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David Drake
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David Drake   David Drake is the best-selling author of the Hammer's Slammers series. Heís well known as one of the premier authors of military science fiction, but he also writes fantasy, including a nine-volume series called Lord of the Isles and an alternate history series co-written with Eric Flint called Belisarius.

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This episode originally aired on 01/07/2009 with the following authors:
Note: The following interview has been transcribed from The Author Hour radio show. Please excuse any typos, spelling and gramatical errors.

Interview with David Drake

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Matthew Peterson: Youíre listening to The Author Hour: Your Guide to Fantastic Fiction, which can be found at Iím your host, Matthew Peterson, author of Paraworld Zero.

My next guest is David Drake, bestselling author of the Hammer's Slammers series. Heís well known as one of the premier authors of military science fiction, but he also writes fantasy, including a nine-volume series called Lord of the Isles and an alternative history series co-written with Eric Flint called Belisarius. Welcome to the show, David.

David Drake: Well, welcome indeed. I appreciate being here.

Matthew Peterson: Now I met you for the first time in 2008 at the World Fantasy Convention. You were doing a reading for one of your books. I canít remember which one, but . . .

David Drake: Actually it was the new one thatís coming out from Tor this July, as a matter of fact. What you heard was a section of a work in progress that as I read to you I was also making little notes on my typescript, ďNo, that isnít right.Ē

Matthew Peterson: Ohh! [laughs] Oh, so that was an early, early edition then?

David Drake: Yeah. The book wonít be out Ďtil July.

Matthew Peterson: July, okay.

David Drake: Yeah.

Matthew Peterson: But I was really impressed. I was impressed with the detail. And I know a lot of your books tend to have a definitely military feel to them. You know, thereís a battle or a war going on and you write both fantasy and you write science fiction. What got you interested in writing the military science fiction?

David Drake: Well, frankly that came out of the fact that Iím a ĎNam vet and the Hammerís Slammers series, well I wasnít really aware of it at the time, and remember I started writing those stories back in 1973.

Matthew Peterson: Okay.

David Drake: [laughs] I got back to the world in 1971 and you know, within a couple of years I was starting to write the Hammerís series--while I was still in law school as a matter of fact. They were a way of keeping me between the ditches.

Matthew Peterson: Yeah.

David Drake: My head wasnít in a good place and putting stuff down on paper helped me kind of try to make sense of it. And... [laughs] couldnít sell them.

Matthew Peterson: Oh, really?

David Drake: No, no, no thatís . . . well, these were different. Itís hard for somebody now to realize how different it was. Youíll remember the Vietnam War was still going on . . .

Matthew Peterson: Yeah.

David Drake: . . . while I was writing those stories. And it was not only an unpopular war, but soldiers or anyone who had anything to do with military was unpopular. I mean, you know, Jan Fonda is sort of the poster child for this.

Matthew Peterson: Yeah, yeah.

David Drake: But thatís only because she was photographed sitting on a North Vietnamese anti-aircraft gun. There were lots of other people who had the same attitude, and they can pretend now that they didnít. But trust me, people didnít like soldiers. It isnít just that they didnít like the war, but soldiers were evil and the Hammer stories were writing about soldiers who did quite a lot of really awful things . . . . [sighs] but who werenít evil. They were just, you know, the sort of people whoíd gotten drafted out of college like I had. And they were fairly ordinary folks in a very difficult situation doing the best job they could and a lot of the time that wasnít very good. There were people who were gun ho we should be in Vietnam: ďwe should be doing this.Ē And what I was writing wasnít palatable to them, but it sure wasnít palatable to the people who thought all soldiers were evil monsters. I wasnít writing about that either.

Matthew Peterson: Yeah.

David Drake: I was writing about the evil, but not the monsters.

Matthew Peterson: And a lot of Vietnam veterans who came home--when your book did get published--a lot of them grasped on to it, didnít they?

David Drake: Oh, yes. And Iíll tell you something that just flabbergasted me. I was getting letters, not only from ĎNam vets, but I was getting letters from people whoíd been in the Korean War and World War II and they were saying, ďThis is what itís like. Keep telling them what itís like. Maybe theyíll understand.Ē They being civilians.

And the truth is, I donít think a civilian ever will really understand, but what I was doing with the stories, and I didnít understand this, what I was doing with the stories was telling the other veterans who felt the way I did that they arenít alone. And [sighs] when they started responding to me for the first time, I realized I wasnít alone either.

Donít mistake me. I mean, I had a supportive family. I had friends. I was not one of the people who got really stomped on by civilians, but I was really, really deeply screwed up. And [sighs] I felt just so completely alone. And this wasnít the worldís fault. I mean, like I say, people were as supportive as they could be, but I would try to explain stuff and itís like I was talking Chinese.

Matthew Peterson: Yeah.

David Drake: But when I put it down in writing, in fiction, civilians could read it as action adventure, but the veterans understood the words; they understood what I was talking about.

Matthew Peterson: What youíve said, Iíve heard from other authors as well. Just the other day I was watching a video online of one of the survivors from 9-11 and you know, itís been years since 9-11 [trade centers fell 9/11/2001] and he still jumps at noises. You know, he still remembers running out of the building and seeing it collapse behind him as heís running and seeing the big plume of smoke raging towards him and just realizing, ďI was just in that building.Ē And you know itís been years later and heís still coping with it and finding ways to become closer to his family and to become more part of society. You know, dramatic things do affect people.

David Drake: I basically gave myself up for dead in 1970. And nothing awful happened to me. I mean, you know, I saw some bad stuff; I did some bad stuff, but I wasnít shot. I got out of it fine. But I didnít. I really, simply gave up. It didnít keep me from functioning. As I say, I graduated from Duke Law School, which for a lot of people would be a pretty respectable accomplishment.

Matthew Peterson: Oh, yeah.

David Drake: But I remember absolutely nothing about that last year and a half. And thank goodness I had the writing.

Matthew Peterson: Yeah. A good outlet for the things. Youíve written quite a lot of books. One thing that I noticed too is that youíve teamed up with a bunch of different authors as well. I assume a lot of these authors know what theyíre talking about, just like you.

David Drake: In different ways.

Matthew Peterson: Yeah, in different ways, like Eric Flint and S.M. Stirling and . . .

David Drake: Ericís background is quite different from mine. He was a labor organizer for a labor union.

Matthew Peterson: Uh huh.

David Drake: [laughs] His background includes getting beat up by the Klu Klux Klan in Birmingham, Alabama.

Matthew Peterson: [laughs] Oh, no!

David Drake: [laughs] So . . .

Matthew Peterson: Iíve met Eric, just briefly, and thatís interesting that youíd say that.

David Drake: Yeah, did you know? They were sitting there selling their paper by the road and these two pick up trucks, full of people, pulled up and they didnít think anything of it. People jumped out and they didnít think anything of it, and then they noticed the people jumping out of the pick up trucks all had pick handles and theyíre running toward them.

Matthew Peterson: Oh, no. [laughs]

David Drake: So Eric hasnít been in the military, but Ericís got his own war stories. [laughs]

Matthew Peterson: Well, what was it like teaming up with him? I mean, I know you wrote some of the outlines.

David Drake: I wrote all of the outlines.

Matthew Peterson: Oh, all the outlines, okay, of Belisarius. So what was it like . . . .

David Drake: It was Jim Baen, the publisher of Baen Books and really close personal friend who died a few years ago, I regret to say. He had this great idea. He was enamored of Belisarius, a 6th Century Byzantine general, and little hearts notions and indirect approaches, of a British writer of the 1920's and Ď30's who emphasized rather than direct head on assault using an indirect approach: you put your army in a defensive position that forces the enemy to attack you, instead of you attacking the enemy.

Matthew Peterson: Okay. Like checkers.

David Drake: Uh, yeah, yeah. So Jim wanted me to turn those into a science fiction novel. We were going to give Belisarius a supercomputer and Jim called me back the next day and said, ďOh, no, no, no, this wonít work because weíre giving Belisarius a supercomputer and heís already the best general of his time, so this is pointless.Ē And I said, ďJim, Iím the writer, go away now. Iíve already taken care of that problem.Ē

Matthew Peterson: [laughs]

David Drake: And the answers was obviously to give the enemy a supercomputer.

Matthew Peterson: Yep.

David Drake: And Iíd already taken care of that one.

Matthew Peterson: And the enemy was like an alien force that went back in time or something?

David Drake: That actually gets quite interesting. The enemy was the Indian Empire of the day, given a supercomputer that is sent back in time from human beings of the far future.

Matthew Peterson: Oh, okay.

David Drake: So itís actually a supercomputer from the future, battling the human supercomputer sent from the future... and the good guys are the machines.

Matthew Peterson: The good guys are the machines.

David Drake: Yeah.

Matthew Peterson: Oh, thatís an interesting take.

David Drake: We had a good time with it. I mean, I wrote the outlines and then Jim picked Eric Flint to write them and then Eric and I got to know each other and got to be actually close friends.

Matthew Peterson: I think thatís one of the important things to do if youíre co-authoring, especially if itís going to be a series and youíre going to be working with him for book after book. Well, letís move on to the Lieutenant Leary series. Thatís one of the series that youíve been doing. And I know In the Stormy Red Sky was one of the latest books that came out in that series.

David Drake: It is.

Matthew Peterson: Whatís different about this series, the Lieutenant Leary series, than your other series?

David Drake: Okay, thatís a really fair question. What Iím writing with the Lieutenant Leary series is adventure science fiction. And the characters are in the military, well, in the Navy, and there are battles, but this is really an adventure story. And the Hammer stuff is more nitty-gritty: what itís like to be part of a combat unit in a very bad place.

Matthew Peterson: Yeah.

David Drake: Itís a different feel. The plots may look very similar, but the treatment is very different.

Matthew Peterson: Well, I really appreciate talking with you, David. Thank you so much for being on the show.

David Drake: Pleasure.

Matthew Peterson: Iíve been speaking with David Drake, bestselling author of fantasy and science fiction. Well, thank you, David. Have a great day.

David Drake: Bye bye.

Matthew Peterson: Bye bye.

Donít forget to visit to listen to the bonus questions. Donít go away. Iíve still got award-winning authors Ben Bova and Joe Haldeman coming up next.

  Read or Listen to the extra questions that didn't make it onto the live show.  

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