Newsletter #78

NEWSLETTER # 78: January 13, 2014

Dear People,

I have a rough plot for Air and Darkness! And I’m about halfway through polishing and expanding it, though there’s a lot of work to go before I start writing… but writing is the next job.

And about time. This hasn’t been an unusually long or difficult plotting stage, but it’s certainly been long enough. The Books of the Elements (Air and Darkness is the fourth and final volume) have very complex plots.

For me story–plot–is the main aspect of any work of fiction, and I think that a writer should tie up all the loose ends. Further, the story needs to be fun for me if I’m going to make it fun for other people. Since I like intellectual puzzles, I write my plots at a pretty high level.

Air and Darkness involves (among other things) the invasion of India by the god Bacchus and the castle of magicians located (according to Philostratus) roughly in modern Madhya Pradesh state. There’s lots of things to mesh together, but I’m in the process of meshing them.

Leigh Brackett did the movie script for Raymond Chandler’s The Big Sleep with Jules Furthman. (William Faulkner also worked on the script, though separately.) She told me that she and Furthman couldn’t figure out by whom a particular character in the novel was killed, so they finally called Chandler himself.

Chandler told them he didn’t have any idea. He just thought the novel needed more tension, so he killed a minor character.

Now, when I need more tension in a novel, I create a reason for the thing to happen. But the crucial point is that things have to happen. I promise that in Air and Darkness, things will happen. For my own comfort there’ll be reasons for these happenings, but readers are free to ignore details and just to go with the flow of the action. That was good enough for Raymond Chandler, and he was a better writer than I am.

Besides, it’s pretty generally true in life. How many times have you thought, “Why on Earth did he do that?” (And at least in my case, occasionally about something I’d done myself.)

Finishing the rough plot is my biggest news this time, but I also bought a new bike, replacing the Suzuki Bandit 1200 which I’ve been riding for some while. The Bandit is a solid bike which I could continue to ride for the next decade, but it’s bigger–more powerful–than I need. That doesn’t bother me, but I’m not working it hard enough to keep it happy.

I’ve replaced the big transverse four with a Suzuki V-Strom 650–a medium-sized 90-degree V-twin. I very much like the 650, though the seat height (32″) takes a bit of getting used to.

I don’t think there’s anything else terribly exciting going on in my professional life. The mass market of Night & Demons, my fantasy horror collection, has appeared as it was supposed to. The story I did for the Baen website to promote the collection (The Virgin of Hertogenbosch) is still available for free download. I’m pleased with it.

I’ve recently done a couple of interviews. Jeremy Jones (an academic whom I met in [I think] Covington, Kentucky, a decade ago) transcribed our discussion in Clarksworld, and Tony Daniel taped our chat for the Baen website. The latter was split over two podcasts (linked in the Previous Podcasts section).

Both interviews are primarily (auto) biographical, but Jer and Tony came at the process from different angles. Tony goes over the background to early stories, while Jer mostly focused on the way I work. (I started to write ‘the process of creation’, but I found I was uncomfortable using that terminology about myself.)

Both interviews sound like me when I read/listen to them. That isn’t always true, though I always tell the truth and I haven’t had anybody misquote me. (Well, years ago a stringer for a local entertainment guide did, but I honestly think the fellow was too contemptuous of SF to want to get it right. And he was stupid.)

In this case, neither interviewer seemed to have an agenda, and I’m probably getting more relaxed about being interviewed. I just answer questions, burbling off-topic frequently as I do in person. What you see is what you get; and I hope you like it (I want everybody in the world to love me), but if you don’t–it’s a big world. There are a few people whom I don’t love either.

It’s been cold the past week, which has slowed me down a bit. I like to work outside; I can take 15 degree weather, but I doubt my computers could and even pens have to be warmed between quickly jotted notes. The thing is, the hype about the killer cold is silly.

We moved to NC from Iowa because the winters here are much milder (well, we moved because of Duke Law School but we stayed because of the winters). Even so, I remember it hitting 9 below one (awful) year, and more recently it got down to 6 above while there was 20 inches of snow on the ground. (That was pretty bad too, particularly because the furnace had gone out just before it began to snow.)

If you read the fine print in the recent weather news, you’d have seen that it was the worst cold in 20 years. I suspect most of you reading this are 20 or older, and a number are probably older than my 68 (though I do feel older than dirt when I realize that I’m happily burbling about things that happened before anybody else in the room was born).

This “polar vortex” wasn’t really that big a deal–except to the news media and the people who bought into it (which seemed to be just about everybody, I’m afraid).

Remember the terrible flu predicted a couple years ago when the virus was nothing at all similar to the 1918 strain that killed huge numbers of people? I’d had the particular variety in 1959, by the way. A classmate at my 50th reunion reminded me that I’d thrown up onto her desk in algebra class; which, trust me, I hadn’t forgotten. (It was a bad case of flu, I’ll grant.)

If you spend any time on-line, you’ll be warned about all sorts of terrible things. (Even if you don’t, friends are likely to bring them to your attention for ‘your own good’.) Crime, spider bites, deadly diseases–you name it.

This whole Chicken Little thing seems to be becoming general in our culture, which I regret. It isn’t just the media or the internet, though they’re both factors.

I can’t cure the world, but I can speak calmly myself (I can’t always stay calm–I’m human–but I can control my behavior) and certainly I can avoid passing along bullshit fear-mongering.

Do yourself and your friends a favor by behaving calmly yourself. We’re not going to win (common sense hasn’t ever been common, so far as I can tell from history and personal experience), but at least we can fight an honorable retreat.

–Dave Drake

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