Newsletter #88

NEWSLETTER 88: October 1, 2015

Dear People,

First, this is late (we’re starting a new two-month schedule with it) because of timing rather than anything really bad. I went to England at the end of August, and my webmaster Karen (who does all the real work on it) went to Scotland about the time I got back; on her return, she had a lot of other catching up to do.

We decided it was simpler to skip a month. Besides, with any kind of luck, I’d be able to announce real news if we waited a bit.

And in fact I have now finished DEATH’S BRIGHT DAY, the next RCN space opera, at 107,561 words. Foof.

I commented in Newsletter 87 that the work was going slowly, presumably because I wasn’t depressed any more and was therefore working less doggedly than I’d been doing for the previous forty-odd years. Having done the edits on Day now, I found it a great deal cleaner than I expected it to be also.

I don’t mean there weren’t problems, particularly with ship names. This is partly because I don’t decide on final ship names until I edit the rough draft, and partly because I screw up. That is, I found sections in which I’d given the friendly destroyers the names of the hostile squadron. (This was complicated by the fact that when I did global search and replace to unify the various names that I’d decided on, I didn’t realize that I’d switched the sides.)

The text itself was remarkably clean, though. There were fewer than normal cases of the wrong word, fewer lines that I decided were wrong and had to be replaced, fewer paragraphs that needed to be moved to another location.

In all, there appear to be writing benefits to not being chronically depressed, despite the lower rate of production. (I’m half-joking; but only half.)

Anyway, it’s done. I hope Toni will like it. A couple readers who are friendly to me but were outside the writing process have liked it, so I’m hopeful. And I like it myself, but I’m prejudiced.

I’ve gotten copies of ONWARD, DRAKE!, the tribute volume which Baen is releasing in the middle of October, in both standard hardcover and signed, leather-bound, versions. There’s also a trade paperback; I haven’t seen it, but a contributor posted a picture of his author copies.

The book is an amazing thing. I gave my reaction to its (high) quality in Newsletter 87 and I won’t repeat myself, but the qualms I had on that score were groundless.

I’ve thought further about why I’m still subconsciously bothered by the whole idea (since at a conscious level it’s wholly good). The best I can come up with is that I believe I’m a skilled craftsman. I’ve written a number of short stories and novels which are very good, and one novel—Redliners—which transcends my intention of creating a piece of fiction. This is a good record; I’m proud of the work I’ve done.

But the tribute is to me. I’m not my work, and I’m not comfortable having people say that I’m something special. I sincerely thank everybody involved in the book, but the purpose makes me squirm a little.

AIR AND DARKNESS, the last of the four Books of the Elements fantasies, will be coming out from Tor in November. It’s a self-standing novel, but it also wraps up the series in what I think is a satisfactory fashion.

My wife Jo and I spent a week in England with our friends, John and Val Lambshead. This was a very pleasant, low-key visit in which we saw neat things and I genuinely relaxed. The only glitch came when the Bank of America froze the credit card I was using. (I had another card, and Jo had a couple cards.)

It was my fault for not informing the bank that I was going to England. I order lots of stuff from England, and I didn’t think there’d be a problem. Nor was there, until I withdrew cash to repay John for what he’d fronted. That did it, I suppose because I never take cash advances from ATMs.

I then learned that Bank of America shuts down its on-line credit card department except for regular banking hours on the East Coast of America. Then, on their domestic phone number (I used John’s phone) a recorded voice told me (falsely) that I could get the help I needed on line–and cut me off. This didn’t thrill me. The bank also offered a collect call number for out of the country help, but at that point I really didn’t trust Bank of America. Certainly not enough to let them decide how much to charge me for a phone call.

Thanks to Jo’s cards and a wadge of cash from the Lambsheads, we were fine for the remaining few days. Back I learned about wiring money to England, which is complicated, expensive, and slow. I have new respect for hackers who can gut bank accounts swiftly, because I sure can’t shift money from mine to a major UK bank (Barclay’s) without enormous hassle.

But that was a minor glitch. We saw Great Houses of various sorts (I got many settings, some of which will appear in Death’s Bright Day), and John and I visited the Duxford branch of the Imperial War Museum. Among the things that really impressed me were a V-1 set up on its launching ramp (next to impossible to bomb, I would have said), a 7.2″ howitzer like the one Spike Milligan crewed in the Western Desert, and two Spitfires taking off from the main runway and circling the field. (I got pictures, many showing the runway ahead or behind the Spitfires.)

There were also several flyable P-36s (Curtis Hawk 75s), which surprised me the same way I would be surprised to see a judge in full regalia bouncing down the street on a pogo-stick. Yes, of course it’s possible–but why on Earth?

Anyway, a really neat trip.

September 24 is (was when you read this) my 70th birthday. That’s really old. I don’t feel particularly old, but 70 is a fact.

My brain works well and my body works pretty well. I was clearing brush with a scythe the other day–and let me tell you, I ached the next morning! But it was a job that I probably couldn’t have done when I was 30, because it requires some technique and muscles that one doesn’t ordinarily use. Well, people in desk jobs (like writing books) don’t ordinarily use; the average 19th century farmer wouldn’t have thought twice about it.

I’m at work on the next project. This isn’t the new book for Tor, though I’ll get to that; the Tor contract negotiation has been a comedy of errors, some of them mine.

In the interim, I’ve started a whimsical project of my own. Forty years ago I sneered at a number of Robert E Howard’s tropes, including his repeated use of proto-Aryan warbands marching across the prehistoric world; driven, apparently, by a racial imperative.

As I’ve gotten older, I’ve more and more regretted my frequent past tone of sneering superiority. Sure, I know things which Howard didn’t, but he had genius and I don’t.

I decided to use Howard’s trope of the wandering warband and do it with a historical rigor which I can respect; but also to tell a good enough story that Howard would have liked to read it. This project is a great deal more difficult than I thought it would be. Part of Howard’s genius is that he made things look simple which turn out to be extremely involved when I try to duplicate them.

Tor has been doing my fantasies, so I very diffidently asked the head of whether it would be worth my effort to send such a story to her. I expected anything from no response, to a polite rejection of the idea (‘Sorry, that sort of thing hasn’t been saleable for 40 years’), to a grudging, ‘Well, we’ll take a look at it because Tor has a fantasy of yours coming out in November.’

Instead I got a very enthusiastic, ‘Yes, we want it! Here’s our (very generous) payment schedule.’

I’m not taking this as a sale until I’ve finished the story to my own satisfaction and they’ve passed on the result I turn in, but I think a less cautious person could take the response as a sale. In any case, I found it very heartening.

The lesson I draw from all this is that fifty years of sneering at Robert E. Howard’s mistakes brought me nothing except an unfounded belief in my own superiority. Treating Howard’s work the way I would that of a friend who asked for help with a writing problem has made me a better writer from close study of a genius and has also gotten me a pat on the back.

Tor editorially is treating me as a skilled craftsman who can solve a complex writing problem. That’s the kind of tribute which I can accept without reservation.

Think positively, people!

–Dave Drake

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