Tuesday, May 28, 2013

10 Questions with Legendary Science Fiction Writer David Drake

This Author Spotlight features master
of the Science Fiction genre
David Drake

The Army took David Drake from Duke Law School and sent him on a motorized tour of Viet Nam and Cambodia with the 11th Cav, the Blackhorse. He learned new skills, saw interesting sights, and met exotic people who hadn’t run fast enough to get away.

Dave returned to become Chapel Hill’s Assistant Town Attorney and to try to put his life back together through fiction making sense of his Army experiences.

Dave describes war from where he saw it: the loader’s hatch of a tank in Cambodia.

His military experience, combined with his formal education in history and Latin, has made him one of the foremost writers of realistic action SF and fantasy.

His bestselling Hammer's Slammers series is credited with creating the genre of modern Military SF. 

He often wishes he had a less interesting background.

Dave lives with his family in rural North Carolina.

1.How did you get into writing and why do you write?

I got into writing because I've always loved to tell stories. My 11th grade American Lit teacher was a professional writer on the side (and since then has become a full-time freelance writer under the name Brad Steiger). That showed me that ordinary kids from Iowa could write professionally.

Why I became a fulltime writer, however, is that writing provided therapy for me when I got back to the World after service with the 11th Armored Cavalry Regiment in Viet Nam (and a couple months in Cambodia).

2.What do you like best (or least) about writing?

My prose is the only thing in life that I can fully control. Everything else comes with strings or rules. With the prose, I don't have to let go of it until it's what I want it to be.

One side effect of my focus is that I don't complain about covers or promotion or any of the other things that many writers worry about. So long as the publisher doesn't screw with my prose, I'm fine.

By the same token, I go way over the top when a copyeditor, say, regularizes the use of pronouns when I've varied them according to the background and education of the viewpoint character in a given section. Stuff that's trivial (although stupid) can really light my fuse.

3.What is your writing process? IE do you outline? Do you stick to a daily word or page count, write 7 days a week, etc?

I write a complete scene-by-scene breakdown, usually running about 7,500-15K words per book. Then I write the book, chunking away at it every day until it's complete. I shoot for 1,000-1,500 words per day (of rough). Then I edit the hardcopy, key in the changes (usually 10-20% of the original wordage), and run off another copy which I edit further for polish. I key in those changes and send it off to my editor.

4.Who are some other writers you read and admire, regardless of whether they are commercially “successful?”

Oh, gosh. Kuttner and Clark Ashton Smith. Kipling. Tacitus. Ovid (and I know, he wrote verse; but almost anybody can learn things about line-by-line writing from reading Ovid in the original). Many others.

5.Should the question mark in the above question be inside or outside the quotes?

Outside, but I don't really care.

6.What’s your stance on the Oxford Comma?

It slows the reader down. I don't use it. Grammarians get bent outa shape about that sort of thing (and consistency generally), but a writer ought to be more concerned about telling a story.

7.What is your book Redliners about and how did it come to fruition?

I picked Redliners because it's the one thing I've written that is more than just a book. I finished it and immediately felt that somebody'd lifted off the twenty-ton weight I'd had on my shoulders for the 25 years since Nam.

But I hadn't intended anything major. I was writing an action/adventure book with a strong military component. I wound up putting a lot more of myself and what I felt about military service into the book than I was aware of doing until I'd finished it.

Redliners wasn't a great sales success initially, though it's continued to bring in royalties each period. It's a very tough book, and it isn't generally for civilians.

It's the one that people who've been in hard places write me about, however. It's helped a lot of them; but it helped me more than it did anyone else, because I'd been in some hard places too.

8.What’s your current writing project?

I'm in the home stretch of the next Republic of Cinnabar Navy space opera, The Sea without a Shore. These (AKA the Leary/Mundy series) aren't pablum, but they're far less harsh than much of what I was writing before I did Redliners and made peace with myself.

9.What book(s) are you currently reading?

Idylls of the King by Tennyson; The Last Galley by Doyle; and An Amiable Charlatan by Oppenheim. (I'm travelling in Italy at the moment, which affects the time I have to read and the selection.)

10.Who or what inspires your writing?

As long as I'm working, I don't have to think about the nature and future of mankind. I'm better off not thinking about that sort thing. I think I've known the answers ever since Nam; but if I don't dwell on the subject, I'm okay.

There's no other 'who'. It's just me and the keyboard.

Finally, is there anything you’d care to add? Please also include where people can read your published stories, buy your book, etc.

My publishers are Baen Books and Tor Books. My work can be bought wherever books are sold, and electronically from the publishers.

Thank you, Mr. Drake, for visiting and sharing your work with us. It's been and honor featuring you here and learning more about your work and your life.

Be sure to visit David-Drake.com to see more of Mr. Drake's work.

Purchase your copy of Redliners now:



  1. REDLINERS was the first David Drake book I read, though I had a keen interest in reading HAMMERS SLAMMERS at some point. I am working through THE COMPLETE HAMMERS SLAMMERS Vol 1 currently. I have tried to read other Military SciFi authors and, so far, the few I have tried to read just don't hold the appeal and interest...they are too "other worldly" where, even though Drakes material is such, for whatever reason it seems more realistic, down to earth...so much so I forget he is placing characters and scenarios typically NOT on our world.

    He has also inspired as a writer as he has always seemed, again, down to earth, real.

    Great interview. Thanks Ryan and David.

  2. Glad you enjoyed the interview, Peter. I certainly felt honored being able to do it. David Drake is one of the All-Time Greats, as I'm sure you know.

    I first read STARLINER, and I enjoyed it immensely. My only gripe was the typos caused by the conversion to ebook, but that's not David's fault, nor is it to fault his writing or the story.

    I'm reading REDLINERS presently and like you said I can already see and feel the realism.

    Thanks for sharing!