Eating Authors: David Drake

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David Drake

July is winding down, and it’s been quite eventful, with the promise of still more to come.

  • My replica Neanderthal skull arrived and is now mounted on its custom stand and seated upon a marble pillar in my dining room, because where else does one put such a thing?
  • One of my oldest friends in the world is organizing a birthday event for me, to honor the past year’s battle with cancer, and has set up a site where people can record 30 seconds of video to send me birthday greetings.
  • This year’s 27th annual Klingon Language Conference has shifted to an online venue and gets underway in four days, and promises to bring in many more speakers from across Europe and other distant realms.
  • And today is my dog’s eleventh birthday. He’s still chipper and spry, just received a check-up and clean bill of health from the vet and a major shearing from the groomer. Later today I’ll present him with a shiny new chew toy (a rugged fabric moose). Dogs make everything better.

None of which has anything to do with this week’s EATING AUTHORS guest, but I hope something on that list will have caught your fancy enough that you don’t notice I don’t have a proper segue to my introduction of David Drake.

Dave’s probably best known as the author of the Hammer’s Slammers series, with his Republic of Cinnabar Navy series, coming in as a close second. He’s been credited with creating the Military SF genre as we know it today. Like many authors producing Space Opera and Military SF, he brings a veteran’s perspective to the topic, tempered in his case by his study of law.

His bibliography is incredibly extensive and ranges from multiple series in multiple genres that he’s written on his own, other series he’s co-authored or created outlines for with folks like Eric Flint and S.M. Stirling, and a long list of anthologies he’s edited.

You can sample some of his work over at the Baen Free Library. Check it out.

LMS: Welcome, Dave. Thanks for accepting my offer to talk about your most memorable meal.

DD: My first thought was to pass on your offer because I’m not very interested in food. My mother was a terrible cook (though she baked well), and food was to me simply something necessary for life.

I then realized that a meal is much more than just food and drink; and this in turn reminded me of my dinner the first night of the first World Fantasy Convention in 1975.

To Clear Away the Shadows

I was an SF reader and had recently begun writing SF, but I had never been a fan. My first con had been the 1974 Worldcon; it was a stressful and unpleasant experience. (I’m a Nam vet with a degree of PTSD.)

My agent Kirby MacCauley said he was starting a completely new sort of con: WFC — and I had to try that. Against my better judgment I did.

I was in correspondence with another of Kirby’s clients, Ramsey Campbell, and he was coming over for WFC also. My wife Jo and I agreed to drive him in Jo’s 1965 Mustang from Chapel Hill where we lived to Providence, RI, for the con.

Jo and I had room in the convention hotel (the Holiiday Inn) but we’d made no other arrangements for the con. After we dropped Ramsey off we found a Ford garage and had a new trunk key made because the key chain had broken while Jo was closing the trunk, locking the key inside with all the luggage. It was late afternoon by then and we decided to find something to eat.

The Complete Hammer's Slammers Volume 1

We got into the lobby and were heading for the front door when we saw Manly and Frances Wellman, our friends from the Triangle, looking around in puzzlement also. We joined them and had decided the hotel restaurant was probably very full (WFC was only about 300 that year, but there were two other conventions in the hotel), when another elevator opened and a group of people got out including L. Sprague de Camp and his wife Catherine. The de Camps were old friends of the Wellmans but the couples had become estranged in the ’50s. Manly called and went over to Sprague. They immediately agreed that they didn’t remember what they’d been arguing about way back then — and it didn’t matter at all now.

The de Camps were with about four other people who were going to dinner; they had reservations. They and the restaurant were fine with merging the two groups, so we all went in together.

Lord of the Isles

I didn’t know all of the de Camps’ group but one of them was Forrie Ackerman, the famous fan (and editor and agent). Somebody in the group mentioned having seen a porn paperback by L Sprague de Camp. “Not me,” said Sprague. General consensus at the table that it was probably by Sam Merwin, long-time editor and writer for Standard Magazines, who was now doing porn.

We ordered and ate. I have no memory of what anyone had. Sprague de Camp was probably the author on whom I had most modeled my work when I first started writing fiction, but I’d never met him before. It was wonderful to chat with him.

At the end of the meal, Forrie handed Sprague a list which he’d written on his napkin. Sprague read it out aloud. It was a series of Sprague de Camp titles slightly modified (one letter or word changed) to make them porn titles. I don’t remember a single one of them now, but they were hilarious; and Sprague laughed as hard as the rest of us.

That was far the most memorable meal I’ve ever had.

Thanks, Dave. While I’ve had the pleasure of dining with Forrie, I never got to even meet Sprague. If we ever build time machines, I hope someone will sneak back to that restaurant seconds after you all left and recover that napkin.

Next Monday: Another author and another meal!

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