Newsletter #89

NEWSLETTER #89 December 1, 2015

Dear People,

Lots of news this time around. Most important to me is that I’ve started plotting the next novel, a completely different space opera for Tor. It’s early days yet, but the business is taking shape.

Since this is nothing like anything I’ve done before, I was worried about getting entre to the world I needed to create. I’ve done that. There’s a lot more to do, but getting in is the difficult part.

I finally got a contract from Tor for this one. The document doesn’t have any real effect on me: I was going ahead with the book regardless of whether the paperwork had finally gotten done. Only once have I been screwed by a publisher when I’d written a book without a contract, taking the sale as a given. In that case (The Forlorn Hope), when Ace lowballed, I sold the book to Tor for lot more money.

My working title is Reconquest. I intended that as the title of a series, just as I did Lord of the Isles. Tom Doherty (Tor publisher) decided that would be the title of the first book, and the same may be the case here also. Besides, this may not be a series: I don’t have another book under contract from Tor.

I’m doing a batch of different things this time besides the setting. I plan, for example, to use a single viewpoint character instead of two or four as I’ve been doing with longer novels during the past long while. We’ll see. (which is a different entity from Tor Books, with separately burdensome paperwork) did indeed take Up from Hell, the sword and sorcery novelet I mentioned in Newsletter 88. I’m pleased to have done it. It was something I might have done forty years ago, but I wouldn’t have done it nearly as well.

The work I did in the ’70s was good and occasionally very good, but my technique has improved enormously. I couldn’t have handled a 12,500 word S&S novelet; the 9K piece that I did at that time (Dragons’ Teeth) feels padded. This one isn’t. Incidentally, I wrote it in the first person, which I very rarely do, because Robert E Howard would have used first person.

And as write that, I find myself wondering whether I should try first person for Reconquest….

Air and Darkness, the final of the four Books of the Elements for Tor, is out. As works of art I’m very satisfied with the series, but they didn’t work commercially. As Tom said, “When people want to read a fantasy, this isn’t the book they want to read.” After the fact, I think it was a fatal error to set the series in an analogue of ancient Rome, a place that readers know a great deal about… when what they know is mostly wrong.

I’m not an educator, I’m an entertainer. I’ve now proved to myself that (many, many US) fantasy readers don’t find it entertaining to have their existing beliefs challenged. Nobody’s blaming me (and Tom likes the books himself), but this was a definite case of live and learn.

The art for Death’s Bright Day, the latest RCN (Leary/Mundy) space opera is up and is wondertful!

I’m back from World Fantasy Convention (this year in Saratoga Springs), where I had the usual good time. There are a number of pictures up.

At a book signing (in town) on Wednesday I was given a copy of Steve Hickman’s new art collection (Empyrean) to sign. Steve does all but the first of my RCN covers from Baen. I’d done an intro for him about five years ago and hadn’t heard anything about it since. The next day in the Dealers’ Room I saw Steve wheeling a handtruck with 300 copies of the book which he was distributing to the dealers there (it was just out, from Titan).

Minutes later I ran into Donato, who’s been doing my Tor covers and did the cover of Onward, Drake! I told him how much I liked the latter, which relieved him because he was afraid I’d be peeved about it. There are people who’ll find a way to be peeved with anything (goodness knows I’ve met them; there’s nothing that a negative person can’t turn into a slight or an insult), but I am not one of them. The cover is wonderful and I told Donato so.

I asked if he’d realized that he’d shown me in enlisted armor. He had not: he’d worked to get the armor right (and it was) but hadn’t realized an officer would wear a muscled cuirass (so called). The lorica segmenta (also a modern term; we don’t know what the Romans called them) he shows me in is correct for me, because I was a low-ranking enlisted man. (Come to think, I’m not sure Donato knows I was a grunt; people tend to assume I was an officer.)

I ran into Tom Kidd in the art show and told him how much I liked the cover he did for Dinosaurs and a Dirigible (just out in mass market). He was particularly glad to hear that because he’d had a lot of hardware problems while he was doing it and was afraid that they’d bled through to the result. I’m very well aware of that fear myself, but it doesn’t seem to happen to me and certainly didn’t to Tom’s art here.

I had a higher profile at this WFC than I usually do, because I was a special guest (not GoH) and because Toni Weisskopf, bless her heart, had seen to it that each attendee got a copy of Onward, Drake! I’m okay with remaining quietly in the background, but this was a very pleasant change from 30 or 40 years ago when I was being vilified by the opinion-makers.

I mentioned to a number of people at this WFC that Tom Easton of Analog had introduced me on a panel he was moderating as, “David Drake, who writes pornography of violence.” They were universally appalled at Easton’s behavior, but at the time there was no outcry. Easton was behaving in an uncultured fashion, but back then Nam vets like me were fair game for any personal insult that somebody wanted to level.

I doubt Mr Easton has changed his opinion, but he probably wouldn’t voice it in public nowadays. And thank goodness (for the field’s sake!), Stanley Schmidt (who protected Easton) no longer edits Analog.

The dealers’ room at WFC always has great stuff. I spent money feeding my whims. There were lots of choices for people with different bookish whims also. As usual, I spent much of my free time wandering about the tables and chatting with people.

But the crucial thing about WFC for me is business. I met with several editors and with a new foreign agent (wish me luck); and most important, I had a couple face-to-face discussions with Tom. We talked about the new book, but we talked further about my problems with the editing of the past two.

Basically, the copy-editor had homogenized the language of the four viewpoint characters. She hadn’t been incompetent–she was actually quite careful–but she was doing a horribly wrong thing.

When it happened once, I was loudly angry; but shit happens. When it happened a second time I went ballistic: obviously my complaints the first time hadn’t made it to the production department. My editor explained (the night after my dinner with Tom) that he hadn’t read my anguished emails; and that no, it shouldn’t have happened; and that I shouldn’t have had to go to his boss, Tom, to get the situation corrected (which, with the help of Toni Weisskopf of Baen, I believe it has  been).

A few weeks before WFC I had determined to get a new Tor editor. I calmed down after I finished Death’s Bright Day (for Baen) and wasn’t so keyed up, but I needed to check with Tom (to his face) to be sure he would back me if I said I needed a new editor. He would, but he was glad when I told him it wouldn’t be necessary after all.

I haven’t identified my Tor editor here; I hope it’s over and done with. But I will note that though my editor didn’t read my desperate emails about the editing, he did by name claim in the indicia that he had edited the books.

Those of you who spend time on-line will have noticed that there’s been a controversy about the shape–the image–of the World Fantasy Award. It’s been a caricature of HP Lovecraft, molded by Gahan Wilson. I’ve got one on my knick-knack shelf, granted to Carcosa (I was a partner) for small-press publishing in 1976.

Starting next year, the image will be changed to something else. I think the campaign against the HPL bust has been shrill and wrong-headed; Lovecraft was an insular man with unpleasant opinions about a lot of things, particularly non-Anglos, but the image was chosen for his importance to the fantasy field as a writer, not as a thinker. (He was, in my opinion, a very mediocre thinker–but so what? He was a hell of a writer.)

That said, I find the current outcry against the planned change to be equally wrong-headed. If it’s about the works themselves, who cares what the award looks like? The WFA is of exactly the same value, whether the statuette is a bust of HPL or one of Marion Zimmer Bradley. The work is the work; nothing else matters.

I said ‘exactly the same value’. I consider that value to be very slight.

The WFA has been determined by the one man counting the votes of the five judges–except in 1983 when the judges actually got together in the same place. That year each judge was allowed to pick the winner in one category, whereupon all the judges wrote down identical ballots so that the vote-counter could not weight them to give his chosen result. (If you’ve ever wondered how Nifft the Lean by Michael Shea became the best fantasy novel of 1982 over entries by George RR Martin and Gene Wolfe, now you know.)

I would think that the process of choosing the awards was more… offensive, say, than the shape of the statuette. If it isn’t, then image has literally become more important than reality in the fantasy field, which I for one would regret.

Back to plotting a novel! All best,

–Dave Drake

Please use the contact form to subscribe to the newsletter or to change your e-mail address.


This entry was posted in Newsletters. Bookmark the permalink.

Comments are closed.