A Conversation with David Drake
Eric S Brown
Most people recognize David Drake’s name from his Hammer’s Slammer or RCN Military SF series but his career actually began in the horror genre. His first sale was made to August Derleth, editor of Arkham House. Drake wrote a great many horror short stories, many that were included in “Best of the Year” anthologies. He doesn’t write horror these days, but those early stories still stand out as some of the best in the genre. He was kind enough to talk with Altered Reality Magazine.
AR: Who are the writers that made you want to become one yourself?
Drake: Nobody made me want to become a writer, but Robert E Howard inspired me to write. I’ve always been a storyteller, but putting it down on paper for other people to read – that probably came from Howard.
AR: Do you have any words of wisdom for new writers starting out today?
Drake: Don’t do it for the money, because that probably won’t come. If you do it to become famous, that probably will work in the sense that you’ll be able to go on line and brag that you’re a writer, which will get you lots of gushing praise from followers. I think it’s a pretty low-end activity, but it works if you’re into folks telling you, “Oh, you’re so creative!” and the like.
If what you really want to do is to create something, then do it and more power to you. It’s hard work though, and you won’t get any more external validation than the guy who goes on facebook and moans about how hard he works as a creative writer.
AR: Your short horror stories are scarier and more fun than even Stephen King’s. Did you ever consider becoming a horror author instead of going into SF?
Drake: Thank you, but my horror isn’t more fun than Stephan King’s. And some of Steve’s stuff has been really scary.
That said, when I’m on I’ve done some very effective horror of a different kind than Steve’s. I focus on evil and I go for the throat in a way that most writers do not. Smokie Joe is a deal with the Devil story (that was the theme of the anthology) in which the Devil is genuinely evil. The Interrogation Team is military SF in form, in which ordinary soldiers go about doing their jobs, but their jobs involve utter inhumanity.
I guess that’s the key: I was writing because of the things I saw and what I became in Viet Nam. I was trying to get my head out of those places through my writing. My agent – who was also King’s agent – tried to get me back into horror in the ’80s when Category Horror took off in the marketplace. I’d just gotten my head up from horror. I didn’t want to go back, and I was pretty sure that my sort of horror would not be popular.
AR: Of your early horror stories do have one that remains your favorite to this day and if so why?
AR: Would you ever consider writing horror again?
Drake: I don’t think so. As I say, I used writing as therapy to get out of that place. Returning there would be a bad idea.
AR: What’s the most fun thing you’ve written recently?
Drake: Oddly, an essay on Karl Edward Wagner as a heroic fantasy writer when we knew one another in the 1970s. It’s for for an academic work.
That took me back to that period forty-odd years ago. Times were tough, but we had hope and I guess dreams. There was so much to learn.
It’s good to remember the positive parts of then.
AR: What’s your next project?
Drake: I’m working on a space opera of a different type for me.
AR: What do you do for fun when you’re not writing?
Drake: Well, I read a lot, but to stay in shape I do heavy yard work. Turning fallen branches into firewood with a handsaw; grubbing up tree roots with a pick-axe That sort of thing.
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