency to calm me down.)

When things had settled, I for the first time really thought of the whole of publishing rather than just about writers and writing. Sure, writers are screwed up. If we weren’t damaged people, we’d be doing something else. Everybody knows that.

But it isn’t just writers. Everybody in the business is damaged. A lot of editors (and most reviewers) are failed writers; again, that’s pretty well known. But what about the copyeditors? If they were ordinary human beings, they would be doing something else, given that their work requires considerable education.

Back when I got into SFWA in the ’70s, there was a lot of fulminating about the iniquity of copyeditors. Some of them were using their own political beliefs to ‘correct’ the writers they were working on; others were changing correct grammar, or conflating characters with similar names into one character. I remember becoming furious when andy offutt, who was a particular champion of writers over copyeditors, himself changed my correct octopuses into octopi in the ignorant belief that he was dealing with a Latin word (octopus is English).

It’s not worth anger. Correction, absolutely. But people screw up for all sorts of reasons. Copyeditors aren’t The Enemy, editors aren’t The Enemy. We’re all damaged. Writers (this writer certainly) should have more charity for fellow cripples.

So after many decades I’m learning to avoid undeserved anger at people who screw up, just as I don’t get angry any more when a machine breaks.

Which doesn’t mean I’m going to ignore mistakes that make my prose worse: just that I’ll try to deal with them more calmly.

–Dave Drake

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