Newsletter #108

Dear People,

As of writing this I still haven’t finished TO CLEAR AWAY THE SHADOWS, but it’s getting close. I’m on the final planet of the plot, and I’m on course to meet my own deadline. When I got far enough into the process to judge how things were going, I informed Baen Books; and I’m getting there.

Toni (Baen publisher) has promised not to schedule my future books without talking to me first. I think she may regret that she did so this time. Certainly I do, but we’re getting there.

I think the cover of Shadows is pretty well set now. I was glad to see it on the Baen site. This is basically one of Steve Hickman’s original conceptions. I said I’d give him an exotic alien if he showed me what he wanted, so he did sketches.

When I got to that point in the plot, I wrote the scene and sent it to him, saying I’d tweak it if he wanted a different color or the like. Instead he redid the cover entirely to make it an illustration of my scene.

This bothered me. I’ve known writers who’ve demanded cover control. I don’t personally know of a case where it’s led to a good result, and I know of a number of disasters: artists don’t see things the way non-artists do. Putting the non-artist in charge is a bad idea.

Apparently Toni (who acts as Baen’s art director) had a reaction similar to mine and it’s back to Steve’s original conception. Thank goodness,

A fan recently sent me an academic paper postulating a Canaanite source for portions of the Odyssey. Not only did this interest me (as he thought it might), it made me think of another life in which I became an Academic.

I’m not a natural Academic: I’m an antiquarian, which is a very different way of looking at similar material. The thing is, I believe I could have learned to function as an Academic–I’m not a natural novelist either: I’m a short story writer. I’ve learned to write novels, however.

The Academic paper made me want to take down my Oxford Classical Texts of the plays of Plautus to read the Menaechmi (one of the works discussed in the paper), but I realized I wouldn’t do that: I’d return to finishing Shadow. Another friend recently sent me an essay on the Aeneid which made me want to reread the Aeneid, but I hadn’t done that either: I’d resumed writing Shadow. (I don’t think I’ve ever read Menaechmi, but I think I’d go back to Vergil before I read the Plautus.)

Writing novels is really an all-consuming job if I do it right. I regret the freedom of my youth when I could do things like read the Aeneid through, but if I’d become an Academic (well, a reasonably successful one) I wouldn’t have any more freedom than I do now.

And Academe wouldn’t have given me the crucial thing that writing does: it wouldn’t have helped me handle the anger that I came back from Nam with.

I don’t care about the status of being a writer; and for that matter, I have more respect for many of the Academics whom I know than I do for many of the writers. I’m really glad that I’m not dead or in jail, though. Writing gave me that escape.

It brings me to what for me is a tangential point. Many writers don’t turn in books which they claim to be writing. Sometimes they’re very good and famous writers; generally they’re less good and less famous. (Almost every writer in fantasy/SF is both less good and less famous than George Martin, for example.)

Writing novels is very hard work. (It’s harder than any other job I’ve had.) If somebody decides it’s not worth his effort to do that, he’s almost certainly right. It’s regrettable if he strings publishers along with repeated lies about progress, as I watched Karl Wagner doing from 1975 through the rest of his life, but lying to make people think better of you is a common human failing.

You’re not getting something that you want? That’s a pity, but it’s not the writer’s problem. I’m sure he’d prefer to turn in a book rather than to continue to lie about it.

What he wouldn’t prefer is to buckle down and do the work. He’s got things which  much better repay his investment of time. In Karl’s case that mostly involved watching football games and bad movies on cable TV. (He discussed watching Xanadu three times, for instance.)

Me, I have a novel to write. Thanks to Nam, I don’t have better things to do. Most would-be writers are luckier than I am, however.

–Dave Drake

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