Newsletter #90

NEWSLETTER #90: February 3, 2016
Dear People,

I guess my big news is that I’ve completed the plot for the new Tor series (which is space opera in the same fashion that Northworld is space opera). (No, it isn’t anything like Northworld, which was pretty hard-edged even by my standards.)

I’m not diving immediately into writing the book (Reconquest), however, as I usually would. Instead I’m writing an RCN short story for the Baen website and for a space opera anthology for Titan, in both cases to support the novels in the series (Titan is now the UK publisher). I had to do it now if I were going to do it at all, because Baen wants the story out before Death’s Bright Day hits the stores on June 7.

I’m midway into the story now. As a general rule I like to do short stories, but writing into this one required me to wrench my mind out of the very different Tor milieu. I don’t like switching gears, but at least I didn’t have to break the actual writing as I did when I wrote To Bring the Light in the middle of writing Lord of the Isles.

Jeepers, that was a long time ago. You know, it’s thoughts like that which bring my age to mind: ‘recent’ events in my mind turn out to have been twenty years ago.

Anyway, the story (Cadet Cruise) is coming along fine even if I’m grumpy, and soon I’ll start writing Reconquest. I’m looking forward to that. did take the heroic fantasy which I mentioned in Newsletter #88. That one (which I did before starting to plot Reconquest) was wholly fun. I have no idea when it’ll appear, but I’ve been (very well) paid.

Besides Death’s Bright Day, the latest RCN space opera for Baen, the mass market editions of Dinosaurs and a Dirigible (my time travel stories) and Into the Maelstrom (a revolution based on the life of George Washington, executed by John Lambshead from my outline) are either out or will shortly to be out. These are both from Baen also.

I’ve been with both Tor and Baen for as long as the companies have existed: 1980 and 1983 respectively. Both companies–both publishers at least (Tom Doherty and Toni Weisskopf)–like me and treat me very well. In both cases the SF line was started by Jim Baen, but Tor has both grown enormously and diversified from that beginning. There’s still room for me, however, and Toni Weisskopf has continued to follow Jim’s formula.

The difference between the companies is sometimes amusing, though. For the holidays, I got a very nice selection of food from Harry and David, labeled ‘A gift from Tom and Tanya Doherty’. This is really yummy stuff, and I appreciate it.

Toni sent me a Ka-Bar kukri. If you know what that is, you’re already laughing. If you don’t, check the picture. I have very happily been using the kukri to trim the brush I’m putting into the chipper/shredder when I find that a stem kinks the wrong way. (And by the way, yard work continues to be great fun and to keep me in very respectable shape for my age.)

I like and respect both Tor and Baen very much. Baen Books is home, though.

The big news at Tor is that my editor, David Hartwell, died. This has been blown into a bigger event than it seems to me to be (David’s greatest significance was during the Timescape Era, which ended in 1983), but I’ve known and liked him for a very long time. David’s death was important and sad for me personally.

Jen Gunnels, David’s last assistant, will be taking over his list. Jen is the perfect editor for me. (I’d as soon the transition had been for a different reason, however.)

I wrote a short appreciation for a memorial booklet planned by one of David’s friends. I will copy it here:


1) I first met David at coffee with Stu Schiff, who had driven me to DisCon II in 1974. It was my first con. Stu and David talked about signing expeditions, including the time they jointly visited Frank Belknap Long during the Christmas season. Frank had been pretty well oiled at the start of the visit; as it continued, he became completely blitzed on the bottles they had brought. Frank forgot which  book he was signing for whom, and by the end he was signing to people who didn’t exist.

David had just resigned as SF Consultant for NAL/Signet. His boss had okayed his expenses to attend a convention, but the company had refused to honor the commitment. He emphasized that the problem wasn’t the money but rather the fact that his superiors had lied to him.

2) Kirby sold my first novel, The Dragon Lord, to David at Berkley in 1978. David and I discussed the novel when we met at WFC in Ft Worth. David requested changes in the climax/conclusion; he said that if I executed them successfully he would move the book to the Putnam list as a hardcover. In that case I would be paid an additional $2K on top of the $4K on offer for a paperback original.

Later during the weekend David saw me at a room party and called me out into the hall. He told me that he had just accepted the offer of Pocket Books to create a new SF line for them. He would have a large budget and would be able to remake the field. The news was still secret, but David wanted me to know as soon as possible because of the situation with The Dragon Lord. His assistant, John Silbersack, would be shepherding the book the rest of the way; David had full confidence in John’s ability.

That was probably the high point of David’s career. Disappointments came early, but on that night David believed he was on top of the SF world.

3) David became my Tor editor almost by accident. Just as I was preparing to turn in Lord of the Isles, my Tor editor cut back her list to only books written by her husband. This was a reasonable decision, not only because she was on four anti-stress medications but also because her husband was Jim Rigney (AKA Robert Jordan).

I asked David, now at Tor, to take over the book. I’d known him for over 20 years and respected his intelligence. He agreed and was my Tor editor from then till his recent death.

David and I talked various business over the following twenty years. The conversation I remember most poignantly had nothing to do with my work or with SF.

It occurred while we were chatting about interesting books at his table in the dealers’ room at a World Fantasy Convention a few years ago. David mentioned his dissertation at Columbia. His subject had been an anonymous Middle English poem, incomplete in the form it survived.

Here it’s important to note that my knowledge of English literature is only that of an educated layman. My reading of Middle English works has been entirely in translation to Modern English, so I missed much of the detail of what David was telling me.

The core of David’s story, though, was that he’d realized that John Gower borrowed heavily from his contemporaries. By examining Gower’s work closely, David had been able to fill in many of the lines missing in his own subject.

David’s nostalgic pride at this piece of literary detective work glowed through his telling of it. In that moment I saw him as an academic who had taken a wrong turning in the early ’70s and who fully realized it now, as he neared the end of his career.

David was explaining his triumph to an amateur Latinist because I was what he had. I could at least appreciate that he deserved better.


And on that note, I’ll end this. I hope none of you have lost friends recently, people.

–Dave Drake

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