Newsletter #85

NEWSLETTER 85: March 6, 2015

Dear People,

I have a complete plot for the next RCN space opera. Furthermore, I have a title: Into Death’s Bright Day. I’m going to give the plot another pass to smooth things out so that I don’t hit the glitches while writing and have to fix them on the fly, but I really am getting close to creating a novel.

This time I had too much material. Good stuff, sure, but too much. I wound up whacking a whole storyline out when I went over the rough, then had to do a lot of editing so as not to have plot holes. If you do it right, every part of the plot has bearing on every other part of the plot. (I think.)

Anyway, slow but steady.

Before diving into editing the plot, I wrote what turned out to be a 2200 word introduction for the Year’s Best Military SF and Space Opera. I suppose I was chosen because I write MSF and space opera, though now that I think about it I never asked. Toni phoned back in August and asked if I could do an intro; I said ‘Yes,’ which is what I ordinarily say when publishers ask me to do something that I’m capable of doing. (That’s why the General Series exists, among many other things.)

I was allowed to write any kind of intro that I wanted, so I chose to give a historical overview of the field–the two fields, because MSF isn’t space opera nor vice versa, in my opinion–rather than to comment on individual stories. All those who buy the book can make up their own minds about the stories therein. The readers may not be able to consider where The Battle of Dorking fits, however, even if they know it exists.

Writing the intro caused me to consider the subject in a way that I’d never bothered to before. That is, I know a lot about military SF and space opera, but I’d never organized my thinking until I had to do so in order to explain it to other people. In addition the delay provided a chance for the rough plot to marinate in my subconscious for a while. I think the plot is better for that.

Another chore (though this I did in breaks while plotting rather than as an alternative) was to read the ten short-listed stories for the Jim Baen Memorial prize. This fiction is supposed to conduce readers toward support for space exploration. That’s not everybody’s choice of SF–it isn’t mine, as a matter of fact; I’m more of an interstellar adventure person–but it’s a worthy choice.

The stories were very good. Most of them could have appeared in Analog at any time from 1960 through Ben Bova’s tenure. (Possibly Stanley Schmidt would have published them also, but I gave up on Analog by 1980 because I found the contents had become narrow and boring.) I don’t know whether there’s much readership for short stories nowadays, but there are still folks out there who know how to write them.

Into the Maelstrom is out from Baen and from Audible. It’s the second book in The Citizen series, written by John Lambshead from my plot outline. I used the life of George Washington as the armature on which I built a science fiction novel.

The cover painting by Dave Seeley is quite nice. It gets the feeling of 18th century style, along with a laser weapon. (This is the sort of touch which allows Corinda, the Baen sales manager, to call the book Steampunk, though the background milieu is really pre steam. Well, except for pumps in some deep mines.)

John is British–English, more precisely–and this turned out to be a real benefit to the series. Washington didn’t think of himself as an American: he was in his own mind an English gentleman who happened to be living in the colony of Virginia. John’s personal view of Washington is, I believe, a lot closer to Washington’s own self image than are the feelings somebody like me who from earliest youth knew that Washington was the Father of Our Country as surely as I knew that Jesus was the Son of God.

John himself did a short story (that is, I didn’t plot it), When the Lion Feeds, about one of the more colorful characters of the series. It’s up for free on the Baen website.

John and I did a podcast with Tony Daniel about Maelstrom; it should shortly be up on the Baen site also, barring technical problems. Well, more technical problems than I already know about: as you might guess, an international conference call has glitches.

My webmaster, Karen, continues to give away free audiobooks at the David Drake Fan Page on Facebook. If you’re on Facebook (which I am not), check it out if you’ve ever wanted to try an audiobook.

Finally, a literary writer who is now on the faculty of Ole Miss has written a memoir of his father, who made a good living by writing pornography. Under normal circumstances I wouldn’t be aware of this memoir, let alone care.

Present circumstances are different, because the literary writer is Chris Offutt and his father (who died in 2013) was Andrew J Offutt, who wrote SF and fantasy besides porn. I had dealings with Andy 40 years ago. A couple friends who knew of those dealings emailed me when they encountered Chris Offutt’s drumbeating for his book.

Sword and Sorcery fiction (that’s Fritz Leiber’s term; Heroic Fantasy if you want to be high falutin’) was my first love. I wrote an S&S story while I was in high school, my first full-length effort. (I didn’t send it out because I didn’t consider it publishable. It probably exists somewhere, but rereading it would, I’m sure, only confirm the assessment I made when I was 16.)

Two of the (four) stories I sold to Arkham House before August Derleth’s death in 1971 were S&S, and I wanted to write more in that genre. The trouble was finding places to send (and ideally sell) such stories.

There was a Robert E Howard boom during the ’70s and by extension an S&S boom. Conan, both original and pastiche, was big business with major publishers–Ace, Berkley, and Bantam. Lesser publishers, in particular Zebra, made do with Howard’s lesser-known characters. (And sometimes with deceptive advertising. I remember a Zebra edition of Talbot Mundy’s historical adventure Tros of Samothrace on whose cover the title and author’s name were less prominent than the legend ‘Mightier than CONAN by ROBERT E HOWARD!)

Andy Offutt was heavily involved with Zebra, doing pastiche novels about one of those minor Howard characters, Cormac mac Art. In addition Andy (andy, as he was then; a carryover from his days as an insurance salesman) did a series of original S&S anthologies, Swords against Darkness (I-V), for Zebra. I sold Andy two of my Vettius and Dama stories, and he approached me about plotting one or more Cormac novels for him.

I created a Cormac outline of 16K words and, when Andy rejected it, I expanded that outline into my own first novel–The Dragon Lord. That was important for me, but far more important than the novel was the fact that it taught me that I needed a very full written outline before I could write a book. (I’d been trying for twelve years without such an outline–and had failed every time.)

I owe a lot to Andy, and I believe I’ve always given him due credit for what he did for me. But—

Andy wasn’t a very nice man. In the early ’70s a number of SF writers made point of groping women–total strangers–in public. Andy was very much in the forefront of the movement. At the 1974 worldcon a woman in our group–a nice, middle-class woman wearing a pants-suit–carried her Analog up to Andy on the podium to have him sign his story in the issue. She came back with a stunned expression and said, “He patted my boob!”

I’m uncomfortable about the shrillness of some feminists in the field today, but what was going on 40 years ago was far worse. Remembering that period now makes me angry, not least because I didn’t do anything then when the woman came back with that glazed look on her face.

Quite apart from the groping–which didn’t touch me directly–Andy was president of SFWA and was generally convinced of his own importance. He was patronizing to me in our dealings. I consider that bad behavior, period. In the particular case, Andy had been a successful insurance agent and was a successful pornographer, but it didn’t and doesn’t seem to me that either of those things gave him higher status than that of a working lawyer with a law degree from Duke. (I was also a Nam vet, but that very definitely wasn’t something one bragged about in the 1970s.)

The only contact I had with Andy after then came in 2002 when I met him at a convention and learned that he thought he had bought my first stories. No, that was Mr Derleth a decade earlier.

I’d heard about Andy’s death in 2013, but it didn’t touch me. Now the publicity about the book coming out (My Father the Pornographer) caused me to ponder not only that period but my relationship with Andy.

An obvious benefit I gained from knowing Andy was that I learned I needed to outline novels. My subsequent career is owing to that fact.

I now realize that there were other things I learned from contact with Andy, and that these things might have been even more important:

1) Don’t be discourteous. (Groping women is an extreme form of discourtesy.)
2) Don’t be patronizing. (Sneering at somebody else doesn’t make you bigger.)
3) Don’t be full of yourself. (Things may look a lot different in a few years. If they don’t, give thanks.)

Now, back to my plot! Think positively, folks.

–Dave Drake

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