|Dave Answers Some
Frequently Asked Questions
What's your next project?
I'll shortly start work on the next Isles fantasy, but right at this instant I'm catching my breath.
Why was Goddess of the Ice Realms scheduled over a year from
when Tor accepted it?
Ideally (at least according to popular wisdom) books in a series a scheduled a year apart. Tor would've liked to do that with the Isles series, but it requires that the author turn books in annually. I wrote three long books in two years, including a pair of Isles fantasies, but the stress was very hard on me; then I did another Isles fantasy back to back to meet the schedule, and that was worse.
When I did the contract for books 4-6 of the series, I asked Tom Doherty for extra time between four and five (Mistress and Goddess, as it turns out) so that I could do an SF novel in between without killing myself. Tom agreed; but the cost to me is that I lost my place in the schedule till late 2003.
The situation is entirely of my own doing: I decided that I wanted a life rather than just a series. I knew the consequences when I made the choice.
On the credit side, my British editor is chortling. Orion Books
had been behind Tor's publication schedule; he hopes now to catch up. It's possible
that the British edition of Goddess will be the true first....
Do you have plans for any further novels dealing with Lt. Leary?
My next book will be another Leary/Mundy (RCN) novel. I also intend to continue writing Isles fantasies and I hope a lot of other things too.
Is there a place where fans can get together to chat about
Yes, possibly two of them:
A couple of caveats, though. These are both fan-run sites. My webmaster will look in on them but I won't do so myself. (I have the wrong personality for that sort of thing.) I'll cheerfully answer any question put to me e-mailed from the form below, and anything I say to anybody is said for publication if that person wants to publish it.
Why are so many of your despicable characters named "Platt?"
There's a person named Charles Platt who's lived in the US for many years but who has all the attributes that go into the term 'Chinless Wonder' for the British upper classes. (His uncle was in the House of Lords.) He produced a supercilious review of Hammer's Slammers suggesting that if I'd really seen war I wouldn't write such queasy voyeurism. I didn't respond directly--you don't respond to reviewers, in my judgment--but I haven't forgotten that either.
Have any movies been made from your books?
Years ago I had a few TV options on short stories, none of which were ever picked up.
While I would be delighted to have somebody buy the right to make a movie from my fiction, I've never made it a priority; I write books. They'll really have to come looking for me--and to date nothing in that line has gotten to the point of signed paper and a check in my hand.
Has there been any gaming interests in your books?
Yes, in several fashions.
Mayfair Games brought out a Hammer's Slammers board game back in the '80s.
Intracorps licensed electronic game rights to Hammer's Slammers in the mid '90s. They got seriously into development, but they were overextended and went bankrupt well before they completed the game. (They paid me part of the money. The business was frustrating in a number of respects, but I was paid well enough to justify the hassle.)
In 2000 Mattel paid a bundle up front for electronic game rights to Hammer's Slammers. So far as I know the game hasn't gotten beyond the preliminary concept stage--but their check cleared.
And greatly to my surprise, the Hammer stories are important texts in British miniature wargaming circles. There's a website dedicated to one club's vision of Hammer's Slammers [http://www.salute.co.uk/slammers3/index.htm].
The club's vehicles weren't quite what I had in mind, but I'm now working with John Treadaway (the club's webmaster) and John Lambshead, the British Museum's expert in marine nematodes, to bring out a history and campaign book on Hammer's Slammers for the miniature wargaming market. Ground Zero Games is doing 25-mm miniature figures, and Old Crow is doing combat vehicles. The book is tentatively scheduled for Christmas, 2003. This is a lot of fun.
How long does it take to write a book?
That depends on how long the book is. I started jotting plot notes for Lt Leary, Commanding on May 26, 1999. I finished the plot on July 8, 1999. I started writing on July 11, 1999. I finished writing the rough draft on December 22, 1999--a novel of 153K. I did two more complete passes, running off drafts of each and editing on hardcopy (which works better for me than editing on the screen). I finished and mailed off the final draft on January 11, 2000. It's worth mentioning that I was so fried that what I really mailed was a blank disk that I thought I'd copied the novel onto, but the e-mailed version reached Jim Baen himself safely and he distributed it to his production people. During the period I was writing the book, all the usual things occurred: holidays, birthdays, two weeks at the beach, and computer problems. (Unfortunately computer problems are quite usual for me.) Lt Leary, Commanding is my longest sf novel by a goodly ways, but all three of the recent fantasy novels (the Isles series) are over 200K words. They take correspondingly longer to write.
How complete do you make the plot of a story before you write
I do very heavy plots. I usually have at least 10% of the story/novel wordage in the plot.
Do you write sequentially, from beginning of the plot to the
I do plots beginning to end, and I do very long plots, but there's not a right way.
How do you go about writing your drafts?
I work on a notebook computer outside, then edit the hardcopy and go through at least three drafts.
At any one time, how many stories are you working on?
I work on one thing at a time. Other people like multiple jobs, but for me I concentrate very heavily and I get crazy when I'm taken off it.
What novel have you personally enjoyed the most writing?
Once I apparently answered this question, 'Northworld.' I can't imagine why I did that, because I was so stressed while writing Northworld that I was having back spasms that made it difficult for me to walk some days. I'm very proud of the book and the series, but they're enormously complex works--note the way words are echoed within and among the interwoven plot strands, for example--and the first one darned near crippled me.
Now I'd say Lord of the Isles. I've always loved fantasy, but because I'd been successful with military SF I wasn't able to do as much as I'd have liked to. Getting the chance to write Lord of the Isles was a wonderful change of pace. You can take the series as homage to Tolkien and to Robert E Howard both if you like; I do.
you use a computer for your work?
I've been composing on a computer since 1986, when IBM came out with its first laptop. From 1981 I was using a dedicated word-processor for second and third drafts, but I was composing with a pencil on legal pad. (Many legal pads.) As soon as there was a computer I could take out in the yard and work as I had with pencil and paper, I switched to computer first drafts.
I'm obviously not a technophobe, let alone a Luddite; but neither do I find anything magical to technology. Some of the stories that I wrote longhand and typed on a portable I bought in Nam (electric but with a manual carriage return; very cheap) are still in print after thirty years.
Since 1987 I've used Word for DOS on increasingly old computers. That changed in March of 2001, when my last DOS machine died in mid-project and I converted to Word for Windows (which, for a professional writer as opposed to a desktop publisher, is significantly less useful than the old system). I'm now working on sub-notebooks with Pentium 90 CPUs. I’ve killed one of them and will doubtless kill the rest, as I've killed literally dozens of computers in the past; and will replace with something else obsolete but more than adequate for my purposes.
Which genre do you feel is your best to write in?
Best is tricky. I don't know really. I can do some things in the military that others who've had different lives can't, but I personally think some of the Old Nathan stories are as close to a unique thing as I've done.
Who were your influences?
One strand is pulp fiction--literally, stories from the '30s and '40s collected into anthologies in the '50s when I started reading SF and fantasy. Robert E. Howard in particular, then when I got to college the Tolkien trilogy in the SUI Library before the books came out in paperback.
The other strand is Latin authors and the classics more generally (though the Greek mostly in translation). I've got a separate section on this site on the classics, but the short version is that Tacitus and Caesar in their different ways are models for prose in any language, and the ability of some of the poets (Ovid and Juvenal spring first to mind) to handle tricky problems like continuous action and capsule description can teach any writer. They certainly taught me.
What's your best book?
Again, that's a matter of definition. Personally I'd say Redliners, but that's not a book for everybody. It's a very tough story about war and redemption. With the Lightnings--a space opera--and the Isles Series, my Tolkienesque fantasies, have characters that more people are going to find attractive. I think maybe writing Redliners did something positive for me. At any rate, it probably isn't chance that the books I've written after that one are--I won't say softer, exactly, but peopled with characters who haven't done so many things that they can't forgive themselves for.
How did you come up with the magic in the Isles Series?
It surprises me to be asked this so frequently since I thought I'd covered it in the introductory notes to each volume. Classical peoples were heavily involved in magic (as opposed to religion). This seems to have been mostly Egyptian in origin, though there are mixtures of classical religion as well as Judaism and Christianity.
Spells could be for any purpose: revenge on a thief or strayed lover, gambling success, and good health are among the range of typical examples. The person making the spell spoke it or wrote and buried it. A lot of those buried (often in a graveyard) have been discovered in modern times.
The person making the spell would get the attention of the spirits (demiurges, not the Great Gods) by addressing them in their own language. He would then tell them what he wanted them to do in common (human) language.
For the Isles series, I've used the 'spirit language' (voces mysticae in modern parlance) from real spells for the spells the wizards speak.
What are the books in the Hammer series?
The original Hammer's Slammers was published by Ace, but republished in an expanded fashion by Baen. The rest of the series was also Baen--At Any Price, Counting the Cost, Rolling Hot, and The Warrior. In addition to these, The Sharp End is post-Hammer Hammer. (There's no particular order to the first five books.)
The entire contents of the first five books in the series, plus a new story per volume, have been reprinted in the three Baen omnibus collections: The Tank Lords, Caught in the Crossfire, and The Butcher's Bill. These are still in print. Cross the Stars (Tor, later Baen) and The Voyage use the Hammer universe to retell classical Greek epics (with some of the Hammer characters in the form of Gods). And I'm at work on another collection of Hammer novellas right now.
Are you going to write more Hammer stories?
Probably, but they're not in my present mental schedule. I did the most recent Hammer novel, Paying the Piper, because Jim Baen asked me for more Hammer. Immediately after I started work, he asked me to do an RCN novel instead... as I'd intended to do till he asked for Hammer.
What's the relationship between Joachim Steuben of the Hammer
series and Johann Vierziger?
Vierziger is named in a manner of speaking after the Mifune character in Sanjuro where he takes an obvious alias from the chrysanthemum trees growing in the garden. My intent was to do something that had no obvious natural explanation in a work that was otherwise straight SF/adventure. In a degree I was playing off the myth of the Vegan Orbital Fort in Blish's Earthman, Come Home.
The other part of what I was doing there was offering a chance at redemption to a very damaged person. I was finally able to address that directly in Redliners; I guess I was working up to it.
Who do you read for pleasure?
In the field--I read a lot of stuff out of the f/sf field--I read Vance and Pratchett among living authors, and have a particular affection for Kuttner, Kornbluth, and Jack Williamson's work from the '30s and '40s. Hmm; and I regularly reread R.E.Howard and C.A.Smith; I should mention them.
How many books will comprise the ISLES series? When
will the last one come out?
Each the Isles novels is intended to be a self-standing work that can be read alone. (This is true of all my books; and, for that matter, my stories.) The series was conceived as open-ended, however. This can work--the Hammer series has been going since 1972--though I know I've got to be careful. There's a lot of islands out
The fifth in the series, GODDESS OF THE ICE REALM is due out September 2003. The previous titles are (in order): Lord of the Isles, Queen of Demons, Servant of the Dragon, and Mistress of the Catacombs.
I've got a sixth book under contract to Tor, which I hope to start work on soon. If sales continue well on the Isles series, I hope to do more as they're a lot of fun.
Actually, I have fun working on just about everything I write. I'm very fortunate.
Will you be doing more books in the General Series?
See the bibliography section for the latest news.
Why is the hardcover edition of Servant of the Dragon
so poorly proofread?
This is a sore subject with me. I did three drafts of the novel (as usual). My friend Dan Breen read each section after I'd gone over it the first time, and my wife read the final typescript. By the time I sent electronic copy to my Tor editor (whom I won't name here) it was very clean.
Tor ran off hardcopy, which went to Terry McGarry for copyedit. Terry did her usual excellent job on it. The copyedited mss was sent to me for a final proofing. I returned it.
My editor should then have sent the electronic copy to the production department, along with the copyedited hardcopy for final corrections. Instead he sent only the hardcopy. (He later assured me that the Tor production department wasn't set up to accept electronic copy. This statement is untrue and utterly amazed the production manager when I repeated it to him.)
The production department reset the whole manuscript of over 200,000 words. There were fewer errors than I would have expected in such a process, but there were lots of errors. I went ballistic when I got the proofs, but I buckled down and made all the corrections I could and sent them back.
The production department then lost the corrections. Nobody at Tor is sure how this happened. The book as published is as typeset, without proofing.
I didn't realize how bad it was (I assumed they'd entered my corrections, which I knew couldn't be complete) until the volume of complaints from both friends and total strangers caused me to look at the text. I found things that I knew I'd corrected (for example, 'a field of barely' in place of 'a field of barley') that were wrong in the printed version. At this point I wrote the publisher instead of making another attempt to go through editorial. The paperback is largely corrected, in part due to the efforts of two long-time friends, Sharon Pigott and Rick LaBach. (Sharon read the galleys on my first book as well, many years ago.) For Mistress, the new head of production and I made sure she got electronic copy to work from and produced it accurately.
This is one I feel bad about. But I swear to goodness, it wasn't my fault.
Did you take the plot of THE SHARP END from Kurosawa's Yojimbo
or from Leone's A Fistful of Dollars?
No, I took the plot from Red Harvest by Dashiell Hammett, his first novel (a fixup from novellas he'd written for Black Mask magazine in the late 1920s). Kurosawa took Hammett's plot for his fine Samurai film (I'm told there may have been a Japanese gangster novel as an intermediary, but I haven't seen it myself), and Leone then turned Kurosawa's film into the first of his Spaghetti Westerns. I'm familar with (and like) both films, but I read Hammett before I saw them and have reread him often since then. I'm a little surprised to be asked this question so often, because my credit to Hammett in the front of the novel is explicit. Apparently a lot of people expect more originality of the film industry than I do.
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