NEWSLETTER #98: July 5, 2017
I’m just back from Libertycon, so this newsletter is a hair late. The biggest news since #97 is that the novel I’ve been working on–THOUGH HELL SHOULD BAR THE WAY–has been edited into final form at 141,180 words; turned in to Toni, accepted and scheduled. (I think for April, 2018, but I don’t swear to that.)
The cover by Steve Hickman has been worked up into a comp. This is excellent art and an excellent cover–but it better catches the feel of Death’s Bright Day (the previous book in the series) than it does the book it’ll be on (which is told from the viewpoint of a new male character).
I want covers to sell the book to people who will like the book. I don’t see any point in having the cover illustrate a scene from that book–visually effective scenes are not necessarily the scenes with the strongest effect in prose. And I’m way too smart to think that micromanaging an artist (graphic or otherwise) is the best way to get a good result. (I’ve repeatedly seen examples of a writer directing a good artist into doing bad work. The ludicrous cover Gordy Dickson created for In Iron Years can stand for many.)
When Steve–or any other artist–asks me what he should paint, I send him my outline for that book and tell him to choose what works for him. I’ve never had a bad result that way, and I’ve gotten really a lot of excellent covers over the years.
Speaking timing, in Newsletter 97 I said that The Spark was due out in September, 2017. It’s really November. The cover by Todd Lockwood is extremely good.
I’m working on plotting the next project. I expect it to be a sequel to The Spark and to have a title from The Idylls of the King, but the plot isn’t racing along as yet. I tell you, Hell really wrung me out.
Starliner is out in a new trade paperback edition. The on-line catalog until recently showed it as being a mass-market edition with the old original cover, but I think that may have been corrected since I visited the Baen offices and mentioned it.
I was at the Baen offices to record a podcast, which is up. It was weird thinking that Starliner came out in 1992–25 years ago. I’m old, people, but I don’t really feel old.
And I’ve always tried to write stories which weren’t linked to a particular time. That was an artistic decision on my part, but it’s darned useful for having books which can be kept in print for decades without becoming period pieces. (Hammer’s Slammers is my best example of that.)
Coming out in November along with The Spark is the Tim Powers collection (Down and Out in Purgatory), for which I wrote an intro. At Libertycon I asked Toni how Tim had reacted to the intro and learned it hadn’t been sent to him. (I’m not in contact with Tim myself, though I suppose I could have found an address for him.) I hope he’s okay with it.
The subject came up during the Baen travelling slide show at Libertycon. When I was handed the mike, I explained that Toni had asked me to do an intro because the Baen sales force had heard of me, and because I could be trusted to turn in the material in two weeks.
At this, John Ringo, on the podium with Toni, said that he could do an intro much more quickly than that. An hour after the panel closed, John sent Toni a very good introduction for Starliner (a favorite book of his), which will be in the mass market reprint of the just-released trade paperback.
(In my defense: I had to read the contents of the Powers collection before writing my intro.)
This discussion may give you the impression that Baen Books operates much like a family. That’s how I view it too, and that’s why I’m so happy being part of it. We get along.
I read a bit of Hell at Libertycon. (I’d have liked to read from The Spark, but that setting is so different that a small chunk would be confusing rather than interesting, and I like to keep readings to around a thousand words.) There were a number of questions afterward which boiled down to asking what marketing reasons I had for making changes in the series.
I didn’t consider marketing when I changed the viewpoint or the voice. Marketing is Toni’s job. My job is to turn in the best book I can. Changing things around keeps me fresh and alert. In the long run that means that I’ll be turning in better books, and that in turn should make the books easier to market. By limiting my focus to my own job, I keep myself relatively sane and the final result is better.
The 2016 volume of The Year’s Best Military and Adventure SF is out. This is a collection of action/adventure stories chosen because the editors (David Afsharirad with Toni Weisskopf looking over his shoulder) thought they were good stories–and for no other reason. You can quarrel with the editorial choices–and I’ve never read an anthology in which I agreed with every decision the editor made–but I don’t believe you can quarrel with the philosophy.
As in past years, readers get to vote on their favorite story in the volume; and Toni will give the winner five hundred bucks. There’s also an attractive award plaque, but just about any award comes with a plaque. Writing awards that give a writer money are as rare as writing awards that are based on story values–and this one has both.
Read the book! Vote! Encourage story values!
I have a new Ovid lyric up on the website. I’ve drafted a further translation, but I’m well short of polishing it into shape for publication.
My wife Jo and I went to the Catskills for our 50th anniversary. I’m much taken by art of the Hudson River School. This was a chance to explore the settings that provided not only subjects for painters but the inspiration to address those subjects. My new home page picture is of me at Kaaterskill Clove. There’s also a picture of Kaaterskill Falls, uphill in the other direction after a stiff hike.
The Post Cottage, the B&B in which we stayed in the town of Catskill, is across the street from the house of Thomas Cole, the painter who founded the Hudson River School. The B&B owners are Gil and Mary Ann Bagnell, our friends from El Paso where Gil and I met in Vietnamese language school in 1969.
The Post Cottage would be a wonderful (upscale) getaway for anybody, but it was especially good for me and Jo. We had dinner at the house on June 5, our actual anniversary, and Mary Ann had created balloons for the event. (There were no commercially available 50th anniversary balloons.)
I’ve mentioned being just back from Libertycon. I don’t go to many conventions, but this is one I’ll often go to if I’m free. (It frequently conflicts with the family week at the beach, though; when it does, the beach wins.)
This year was particularly fun. Libertycon isn’t exactly a Baen convention, but Toni was the toastmistress and Dave Weber, John Ringo, and I (all Baen headliners) were there, as well as many other Baen writers. (Eric Flint and Larry Correia have both been GoH here in the past.) I’ve never seen any overtly ideological programming, but it’s fair to say that the general tenor is conservative; it attracts many veterans (myself included) and serving military personnel.
The main thing, however, is that people are nice. I’ve never seen anybody being attacked for what they write or how they write it (as I’ve been attacked at a Boskone, for example). There are a lot of families with children present, as well.
I was scheduled for a reading. I use such events as a chance for people to chat with me: I read a short piece, normally a chunk of rough draft from whatever I’m working on at the time (now I’m between books) and then take questions on whatever anybody wants to ask me.
The reading was at 10 pm. I’d had it moved back as a favor to a couple other Baen writers (and I wanted to catch their panel also). 10 pm is my bedtime, and I’d gotten up at 4 am for my flight besides. I wasn’t sure anybody would show up, and I feared that I was going to be half asleep myself.
The room was genuinely SRO (it wasn’t a huge room, but that was fifty-odd people). Folks were attentive and interested. It was the best event of its kind that I’ve ever had at a convention.
In the course of the weekend, I had several people tell me that listening to me helped them understand their veteran fathers (and in one case, her grandfather) better. That makes me feel good, but I’m also sorry that there aren’t more people out there telling the truth as they see it about being in hard places. Because that’s all that I do.
The Libertycon experience drove home a lesson that I already knew: people should be nice to other people. I’m sure I was in a minority of the attendees who’d voted for Hillary (I wasn’t thrilled about the choice, but I did), but nobody got in my face about my political choices. At Libertycon it’s possible to disagree with other people and everybody remain polite and courteous.
That should be the norm for civilized discourse. I hope all of you will go out and practice it, and I will try to do so also.
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