David Drake, North Carolina author and legend, chats with the Smoky Mountain News.
In North Carolina we have a lot of sci-fi authors these days. I, myself am one, and people like Orson Scott Card of the Enders Game books reside here. But of all of North Carolinas authors in the genre, there can be no question that David Drake is the most prolific one. Over the years, he has written or edited over 50 mass-market books and is one of those rare people who can honestly say he writes science fiction as a full-time job.
Mr. Drake began his career long ago writing horror short stories and sold his first-ever tale based on the works of Howard Phillips Lovecraft to Arkham House, a major publisher. However, it wasnt long until Drake discovered the military sci-fi he is known for today, and history was made. At the age of 31 he was able to retire and make a living from his craft, quite an achievement for any writer.
His first book in the Hammers Slammers series developed a huge cult following and suddenly Drake was a national hit. Recently one of his tales was even reprinted in a collection entitled The Best Military Science Fiction of the 20th Century alongside authors like Arthur C. Clarke and Phillip K. Dick.
For years, I have read Drakes work and in truth he is reason that I, like many others, am a writer myself today. I somehow managed to catch up with him recently and chat with him. For someone so famous, he is a really nice guy and he agreed to do an interview for this paper. So here is some of what we discussed. I hope you enjoy it as much I did.
Ive stuck with writing, largely as self-therapy, I believe, during times I wasnt selling any of what I wrote. Thats why I had a chance at a career, I suppose — because i didnt quit. I suppose another part of what you call my fortune was being drafted out of law school and shipped to Viet Nam. That gave me the need to write.
If theres any advice for a writer beyond black ink on white paper, double-space — and thats the most important thing — it would be not to write for the money. Dont do anything just for the money. Do something because its what you want to do, and dont complain if you dont become rich.
Thereve been discussions with Hollywood at various levels. When I have the money in my hand, Ill talk about it. Until then, I dont believe in anything but the deadline on the book Im working on.
Which is the third in my RCN series of space operas from Baen Books, The Far Side of Heaven. Its due out in hardcover in October, and Im not quite done with the rough draft (with two more drafts to come).
Oh, heavens, I moved here for Duke Law School and found the winters wonderfully nicer than those of Iowa, where I grew up. I live here because I love the weather and the house we built in the middle of 23 acres; and our friends are here by now also.
Gee, dont call me any kind of legend, please. Well, Ive got a couple motorcycles (and my wife has a car) but I havent driven a car for 15 years. (Another reason to prefer North Carolina to Iowa. Most years.)
Mostly Im writing. To settle myself, I target shoot in my side yard and translate Latin verse (which I put up on my website).
Good God, no! I quit lawyering to drive a bus because lawyering was killing me. I was able to write more as a bus driver and my career took off — which really pleases me. But I didnt expect this level of success or anything close to it.
I regret some of what happened when I was in the army. I regret hurting people over the years; there were a lot of things I couldve handled better — but I did handle them better the next time around, pretty much, and I wont regret a learning experience.
I never had odd jobs in the normal sense (except summer work and while I was in school, of course). I was a salaried bus driver for a year after quitting the law. Believe me, I work harder for myself than most people do for an outside employer.
Ive never understood why what I do should be inspiring. I have a feeling that a lot more people would like to be what they think I am than what I am. (Which is OK.)
The Slammers series was started for mass-circulation magazines. Its quite true that in Nam, every other word was a form of f*&^% (at least in the field), but it doesnt read the same to somebody who hasnt been there. Folks wouldnt understand.
Hmm. The only award Ive won was a special presentation by my Legal History Class at Duke: they gave me a one-off Pedant of the Year Award with a nice plaque.
Some years ago I was on a Sunday morning panel with seven other writers. They were going down the list of what awards theyd won. It came to me, and I said I hadnt won any. Whereupon the moderator noted that I was the only person on the panel who was a full-time professional writer... which also was true.
I got away from horror as my head came up from Viet Nam bit by bit. Nowadays, of course, horror is dead as a commercial genre — but I refused attempts to get me into it at the time it looked like a good way to make money. (Note what I said about money earlier.)
Ive worked with the same editors and publishers from the beginning. On my first book, Tom Doherty was publisher and Jim Baen was his SF editor. Tom now runs Tor, Jim runs Baen Books; and those are the people I work for.
Copyright © 2003 by Eric S. Brown