Newsletter #7 mailed out 1 September 2001
It's been a very busy couple months; a great time in general with a lot of unique experiences; but also completely exhausting.
The main thing that happened was a ten-day family trip to Belize. I got a huge windfall last year when Mattel bought the electronic game rights to the Hammer series. While I'm not somebody who pisses money away (I don't like Porsches, quite apart from the question of whether I want to drive a car at all), this gave me the means to do something I've always dreamed of: see ancient cities rising out of the jungle.
There are two places where these exist: Central America and Angkor Wat. The latter stopped being a tourist destination at about the time I was visiting eastern Cambodia on the back of a tank, so that meant Mayan sites.
My son Jonathan likes castles. He and his wife April had been planning a trip to Ireland to see castles but bought a house instead. They enthusiastically assured me that Mayan pyramids would be an adequate alternative, so they came along with me and Jo.
There are lots of ways to visit the region. We booked a tour organized by International Expeditions through a travel agent. IE has a website, but when Jo last year did an on-line search she determined that there were no tours to Belize available in the Summer (when April, a school teacher, would be free) and suggested that Jonathan and I go alone in February (which wasn't acceptable to me). Most people are more internet-savvy than I am (I didn't even try searching for us myself), but I'd still suggest that money paid to a travel agent was well spent.
The choice of Belize was, frankly, political. I follow international affairs closely enough that I knew I didn't want to put money into Guatemala, and I had similar qualms about the feudal oligarchy running southern Mexico. Honduras was a possible, but Belize was actually a place I could feel good about.
The tour did spend two days at Tikal--probably the most impressive Mayan site that's been cleared--across the border. I'm glad to have been to Tikal, but everything I saw in Guatemala reinforced my preconceptions about the country.
I've got a full (11,400 word--including misspellings, typos, and editing errors, because I'm trying to finish a book) travelogue on the website (see http:david-drake.com/belize.html) for download in PDF format for people who want a blow-by-blow account, but the short version is that it was a wonderful trip. Things I saw and learned during those ten days will be with me for the rest of my life and will crop up in everything I write from now on.
In addition to the jungle and the ancient ruins that brought me to Central America, I found the birds unexpectedly wonderful. I'd realized that rain forest birds were colorful, but I hadn't appreciated that so many of them were huge: orioles and woodpeckers twenty inches long, nine-inch flycatchers--that sort of thing. In addition, the birds were generally unconcerned by humans being close by staring at them (this was particularly true of the raptors).
After a week at Holden Beach, NC, with the usual group of friends (relaxing, but still a wrench from my comfortable routine), I was off to Calgary for Con-Version. It was a very pleasant, low-key convention and I was positively impressed by the Canadian writers I met there.
I was mildly amused by the enthusiasm many of them displayed for getting Arts Council grants, however. My own feeling is that Samuel Johnson wrote nothing worth remembering--and several things that were an embarrassment--after he took a government pension from the Bute administration, and the reputation of Stanislas Lem might have aged better had he not made himself a toady for a brutal regime. I got a chauffeur's license and drove a bus to support myself before my writing (unexpectedly) started to provide a living, and I continue to think mine was the better choice.
The high point of Calgary was visiting the nearby Royal Tyrell Museum, where the director, Phil Currie, gave us a behind-the-scenes tour of what is arguably the best dinosaur museum in the world. There was a 6-foot diameter ammonite; a picture of me with it will be on the SF Book Club's advertising for their edition of Mistress of the Catacombs. (For those of you who haven't read the Isles series, giant ammonites are among the catalogue of villains.) I hope I can get Tor to use it as a flap photo on later volumes of the series as well. (See http://david-drake.com/calgary.html)
Upcoming is a very extensive book tour. The times and places are listed on the website (http://david-drake.com/news.html); basically a circle through the South and eastern Midwest during the end of September and beginning of October. This is a Really Good Thing: Tor is flying me between points and providing media escorts to get me where I'm supposed to be (those of you who know me well are aware that my sense of direction is conspicuous by its absence, and I haven't driven a car in a very long time).
Having said that--my idea of a good time is sitting with my keyboard or reading something. I'll be delighted to see any of you who get to a signing when I'm in your area, and I'll do a good job meeting the public and doing the various media things that're being set up (I have in the past). But I'm going to be very, very glad to be back home, working on the next book in peace and quiet.
Mistress of the Catacombs is really out, by the way. I saw copies hot off the presses on August 15 when I was signing at a B&N in Raleigh, but those had been drop shipped from the printer. A friend's store in Seattle got its copies last week, and today I got a box of them myself. It's a well-made book and an attractive one, though I regret the passing of the color map endpapers (presumably in the cause of economy). The map is inside, half-toned.
I'm continuing to chunk away at my next book, a collection of linked Hammer stories. My working title is Paying the Piper, but this could change. I'd originally intended it to be five 20K novellas. The first piece was 31K, the second was 46K, and I'm now at something under 30K on the third which I expect to conclude the volume... in another 20,000 words or so.
My Hammer pieces tend to be more tightly-written than most of my fiction, and I'm a tighter writer in general than most (this isn't necessarily a virtue, but it's a fact.) I think people will get their money's worth from the volume. Anyway, we've put (Karen Webmaster has put) the second of the pieces, The Political Process, up in PDF format alongside the first in the News section for free download. We've taken down my story and Mark's story from Foreign Legions since the book's been out for some while now.
Apart from that there've been some minor changes to the FAQ page; pictures have been moved or removed; there're some pictures from Calgary; and I added a commentary on Bridgehead in the bibliography section. (And there's the lengthy Belize section, of course.)
The other thing that I should mention is that our web hosting service, Invite.net, migrated the site from servers in Baltimore to a set in Denver. The operation was supposed to be seamless, but of course it wasn't. The site was down for several days, and the attached webmaster e-mail was out intermittently for longer than that. If you had problems getting through, that's why.
Concurrently (but so far as I know coincidentally) Earthlink (where I have my personal account) was having problems also. I could receive but not send messages, and my webmaster (also on Earthlink) could do neither, though if she accessed her webmail through my Earthlink account she could both send and receive. I was therefore able to receive messages telling me my website was down--but I couldn't respond to them, let alone do anything about it. This was very frustrating to me. Having said that--I'm just back from Central America. There are people in this world who have real problems. I'm not one of them. I hope the same is true for all of you and yours.
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