Newsletter #82

Newsletter 82: September 2, 2014

Dear People,

I finished! I finished Air and Darkness! Free at last!

Well, it certainly felt like that. This one was slower going than most. I continued to get daily wordage, but it wasn’t as many words as usual and this meant that the novel took about a month longer than I had estimated.

I’m not sure why this was. One possibility (the one that immediately occurred to me) is that my brain has turned to mush. On reflection, I don’t think that’s true; in most respects I seem to be as sharp as I ever was (and a few hours after sending A&D off, I did quite a good detailed plot for the opening of the next RCN novel, which will be my next major project).

Another (and preferable) possibility is that A&D is the final volume of a four-book series (The Books of the Elements). I had to wrap up all the loose ends in the series as well as in this particular complex plot before I sent it to Tor. Regardless, it’s done at 133,320 words. I’m pleased with it.

Incidentally, I don’t mean I had writers’ block. I don’t get writers’ block. I didn’t get lawyers’ block when I had to rewrite Chapel Hill’s dog ordinance either, or soldiers’ block in 1970 when I had to fill sandbags. I mean that toward the end I was averaging less than 800 words/day instead of over 1000 words/day. They continued to be good words.

I mentioned I did some plot on the next space opera. I don’t mean that I’ve started plotting the book, though: that was just a flash from a brain that was spinning wildly in all directions–some of them more useful than others.

No, the next project is a pair of short stories, a fantasy and a Hammer piece, for a Festschrift (a tribute book). I’ve provided stories to tribute books in the past (for Sprague deCamp and more recently for Gene Wolfe; and possibly others). The weird thing about this one is that it’s a tribute to me.

I find this extremely strange. Why me? This is apparently an easier question to answer from the outside than it is for me. I guess the basic problem in my mind is that Festscriften are a part of Academe, and I am not an academic. I’m a pedant and an antiquarian, but academic discipline is as alien to me as military discipline was.

This is something my friend Mark cooked up with the support of Joe Berlant and Toni Weisskopf. Toni says she pointed out to Mark that if I was going to have a story in the volume, he needed to tell me about it ahead of time. He did so at dinner (stuffed flounder for me, and very good) at the beach.

I guess I’ve had things happen that surprised me more, but I can’t think of what they were right now. I’m pretty sure I’ve never had a good surprise of this magnitude. The book is to be released at WFC 2015 at Saratoga Springs, where I’ll be a special guest (having just turned 70). Jeepers.

Audible has been doing audio versions of my recent novels for some time now. Kay, my agent, recently sold a package of my backlist to them. This has been a remarkable experience.

The readers appear to be actors with respectable TV and stage credits. They’re really eager to do a good job. Most have contacted me to get details of pronunciation and characterization right (and praised the book while they were at it, which is gratifying). In the case of Night&Demons the contact came from the producer, whose doctorate is in linguistics.

Basically, these people are as serious about their work as I am about writing. It isn’t just a quick buck for any of us: they really want to do a good job, not just to get paid. (Mind, I’m sure they like to get paid too, just as I do.)

I ought to add that being asked questions about pronunciation and characterization on stories that wrote decades (occasionally almost fifty years) ago is an interesting experience. I’ve got a good memory, but this is pushing.

On these Audible has been giving me free copies of each book to use for marketing. They suggest sending them to reviewers or running website contests for my fans.

I toyed with the contest idea (I don’t know any audio reviewers) and realized that I didn’t know how I’d run a fair contest (and besides, my job is writing books). My webmaster, Karen, suggested that we just give them away on the facebook page. I don’t call it “my” facebook page because I’m not on facebook, but there’s a David Drake fan site administered by Lance Larka and overseen by Karen and Toni.

As books appear, Karen has been giving them away. It isn’t exactly first come, first served–she has a database of who’s gotten what (remember, she’s a librarian)–but there are no hoops to jump through either.

I’ve repeatedly said that I have the best fans in the world. I’m glad that I can in a small way repay some of them for their enthusiasm.

Books have been coming out. Dinosaurs and a Dirigible, my collected time travel stories, is out as an omnitrade from Baen. The stories are old, but my forward is new. The nice Tom Kidd cover shows both a tyrannosaur and a dirgible, though I should point out that the two aren’t together in any of the stories. There are very helpful aerostats involved with dinosaurs, however, and the dirigible meets an ill-tempered grizzly. (And also cows.)

The final omnitrade of the General series, Hope Reformed, is out. Ordinarily I don’t read proofs on books I haven’t written (these were done from my outline titled The Reformer), but in this case I decided that I’d glance at the front matter to make sure it was all right. It’s just as well I did, because both portions were credited to Steve Stirling, when in fact the second half–The Tyrant–was written by Eric Flint.

The reality of publishing is that goofs like this (especially for cover artists) aren’t uncommon. I feel good to have kept it from happening this time.

I said, “the final omnitrade.” Well, maybe not, as the second half of my outline for The Heretic is out momentarily: The Savior, written as was the first half by Tony Daniel. I wouldn’t be surprised to learn some time in the future they were about to be reprinted as omnitrades. For now, though, The Savior is a hardcover with a striking Kurt Miller cover. (The covers have a lot more life in hardcopy than they do on line, by the way. Take a look at the real things and you’ll see.)

Gosh. I remember working on these outlines (the General Follow-On series in my notation) at Kipling’s house in Brattleboro, Vermont, on my 51st birthday. Where Jim Baen visited for a few days. I’ve got a lot of good memories.

Speaking of Old Stuff, I just got an e-book royalty check on the Crisis of Empire series. These were the first time I did outlines for somebody else to write the book from. (Well, kinda the first time. The Dragon Lord started as an outline for andy offutt, but he rejected it and I wrote the novel myself.)

I didn’t know the three authors chosen to expand the outlines into novels (I’ve never chosen or recommended a writer for that purpose). None of the books was wholly satisfactory (I had a lot to learn about outlining, too), but I guess the one I feel best about is Cluster Command by Bill Dietz. Bill was a delight to work with, did his best to execute my outline, and learned enormously from it. Proof of the last is Legion of the Damned, in which Bill took themes from my outline and turned them into a major and enormously successful novel of his own.

I’ve mentioned before that I do yard work, including cutting firewood with a handsaw, for exercise. In the past I haven’t split wood, however. I have a wedge and heavy hammer, but I don’t like the sound of steel ringing on steel and the guy who takes most of the wood has a hydraulic splitter.

My son Jonathan likes gadgets. For Father’s Day he gave me a massive cast-steel splitting axe which came straight from Finland. It works like a charm and is really fun, besides exercising a different set of muscles. I am now looking for larger wood than I did before so that I have sections which are worth splitting.

Because I’ve just finished a book, I’ve got more time to think about stuff. This isn’t always a good thing. Indeed, it’s rarely a good thing, but this may be an exception.

Viet Nam is rarely far from the top of my mind. I’ve never denied that I gained valuable skills (besides how to use a cal fifty and a bloop tube, I mean), but I believed that the cost of what I learned far outweighed the value. Suddenly I’m not sure that I was right about the value.

I was a conservative kid. Dad worked with his hands–he was an electrician–but he was anti-union and identified with the middle class rather than radical labor. Our family had middle-class values, read slick magazines rather than pulps, and voted Republican. In a lot of ways, that’s still me.

A lot of people raised the way I was think that Something Should Be Done about this or that world problem. Problems recently in the news include Boko Haram’s kidnapping hundreds of schoolgirls; the Lord’s Resistance Army on the other side of Africa, stealing boys to be turned into child soldiers as well as girls to rape; and the Islamic State which has sprung up in the Middle East.

All of these organizations do horrific things by the standards of any civilized human being, myself included. Further, they are demonstrably beyond the capacity of local governments to deal with. We–the US–could easily deal with them, and many decent American citizens think we should. (I’ve heard liberal women becoming more incensed than I would’ve believed them capable of on the subject of those poor schoolgirls, for example.)

If I hadn’t ridden a tank in SE Asia, I probably would have been on one or all of those bandwagons and on many others over the years. The thing is, I know what Doing Something means at the sharp end. I’ve helped to burn a village, I’ve watched a gutshot girl die (she’d been transporting rice for the NVA), and I was involved with a variety of other things that make me doubt the value to the ordinary people of Viet Nam and Cambodia of what we did there.

Would it be different in Africa or the Middle East? Maybe, but I find wars have a logic of their own for the people in the mud and the dust and the insects. I think it would be good for folks who say, “We have to do something!” to at least talk to some of us who’ve Done Something ourselves.

Talk to us–or keep their mouths shut.

–Dave Drake
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