Newsletter #99

DRAKE’S NEWSLETTER 99: September 5, 2017

Dear People,

I’ve almost roughed out the plot of the next novel. It will need to be polished and greatly expanded before I begin writing. The current working title is Storm and Courage, and it’s still intended to be a sequel to The Spark.

Speaking of The Spark, I’ve now read the proofs. I did that one right: it’s one of my best books. I immediately began to feel depressed because I’ll never be able to write another one that good.

This is not a rational response to success. On the good side, it doesn’t change my behavior: I continue to work hard to write the best book I can, just as I always do. Also, I don’t think it makes it any less likely that I will write a good book. No external cause (how I feel in general or about what I’m working on; what’s going on in my life; the illness or death of people close to me; etc) seems to touch the quality of my work. Some books and stories are better than others: period.

I said The Spark is one of my best books. I don’t mean that it’s going to sell exceptionally well (though of course I’d be delighted if it did). Redliners is my absolutely best novel, the one thing I’ve written which goes beyond entertainment. It wasn’t a blockbuster and, though it continues to earn money for me and for Baen Books at every royalty period, it’s a solid performer rather than at the top of the royalty column. (The best earner each period is generally an RCN space opera.)

I’m proud of having done it right, though. And I’m proud of The Spark. It comes out in November, 2017, from Baen Books.

I mentioned the RCN series. Titan is bringing them out in uniform editions in the UK, with Some Golden Harbor due from them in October. Oh–and Titan has accepted the latest book of the series, Though Hell Should Bar the Way, for publication at some future date. It was under contract to them, but a publisher isn’t required to accept a book when it’s turned in.

I know of a number of cases (not involving me) when the publisher should have cut his losses and rejected the book–even when that meant eating the on-signing advance. It doesn’t happen very often, though, and there was no reason to assume it would happen to mine except that, well, I always assume that my work isn’t good enough. (I’m not good enough.)

I literally just this minute got notification from the University of Iowa that I will be one of the six inductees for 2017 for the Hawkeye Distinguished Veteran Award. Anybody who’s read a few of these newsletters knows that I’m not big on awards: the work is what counts. All the awards in the world (or all the money) won’t make a bad book good. Furthermore, my gut reaction to praise is to feel embarrassed.

I am truly very proud of this award, though, because it’s coming to me for being an Iowan and for being a veteran. I am both those things, and as I say on my website, I’m proud of being both.

Doggone. I feel good. Getting $50K checks doesn’t affect me this much.

On the 17th of September I’ll be one of three writers at a mislabeled ‘library tea’ at the Wake County NE Regional Library. It’s apparently a panel in which a librarian (and probably audience members) asks questions of writers. If I had it to do again, I probably wouldn’t–but if you’re in the area on that Sunday afternoon, feel free to drop in and say hi.

The next Sunday, the 24th, I turn 72 and will have a pigpicking, as usual. Seriously, if you’re going to be around, drop me a line and I’ll send an invitation. It’s not fancy, but the pig has always been good and it’s a fun mix of people. If you’re going to get older (and by now, I’m flat old), you may as well be around people having a good time.

At this point, I’m going to say a few words about the current fuss over Confederate monuments. A direct ancestor of mine served and died (of disease) with the Union army in Tennessee. Back in Iowa he left his wife and five children, one of  whom became my great grandfather.

Also I’m a veteran myself. I was living in NC and attending Duke Law School when I was drafted, but the draft board itself was back in Clinton, Iowa.

In Durham last month, a peaceful mob pulled down a Confederate monument on the grounds of the old courthouse. It wasn’t a statue of Lee or Jackson; it was dedicated To the Boys in Gray.

This initially made me sad. Both Lee and Jackson were individually good men, but I figure generals can take care of themselves; goodness knows, the ones I’ve seen have certainly done so. But I was a grunt; my Civil War ancestor was a grunt; and the statue in Durham was dedicated to grunts.

Were the Boys in Gray fighting for a bad cause? I think so. But I was fighting for a bad cause also; I believed that at the time, and nothing I’ve learned since has caused me to change my mind.

I take citizenship seriously, and I entered the army as a citizen of a representative democracy. I’ve often disagreed with the choices my leaders made, but I believe in the system.

I loathe the mindset of a man like Henry Kissinger, who could dismiss as ‘a sideshow’ the Cambodian invasion (of which I was a part) and the millions of deaths it caused, but I prefer elective government to anarchy. If the folks we elect choose to depend on people like Mr Kissinger for advice, that’s really unfortunate. (At least Mrs Clinton made her intentions clear up front.)

That covers how I feel about the folks to whom the statues were dedicated, but that’s only half the story. The other half is the folks who raised the statues in the early part of the 20th century, and in large measure those were the same people who were imposing Jim Crow restrictions all over the South. They were using men like Lee and Jackson–and the Boys in Gray–to drum up enthusiasm for brutal racism.

Lee County, NC, was formed at that time from parts of adjacent counties. I’ve spent time in the courts there (on a friend’s behalf, not my own; thank goodness) and have been horrified by the contemptuous repression which I observed. (I also noted that every single person wearing a uniform was white. Spend a while in your district court, pretty much anywhere in the country, and you’ll see why that struck me.)

Lynchings rightly got headlines, but that was at the low end. At the respectable end, the Raleigh News and Observer (then and now NC’s premier newspaper) campaigned to get a Duke professor fired for saying that an exceptional Negro like George Washington Carver was fit to sit at dinner with Robert E Lee.

Buck Duke was no liberal, but his father had been a Confederate grunt. He backed his college president in ignoring the demands of a racist elite.

So. The statues were, for the most part, raised as instruments of repression. If folks who feel repressed want to complain about it, they’ve got a right. It doesn’t touch me personally: I’m a WASP (and proud of it), and my ancestor fought on the right side.

And as for the Boys in Gray–well, I’m still kinda sorry. They were, in their time, the best light infantry in the world. But they were also used to being shat upon, starting with their own political leaders, so it won’t be a new experience for them.

Heaven knows it’s a familiar one for Nam vets.

Hang in, people.

–Dave Drake

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