Newsletter #97

DRAKE’S NEWSLETTER 97: May 9, 2017

Dear People,

I’ve finished the rough draft of THOUGH HELL SHOULD BAR THE WAY. The process didn’t kill me, but it sure ate my life for the past few months.

Part of this is a matter of length. The draft of this RCN novel is 135,576 words. I’ve written longer books than this, but the most recent novels have run a little over 100K. That’s still a substantial book, but at the back of my mind I’ve worried that I was shorting my readers. I was shooting for 130K with this one and actually came in a bit over. I make no promises for the future, but I did what I set out to do.

I changed a couple other things to prevent myself from getting into a rut. In all the previous RCN novels I’ve used two viewpoint characters–Daniel Leary and Adele Mundy. In Hell (which will probably be my shorthand for this one. It wasn’t that bad, but I’ll tell you, it’s been a rough few months) I’m using a single viewpoint.

Further he’s a new character, though Daniel and Adele are major presences and many of the usual supporting characters are here also. I’m not throwing out the existing structure, but I’m looking at it from a different angle.

I don’t know if this works or not. Scene by scene it’s fine, but I haven’t read the manuscript through: I just finished it last night.

I really love the job I have. But you know, some times it’s a darned hard one.

With the collapse of mass-market paperback publishing, I don’t have nearly as many books coming out as was once the case, but Baen is bringing out my 1992 Starliner as a trade paperback with a new cover by Dominic Harman. This was a book I wrote for myself–it was one of my frequent attempts to get noticed as something besides a Military SF writer–but it was also the solo book of mine in which Jim Baen was most heavily involved.

I wanted to write a book involving adventures on a lot of different planets with colorful cultures. Jim wanted me to emphasize the intersystem war going on: “I want Starliner at War.” I gave him that, but I’d rather now that I hadn’t; the novel to a degree falls between two stools.

Also, Jim insisted that I send him my plot outline. He immediately started trying to micromanage the plot. I ignored his directions, but it was an unpleasant aspect: rather like waiting to be seated in a restaurant while downwind of a sewage plant.

That was the last (indeed, only) time Jim did that, by the way. He later apologized, saying that he now realized that my outlines only contained the stuff I needed to think about; the good stuff, the stuff he was afraid I wasn’t going to do, just came without need to plot out ahead of time. (In the future I added lines like [Colorful space battle here] or the like; but as I say, Jim never did it again.)

Thinking back to that book, I’m struck yet again by how much I miss Jim. Even when he was healthy he had as many crotchets as I do. But doggone, we were a good team.

The next book of mine coming out after the reprint of Starliner is The Spark in November, from Baen. This is the truly different one which I wrote for Tor–and which they said they couldn’t promote because it wasn’t clearly Military SF. (Tor–Tom Doherty–didn’t reject it, but he was openly pleased when I said I would take it back rather than have it killed by the sales force.)

I was openly pleased when Toni Weisskopf said, “Hell yes, we’ll take it. What’s it about?” She and I discussed whether the cover treatment should be fantasy or science fiction. We decided to go with fantasy, which catches the feel of the book if not exactly the mechanisms. The result, by Todd Lockwood, is very good.

There is a third item which counts as news and has cropped up since newsletter 96. An outfit (or guy?) which/who does popular culture trading cards has an SF line. He/they contacted me to do a card of me, #102 in the line. I happily agreed after I understood what was happening–I didn’t initially notice that he’d attached a mockup of the front of the card–but it puzzled me, especially when I realized that the project has nothing to do with Baen Books.

Why on Earth would anybody want a David Drake trading card?

This is unquestionably an honor–it pleases me. But it doesn’t actually mean anything: it’s anecdotal evidence, like a good review or an award. This feels a lot better than bad reviews or somebody making a point of insulting me to my face, but none of it makes me a better writer or a book a better book.

Most writers are in the business for either money or fame; or for both. I started out thinking that both were good things (though see below), but my own driving purpose after I got back to the World and started writing seriously was to let out my anger (I was really angry) in a socially acceptable fashion. I didn’t fully appreciate what I was doing until many years later, but the fact that I continued to write the stories that became Hammer’s Slammers when I couldn’t sell them proves that money and fame weren’t my goals.

Because I had the writing as an outlet, I stayed close enough to the norms of human behavior that I wasn’t killed or incarcerated. I am therefore a successful writer–and darned glad of it.

I earn a good living. I’m pleased about that, too, but I’ve got a degree from Duke Law School. I’m pretty sure that if the war hadn’t screwed me up so badly, I’d have been able to earn a decent living as a lawyer.

If more money dropped in my lap I would take it, but I wouldn’t trade my current life and lifestyle for even a great deal more money. In particular, I wouldn’t be willing to dive into the Hollywood milieu.

But what about fame? I’ve got some of that too. Early on–certainly through the ’70s but later as well–having a high profile just meant that I was the target of choice for would-be opinion-makers to fling insults at. Believe me, this isn’t fun.

Later on there were more positive results: I met a lot of people–mostly but not entirely veterans–who wouldn’t otherwise have bothered looking me up. Some of these have become close friends, to my great benefit. I’ve gained much more from the friendship of say, John Lambshead, than I lost by Tom Easton’s need to insult a Nam vet.

So I’m certainly not saying that fame is all bad, but I can honestly say that I’ve got quite enough of it for my own purposes. Actually, I had enough without a trading card. I’ve seen cases where writers got more fame than they were able to handle, and this had bad effects on their work and their personalities.

The important things for me are to be the best writer I can be and to write the best stories I’m capable of. And right now I’m going to get to work editing Though Hell Should Bar the Way, trying to make it the best story I’m capable of.

–Dave Drake

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