Newsletter #76

DRAKE NEWSLETTER 76: September 1, 2013

Dear People,

MONSTERS OF THE EARTH, the third of my Books of the Elements, is out from Tor. The Donato cover painting and the production treatment are just as good as they have been on the previous books in the series (The Legions of Fire and Out of the Waters).

I’m pleased with the book itself, too. The characters are members of a culture different from our own and I don’t gloss over the differences to the degree that some writers do when using historical settings (culturally, though not in terms of strict history, the Books of the Elements are set in the Rome of 30 ad). I suppose makes the books more difficult for many potential readers to get into, but I don’t see much point in writing for the lowest common denominator when I actually know better.

Come to think–if I didn’t know better, I’d write something else. (Which is a thought I often have when seeing Military SF written by folks who have no personal experience of either the military or war.)

I’m writing to entertain people, not to educate them, but I’m not willing to tell lies about things either. The slave-based economy of the Roman Republic and Early Empire was often brutal and sometimes savagely brutal. The same is true of war as I saw it in Viet Nam and Cambodia.

I caught a lot of flak in the ’70s and ’80s for telling my truth, and I shouldn’t wonder if the same were true nowadays as well. (In the intervening decades I’ve learned not to read reviews, so I don’t know that for a fact.) I have absolutely no regrets about writing things in what I believe to be the correct fashion.

Note that I’m not saying that I have The Truth. I’m saying that I will not consciously mislead readers about what I believe to be the truth.

The big news in Newsletter 75 was that I’d finished the rough of The Sea Without a Shore, the next RCN (Leary/Mundy) space opera. Editing it was my first priority, as usual. I finished the editing to my satisfaction, sent the book in (to Baen Books’ satisfaction), and have happily banked the turn-in money.

So Sea is now old news and I’m gearing up for the final Book of the Elements: Air and Darkness. (The title is, as always, subject to my whim and the dictates of the Tor marketing people. I like it, and it accurately suggests the plot that I’m working on. I don’t think Tor will dislike it, but titles aren’t the sort of thing I’ll go to the wall for.)

It’s very early days on the plot, but at least I have a direction. (For the plot, that is. The cardinal direction of this one is East, and the element is of course Air.) I thought about the plot a great deal while I was in Italy, but getting it all to mesh together the way I want will be tricky. (It’s always tricky.)

The core situation to keep in mind is the invasion of India by Bacchus. I won’t be doing that, of course, but I’m working from that solid (a)historical point. We’ll see how it goes.

I didn’t dive straight into plotting (well, gathering plot notes) for Air as soon as I finished the space opera. Baen Books asked me to do a story for to support the mass market release of Night&Demons in December (or maybe November), so I wrote The Virgin of Hertogenbosch between novels. (The only time I’d have been willing to do a story. I’m not going to willingly break off work on a novel to do a short story, because it would take me a month to get my head back into novel mode.)

I like to do short stories, but my time is much more profitably spent on novels and I like to write novels, too. (Baen is paying me a bonus rate for this story, but even so it’s way below what I would get for the same amount of effort on a novel. The high rate is a nice gesture by Toni, though.)

The neat thing about writing that’s wholly divorced from money is that I can experiment without feeling that I’ve cheated anybody if I fall on my face. The stories in Night&Demons were mostly written in the ’60s and ’70s, when I was learning my trade and wrote only short stories. That was also when I met and became friends with Manly Wade Wellman.

Manly had written a great deal for the pulp magazines, and the models for my own fantasy/horror fiction came from the pulps also. I wrote the Old Nathan stories as homage to Manly’s stories of John the Balladeer, written for F&SF in the ’50s, but I’d never tried to write a classic ghostbreaker (psychic detective) story of the sort Manly wrote in the ’30s and ’40s in Weird Tales magazine.

My Old Nathan wasn’t John the Balladeer, and Professor G T Field, the protagonist of Virgin, certainly isn’t Manly’s John Thunstone. They’re recognizably in the same sub-genre, though, and my story would have fit comfortably into WT in 1943. My very first sale, Denkirch (which is in Night&Demons, by the way), was modelled on 1938 WT fiction, so this is an advance.

I had a very good time with Virgin. I revisted the ’70s by writing the sort of story I was trying to do then and by describing the sort of people I knew then. And I didn’t fall on my face: the story is a darned good piece of work.

The Tor publicist asked me if I wanted to do local signings, etc, in connection with the release of Monsters on September 3. After a discussion with my management consultant, Mark Van Name (that’s kind of a joke–I couldn’t afford Mark if we weren’t  friends), we decided to do the signing at the Cary Barnes and Noble (which has strongly supported SF/fantasy for as long as I’ve been noticing such things) at 7 pm on September 3 (very possibly in the past by the time you read this newsletter), and to appear on The State of Things on WUNC-FM at noon on the same day.

WUNC-FM (91.5 FM) is the flagship NPR station in NC. A lot of people listen to the show, though I’m personally doubtful as to how many of them will suddenly run out and buy Monsters after hearing me. But as Mark said, “You’re going to be miserable anyway. You may as well be miserable in a fashion that might make you some money.”

You can’t buy that kind of advice. You only get it from a close friend.

On September 2, at 10 am, I’ll be talking with Sam Blinn on Carrboro Community Radio, 103.5 FM, WCOM. I’m pretty sure you can only pick up WCOM within Carrboro, and I wouldn’t want to guarantee that all Carrboro is covered. (Though it’s not very big. Carrboro is a bedroom community for UNC-Chapel Hill, with a governing board which passes resolutions on matters of international relations. You know the sort of place.)

I think both shows will be available as podcasts. I will try to be interesting. (I will also try not to use bad language. I make no promises on the latter.)

I finally finished an Ovid lyric which has been on deck for a very long time. I’ve started work on the Acteon section of the Metamorphoses, which I find a great deal more interesting than the lyric, which bored me.

As a last mention for this newsletter, on September 6 I’ll be going (with my wife Jo) to my 50th high school reunion in Clinton, Iowa. Boy, that seems a long time. (It is a long time.)

I’m not worried about the reunion, though travel is always stressful. I’m not entirely sure why I’m going, but I think it boils down to the fact that high school was the last time for decades to come that I felt secure.

I wasn’t a popular kid or an in kid or a good student or much of anything else, but I had a place. After that came college (the University of Iowa’s enrollment was almost half the size of the City of Clinton), Duke Law School in a different state with a wholly unfamiliar culture, and the Army: Viet Nam, Cambodia, and the permanent end of the kid I’d been before then.

I was a practicing lawyer for eight years, a job for which I was generally a bad fit, and then a full-time writer. Nobody starting out in self employment really feels secure (well, nobody with two brain cells to rub together). Eventually–basically since I wrote Redliners, though I won’t insist on a causal connection–I’ve managed to return to something close to the state in which I was in high school: generally uncertain and rarely anything that could be described as “happy,” but reasonably secure about my self and my place in the world.

I’m more depressed now than I was in 1963, but I’m less anxious. Now I think I know where it’s all going, which is depressing; but I’m also pretty sure that nobody’s going to be shooting at me along the rest of the way, so I’m less anxious about the things I might be facing down the road.

With luck I’ll let you know in the next newsletter how the reunion went. For now, though, I’m going to puzzle over my plot a little more.

Dave Drake

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