Newsletter #95

DRAKE NEWSLETTER 95: January 5, 2017

Dear People,

I seem to be starting the new year with a notable lack of enthusiasm. This is my fault, not that of the world. There’s certainly enough bad with the world, but there always is. I need to get my head focused a little better.

I’m working away on the new novel, Though Hell Should Bar the Way. I have about 35K at present, which is a decent chunk, and it’s moving steadily forward. This is an RCN space opera, but I’m doing something completely different from earlier books in the series: I’m using a new, single, viewpoint character, with Leary and Mundy appearing only as supporting characters.

This may be a terrible idea (though so far I’m liking the result). I realized that if I continued to do the same thing over and over again, I was going to get tired of it. That wasn’t necessarily a problem from a sales viewpoint: doing the same thing over and over again is usually a good idea for sales. That writer’s not the person I want to be, though, and there’s nothing pushing me to be that person.

I knew Jim Rigney (Robert Jordan) well enough to know that he really cared about his fiction. It bothered him that marketing factors forced him to write the later books of the Wheel of Time in a fashion different from what he thought was the right way.

I’ve chatted a couple times with George Martin about writing. George is not only (probably) the best writer of our generation, he’s one of the most serious about his craft. We haven’t talked about writing since Game of Thrones hit it big, so I can only judge by results. Still, when somebody repeatedly says, “The book’s almost done,” and the book doesn’t appear, he’s probably bullshitting.

Somebody who’s happy with what he’s writing turns out work. If (like Karl Wagner) he doesn’t turn out work, he’s not doing the work. Maybe it’s better not to write something you don’t like than it is to turn out writing you don’t like (which it seemed to me that Jim Rigney did).

Nonetheless, I don’t see the need to lie to people about what you’re doing (not doing). In Karl’s case, the status of being A Famous Writer was always very important to him. If he admitted he wasn’t writing, he thought he would lose that status. I can’t speak with authority about other writers who talk about coming books but don’t release them, but I have suspicions.

I don’t care about status as a writer, but I do care about writing books I can be proud of. I’ve got enough money to last the rest of my life (well, I think I do), so I’m not trying to maximize the return per hour spent writing.

Does it sound like I’m saying my new book is going to be a masterpiece? I’m not. Doing something new means you have brand new ways to screw up, and I screwed up with the plot. By shifting from two viewpoints to one, I found that after working for a few weeks I was on track to write a novel of about 60K words–roughly half what I wanted. I stopped and redid the plot, fleshing out scenes and adding scenes that I’d elided initially.

I truly don’t know whether or not this is working. Line by line, sure, but whether readers are going to like the result–dunno. If I’ve fallen on my face, I’ll do it a different way the next time.

Besides plodding along with the novel, I finally finished the report on our trip to Greece in May/June 2016. I finished a draft before Christmas, but there remained a lot to do. The editing wasn’t a big deal, but choosing what pictures to put where was a job and a half. I took over a thousand pictures (and I decided not to go over the considerable numbers which Jo, Glenn, and Helen took).

The report isn’t available yet because it’s going to be a lot of work for my webmaster to get it on line with the pictures plugged into the correct spots. I have every hope that she’ll get her part done in less time than the 6+ months it took me to do my part.

Writing a 15K report (with pictures) brought back a lot of memories. That was a heck of a good two weeks, people.

There was a positive business thing also, though probably a very small one. Several years ago, Lynn Abbey with promoter Connor Cochran made an effort to refloat Thieves’ World. In the ’80s TW was one of the hottest properties out there. It was the first shared universe, and at its peak it was paying 24 cents/word for short stories. Jim Baen, the commissioning editor, claimed it had saved the original anthology from the mire into which Roger Elwood had driven it in the ’70s by over-production.

I was never hugely taken by the TW concept, but I did a couple stories for the series at Bob Asprin’s request (it was Bob’s concept) and was very pleased at the money. More important to me was the fact that I did Dagger, a novel in the series (it incorporated a third story), and was paid $30K for it, a real breakthrough for me. Dagger gave me a chance to use an ancient story (the original was Egyptian) in a modern fantasy. As such it was a dry run for the Northworld Series.

Because of that background I was pleased at the fact that TW was being brought back, though I didn’t (and don’t) have any intention of writing further material for the series. Out of left field, SFWA (or possibly just the organization’s then president, John Scalzi) tried to torpedo the relaunch. I haven’t the faintest idea why. I do know that Mr Scalzi didn’t bother to discuss the matter with CJ Cherryh, a previous president of SFWA and one of the writers who had the most to gain from a relaunch.

Despite SFWA, the project seems to have finally gotten back on track. The original TW collections and two novels (Dagger and one by Lynn) will be going on line shortly from Conlan Press, and there are moves toward bringing out new material and entering other media. Connor is very excited about the possibility of filling the gap left when Game of Thrones ends its run on cable.

Me–well, I’ll be perfectly happy to cash any checks that flow from this, but I’m not expecting TW to affect my lifestyle. What really does please me, though, is that fact that something positive seems to have survived a motiveless attack. I was afraid that SFWA really had killed the project.

I guess part of my current malaise is that the government seems to be convinced that I’m past it. Not only have I been badgered into taking social security, I’ve been forced to begin withdrawing money from my retirement account. (And I mean forced: the sanctions for not withdrawing money are very severe.)

I don’t feel over the hill. Writing is hard work, but I continue to do it–and I try to write different things. (Note discussion above.) I guess it works on my head regardless.

Hey, this is the same government that sent me to Nam. Why should I accept its judgment about anything?

One more bit that probably has something to do with me being less than the bubbly, happy-go-lucky Dave at the moment. My friend Sharon Pigott, who read the proofs of my first book (Hammer’s Slammers) had cancer for about a decade. It finished killing her in November. I know people die, but I’d gotten used to Sharon confounding prognoses.

Sharon always tried to be a good person. Over the years I’ve come to the opinion that there’s no better goal for humans to strive for.

Each of you, please go and try to be a good person. I will too.

–Dave Drake

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